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Witchking of Angmar

Civil War Aftermath Chapter 3: Season's End pt3

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Boldir and Mila
Anvil


It was not until he had explained the plan to Mila that Boldir realized how incredibly ludicrous it sounded. Something about Clavicus Vile’s presentation had made the idea of leaving Cyrodiil and pitting a Redguard armada against a magical Thalmor sun ship to steal someone’s soul seem strangely sane. But as they spoke in their room, Boldir realized that this would without a doubt be the wildest thing he had ever done. They were moving from the realm of outlaws to the stuff of songs and eddas.

Mila’s reaction drove that point home even further. Or rather, it was her lack of a reaction. The girl took everything he said like an Eastmarcher takes the cold. It was as if this was just another step in their journey, no stranger than fighting Black-Briars or getting snatched into Oblivion. And Boldir supposed that was true, but he felt strangely different about actively plotting to do something so crazy versus being dragged into it.

Their immediate goal, of course, would be to get themselves a ship. Reaching Stros M’kai quickly was paramount. Besides that, Mila pointed out a glaring issue. "We don’t know how to trap a soul."

Boldir had considered that, but he’d hoped Mila would have a solution. He swore under his breath when she shook her head. "We've still got the rest of Valga’s soul gems. Do you know how to tell which ones are empty?"

Another head shake, followed by, "No, but we’d need a spell on top of that anyway." She shrugged. “We could buy a scroll, but I don’t know how much something like that would cost."

"There were dozens of them back in my manor," stated the voice of Roseloe Valga from somewhere out of sight. "Too bad you stupidly ignored them whilst robbing me."

"Gods damn it," Boldir murmured. He started walking around the room, searching for the source of the voice. "I'm going to kill this fucking bug."

The witch seemed unperturbed. "Even if she is willing to aid you in capturing the soul of this elf?"

"Out of the kindness of your heart, I’m sure," he answered. "No, I think I’d still very much like to kill you. And don’t feed me any more horkershit about being in the Imperial City. You botched that lie well and good."

"Which is why I am now coming clean," said Valga. "You learned all my secrets when I spoke to Lord Vile. So unless the wits of those born in Skyrim are even duller than the stories say, I would gain nothing from lying to you. You know what it is I seek, and I know that your connection to Lord Vile may be my only chance of getting it. That makes us allies."

"Then show yourself, and I’ll show you what I think of "allies" who abduct and mutilate children."

"Are you really still on about that? They’re free now, are they not? Besides, it’s not like I’m the one who did it. I’m trapped in the body of an insect! It was loyal Flavimus who thought the rituals might appease Lord Vile, and you killed him. So that’s two wrongs you’ve righted now, hero. Congratulations. Chance a third and you will find yourself short a powerful friend."

"Not powerful enough to open a door," Mila said.

"I see that low wit runs in the family,” grumbled the witch. "I hope that it doesn’t impede your ability to see logic. I can show you which gems will be adequate for the elf’s soul. I can make the scroll you need, and others. Perhaps even teach you the spells given time. It will cost you nothing but the satisfaction of getting to kill me."

"That's a hefty price," Boldir said. He was not joking. After freeing the children from Roseloe’s manor, he and Mila had spent the better part of two days on the road with them. They were as innocent as Mila had been when Maul had taken her. "We'll pass. Come on, Mila. If you see the bug, squash it. We'll make do without her help."

Roseloe did not speak again as they left the inn, though Boldir suspected that the witch was still watching them. "Are you sure that was a good idea?" Mila asked, once they were out in the streets. "We can't do this alone."

"I know," Boldir replied. "But I'd sooner turn to another fucking necromancer than partner up with that woman."

"I don't like her either," Mila said. "But Valga needs an audience with Vile, and we're the only chance she has. At least we know she wouldn't betray us."

"It's not that I'm afraid of her." He frowned. "She deserves to die, not get another chance at living."

"I know." Mila thought back to when she had put herself in harm's way just to kill Sibbi. Not because he needed to die, but because she wanted him to. Valga had not done them any harm like the Black-Briars did, but that didn't matter as much to Boldir. "But we may not have much choice."

They made their way to the docks. The Gold Coast was as beautiful from down here as it had been from the countryside, but the city's clammer made it all seem less glamorous. A thousand voices were raised in competition to make themselves heard. Bells were chiming, sailers and dockworkers were shoving in throngs, and seagulls flocked in the air and cawed as they darted between the waves only to burst forth with fish in their beaks. The merchants here were even less organized than those within the walls, most being nothing more than peddlers with a box of goods in their hands that they were in a hurry to sell off.

For once, Mila was led the way. Boldir followed her closely as she took him from one building to the next. She eyed each of them over, and then somehow was able to rule them out and move on to another. She let out a little "Aha," when they came to a nice-looking two-story tavern that sat between some warehouses. It was called the Rusty Saber.
"How could you tell?" he asked.

"Guild secrets." Mila winked. "You wait here. It'll be better if I talk to them alone." He must have given his thoughts away with a look, because she held up her hands. "Don't worry, I lived with these types for months. I know how to deal with them. But you will stand out like a goblin in a temple."

Boldir wasn't sure how he felt about that particular analogy, but he conceded that this was an area with which Mila had a lot more experience than he did. "Yell if you get into trouble."

"Of course."

While she went in, Boldir posted up against one of the walls and waited. So many people were walking by that nobody even spared him a glance. He liked that. During their journey from Chorrol, he and Mila had skipped over Skingrad entirely upon seeing their posters among a mess of others posted in a nearby village. Kvatch had been better, but the streets were less crowded, and he had spent the entire time worrying that someone would notice him. Here, it felt like he'd have had to shout his name to the heavens to even turn a few heads. 
A few minutes passed until he heard the Rusty Saber door creak open and saw Mila step out with a grin. "Come on."

Following the instructions the tavernkeep had given her, Mila led Boldir down the dock a ways, to a rundown warehouse. The front door was locked, but they went around to the back entrance, where she knocked. A minute passed, then a rough voice spoke from the other side. "Who is it?"

"One of the fox's kits," Mila recited.

A bolt could be heard sliding out of its latch, and then the door opened. The red-headed Breton who ushered them in was even shorter than Mila, though he made up for it in girth. "You got any papers?"

She handed him the letter she had been given in the Rusty Saber. The man's eyes widened as he read it. "You're friends with Gray Cap?" He pointed at Boldir. "And what about him?"

"Also his friend," Boldir said. "I've got something for you to buy."

The Breton eyed him for a second, then turned back to Mila. "This better be something good. I try not to trade with too many foreigners unless I know 'em."

"It is good," she promised. She extended a hand. "Matilda."

"Uh-huh." He shook it. "Liam." He led them over to a round table. The room they were in was not part of the main warehouse. It was more like an office, though with no desk and only one chair. "Alright, what have you got for me?"

Boldir removed his heavy pack and opened it. "Nordic armor. You won't find it for sell anywhere." He laid out the pieces one-by-one. A gauntlet, two boots, one pauldron, and the cuirass. Their conditions varied, but it was all still worth more than what could be found in most corners of the world.

The Breton looked over the pieces carefully. "Got a lot of Nords in this city who love it when I get things from Skyrim. This quicksilver?"

"Aye."

Liam's eyes lit up. "Something good indeed... I take it there used to be two gauntlets and two pauldrons?"

"There were."

"And some of these straps will need fixing... maybe replace the fur in the collar and boots. Buyers love that stuff... and I assume there was once a helmet?"

Boldir thought back to when Drenim's creature had torn his oldest possession from his head and flung it off the cliffside. "There was."

"Well it's a damn shame you lost bits of it," Liam said. "Good armor like this is worth a lot more as a full set. Small fortune, really. But take out one piece and the value goes down a good bit. Let alone three pieces."

"I know. Used to sell armor, myself. But those pieces are long gone and I need the coin more than I need the protection."

The fence studied Boldir. He could feel the man's eyes on his scars. "You sure about that?"

"Just tell me how much you'll give."

"Well if it was all here and hand't been beaten like a cheap whore in Coldharbour, I'd give you quite a lot. As it is? I'll do two hundred septims."

"Two hundred sep-" Boldir collected himself and shook his head. "The gauntlet is worth more than that."

"Then go sell it to any other merchant in the city. I'm sure they'd love to get their hands on such a recognizably unique armor piece."

"I want eight hundred septims. You'll make double that when you sell it."

"Pfft!" Liam looked offended. "You kidding? You could've walked in here with the Crown of bloody Lysandus and I still wouldn't have given you that much in this shape. I'll do three hundred, and that's only because the lass is friends with Gray Cap."

Boldir was starting to get frustrated. This gear had seen him through two wars, and had stopped the blades of more foes than he could count. His initial demand of eight hundred had felt like a betrayal as it was. But he and Mila needed this gold. "You give me eight hundred or I will find another fence."

"You know another fence?" The Breton looked amused. "You'll have to introduce us. I said I'll give you three."

Boldir scowled. "Seven."

"Listen, Nord. This ent yer Windhelm markitplace," said Liam in a very bad mockery of his Nordic accent. "When people come to me, they sell low and discreet. That's how this whole bloody thing works."

Boldir folded his arms. "Seven hundred."

The fence turned to Mila. "Who are you, girl? What in the name of Molag's bloody balls is a friend of Gray Cap doing with with a man who's clearly not one of us?

Mila crossed her arms and mimicked Boldir's stance. "Seven hundred."

Liam opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped. He glared at Mila, then back at Boldir, then once more at Mila. Then he sighed. "You two are relentless. Good on you. Alright, seven hundred septims." He pushed the armor pieces aside and brought a chest out onto the table. "Let's get to counting."


***


Boldir and Mila returned to the docks lighter in load but much heavier in purse. It did not take them long to find a ship that was bound for Stros M'kai, though the first few they met either did not intend to set sail for another week at least, or they charged a heavy price to leave early. The first captain they met wanted four hundred gold for Boldir and Mila each, and the next several were no better. It took some time, but they eventually found a ship, Nekla's Diamond, that would be setting sail in only one day.

"Just don't be late," the merchant captain told them. He had agreed to give them a spot for only three hundred and fifty gold, so long as they paid in advance. "You won't be getting any of it back if we leave you."

With that settled, they traveled to the market and purchased a few basic supplies for the journey like extra water skins, some dry food, and lighter clothing. They also found out an enchanter from High Rock. She was an elderly woman, garbed in tattered robes that that bore the faded colors of the rainbow. Her tent was pitched near the street, and inside was sold all manner of magical trinkets and jewelry.

"Soul gems, you say?" The old Breton smiled and beckoned them closer. "Yes, I could examine them for you. For a modest fee, of course."

However, when Boldir placed a few of them on her table, the woman's smile became a scowl. "Do you take me for a Worm Cultist? Away with you both!" She waved her hand, and the soul gems jumped into the air and fell back into Boldir's pack.

"Listen, lady," Boldir met her scowl with one of his own. "We don't even know what it is we're carrying, so at least tell us what it is that's got you worked up!"

"You carry the souls of men in your pocket," the Breton said. "I don't want to know where you got them, just get them out of my tent!"

They took their leave. Boldir did not even bother to ask if she sold scrolls, because he knew that mentioning that he needed one for soul trapping would have only have unnerved the woman more.

"That went well," Mila said, rolling her eyes. She refrained from making a remark about the souls. It would probably only anger Boldir right now. "Think the next one will be more helpful?"

"I don't know how they could be much less."

He soon found out. The next person they visited was less bothered by the dark gems, but the fee he charged for his services was anything but modest. "Sorry," said the young mage. He wore an arrogant grin that reminded Boldir of Marcurio back in Riften. "I didn't spend six years with the College of Whispers to give away knowledge freely. Twenty drakes per gem."

"What about your scrolls?" Mila asked, motioning to an open chest that was brimming with them. "How much for a soul trapping one?"

The mage eyed their black gems, then his grin widened. "Five hundred drakes."

Boldir's temple was pulsing as they walked away from the mage's wagon. "I really wanted to hit him."

"I could tell," Mila said. "I really wanted to snag one of his items while you two spoke."

"You know, we might need to have a talk about your time with the Thieves Guild..."

The voice of Roseloe Valga spoke before Mila could. "Are you two finished tormenting yourselves with matters you barely understand?"
Boldir and Mila looked up, and saw the insect witch hovering just out of reach. She even lit up as though to taunt Boldir with her presence. "Cyrodiil is at war. You'll not find what you seek at much lower prices than the ones you've been offered."

Boldir touched his pack. "What happened to you not having other human souls?"

"Believe it or not, I lied." It was perhaps the most self-aware the witch had ever sounded to him. "I also lied about my lab containing venomous books, wisp children, polymorphed ogrims-"

"We know," Boldir interrupted.

"Right then. Well if you're clever enough to see through lies then you should be clever enough to know that you'll not get what you're looking for without my help. Not unless you're prepared to sell everything you own and hunt this elf in your undergarments."

Boldir and Mila exchanged a glance. Mila saw nothing but annoyance in Boldir. There was nothing he wanted to do more in that moment than kill the witch. But Boldir saw acceptance in Mila. She did not like it, but she knew that this was the best option they were going to get.

Bandits, necromancers, and now a witch, Boldir thought with a frown. Next it'll be the Thalmor themselves. He gave his daughter a nod and looked back up. "Alright bug, help us and I'll resist the urge to squash you."

"And you must speak to Lord Vile on my behalf," Valga stated. "You saw what happened when I approached him myself."

"Not going to happen. I can give you the chance to try with Vile again, but your dealings with him are your own." Boldir hesitated, then added, "That isn’t negotiable. You can leave if you don’t like it."

"Have you always been so stubborn, or has the master’s influence taken root?" The witch sighed. "Very well. Grant me the opportunity for an audience and I will aid you however I can. I am going to come down now. But first I want to hear an oath that neither of you will do me any harm."

"We won’t," Boldir promised. "Not unless you lie to us again, witch."

"You have my word, savage."

The glowing insect came down until she hovered closer to Boldir's face. True to his word, he resisted his immediate urge to crush her then and there. "Tell me, bug. How is something like you planning to help us make scrolls?"

"With words," replied Valga. "I presume that at least one of you is capable of drawing lines and repeating phrases, and of using a soul gem in the most rudimentary manner possible. If not, I can explain both. You will require materials."

"Good thing we're in a market." Mila said. "Just tell us what we need."


***
 

"Two days?"
Boldir couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Just yesterday you promised to leave without us if we weren't on time. Now you expect us to wait two more days?"

"Afraid so." The captain was a portly, sun-scorched Colovian whose head was bald and his cheeks were hairy. He had been very direct with Boldir when they came to their arrangement the day before. Now, the man almost seemed nervous. He tried not to, but neither Boldir nor Mila missed the way his eyes kept trying to divert away. Of course, an angry Boldir often had that effect on people. "We've had complications with a shipment. You'll get your passage."

Boldir was tempted to demand his money back and find someone else, but two more days at was still sooner than most other ships that were bound for Hammerfell. At least the ones he could afford. "Fine. But you’ll give me back a hundred gold."

His tone left little room for argument, and the captain seemed to realize that. "That's fair," the man said. "Not like you're costing me much anyway."

And so with that, Boldir and Mila went to find the nearest inn. "At least I can use the time to get started on those scrolls," Mila suggested.

"Indeed," Roseloe darted through the door just before Boldir could shut it. "With two days we can do far more than just the soul trap. You will be at sea, facing Thalmor no less. With the souls you carry, we can create scrolls powerful enough to help you if the elves prove too troublesome."

"Like a recall?" Mila asked, hopeful. She had seen Endar use Mark and recall spells on several occasions. It had been one of those she'd wished to learn the most.

"I was thinking something a little more... offensive," the witch replied. "However, that is certainly doable as well." 

Boldir watched Mila unroll a blank sheet of parchment and spread out her various paints and writing utensils. He hadn't held a paint brush in years. "Will you need some help?" 

"No thanks," Mila smiled. "It may be better if you leave the painting to me anyway."

The coyness in her tone was unmistakable. Boldir frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I just know painting ain't your strong suit is all."

"You’ve never even seen me paint."

"There was the cow in Whiterun."

"You weren’t there for that."

"Rebec told me. Baldur painted teats and you painted badly."

That was when Boldir found out that women cursed to live in the form of insects could still snort. He frowned. "It was dark, and the damn animal wouldn't stop moving. I'm not a bad painter."

Mila grinned. "If you say so."

She started to hand him a brush, but Roseloe interjected, "I can only direct one of you at a time. It may as well be the girl, since she is the one who will use them."

"Fine," Boldir said, hiding his disappointment. He went over to the bed and took a seat. "Let me know if your wrist gets tired or something, alright?"

"I'll be fine," Mila laughed. "You enjoy your time off. There will be plenty for you to do when we make it to Stros M'kai."

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Boldir and Mila
The Abecean Sea


The air was crisp and warm, and the breeze was gentle aboard the Nekla’s Diamond. Together with the simple prospect of this being her first time at sea, and the clear sense of direction that they sailed with, these things put Mila in high spirits. The delay had been frustrating, but not long enough to stop them from reaching Stros M'kai early, and the extra time in Anvil had allowed her to create three new scrolls under Valga's instruction.

"You are a student, yes?" one of the sailers asked on their first day at sea. The gray Khajiit with short hair had approached her above deck, where she had been studying the runes and incantations atop a sealed barrel.

"No," Mila answered. "Just curious."

"Ah, a wandering scholar, then."

"No," she smiled. "I really am just curious."

"The difference seems thin to Fa'ir," he answered. "This one is curious, what these scrolls are for."

"This one is supposed to place a mark," Mila informed him. "When you speak the words tied to it, you are returned to the mark in an instant." The Khajiit seemed amused by that, so she continued. "This one can heal those who are hurt. I will test it in Stros M'kai." A lie. If the second scroll worked as Valga claimed, it would actually strip the target's soul from his body and trap it in a gem. "This one starts fires," Mila said, placing her hand on the third scroll, the one that had been the most difficult to create by far.

"An unnerving thing to find in a young girl's possession, on a vessel made entirely of wood."

"And surrounded by water," Mila reminded him. "Don't worry, it's for hearths and campfires. Not ships."

He seemed to relax, until footsteps arrived and Boldir's shadow engulfed them both. The Khajiit grinned at Mila. "Magic and scrolls, things that are seldom part of the deckhand's arsenal of knowledge. This one thanks you, friend, for humoring him. Fortune smile upon you."

Boldir watched the cat person leave, then leaned against the ship's railing beside Mila. "What did he want?"

"He was curious about the scrolls, so I told him the same thing we told the captain." She looked out and motioned to the sea. Behind them, the Gold Coast was so faint that it was hard to make out. Soon, it would be impossible. "What's on your mind?"

"This definitely ain't Lake Honrich," he answered with a snort. Then he became more serious. "We're out of Cyrodiil, and we've got a plan that isn't terrible. We'll make it."

"I'd never been at sea before," Mila said as she stared at the waves. "Just heard the tales. Ysgramor, Cyrus, pirates and explorers. It really makes this whole thing feel different, you know? Like we're on some kind of adventure from the eddas, and those stories you used to tell."

Boldir thought back on those days. Most of his stories had been passed to him by other Stormcloaks. Mostly Baldur.

"Now it is time to tell," Boldir recited, "that the heroes left the cursed land behind them." He grinned. "There was a viscous elven warlord whose name was Naarifin. He sailed the seas in secret, but the two brave Nords knew what others did not..."

Mila wasn't sure if Boldir called her a Nord on purpose, or if it had slipped his mind. Either way, it made her smile. "These heroes were hunted by many, for the world threw all manner of dangers in their direction. They could only trust each other."

Boldir stopped. Here we are treating this whole nightmare like a fun story. He was surprised to find that he was smiling at it all. It reminded him of Baldur. They would get along so well, even now. If she'd allow it.
"We'll work on it," he said, not really serious. "After everything we've been through, those legends of old have become a lot more believable."


The second day at sea passed much more slowly than the first. Cyrodiil vanished some time in the first night, and their entire world became wood and water. Boldir helped out on deck every now and then, just to give himself something to do. Mila mostly daydreamed and played her pebble game with the crew, but when things got busy up top, she would go below deck and and find a quiet corner to meet with Roseloe. The witch was always down below on account of the sun's heat irritating her insect body.

"There you are." Roseloe glowed to signal Mila where she was, and then guided her to a spot where they would not be overheard. "I do so despise ships," said the witch. "At home I had a grand library, but here? I am lucky to have even found one man's joke book. Tell me, what is a lady cursed with an insect's body to do to pass the days in a place like this?"

"Teach me," Mila answered. "At least you're making yourself useful."

"Indeed. You should spend more time down here. Now, your tome. Where did we leave off?"

Mila dug into her back, past the scrolls, and found the leather book she'd hidden at the bottom. "I've been practicing my wards. At night, when no one is watching. I haven't been able to get it right, though. It keeps coming to me, and then it stops. I can feel the magicka, even see it in my hands. But when I try to raise the ward, it drops."

"That is because you are a nestling who has only just discovered the purpose of her wings. You must stretch them. Now, turn to the last spell."
Mila flipped through the pages until she reached the last spell Roseloe had given her notes on. The soul trap. Mila had spent very little time with this one. It made her feel uneasy, and besides, they already had the scroll for Naarifin.
"Well?" said the witch, "How have you faired with this one?"

"I haven't," Mila said. "It seemed less important."

"Nonsense. What will you do if you misuse the scroll and your elf escapes? Or if he simply dispels it? For your goals and many others, the trapping of the soul is among the most important abilities to master. So much of a mage's power derives from the soul stuff they have harnessed. They are what will allow you to create tools like these scrolls and far greater, or simply power those that already exist. Most importantly, they are a currency, as you have surely learned. Look at all you and your father have done just to retrieve one soul."

"My soul," Mila said. "And it wasn't by choice. I would never hold someone else's soul for bargain."

"No, you would merely hunt those of others," the witch replied. "The results are the same. What will you do if the next one Lord Vile sends you after belongs to a child those your father condemns me for locking in my home?"

Mila had wondered that many times, and always told herself that they would figure something out. "I wouldn't do it," she told the witch. "Me and Boldir ain't perfect, but we're not like you."

Roseloe groaned. "Ughh. Fine. But you will come to regret your passiveness one day. The gods do not care, and the world won't reward it. You crutch yourself for no other reason than because the imbeciles you grew up around put it in your head that this is the way things should be. Remember this, girl: The world is not a picnic. The world is an Arena. Understanding that is how one becomes a champion."

Mila glared at her, just an insect with a voice. "Like you?"

"Yes, like m- wait, you're being coy again aren't you?" Rosealoe scoffed, "You truly can be insufferable some times, you know. Here I am, trying to help you in every way that I am able, and you continue to mock my misfortunes."

"You'll have to get used to that," Mila said. "From everyone. Still, you ain't wrong about the soul trapping. I can't rely on a scroll against Naarifin. It's too important to risk."

"Well, it's good to know you have enough sense to recognize that much, at least. Now, to understand the magic of trapping a soul, it helps to understand the soul itself. What do you know about souls?"

Mila tried to think back. It seemed like they only ever really came up in two contexts. "Souls are who we are, without the body. They're what goes to the afterlife when we die, like Sovngarde. But sometimes mages trap souls like we're doing, and use them for power..."

Roseloe was quiet for some time. "Wait, is that it? That's all you know?"

"Pretty much. They also can become ghosts, right? Or something?"

"By the Void." If insects had eyelids, Mila guessed that the torchbug would have been rolling hers. "You have so much to learn."


Noon of the third day found Mila and Boldir sitting around a barrel with some of the crew above deck. Mila's mind had been wandering while she'd played the pebble game, and she'd made a mistake that caused her to lose. Now the sailers were convinced that it wasn't as hard as they'd believed. Six games later, they still had yet to beat her. Even the Khajiit, Fa'ir, could not manage a win, which was apparently surprising to the others. Mila never told them that following a specific pattern would guarantee the opening player's victory. It was the perfect game for a swindler, and had already earned her thirteen septims and a glass eye covered in Yokudan runes.

"Girl like you's gonna fit right in at Stros M'kai," said her latest victim, a balding Nord named Galik. He looked from Mila to Boldir. "So what are you two, anyway? Mercenaries or some such?"

"You could say that," Boldir answered.

He pointed at Mila. "And you... some kind of vampire?"

"What?" Mila snorted. "No. Why in Shor's name would you think that?"

"Well," he nodded at Boldir. "You're obviously a warrior. But if she's with you, goin' on adventures and what have you, then she's gotta have some secret power up her sleeve. Elsewise she'd be a rather lousy mercenary."

Boldir heard Valga's voice whisper quietly into his ear. "Send her downstairs. She needs to study."

He sat up. "Have any of you seen a torchbug on here during the night?"

"Torchbug? You mean the firefly?" Galik nodded "Yeah, I've seen one belowdeck at night. Never had one of those come with us away from land."

"I'll give ten septims to whoever can get it in a jar for me," Boldir said. "The light helps me sleep." He resisted the urge to laugh when he heard the insect darting away from his ear. Hopefully she got the message, but if not, well, it would at least be funny to know that she would be living in fear of the sailers and their jars. 

As Mila reset the game, someone up in the crow's nest shouted, "Land in sight!"

People started to gather at the bow to try and make out what they could. That seemed strange to Boldir, since he knew that Stros M'kai should have still been days away. Whatever island they were approaching should have been of little interest. He left Mila to her game and headed up to the wheel, where Captain Hutton waited beside his helmsman.

"Tidings," said the captain. "I take it you're wondering about the island." Fa'ir stepped up beside them. The Khajiit's curious eyes studied Boldir, as they always seemed to be doing. 

"Aye," Boldir answered. "It ain't Stros M'kai."

"Gods no. This one is tiny. Just a small trading port. Place for ships to weather storms during rough spells, and for small ones to resupply if they lack the space for drink."

"Are we expecting a storm?" Boldir asked. The skies were as calm and blue as he had ever seen.

"Matter of fact, we are," said the captain. "Landwalker like you might not pick up on it, but I sure can. Ask Fa'ir. It's the smell on the air. We're gonna have a big one. I'll not be putting the Diamond through that if I can help it."

"I paid you for a straight journey," Boldir said. "You already delayed it once."

"And compensated you for it," Hutton rebutted. "Besides, it'll still be direct. With Kynareth's blessing we'll be back at sea within a day."

Boldir frowned and returned to Mila. He could feel their eyes on his back as he took his seat. "I ain't as popular on here as you," he said.

"They ain't your crowd is all." Mila finished counting her coins and slid them into a pouch at her waist along with the glass eye. "I bet you'll take to the Redguards a lot better. The warrior ones, not the pirate ones."

"Aye, we get along great so long as they stay sober," Boldir said, recalling the night Jodun had crashed a few rum bottles on his head and the women had somehow squeezed him into their ridiculous garb as he'd slept. He had often wondered why they didn't just get drunk and brawl like normal people. He frowned. "Can you smell a storm coming before you can even see it?"

"What?" Mila looked as confused as he expected. "I mean, rain has a scent. But I've never... is that what the captain told you or something?"

"He said that he and his cat friend can smell one, and that's why we need to dock at this island." At the shake of Mila's head, Boldir shrugged. "Sailers are weird."

Even so, as they drew closer to the island, Boldir started to feel a change. Not in the weather -that was still clear- but in the manner of the crew. People kept turning away when he caught them looking at him, and the gray Khajiit remained by the captain's side at the helm. At one point, the man in the crow's nest climbed down and Boldir stopped him, motioning to the looking glass tucked beneath his belt. "Mind if I have a look at the island?"

"Can see it plain as day with just your eyes," said the sailer. He seemed nervous. "I promise, this thing only makes it less clear."

The man smiled, and started to walk away, but Boldir stopped him by putting a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Nevertheless, I'd like to look."

The man's eyes darted past Boldir, then quickly back to him. "Uhh... alright. Yeah, sure. I'm telling you, though, you won't be impressed."

Boldir didn't care. He snatched the tool from his belt and focused it on the island. The place was indeed unimpressive. Just a few buildings and a dock. There were only two ships. One was obviously a merchant vessel, and the other, he was not sure. Curiously, its sails and flag were down. Boldir frowned. That's a war ship... He then felt that he knew why everyone was so nervous. We're being set up. Boldir handed the looking glass back to the sailer, and then turned back to the captain. For once, Fa'ir was no longer by his side. 

Out of nowhere, he heard Mila scream, "Boldir, look out!"

Boldir turned, and only just had enough time to step away as the Khajiit's dagger sliced through his shirt and nicked his arm. It had been aimed for his spine. He threw an elbow, but the cat person somehow danced below it and took a swipe. Boldir couldn't stop it, but as the blade cut across his ribs, he stepped onto Fa'ir's bare foot and grabbed him by the wrist that held the knife. "Mila, get my axe!"

Mila turned and darted for the stairs. There were only seven or eight crew members on the deck at that time and they seemed about as shocked and confused as she and Boldir were. Nobody stopped her as she ran to retrieve the weapons. 

While Boldir struggled to take the dagger from the Khajiit, the would-be assassin extended the claws on his free hand and tried to gouge at his eyes. Boldir was able to keep that hand back, but not without taking a gash across the forehead. He roared and butted his head against Fa'ir's. The Khajiit stumbled then and let go of the dagger. Boldir took advantage of this and got a better grip on him, then rammed the cat backward until his back slammed against the ship's railing. 

"Help me you idiots!" the Khajiit barked, all traces of his previous accent suddenly gone. "He's going to kill-"

Boldir grabbed him by one of his long ears and smashed his face against the railing. By then, Mila had returned. She had his axe in one hand and her sword in the other. On her back was the pack containing the scrolls. To her horror, one of the other sailers was running at Boldir with a hatchet in his hand. She was quicker, though, and managed to reach the man just in time to slice his leg with her sword. He fell, and Boldir looked back at them both. She quickly handed him the axe. "Here."

Boldir did not hesitate. Fa'ir was too nimble for that. He buried the axe in the Khajiit's skull, wrenched it out, and tossed the corpse overboard. He then swung around to face the rest of the crew. The man Mila had cut was writing on the ground, whining in pain. All the others stood frozen and in shock. Now that the initial momentum of his fight was over, Boldir was able to get truly angry. These fucking snakes!

"Everyone line up!" he barked. "NOW!"

The sailers complied. There were twelve in all, not counting Fa'ir. They all stood in a line looking terrified. Boldir stared hard at Captain Hutton. "Two day delay, huh? Did that shipment ever make it, captain?"

To the captain's credit, he held himself together in front of his crew, despite looking terrified. "The man who came to us said you two were murderers. He worked for the royal family."

"And that fellow I just killed was one of his, am I right?" Boldir asked. "Penitus Oculatus?"

Hutton nodded. "Aye."

Boldir took a step back and addressed the rest of the crew. "If any more of you are with the Empire, I'd suggest you come forward now. It'll be your last chance to try and kill me without getting a lot of others killed along with you."

"He was the only one," Hutton said. "Showed up the day before we left. Said he was here as an assurance. Keep us safe in case you were as dangerous as they made you sound."

"We are," Boldir said. "And if you're lying, and there are more would-be-assassins among you, know this. For every attempt on my life or the girl's, I'll not only kill the assailant. I'll kill someone else as well... Now, you are going to change course and take us straight to Stros M'kai. No more horkershit about storms or any of that. You'll do what we paid you for, and you'll get to live full lives." He paused. "That is, unless there are any more heroes who'd like to see how many people we can kill on our own. My record is eight."

The crew was silent, save for the weeping of the man Mila had slashed. "Well?" Boldir barked. "Made up your minds yet?"

"We'll take you," said captain Hutton. "Nobody else needs to die."

"Good man." Boldir's voice rose to a shout. "Now get to your stations!"


***


Trevis


Trevis did not like the ocean. He never had. His feelings towards open waters had long ago been tainted by the loss of loved ones to a boating accident in Niben Bay. He could not remember their faces and he did not want to, but their deaths had taught him to treat the lakes, rivers, and seas of the world with the same sort of respect that he would a dragon. They were wild, beautiful, and could swallow you whole in an instant. They were also useful.

After his last run-in with Boldir and Mila, Trevis knew that capturing them would not be easy, even with his men and the Grim Ones combined. They could have searched Anvil for weeks, and unless they got lucky, they would have been more likely to alert Boldir and Mila to their presence and scare them away than they would have been to catch them. But searching Anvil was not necessary for finding their quarry. Two foreigners who had no connections on this side of the world would only have one reason to make a bee-line from Chorrol all the way to the only port city in Colovia: ships. They hoped to escape Cyrodiil. 

Armed with that knowledge, it was much easier to send men out to the various captains and learn which ones were sailing out soon, and which ones were taking passengers. Many were, of course, but one ship stood out, the Nekla's Diamond, whose captain informed Trevis' people that he had only hours prior accepted a pair who fit Boldir and Mila's descriptions down to the scars. From there, the arrangements were made. Trevis and the Grim Ones could have ambushed Boldir on the docks, but after seeing the two of them set fire to a village, kill several elite soldiers, and maim every horse but the one they escaped on, Trevis feared that cornering them in the city would only allow them to pull more tricks, potentially at the cost of many innocents' lives as well as giving them the chance to escape. It was the ocean that gave him a solution.

At sea, Boldir and Mila would think they were safe and let their guard down. They would have nowhere to run, and far fewer innocents to threaten. The Oculatus and Grim Ones occupied an old supply port in what was still considered Imperial waters, and prepared a nice, cozy pair of cells for Boldir and Mila to walk into the moment they stepped off Nekla's Diamond.

Trevis felt eased, calm even. This hunt had gone on far too long as it was. He was glad to know that it would have an easy end. In the worst case scenario, Boldir would figure them out and his agent Vanus, going by the name of Fa'ir, would kill Boldir and at least be able to bring them the girl.

Standing on the beach, Trevis watched the dark speck on the horizon slowly become the silhouette of a ship as it got closer. One of his people confirmed that it was Nekla's Diamond, and he could sense the relief among both his own people and the Nords. When it got close enough to make out people, they would take positions to hide. Until then, every eye was glued on the thing carrying their long-hunted prey.
And then it turned.

Trevis swore. Some of his people swore. The Nords swore a lot. But they had prepared for this. Vanus would most likely take Boldir out before he even knows there is a threat, but there was always the chance that even the back up plan would fail, which was why they had commandeered a ship that was built for speed.

"Arm up, boys!" hollered Thorald Gray-Mane. "Boldir wants to run a little longer, so be it. It won't matter. This ends today!"

Grim Ones and Penitus Oculatus agents alike boarded the Morning Glory. The anchor was raised, the sails were hoisted, and the red dragon of the Empire spread its wings for a hunt.

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The Abecean Sea


The calm in the air was deceptive. Mila could see that now in so many things. She could see it in the crew of Nekla's Diamond, who were working double-time under the gaze of her father, axe in hand. She could see it in the ocean, whose waves seemed so gentle from the ship's deck, yet rose as high as a grown man and crashed against the hull in an endless assault. She could see it most of all in the great black sails that had been growing larger all afternoon, and the blood red dragon that rested at their center.

Mila herself felt anything but calm. They had come so far, fought so hard, only for their hunters to find them anyway. When they had first passed the island, she'd been hopeful that the people on it would not be a threat, that Nekla's Diamond had moved beyond their reach and would lose them before a proper chase could ensue. Even when the black sails had first gone up, she had not been all too worried. They were still so far ahead, at the time it had seemed that so they kept to their course, the pursuers would not be able to catch up. She had been wrong. Four hours had passed, and the Imperial ship had closed well over half the gap between them.

Boldir had hoped for much the same. When the Imperials had begun pursuit, he'd ordered Captain Hutton and the crew to go full speed ahead. He had declared that so long as they reached Stros M'kai, they could lose their hunters in the city. The captain did not display a hint of remorse when he explained that they were being chased by an Imperial caravel, and that there was not a chance in Oblivion that they would make it to Stros M'kai with it on their tail. Looking at it now, Boldir doubted they would even make it until nightfall. 


Aboard the Morning Glory, Trevis watched his prey slowly grow closer and closer, taunting him with how long it was taking, yet powerless to stop his approach. Vanus was dead. Trevis could not prove it, but the fact that there was still a chase at all was all he needed. If the Khajiit had succeeded, he would have already delivered Mila in chains and Boldir's head in a sack. Vanus had not been a friend, but he was loyal and steadfast all the same. One more reason to relish in the knowledge that justice would soon be had.

Around him, the soldiers were geared up for war. Most of the Grim Ones even wore their heavy armor. When told that this would surely cause them to drown if they went overboard, one of them said, "You saw what Boldir can do with an axe. I'll take my chances with drowning." 
The man had said it jokingly, but Trevis knew that there was plenty of honesty in the statement. The Grim Ones were not foolish enough to think their numbers meant Boldir would not be a threat. They were more likely to die by his axe than the water. Although, Trevis had a feeling that most of them feared neither. These were men who had prepared to die long ago. The prospect carried little weight with them.

For his part, Trevis did not want to die. He was not ready, and he had no intention to, by drowning or by axe. And so he was perfectly content to let Gray-Mane's men capture Boldir as they so badly wanted. The Nords had already agreed to return to Anvil when this was over, where the two criminals could stand trial for their crimes against the Empire. Thorald had not liked the prospect, but in the end, they agreed that the results would ultimately be no different than a trial in Skyrim. There was no ending for Boldir that did not involve his death, and after she killed Cadmir and Luthmar, it seemed likely that Mila would fair no better.

And so the chase went on. Hour after hour, the Morning Glory closed in on Nekla's Diamond. Trevis' men loaded their crossbows. Boldir sharpened his axe. Mila worked with Roseloe to make sure she would use the scrolls correctly. Thorald and his men sang a song of death.

‘Twas a little lad,
Went to join the war,
Marched to distant lands,
Axe and sword in hands.
Let flow the blood of foes,
Let them taste the curs,
Shor awaits in heaven,
The young lad marches home.
The young lad marches home.

The moons were high when the Imperial ship drew close enough for Boldir to hear his old brothers' song. He recognized some of the lyrics. They were Baldur’s. With Axe and Sword.
He readied his axe, and Mila drew her sword. It was time. Boldir turned to Captain Hutton. "If any of your people interfere, get in our way at all, I'll make it a point to kill them. Make sure they know that."

"You mean to fight?" The captain looked stunned. By now, the hunters were close enough to see in the orange light of the setting sun. There were a lot of them. Nine had been counted in the armor of the Grim Ones, and there were at least another ten without it. "You’re mad."

Boldir did not respond to that. He motioned for Mila to get in position, then returned his attention to the captain. "Keep us moving, but let them approach."

Hutton did not seem to understand what Boldir was doing, but he barked the orders nonetheless. Half the sails of Nekla’s Diamond folded in, and Morning Glory reached them in no time, matching her broadside to broadside. Boldir stared across the gap, at Thorald and the men he’d considered family, at the Inspector who had shadowed him since the Imperial City. And they stared back. Nobody made a move. All the planning, the contingencies and tactics, they had led to this moment, but no further.

Boldir took a deep breath. A great many things could happen next, depending on what he said, and how strong he could be if words were not enough. He let out the breath. "Gray-Mane."

"Iron-Brow." Thorald stood stiff. In his Nordic armor, and with that skyforged greatsword over his shoulder, the man looked more like the statue of a Grim One than the actual thing. He embodied them about as perfectly as a Nord could.

"You've made some interesting friends," Boldir said. "Even after making peace, I would have never expected to see a son of Clan Gray-Mane working alongside the Legion. You, least of all."

"You gave us little choice when you turned traitor," Thorald answered. "And not only a traitor, but a coward, who runs instead of looking his family in their eyes and explaining his crimes."

"My family is on this ship. And I'm running toward something, not away. If you lot could leave us be, you'd never hear from us again and nobody would need to get hurt."

Trevis saw Thorald digesting those words, and spoke up before the Nord could reply. "Not the servant in Valga Estate. You killed him and freed those children. Why? How did you even know what was happening there?"

"The same way I know about a Thalmor ship that will soon be in Redguard waters. And for the same reason I mean to intercept it and kill one of the mages onboard."

Trevis had not known what he expected Boldir to say, but it certainly wasn't that. The Stormcloaks were equally confused. "There is clearly a lot more to this than a couple of criminals on the run," he said. "So explain yourself."

"Mila's soul has been stolen, and these are the things I must do to get it back." Boldir did not want to mention that it was by a Daedric Prince, but that wouldn't be necessary to make his point anyway. He looked at Thorald, "That is the only reason I haven't gone to Baldur and turned myself in already. She cannot afford for me to fail, so whether it's witches, Thalmor, or my own kinsmen who try to stop me, you'll all fail."
Boldir tried as hard as he could to make sure his sincerity shone through as he spoke his next words. "I wish you would help me, Thorald. Do you not think Baldur would want you to? He and Rebec would come themselves if they only knew!"

Thorald was hard to read, but the men around him were not. A Nord Boldir recognized but could not put to name spoke, "High King Baldur may have helped you before you burned down Riften and slaughtered hundreds of your brothers and sisters on the field. Not after, traitor!"

Several of the Stormcloaks shouted their agreements, and and Trevis knew that whatever Thorald decided, they would still want justice. He wasn't sure about all this talk of Thalmor and souls. If it was an attempt to stall or mislead them, it was a very strange one, but all of that could just as easily be figured out through the bars of a jail cell as it could out here, and his mission was to capture Boldir and Mila, not help them. He turned to his men. "I've had enough of this. Board the ship. Find the girl. If Boldir moves, put a bolt in him."

The Imperials started lobbing over grappling hooks, and a pair of wide boarding planks were lifted into the air. Boldir looked at Thorald, ready to beg, but by then many of the other Grim Ones were already joining in. Gray-Mane made no move to stop them.
You made me do this.
Boldir turned to Captain Hutton and shouted, "Full speed! Raise the sails if you know what's good for you!" He then saw the first Imperial take aim with his crossbow, and raised his shield in time to catch the bolt. Two more followed, and Boldir ducked behind the railing. "Now, Mila!"

Mila stood where she'd been hiding near the helm, the open scroll her hands. As Nekla's Diamond started to speed up, she read the incantation and activated the soul-bound runes. The parchment became flame in her hands, and she manipulated the flame into a ball. While the Imperials and Stormcloaks all clambered with their ropes and weapons, none seemed to notice her as the ball grew larger and hotter.

None except for the mage, Bentrius. Trevis was drawing his own sword when he felt his friend’s iron grip on his shoulder, and a transparent cocoon of magicka suddenly formed around him. Trevis had just enough time to question what was going on when he saw the girl release her spell.

Valga was not some novice hedge witch who would give them a plain fireball. This scroll had been made explicitly for an emergency at sea. The Thalmor had been the intended targets, but it made no difference. A great force collided with Morning Glory, crashing into the hull like the missile fired from a ballista. The blast sent wood and men flying, only to be engulfed in the terrible inferno that followed. Grim Ones who had only moments ago feared no death now screamed as they cooked inside their armor. Many Imperials wailed alongside them. The ship cracked, split, and went down in flames.

Not all of their foes were dead, though. Not yet, at least. Most had been caught on the Morning Glory as they prepared to board, but a couple of Stormcloaks managed to make it across, and even after what had just happened, they climbed over the railing with more hatred in their eyes than fear. Boldir did not look away from them. "Mila, get below deck." His tone brokered no argument. "Now."
As Mila obeyed, Boldir went forward to meet his Stormcloak brothers in combat yet again.
 

Away from the ship and far below, Trevis opened his eyes. He was underwater. Around and above him, the bodies of his comrades still burned. He saw one of them flailing desperately as a Grim One grabbed at his foot to save himself from sinking, but the Nord's armor was too heavy, and he slid down into the darkness all the same. The burning corpse of the Morning Glory still remained above water, barely, but it was broken down the middle and quickly going under.

That fucking kid. Trevis mustered up his energy and kicked against the water until he surfaced. He spotted two of the Grim Ones climbing over the surviving ship’s rails, and saw a third clinging to the lower end of her hull. The Nekla’s Diamond was already sailing again, and would soon leave Trevis stranded at sea among the wreckage if he did not act fast. 

He started to swim. The explosion had thrown him surprisingly far, but thankfully it had been in the direction that the Diamond was now sailing, so he was able to reach the back of the ship just before it could leave him behind. He grabbed some hanging netting and pulled himself out of the water. The netting was easy to climb, so it did not take him long to reached the top. There, he found Boldir clashing with the two Grim Ones. The speed and strength of all three combatants was incredible, but only one of them was able to fight like that without any armor. Trevis knew better than to try his luck there.

He grabbed one of the craven sailers by his shirt and growled, "Where is the girl?"

"Down below," came the man’s frightful answer. He pointed out the portal that led below deck, and Trevis shoved him aside without another word.

Boldir caught a glimpse of the Inspector heading below deck, but there was nothing he could do. His foes were not fighting to apprehend him at this point. Every strike was aimed to kill. If he'd had his armor, the fight would have been much shorted, but as it was, he could not fight like they did, absorbing strikes on their arms and torsos to press their assaults. Still, Boldir was faster, and better at detecting openings. He guided the fight toward the ship's mast, watching the Grim Ones' every move for mistakes. They made very few, but as they neared the mast, one finally proved critical. As the Nord closed in to bring down an overhead blow with his sword, the ship lurched, and he lost his footing. It took less than a second for Boldir to step in front of the man's shield and drive his axe into the man's thigh, slicing it deep.

As the first Nord fell, the second pressed even harder, and the body of a third suddenly appeared over the rail. Not eager to be outnumbered again, Boldir answered the second Nord's aggression with some of his own. He caught a strike on his shield, but instead of dancing away as he had been doing the entire fight, he side-stepped his foe and threw his weight into him. The Stormcloak's metal back smacked into the ship's mast, and before he could collect himself, Boldir's axe found his unprotected bicep. The man dropped his sword, and let out some kind of growl before Boldir's pommel smashed him in the eye.

Boldir turned, then, and saw Thorald's mighty greatsword whirling through the air. The pack leader of the Grim Ones had closed the distance between them with surprising speed, and Boldir only just managed to duck out of the way in time to escape. He raised his shield to catch the follow-up swing, and then took a swipe of his own that pushed Thorald back, but had no effect against his quicksilver armor. The two faced one another with the strangest mixture of fury and sadness. There would be no more words. They both understood that much, at least. The Grim Ones resumed their clash.


Mila had gone below deck as Boldir had ordered, but she did not hide. When the Inspector found her, she was waiting among the hammocks and bunks with a sword in her right hand, a shield in her left, and a scroll gripped in her shield hand. The sailers had cleared to the edges of the room, having now seen what she was capable of. Even at that moment, with her hunter closing in on her, Mila could hardly believe it herself. All those people... she had thought in her brief moment of quiet after the explosion. My people... 

The arrival of Trevis had forced her to stash the guilt away for later, if there would even be a later. The Imperial's dark eyes were filled with an unnerving rage she had not seen in them during their last run-in. Indeed, nobody had, for nobody had ever earned Trevis' anger quite like her.
When he found her there, just waiting in the open, it was so unlike their last encounter that it made Trevis hesitate. Mila had proven to be both crafty and dangerous, but not a warrior. He suspected a trick. But when he took his first step and nothing happened, he took another, weary of any possible magic around him, and ready to raise a ward. 

"I have hunted more people than you have seen winters," he said, his voice cold. "Traitors, conspirators, necromancers, all horrible people. But you and your father are the first to make me feel..." He frowned. "It doesn't matter. Drop the scroll, Mila. And the sword. That'll be your best chance at getting out of this alive. The same chance you gave my men."

He knew she wouldn't, of course. So he conjured a sword of his own and continued towards her. Once he was in range, Mila made her move. To Trevis' surprise, she knew how to use that sword. He deflected her blow, and stepped away from her shield bash, but when he delivered a counter strike, the shield was back up to block it.
"So that's what you've been doing all this time. Boldir has been training you to fight like a Nord. What about the magic? A spell like the one you used out there would cost a small fortune on a scroll. Did you get it from Valga's place? Is that why you went there?"

Mila didn't answer. She couldn't. Her brain was too busy following the Inspector’s every step, every bend in his knees. He was trying to distract her with conversation, but she would not let him. They continued to circle, and she tried very hard to remember Boldir's teachings. Find the heartbeat of the fight. The tempo. Mila pressed forward, slashing right, left, down, and right again at Trevis, until the ring of their weapons started to develop a pattern she could read. Trevis' own attacks did not match it perfectly, but as they danced throughout the ship's underbelly, Mila was able to take note. 
What is the one thing that you want your enemies to do?

Mila caught Trevis' phantom blade on her shield and ducked around a beam in time to avoid a follow-up swipe. Whatever I want them to do.

She countered, though only with enough force to make the Inspector step back, then she fell behind her shield and allowed him to approach. 
And when do you want them to do it?

Mila slowly back-stepped as Trevis hammered into her shield. The wood was starting to splinter, and she knew that before long he would be slicing open her forearm. Whenever I want them to do it. 

Trevis did a two handed flicking move that batted Mila's shield out of the way, and then prepared to strike her again. It was what she wanted him to do, and when she wanted him to do it. Mila clutched the scroll in her hand and mouthed the spell. Before Trevis' eyes, Mila vanished. Only, she had not vanished. She had merely recalled to the rune she had placed just behind where the Imperial now stood. 

Trevis realized what was happening only a moment too late. He spun, but not in time to deflect the slash that should have opened his neck. He staggered over in surprise, and took the full force of Mila's sword across his shoulder. The iron cut deep, and the wound burned. His arm seized up and his bound sword dissipated. It took everything he had to keep his wits despite the pain, but he had no choice. Mila drew back her blade and prepared another strike, so he did the only thing he had time for, and dove into it, catching the surprised girl by her wrist and forcing her to drop the sword. Her shield came between them, but as they grappled, it eventually fell too. From there, it was only a matter of time. Even wounded, Trevis was far stronger. He pinned Mila to one of the ship's beams and started to choke her. The girl's hand's scrambled for her sword, but he managed to pin one down with his knee and grab the other with his left hand. His right hand never left her neck.

Mila's face began to darken. It was the face of a child. And when he looked into her eyes, he did not see a viscous killer. He saw fear. He saw a girl who was terrified for her life. He started to relax his grip. 
Then, plain as the moons in the sky, a woman's voice spoke to Trevis. "You fool! Kill the girl and be cursed!"

"What in the-"

His weight shifted, just a bit, but it was enough for Mila to free her hand from under his knee and rip her dagger out of its sheath. The blade glowed dimly, not unlike the torchbug that whirled behind Trevis' ears. And as the Inspector's eyes widened, she drove its tip into his stomach. Trevis gasped, a look of utter shock in his eyes. But to Mila's surprise, he did not release her. She moved to pull the dagger free and stab him again, but he let go of her other hand and grabbed the blade himself, wrenching it free of both her grasp, and his own torso. The smells of blood and searing flesh met Mila's nostrils, and the Inspector used his grip to slam her head against the beam.

Mila's eyes crossed for a moment. Trevis had only dazed her... Gods, he was hurting. He needed to end this soon, all of it, while there was still time to heal his wound. He held the enchanted dagger to Mila's neck. Somewhere behind him, the woman's voice continued to threaten and even plea with him, but it must have been another trick, some illusion that would not work twice. Trevis delivered a punch right between Mila's eyes, knocking her out cold.


Neither Boldir nor Thorald had ever faced a foe quite like the other. Boldir was larger, but Thorald was younger, and like the others his armor made him far more versatile. Each time they met, Boldir's axe found a mark, but never one that could hurt the Stormcloak, whose greatsword moved faster than such a weapon ever should have. Every time Gray-Mane's steel struck Boldir's shield, the wood creaked, and the metal rang. Around them, the crew of Nekla's Diamond watched in fearful awe. The victor could very well determine the course of their lives, though they were not certain which one would be better for them, nor were they brave enough to intervene.

Despite their distraction, despite the threat his opponent presented, Boldir remained calm. He was not the best talker, not as clever as Baldur, or magical like so many wizards. But he was a good warrior. Alongside Mila, it was just about all the world had not managed to take from him. And like her, he did not intend to give that up. And so, as Thorald rained blow after blow down on him, Boldir dodged and deflected, blocked and parried, countered, attacked. He lured Thorald into strikes that he knew how to punish, and adjusted on the fly when the Stormcloak managed to see it coming.

Their weapons rang again on and on. Their feet danced and battled for purchase on the swaying deck. Their shoulders rose and fell as they heaved heavy breaths between clashes. When Boldir's axe found an exposed spot on Thorald's left arm, the Stormcloak ground his teeth and attacked all the harder. He hammered away at Boldir's shield until there was little left of the thing. Once Boldir caught a break, he discarded it and took his axe in both hands. Their dance continued, until during a fatal moment, Nekla's Diamond hit a large wave and lurched once again. Both men were thrown off balance, but where Thorald planted the tip of his greatsword into the deck, Boldir stumbled, and crashed into him. The two wrestled for a moment, too close to even use their weapons, but when the ship rocked back, their brawl went to the ground, and both men's weapons were lost. Things got even more brutal then: Fists and elbows flew, teeth sand into hands and arms, and at one point Boldir landed a headbutt beneath the rim of Thorald's helm. When the ship rocked again and gave Boldir a chance to throw the Stormcloak aside, blood filled his mouth and smeared his face. His arms were gashed in places, and several of his ribs were certainly bruised if not cracked. But he had dished out just as much. Thorald's nose was bleeding, and a couple of his fingers might have been broken. The man's eyes were blackened, and he looked dazed.

And that was all Boldir needed. His strength was just a little more than Thorald's. Enough that he was the first to recover. Seizing on that opportunity, Boldir pounced, pinning the Grim One to the deck with his own weight, and then he started punching. The first blow broke Thorald's nose, and the second busted his lips. The third, made his eyes roll back, and the forth knocked a few teeth down his throat. When Boldir stood, Gray-Mane made no move to follow. The Stormcloak had lost, and was beaten so badly that he did not even notice Boldir walking away, or Boldir returning with his skyforged greatsword.

For once, Boldir did not feel remorse. He had said his piece, and it had failed. Now he would finish this the way he knew best. He lifted the greatsword.

"STOP!" It was the Inquisitor. Boldir turned and found the man with a bloody handful of Mila's hair and her own dagger at her throat. "I swear by all the gods, Boldir, if one more person dies, so does she!" He was not bluffing. "Drop the sword, Boldir!"

"Mila," Boldir took a step toward the Imperial. The Imperial was only a few feet away. If he could just-

Trevis touched the enchanted steel to Mila's neck, just deep enough to draw blood. And to burn. "Drop. The. Sword!"

Boldir dropped the sword. As he did, Thorald stirred at his feet. Trevis, however, did not budge. A thin red line was was now trickling down his fingers, accompanied by a soft hissss.
"Stop," Boldir said. "We can-"

"No more talking from you!" the Imperial demanded. "No more tricks. This is the part where you listen, and obey every word I say or your girl fucking dies."

Thorald started to rise behind him, but there was nothing he could do. Boldir started to speak, but something hard struck the back of his head, and he fell to his knees. When he looked up, Mila's own eyes were starting to open. "Please," he begged. "Don't hurt her."
Another blow landed. This one sent Boldir face-first onto the wooden deck. Everything was fuzzy, and his head felt like a nail had been driven into it, yet he still kept his eyes on Mila. At least until the third strike landed. That's when everything went dark.


***


Trevis had never felt more relief in his life than when the Nord's eyes finally flickered closed. Of course, that was immediately followed by the girl squirming even with a dagger at her throat. It was in vain. He and Thorald tied both her and Boldir up and tossed them into the ship's brig, if it could be called that. Unlike the Morning Glory, Neckla's Diamond was not designed to carry prisoners. The room was just a place for storage, but after clearing it of barrels and crates, it served well enough. More important were the ropes and chains, and Captain Hutton had plenty of those. They bound up the Iron-Brows like they might have tied up a pair of dragons and then some, sparing them no room for movement or comfort.

When that was done, they tended to the wounded. Thorald's two men had not faired well. One was already dead, and the other was very likely beyond saving. Even so, Trevis tried, but not until after he had seen to his own wounds. Mila had come very close to killing him. Had her blade gone a few inches higher, or had he waited a few minutes longer, Trevis' meager healing spells would not have been enough. Even as it was, the job he did was messy and not especially clean. If the girl's weapon had not seared him so good, he might have even bled out. Small blessings.

While Trevis worked to heal the fallen Nord, Thorald had the captain turn the ship around and return to the wreckage to search for survivors. It took longer than expected to find, mostly because there was little left. But in the end, they succeeded when a voice shouted at them from the distance. They found it belonging to a Grim One, who had rather miraculously managed to remove his armor while sinking in it, and now floated on a piece of wreckage with a burned body next to him.

"He's still breathing," the Nord insisted as they lowered a rope. "He needs a healer!"

As they brought the man up, Trevis realized by the tattered outfit that it was one of his own. "You saved him?"

"Aye," the Nord sputtered as he pulled himself onto the ship. "Can you fix him?"

Trevis did what he could, but the burns were too severe. He could not even tell which of his men it was. He died in Trevis' arms, leaving him as the last surviving member of the team he had set out with. Thorald was happy to see one of his friends still alive, though it was hard for any of them to find much joy after losing so much. All to catch a couple of outlaws.

Regardless of how he felt, Trevis slept better that night than he had in his entire life. He was exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and in pain to top it off. But at least he did not go to sleep and dream of failure. He awoke the next morning with the consolation that at least he had finally completed his task. Those who had died were good men. Some were even friends. But that was a part of their lives. Trevis hoped that he could catch some kind of break after all this. Even if it was just a day. A war is about to begin. There will be no breaks.

Trevis was still thinking on the future when he made it topside. The three surviving Grim Ones were already up, Thorald at the helm with the captain, and the other two over at the edge of the ship, watching the sun rise. Trevis started to join them, when a realization dawned on him. We should be sailing into the sunrise. Not alongside it.
He turned to Thorald, who was watching him with his arms crossed, and a smirk on his lips. And that was when Trevis knew he had been deceived. They were not going back to Anvil. They were going to Skyrim.

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General Martullus, 
Elsweyr, 
Evening 

“To kill Man is to reach Heaven, from where we came before the Doom Drum's iniquity. When we accomplish this, we can escape the mockery and long shame of the Material Prison.

To achieve this goal, we must:

I Erase the Upstart Talos from the mythic. His presence fortifies the Wheel of the Convention, and binds our souls to this plane.

II Remove Man not just from the world, but from the Pattern of Possibility, so that the very idea of them can be forgotten and thereby never again repeated.”

III With Talos and the Sons of Talos removed, the Dragon will become ours to unbind. The world of mortals will be over. The Dragon will uncoil his hold on the stagnancy of linear time and move as Free Serpent again, moving through the Aether without measure or burden, spilling time along the innumerable roads we once travelled. And with that we will regain the mantle of the imperishable spirit-

“Dar'ssa, fetch water!” 

“This Khajiit is busy!” Yelled the young Suthay-raht as the girl flipped another page of the tome she was reading, the Altmeri Commentary on Talos  as a good Dominion citizen. The hefty book was a first edition copy. Very rare, and it was one of her treasured possessions, the great black tome heavy and thick with the arduous smell of aged paper, remained in her arms as she hugged it. Once she was of age, the young Rhajar wanted to join the Levy, and fight against those treacherous apes to the North! Surely her mother could wait.

“Well, this Khajiit will make sure to give you extra chores tomorrow, unless you go now!” She almost growled.

Dar’ssa sighed, calling out, “Yes, Mamma…” before dropping the old book, and getting off her Khajo tree bed, stretching and yawning tiredly. Her room was pretty bare, besides her small bed, a simple wooden drawer, and the various stacks of unkempt books that littered the floor. Thinking about it, at least she had books to occupy her, most girls her age in these parts were not literate, and couldn’t enjoy the pleasure of reading. Gripping her hair band, the young Khaajit yawned, barring her mouth, and showing her fangs. This one better do it now...She gloomed, as she hurried left her small room, entering the family living space. A dry air hung inside, as did clomps of dust, The wind would normally sweep the dust out of their dwelling, but it had been unusually hot the last few weeks, and the wind hadn’t had any respite. Dar’ssa paid no mind to her family's basic furniture, or her mother tirelessly working in the kitchen to prepare grilled Khar’go’s , as she just muttered, "This one shall hurry..." 

Her mother wasn't a patient women. And she was quite the sight when disobeyed.

Dar'ssa didn't really care about the clothes she wore, a simple dress made from brown linen passed on to her by her mother. A peasant girl wore hand me downs, as her father told her. She didn't really care about clothing anyway

She pushed her way through the Mako tree doorway that lead out of her family's dwelling. Alas, they lived somewhat close to the Imperial-Dominion border  and the more densely forested (and much more temperate) jungles lay to the south. She couldn't really complain though, her villages community was suited in a somewhat fertile part of the mostly desert covered landmass, near the city of Riverhold. For all she knew, she could have been born in the shifting desert sands that lay beyond. She hated the heat. A cool breeze awaited her, as the great sun above hung lower then she had last seen it, the last remaining vestiges of the light beginning to be consumed by the melancholy of twilight.  Her family's house lay near the community center. A moderate sized house, [[https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/elderscrolls/images/4/44/Khajiitarchitecture.png/revision/latest?cb=20140430071839 built with a classic cropped roof]]. The place was bigger then a normal village, but smaller then almost every town, so both terms we're used interchangeably. Dozens of houses of similar build stood beside each other, making the farming community of Sujahetr-nanir, a miserable little place we’re nothing happened! 

According to Dar'ssa anyway. The farming community was pretty big all things considered. Big enough to warrant a sharpened palisade to be built around the small town, and, defensive wooden towers to be placed around. And a small, but somewhat noticeable presence of guards. They we're near the border after all. As she left the town itself, and wandered outside, the surroundings finally changed. The vermilion sky shone down on all the farmland. Khajiit farmers blissfully worked with billhooks, knowing their working day was almost over, and they could relax, if only for a little, with their families. Before her eyes, stocks of grey stood out, so vast it was almost like a sea of farmland Khajoon crops only grow in the "winter". Not that "winter" was much a real winter in Elsweyr. It was still pretty hot. 

"Moonling!" Dar'ssa turned her head to see her uncle, Captain Bajoo of the village guard. His hulking figure practically blocked out the dying sun, as he heaved his large Ebony sword over his back. Even for a Pahmar-raht, the captain was massive. Easily six and a half feet tall, made even larger by his hulking mass of muscle. Covered in scars, the veteran was still quite able to rip a coast lion in half with his claws. His white and black striped fur made him look like a snow leopard on the prowl ontop a mountain. The young girl placed her hands to her shoulder, doing a customary greeting. She muttered, "Uncle, this Khajiit is happy to see you!" 

The great hulk of cat , rubbed her head with affection with his free hand as he muttered, "Has this ones sister sent you to do something?" 

"Yes. Mother needs some water."  Bajoo nodded. "Well get to it! This one knows how she can be!" He laughed.

Dar'ssa giggled as turned around, waving goodbye. However, she was suddenly stopped. "Dar'ssa wait!" 

The young girl turned around. Her uncles face seemingly grew sad for a second, before he let out a deep growl. He grinned once more, "The well is by the trees, there's some of the watch there, but be on your guard the same! Be quick, and come home safe, understand niece?" 

She grew confused, as she could only nod in response, "Run along now." The old Pahmar-raht sighed, as he turned around. Forgive me, little moonling. I do this for the glory of  Summerest and Elswry. The Dragon shall choke on this meal...

Uncle acts very strange...Dar'ssa walked for half an hour, waving to the people still in the fields, toiling away, attributing the oddness to her uncles age. It was boring to the young girl, but she still considered it an honest way of life. Harvesting crops. Simple, but rewarding work. And someone needed to do it! She was sure her brothers and father we're still out and about. A few times she had helped with the harvest but her father seldom asked her as of late. She continued to walk her path, her only companion the fading sun.

Until finally, the well came into view. It was a stone well, bare, and simple. A duo of town guards lay beside it, right behind a wooden guard post, which held a large bronze warning bell, gazing into the forest for any sign of danger. One of them, a Cathy-raht by the name Ajhataj nervously kept a hand to his sword,  a simple steel longsword. They nervously glanced at each other, before they noticed the little girl approaching from behind, wooden bucket in hand. Ajhataj spoke with a thick accent, "Little one! Here to fetch some water?" The girl nodded her head, saying, "These ones look like their spooked pups, is everything alright?" Dar'ssa herself approached, dropping her bucket onto the grass, as she glanced around the forest. Her keen ears perked up, when she attempted to figure out what had scared them so.

Nothing but dark silence. No birds singing. No Hyenas laughing. Not even the leaves rustling. It was...very strange.

"Are you-"

"Hold."The leaves we're suddenly thrown back, blown by some force, and an unknown voice arose near the trees. A wave of air hit the trio of Khajiit, as Dar'ssa mouth dropped.  A discharge of magic. Like a desert mirage, the air infront of them rippled, becoming various shapes of different colors. Octagons, hexagons, triangles, squares and dozens more flew around, changing color every second. The air shimmered, glowed, danced, before the streaks in the sky vanished and collapsed on itself. The beautiful display of colors and shapes left the young girl awed. She had never seen anything of the like. And suddenly before her...

....stood a small army of horsemen. 

Dozens. Maybe a hundred? A hundred and fifty? They wore gleaming armors of metal, and even their horses, clearly bred for war, we're clad in steel plates. One of them, stood out the most to her. The leader. His armor...was silver? It shimmered, reflecting the dying sunlights rays onto the ground. It was heavy platemail, most certainly, very ornate , trimmed with gold edgings, the outer edges, now that her eyes had narrowed, seemed more...white then silver, and the intermost parts we're a strange...almost oily, black. For a helmet, he wore a knightly great helm, though it's shape was that of a snarling dragon. In his hands, he wielded a very large, Warhammer. [[https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/elderscrolls/images/0/0a/Champion's_Cudgel.png/revision/latest?cb=20130303234903 It's material was steel, but it glowed an otherworldly shade of purple, under the darkness, as if the weapon was enchanted by some curse. The hammer's head had dozens of smaller metal nudges on it's front, like a meat tenderizer, and it's back was a large spike, presumably to help get through armor. The man lifted the massive weapon into the sky, and pointed it forward. 

"Advance." He simply said.

Dar'ssa only noticed what was embossed onto the Hammer's steel head on the side this very second.

The Black Drake of the Empire.

Dar'ssa body filled with fear, as the riders spurred their horses onward, a massive pile of dirt being thrown upwards, as they all charged at once, the Rider the first to be upon the group.

The lead horseman, swung his warhammer from the side with frightening speed, his red cape billowing in the wind, and in one foul swoop, crushed Ajhataj’s chest, before the Cathay-raht warrior could even bring his sword into a guard, his splitmail offering little protection from the attack. The momentum behind the swing ensured that Despite the horrific sound of bones crushing, the ornate silver armor remained untarnished. “You have been judged wanting.” The warrior’s deep voice was muffled by his helmet, as his mount went  around the falling corpse, and attacked Gradih, who slashed at the towering soldierwith his Falcata. “Dar’ssa flee, be swift!” The young girl wasted no time running as fast as her legs could carry her, getting past her fear her auburn tail trailing behind. She went to the side, away from thundering riders, and into the blackness of the forest.

She didn’t glance back, and she tried her best to close off the heavy screaming in the distance. She wouldn’t be returning to the village.
****

The riders formation was impeccable.  Even as they stormed through the fields, with blade and torch, they remained in perfect formation. No one could fault the Imperials for there organisation skills. They retained that obsession with control even when they we’re doing something so chaotic as a raid.

Thundering, the [[https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/elderscrolls/images/4/42/Knightofthehour.png/revision/latest?cb=20170703161313]] gleaming armor of the Imperial Knights, faded in with the regular cavalrymen, both sweeping into the farmland as the camouflage spell dissipated, zigg zagging lines of magic lingering  here and there in the red bathed sky . Most of the riders [[https://i.imgur.com/r7DhpPO.jpg?1]] wore a cross between classic Lorica and platemail, which was actually quite similar to the Knights equipment, barring the ornate design itself,  alongside bare closed helmets. which contrasted the Knights own red horse haired helmets. Besides there crimson plumage, another way to tell the two types of soldiers were their tunics. The savage Knight Draco wore crimson tabards, and the Second Legion Veterans carried their light blue dyed tunics

Not that it mattered to the locals what they wore...

With blade and javelin, the Imperial Riders plunged their weapons into the backs of defenseless, screaming Khajiit villagers. The fields, even though the sun was about to fall, we’re still being tended. Meaning plenty of the village folk lay outside the, admittedly meager, defenses of the village palaside. Riding in a semi wedge, the cohort of armed riders ran down any "cat" that fled. 

Even under there steel helms, the Riders faces remained expressionless. Whatever thoughts that came in their minds, a dissonance of complete serenity remained.  No cries of rage. No screams of pleasure. Detached actions of destruction. Just serenity, among a backdrop of horrible shrieks. The Legion at its most horrifying. A white haired farmer ran, sprinting on all fours to the safety of the forest, only to get an imperial pilum in her back, the same rider, revving up to slash at another running farmer. A mother screamed, holding her crying baby, as they we're both trampled by a barded Imperial Warhorse, their bodies crumpled underneath it’s hooves.  A husband and his wife, were cut down as they tried to hid among the tall layers of Nhajur grass, their throats cut out by steel Spartha’s. A trio of Tojay, armed with billhooks, charged, trying to buy time for the other Khajiit, there stand in vain as all three were slain in mere seconds.

The wave of farmers scattered towards the village center, the riders close behind, any straggler picked off by a sword slash, or a pilum throw. Crops we’re being put to the torch, as lances of Imperial soldiers set fire to their livelihood, erasing months of hard work and toil. Soon the smoke rose from the earth, blanketing the air with a thick smog, as flames arose, consuming everything it touched. 

As if they we’re hounds leading a deer to their masters arrow, the group of mounted legionaries broke off the chase. A few of the Khajiit who noticed prayed to S'rendarr for their good fortune, only for their prayers, to turn to the wails of the damned. 

A second wedge of Imperial Riders suddenly broke from the cover of the trees, and came upon the fleeing villagers, furiously charging them head on. With a flash of Imperial Steel, dozens we’re cut down in an instant. Others who tried to push through the wedge of heavily armored warhorses were trampled on, others who fled, veering to the right we’re impaled upon thrown Imperial Javelins. A horn sounded, as the first group of imperial riders, went around the killing field and the second cohort, bypassing both, entirely and headed towards the town. 

In the village itself, pandemonium  had taken hold, as Khajiit townsfolk screamed, rushing to the townscenter.  The guards tried to restore order, as they yelled at everyone to keep calm. Alarm bells were ringing from the wooden towers, as they smoke from the burning feels began to rush forward and blanket the village itself. Babies cried, fathers tried to console their crying children, and a cry of panic had practically erupted all over.

Bajoo pushed his way through the crowd, alongside a group of forty or so guards, before they took position at the villages front, right behind the palisades gate, the fortification relative protection doing nothing to quell the fear that brewing inside all of them. The Captain lifted his mailed claw into the sky, yelling, his voice, deep, as if it was a lions roar, “Hold! These warriors shall rend the False Empress’s soldiers, for we are the defenders of the Dominion! None will pass our steel, brothers!” The assembled guardsmen, despite being terrified, roared in defiance, lifting their weapons sky high. Many villagers had formed up behind the guardsmen, armed with farming tools and the occasional weapon. They weren’t trained soldiers, but they we’re just as willing to give their life to defend their homes.

Curiously, the Imperial Raiders had stopped, and lingered just beyond the town’s tiny force. As if they we’re waiting for something.

A searing sphere of flame suddenly appeared behind the group, and just as it materialized, it erupted in the center of the guards line, right as a shockwave rushed forward, knocking the wooden gate flat down The formation evaporated with the explosion of fire.  Most of the Khajiit defenders we're bathed in searing flames, the few who weren't still suffered blistering burns from the sheer hotness of the air that hit them, the ones who weren't...rolled on the ground, letting out terrible shrieks of pain as they burned alive, their fur catching ablaze, charring their flesh underneath. The unlucky ones who carried heavy armor we’re cooked alive by the sheer hotness of the air, boiling them from inside, their protection, now their horrible grave. Besides the Captain...who knelt, the pain so great, but inconsequential. He did not scream, just uttering a low growl. The old Pahmar-raht, gripped his ebony scimitar, as his massive body collapsed, the magical flames consuming his white and black striped fur. A small...smile lay on his lips, as he was devoured by the hunger fire. For….the Aldmeri Dominion. Before fading away, he saw the waving black banner of the Aldmeri Dominion above them, consumed by the ever expanding wave of flame, before he himself was turned into nought but cinders.

As if on cue, the Imperial horsemen charged in over the destroyed gate, on their mounts, and began to cut down the surviving Khajiit guards; some of which hadn’t even picked themselves off the ground yet. Others feverishly put up some kind of defense among the roaring flame, but we’re cut down just as quick.

For all their fervor, and loyalty to the might of the High Elves, they were but pigs to the slaughter.

In mere seconds, the magical fire extended...only backwards, away from the charging horsemen, and towards the village itself, consuming both buildings, and villagers who were unlikely enough to be caught in the seemingly magical blast. More howls of agony, as the magical flames burnt both wood and flesh in unison

A hooded man lead the second Imperial group, who for now, just watched his comrades slaughter. Blue robes, dyed like the deepest depth of the ocean, he was mounted on a black warhorse, the horse in question bare of any kind of armor, unlike his fellows. He had his hands outstretched, as they pulsated with burning flames, whom he rolling into a circular ball of flame, the consuming inferno growing stronger every second. The roaring fires around, set in the fields by the mounted legionaries had spread around, dyeing the area in crimson red, the fading sun’s red sky matching it’s surroundings fully, as the darkness of night crept around. The man’s hands, as he stroke the flames into the air we’re like a conductor, conducting a dark symphony, a symphony of blood and slaughter. 

Breathing in heavily, the General of the Second, Octavia Martullus finally, with a solemn push, unleashed the spell from his control. As if a wave, the fire suddenly expanded into a blazing inferno of destruction, as dozens of villagers we're incinerated in a single instant. The blaze swept through the first half half of the village. Those not caught by the fire, would soon be taking care of by the Imperial Raiders. A few of the Horsemen, underneath their helmets gazed at their general with a mix of fear and awe, but they remained silent. Most...hadn't expected to see a display like that. 

Honestly most we're still in shock from before. None of them knew the General had accompanied them, or that he had decided last minute to personally lead the raid. Not even the Knight-Tribune. He had apparently only told the Legates.

Martullus began to salivate, his breath quick and deep. Cold sweat formed on his brow, dripping into his helmet, intense heat falling over his body, not helped by the warm nature of the clothing and armor he wore. That spell had taken alot out of him him. He needed a breather. Gulping a mouthful of air, Martullus reached for his large waterskin and gulped a large quantity of the blue liquid inside, just after he took off his hood and helmet. A powerful draught of Magicka. 

Tasted like lemons mixed with shit. But eventually you got used to the taste. 

We’ve been on the defensive for decades. No longer. It’s there peoples blood which is spilling. Not ours.  Blowing into his whistle, Martullus ordered his lance to attack, drawing his sword and waving it in a circular motion, ordering an attack, shouting, “Cohors Corvum, advance! Butcher every cat you come across!”  Spurring his horse, Martullus urged it forward, following closely behind the first group, as did his horde of Imperial Raiders, descend upon the now burning village.

******

This is war. Nothing to glorify. Just plain horror. But oh Talos...payback is delicious. Such horrific sights. And Martullus...didn't even care. This was Cyrodiil’s villages years ago. And they would have be this again, if the Empire hadn't striked first. Which...they didn’t really even. The Dominion had attacked Cyrodiil’s ally, Skyrim. This was just a logical response. Blood demanded blood.   At the surface, Martullus remained unmoved. And so too did his men, lack a hint of compassion, seemingly at any rate. Was there any doubts? Any private, treasonous thoughts? Perhaps. But nobody said them. Anything, really. The officers commanded their men with whistle blows, and the Legionaries carried out their dark orders without a word. As if they were automatons. 

This was an objective. Nothing more. Ravage their food and levy supply. Herd the survivors up like cattle into cities and refugee camps to starve the population and cause unrest. 

Rinse and repeat, until the countryside was nothing but charred ashes.

The Legion's way of things took the intimacy out of killing, and battle. Half of the General thought it helped him sleep at night. The other half, wish he could see angered faces among his men as blades fell, and darker urges being fulfilled. At least that was more human than this, slaughter without hate. 

Flame arose from the burning village, as imperial steel and screams acted as a backdrop to the display. The General himself wore little to identify him as an officer of such rank, wearing a simple set of heavy imperial armor, over a deep blue robe, alongside a blue horsehair helmet, with his cloth hood over it. The only way to identify him as the General of the Second, was the silver amulet he wore around his neck, which depicted a silver Dragon, laced with amethysts, and two sapphires for eyes. His trusty mare, Bastallion, trotted along the pavement slowly, as the warhorse neighed occasionally, oblivious to the wanton horror before him. Martullus gently rubbed the horse’s neck, with a snicker, he muttered, “A loyal horse is all you need. I still don’t envy the High General for his “special” relationship with his trusted steed. Heheheheheh.” At both his sides, an Imperial Knight rode alongside him, their eyes seemingly vacant of all thoughts. His eyes intentionally trailed away from the ground Bastallion trotted on. Dozens of corpses. Didn’t really matter though, he had already gotten a good look, before

Some, the lucky one (lucky was relative in the general’s view in this case), we’re simply crimson stained Khajiits with grizzly wounds, motionless and unmoving, others we’re burnt out husks, withered and black, their bodies contorted in horrible pain. This probably happened to a few of them post-mortem, but at the very least, a few had been hit by Martullus’s spell when they were alive and well. Burning was one of the worst way to go. Maybe his dreams were haunted by the pain he caused, but hey, didn’t really matter to him when was awake. Death was death. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter how they died. 

As he trotted along with his two bodyguards, he came across another horrible scene. Before a burning general store, three Imperial soldiers, dismounted, wrestled on the ground with a female Khajiit, a very average looking one, with blondish fur. She was screaming curses in her native tongue, though her defiant words we’re offshoot by her tear covered faces. Her clothing ripped and torn to shreds, exposing her all of her crimson fur. The two on her side, both Second Legion Soldiers we’re holding her down, while the lead legionnaire...mounted her. He thrusted, his face covered in sweat, as he spat at her, pulling on her hair tightly  “Filthy fucking cat, you like that don’t you?!” The men had taken the liking to using the term cat. It dehumanized them, and soothed the conscious when you put them down. 

Martullus did it too. 

Perhaps the General was wrong. In this case, he preferred the “Imperial Way”. He reigned his horse, lifting up his hand to stop his bodyguards. His voice echoed with a commanding presence, “Auxiliaries, what in Akatosh’s name are you doing?” 

War was war. These kinds of things happened. He wouldn’t be able to stop all of it. But he wouldn’t let it happen when it was in his power to stop.

Maybe it would let him sleep better? 

The Imperial soldiers glanced up, surprise and fear filling their faces. “General!” They sputtered, the ringleader ripped himself away from the Khajiit woman, his penis hanging out, as his lower tunic quickly fell down, covering it. The trio saluted, their faces red with shame.

The General coldly muttered, “Just cut the cat’s throat and be done with it. We have a job to do. Just do that job, nothing more."

Gulping nervously, they saluted. The ringleader unsheathed his dagger from his belt, and wordlessly slit the female Khaajit’s throat. She gurgled abit but said nothing else.The woman’s eyes closed, her blood pooling at of the wood, and it didn’t take long for her to be just another body in the burning village. Her humiliation over.

After confirming the deed had been done with a quick glance, Martellus urged his horse onward, as the other trio hastily got back onto their mounts, and went back to their previous business. 

Wordlessly, Martellus continued forward, his horse trotting along the path.

The Empire needed a monster, and he and Grom we’re glad to play that role. For the Empire. The cool wave of melancholy, the so called “Imperial Way”, resounded inside him. Neither hate, nor love.  Just like most of his men.  The orders received, echoing in his head.

Cause terror.

He was just following orders after all.

And good soldiers followed orders.  

Hopefully this gamble pays off. The General muttered with a small grin, as he continued down the burning village. Better them then us.

**** 

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Preparing for war wasn't an easy endeavour. The major cities were to stock up on food in case of a siege. Krojun figured it would be good if extra granaries protected by enchantments against decay and fire would be a good idea. Though that was assuming the cities were in need of extra granaries or if their current ones were protected at all. He'd have to make sure Helen wrote some letters for the counties suggesting the idea. Maybe even offer to have the crown pay part of the construction and enchantment costs so no one decides to be cheap. 

All of that had to wait however as he had gotten Lilly to agree to do some sparring. But first Krojun made a quick trip to his home in Skyrim to pick up a little ring; a gold ring depicting a dragon intertwined with a lily. A little gift he had been working on for Lilly. If it could be called little in any way but shape as he had spent way too much time and power into it in the hope that it would help Lilly keep her first promise. 

After that he went to the armory and sparring hall deep inside the tower. There Lilly was, amongst a clanking of wood. The Spymaster was fully armored in dark Oculatus armor as she sparred against one of her soldiers, a wolf commando, going by the leather mask he wore to cover his face. Surprisingly, Lilly had a rather simplistic fighting style. A swordsman of some renown, one would expect her style to be refined, like a noble duelist, but instead it was that of a soldier. She battered against the soldier, who was no spring chicken himself. As Krojun approached she paused, lifting her hand commandingly. The soldier did a slight bow, as he backed away to the side, dragging his wooden sword with him.

She gave a little grin at Krojun's arrival. "Glad you got my message. I've heard a few birds, if your interested in that kind of the stuff." She paused, flourishing her wooden sword. "Does the name Doron Zethus ring a bell?"

"Yes, I regrettably meet him on a semi-regular basis."

"What's your impression of him?" 

"That he begrudgingly tolerates me."

"Tolerate isn't the word I would use." She paused once more, turning away and crossed her arms. "A pretty bird came to me, whispering very... unfortunate things to me. I sent agents to confirm, and they've found some stuff that corroborate it's story. Serivus is at the helm of a conspiracy to gut you. And was responsible for hiring that mercenary company that ambushed you." 

"Well... great," he said with a thick sarcasm. 

"Come now, Your Majesty, did you really believe all the Elder Council would tolerate you forever?" 

"Do you got more?"

"Quite a bit more. You see, this little bird gave me... conniptions." She said rubbing her forehead dramatically as she sneered, changing her voice to quiet and withdrawn. " 'Please, Lady Quentas. It... it was oh so horrible, you must protect the Emperor and Empress. These bad... men will destroy the Empire. I'm oh so scared, what if they hurt me? You'll protect me, won't you my lady?' " The Spymaster smiled. "She wasn't bad looking. Didn't mind the sucking up, but she rubbed me the wrong way. I know of her family too... so..." Her smile morphed into grin. "I showed her the hospitality of the Oculatus. After just thirty minutes, I had her spilling every little thing. In exquisite detail, I may add. Leda Zethus filled these thoughts in his head, and ordered the birdie to betray Serivus to us and has plans to usurp my family from Chorrol, besides replacing you with an Emperor more inclined to to their agenda. Fucking Nibenese whore." The girl laughed, "Stupid woman. I have half thoughts to make her... disappear, and give her to my mother as a gift."

”Keep her for now. Till we know she’s of no more use.” Krojun paused for a second. ”So I’m guessing you got most of the names of the conspirators?”

"Yes. Those that she knew of, anyway." She paused, crossing her arms, "I can have a team prepped in an hour. Blades in the dark, they'll never know what hit them."

"They're all over the city. Let's make hunting them down a last resort. There's still the regular council meetings that they would have to attend to."

"What you want to slaughter them in the council chambers?" She crossed her arms, snorting. "What you want to start a bloody civil war?"

"People will find out who did it anyway. Might as well do it when and where we are the most likely to get all of them in one strike. And send a message in the process."

"The Elder Council chamber is sacrament. It's a sanctuary. Violence of any kind is forbidden. If you want to keep your crown, you need to respect the Heartland's tradition." She said, in a matter of fact kind of way.

"Then let’s paint it as them forcing my hand in that regard."

"And how you going to do that?" She crossed her arms, "You and your pretty little wife are well regarded. In some parts. You've done a lot to piss off the nobility, however. They'll see it as a savage Nord and a filthy half-elf trying to destroy Imperial customs."

"Is it customary to attempt murder on the emperor?"

"Clearly you haven't read any history books. But no. If you just murder a bunch of people in the council chambers, what will the common folk think?"

"That I don't abide by other people trying to murder me. Who would blame me for getting rid of the people that tried to murder me?"

"You don't. You send state sanctioned killers after them while their in their homes. Or..." She paused, "You do it properly. With a trial." She shrugged. "Then you can chop their heads off."

"And how would either of that be better? The assassinations would run the risk of some getting away. Not to mention all the other councilors will get nervous when they start dropping like flies without explanation. And a trial..." Krojun said those last words with distaste. "That would never be a quick, fair, or safe ordeal." He paused. "Killing them in here in the tower would be quicker, safer and would send a clearer message. The other councilors will get their answers and they will know that I wont kill them. Because I could have, but didn't."

"There both legitimate. I think the Colovians would be especially pissed. But you are the emperor. All I can do is give you advice." She shrugged.

”And I appreciate it. But this time we’ll do it my way.”

She rolled her eyes, "Well then, what's "your plan"?" 

"During a meeting a group of trusted agents will enter and take place behind each councilor chair. Then on my signal they will stab the conspirators to death. After that I'll explain the situation to the rest."

Lilly paused. "I had this horrible thought you we're going to try and kill them all on your own." She sighed in relief. "Thank the Gods, you didn't try that. Well, what are you going to tell them?" She crossed her arms. 

"That the executed councilors were behind the attempt on my life. And that this was necessary."

"And?" Her eye brows furrowed as her snarl returned. "You need to be more specific! Tell them exactly what they did, and why they needed to punish. And, I may add, as long as they remain loyal, to you, and your pretty little wife, they won't get a knife in the gut."

Krojun started to feel rather annoyed. "Do I really need to tell you every word I'll say in advance?"

"Yes. The Elder Council will want to be reassured this 'delivering of justice' isn't a fucking purge. Whose to say you wont do this to do them in the next few weeks?"

"Because I don't kill without a reason. And yes, I will make it clear why I kill. And why I wont kill." Upon seeing that Lilly still looked disapproving he continued, "But if you want we could take the afternoon to discuss rhetoric and formulations, and what I should and shouldn't say."

She waved him off. "Not today. I have to gather the men. I hope you truly know what your doing, and what you could unleash."

"Gather the men for what?"

"You want to do this right away don't you? The Elder Council is meeting in two days. My agents will need prep time."

"All the preparation they need is knowing who stab. And the more time they know, the more time there is a risk something slips up that tips off the conspirators."

"Like I said, I trust my men." Lilly paused, as she lingered by the door. "Balance is key Krojun. The balance between the Elder Council and the Crown has kept the Heartland in our hands, whilst the rest of the Empire falls from our grip. I have no love for it, but the body is vital for stability. Make sure that balance is kept." 

"Leaving already? I thought we agreed to some sparring practice." He gave her a slightly disappointed look. 

"The dagger of an assassin is a serpents sting." She said, waving her hand back. "I'd rather not right now. I need to make my own preparations. We can once the bloodbaths over." 

"What preparations?"

"Preparations. Contact me once your sure it's time to strike. Good day, Your Majesty." And without that the wayward witch turned to leave. 

Krojun however picked up Lilly with telekinesis and threw her towards him where he caught her in an embrace. "I get the feeling you're avoiding me."

"No hugs!" She pushed him away. "You know I gotta psyche myself up when i'm doing this sort of thing? We keep our... private affairs for later" Her frown gave way to a smirk. "We both agreed when we're working, we keep things professional. And right now, I need to work."

"Right now? I'm sure the realm wont fall apart if you spare one minute or two with me for a hug. And for me to give you a little gift."

"Oh this should be good."

Krojun quickly fished up the little ring from his pocket with magic and held it up for Lilly to see. "Got a little catch though. It's a little hard to remove, and will turn to dust if ever removed. But as long as you wear it you will have my favor."

She grinned. "Are you seriously giving a girl a cursed ring for a present?" 

"I wouldn't call it cursed. It promise it wont harm you the slightest."

"Thank you, it's beautiful."

He slipped the ring onto Lilly's empty ringfinger before pulling her into a hug and giving her a light kiss. "Back to work now, I suppose."

She did a sly gesture with a backhanded salute as she walked away. "Like I said, just tell me when you're ready."

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Posted (edited)

The room wasn't big, but it was bigger than most rooms. The stone floor and walls were bare. There was no furniture to speak of. The only light to be had came from three tiny windows placed slightly above head height. If one bothered to one could peek outside to see the outer walls of the Imperial City, City Isle and Rumere stretch out far below in the distance. 

In the corner on some dirty blankets huddled a lone figure. She was young, and her dainty ribs had snapped with the first punches. Now she sat motionless. It hurt to move, to breathe. Her breaths came out in soft wheezes.

It wasn't just the injuries from her torture that tormented Jocasta Fidenas, nor was it that she had relented and given up every one of the Nibenean cultists she knew. That had been the easy part. The recognition that Leda and the others had used her hurt the most.

Time passed. The silence and loneliness lay like a thick blanket over the room. Then she heard a brief and muffled noise outside. Probably another beating awaited her. As the door opened she saw the shadow of an Oculatus agent open the door before stepping aside for another. He was tall and large, very tall. Clearly a Nord, with shoulder long black hair and a thick beard. His clothes were relatively simple, but