So I started out writing this as I thought about what I would say if someone asked in response to this post
who the man was that my character loved. It turned into kind of a train of thought narration of my character's history with him and the experiences I imagined her having through the end of the main story and the beginning of Cadwell's Silver. It's written from the perspective of my Breton nightblade, Ilsabet Menard, after her first full day of questing in Cadwell's Silver. I don't really get ensconced in immersive roleplay, but I do have an active imagination and don't mind reading into things when it suits me.
Darien Gautier. I had a feeling after reading his journal in Camlorn that there was more to him than the devil-may-care playboy persona he presented to the world. I took him up on his proposal that we get a drink after everything was settled, if only because I found him amusing and intriguing. (I still hold it against him that he never actually followed through with that drink.) His style grew on me during our subsequent adventures, and I learned how to manage him without taking him too seriously. I even succeeded in keeping my composure when he, um, rendezvoused with that lady captain to get her key (although it helped that I knew what to expect before I walked in... thanks, random soldiers' conversation). I took every available opportunity to hit on him, and he called me "my love" after I told him he could do better than Countess Tamrith. Cheeky flirtations aside, though, I came to see him as a dependable ally and someone I could feel secure about having by my side in tough situations. I found myself immediately scanning gatherings of power players to see if he was there, and it served to build up my discipline when I had to leave him behind to do whatever super dangerous commando mission King Emeric wanted to send me on. I realized there might be something more going on in my heart when I was more relieved to see him walk through a portal than I was to know that I had saved Queen Arzhela from being assassinated.
Things got more interesting in Coldharbour. By that point I had pretty much come to terms with the feelings I had developed for him, but of course I wouldn't let that distract me from doing what needed to be done. At first I wondered if he was going to show up after not being present during the conference with the alliance leaders, and I was delighted when I heard that brave Darien was trying to manage things in the Fighters Guild hall in the Hollow City. I was a little dismayed that he didn't greet me like he knew me when I went in to talk to him, but I suppose he was rather preoccupied trying to argue with that High Elf.
Later I felt compelled to go back and talk to him about why I chose to set Angof the Gravesinger free even after everything he did to Glenumbra (which was already a pretty emotionally-charged choice for me), and he trusted my decision despite the lingering bitterness over what had happened in our common homeland. It was a given that I would choose him to accompany me through the Endless Stair, although I did talk to Cadwell and Skordo just to see what they would say (and I would have liked to see what kind of traveling companion Cadwell would have been, but there was no way I could pass up Darien). I was distressed to learn that he and Gabrielle were close and that he would rather stay with her than me when things got dicey, but I pushed on anyway because I had to. I was relieved that he and the others rejoined me so quickly, but it goes without saying that what happened next was one of the defining moments of the assault for me. I'll never forget that last image of him with his back toward me as the light overwhelmed my vision. And I'll never stop wondering if it was my fault that he was left behind when I rushed to activate Meridia's light.
The emotional impact of this experience lingered with me as I heeded the Prophet's call to return to the Harborage and begin the quest to reclaim my soul. For perhaps the first time in this whole mad adventure, I was motivated by loss and anger, though I remained outwardly stoic by necessity. I couldn't even think of breaking down when so much still needed to be done.
The Hall of Torment was a highlight of the journey into Molag Bal's lair. In addition to Mannimarco, I encountered Faolchu the werewolf, Septima Tharn, Aelif, and the Duchess of Anguish, all writhing in agony in the God of Brutality's bonds. Each of them pleaded to be freed, claiming to have repented through their unbearable suffering. But unlike my earlier experiences in Coldharbour, where invariably I gave apparent enemies the benefit of the doubt when they claimed that they could aid me against Molag Bal, and even chose to believe that Angof could be worthy of redemption, I felt no such stirring of forgiveness or trust here. I saw through their protestations and pleas. I don't care how much it burns, Faolchu. You burned Darien's home. No, Aelif, you are not my friend. My friends fought beside me and died in Coldharbour.
Mannimarco, of course, did not beg. He simply sneered and postured and assured me that I would join him soon. I could have let him go. I even mentioned the possibility to him. I'm not sure why; maybe it was out of spite, to dangle something in front of him that he couldn't actually have. But I never would have actually released him, even if he had wanted me to. It was because of him that all of this happened. It was because of him that Darien was gone.
I left them all there and didn't look back. I wouldn't say I was cold; I wouldn't say I was emotional. I was driven. I might have been reeling inside but I was focused outwardly. I wasn't taking any more nonsense from Molag Bal or anybody else.
I had already decided, before the invasion of Coldharbour even began, that Varen would be the one to be sacrificed to the Amulet of Kings. The irony was not lost on me that my reasoning had been influenced by my romantic side, not wanting to see either Sai or Lyris have to go on without the other. Varen of course accepted this decision and did his duty, as any one of them would have done. Under the circumstances it felt almost mechanical watching him give up his life, just something that had to be done so that we could proceed. Upon reflection it's kind of unfortunate that I wasn't sadder about seeing him go.
After I left my companions, it was time to make my way toward Molag Bal. He had taunted me the entire way. I didn't care. I cut down his minions as if they were dust. As I went along I looted everything I could get my hands on. And when I faced the Lord of Schemes himself, I was relentless. I don't know if it was the power of the Amulet of Kings or my own determination, but there was no way Molag Bal was going to best me that day. Cleaving him in twain was the culmination of everything we had all suffered for.
And then it was time to reclaim my soul. It was like a hazy dream, wandering among fruity-colored pebbles, being beckoned by a glowing figure offering me what I had lost. For a second an image of a man flashed before my mind's eye, almost making me forget what I was really there for. And then my soul was mine again. Honestly the import of that moment barely registered with me. It wasn't until later that I actually reflected on the fact that I was whole again. I certainly didn't feel whole after having lost so much.
Meridia was pleasant but made it clear that there was likely more darkness to come. The Daedric Princes still have plans for me, apparently. And there was still the conflict raging between the mortals, which seemed more trivial to me then than it had ever been. The conflict seemed important to Meridia, though, and she mentioned that I would have the chance to expand my horizons and experience the other sides to give me clarity.
And then I was back in the Harborage, and said my goodbyes to Lyris and Sai. It was gratifying to hear that they would both be returning to the Abbey of Blades, and were looking forward to finally getting to spend some quiet time together. It made me smile despite the knowledge that I would never be able to do the same with the one I loved. Watching them leave was bittersweet, and it seemed strange to think that this mission we had all gathered to undertake was over.
Before I could wonder what I myself would do next, Cadwell pulled me aside to bestow upon me Meridia's "gift." What if I had washed up on a different beach? What if I could see through the eyes of my enemies? He asked if I was ready to go. It seemed sudden, but something spurred me to accept. There was no looking back, so I might as well move forward, toward... whatever lay in wait for me.
A moment later I found myself on a ship. I didn't recognize it or anyone aboard. It was disconcerting not knowing where I was or what I was doing there. I started looting everything I saw. Maybe it wasn't exactly an appropriate first reaction, but I think I was operating on instinct at that point. It was something familiar in an unfamiliar environment. Along the way I traded trite pleasantries with the sailors, who didn't seem to mind my grabbiness but also seemed mostly indifferent to my presence.
I made my way topside, still hunting for containers to raid and people to speak to. The captain told me that someone named Razum-dar had found me in the middle of a hurricane. Razum-dar... I knew that name. I knew that person, but from where? He wasn't from the Covenant, and he wasn't at Coldharbour.
It wasn't until I left the ship and found a torn-up travel guide on the docks that I finally knew where I was: Auridon. So I had been sent to Aldmeri Dominion territory. I was suddenly grateful that nobody here knew who I was. I also suddenly remembered where I had encountered this Razum-dar. He was with the Altmer Queen, back when Vanus and I were making the rounds trying to drum up support for the invasion. I think he told me to watch myself because he'd be watching me. I had the feeling he wasn't somebody you'd want to mess with.
I wandered among the docks, making the same polite, meaningless conversation with fishermen and merchants. Beyond the docked ships sprawled a vast sea, which merged into the deep blue of the cloudy twilit sky. It reminded me of the sky in Coldharbour, but it was distinctly different. It was peaceful. Beautiful. I didn't yet feel like this was a place where I belonged, but it at least felt like a respite from everything I had been through.
I found myself drawn to the seawall, where a couple of solitary fisherfolk greeted me with yet more small talk. I stood by myself, just gazing out at the sea and the sky. I had come so far, and the places I had been seemed so far away. Everything I knew seemed so far away. Up until this moment, I had been so focused on what needed to be done. But now...
I became acutely aware of how tired I was. So tired... How long had it been since I had slept? My resolve faded, and my legs gave way beneath me. I collapsed against the railing, and the tears came at last. I wept harder than I can remember ever weeping. The poor befuddled fisherwoman next to me asked if I was okay, and then moved a little further away when I couldn't answer.
It didn't really matter what was "wrong." There was no one reason why I was crying. It was just the release of all of the emotions that I had been bottling up throughout this whole ordeal.
Eventually the tears subsided, and I was left with one thought. It was over. It was all over. We had all suffered and lost so much, but it was over. We had succeeded. We had saved our world, and I had reclaimed what had been stolen from me. I instinctively put my hand over my heart, and for the first time it occurred to me to think about what it felt like to have my soul back within me. It didn't really feel much different, but there was a certain... warmth within me that had been missing.
I began to think more clearly. My first thoughts were of Darien. It went without saying that he would weigh most heavily on my heart. I wondered if I should have told him how I felt while I had the chance. Would it have made a difference? Did he already know? Was it always Gabrielle? Would sharing my feelings have made it any less painful to lose him? I breathed a silent message to him, letting my mind recite the words I would say to him now if I could. No matter what, I knew that I loved him. I was grateful for the time he spent by my side, and I would never ever forget him. And wherever he was, I prayed he would be well.
I felt somewhat chastened remembering the many others I should also be mourning, and I took another silent moment to grieve for the many who gave their lives in Coldharbour. There were so many allies I had gained since I started out. I thought back over the course of my adventures through High Rock and Hammerfell. So many people I had encountered. Their images and names came back to me in a steady parade.
Jakarn. Kaleen and Nicolene and Lambur. Lokra. King Casimir. The Bad Man cultists. Bumnog and the Daggers. Verandis. Gwendis. Countess Tamrith and Baron Dorell. Sir Hughes and the Knights of the Flame. Brother Perry. Gloria Fausta. That drunk orc constable. Skordo. The young man and his fiancee and the orc servant. The Duke of Alcaire and poor Lakana. King Emeric. Mathias Etienne. S'rashi. Captain Marck. Crafty Lerisa. Neramo and Clanker. Count Hosni and his doomed party. King Fahara'jad. Prince Azah. Throne Keeper Farvad. That Khajiit drug dealer who thought I was ogling her tail. The Wyresses. The Viridian Sentinel. Queen Arzhela. The werewolves of Kerbol's Hollow. The drunk Nord who lost his boots. The Argonian who turned into a crocodile. Adusa-daro. Ufa the Red Asp. Lady Laurent and Stibbons. Gabrielle. Darien.
I had met all of these people because I had happened to land within the Covenant after escaping the Wailing Prison. It had seemed natural; after all, I was a Breton myself. But if Meridia and Cadwell were right, and it was all just chance, then if things had happened differently I never would have met all of those memorable people. I never would have met Darien, until the end came in Coldharbour, and in that case it's likely I never would have known him well enough to fall in love with him. Simply contemplating this fact made me even more grateful for the experiences I had had, with all of them.
But now it was as if I were starting over. Whether this was a dream or an alternate reality or I were inhabiting someone else's life, I was getting the chance to start the journey again and see what new memorable people I would meet and what new experiences I would have. It didn't feel like wiping the slate clean; it never even crossed my mind to feel that everything I had done within the Covenant had never happened. I most certainly carried those experiences and memories and feelings within me, the heartache and loss included.
I looked up and the ocean and sky once again met my gaze. It had gotten darker while I was lost in my meditations. The physical and mental and emotional exhaustion still weighed on me, and it occurred to me that I should find a place to sleep for the night. The adventures could start tomorrow.
I wearily rose to my feet, prompting another concerned inquiry from the fisherwoman. I merely asked where I could find a bed for the night, and she directed me to the inn in town. I trudged back through the docks, looking for the path into town, when I noticed someone that the ship captain had told me about: a Khajiit boatswain who could take me back to the island where I could find Razum-dar.
A new thought crossed my mind. I felt moved to seek out this one familiar name. I still needed rest, of course, but surely the boat would have a bunk that I could use while we traveled. The smuggler seemed happy to have me along, but her boat was... not what you would call well-appointed. I made do curled up with a blanket in a corner, and fortunately my body was desperate enough for sleep that the discomfort didn't matter much.
I must have slept soundly. I only remember having one dream. For the first time in a long time, I dreamed of my home, and of everything that had been familiar to me before my fate whisked me away. As I approached my town, I saw the streets lined with my old friends and family. A light shining around them obscured their faces, but I understood that they were the people I had known and loved. I moved past them, and then realized that I was gliding forward through the volition of some unseen force. I drifted past my old friends, past my town, past the familiar forests of my home, and I kept moving forward. I sensed that I was approaching others, and I became aware of the presence of those I had come to know after being reborn as the Vestige. I searched their unseen faces, looking for the one person I wanted to see more than anyone else. But the light was growing and growing until even the shapes of bodies were being obscured. A lone silhouette appeared far in the distance, but before I could reach out to him everything turned blinding white.
As I grudgingly opened my eyes, they were assaulted by the unforgiving rays of the morning sun. Sugar-Claws informed me that we were nearly to the shore and it was time to look alive. The beach was strewn with wrecked wood and wracked bodies, the aftermath of the storm that had (ostensibly) brought me to Khenarthi's Roost. A vaguely familiar voice called out to me, and I found myself once more standing before Razum-dar.
He didn't recognize me, of course, but seeing him again brought back the flicker of memory of standing in Queen Ayrenn's court. He impressed me again with his savviness, first convincing me to tell him how I had really come to fall from the sky, and then implicitly encouraging me to lie to anyone else who might ask. He advised me to stick with him, and I immediately felt that this would be a good idea. As we spoke to other people, I began to get a feel for my new surroundings and had to keep reminding myself that I was no longer Ilsabet Menard, Hero of the Covenant, but Ilsabet Menard the insignificant castaway within the Dominion. Razum-dar left me with a number of tasks to see after, and soon I found myself in the familiar place of running errands and speaking to locals and gathering whatever goodies I came across.
I received a shock when Gathwen came running up to me, not to deliver an update on the battlefront but to request help for her master. I'm not sure if she noticed the look of surprise and recognition on my face, but I had to once again remind myself of the words of warning that even my former allies would be seeing me for the first time. When the time came to choose whether she or her master would be entombed to stop the bad guy, I must confess that I was influenced by the knowledge that Gathwen would have to appear in Coldharbour, which in this timeline had not transpired yet.
After a full day of running around meeting and aiding new (and like-new) people, I realized that I was actually enjoying being just a nameless adventurer again. I had gotten so used to being the Hero of the Covenant, the one the High King immediately turned to for commando missions, the only one who could stop the Planemeld and defeat Molag Bal. And I had really become that person, who accepted the responsibilities and was determined to see them through. But today I was no one special, as I was reminded by the snappy Altmer commander who had much more important things to do than talk to the likes of me. And it was actually refreshing, like a weight was off of my shoulders. Over the course of the day I outfitted myself in whatever bits of armor I scrounged up, looking more and more like the vagrant I had become.
I know not what lies ahead of me on this blank parchment that I've been given. It will probably feel strange when I have to work against the Covenant and decry my former King. But I can already feel myself acclimating to this new guise I've taken, and I am keeping an open mind receptive to whatever may befall me. I'll look forward to seeing Razum-dar again, and wonder what other former allies I may get to meet in their native lands. And I know I will continue to think of Darien, and it will be a long time before my heart stops aching. But I believe that I am honoring him and all of those whose lives have touched mine, by moving forward as the truly whole person they helped me become.
On a real-life note, I'm really glad I (mostly inadvertently since I decided to make my archer a Breton) played DC as my main/first character. I know that Darien is meant to be an important player in the endgame regardless of what alliance you're in, but it made it much more meaningful having that shared history from the DC questline. Especially given the opportunity for headcanon (which I will admit was encouraged by the knowledge that Darien played an important part in the endgame and there really was more to him than his snarky disposition and ladykilling).
Kudos to anyone who actually read through all of that. I had a good time writing it, and it was nice to capture the experience I had (both in- and out-of-character) the day I went through the end of the main story and started Cadwell's Silver.