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History of The Guardians, Vol 2: The Paths of Change

Elder Scrolls history: This is a re-telling of the assassination of Reman Cyrodiil III, the end of the First Era of Man, and the scattering of the Blades. This story shows the events that bring about the creation of The Guardians during the scattering of the Blades at the end of the First Era.

Official Lore sources:
The Covenant of Akatosh
Trials of St. Alessia
The Rise and Fall of the Blades
Blades: Lore Summary
2920, Evening Star (vol 12)
2920, The Last Year of the First Era

I understand the folks at Zenimax have said they have eventual plans for Akavir, so hopefully my Akaviri cultural traditions don't get stomped by official lore at some point. If so, I've built the story so that the Kisane-teth Akaviri could be considered a small sub-faction within Akavir - perhaps one just not mentioned in the history books.

Ret-conning is a long and storied tradition with the Elder Scrolls, so if this ends up going completely against official historical works later, with multiple conflicting accounts of what happened (such as the events at the end of Daggerfall), I may write up a rationale by The Guardians that keeps this version of the lore as the story of what "really happened" - with official history rewritten by the victors later. ;)

History of The Guardians, Vol 2: The Paths of Change
1E, 2920, 6 Sun’s Dusk - Evening

Azura, Queen of the Night Sky, walked the Colovian Hills, watching the day die into autumn’s shadowed embrace. Her gaze picked out ripples in the landscape, her eyes piercing their depths and reaching into the hidden secrets of the lands of Tamriel. An escort of two winged daedra waited a step behind on either side, outlining the imposing, lonely figure. Prince of the realms of Dusk and Dawn, she waited in the stillness for night to fall, her finger tracing over the distant tower at the heart of the continent - its glimmering beacon still catching the light of the setting sun.

Akatosh, in the form of a large dragon made up of many shifting shadows, coalesced beside her, “You are forbidden here, Lord of Moonshadow.”

“I was invited,” she responded simply, her eyes still fixed on the white-gold tower.

The Great Dragon snorted in amusement, “You steal the loyalty of my creations, bind them to you in ritual, and then they invite you to interfere further in my Mundus. How convenient of a happenstance.”

Azura shrugged in dismissal of his claim, “Your creations are more interesting that those my brothers and I have created.” She placed her hand comfortingly on one of the winged twilights now kneeling in silent readiness at her feet. “Yours are more curious, more unpredictable.” She smiled to herself, “They create chaos, rather than just live within it.”

“Have you ever wondered, Lady of Dusk and Dawn, why that is so?” The shadowed head in the deepening evening light seemed to turn and consider her, “Or wondered, what attracts you to them?”

Azura’s gaze flickered back at the shadowed form beside her, a cautious wariness caught briefly in her eyes. Then she returned to staring at the tower in the distance.

“Your Covenant is going to fall tonight,” she stated, focusing her attention on a small, lit window, partway up the tower. “I can feel it.”

“Not fall…” the great shadowed figure beside her corrected, “it will falter for a time.”

This time she did turn to consider the seething, swirling collection of shadows that loomed next to her. “Have you withdrawn so much from your own creation that you forget how they live? For your creations, for generations of them… the Covenant will fall. My brothers and I will walk Nirn unimpeded, and your mer, your men, all of your creations will live and die knowing that your protection and oath has been lifted. You, to whom time means nothing, have the luxury of saying ‘it will falter for a time’. They who live through it… they will not.”

There was a dry, almost amused chuckle from the shadow of the Great Dragon beside her, “You almost sound like you care, Azura. Time means nothing to me? Time is everything to me, Azura.” The great head turned to stare directly at her, and in its shadowed depths, in the place where fiercesome eyes would be on a creation of Mundus, was an eternal depth of stars and darkness, stretching into infinity.

“My creatures live in time. It is my greatest gift to them. You and your brothers spurn our sacrifice for Nirn, calling us weakened from our former glory. You criticize that we poured out our spirits into Nirn and those that spring from it, and conclude that now we are greatly diminished - bound to our creation.” His great head swung back to stare at the distant shapes walking along the tops of the outer wall of the Imperial City. The infinite gaze containing countless worlds focused now on the small figures of men, and Azura felt some small sense of relief that it was no longer directed at her. She found it slightly annoying… that such a thing bothered her.

“All of those things are true, Azura… but you miss the most important truth.” The Great Dragon spoke slowly, as if to an errant pupil. “My creations move through time. Each moment is new, and each moment is never repeated. It shapes them. And they change. Not merely in the petty squabbles over borders and influence, or the collection of power and things. You and your brothers, and all your creations, have done that for millennia uncounted.”

That great gaze swung back to pull at her again, inviting her to step into an infinity of stars. “My creations, in their fundamental being, change. Their spirits shift and change as they move through the gift I have bestowed to them. Some perform great wonders, and others great evils, with all the multitudes of chaos between. I have given them part of myself. That is why my creations live….” The shadowed gaze shifted to her winged twilights, “and yours merely exist.”

Azura paused then in reflection, a thought coming to her… a deeply disturbing thought. She petted the top of her winged twilight’s head and considered the perfection of her creation in shape, will, and strength. She finally looked back up at the Great Dragon, greatest of the et’Ada before the coming of Nirn. “Does that mean… if you have given them part of yourself; that you too… change?”

The eyes of the shrouded dragon seemed to deepen, the points of light in the endless well of his stare flaring and then fading, and something resembling sadness crept into his reply to her, “I am the Dragon of Time, Azura. How could I not? I am the beginning and end of change, and I encompass all of its permutations. I change, and yet I do not… for I remain constant beyond all else. There is always change.”

The Lord of Moonshadow frowned then, trying to shake the feeling that she had just been outplayed in a game, “That is why we, my brothers and I, resist you. We fight your change.”

Akatosh smiled then, which on a dragon made of shadows, was disturbing in every sense. “No Azura, you fight your change.”

She turned away from him then, staring back out at the tower’s outline now lost in the deepening evening. It had fallen completely in shadow now, though light still glimmered from points within. Without looking at the great figure beside her, she spoke to the night air. “I will set a watch. Some will live to renew your oath.”

She could see, out of the corner of her eye, a pause in the shadowed head’s movement, and a considering voice in his reply, “And why, oh Lord of Oblivion, would you do this against your kin, to help me and mine?”

She glanced over at the seething shadows beside her, her gaze sharp and challenging, “Say rather that I do this to thwart my brothers; not to help you. I would spit in their faces, and deny them the prize they have schemed so much to claim.”

“Ahh… strategy, rank and influence in the realms. A worthy goal for a Daedric Lord who has a realm of their own.” The shadowed head bowed, “I will accept your aid then. You have my leave to move freely here tonight, without interference as my Covenant’s power fades. Plan your strategy well, Daedric Lord.”

After Azura stepped back into Moonshadow, the Great Dragon stayed through the deepening of twilight into night. The stars reflected in his eyes resembled nothing of the stars overhead. Finally he stirred. Shifting his massive, yet somehow insubstantial frame, he gazed at the spot where Azura had stood during their discussion, and addressed it as if she were still there.

“My gift is stronger than even I knew, Daughter of Anui-El. You love Nirn… and in that, even you now change.”

Then the shadows dispersed, and the hilltop was left alone under a multitude of stars. The grass-covered hillside, reflecting the light of the two moons on its scattering of stone, windswept trees, and heather - cared nothing for Gods, or Daedra, or the affairs of men. In the distance, a clamour of alarm started to rise from the spire at the center of the Imperial City.

The first age of man had ended.

Edited by VelJharig on October 8, 2014 1:07AM
  • VelJharig

    Turil crouched in the shadowed corner of a stairwell, watching an ornately robed figure approach three feet from his shelter. His damned luck had failed him tonight. Four months of planning; acquiring a lowly servant’s job in the Imperial Palace; careful exploratory missions at night in the palace interior; mapping the patterns of movement of the most highly placed advisors and palace security – all to find the single hidden entrance that he had passed through tonight. He had spent months locating one of the secret entrances to the maze of hidden passages riddling the White-Gold Tower, and one which provided direct access to many of the most important parts of the tower.

    This passage had been empty and unused for weeks as Turil had carefully mapped the routes, magical wards, and traps along the way to the Imperial Chambers. Today had been an excellent day to make his move - the Emperor, Reman III, was meeting with a delegation from war-torn Morrowind. The palace staff had been in frenzied preparations since the early morning hours, and Turil’s absence from the normal cleaning crews lost in the chaos of reassigned servants. More importantly, the schedule of both servants and Imperial forces were all focused outward, with the Imperial servants pulled off their normal schedules to attend to the public events. The Imperial Guard, and even the public presence of the Emperor’s personal guard, the Blades, had been shifted away from the tower living quarters to increase security and public demonstration of might at events surrounding the visiting contingent.

    It was an excellent time for a master thief to rob the most powerful man in Tamriel.

    As he held his breath shallowly, waiting for the figure to pass, he noted the glint of jewels on a headdress, reflected in the dim light that lit the passage from hidden alcoves. His unwelcome guest was a Tsaesci, from Akavir. This particular passage provided access to important parts of the tower such as the Imperial private quarters and the Emperor’s audience chamber. Probably an advisor ferrying a secret message to security forces or spies outside the palace, he mused. He wondered if the negotiations with Morrowind were going so poorly that a message had been sent to secure the delegation’s military escort. That could be difficult to manage, if Morrowind’s diplomat was taken hostage.

    Turil’s dark skin was an asset in his profession, as was his ability to move quietly and unseen in darkness. The fact that he was a Dunmer, sneaking through the hidden sections of the Imperial palace on the day a truce over an 80-year war with Morrowind was being negotiated – that wasn’t so much an advantage. If negotiations went poorly, and the delegation party was held or seized, they would likely do a sweep of the palace and detain any Dunmer as a matter of principle… knowing a certain percentage of them would be spies.

    He had been especially careful in his research and work so far – expecting to be tagged as a spy. He had certainly been followed by undercover Blades on some of his palace reconnaissance during normal servant duties, but they had been a bit too obvious for someone of his particular experience. If anyone had noticed his late night excursions outside of the servants’ quarters, they were far more professional than the Blades’ attempts to shadow him.

    The Tsaesci passed him without pausing, and continued down the corridor. After all movement had faded into silence, he eased out of his hiding spot, and quietly glided down the passage in the direction the robed figure had come. He worked exclusively without magic when on a job this high-risk, as it was far too easy to trip expertly crafted magical wards if using spells to mask your physical presence. There were ways around magical protections without using magic … which was both less expected in security systems, and more challenging. He liked challenging.

    Five minutes in the dark, maneuvering carefully around wards etched in stone and plates triggering hidden assassin deterrents, and he arrived at the first of the exits to the Imperial Chambers. This was a high profile entrance to the Imperial audience chamber, and a method of egress he had eliminated a week ago as too risky. The observation hole to this entrance was open… that was new. He could also hear vague voices and a bubbling, wheezing sound filtering into the passageway. Curious, he stepped up to the observation hole and peered out from behind a shadowed tapestry at the scene in the audience chamber.

    Lying on the floor, in a rapidly growing pool of blood, lay Emperor Reman Cyrodiil III. His Imperial Potentate, Versidue-Shaie, bent over him. They were alone in the audience chamber.

    “Snake.” The emperor somehow managed to say, spitting up blood as he did.

    "I am a snake, your Imperial Majesty, inside and out. But I didn't lie. There was a messenger from Vivec. It seems he'll be a little late in arriving.” The Potentate shrugged then, and stood up, crossing the room toward the bolt hole that Turil peered through.

    Turil stepped back quickly, moving down the hallway the way he’d come. There was no cover here… nothing until safely past the last batch of wards 100 feet distant. He would be easy to see as soon as the Potentate’s eyes adjusted. Kneeling down in the dim light to one side of the corridor, he pulled out his small single-hand crossbow and readied it as the door swung open.

    Through the open door he heard the Potentate say mockingly to the dying man, “"Don't worry yourself. I'm sure the food won't go bad."

    The Potentate paused before stepping through the doorway. Turil could just see the tip of his nose and mouth as his tongue came out briefly, as if tasting the air. Then the Tsaesci stepped through and swung the door shut behind him.

    No time to let him notice me or I’m dead, Turil thought as he pulled the trigger on his crossbow. A flash of light flared around the Potentate as the crossbow bolt flew toward him, and Turil watched as his bolt ricocheted off an invisible barrier surrounding the Imperial advisor to shatter against a wall.

    The Potentate turned to regard him with a considering gaze, his reptile eyes focusing on the gray-clad Dunmer crouched against the corridor wall 10 paces away. “Do you have any idea how much you people stink?” Versidue-Shaie said offhand. He then stepped away, back down the hallway toward the Emperor’s private rooms. Turil watched him unerringly step backwards over 2 wards and around a spike trap that Turil had painstakingly mapped just a few days before, to pause placing his hand on the opposite side of the corridor wall to the audience chamber.

    The Potentate waved a hand dismissively at the Dunmer from behind his magical shield and then smiled at him coldly. “Thank you for this gift you have offered me. Flee now if you desire a chance to live… I need a rabbit for my hounds to chase.” Pressing a hidden mechanism in the wall next to him, the Potentate opened a door to the Emperor’s private quarters; the same door that Turil had scouted two days ago as his best entrance into the Imperial Chambers. The Tsaesci then casually reached down with his staff of office, and broke a ward marked on the floor.

    Magical alarms triggered in the surrounding rooms, sending a shrilling keen from the walls. Up and down the passageway from the ward, hidden entrances flared red as they sealed themselves from entrance through the hidden corridor. The Potentate gave Turil a mock slight bow, “That would be your signal to run now…” Stepping through the door, the Potentate disappeared and the door swiftly closed. Its edge sealed and flared red as the stone sealed.

    Turil ran, back toward the public sections of the palace, jumping over wards, running up the sides of walls around trap triggers, and hurtling himself forward over sections of stone that he had stealth-walked through moments before. He couldn’t outrun the sealing spell, it was far ahead of him now… sealing all access to the corridor. Sealing him in.

    He slipped just slightly off a stone trigger along the way. A caged spike trap swung down in front and behind him, and even as his forward momentum carried him through the trap, he fell backwards to keep his head from being decapitated by the forward swinging cage wall. He managed to turn his torso sideways as he fell, which protected his head, but popped his right shoulder up. The cage edge slammed his shoulder into the ground as it closed, missing pinning him to the ground, but sending a crack and searing pain through his shoulder socket. He came to a dead stop on the ground a short ways from the stairwell corner he had hidden in just a short while ago.

    Trying to sit up caused a wave of dizziness to distort his vision. He managed it, but something was definitely broken. Perhaps if he could get to the stairwell again… there had been another side passage at the bottom of that stair. It was then that he heard voices, many animated ones, coming from further down the tunnel toward the public servants’ section. Imperial troops had been sent into the hidden passages.

    He stumbled toward the stairs, his arm limply dangling at his side, when a section of the wall seemed to detact itself and settled a hand on his shoulder. His broken shoulder. It was a light touch, but firm enough to cause him to freeze in place. It implied a much more painful reality lay just a finger’s width away for him. He found himself staring up at a massive Nord, who had apparently managed to disguise himself as part of the wall. “Here now, sneakthief. We’ve been keeping an eye on you. You’ll need to come with me, I think.”

    The Nord glanced down the hallway toward the approaching voices and gestured toward them, “Better than waiting here to let those lads have their tender way with you. They aren’t feeling terribly sympathetic to you Daedra-worshiping b*stards right now.”

    The Nord propelled him slightly with that ever so gentle and threatening hand toward the stairway. “Right this way, my fine upstanding citizen. I have someone you need to verify events to.”

    They descended the stairway, but rather than reaching the bottom and heading down the side passage Turil had investigated in his earlier scouting missions, they stopped partway down the stair. The Nord fiddled with a scratched bit of mortar on one of the stones along the wall, all the while keeping his hand lightly clamped on Turil’s shoulder. A second later, a small hollow opened in the stairwell, and the Nord pushed him toward it. “Reach inside, take the rung with your good hand, and swing inside.”

    Turil peered back at the Nord in disbelief, “Swing inside?”

    The Nord gave him a flat look, “Yup, swing inside. I’d suggest you let go once you hit the bottom.”

    “Hit the bottom?”

    The hand tightened ever so slightly, “We can deal with yer hearing problem later. Right now, you need to reach inside and grab the rung. It’s a much more pleasant trip that way than the other way.”

    Well, at least he’ll have to let go of my shoulder, Turil thought. Maybe I can get away and go down the stairs once he thinks I’m on the way to jump. He reached inside the dark opening and felt around till he located what felt like a rusty iron rung. He had just enough room to jump and swing his feet through from the size of the opening. The Nord didn’t so much as shift the pressure even slightly on his shoulder, let alone let go. He glanced back at the Nord’s hand on his damaged shoulder, “You coming with me when I do this?”

    “I’ll be right behind, you don’t need to worry.” The Nord’s wolfish grin implied that he knew Turil was anything but worried about losing track of his large captor. “Yer ready then, I see. Well, off you go.” With a twist he drove his thumb into the back of Turil’s shoulder, propelling the Dunmer toward the small hole. Turil had just enough time to jump and get his feet clear before running smack into the wall. As his torso was propelled inside, the pressure of the thumb and large hand released from his shoulder.

    Damn it, he thought as he fell.

    The rung he was holding seemed to be attached to a chain rattling through a gear of some sort, which slowed his fall somewhat. It was a long fall; long enough to count to five slowly before he hit a torrent of ice cold rushing water. That appeared to be the bottom, as the chain’s length snapped taut. He latched onto the chain as it pulled him swiftly to the side, and had his head battered against a roof or outcropping of rock repeatedly by the rushing water. His wounded shoulder protested as it bounced against the rock wall. Right, let go of the chain. He let go of the chain, and let the current take him under.

    A few seconds later he was popped up to the surface and carried along a fast moving underground waterway. The walls weren’t easily reachable, especially not with his shoulder, but there appeared to be nothing to climb onto to escape the current. It was shallow enough to stand up for brief moments, but too deep to keep one’s feet with the current. After a few minutes, just as his limbs were starting to go completely numb from the cold, the water slowed considerably. The passage widened out into a mildly swift current which pressed him up against a locked grate. The grate seemed to flow out to a waterway near some part of the city docks, as he could hear city night sounds through it, and what might be the sound of the creaking of wood and rope. It also smelled like the docks, he noted.

    Needing to work the feeling back into his limbs, he tried standing, and noticed that the water was only up to his waist now. He started feeling around in the dark with his good hand, looking for some latch or hook that might release the grate. Probably only have a few moments…

    A shadowed presence loomed up beside him a couple of seconds later. “There we go. Not dead, and I don’t have to hunt you down and break yer other shoulder.” That hand clamped back down on his shoulder again. “Worked out well for both of us.” The Nord spat into the darkness, “Snakes aren’t the only ones that know secrets in those walls.”

    The big man reached around him in the dark, flipped some lever that he couldn’t see, and rotated the grate open. He felt that almost threatening gentle pressure on his shoulder again. “Fine upstanding citizens first. That would be you, in case yer confused.”

    This time he balked, despite the ever increasing pain in his shoulder. “OK wait… what’s this about? I’m not…” his vision went slightly red as the Nord continued marching him forward, ignoring his protests.

    “Yer not in a position to negotiate at the moment, though I understand the concern. You can relax. We’re not here to make you an example of Imperial justice. I need a witness to events tonight, and a fine upstanding citizen to testify about the actions of our Potensnake.”

    Turil shook his head to clear it as he let the big Nord push him forward. They were stepping out of what appeared to be a sewer drainage tunnel, and he could now see the familiar outline of the Imperial City docks a short distance away. “So where are we…?”

    The Nord cut him off, “This way.” He pointed a bit away from the docks, toward another sewer tunnel. “Move quiet now, thief.” He pointed toward the waterfront buildings, where there were clear signs of combat happening between groups near some of the ship docks. “The night’s events aren’t over yet.”

    Edited by VelJharig on October 8, 2014 1:35AM
  • VelJharig

    Fires were burning in the city. Guard patrols were out in force, streets and buildings were searched, and conflicts ignited. Rumors from people fleeing to their homes, or from them, were that the Emperor was dead, killed by Dunmer assassins while at the negotiating table. Others said the Blades betrayed the Emperor and struck him down. Some claimed Daedra had appeared and cursed the Emperor before igniting him in front of his own court. Factions of the Imperial Guard were fighting one another, sometimes in the streets. A contingent of ships from Morrowind had been lit on fire with their crews still aboard and the docks were a chaos of Imperial squads clashing, gang warfare, and looting. Official proclamations and posters indicated the Potentate had issued a decree of martial law and an immediate sundown curfew while his forces rooted out hidden enemies of the Empire and purged a group of traitors from Imperial forces.

    Turil and his companion were tucked into the back corner of a public house, where they sat nursing ales and keeping a close watch on the other patrons trapped in the inn by the suddenly enforced curfew. They had ducked into the inn just ahead of an Imperial patrol arriving, who now appeared to be conducting house-to-house searches of the neighboring buildings.

    Turil noticed his companion passing a small coin with an unrecognizable symbol to the innkeeper when he ordered their ales, but as the man hadn’t mentioned it, neither had Turil. The Nord scowled a bit at the other patrons – a fairly typical Nord behavior when drinking, and shook his head at the sounds of protests filtering through one of the shuttered windows from outside. A landowner was objecting to the treatment of his family, or his things, by the local patrol of Imperial troops.

    Turil started to lean forward, and then decided to keep his shoulder as still as possible instead. “What’s your name?”

    The Nord turned his scowl from another Nord across the room to direct it at Turil. “What?”

    “I’m Turil. If I’m going to die from Dunmer lynching in a bit here, I’d at least like to exchange names with the person that rescued me from being drawn and quartered as one of the first Dunmer blamed for what happened tonight. Who are you?”

    The Nord chuckled, “You can call me Mikael. Who I am is entirely a different matter.”

    “Alright, why did you rescue me then?”

    Mikael frowned at him, “This is not the time or the place for conversation. Not that one, and not any other one that I can think of.”

    “OK, why are we here?”

    The Nord’s eyes narrowed, “Saw that, did you? We’re waiting to be contacted. It should have been by now.” He frowned again. “I’m going to get us a room for the night.” With that, the big man stood, moving with just a bit of a stagger, but far too much balance for a drunk man, over to talk to the barkeep.

    Barkeep looks nervous, Turil noted. Hope Mikael, or whatever his real name is, sees it.

    Mikael staggered back over a few minutes later. He belched loudly, slammed his mug down, which Turil noted sloshed most of the contents onto the floor and table, and then picked up a knapsack that he had retrieved earlier from the second sewer tunnel. While picking it up, he said quietly to Turil, “We should be going.”

    Turil looked at the Nord’s expression, shrouded as it was by the dim interior torchlight. The Nord glanced in the direction of the barkeep behind him, and Turil nodded. “Right then. Off to get some shuteye are we?”

    The Nord grinned, “One way or another, yes.”

    They moved up the stairs, weaving slightly, Mikael due to his “drunk” condition, and Turil just in an attempt to keep his shoulder from shifting any more than it needed to. Once they reached the third floor, Mikael produced a key and opened the last door on the left. The big Nord sighed as they entered the room. “I always ask for this room when I stay here. It has a lovely view of the city.” He nodded at the shuttered window on the far wall and motioned Turil toward it.

    Turil crossed the room as Mikael shut and secured the door behind them. Unshuttering the window, he saw that it looked out over one of the side streets. The building across the way appeared to be a brothel. He turned back to make a snide comment, and saw Mikael flipping out a small drawer behind the headboard of a bed. He pulled a pair of daggers from it, a handheld crossbow, and a couple of small vials.

    He looked at the big man curiously, “I would have expected a greatsword stashed under the bed, or at least a broadsword.”

    Mikael grunted, “You wouldn’t be the first.”

    Turil glanced at the daggers, “Do I get one of those?”


    Mikael walked over to him, all listing movement gone, and handed him one of the vials, “You do get this though.”

    Turil examined it in the faint light coming through the window. There was magic in it, swirling in the depths of the liquid as it glinted in the moonlight.

    “It will help your shoulder.”

    Turil shrugged, lifting the vial in his remaining working hand. He pulled the cork with his teeth, spat it to one side, and then downed the vial in one gulp. Fire, fire in his shoulder and arm. Burning, scalding him; searing the nerves and muscles and… warmth; warmth and a fading pain that vanished in three breaths.

    He experimentally moved his right shoulder. It was completely healed, without a trace of the lingering swelling, scarred tissue, or any of the noticeable side effects of standard potion magic. He flexed his fingers and worked the joints a few times.

    He whistled low, “That’s not standard issue stuff.”

    Mikael chucked, “No… no it’s not.”

    Turil turned back toward the window, “This is your great view?”

    Mikael nodded, and reached under the bed, “It looks better… when you… there it is.” He pulled out a curved slender long blade from beneath the old wood frame. “It looks better when you take a step out.” The big man stepped lightly up onto the window ledge, cradling the curved blade in front of him.

    Turil frowned at the sight. “That’s an Akaviri blade you’re holding. I thought you didn’t have a sword stashed under the bed.”

    “I never said that.” With that the big Nord stepped out of the window and dropped out of sight.

    Not hearing a crash or a muffled thump on the street below, Turil peered out. Mikael was perched on a small ledge that ran in a perimeter around the building. It looked to be hard to see from the street, due to the way the roofline worked. Mikael pointed toward the corner where the ledge disappeared, and then gestured left. Turil nodded. A second later, he followed, closing the shutters on the window frame behind him before he dropped.

    They moved carefully to a neighboring rooftop, only stopping on the other side for Mikael to point briefly downward toward a side entrance to the inn. The barkeep was there, talking to two of the Guard monitoring the streets. He was nodding, and pointing to a piece of parchment one of the Guards was holding.

    He followed the big Nord in silence for quite a ways then, marveling that the man’s weight didn’t break roof tiles or cause massive creaking on the beams of old structures. Rooftop paths were second-hand to any decent thief, and like squirrels in the treetops, it paid to practice your routes. That practice had the unfortunate outcome of revealing your roadways and preferred paths to any other member of the thieving community, and so there was an uncomfortable give and take between “publically” travelled routes in the underground communities, and each individual or group’s secret routes. Turil was familiar with all of the public routes in the city, and many of the private ones. He had never seen this one.

    At a building corner four stories up, the Nord dropped down into a low crouch next to the roof edge and waited for Turil to join him. Mikael pointed to a building entrance hidden in a low recessed corner across a small courtyard. He then gestured with the thieves sign for “target”, and then followed up with “wait/stop” and “threat near”.

    Turil scanned the courtyard. He didn’t see any obvious danger or choice ambush spots. The entrance itself, while hard to see, looked to be very difficult to approach covertly at all. The entire area around it was a clear, open flagstone courtyard. He muttered a small cantrip to sense magicka, and while he wasn’t a great mage, he was fairly certain that the courtyard didn’t contain a large-scale spell of any sort. The buildings around the entrance were all flat roofs with little to no concealment, and the only good observation spots for the entire cluster of buildings around the courtyard was their current location, or possibly the building across an alley from them.

    He waited one minute, then two, scanning the building across from them while Mikael sat still as a stone, waiting for him to respond. Finally he spotted something, a very slight vapor that shouldn’t have lifted from a shadow. Someone hadn’t concealed their breath as well as they should. The courtyard was being watched.

    He signed back “see them/it” in response, and Mikael pointed back the way they came. He nodded and as they started to shift back away from the courtyard edge, he spotted the second shadow. It was behind them, following the same route they had used to approach the courtyard. And if they could see it, from that location it could definitely see them.

    Then he fell. It was a sudden fall onto his back, pushed by a force like a man strong-arming him in the chest. A crossbow bolt flickered across his vision, inches away from his nose as he fell. That wasn’t even the most startling moment of his fall. He landed softly to cushion his fall out of reflex, but was momentarily distracted by what appeared to be the slight mirage of what looked like a wing fading out of sight out of the right corner of his eye. He tucked and rolled as soon as he recovered, giving up stealth for speed as the crossbow bolt made a distinctive ping off the tiles of the roof. Moving forward at a 45-degree angle toward his opponent, he stopped short as the figure’s structure crumpled. Mikael had taken advantage of the assassin’s focus on his target, and responded in kind. A crossbow bolt had punched a hole in the approaching figure’s chest, and it folded around the wound as it collapsed to the rooftop.

    Turil then rolled to the side and dropped flat while spinning to present a narrow target to the other rooftop. Where had the other one gone? Had it moved? He could see nothing on the other roof, but he was far too exposed here. There was a route to cross between the rooftops six feet in front of his current flattened position, an extended beam that could easily be jumped. It was too close, and shadows guarded the building façade just before it. The other watcher could be on either roof, and the only location that was good concealment other than its original location was…

    He charged the shadows guarding the façade in a rush, and dove to one side just before reaching them. There was a muffled curse as the man hiding in the shadows before him loosed his crossbow too soon, expecting the charging attack to continue on its trajectory. The missile went wide to his left. The other figure lunged forward, a dagger’s shape glinting in his hand as the man left the shadowed façade. Turil barrel-rolled to one side and snagged a loose bit of tile along the way. Throwing it forward as he stopped his roll, it hit his attacker in the face, causing the man to rock back from the impact for half a second. As the attacker recovered from the instinctive protective reaction, he suddenly stiffened. Mikael’s curved Akaviri blade emerged through his solar plexus.

    Turil hadn’t even seen the big Nord approach. Mikael slid the man to the ground with the blade still in place. He couldn’t shout or make a substantial noise with the blade pinning his diaphragm. Turil turned away as Mikael knelt on the man’s limbs to keep any twitching from knocking a tile loose to the street below. Not that they had been all that quiet a moment before, but as Turil scanned the remaining rooflines and courtyard, he saw no signs of movement or alarm.

    Moving back to where Mikael was quietly retrieving his blade from the now dead man, Turil signed “clear” to him. Mikael nodded and then pointed to the shadowed façade and beam reaching to the other building. They moved into the shadows and then into cover on the other roof.

    Mikael pointed at the hidden building entrance across the street, and signed “Now.” He then slipped over the side of the building and disappeared toward the street below. Turil, following him over the side, saw that there was a path down - deliberately altered broken bricks and shifted stones were just enough out of place to slip down a narrow route to the ground. Once on the ground, Mikael nonchalantly walked out across the square and down the narrow steps to the concealed building entrance.

    After they were both inside, Mikael flipped a bar down across the doorway entrance, and turned to Turil with a grin, “I like you… you make good bait.”

    Turil grimaced, “A dagger would have come in really handy back there for me.”

    Mikael shrugged.

    Turil turned to face the entrance hallway, “Now what?”

    “Now we wait. If we aren’t contacted in five minutes, we leave again through the front door.”

    “Not through here?” Turil gestured at the hallway leading away to rooms in the building before them. It looked like a dilapidated building for poor sector apartments.

    “Not unless you want to die. I wouldn’t leave the threshold here.”

    Half a minute after that conversation concluded, there was a grinding sound below them. A portion of the threshold floor popped up, and a curly-headed Bosmer appeared to peer at them. He pointed at Mikael, “You’re late.”

    “I was delayed. Where is your drunk?”

    “Pulled in. You saw the watchers?”

    “We met the watchers.”

    The Bosmer raised an eyebrow.

    Mikael gave him a flat look, “We are temporarily clear.”

    “Good enough, this location is shot now anyway.” The Bosmer started climbing down what Turil could now see was a ladder descending down into what looked like another underground tunnel.

    Turil looked at Mikael, who gestured at the hole. As the Dunmer started his descent, he commented to the Nord, “You people like sewers a lot.”

    The Bosmer stepping off the ladder below him made a sour noise, “Don’t start the avalanche if you don’t want a fast ride down the mountain… we work with the conditions we have available.” The curly-haired elf then peered up at Mikael as he climbed down after them, “Who is this anyway?”

    “He’s our ‘assassin’,” Mikael responded as he landed on the loose rock in the tunnel below.

    The Bosmer paused and re-looked at Turil, “He’s responsible for all of this?”

    “No.” The Nord sounded genuinely angry for a moment, “He’s not.”

    “Then who…”

    “WE are.” The Nord scowled and stalked off into the underground tunnel.

    Turil, who had instinctively started to follow Mikael down the tunnel, stopped then. “So… this has gone on long enough. Why EXACTLY am I here?”

    Mikael turned around and pointed a finger at him, “You are here to serve as the only other witness to the assassination of the Emperor Reman Cyrodiil III, and to corroborate my report to the Commander and First Blade. After that, you are free to go… and spend the rest of your life running from the Potentate’s assassins. He doesn’t like loose ends.” The Nord turned and continued stalking down the tunnel.

    Turil shook his head, shrugged, and started walking after the Nord. The Bosmer followed next to him.

    Turil turned to the wood elf. “So what exactly is ‘your drunk’?”

    The Bosmer looked at him for a moment, and then shrugged, “Guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. That’s our all clear signal here, if there isn’t a drunk hanging out in the square, the location isn’t safe.” His small face grimaced, “Not that we have a lot of those left.”

    Edited by VelJharig on October 8, 2014 1:46AM
  • VelJharig

    After a brief walk through multiple intersecting tunnels, they emerged into a large rotunda. Here there was a small gathering of 20-30 armed individuals packing supplies and checking weapons. Either soldiers, or scouts, Turil determined. All of them carried a curved Akaviri blade.

    Mikael cut his way through the quietly organizing chaos, and approached a figure seated on a stack of large crates, surrounded by a set of four warriors in armor kneeling. Turil noted as they approached that she was a woman with her hair bound in the old tradition of an Akaviri swordmaster, a style that had gone out of favor a couple of hundred years ago in central Tamriel. It had become fashionable for a while after the forces of Akavir had been incorporated into the Empire by Reman I. The woman had an old Akaviri blade cradled lightly in her lap. Turil quietly muttered his cantrip to detect magic as they approached, which found nothing. Odd… because the air around the woman almost crackled with an unseen energy.

    The woman made a gesture as they approached, and the warriors kneeling in front of her bowed low, their faces on the ground, and then stood to move off in various directions. Turil noted that each of them seemed to be motioning to some of the troops in the rotunda, who started moving away into the tunnels in small groups.

    Mikael pulled his Akaviri blade, scabbard and all, from his belt, and then knelt without ceremony in front of the woman with his blade held out, hand grasped in the middle of the scabbard. “First Blade, I have failed. The Emperor is slain, and I was witness to it.”

    Turil’s eyes widened slightly. This woman was First Blade… now there was a title to cause men of renown to step lightly. Turil knew enough of Akaviri traditions to know that First Blade was both a rank and a testament of skill in Akavir. Remnants of those old traditions lived on in the Imperial Blades. There were many commanders and leaders in any Akaviri organization. There was only one First Blade.

    The woman shook her head gently, and as if picking up a long held conversation, said to Mikael, “Small Mikael… did I not tell you that some blades cannot be turned? They must be received.”

    Mikael bowed his head, “Aye, you did. I thought… well, I was wrong.”

    She nodded once, reaching out to touch the front of his outstretched hand with two fingertips, pushing the blade offered to her back to him. “Tell me how it happened.”

    Mikael lay the sword down in front of him and looked back up at her, “We were deceived, Shikantoh. The Tsaesci played us for fools, and we obliged them. We were watching for an assassin using the secret ways of the Ayleids in the White-Gold Tower. The assassin’s blow came from Corda, the Emperor’s mistress.”

    Shikantoh, as Mikael had called her nodded again. Turil wondered if he had heard that right. The –toh honorific was so rarely used, even in Akavir, that only rumors of it had reached the Empire in the 200 years since the Akaviri Dragonguard had been absorbed into the Empire. Supposedly it was a term used to address the spiritual leader of one of the traditional Akaviri sword schools, of whom there were very few; it indicated a kind of living saint in Akavir.

    The First Blade lifted her gaze up to the domed ceiling, her hair falling away from her face as her eyes looking at something far away for a moment. “There is a long chain of vengeance that brought that one to this end. That is not my judgement to give.”

    Her focus then shifted to Turil, standing a short ways behind Mikael. Her gaze unsettled him. “And this one… who is he?”

    “He is a thief, and the distraction the Snakes used to keep our eyes drawn away from the true assassin. He was mapping the Ayleid hidden paths, as any good assassin would do, and they let him play unhindered, to focus our attention on him as the most obvious threat.”

    Turil frowned then, and spoke up, “You mean both the Blades and the Potentate were tracking my movements in the palace? I spotted several of your Blades monitoring me, and they didn’t seem terribly skilled at keeping track of me.”

    Mikael turned back slightly to address Turil, and shook his head in response, “Pyo Jut.” He held out his right hand, palm up, “You spotted the Pyo, the revealed blade.” He held his left hand back slightly and at his side, “You did not see the Jut, the hidden blade.”

    Shikantoh looked at Turil in appraisal for a moment, and then glanced at Mikael, “And is he a good thief?”

    Mikael exhaled in frustration, and then nodded, “Good enough that we thought he was the real thing. He infiltrated the palace well enough, mapped all the systems without external aid, and if he had been an assassin, he would have been in position to strike.”

    Her gaze focused on Turil tightly for a moment, and he felt a pressure that almost caused him to put his hand to the side of his head in pain. Suddenly she seemed dangerously close to him, despite being almost 25 paces away. “And are you sure he was not the backup?” she asked lightly.

    Mikael shook his head, “He wasn’t in place to be a backup when the blow was struck. He arrived after, to see the Emperor’s final breaths. I know… I was following him using the between floor passages, and watched the Potentate speak with him. It was fairly obvious that he was a convenient pawn for the Snake, not a conspirator.” He grimaced, “He also did a commendable job of attempting to impale the Potentate with a crossbow bolt when they first spoke, after seeing what had been done to the Emperor.”

    The pressure suddenly fell away from Turil, though he couldn’t see any change in posture or expression from the woman sitting lightly on the stack of crates, cradling her sword. She nodded acknowledgement to Mikael, and then addressed Turil.

    “Your life is forfeit now, young…” she cocked an eye at him.

    “Turil, ahh… First Blade.”

    “Young Turil… you have no future in this Empire. The Potentate is consolidating his power rapidly, and he dislikes keeping old weapons around that could be turned against him. This is now true for you…” she then turned back to Mikael, “…and for us.”

    Mikael frowned, “Have the Blades been declared compromised?”

    Shikantoh smiled grimly, “We have been formally declared as conspirators with the enemies of the Empire, small Mikael. Our public Blades regiments have been seized as traitors, and this evening five of our secret Blade strongholds in the city have been rooted out and slaughtered to a man. The executions have already started.”

    She leaned back then, indicating a stack of notes next to her, “I have been receiving reports from all across the Empire via mage portal. Seizure of Blades and Blade assets is happening in every major city and military stronghold across Tamriel. They have been planning this a long time.”

    She looked back at Mikael and pointed to the remaining Blades now disappearing into the tunnels around the rotunda, “The Blades are scattering, little Mikael. Fa’Soud and Elabyth are leading squads to free as many of our prisoners in the city as they can before execution. The other field captains have orders taking them… away, to hidden places in Tamriel.”

    Mikael swore softly under his breath, “What would you have us do, First Blade?”

    Shikantoh shifted her Akaviri sword up off her lap slightly, to look at the faded leather wrapping the handle, and the dark, mottled shealth covering the blade. She sat in silence for a moment.

    Turil glance around the rotunda. Only the three of them, the curly-haired Bosmer, and a few other Blades were left. The Bosmer and the others sat in silence, watching Mikael. They must be his personal command, Turil concluded. Glancing back at Shikantoh, he saw her trace her blade down the outside of the sheath with one finger.

    “We have always been the blade of the Empire,” she spoke, “But before that, we were the blade of the One who Speaks. We are the guardians of Alessia’s blood.”

    She looked up at Mikael and Turil, holding her sword up by the middle of the sheath, at a slight 45 degree angle. “The Covenant of Akatosh falls tonight. With the death of the Emperor, there is no heir of Alessia’s blood to sit upon the Dragon Throne. This is not happenstance. Nirn is now open to Oblivion.”

    Shikantoh then reached up with her right hand, pulling the blade free from the sheath in one smooth motion. “It is my honor to draw the blade. It is my sacrifice for Alessia’s blood. In my liberty, I embrace death.”

    Mikael picked up his sword in an imitation of her and started to draw it, “It is my honor…”

    “No, Mikael.”

    The big man looked up at her, an almost hurt expression on his face.

    “I have other orders for you, Mikael.”

    He nodded, a focused expression settling over his face, resheathed the sword, and placed it back in front of him.

    Turil noted that a look of sympathy, and even regret, crossed Shikantoh’s face briefly. “I am sorry… but this way is not yours to take, small Mikael. The oaths of Akavir are the dust of history, and they blow away with me today. All Blades have new orders this day, and none were given leave to join me in my oath.”

    “I have another task that I must set you to… and it is not the task of a blade wielded, but of a guardian who must protect those that cannot still, or cannot yet, wield a blade.”

    Resheathing her blade and reaching into a hidden pocket in her armor, Shikantoh pulled out a small sealed packet of bound paper, setting it down in front of Mikael’s curved sword. “In the North, in the hills of Glenumbra, there lives an old farmer. He is a widower, and had no children with his wife. There are rumors that he may have two children from his younger days, however.”

    Mikael looked at her, puzzled but waiting.

    She glanced briefly at Turil; then continued. “This farmer is an illegitimate grandson of Reman Cyrodiil II. He is unaware of his heritage. We seek others, but he is, for the moment, the last living heir of Alessia’s blood.”

    Mikael let out a breath, “You would have me protect him.”

    “And his children, if you can locate them.”

    Shikan held up a hand as Mikael started to ask a question, “And I have one more, most difficult task for you.” He closed his mouth and she continued, “You must leave the Blades and sever all contact with them.”

    A shocked look crossed Mikael’s face, followed by a sudden calculation, and then understanding. He nodded.

    “Yes, little Mikael. The Potentate is hunting the Blades, and he will succeed in at least partial measure. It is no accident that I have dismissed the others before giving you these orders. We are the Pyo; you are the Jut.”

    “And with this charge, I give you a new name. You are the Guardians; no longer Blades.” She sighed then, as if releasing a breath held too long. “And I give you a new Kaed’n tosh to hold your honor. The honor of your Guardians is found in this: In your freedom, choose faithfulness. In faithfulness, provide protection. As a protector, you live with honor. Freedom. Protection. Honor.” She smiled a sad smile at him them, an almost wistful one. “Teach your Guardians this Way. I would like to see what they become.”

    Mikael nodded once, and bowed to her formally.

    He then frowned, “But Shikantoh… what will…”

    She shook her head firmly, cutting off his protest. “I am not Shikantoh to you, Founder of the Guardians, but merely Shikan.” Then more gently, she continued, touching her sword hilt with two fingers, and then her forehead. “I am the first blade. And that is enough. In Akavir, that has always been enough.”

    Her steady gaze caught him, arresting any further words that he would have said. She held his gaze for a moment in silence, and then nodded as if it was settled. “Go, Mikaeltoh of the Guardians… take up your blade. I charge you to live, protect the heirs of Alessia, and bring this remembrance to the Blades when you restore the Ruby Throne.”

    She turned back to consider Turil, “And you, young Turil, will go with him. You will be needed in this task, I think. Go with Mikaeltoh and be the eyes that watch his path.”

    Turil frowned. Better than being executed for knowing their secret plans, but…

    He took a breath and weakly objected, “I realize my choices are rather limited right now from a practical perspective, but what if I’d rather flee to the Black Marsh and live in hiding there the rest of my life?

    She looked at something behind and slightly above Turil’s right shoulder, and shook her head with a brief smile, “You are not being given this choice, son of Azura.”

    Her words seemed so final, and had such weight that he almost didn’t even question her statement. He shook himself then, started to say something else, and stopped. A blurring afterimage of wings stirred at the outer edges of his vision. He shivered, and decided it wasn’t worth arguing with her right now. He could make his own decisions later.

    Mikael reached down to carefully pick up the sealed packet and his sword, which he slid into his belt.

    “Where do you go, First Blade?” Mikael gave that simple title all the weight of a Lord of the et’Ada as he addressed the slight figure he knelt before.

    She smiled then, standing up and dropping silently off her boxes to the ground. Her eyes were far away again as she looked over Mikael’s shoulder at something that Turil could not see. It was not a pleasant smile, but one of promise. “I have a final measure to take, and one last judgement to give. The blade will turn, and a decision will be made.” Her eyes darkened then, “All blades eventually shatter… It is no loss if they serve the hand that wields them well in their last task.”

    Mikael nodded to her then, standing and touching his fingers to forehead out of old habit. He motioned to the warriors behind them, who gathered silently, and then gestured to Turil. “Come, thie… Turil. We have far to go tonight.” As he walked away toward one of the sewer tunnel entrances, he drew one of his daggers, sheath and all, and dropped it into Turil’s hands as he walked past, without looking at him.

    Mikael turned back to Shikantoh, now standing in the shadows of an old sewer arch, her head bowed, hair pulled out of the warrior’s binding, cascading down around her frame and curling around the sheathed blade at her side. He hesitated; then spoke across the rotunda, “By your leave, commande… First Blade.”

    “Go.” She said without looking up.

    As they slipped into the tunnel, Turil caught Mikael’s eye and leaned over to him in a whisper, “Why does she call you ‘small Mikael’?”

    Mikael stopped and looked at him directly for a moment, “She’s called me that since I was five.”


    Edited by VelJharig on April 21, 2015 1:38AM
  • VelJharig

    On a windswept hill in the Akaviri highlands, a lone figure waited in silence for clouds to cross the moon.

    Shikantoh stepped out of the shadows made by the two moons over a small cluster of trees. Her face was calm; serene, as she considered the hills that fell away before her. Her movements smooth and simple, she walked along the border between shadow and light, watching the lights of a city glimmering in the valley below.

    She paused then, just on the edge of the treeline, resting her hand lightly on the hilt of her ancient Akaviri blade. Looking back to her left and right, she stepped away from the treeline into the open meadow before her and addressed the shadows in the trees, “Come and dance then, if you would… I have no patience for shy suitors.”

    A shimmering of air, a fraction of moonlight rippling like a reflection on water, faded into the form of two winged twilights, their wings folded back, claws retracted as they slowly bowed their heads to the human figure. Their disturbing, almost beautifully perfect faces lifted to meet her gaze, then the one to her left spoke. “We watch your path, first blade. Only that. This has been decreed.”

    Shikantoh nodded to her Daedric escort slowly, considering, “Then watch, and do not interfere with my judgement.”

    The winged twilight bowed again silently in its almost beautiful, disturbingly otherworldly way, “Our Mistress sends her greetings, and instructs to tell you, ‘The gate swings both ways…’”

    Shikantoh paused then for a moment, her dark eyes reflecting the two moons’ light as she considered them. Finally she reached some internal decision, removed her hand from her well-worn sword, and nodded. “If she offers aid for my task, then I thank her. I would open the gate.”

    The winged twilight nodded silently in response, then the two Daedric creatures floated to within arms’ reach of one another. Their wings began flapping quickly, then faster still, while hovering motionlessly in the air facing one another… as if fighting some unseen wind that slowly blew them apart while leaving the trees around them motionless in the moonlight. Finally a split, a tear, seemed to form in the middle of their beating wings, as if moonlight itself had parted the night air. They hovered apart then by three or four paces, still straining their wings as if attempting to rush together.

    Shikantoh a’Corei-kan, first blade of the Kisane-teth Akaviri Dragonguard, stepped between them, and into the realms of Oblivion.

    Azura stepped from the hilltop silence, observing her two creatures as their flapping wings slowed, their breath heaving and the gap between them closing as the tear of moonlight faded. As they settled to their knees, she decided that they were still beautiful; still perfect to her. She approached their drooping forms and rested her hands lightly on their two inhuman, perfectly sculpted cheeks, tilting their chins to bring their attention to her face.

    “Go with her. Stay with her until the end.” The twilight creatures lowered their eyes in deference, and then vanished.

    Azura considered the city below in the nestled roots of the hills. She lifted her eyes to the familiar constellations of Nirn overhead, and then looked through the torn veil before her toward the Akaviri she had sent into the realms beyond. Why had she helped the human seek her goal? It wasn’t simply to undermine her brothers in their schemes or play an interesting new game with the curious creations of her so-called Aedra siblings.

    Some who know themselves safe… Azura mused as she surveyed the hills of Akavir under the cascade of stars, …are about to learn a hard lesson. The realms were no longer protected from one another, due to schemes of power. And in response a judgement had just been unleased in the realms beyond Mundus, one that would perhaps catch Daedra, Gods and men in its measure. And it was not hate, or pride, or power that had driven Azura to make her choice – but something else. Something as ephemeral to Azura as the wider realms were to the weak, frail creatures of Mundus. Some absolute truths felt less substantial than they did a short while ago.

    It felt like… change.

    The Daedric Prince of Moonshadow considered this as she stepped through the moonlight, back to her own realm.

    *** End of Vol 2 ***
    Edited by VelJharig on September 16, 2014 3:13AM
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