It doesn't make me a bad person if I steal things sometimes, right? I mean nobody's perfect, right? And we all have our flaws, and we can still be good people even if we do things that are technically against the law now and then?
Okay I can admit that stealing isn't something a person would generally be proud of. Although I have gotten away with some close calls. And getting through that manor with Quen was pretty exciting. But I wouldn't go up to High King Emeric and ask for a medal for all the stuff I've stolen. It's just between me and the fences, and the occasional livid townsperson I have to run away from. But so far so good, and it all works out okay in the end.
Momentary crises of conscience aside, I've had some interesting experiences delving into the inner workings of the Thieves Guild in Hew's Bane. Since becoming acquainted with the organization some time ago, I haven't really paid it much mind, since I was kind of preoccupied with the whole saving the other alliances to learn about them thing. But, with my schedule recently opening up, I decided to head back to Abah's Landing and see what was shaking there. And there was quite a bit shaking.
I don't need to go too much into details, except to say that Walks-Softly was indeed a fun wedding date, and I'm not sure I've ever worn anything so skimpy, and it's nice that Quen was able to reconcile with her dad's new lady love, and sneaking around is a lot more nerve-wracking when you know that just being spotted could get you in a heap of trouble.
What I've been thinking about most since helping Zeira settle the guild's business is how disheartening it must be to trust in someone and believe in him and maybe even love him and then to discover he was wearing a mask for who knows how long. By the time I properly met Nicolas I already knew he was trouble, but hearing her talk about him, it wasn't hard to see how much she idolized him for who he was before he betrayed the guild.
How could someone like that just turn on his friends and the organization he had helped build up? Was he never really the good man that Zeira wholeheartedly believed he was? If so, it would mean she had been a gullible fool the entire time she had known him. But I have a hard time accepting that explanation.
Something made him change his perspective and just want out of the life he was living. And so he thought that faking his death would be the easy way to get out with no strings attached. But what he did brought everything crashing down around the guild, and led to hardships and even death for many of the people who had looked up to his leadership.
Maybe you could argue that he didn't expect all of that to happen just because he was out of the picture. But I don't really accept that either. He had wheels turning and strings to pull that went beyond just wanting to disappear. And I held him completely accountable for what he did to the guild. I didn't kill him for it, but in this case I feel quite comfortable letting the law do what needs to be done, and I hope that his new wife will do what she needs to do to protect herself.
He was a scumbag, no doubt about it. It's easy for me to see him that way, coming into the situation as late as I did. But it still bothers me, knowing how he was before, and knowing how the others looked up to him, especially Zeira.
What if it were me, looking up to a man I respected and trusted and believed in? I've already met more than one person who fit that description. And I even fell in love with one of them. To think that any of them would turn out to be... not the man I thought they were, is... well, chilling is a good word for it. I've been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of betrayals, even by people I thought I was fairly close to, but to imagine Darien or Raz or even Indaenir or Holgunn revealed as a backstabbing bastard is just too much to bear. I can't even force myself to picture that scenario happening. I have to believe, I can't not believe, that the man I fell in love with is truly who he seemed to be.
But that's what Zeira thought too. And though I can't know for sure how deep her feelings for him went, it's certain that the pain he caused her went just as deep.
Just please, Darien, even if you're only a memory for me now, don't ever let me down like that.
So, here I am. Ilsabet Menard, the hero of three alliances, savior of Nirn, champion of the Celestials... and now, homeowner.
It's not something I really would have imagined for myself, having spent so long as a wanderer. And really, I'm trying very hard not to see this as some kind of retirement. (Ha, retirement at my age.) But it is awfully nice having a cozy little place to call my own. I've already started decorating it with some of the mementos of my travels, and it feels quite nice just to sit here and relax. I also have to chuckle when I think of how obtaining this home was something of an adventure in itself.
I had just made it back to Daggerfall when a nice man at the bank told me about the new opportunities for home ownership. I wouldn't have given him more than a cursory nod before now, but something made me stop and listen. Once I had proven myself responsible enough, he showed me a list of available properties, and I took the opportunity to travel to some familiar places to check them out.
The first one I visited, of course, was the small house right there in Daggerfall. I thought that would be a natural fit for me, and indeed if I hadn't seen the other properties I probably would have taken it. But Ma always said, browse twice, buy once, and so I took my chances that it would still be unoccupied by the time I finished visiting all of the other houses.
Well, that worked out in my favor after all. I still like that house in theory, and I also took a shine to the somewhat larger house in Fell's Run and the remote Orc keep in northern Bangkorai - and that palace on Stros M'Kai! maybe someday... - but, when all was said and done, here I am in the Rift.
If you had told me at the start that that's where I'd want my little corner of Tamriel to be, I would have given you a funny look. But somehow I do feel surprisingly at home here. Maybe it's because it really is my own little corner, but that's not all there is to it. Coming back to this place, I noticed how nice and peaceful it is here surrounded by grass and autumn trees. I didn't really have the chance to appreciate that before when I was in the middle of adventuring. And I always knew I'd like a house away from the bustle of cities, so this fits in perfectly while being not that far from the conveniences of Nimalten.
Ah, Nimalten. The other main reason I almost walked away from this home. I still distinctly remember how angry I felt after my experiences there, how close I came to being permanently embittered against humanity. When I realized that that's where this home was, I instinctively wanted to turn around and not even bother. But, Ma's wisdom prevailed, and as I came closer what did I hear but the strains of the party at Geirmund's Hall, which apparently still hasn't wound down and by the looks of it may just keep going and going. I stopped by for another mug of mead, and maybe that mellowed me out enough to temper my apprehension.
So I looked at the house, and the longer I spent there and the more I thought about things, the more I liked the idea of being there. And I think upon much reflection, even being here between these two extremes is meaningful and lends a certain "rightness" to my being here. On one side I experienced betrayal and loss, and if I wanted to dwell on those things I would find there bitterness and resentment and an infinitely renewable angst. But on the other side lies a joyous reminder of the good things in life, of friends and fun, a reminder that sometimes things are actually just okay.
It would be easy to ignore the angsty side and pretend that Nimalten isn't there, and spend all my time boozing it up and singing songs in Geirmund's Hall. But I've reached a middle ground, a true reconciliation between the two extremes. Life includes both loss and joy, and the Divines know I've experienced my share of both. But as I've observed so often during my journeys, that's what makes my life what it is, and that's what makes me who I am. And so I actually appreciate my position here, in this harmonious middle ground among the cosmic flow of the world.
Dang, and now I'm all meditative again. This might be a good time to go out and find some more souvenirs to bring home.
Oh my. If I ever thought that my life would be quiet and uneventful after settling down in my own little house...
I was chased down by a pushy Orc woman during a recent visit to Daggerfall. Apparently she'd been looking for me for quite some time. She didn't bother telling me what she wanted, but the letter she handed me led me to the mountains of Wrothgar, where King Kurog has been building a new metropolis for the Orcs.
I had heard of Orsinium, and of course I knew of King Kurog as one of High King Emeric's closest allies, but it has been quite interesting seeing them both up close. There's a lot going on here in Orsinium, and I have the feeling I've only scratched the surface of the tensions and machinations in play here.
The adventuring has mostly been pretty standard, the usual array of common folk, thieves, and werewolf hunters needing help. I did feel bad for the man whose beloved fiancee met her end in a harpy nest before I was able to rescue her, but hopefully he and his surviving partner will find success with their bookstore. (I also made the acquaintance of the fabled Narsis Dren, but that encounter could be its own story.)
Things... took a turn when I arrived in Frostbreak Fortress to assist King Kurog with his Winterborn problem. Meeting the King in person was quite the experience to begin with. I have to wonder what those dinner meetings were like between the boisterous and ravenous Orc and our staid High King.
And then we spoke to the siege commander, and he said something that gave me a shock. He said that his team was being assisted by a Breton alchemist... named Alinon. I remembered him. Darien's best friend, whom I had last seen in Camlorn so long ago.
Alinon... Darien's best friend... was here? As much as I should have come to terms with what happened to Darien by now, I couldn't help feeling that weight on my heart again. It became hard to focus on the commander's instructions. Mostly what I got out of it was that Alinon was somewhere in that fortress, and I needed to get in there and find him and his team and help them complete their mission.
I had to remind myself to keep my head together. This was no time to be dwelling on the past. Besides, it might not even be the same Alinon.
The battlefield was a maze. Somehow the King and I made it through and got the harpy aeries destroyed with the help of the plucky Wood Elf I had met when I first arrived in Wrothgar. (I could have made those shots too, but don't tell Eveli that.) The Reachmen were tenacious, but we pushed through.
We found the alchemist. It was him. He remembered me from Camlorn. He remembered everything we went through to cure the lycanthropy there. It made him feel better to have me clearing the way into the fortress to deal with the greater Reachman threat. I felt... relieved to see him, and to find him safe, but that weight in my heart never went away.
It got worse when we got inside the fortress. Once he identified the plants the Reachmen were using to grow their briar hearts, he sent me away to find more saplings to burn while he worked on a concoction to poison the main tree. I was immediately worried for his safety, but he assured me that he'd be fine as long as he had the Wood Elf guarding him.
I knew on some level that I was being irrational. But that sense of foreboding was there whether I liked it or not.
I hurried through the fortress, dispatching enemies and burning saplings. I got an earful from a testy Reachman who was waiting to have his own briar heart implanted into his chest. I had no idea how powerful Reach magic was, he informed me. He was looking forward to killing me and feeding my eyes to the harpies, once he got his precious briar heart. He only made me even more interested in putting an end to his wonderful tree.
When I returned to check in with Alinon, catastrophe had struck. The alchemist was gone, and Eveli had no idea what had happened to him while she'd been off collecting moss. He might have just gone off on his own, but the more likely possibilities were much more dire. And even if he had wandered off of his own free will, it would be far too easy for the Reachmen to grab him if he weren't stealthy enough. I had a horrible vision of them implanting one of those briar hearts into his chest, turning him into one of their vile killing machines. I even almost wondered how far his interest in their magicks might take him, and if he would ever allow himself to be tempted...
One thing was sure, there was no time to stand around imagining the worst. Eveli and I split up and went in search of our wayward friend. I raced through the fortress looking for him, not even bothering with the Reachmen I startled on the way by. Fortunately I found him fairly quickly. Unfortunately, he was trapped in a cage suspended over a giant bonfire.
It was almost as bad as I had imagined, except that there was still time to save him. If I could just find the lever, or whatever mechanism would let him out of that cage. But then the blockhead stopped me from searching the room, told me that it was more important to go and poison the tree while it was still at its weakest. He actually wanted me to leave, instead of rescuing him from those wretches who wanted to cook him for dinner - or worse.
This time I took even more convincing. If Eveli hadn't been there to handle things, I doubt I could have left him. I couldn't let him die. I couldn't let him be left behind. Not like... not like before. And even with Eveli's assurances, I still couldn't shake the feeling that things could still turn out very badly.
At least if I could kill the tree, maybe they wouldn't have any briar hearts to implant in Alinon. Maybe I would still have time to stop them if they tried using him for some sort of ritual. I could still save him and stop their foul plot. And so I went.
The tree I found was beautiful in a way, a burst of vibrant color amidst all the dull gray and brown of the frost-bound fort. But its color was drawn from the corpses that fed it, and its vibrancy was stolen and unnatural. Its keepers didn't want me anywhere near it. But I knew that it needed to die.
Alinon had already reminded me of the Bloodthorn vines from Glenumbra. I had more recent memories of the Reach's incursion into Shor's Stone in the Rift. This corruption of nature... it needed to stop.
Just as I was applying Alinon's elixir to the exposed roots, the alchemist himself appeared along with his able rescuer. So at least I didn't need to worry about him still being trapped. And it was a good thing too, because those Reachmen put up a desperate fight to save their tree. It was only through some fancy bow work keeping their healing efforts interrupted that we finally managed to buy enough time for the poison to do its work and the tree was finally sapped. Alinon promised to meet me outside, and the King and I continued on to finish the job we had infiltrated the fortress to do. King Kurog was delighted to have Urfon Ice-Heart's lifeless corpse under his foot and his fancy blade in his hand, but I couldn't be entirely at ease until I made sure that everyone had actually made it out safely.
Fortunately Eveli and Alinon were waiting outside, along with the one Orc escort who had made it all the way through the fortress with us. Alinon was drained but otherwise seemed fine. As I spoke to him again, I felt the heaviness slowly lifting from my chest, and I began to realize how silly I had been. Of course things were going to be dangerous breaking into an enemy stronghold, what was new about that? I'd taken risks with plenty of teammates before. And most of the time things worked out just fine, just like they had today. I didn't need to be freaked out just because this guy happened to be Darien's friend.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before I departed. He didn't say anything about Darien being gone. Is it possible he still doesn't know? He said he did a lot of traveling after the werewolves were put down in Camlorn. Maybe he was too ensconced in his study of Reach magic to have heard about the Planemeld and Darien's role in ending it. Should I have told him? Could I bring myself to have that conversation with Darien's best friend?
He said he'd be in the King's Cornerclub once he returned to Orsinium, but I haven't seen him there yet. I find myself stopping in there to check more often than I probably should. I hope I'm not just getting myself worked up. I should probably just focus on taking care of the King's business. Maybe getting out and about will help to clear my head.
I mentioned something about recounting the story of meeting Narsis Dren, didn't I. Well hrm. He's... he's... an interesting person. It's probably fortunate that I'd been primed by the stories sent by my old hireling Valinka and had some notion that he wasn't entirely the glamorous hero that inspires so much starry-eyed adoration from his fans. Fortunately he didn't ask me to go back to his tent and inspect his artifact, although that might be because I kind of ticked him off before he had the opportunity.
I'll admit that I haven't read too many of his books, but after traversing a dungeon with him I can imagine how they go. The great explorer Narsis Dren ventures into a dark and spooky ruin, undisturbed for ages, and finds himself face to face with horrid beasties and undead guardians and impossible puzzles that only a mind of his peerless caliber could decipher in time to heroically evade the pitfalls that would doom a lesser adventurer. He's probably got a doting but inexperienced sidekick, breathlessly recording his every heroic move, and of course it's all worth it in the end when he emerges triumphantly with the invaluable knowledge gleaned and treasure pilfered - I mean, secured.
What did he say this book would be called? Narsis Dren and the Adventure of the Beastly Barrow? Something like that. I already know my name won't be in it, so eh. I wonder if he'll replace me with an appropriately adoring stand-in. A cute and spunky Breton girl would make a good sidekick. And he would need someone to show off to as the narrative goes along, especially since his actual assistant got left outside.
But anyway. Aside from my name, I can also tell you for sure what this book will NOT contain. It will fail to mention how the great Narsis Dren got himself stuck inside a coffin shortly after entering the barrow, or how he was rescued from said coffin by the spunky Breton girl who came in after him to see if he was all right, or how the undead guardians were awoken to begin with by his meddling in their tomb.
But I shouldn't sound like I'm complaining so much. Or even make it seem like I didn't like him. I actually quite enjoyed our excursion through the tomb. For all his foibles, I actually learned a lot from him, and even the foibles made for kind of an entertaining time. It's not like I'm not used to having to do all the work when I accompany someone through a dungeon, and after all that's what I'm here for.
His contributions to our battles mostly consisted of yelling out advice or commentary, like when he exhorted me to "Aim for the knee! Aim for the knee!" It seemed a peculiarly specific instruction, but he's probably spent more time researching draugr than I've spent fighting them, so maybe he's aware of some weakness I've never noticed. Either way they went down pretty quickly, but there sure were a lot of them.
The large stone carvings we found proved to be the key to solving the puzzle that blocked our way to the main burial chamber, and to his credit Dren pieced together the story that they told pretty admirably. (I'm sure I could have worked out the narrative order on my own, but it got to be entertaining to see what he would say each time I asked - especially at the end when there was only one panel left.)
And so we met the angry Dragon Priest whose not-quite-eternal slumber we had disturbed, and Dren mostly stayed out of the way while I put him down again. Then he was gleefully off running into the treasure room, which was only slightly trapped along the way. His real prize was the incredibly rare Dragon Priest mask that had been buried here for centuries, and it seemed that the draugr problem he stirred up was only an inconvenient side effect of his treasure-hunting. I briefly considered how easy it would be to "accidentally" lock him in one of those big fancy coffins, but once my mischievous streak passed I decided it would be better for him to have to go tell the Orc townsfolk what he had done.
I should have known he'd take the suggestion as an opportunity for a PR stunt. When I made it back to the settlement, his tale of gallant adventure was in full swing. I didn't feel like letting him get away with too much, so I told him to tell the actual truth - which, after grudgingly agreeing to, he left me to do. Fortunately the Orc woman I spoke to had already had her doubts about the great hero, but she also acknowledged that he'd managed to solve the problem he caused, so she didn't have a problem with giving a reward on behalf of her settlement - and since he wasn't there to collect that reward, it went to his little helper. (Ha-ha!)
And so ended this particular chapter in the ongoing saga of the illustrious Narsis Dren, and his growing collection of priceless artifacts and nameless former sidekicks.
Well guess who else has found his way to Wrothgar? Skordo the ever-lovin' Knife. I'll get to the less gratifying circumstances in a bit, but man was it good seeing him again. I'm not sure why I reacted so differently than when I heard that Alinon was at Frostbreak Fortress, but learning that Skordo was serving as our ambassador's bodyguard kind of perked me up. It was hard not to laugh when I discovered him buried under a pile of furniture and had to drag him out from under it. He cracked a joke about not knowing who I was, and for a moment it seemed just like old times.
His mood turned more sober when I asked him how he'd been since Coldharbour. He tries not to think about that too much, he said, since it's hard for him to remember all the good people we lost. I could relate. Then he asked me if I remembered Darien. All I could do was nod and smile sadly. If Skordo never realized how I felt about Darien, then I couldn't exactly just come out and say that I've never stopped thinking about him. But for some reason, hearing Darien's name didn't send me reeling this time. Maybe I'd been primed by meeting Alinon. Or maybe my mood was just lighter after seeing Skordo. I count it as a good sign.
We set out to try to find the Breton ambassador, Lady Sovelle. I'd had my suspicions that there might be something shifty afoot, especially after finding the remnants of certain letters written between the ambassador's father-in-law and the captain of this doomed sailing fleet. Apparently strengthening economic ties between High Rock and Orsinium is less of a priority to certain people than it is to High King Emeric. And unfortunately, one of those people was able to lead our ambassador and the rest of her entourage straight into the ice storm that wrecked the entire fleet.
The good news is that we were able to find and rescue Lady Sovelle, and her trade mission will hopefully be able to continue. Unfortunately, her husband met his end after an admirable but perhaps ill-advised show of gumption in the face of the perfidious Captain Henrisa. I could have told him that it was a bad idea to rush at her when he could barely defend himself, but I suppose a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. And I did have the final word with Henrisa herself.
Of course, not before she got in a few words of her own. "High King Emeric will hear of this." Yes, go tell High King Emeric that Ilsabet Menard had an issue with you trying to sabotage his trade plans because you don't think Orcs are people. See how that goes for you.
Oh wait, you can't, because you're dead. What a shame.
I mean really, do these people really think that the High King would be proud of them for being unrepentant racists? After he worked so hard to build his alliance, making a point of including the people these idiots now want to shun?
Maybe they think what they're doing isn't that bad, since they're not actively trying to kick the Orcs out of the Covenant, they just don't want to have to do business with them. I mean everyone knows that Bretons are the superior race and we only let those Orsimer ally with us so we could use them like beasts, right?
Gah. Even saying it sarcastically makes me want to punch myself. People are idiots.
I guess it's a wake-up call just in case I thought that pointless racism was exclusive to the Dominion and the Pact. At least I know that High King Emeric would be as appalled as I am if he knew about this. I just hope Skordo and Lady Sovelle are able to make it to the city in time to speak with King Kurog and his advisors before they make any decisions. If they can, maybe this whole incident won't have been for nothing.
I've noticed that I get asked to help people make decisions a lot. Sometimes it's to settle a dispute when there isn't another fair arbiter around. Sometimes I've earned people's trust and they feel they can rely on my judgment. Sometimes people just need an impartial outsider who can see the full picture in a way they can't. Or sometimes people don't want to have to take responsibility so they put it into my hands.
Usually I don't mind, and sometimes the decision is even easy to make. Even when it takes a bit more thought, or the outcomes are uncertain, I figure that it's enough to do my best in good faith and let the people involved do their part to see things through. And even when it's something important and the stakes are high, like when I had to decide whether Khali or Shazah would become the next Mane, and there wasn't one unequivocally "right" choice, I know that simply making the choice is a necessary step so that everything can proceed the way it must.
Most of the time I'm not left with a bad feeling about the fact that I've made a decision for someone else. But that's not the case today. And I'm not even convinced that I made a wrong choice. I just... don't feel great about the way things went.
Ever since I got here, people have been reminding me that I'm an outsider. And usually those people are the ones who most dislike outsiders getting involved in their affairs. But somehow that doesn't stop people from accepting my help with the problems that they can't solve themselves. Maybe I should just leave them alone, but talking to people is too ingrained in my nature by this point. (I did have to laugh at the crabby woman waiting outside Scarp Keep who asked me if I always stick my nose into other people's business. As a matter of fact, lady, I do.)
As I've followed the King's suggestion to travel around his country, I've encountered some of the clans and gotten to know a little about them - and, of course, I've had the opportunity to help them with some of their problems. The Morkul clan's family troubles were relatively straightforward, despite the rather shocking revelations about their ancestors' forging techniques. There have been hunters who ran into goblin trouble, and even a bit of an identity crisis. But nothing terribly out of the ordinary.
The Shatul clan was in the middle of a bigger predicament. Their chief had been fatally wounded by a giant, and the entire clan was apparently on the brink of collapse without a strong replacement. I don't know why they hadn't planned ahead for this eventuality, especially considering how much Orcs seem to enjoy putting their lives on the line fighting and hunting, but I got the feeling that most of the clan stayed preoccupied with their herding work and might have even gotten a little complacent during their time of relative stability under Chief Ogzor. Only two contenders came forward wanting to become the new chief, and one of them hadn't even lived with the clan for years.
Of course, the truth behind that returning son was that she was actually a returning daughter. The daughter of the nearly-deceased chief, who had been exiled for refusing to follow her father's wishes - to marry the man who was now the other contender for chief.
It was a bit messy. Especially when you factor in the chief's mother poisoning her son so that the replacement process could get on with it. But I wasn't in a position to question that.
The position I was placed in by the chief's mother was essentially to decide who would become the new chief. On the surface, that's the sort of decision I've made before. Normally I'd evaluate the two contenders and then tell the clan what I thought was best. But Yazara wanted me to go about things a different way. They have traditions, you see, and things need to happen a certain way to please Malacath and satisfy the clan's expectations.
The choice ultimately doesn't come down to a rational consideration of who has the best temperament, level of experience, goals, or any of that for the clan. It's a matter of who can kill whom in a single fight to the death. Malacath is supposed to favor the victor, or something like that. Except Yazara didn't seem to want to leave it up to Malacath. She didn't want her granddaughter Ushruka to become chief, because having a female chief would throw everything into disarray, especially after the girl had already defied the clan's will and been exiled. And she didn't want Laurig to become chief because she saw him as weak for allowing his old clan to be wiped out and for refusing to challenge Ogzor on account of their friendship.
And so she put it on me to decide which of the "unworthy" contenders should be the new chief. And just to play it safe, she wanted me to seal my choice by sabotaging the "weaker" combatant with a poorly-forged blade.
I didn't like it. I told her it wasn't fair, but that didn't matter to her. She told me that a strong fighter could overcome a weak sword, if that was Malacath's will. It was scant justification, but she didn't leave me with any room to object. This was their clan's business, and she was their clan's voice telling me what needed to happen. And so I reluctantly went along with her plan.
But which contender to support? And more to the point, which one to sabotage, knowing that the loser of the fight was destined for death?
If it were a rational choice, I would have recommended Laurig. He had made mistakes in his past, yes, but he had learned from those mistakes and had become wiser over the years. He hadn't been able to avenge the chief's defeat without my help, but he freely acknowledged that I had struck the killing blow. Knowing when to ask for help - and not trying to hog all the credit - is a mark of a prudent leader. And I respected him for supporting someone he saw as a good ruler rather than letting ambition drive him to claim leadership for himself.
But, although I never heard anyone within the clan say it so bluntly, I had a feeling that Laurig was still considered something of an outsider too. More than one person told me that "Shatul must go on." I wondered if there was an undercurrent of awareness that Laurig was not of Shatul blood, and if that would fuel disapproval of him as Shatul's new chief. But I could just be reading too much into things, since Laurig had certainly assimilated himself into his new clan after so many years.
Ushruka, on the other hand, was unlikely to ever be accepted by the clan even if she did win the decisive fight. Female rulers aren't unusual to me, but apparently they're unheard of in traditional Orc culture. Women's power comes from their influence as wives and the responsibilities they carry on behalf of their chief-husbands. But Ushruka had rejected that position. She never wanted to be just a wife, and she certainly didn't want to be the wife of someone she'd known as "Uncle Laurig" since she was a child. She also had no interest in bearing children, especially not out of duty to anyone else.
I absolutely couldn't blame her for her feelings about the proposed marriage. I've already noted my aversion into being in an arranged marriage, and there's something creepy about having to marry a father-type figure even if he isn't an evil manipulative Worm Cultist. She simply valued independence over following her people's traditions and wanted to make her own choices in life. I had to respect that.
In terms of her suitability to be chief, she had an open-mindedness that I appreciated, and she was certainly fiercely devoted to the clan. She didn't bear any ill will toward Laurig, she simply wanted her heredity to be recognized and mean something. And I have to say, the idea of a woman asserting herself as a leader in a male-dominated society appealed to me for some reason.
And so, what to do? I arrived at the arena before the combatants were scheduled to arrive, and I had a few minutes to survey the room and make my final decision. I'd had all of these thoughts swirling through my head as I traveled there, but it all had to come down to one decisive action. Maybe in retrospect I could have just not replaced either sword. Maybe I can add that to my list of regrets, that I wasn't daring enough to defy Yazara's will. But I made a decision.
I replaced Laurig's sword.
I can't tell you why exactly I did it, even after all of that reasoning and analysis, even knowing that I thought that Laurig would make the better chief. I think I hoped that Yazara's rationalizing would be correct and that as the stronger fighter he would be able to overcome his weapon's weakness. Or maybe Malacath would propel him to victory, unless Malacath favored Ushruka in which case she'd probably win anyway. I don't know. Like I said, I wasn't happy with it either way. But I did it, and I guess I have to take responsibility for what happened next.
At first the fight seemed pretty evenly matched. It looked like either one of them could come out on top. And then... Laurig's sword broke. Just as Yazara had planned. And in that moment, Ushruka found her opportunity to strike true and end the contest. Laurig fell, and Shatul had a new chief. And I got to spend the rest of the day trying to decide how crappy I should feel for even getting involved here.
Ushruka actually managed to convince the clan to accept her as chief, however begrudgingly. She knows that it will take time for them to truly accept her leadership, and some may never genuinely support her. But for now she's going to take things as they come and do what she can to help the clan transition. It should be a hopeful time, and I'd like to see what kind of changes she can make and what kind of trail she can blaze. I doubt I'll ever feel good about what happened here and my role in it, but maybe something good will come of it in time.
That whole episode with the Shatul clan got me thinking about the greater social issues going on here in Wrothgar. From what I've seen, in many ways they are an embodiment of the ongoing conflict between Malacath and Trinimac - between old and new, vengeance and reconciliation, tradition and progress. I've been struggling to understand the dynamic between the two gods, and why they and their followers oppose each other so strongly. I mean, from what I've read, they may even essentially be the same god - but I've definitely learned not to say anything like that to an Orc. And I try not to spend too much time thinking about that unpleasant business with Boethiah and... um, the digestive process.
But the point is, we have these two deities, both claimed as patrons by the Orsimer, but not considered contemporaneous. If you believe in one, you have to disavow the other. If one is considered the true god of the Orcs, the other must be considered false. It's hard for me to understand, but aside from the few who just reject the whole dang thing, everyone I've met here has drawn sides one way or the other.
I think that religious conflict has a lot to do with some clans' resistance to accepting Kurog's rule. He has unequivocally championed Trinimac, and in doing so he directly challenges the traditions of Malacath and the old ways of the Orsimer. I've seen it countless times - even the idea of putting unity between the Orcs above clan distinctions is seen as revolutionary. Tradition is important to the Orcs. And the teachings of Malacath seem to emphasize remembering the past, keeping old grudges and drawing strength from long-standing resentment.
It seems like an angry way to live, but then I suppose the Orcs have been through enough over the centuries that that anger can be well-founded. But when presented with an alternative way of thinking, that emphasizes understanding and forgiveness the way High Priestess Solgra explains it, I can see the appeal for people who are weary of clinging to that anger. Young people who want to be free to marry their lovers instead of watching only chiefs take wives. Female leaders like Ushruka who would be denied the opportunity to assert themselves. Those who envy the economic prosperity and culture of other lands and are tired of being thought of as backward savages by the rest of the world. I can see why people would be ready to embrace the new ways, even as others insist on maintaining what has defined them as people for so long.
I'm not even going to try to say which side is right. I'm just an outsider, after all. It's not my fight. All I can do is hope that the two sides might at least be able to call a truce, find whatever common ground they can as people, and not let this be one more reason for divisiveness and hatred. We're already seeing in the Vosh Rakh what can happen when belief turns to fanaticism and people turn against each other in the name of their gods. Let's hope that the Orcs as a whole can see how self-destructive that path is and decide for themselves to choose another path.
There's another giant mammoth in the room that I've been tiptoeing around, and that's the unpleasant history between the Bretons and the Orcs. It's easy for me to see Orcs as equals and allies, but I am frequently reminded of the hostilities that have been going on for centuries - and, I hate to say, were often provoked by the Bretons. More than once I've had to wonder if the Orcs I'm trying to help actually feel some of that innate hostility toward me, simply because of my race. Honestly it's no different from what they - or the Argonians, or the Khajiit, or the "lesser" Dunmer - must face from those who look down on them, but it's unnerving when it's me. And even more unnerving when I can't know if I'm just imagining things or being paranoid. And even more unnerving when I can't really blame them for not trusting someone whose people have gone to great lengths to try to crush them for centuries.
I'm certainly not old enough to remember when the Bretons and the Orcs were at war, but we learned about the various sacks of Orsinium in our history lessons growing up. Officially we were on good terms with the Orcs after Ranser's War, but I always got the feeling from Ma Richard (Ian and Jacob's ma, that is - she's the one who gave us our lessons after the day's work was done) that she was proud of what our people had done. I guess I'd feel the same way too, if I were just looking at the accomplishments of my own people and didn't consider anybody else's position.
In a lot of cases that's just what we naturally do as people. We identify with a certain group, whether it's based on our race, or religion, or some other affiliation. And whatever our group accomplishes, we take pride in it. It's harder to see the perspective of those you consider enemies at the time, and even more complicated if those enemies at some point become friends.
I guess that makes what High King Emeric has accomplished all the more remarkable. Through his friendship with an ambitious and formidable Orc, he managed to get two groups of people to look past centuries of hostility and work together. Well, at least most of two groups of people. We already know there are those on both sides who would still prefer to beat each other up. And, as I think more about it, I guess that's to be expected, even if it isn't admirable or productive.
These thoughts have begun to crystallize more in my mind since I got a unique and insightful chance to see some of the history that was forged between our peoples, in the ruins of what's called Honor's Rest. The catacombs is something of a monument to the climactic battle between the Redguard hero Gaiden Shinji, who was fighting on the side of Daggerfall, and the Orc hero Baloth Bloodtusk, who stood against him during the first siege of Orsinium hundreds of years ago. Baloth is revered as one of the first champions of the Orcs, and I'm more familiar with the many tales - and proverbs - of Gaiden Shinji that have been passed down through the generations. (I also can't help remembering running into Darien and helping Clan Murtag at Shinji's Scarp in Stormhaven, before I fully grasped what that name meant.)
Speaking to the researchers outside Honor's Rest revealed the conflicting accounts of what happened when Shinji challenged Baloth to a duel over the fate of Orsinium. The Orcs believe that Shinji betrayed Baloth after luring him into a dishonorable duel, while Shinji's supporters find it impossible to believe that he would do something so duplicitous. And now the researchers believed that they had discovered the final resting place of one of these great men, but they had come to an impasse trying to sort out which hero's tomb it was.
And that's where I came in. I was able to get inside the catacombs, and what I found out, through visions of the event, was that there was betrayal involved - but not on the part of Shinji or Baloth. Their duel, and the bloodshed that followed, was instigated by King Joile of Daggerfall, who plotted to conquer both the Orcs and his apparent allies in Sentinel. The hailstorm of arrows that felled both Shinji and Baloth, after their duel had found them evenly-matched, was ordered loosed by Joile's commander from the Reach as a way to bring down two strong foes at once. It was a cunning move, but completely devoid of the honor that defined Shinji and his final duel.
It made me angry and a little bit ashamed that a Breton would be behind something so despicable. Maybe I'm lucky that the King I serve is a better man than that. And while the aftermath of the betrayal was a chance for those left behind to come together to honor both of the heroes - and a chance for me, in the guise of a Breton knight, to exact some justice on the treacherous Reachwoman - the bitter taste was harder for me to wash out.
As devoted as I am to my people, there are blemishes on our heritage that we can't be proud of. Maybe it's like that for everyone. Maybe it's all a matter of perspective. And maybe the lesson is for us to try to do better than our ancestors as we make our own choices. I only hope I'm doing a service to the honorable vision of my High King as he strengthens ties with honorable allies, and maybe we can avoid falling into those same traps from so long ago.
Things have gotten serious. I'm not even sure I should be taking the time to mull over what just happened. But I need to keep my thoughts clear.
The Vosh Rakh have become an even bigger problem than we first thought. Between their attack on the temple and what happened at Fharun Stronghold, we already knew they were a threat. But the temple attack had always bothered me. Okay, so they were fanatics, and might even be called terrorists, but something didn't feel right about the attack, and it went beyond the fact that they were attacking a temple dedicated to their own god. I think it was the fact that they so loudly proclaimed Bazrag's name while they were doing it, as if that was the real point of the attack. Of course I know now that Bazrag wasn't actually involved at all, and that just confirms that it was all part of some greater plot. But the nature of that plot wasn't clear to me until now.
We came up with a plan to infiltrate the Vosh Rakh conclave at Paragon's Remembrance, and see what we could find out about what they're planning for Orsinium. We managed to find some magical doodads that made us look like cultists, and Talviah and I headed in one direction while Eveli and Flies-in-Wind went the other way. We weren't quite sure what we would encounter, but we did our best to blend in and go along with whatever they were doing long enough to get access to their secrets.
As it turned out, nobody really felt like questioning our credentials, but we were expected to prove ourselves - in the form of a gauntlet-style trial. Getting through that wasn't too hard, although I could have done without the jerks with the staves interrupting my switch-pressing. Talviah got through too (although to be honest I suspect he was mostly following in my wake), and then we were summoned before the Vosh Rakh council to take their final test.
While Talviah caught his breath in the anteroom, I entered the taskmasters' chamber and approached a pedestal in the middle of the room. My disguise melted away as I took my place there, and the Vosh Rakh who addressed me seemed to know my identity and my purpose. They challenged me to prove that my intentions were pure and that I shared their willingness to sacrifice for a greater cause. They told me... to sacrifice my companion, to spill my ally's blood in Trinimac's name. If I did so, then the secrets of the Vosh Rakh would be opened to me.
Talviah wandered in just then, just in time to hear the bit about spilling his blood. I don't know if he understood the implications of that order, but he was certainly freaked out about the prospect - and even more so when he realized that I was actually considering doing it. His protestations, however, sputtered out under the stern gaze of our hosts.
I glanced around the room. There were at least nine Vosh Rakh watching me in anticipation, waiting to see what choice I would make. Talviah stood nervously at the end of the rows of cultists, still trying to wrap his head around what was happening.
This was a critical mission. We knew that there was something big going on, and the fate of Orsinium was hanging in the balance. I had been given the opportunity to kill one person and the information we had come here to glean would be mine. The Vosh Rakh knew who I was, but they apparently still thought I might have Trinimac's devotion in my heart. By sacrificing just one person and securing their trust, I had the promise of information that could save many more.
I took a deep breath and mentally took stock of the room one more time. Yes, I knew what I needed to do.
I unsheathed my blade. I slowly descended from the pedestal and walked straight toward Talviah. His nervous eyes met my steady gaze and widened in fear. He was trembling as I walked past him and took a position behind him. My raised blade was only inches from the back of his head.
"Don't move," I commanded, my voice a low growl. Threat or warning, I'm not sure if he could tell. But he didn't move.
The battle instinct kicked in. My arms went through the motions as they had so many times before. Rally. Shuffle. Reaper's Mark... but the mark didn't hit the trembling High Elf in front of me. The shadow curled upward from the cultist standing at the end of the row to my right, and in their surprise the man and his comrades didn't notice me pulling out my bow. The first poisoned arrow shoved him backwards into his nearest associate. The second crumpled him to the ground.
The rest was chaos. Once Talviah came to his senses, he frantically tossed off ice blasts as my barrage of arrows rained down. I focused on one side and then the other, laying down cultists just in time for more to appear. When they stopped coming, nine bodies littered the ground around us.
To his credit, Talviah immediately thought to secure the entrance to the room just in case the ruckus drew in more cultists. He's got some tactical smarts, at least.
I nudged through the fallen Vosh Rakh, hoping that we might yet find something that could help us. The urns scattered around the room initially drew my interest, but it wasn't until I ascended to the taskmasters' platform that I found my prize. Their orders, straight from their leader.
The moot is a trap. The Vosh Rakh plan to eliminate the chiefs who refuse to bow before the King. They're using the gathering as an opportunity to bring Trinimac's wrath down upon the unrepentant. The chiefs have no idea what they're walking into. Even Kurog might be in danger, although harming him shouldn't be their first priority if they're doing this to somehow prop him up.
I checked in with Eveli and Flies, and they're on their way to the city to warn Bazrag. I'll be right behind them as soon as I follow up on my promise to rescue the travelers who are being held captive here.
Maybe by the time I get there I'll have some idea of how I'm going to explain all of this to the King. I just have to pray there's a way to get through to him and convince him that Eveli and Bazrag aren't traitors. There might be a way out of this yet.
I'm... not sure I'm okay right now. What I've done... what I've just seen... People keep acting like everything will be all right, but... the King... the Covenant... King Emeric, I'm so sorry...
Maybe it had to come to this, once I found out that the King's mother was the one behind the Vosh Rakh. But it could have been just her, behind her son's back, while he valiantly and honestly strove to bring the Orcs together. But seeing him standing over me after the dagger plunged into my body... no...
I wonder if Razbela regrets dragging me out of there and helping me recover. I certainly regretted having to kill her and her sister. As I circled the throne room, looking for some way to open a secret entrance without having to engage them, I was begging them in my mind not to make me have to do this. But there was no other choice. They believed in protecting their beloved just as strongly as I believed in stopping him from murdering those chiefs. And it ended the only way it could, even though only minutes earlier Razbela had been sending me on my way to reunite with the man who most strongly opposed him.
Would I have gone through with it if I hadn't had Bazrag urging me forward? If he hadn't been telling me that this was the way to truly save the Orsimer people? Did I believe it, even as I was clashing blades with the King and his mother? Did it matter what I believed when I got to that point?
No, probably not. The King already believed I was a traitor, already saw me as an enemy. No matter how desperately I wanted to explain that he was mistaken, that Bazrag didn't attack his city, that it was all a conspiracy... it wouldn't have mattered. And not just because he already knew about the Vosh Rakh, and was the one who set it all up to begin with. I became his enemy as soon as I knew too much, as soon as I stood in the way of his glorious vision.
It's a bitter sigh that comes to my lips as I think of that vision. Didn't I travel all over this land in support of his vision? Wasn't I his emissary, encouraging the fractious chiefs to see that he wanted what was best for his people? Didn't I believe as strongly as he did that a united people could be stronger than disparate clans?
It's still true, really. I guess. To the extent that I know what to believe anymore. Or maybe it's just because that's what I'm used to. I serve a High King who rules over cities and provinces that were once and could yet be independent sovereign entities. Rivenspire could be its own kingdom if Ranser had won his war. If... if Kurog had not come to the aid of my King in his time of need. If... the seeds of my Covenant had not been sown.
Oh gods, what am I going to tell High King Emeric? Can I ever show my face to him again? I swear I've been forcing myself not to cry, even though that was the thing I wanted most to do as I stood there in front of Kurog and his mother, even past the point when weapons had been drawn. But I might not be able to stop myself now. And I even thought I had mostly pulled myself together after talking to everyone at the funeral, thinking things might actually be okay as I left the keep. I just wandered around the city for a long time after that, until I thought that it might be easier to get my thoughts together if I was sitting in one place. And the view from here is nice, might even distract me if I decided to concentrate on following the flow of the river instead of sitting here dwelling on how I may have just ruined everything we've been fighting for all this time...
I mean I am still the Hero of the Covenant, right? All that time I spent pretending to be someone else, fighting for other alliances, even getting sidetracked with thieves and Celestials... I'm still Ilsabet Menard, a Breton, champion of the High King of Daggerfall. If everything came to a head tomorrow, that's who I am, and that's who I'd be fighting for. The united people of the Covenant, fighting for right and truth and justice and all that other crap that everyone always talks about like it justifies whatever their side happens to want to do.
*buries head in hands*
Okay, I... I need to get ahold of myself. I...
I killed King Kurog. I killed one third of the Daggerfall Covenant. I killed High King Emeric's greatest ally. It wasn't something I wanted to do. I spent the entire time leading up to it wishing that there could be another way. But there wasn't. Not if I wanted to save those chiefs from being murdered. The chiefs whom I had led there, just as surely as if I had been an agent of the intrigue myself. Maybe I could have let the chiefs be a sacrifice, for a better tomorrow for the unified Orcs. If I had believed that that was the way for Kurog to achieve his vision and lead the Orsimer people to greatness. But even now, as regretful as I am, I can't reconcile the possibility of letting those chiefs die. Saving them is something I had to do, whether it was out of guilt over my role in the plot or not. Once I had accepted that rescuing the chiefs was more important than letting Kurog have his way, my path was clear. If it could have ended with a rational diplomatic discussion to convince Kurog not to kill them, then that's what I would have done. But that wasn't going to happen. It had gone much too far for that. Kurog had gone much too far. Was it really just his mother's influence? I couldn't say. Maybe he still believed what he was doing was right, was necessary. The only way to bring his people together if the chiefs wouldn't see reason and come under his banner.
And of course now the irony is that the chiefs do seem to be coming together - under Bazrag's banner. I'm not quite sure I understand it. I'm not sure I can understand it, especially in my current state of mind. But it was apparently their idea to name Bazrag as their new king. Apparently they see the value in having a ruler uniting their people, especially now that so much will be up in the air.
So did things work out okay in the end, as they so often do? I mean I've made lots of hard decisions and killed lots of people I'd rather not have killed. It's usually not a big deal if it works out okay in the end, right? As long as the chiefs are happy, and the people are happy, and the nation can rebuild and the city can keep growing and life can generally go on?
I... hope so. Maybe this is a case where the world is bigger than just me and the distress I'm feeling right now doesn't matter in the long run. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and just feel better. Maybe Bazrag will turn out to be a better ruler than Kurog ever could have been, and maybe King Emeric will come to consider him just as great an ally. Maybe I won't be responsible for destroying the alliance I've devoted myself to, and maybe my King won't hate me for murdering one of his closest friends.
I... should... really try to get back to that happy place I was in when I left the funeral. Okay, not happy, but at least less depressive. It really was a nice funeral. It was nice of Bazrag to want to do that for his friend. And all of those people who came, and remembered Kurog as he was before his ambition got the better of him. It seemed genuine, not like a publicity stunt or just paying lip service to keep up appearances. I'm not sure it helped with the regret over killing him, but it did help to put all of the emotions into perspective at least for a little while.
Afterward I had the chance to speak to some of the people who came. That was nice. I still can't believe Bumnog was an old comrade of Kurog and Bazrag. When I saw him coming to get his letter... it was almost like seeing Skordo again. I wonder if Skordo and Bumnog know each other? Maybe I should see if Skordo is back at the Greedy Gut and see if I can introduce them. I'd like to see what would happen if the two of them spent several rounds of ale together.
Alinon was there too. Bless his soul, he actually wants to believe Darien might still be alive - expected to see him rushing in here chasing adventure, or off in a brothel or tavern somewhere. The idea of it made me smile in spite of everything. Maybe having just talked to Rigurt made it easier to be amused. But that would be just like Darien, wouldn't it. Of course I wouldn't have the heart to say anything to Alinon. If that's how he's coping with our friend's death, I've got no right to tell him otherwise.
There were other people there too, the Vanos siblings snuck in for the booze and hobnobbing, Chief Ushruka is probably glad she didn't plan on showing up for the moot, and Eveli is still trying to cope with the emotional ups and downs of the whole hero thing. If I weren't such a wreck right now I might have some insight to share with her, but it's probably just as well that she wanted some time to find her own path right now. And Chief - no, King Bazrag is still adjusting to the position he's found himself in, but he seems to be handling it stolidly and dare I say optimistically. Which was in its own way heartening.
Lest I forget the last big shock of the day, there was one other visitor at the post-requiem reception, one that I suspect nobody else could even see or hear. I'm still not even sure that I was seeing and hearing properly. It was the Prophet, Varen Aquilarios, somehow returned only momentarily from Aetherius to give me an important message. What Meridia told me as I reclaimed my soul is apparently coming to pass, very soon. The Daedric Princes are beginning to move. Some conspiracy, some vague allegiances, and something about Sotha Sil and some city. He was one of the Tribunal, right? I wonder if Almalexia knows anything about it.
But anyway. All that can wait. It'll have to wait. The Daedric Princes aren't planning to launch their war right this very minute, are they? Because I'm only hanging on very precariously right now. At least I'm not on the verge of crying anymore. I'll keep walking around the city, maybe stop into some shops and stuff. Gotta keep taking my mind off of things. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
Oh gods. Oh gods. Why did I say that was the last shock of the day. I can't. I can't breathe. I can't stop shaking. The words are all blurry through the tears. My gods, Darien... Darien...
I didn't know why I came back here. This temple, where Solgra fell, where just a few hours ago I was scrambling to find a way through to stop the mad king. Why didn't I see it then? I was too focused on the puzzle, I knew exactly where to look for the clues I needed. Why would I be just casually browsing through the shelves when I was on a mission like that? How could I have known that he... that it was waiting... for me...
That must be why I was drawn back here. Was it him, calling me, in a voice I couldn't hear? Is this really him? Was it really him, who found a way to put words onto this paper that doesn't exist? But it does, and I'm grasping it, and if I'm not careful I'll tear holes in it and smear the ink all to hell. But I can't, not until I've read it again, read it again and again, committed it to memory, these words, these words that I can't even... white light... Colored Rooms... Meridia? Was it... is it... did she keep him somehow? Is it, could it be possible?
I keep looking at it, I have to keep looking back, every time I can't keep my eyes open, every time I have to wipe away the tears, just to make sure that name is still there. That it's really his name. It is. It's him. Unless it's some trick, unless... damn whoever might even think of it, if it's Sheogorath or anyone else trying to mess with me, I'll end them. But... no... it's... it has to be... please be him... please be real... Darien...
He wants to come home. He wants... I have to. I have to help him. He wrote this letter to me. It says, he's trying to reach me. Why me? How? How could he know that I would be the one to pull this random piece of parchment out of this random bookcase in this random temple? Has he been watching me all this time? Did he know I would come to Orsinium? Did he know what would happen here? Was he just waiting for me to pass by this spot and see it sticking out? How must he have felt when I passed by it the first time? I'm sorry, Darien, if I made you worry, if your heart skipped a beat. But at least you have a heart to skip. You do, don't you? You're alive, and yourself, and only just waiting there in the bright light, waiting for someone to come and find you and bring you home? You are, aren't you?
I'll find you. I don't know if you can hear me now, or see me, or know what I'm thinking. If you can I'm sorry I'm such a mess right now. I doubt you reached out to me just to see me fall apart. I hope it doesn't dull your confidence in me too much. But if there's a way... you know I'll do whatever I have to to bring you back. Just please... wait for me...
I don't know what to do. I talked to Cadwell. I went back to the Hollow City to try to find the Groundskeeper. Nobody can help me. I can't go back to High Rock. I have to find Darien, I have to find a way to rescue him. How do I rescue him? What am I supposed to do? What kind of hero am I if I can't even rescue the man I love?
What am I supposed to do? Someone tell me what to do!
I found someone to tell me what to do. Not how to save Darien. I don't know if anyone can tell me how to save Darien. But until I find a way... I've found something to do, and people to do it with. They would call themselves my new family. I'm... not so sure yet.
I was in Mournhold, fencing some recent acquisitions. A woman pulled me aside to speak to me. She was shifty-looking, had an eyepatch. But of course most people who frequent outlaw refuges are shifty-looking. She was excited about something, wanted to share what she knew. She picked me out because of the look in my eyes. Apparently I look like someone who has killed, a lot. I didn't see any point in denying it. At least she didn't say she could smell the blood on my hands.
She was all fascinated with the Dark Brotherhood. I was vaguely aware of them. An organization of assassins, kind of like the Morag Tong, except I'm pretty sure the Morag Tong don't like them very much. At least that was the impression I got from Naryu.
My new friend was sure that she'd found a new home for "people like us," who are no strangers to killing. A place where we would be free to do what we do without judgment or shame. Where fellowship, security, and copious amounts of gold awaited us. Where our "darkest urges" could be used in a controlled way, indulged but not allowed to overwhelm.
And maybe, I thought with some bitter amusement after she finished her pitch and left me to go about my business, where I would never have to worry about being the guiltiest soul in the room.
It seemed absurd. It was absurd. Why would a hero like me, the champion of Meridia, savior of Tamriel, defender of good and truth and justice... why would someone like that lower herself to the level of common murderers? This woman obviously didn't know who she was talking to.
But as soon as my self-righteous bravado faded, I came back to the reality of who I really was. The reality I'd been grappling with ever since I left Wrothgar. After a moment of sober reflection, my gaze found her again, and she smiled back at me. I realized then what I looked like. I felt it in my eyes, as clearly as if I had a mirror.
She was right.
Wasn't that weight on my conscience just as heavy as it was invisible to everyone but me? Didn't it stand to reason that the strain would eventually show on my face? I could hole up in that gloomy new house in Narsis, I could smile at the world and pretend that everything was fine, I could tell myself that someday I would just go back to Wayrest and explain everything to High King Emeric and surely he'll understand and all will be forgiven... But no delusion will change what I know in my heart of hearts, where the chains of guilt and helplessness remain, just hanging there, needing only to exist to do their job.
Even distracting myself with my frantic efforts to find a way to Darien couldn't change things, once I was forced to accept that there was nothing I could do. In the end, it's still just me, helpless to do what I most want to do, living with regret over doing what I didn't want to do but went ahead and did anyway. Some hero.
Maybe there was a reason to go to Anvil. Maybe it wasn't so unbelievably absurd. At the very least, a change of scenery might do me good.
I found a navigator in Davon's Watch who could take me to the Gold Coast. I spent the entire trip below deck, holed up in my bunk, fitfully sleeping in between bouts of trying not to think too much.
When I emerged into the warm sunshine and soft sea breeze of the port of Anvil, it was like waking up from the unpleasant debilitation of a head cold. It's almost comical how instantaneous the change was, and I must have looked like quite the doofus just standing there taking it all in, like I'd never seen a blue sky or felt warm salt spray before. Fortunately the sailors were in no hurry to leave port again, and they allowed me to just stand there at the rail while they began seeing to the supplies they'd need for the return trip.
Keeping in mind the purpose that lay ahead, before I disembarked I took the precaution of clothing myself in something that might be less likely to stand out among the crowd than my usual armor. I was immediately reminded of why I don't fight in a dress, but for now it was more important to blend in.
Once I reached solid ground, I started finding my way around the docks. Still kind of distracted by the sea view, I nearly stumbled over a figure leaning against the seawall behind some stacked crates. Just as I was noticing the eyepatch, she gave me a wry smile - and an approving nod, which I assume was aimed at the dress. Nodding silently and somewhat self-consciously back, I set out to acquaint myself with my new surroundings, remembering what she had told me back in Mournhold. Kill an innocent, get noticed. That was the way to the Dark Brotherhood.
I've never been to the Gold Coast before. I guess this is Imperial territory. I had to remind myself that here Imperials aren't invaders or usurpers. As I wandered the docks and admired Anvil's architecture, I almost forgot why I was really there. But even then, there were constant little reminders - books and notes that hinted at the shadowy fellowship, comments I overheard as I passed by.
There was also a journal carelessly left on the docks by someone known as the "Butcher of Bravil," that mentioned an Eye of the Queen being dispatched to the Gold Coast. I wonder...
Further along the docks, I saw a ship that looked vaguely familiar, and there on the deck of the Prowler was Captain Jimila. She recognized me as a friendly face. Before I had time to wonder how exactly she could remember me, she had tasked me with dealing with the local shakedown squad. Now pirates that have gotten too big for their britches, that's something I can handle.
It would have been easy to lose myself in nostalgia and sightseeing and helpful busywork. Isn't that what I usually do when I come to a new place? But this was different. I wasn't here to be a hero. I mean I'll help Jimila, I'll help whoever I come across who needs it. But right now, I was on a different sort of mission. And as long as I had the intention to follow through on that mission, I couldn't let my focus wander.
I started walking again, this time looking more appraisingly at the people I passed. I'm used to evaluating people as potential pickpocketing targets. I have an eye for guard locations and convenient hiding places. The risk assessment was similar here, but now there was a different kind of haze around the people I passed. A haze of potential... victimhood. A white halo of impending death. The awareness that any one of them could be my prey.
Of course, that's not to say that I was overcome with some sort of bloodlust. I still had the option of being judicious in my choice. It just needed to be an innocent, right? Wasn't there anyone in the city who would qualify, who was maybe a little less innocent than the others? Someone who was bullying his neighbors, abusing his wife, being cruel to animals? That would make it seem just a little more justifiable, wouldn't it?
But after making the rounds of the city at least three times, I was no closer to picking out a target than when I started. I saw people going about their daily business. People trying to get work done. People chatting and cajoling each other and complaining about things that seemed important to them at the time. But even the boorish man who wanted to turn the Chapel of Dibella into a tavern didn't seem like a particularly bad person. And I couldn't convince myself that killing a miserable beggar would be a mercy.
I began doubting why I was even there. What was the point of all this again? To join the Dark Brotherhood? To prove myself to them? No, just to get their attention. Killing an innocent would get their attention. Then they'd notice me, and then maybe they'd want me to join their ranks. The ranks of those whose hands are stained with blood, just like mine.
If that was all it took, then it should be easy. Killing people has become quite easy for me, hasn't it. One of the perks of becoming the Hero of Tamriel, I guess. Bandit or former friend or king, once my bow and my blade start doing their work, I'm always the one left standing. It suddenly felt silly that I was taking so long to do something that should be so easy.
I started roaming again. The thoughts in my head had begun to come into focus. Everyone is innocent, and no one is innocent. Don't we all have marks on our souls, even as we go about ostensibly doing the best we can? I can't be the only one.
Everyone and no one. If you thought about it that way, it didn't matter at all who I chose. It was all the same.
I ended up back at the docks. There was a passage below the boardwalk that I hadn't taken before. I ended up swimming under dangling nets until my feet met sand again. And then I spotted him, the Wood Elf who had been nonchalantly fishing there on the shore all afternoon.
I didn't really even need to think about it. I concealed myself against the seawall, shin-deep in the ocean. It was a clear shot. No one to see me, especially once I hid myself in the shadows. An easy mark. I barely needed two shots. And then it was over.
My heart was pounding more than it should have been as I pressed myself back against the seawall. Scarcely a second was all I had needed. Just to be on the safe side, I pulled out one of my counterfeit pardon edicts. You never know when one of those will come in handy.
Peeking back around, there was a High Elf woman nosing around from the town gate. I had seen her biding her time in front of the chapel earlier. She probably saw the body, but she didn't seem too concerned about coming closer to investigate. I briefly wondered if I should take her out too. But I decided to leave well enough alone, and just make myself scarce.
I slipped back through the water and went back to mingling with the folks on the docks. The chapel bell rang four o'clock, then five. I started wandering back through the rest of the city. Six bells. I began to wonder what was supposed to happen now, when I would be contacted. That's what Amelie said, right? I would be contacted by someone from the Brotherhood after making my hit? Maybe they hadn't noticed. Did I need to do it again?
Seven bells. I decided to head back to the spot where I had last seen Amelie. Maybe she could tell me something.
She wasn't there when I got back. I don't blame her for not wanting to spend hours just standing around. I glanced about, not seeing any sign of her, and it occurred to me that she had mentioned prospective recruits being visited after nightfall. Maybe I was just being impatient. I was just about to cut my losses and go find a room for the night, when a voice called out to me and I turned to see a friendly courier running up to me.
He brought me a sealed letter and passed along some instructions to go with it. I was to meet the sender at the lighthouse, just beyond the docks. I had passed by it earlier. A woman on the beach had cautioned me about the place, mentioning some dark rumors surrounding it.
The courier trotted off to continue his deliveries, leaving me to contemplate the folded letter. I had a rather ominous feeling about it. I opened it, revealing a wordless message: a large black imprint of a hand.
It wasn't a symbol I had seen before, at least not this distinctly, but somehow I knew what it meant. Perhaps my "visitor" wasn't going to make me wait until nightfall.
The lighthouse seemed to be deserted, and the door was unlocked. The first thing I noticed inside, sitting in a chair beside the crackling fire, was the still form of a woman. The two daggers protruding from her chest explained why she hadn't greeted me when I entered. A shiver ran down my spine as I realized that she looked eerily like me, except wearing a dress. Well... a different dress.
The journal I found on the table beside her provided clues as to how she had come to this gruesome end. Apparently the Dark Brotherhood is quite thorough when members of a family each get too close to secrets they shouldn't know about. And even making the effort to un-know those secrets isn't quite enough to remove the mark.
As I was returning the journal to its resting place, giving the woman another sympathetic look, a soft chuckle startled me. There was another chair there, being warmed by the fire, and until that moment I hadn't noticed its occupant. A man who seemed wrapped in shadows, his dark robes obscuring all but his keen face.
He bade me come closer, and my eyes revealed to him all that he wanted to see. Satisfied that he had been right to call me before him, he introduced himself as a Speaker for the Dark Brotherhood, an instrument of the Night Mother herself.
He unnerved me, but the more he spoke to me, in that shadows-tinged voice, the more he... got to me. He seemed to know, so much. He saw through my feeble protestation that I wasn't a murderer. He knew all of my justifications, and saw them for the excuses they were. Even if I had believed in them at the time, believed that I was doing the right thing, in the end it was really just about ending people's lives and going on my way. He saw that, and so did I.
He spoke of the Night Mother, and of Sithis, and of souls destined for the Void. These were all concepts I had heard of, and read about, but it was clear that there was a much deeper significance that I had yet to understand. There was a religious fervor there that was beyond my ken. Frankly the idea of the Night Mother and her cold, loving embrace kind of weirded me out.
But while the rabbit hole was beginning to stretch deeper than I had anticipated, I couldn't exactly turn back now. I had made the effort to get the Dark Brotherhood's attention, and I had succeeded. The doors were being opened to me. And Speaker Terenus was offering me one more task to consummate my initiation into the Brotherhood.
I accepted his charge, and with it the use of the Blade of Woe, the Brotherhood's mystical killing tool of choice. And then I set out to infiltrate an estate on the northwestern coast, and end the life of one Lord Quintus Jarol.
Along the way I made the acquaintance of the mother and daughter whose hostel concealed smuggling tunnels that would lead me into the estate. The daughter confided that she planned to sell the place and move to Daggerfall once her mother passed. A note I found in the cellar revealed that Lord Jarol had taken an interest in the young woman as she was "growing up." If I'd had any reservations about removing him from the picture, that note went a long way toward easing them.
Getting in wasn't hard at all. Then it was just a matter of snooping through the manor to find my mark. I had done this sort of thing before, in Abah's Landing. Just keep to the edges of rooms, peek up beyond the stairs to make sure no one is waiting -
Damn it. I didn't even notice the wire until it was sending me reeling onto my face. Damn dress and its damn too much fabric getting in the way. Honestly I'm lucky I wasn't tripping every time I crouched down. Fortunately there was no one in the room to see my nosedive. But as I returned to the shadows, I heard the stirring of guards downstairs. They had been alerted to the possibility that there was someone in the house who shouldn't be.
I was much more careful after that. Nobody saw me as I crept through the manor and its wine cellar and the tunnels leading toward the sea. I was even privy to some of the conversation between my mark and the two power players who had convened at his estate. One of them was Varen's nephew, who has been ruling Kvatch since the uprising against Emperor Leovic. I'm still not sure what his place is in all this. From what I read, he's been at odds with the Pirate Queen Fortunata since she began demanding that he relinquish Kvatch to her rule. But now here he was parlaying with her and her toady. Apparently they've found a bigger problem that has led them to put their differences aside. Based on what I overheard, that problem involves the Brotherhood - but it also involves the vigilante killer who seems to have been going after the Brotherhood's members.
I didn't get to hear too many of the details. Unfortunately, news of the intruder in the estate moved faster than I did. By the time I reached the final chamber, Fortunata and Carolus Aquilarios had departed. But there was my mark, Lord Quintus Jarol, defiantly standing there waiting for me. He demanded that I come out and face him - or was I one of those Dark Brotherhood cowards who prefer to slink through the shadows?
I almost admired the fact that he knew I was there, and knew what I was there to do, but he didn't seem at all afraid. It might have been interesting to know more about him. But...
I do like the shadow thing, I thought, as I silently drew the Blade of Woe across his throat.
An easy kill. Once again. I headed out through the last sea gate and left his body there to be discovered by the hapless fire mage who hadn't even known I was there.
Speaker Terenus already knew what I was returning to report. He seemed pleased. But he also seemed to consider it a foregone conclusion, a formality to seal the deal of our covenant. And now that I was formally a member of the Dark Brotherhood, it was time for me to be introduced to my new "family" and the Sanctuary that they called home.
The entrance was well-hidden among the craggy rocks to the north. I would have passed right over it if I hadn't known what to look for. I was prepared to give the passphrase to enter the Black Door, but I wasn't prepared for the door's question to be asked in such a... chilling manner. When it asked me "What is the flavor of fear?" I could almost taste it myself. I'm not sure I would have described it as sublime, but fortunately I got the words out anyway.
Stepping inside the Sanctuary was like stepping into some kind of surreal dreamscape. It was like no other cave I've ever been in. The rock formations protruding from the floor reminded me of layers of wax drippings from centuries' worth of candles. Steam rose from pools of dark water. There was a pervasive murkiness to the place, but at the same time it didn't have the oppressive and claustrophobic gloom of, say, a Daedric enclave.
Once I got done gawking at the foyer, I ventured down one of the tunnels in search of someone I could speak to. The first person I spotted was leaning nonchalantly against a wall. I approached him and was halfway through introducing myself when I realized that I was speaking to a skeleton in armor... who then slowly creaked its head around to look at me. (I'm still getting used to meeting one of those guys coming around a corner. Whether it's silly or not, I still feel compelled to offer a deferential "Hello, sir" and get out of their way whenever I see one of them coming.)
Having made a great first impression, I next came across a Dark Elf man sitting alone in a room filled with books and swords and skulls. He introduced himself as the coordinator of the group's more mundane contracts, and apparently I'll be seeing a lot of him after I get settled in.
I finally wandered far enough to find the Matron, Astara, who is the leader of this branch of the Dark Brotherhood. She welcomed me, in her own authoritative way, and suggested that I get to know the rest of my "brothers and sisters" before heading back to Elam the contract-broker to get started on jobs.
The group seems like an interesting mix. There's a tight-lipped Argonian who seems to be very meticulous about taking notes and apparently already has a dossier started on me. There's a saucy Breton, Mirabelle, who had no reservations about hitting on me despite her lover standing nearby. There are a couple of Nords, although Kor was the only one who actually looked like a Nord - his young friend Hildegard was having one of her uncontrollable werewolf outbreaks at the time, so I didn't really get to speak to her. And Tanek the Redguard told a jovial tale of killing an abusive blacksmithing master before leaving his old life behind.
Elam, when I made it back to him, had also heard some things about me, and was eager to see how I'd do on a job. He had a contract already picked out for me, and sent me to the city of Kvatch to find and eliminate my target.
In the process of fulfilling that contract, I learned two valuable lessons: One, that the Blade of Woe may be a powerful and mystical weapon that can take down a grown man in an instant, but it apparently gets finicky if you try to use it from behind a lamppost. And two, that being hidden behind your target before striking doesn't prevent you from being seen by other bystanders if you shank someone in the middle of the street.
Fortunately my finely-honed fleeing skills and copious supply of pardon edicts stood me in good stead, and I was soon back on my way to the Sanctuary. Despite the inelegant nature of my kill, a kill it was, and Elam seemed quite satisfied with my performance. He pointed toward the creepily ornate book sitting on a stand nearby, the ledger that housed the contracts available to the Brotherhood's agents.
I tried not to look nervous, knowing that Elam was watching me as I opened the ledger and began to peruse. He was probably interested to see what assignment I would choose.
It was not a thin book, and each page contained a succinct note from a client describing what they wanted done. The pages fell open to a complaint from someone in Nimalten about a would-be skald with a terrible voice, whose caterwauling was driving the complainant to homicide.
Hmm. Aside from the fact that the situation seemed more like a nuisance than an actual justification for death, I wasn't sure I wanted to revisit Nimalten on such... dark terms.
I glanced at Elam and turned the page.
The next request was from the innkeeper at the Outside Inn in Elden Root, who was angry at loiterers making his establishment seem less respectable. Again, this didn't seem like all that serious a problem.
I continued turning pages, finding more personal grudges and petty complaints. Gossips who had ruined someone's reputation and cost her a cushy job. Spinners whose stories have grown boring. A purveyor of parasite-infested water who was angry at the former customer who was now trying to "slander" his name.
These were really supposed to be legitimate reasons for killing someone?
As I flipped through the pages, I almost forgot Elam's eyes on me as I read and rejected each contract. I looked back at him and he simply raised a single eyebrow.
Right. I was supposed to be proving myself here. I had to pick something.
A couple of pages later I found an entreaty from an exile who wanted revenge against those who had driven him from the land of his birth. This at least seemed significant enough to warrant action. Maybe it would bring peace to someone who had long suffered far from home. I accepted the contract.
Then I got the details of the assignment. It didn't seem to matter who exactly was killed, as long as there were three of them. Three targets, in... Nimalten.
Nimalten. Sigh. But it was too late. I knew, even without asking, that a contract accepted must be fulfilled. At least I'd have a comfortable place to lay my head that night.
But before I could even contemplate heading in that direction, the Matron summoned me with a bigger issue. An outspoken opponent of the Brotherhood, making trouble for them in Kvatch. And as you might guess, making trouble for the Brotherhood is a good way to paint a target on your back. I had read about the Grand Sermonizer, somewhere in the informational tomes about the city. It seemed like a big fish to be shooting at, especially for someone so new and untested. But maybe this was the test.
I hope Tanek doesn't mind if it takes me a bit longer than absolutely necessary to make it to Kvatch to meet him. A lot has happened since I've had a moment to reflect. And I have a feeling that the ride isn't going to slow down too much from here. It's a dark path that lies before me, I know that much. I just hope I'm not going to regret allowing myself to be swept along it.
I've never been a particularly religious person, aside from a general respect for the Divines and their power. We were always too busy working to spend much time actively going to worship services or lectures, and our little town didn't even have a chapel. But Mara was always on hand to bless newly married couples, and merchants would usually have a token of Zenithar somewhere in their shops, and misbehaving children were frequently reminded to hope for Stendarr's mercy.
I know, obviously, that religion can be extremely important to the faithful. I've seen religious conflict threaten to tear an entire society apart. I've also seen individuals who relied on their faith to get through difficult times and those who devoted their entire lives to serving their gods. I respect that devotion, and in a way it makes me feel better about the world knowing that people can find solace and purpose through their faith in the Divines.
In these last few days here on the Gold Coast, I've been reminded of the different ways that religious fervor can touch people's lives. And unfortunately, I've seen a darker side of how religion can be twisted in a way that can hurt those it should be helping.
The first mission given to me by the Matron was, I'm not entirely proud to say, essentially an attack on the church of Akatosh. He seems to be the big deity of choice around here, and the Grand Sermonizer that Tanek and I were sent to deal with was Akatosh's mouthpiece in Kvatch. Kind of like the Speaker for the faithful, now that I think about it.
But there was a corruption there, a darkness within the light. It wasn't just that the Grand Sermonizer was speaking out against the Dark Brotherhood. That was to be expected, honestly. And I don't think I've been with the group long enough to take it as personally as the Matron seems to. Of course a group of murderers would be demonized as enemies of the good townsfolk of Kvatch. If it were me I would just brush that off and continue to do my work, but that doesn't seem to be the Matron's way. And so we were sent to bring silence to the sermonizers - first the small fry, and then their leader.
It wasn't hard to find our targets. There they were, standing on street corners, shouting to the populace about how they shouldn't fear the Dark Brotherhood because the power of Akatosh would be more than enough to protect them from those cowardly murderers.
It was propaganda, no doubt, but... they weren't wrong. At least not about Akatosh's power. I still very clearly remember the Prophet invoking the Dragon God of Time to return both of us to Nirn as we made our escape from the Wailing Prison. Whether Akatosh takes an interest in me or not, he and the powers of Aetherius were with us at that moment. And I can only hope that Akatosh won't be too displeased with me for striking down his followers in the course of my mission.
Getting to the Grand Sermonizer took a bit more work, but then we got an up-close view of what she's really been doing in the darker recesses of her estate outside the walls of Kvatch. Unfortunately, that included a view of Cimbar stretched out on a torture rack, past the point of being saved. The only silver lining was that he had refused to give up any information before the Grand Sermonizer's dark magic and physical torture had finally killed him.
Now I'm not an expert on Akatosh and his powers, but it's hard for me to believe that the evilness emanating from the magic in that room was entirely endorsed by the Dragon God. And when Tanek was caught up in the magical trap left behind on Cimbar's body, I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to counteract that darkness. Maybe it's ironic, maybe it's hubris, for a newly inducted murderer to feel that way, but it gave me the motivation I needed to track down and slay the person who had tortured and killed someone who had barely been an acquaintance of mine. Whether it was a desperate attempt at rationalization or not, it just felt like the right thing to do.
The others in the Sanctuary were predictably more upset over their fallen Brother. I especially felt for Mirabelle, although she acted like Cimbar had been little more than a plaything. I'm not sure how much I believe her.
Hildegard's grief led her to seek comfort at the Chapel of Dibella, where she is apparently a frequent worshipper. I guess not all members of the Brotherhood give their allegiance solely to Sithis and the Night Mother, but it still took me by surprise to see one of them openly following one of the Divines.
Hildegard has always struck me as an odd duck, though. (Of course, when I told her that she didn't seem like a murderer, she said I didn't either. I chose to see that as a good thing.) Now that I know more about her, after saving her from the werewolf hunters who pursued her into southern Skyrim, I can appreciate the way she feels about having a family who loves and values her and her dedication to serving and protecting that family.
But she was ready to throw all that away because of poisoned words whispered into her ear by someone she trusted, someone she looked up to in faith. A Chanter at the Chapel of Dibella, whom Hildegard looked to as a guide in her faith, someone she could confide in.
Unfortunately that confidence had included the secret of her feral nature, and the Chanter had used this information to conspire with the Silver Dawn to track her and take her down - after planting the seed of fear and self-loathing that sent Hildegard fleeing into the Jerall Mountains without so much as a word to her family.
It did not escape me that I had helped a nearly-eradicated branch of the Silver Dawn regain their footing in Wrothgar, but this was a different place and a different situation. By now I felt enough of a connection, at least a sense of friendship with Hildegard and her "brother" Kor, that I wanted to help protect her and undo the damage that the corrupt priest had caused.
It took some doing to convince her that her family really did care about her and that it didn't matter to them if she was a danger to them. Kor had advised me to use kind words with her, and that seemed to get through to her. After we returned to Anvil, I took on the task of confronting the corrupt Chanter, and that encounter went just as one would expect. One more dark blot on the Divines' roster eliminated.
And of course I can never get very far from that religious zeal that I felt as soon as I entered Speaker Terenus' presence back in that lighthouse. It permeates the Sanctuary, and everyone there seems to bask in the dark sanctity of their deities. I'm not sure if I can ever quite bring myself to revere the Dread Father the way they do, but the longer I stay in that place, the more I can feel the pull of the shadows, as if it were the atmosphere of the Void itself settling in around me.
No one has ever made me feel the way Speaker Terenus does. He frightens me, and he compels me. Whenever I approach him, I have to take a moment to work up the nerve to speak to him, even as I long to know what he'll say. When he praises me, I feel a momentary rush of relief and pride. I fear what would happen if I ever disappointed him. He's... a terrifying man.
And yet, here I am, following his commands, serving his dark gods whether I believe in them or not. It's gotten easier in a lot of ways, easier to identify my targets, easier to bide my time waiting for the right opportunity to strike, easier to use my spectral blade to cut lives short. I've almost gotten out of the habit of mentally apologizing whenever I kill a mark. I mean the Brotherhood would be here whether I was a member or not, right? If I didn't take these contracts, someone else would. The Night Mother has decreed that these people should die. It's not my decision to make, and do I really want to argue with a god?
I was right about that Eye of the Queen being on the Gold Coast. I had ventured into an Ayleid ruin to look into an issue with illicit traders, and there was Razum-dar in the process of interrogating a poor sot who couldn't quite withstand the cat's methods of coercion. He greeted me as a friend, and we teamed up to take down a brutal war criminal, just like old times.
It was good to see him, and work with him again, and for a moment it was a kind of respite from my current darker entanglements. But once the task was done, and we prepared to go our separate ways again, he remarked on how good it felt dispatching criminals and murderers.
I tried not to let the inner twinge I felt show on my face, but in that moment I had to wonder just how much he knew about my activities on the Gold Coast. Would he be regarding me as jovially if he knew that I was a murderer now too?
Maybe that's just my conscience talking, being paranoid. Maybe I'm still too weak to own up to the things I've done. But somehow I can't help feeling that it would be better if Raz never had an inkling of what kind of person I've become.
And now I'm off to continue my work in the shadows, once I find out what Fortunata wants from us. It'll probably be something appropriately bloody, and it'll be just as well that I'm not the same person I was before.
Okay, first it was Captain Jimila, then Raz, and now Naryu has appeared, apparently all remembering everything we did together during that time when I thought nothing was real. What is going on here?
Wasn't it all a dream? Or some kind of alternate reality? I mean it couldn't have really happened, because I was in High Rock and Alik'r in the time leading up to the invasion of Coldharbour. I couldn't have been three people at once, right? And yet everyone is treating me as if I really am that person who did all of those things that I couldn't possibly have done.
It made sense when people like Skordo and Alinon and Crafty Lerisa remembered me, and now that I think about it even Kireth and Raynor were there at Coldharbour. All of those things were real. That was the real me. But everything I did in Auridon and Valenwood and Reaper's March with Raz, and meeting Naryu in the first place, that was all... wasn't I just pretending then? How could they remember everything if it didn't really happen? And how could it possibly have really happened if I was somewhere and someone else at the same time?
Maybe I shouldn't be getting all fussed over this. I mean I always knew that I couldn't really be certain how I was experiencing living in the other alliances. It would have been nice if Meridia had explained it to me, but I guess I don't get the luxury of asking her every little thing I'm dying to know. I just had to accept at the time that there was Daedric magic afoot and trust that it was for my own benefit that she was even allowing me to do this. And I know that I did benefit from seeing those perspectives and meeting the people I met. But there was also a level of comfort in knowing that when it was all over, I would go back to the certainty of who I used to be. And even now, I think, I am back to my real life, being the real me, in the continuance of real time. I am, aren't I?
It's all too confusing. There's a reason I didn't try too hard to think it all out before. But now I feel like I need to know, if those things I did were real, if the world will remember that it was me who did them.
What would Raz think if he knew I wasn't really one of Queen Ayrenn's faithful followers? I mean it's not that I want to be her enemy, but if he knew who I really was, it would be clear that I had no business being an Eye of the Queen. I wasn't really working against my people, was I? Thwarting the invasion of Stonefalls, helping Ayrenn strengthen the bonds of her alliance, keeping powerful artifacts out of the Covenant's hands? Why would I do that if it weren't just playing pretend?
I suppose that could have been part of the point. Because of what I believed, I acted without guile, doing in good faith what I would have done if I had washed up on those shores to begin with. And if the Dominion and the Pact had had their own heroes, I can imagine that they would have acted the same way I did, at least in the ways that mattered. And because of everything that happened during that time, we've ended up where we are right now, with all three alliances still relatively strong and still vying for supremacy. Am I to understand that this reality of right now, where we are right now, would have happened whether it was me going through the motions or someone else?
Gah. I suppose either way, that's still true. We are where we are now, and none of us can see what lies ahead. I've got plenty of things for my conscience to get all worked up over without adding this to the mix. Nobody can say I was acting deceitfully during that time, and having friends and allies in other alliances is always a useful thing. This war or whatever with the Daedric Princes will be bigger than all of us, and surely more important than this stupid struggle for the Ruby Throne. And if High King Emeric wanted to consider me a traitor, he's already got more than enough reason after what I did in Orsinium.
Right then. So all I need to worry about is managing Naryu's expectations now that she thinks we're assassin rivals, and keeping Raz from finding out I'm a murderer, and watching my back just in case anyone noticed me sneaking around inside Anvil Castle before Fortunata took her swan dive. No sweat.
Oh, Mirabelle. How far were you going to let your anger and resentment push you? And was it all worth it in the end?
When I met with Count Carolus to collect the intel that he had promised us in exchange for the hit on Fortunata, I found that Mirabelle had already beaten me to him, even though the Matron had ordered her to stay in the Sanctuary. I wasn't surprised, really. She had been angry that the Matron had sent me and Tanek to follow up on Cimbar's job, as if Astara didn't expect Cimbar to succeed. And she certainly wasn't going to allow herself to be tied down at home while the upstart newcomer went to deal with the accomplice to Cimbar's murder.
When I came upon her outside the Order's Enclave of the Hourglass, I tried to convince her that she shouldn't face the Black Dragon alone. But she didn't want my help or my sympathy. I grudgingly watched her stalk away, reckoning that the best I could do was stick to my own mission and hope she didn't run into trouble along her way.
I snuck through the Enclave, keeping to the shadows until I found something that looked like it needed to be sabotaged. Despite the antagonism between the Order and the Brotherhood, I didn't really think it necessary to slay everyone I saw. There was only one target here that really mattered, anyway.
I was nosing around in a library area when someone started speaking to me. It took a moment for me to even realize that the person was addressing me, and to remember that I was supposed to be stealthed and no one was supposed to be able to see me. But somehow this woman was able to see right through my shadowy veil. She didn't seem inclined to attack me, and suggested that we simply speak rather than jumping straight to weapons.
Her name was Lyra. She had an interesting, philosophical nature about her. She had a lot to say about redemption, and asked if I had any regrets. Of course I wasn't going to go baring my soul to someone who was technically an enemy, so I simply asked her what if I did? Her advice was to leave this place, to flee the specter of regret that something told me she had personal experience with. She commented that the Black Dragon I was seeking was a lot like me, once an assassin who killed on command. Something about the way she described the Black Dragon's past and her search for redemption made me suspicious. She claimed that Order members were encouraged to speak of their pasts, but I was getting the feeling that this woman was more than she appeared to be.
Lyra suggested that we find a private place to speak further, and led me to the Black Dragon's chamber. She waited patiently as I made my way around the room rifling through dressers and sacks. She smiled at me as I reached for a journal on the Black Dragon's desk. I read it carefully, going over it twice without looking up, making sure I was interpreting it correctly. Yes, this woman Lyra was indeed the Black Dragon. I knew that as soon as I put the book down, there would be a confrontation.
But I didn't expect Mirabelle to call to me from a ledge behind me. Whatever Lyra - the Black Dragon - might have said to me went by the wayside when she sensed an impending ambush. Despite my readiness for action, I was incapacitated by some kind of dark magic as I helplessly watched the Black Dragon slink through the shadows and run a blade through Mirabelle's back.
I'm not entirely sure why she didn't eliminate me too. Perhaps she sensed that I was more prepared for battle than she was, and she preferred to bide her time until our next encounter. She warned me that the next time we met, she would be ready for me. And then she was gone.
Mirabelle was hovering between life and death as I knelt down beside her, but we both knew that there was nothing I could do for her. Nothing but add her to the list of people to avenge. She was looking forward to reuniting with Cimbar and the Dread Father as I watched her soul slip away into the Void.
I can't even say she shouldn't have done what she did. She was reckless and stubborn and she probably wouldn't have died if she had just stuck with me or stayed at the Sanctuary like Astara told her to. But she did what she had to do, for Cimbar. For the man she loved. How well do I know that feeling? The only thing keeping me from flying into Oblivion in a rage is the fact that throwing my life away without a plan would accomplish literally nothing. If nothing else, I have to stay alive long enough to find a way to do something meaningful for that man. And even then, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to die for him without knowing that it made a difference.
But right now we have the Black Dragon to think about. She knows the Brotherhood is after her. And she'll be preparing for our next advance. Astara thinks we can find out more about what's going on if we investigate the assassin Lyra's old Sanctuary, which also happens to be Green-Venom-Tongue's old Sanctuary. Years ago, before Venom came to the Gold Coast, the Black Hand ordered a cleansing of that Sanctuary to snuff out a traitor. Venom had always assumed that Lyra had died along with the others. He has a hard time believing that that same Lyra could now be the Black Dragon, but maybe we'll uncover some useful clues in that old forgotten place.
It's been quite some time since I've been to Black Marsh. It should be an interesting trip, and I'll have plenty to think about on the way.
The Black Dragon was right. She is like me. She killed people she didn't want to kill. She killed her Brothers and Sisters, because she had to. She hated it every moment she was doing it. She couldn't hold back the tears while she ran her blade through the people she called family. But she did it anyway, because that's what the Night Mother told her to do.
I know that she needs to be stopped. Even if I don't face her again, I know that the others won't rest until the Black Dragon is dead. The only question is how many more of them will fall before she does. And I have the terrible sinking feeling that I may end up needing to weigh her life against those of the Brothers and Sisters whose lives might be claimed if I don't take action.
I don't want to face that day. I don't want to have to pass judgment on someone so much like me. I know that feeling of wanting to cry, wanting to run away, wanting to do anything but that awful thing I'm doing at that moment. Condemning her might as well be condemning myself. But still, this won't end until she or everyone else in the Brotherhood is dead.
I find myself hoping that Venom will be successful, that the Matron is sending me along just to verify that he has eliminated his target. That there will be nothing for me to do but observe the aftermath. I can hope, can't I?
Venom... was not successful. I don't think it was because of any lingering sympathy for his old friend. He said she was just always better than him. Despite his determination and desire for revenge, she simply got the drop on him.
So of course I was left to continue down his path, following the trail of the Black Dragon deeper and deeper into Knightsgrave. I think by that point I had steeled myself for what needed to be done. It just needed to be over. I was still troubled, of course, but that didn't matter. This all just needed to be over.
The Black Dragon seemed to sense the impending moment of truth as well. She watched me as I made my way toward her, speaking to me through magical projections. Among other things she informed me that Primate Artorius was now aware of the secret location of our Sanctuary, thanks to a helpful confession from Brema.
Brema. That callous witch who didn't care that her Brothers and Sisters were being slaughtered. She said they deserved it for being weak. Of course she'd be the one to break before the Black Dragon killed her.
I still don't really know whether Lyra was taunting me, trying to make me lose my nerve, or reaching out to me in a way as she continued to struggle with her own inner demons. She certainly wasn't going soft, and even took a tactical approach to sizing up my abilities before she faced me herself. I finally saw for myself what made her so dangerous. And there was still just enough desperation left in her to come at me with everything she had once I finally reached her sanctum.
It was a difficult fight, to be sure. She had a lot of the same moves I use. But I think I had a few more tricks up my sleeve than she did. And unlike her, I wasn't ready to die just yet.
When it was over, she seemed relieved. But whatever repose she was looking forward to was preempted by the Wrath of Sithis that had been ghosting its way through the corridors as I passed. I shuddered hearing her screams as it dragged her soul away. And then I was left alone, with only the record of her final thoughts at my feet.
It was raining when I emerged from Knightsgrave. It seemed appropriate. It reminded me of another day, when I let the rain wash down upon me, as if it could wash away the feelings of regret over a death that I wished I could have prevented. But I'm not expecting Lyra to appear to me suddenly the way Raz did. I know that her end was absolute, carried away as she was by Sithis himself.
I resisted the urge to go fishing this time. There was more work to be done. The Sanctuary had been betrayed, and for all I knew there could be more bloodshed happening there at any moment. I had to do whatever I could to stop it.
Thankfully, when I arrived back at the Sanctuary the calamitous floodgates had not yet opened. There wasn't even a sign that the Sanctuary was under threat. But Astara knew that Artorius was only biding his time before he acted on the information that the Black Dragon had given him. He will act, once he feels that the advantage is on his side. But before that can happen, once the Speaker and the Matron determine how best to strike, strike we will.
It's done. The Primate of Akatosh has been silenced in his own sanctum. A foul wind has now, I hope, given way to calmer breezes.
In a way it's strange to think that this person has in many ways been the driving force behind all of the drama and hardship going on here, but the first and last time I stood in his presence was the few minutes it took to end his life.
Or was it more than just a few minutes? It's hard to say, with the way he was able to manipulate time. Everything just froze around us at his command. I guess the Dragon God of Time can do that. But it wasn't enough to spare the Primate from justice. Maybe Akatosh didn't entirely approve of his shenanigans, and didn't mind letting a determined group of murderers put an end to him and his machinations. With any luck, the Gold Coast will be better off without Artorius and his Black Dragon around.
The Black Dragon... has still been weighing on my mind. Even as we returned victorious to the Sanctuary, even as my Brothers and Sisters console each other for their shared losses and exult over having the last laugh, I feel drawn back into pondering that woman who was so much like myself.
Why was she damned while I remain? Why was her guilt so much greater and more unforgivable than anyone else's? Why can't I feel happy that someone who murdered people I called comrades is dead?
There's so much I haven't been able to understand throughout this whole ordeal. But... I think Sithis has helped me begin to understand.
Lyra's great sin was not killing her Brothers and Sisters in her Sanctuary. That was something she had to do, because it was the will of Sithis and the Night Mother. The fifth Tenet was broken when she then turned on the Brotherhood as a whole and began murdering other Brothers and Sisters. And above all else, Sithis will not forgive the breaking of his Tenets.
I can see why she did it. I can understand that drive for redemption, in whatever form it promises itself. She had done something horrible that she hated herself for doing, much like I did - except a thousand times worse and more painful. But she had to do it, because not to do it would be to disobey the order of the Black Hand. I still don't know why the Black Hand really thought it was necessary for all of those people to die, or why it was necessary to force Lyra to carry it out. I might have a few pertinent questions to ask that Speaker Arawen if I were ever to run into her.
But when Lyra took on the mantle of the Black Dragon, and began killing other Brothers and Sisters in the name of Akatosh - no, not even for Akatosh, for Primate Artorius - that's when she became a traitor. And that is the crime that brought the Wrath of Sithis down upon her.
But can I really blame her? No, I honestly cannot. Whether it offends Sithis or Akatosh, after seeing what I've seen I can't call Lyra evil. I can't call her wrong. I can see how the path she chose to take led to her damnation, but I can't say she was wrong to go down it. She wanted to redeem herself for something she was forced to do. She felt those chains of guilt and helplessness weighing on her heart. And in that vulnerable state, Artorius was able to promise her what she so desperately wanted. He showed her a path to redemption. Her mistake was in not recognizing the poisonous thorns he had laid along that path. It was not her redemption that he sought to enable, it was simply the furthering of his own power.
And it worked, for a time. As long as he could keep the world blind to his schemes, as long as his First Sword was obediently cutting down the people he identified as enemies of Akatosh. I imagine it must have been quite a rush for him to know that he could eliminate anyone he wanted, that nobody could truly stand in his way.
I wonder if he anticipated Lyra's eventual crisis of conscience. Did he know that at the end she regarded him with the same scorn she felt for the Brotherhood? She knew that she was just being used, that there was nothing for her but more lies and more shame. Did he feel his grip on his First Sword weakening?
Maybe by that point he didn't care. She was still doing his dirty work, after all. And as far as I know, she never actually betrayed him.
I think she was ready to be done with the whole thing, though. That urge to run away from the specters of regret is what drove her into the depths of Knightsgrave, and her defiance was tinged with desolation as she watched my approach. The only question left in her mind was whether I was good enough to be the one to finally bring her down.
If she expected death to bring her solace, though, it was quite a shock when Sithis' wraith came to claim her instead. As desperate as her last plea for mercy was, there was no denying the Dread Father's intentions. The Void gathers all souls, I've been told, but I can only assume Lyra was destined for a less pleasant corner of the Void than most.
So where does that leave me? Normally this is around the point in my ruminations that I reach some kind of conclusion or reflect on what I've learned before I move on. But I'm getting the feeling that there is no easy moral to this story, and I may never find closure or peace of mind in what happened between me and the Black Dragon.
We are very similar, but we're not the same. It may be a long time before I find out what kind of consequences I'll face for all of the things I've done that I'm not proud of. And that includes what I've done as a member of the Brotherhood. I wish I could say that I've learned something that made it all worthwhile, that I've somehow become a better person in spite of my self-destruction. But I just don't know.
Maybe some of us just choose to walk our difficult paths even though we know we're not pure. We do what we do, for our own reasons or other people's reasons, not expecting to be praised for it at the end. If we're punished, it's not really a surprise, and at that point that's just the way it is.
Or maybe it's just a matter of not pissing off the wrong higher powers with our sins. After all, Sithis probably wouldn't care if I were a traitor to the Covenant. And at least he has straightforward rules for staying in his good graces.
When we returned to the Sanctuary, the Speaker praised me for bringing an end to the Primate and his Black Dragon. But one more thing remained to be done. He told me to step back and prepare myself, and then began intoning familiar words.
"Sweet Mother, sweet Mother..."
I was suddenly very afraid and couldn't help backing away from him. No, you can't be... not the Sacrament...
But it wasn't the Sacrament, at least not the one I've become so familiar with.
As the other surviving members gathered beside the Speaker with candles, he went on to offer poetic praise for my darker virtues. My work, he said, has just begun.
And now I'm his Silencer, just as Lyra was Speaker Arawen's Silencer. He's told me that my primary responsibility will be assisting my Brothers and Sisters as they rebuild the Sanctuary, but I find myself hoping that I won't be called upon for anything more strenuous than continuing to help fulfill contracts. Whatever life has in store for me, I can't see myself being tied down to this place for long.
For now, though, I'm really just hoping for some quiet time.
Maybe there was a reason to come to Anvil. Maybe the gods don't hate me after all. Maybe I just needed to be patient. Yes, what I need is just to be patient.
I saw Gabrielle. I was in the Mages Guild, talking to a man about a cave, when I heard a familiar voice grumbling in the next room. There she was, standing in front of a huge pile of books, tossing a book onto a somewhat less huge pile of books.
She's looking for Darien. She believed, in a way I somehow didn't until very recently, that he survived the assault on Molag Bal and simply ended up in a different place than we did. And apparently ever since we left the Hollow City, she's been scouring libraries trying to find a way to locate lost souls in Coldharbour. Her exhaustion showed as clearly as the frustration she was feeling at not getting anywhere. The price of having too many ideas, apparently.
I told her about Darien's note. I almost pulled it out to show her, but then I had a flash of a mental picture of her ripping it out of my hands. But as soon as I mentioned it, and the Colored Rooms, it seemed to instantly revitalize her. If that's where he is, if I was reading his message right, then that tells her where she needs to look. And if she can narrow down her search, then all of the effort she's putting in is more likely to pay off.
I wanted to drop everything else and help her search, but she shooed me away when she saw me going for the books. "You go do what you do and let me do what I do," she told me. I made her promise to send for me the moment she found a way to get to Darien, and then I hovered there awkwardly watching her until she gave me a look that told me I wasn't helping.
I hope she realizes that I'm as dedicated to rescuing Darien as she is. If history tells us anything, it's that she and I make a pretty great team when you combine her cockamamie plans with my willingness to rush into pretty much anything. And you can bet that when the time comes, I'll be off like a powder keg to Coldharbour or the Colored Rooms or wherever else she wants to send me.
I just have to be patient. I'll go do what I do for now, and trust in my friend to find the path that I couldn't find on my own.
We're coming for you, Darien. We all just have to be patient.
I suppose it's a fitting capstone to my adventures in the Gold Coast that at the last I have become an investigator of murders. Not murders sanctioned by the Brotherhood, which thankfully leaves me clear of whatever obligations I have to my brethren. But it does kind of feel like I've come full-circle.
After a posted notice piqued my curiosity, I made the acquaintance of an Imperial named Reman who was recruiting agents to track down a particular murderer. I spent almost the entirety of our conversation unsure whether he was more interested in getting me to find his mystery killer or getting me into his bed, but ultimately I accepted the job.
The case was a bit quirky. This culprit was apparently something of a serial killer, but he always announced his intentions by sending a note with a sweetroll to his targets before he killed them. And now he had targeted some of Reman's associates at the Gold Coast Trading Company, which was why Reman wanted so urgently to find and stop him.
Once I began nosing around town, it didn't take long for me to run into someone else who was tracking the same killer - none other than Razum-dar. He said that this same person had once done in some of Queen Ayrenn's advisors, and Raz was keen on bringing one more thorn in the Dominion's side to justice.
And so we teamed up, and continued our detective work... which led us straight to Naryu, who hadn't quite left town yet. She and the cat were aware of each other, if not already acquainted, and it was kind of fun watching their banter as we all came face to face.
There was a serious matter to discuss, though. Naryu had received one of those threatening sweetrolls as well. And she still held it against me that I had joined a rival organization, and even suspected me of being in league with whoever wanted to kill her. Once I had talked her down (I hoped), we agreed that it was in all of our best interests to team up to continue our pursuit of the real bad guy.
Our path led us to confront this Sweetroll Killer in a remote farmhouse south of Anvil. It turned out that Reman himself had hired her, and when she found out that he had turned on her, she turned her poisoned blade on him. Fortunately he revealed her identity before he died, and so my partners and I converged on what we expected to be her hideout.
What she had to say for herself was... confounding, to say the least. Rather than being simply her employer's tool, it seemed that she had designs on each of her targets because of some kind of premonition that they would each be responsible for something terrible in the future. She saw it as necessary to eliminate them before they could trigger some catastrophe. And that included Naryu, because of something having to do with a daughter that I didn't know she had.
Of course there was no way for me to know whether any of these people could really be a threat. But this woman, who called herself a Fate-Bearer, didn't seem to care whether I believed her or not. She was single-minded in her determination to act on her visions. And unfortunately, despite my previous efforts to advise the victims to seek safety, she had gotten ahold of two of them, including Raz's inept apprentice. And they were currently lying on the floor succumbing to the effects of her lethal poisons.
And so, an ultimatum. She was willing to give us an antidote that would spare her victims, if we were willing to let her leave the farmhouse alive. She assured us that fate would still come for them, even if they got a reprieve now. And she had foreseen that her own life or death could go either way, depending on the choice I made at this moment.
When I consulted my counterparts, they predictably had different ideas about what to do with the Fate-Bearer. Raz was willing to forgo avenging the Queen's slain advisors in favor of preventing more deaths. And Naryu was incensed that I would even consider letting this murderous psychopath walk away and give her another chance to come for them all again.
And so, the hands that have taken so many lives had to decide whether to kill yet again. It would have been easy to eliminate the murderer, especially with Naryu and Raz backing me up. I briefly wondered how easy it would be to find the antidote on her corpse after we finished her off. But I had the feeling she wouldn't have allowed that to be an option.
My mind flickered back over all of the other "necessary" killings I've undertaken. I'm definitely not someone who allows myself to be ruled by mercy. And this woman was definitely deserving of an execution. But something Raz said to me made me pause. This was about saving people who don't deserve to die, more than it was about killing someone who did deserve to die. He was not the kind of person who would choose to let people die when he could save them, and he didn't think that I was either.
Naryu glared at me as I went to tell the Fate-Bearer that she was free to go as long as she kept up her end of the bargain. And she could hardly contain her fury as she turned on us after our quarry walked out of the room. Raz tried to calm her down, but when I spoke to her she barely wanted anything to do with me. She thought she knew me better than that, she said. She couldn't believe I'd be stupid enough to let a killer go off and keep killing. And now she just wanted to go back to Vvardenfell and be done with the lot of us.
When I checked back in with Raz later, he had been successful in securing the antidote and nursing the two almost-victims back to health. He acknowledged that these Fate-Bearers were a problem, but as long as they stayed out of Dominion lands they could be somebody else's problem. Come to think of it, the woman said she was returning to Vvardenfell, so maybe Naryu will be able to find her and end things herself. There was something cryptic she said, though, something about seeing me again there. I don't have any particular plans to ever visit Vvardenfell, but I guess we'll see.
Either way, I certainly don't expect to be seeking Naryu out anytime soon. I am sorry I disappointed her and that she took my choice so personally. But if she really knew me, she'd know what a softie I am. Even becoming a cold-blooded murderer hasn't changed that. Not entirely. And maybe that's what Raz saw. He hasn't directly confronted me about being a member of the Brotherhood, or said anything about it at all. I could imagine that he still doesn't know, but he did overhear everything that Naryu said to me back in her safehouse. He just held out hope, that maybe I'm still that same person who would choose to save people when I have a choice.
What was I just saying about Vvardenfell? And not going there? Sometimes I wonder if I just set myself up for this stuff...
Things in the Sanctuary returned to a semblance of normalcy fairly quickly after Artorius was eliminated. It was kind of nice having some downtime, not really needing to concern myself with anything more than the Speaker's daily assignments and eavesdropping on my comrades' conversations.
Eventually, though, the dank shadows of the Sanctuary got to feeling a bit too stifling, so I left the Gold Coast in search of some fresh air and ended up back at my little house near Nimalten. While I was relaxing in the tavern there, listening to a bard singing and trying to fend off the friendly but annoying attention of a drunk Dunmer, I noticed a nervous-looking robed man standing at the bar who seemed to be sending preoccupied glances my way. At first I tried to ignore him, but when he proved too much of a distraction I finally went over to see if there was something he wanted from me.
He had a message for me, and had apparently been second-guessing whether he had the right person or not. I suppose upon reflection not everyone would peg a scrawny teenaged girl for the hero sort, and he was worried about the wrong people hearing what he had to say.
With very little actual information being shared, he urged me to hurry to meet with the oracle of Azura who had sent him. She was waiting for me, he said, in the inn in Wayrest.
Hoo boy. The one place in Tamriel I've been wanting most to avoid. But, I couldn't let this urgent need go unanswered, could I?
I arrived in Stormhaven in the early afternoon, and while part of me wanted to wait until nightfall to sneak into the city, curiosity and an internal pep talk convinced me to just go ahead and go. It wasn't far from the eastern gate to the inn, and how many people in Wayrest would recognize me after so long, much less run to report to the King that I was there?
The oracle, Rhea, was waiting for me in a private room upstairs. She had seen the moment of our meeting before. She had seen lots of things before, apparently. And she knew that I was the one who would help her Prince face her oncoming troubles.
Azura herself remembered the aid I had rendered here in Stormhaven, so long ago. And now she sensed a plot against her, and required that I act as her champion. She didn't feel like telling me too much about the drama she was about to embroil me in, but she was intent on keeping her Daedric rivals from getting the upper hand on her. And somehow, I was going to be the key to her success.
The whole thing was crazy. You would think I've had enough of Daedric Princes and their tomfoolery. Do I really need to be used as a tool by an imperious Daedric Prince who can't fight her own battles? Wouldn't it be smarter to just stay out of the whole thing and let their little petty grudge match play out somewhere far away from wherever I can find some peace and quiet?
Well sure. But that would have been... boring.
And so here I am in Vvardenfell. The letter that arrived from Canon Llevule inviting me to meet the Warrior-Poet Vivec seemed eerily timed after my meeting with Azura. I almost wondered if she had something to do with it, but the Princes don't seem to be on great terms with the Living Gods who sought to supplant them as the deities of choice in Morrowind.
There's been no shortage of danger and intrigue here so far. Both the wilderness and the political and social environment are pretty foreboding, and watching one's step is well advised. But so far I haven't run into anything I couldn't handle.
Meeting Vivec was an interesting experience in itself. I don't recall any particular ceremony in meeting Almalexia for the first time, aside from noticing her generally imposing (and floating, and pantsless) figure. Vivec, while similarly disdainful of both gravity and pants, struck me with what I can only describe as a certain aura of divinity and strength of personality. I had read some of his writings, and they were... pretty weird. I'm still not quite sure what to make of him as a person. But given the state of his weakening powers, and the greater ramifications if those powers should fail, it wasn't hard for me to agree to become his agent.
Today I saw a love story play out. It wasn't the entire love story, really; there were a lot of details left out - I didn't get to see how they met, or how they came to know they loved each other, or how they first expressed their love to each other. But it was kind of lovely, and sad, and it made me a little wistful - not for myself, but for those two people who found happiness for a time and had it come to an end.
From the man's endearingly awkward marriage proposal to the cheeky way the woman later revealed that they would be having a child, it was nice seeing the little microcosms of how they interacted with each other. He admired her strength and she saw the good heart beneath his clumsy manner. These were two people who were meant to be together, and they were, sharing their professional and personal lives with each other.
That is, until the tragic kwama warrior attack that left the woman on the brink of death. The man's desperate healing attempts weren't enough, and in that moment more than anything I felt that desire to do anything to save that precious person. All he could do, though, was promise to go on without her and continue to care for their children.
I already knew that in the present day this man had a strained relationship with his children. The older daughter seemed more accepting of what their lives had been, but the younger son practically seethed with resentment toward the father who had been absent for most of his young life. He couldn't believe that his father cared about them at all after never being there for them and leaving them to raise themselves.
But in the final vision of the memory journey, I found out why the man had been so distant. In the aftermath of his wife's untimely death, the Telvanni mage who employed them was more concerned about their failure to secure some crystals than the fact that one of them had died. As recompense, the mage said, he'd have to seize the house where the man's children lived - unless, as the only fair alternative, the man paid off his debts by agreeing to continue serving the mage in perpetuity.
Have I mentioned that the Telvanni are kind of massive arrogant jerks? Because from what I've seen of them, they are. I mean, get over yourselves, guys.
Anyway, the man proceeded to spend the rest of his life at the mage's beck and call to support his children, until the time finally came when he could retire in his old age. At that point all that remained was to try to reconcile with his children while he still had a chance, and he hoped that showing them his memories would make that possible.
It was perhaps a final tragic touch that by the time I rounded up his son and daughter to come see the memories I had collected, the man had already slipped away from this life. It may comfort him to know that his last efforts did make a difference, and I hope they will be able to find comfort in turn from knowing their father did truly love them.
And for my part, I may be a little more pensive than usual for the rest of the day.
I was wondering if I'd see Naryu here in Vvardenfell. It didn't take long for me to run into her, and fortunately she seems to have gotten over being mad at me about that Fate-Bearer thing fairly quickly. I'm guessing she's had bigger things to think about and probably decided that one little would-be assailant wasn't anything she couldn't handle.
Her current troubles revolved around her apprentice in the assassin trade, Veya. The girl had gone missing, and we eventually got caught up in a swirl of family drama and Redoran politics. When we couldn't stop Veya from taking out her anger on her father, Naryu had to make a difficult choice. This time when I advocated the merciful route, she didn't scold me or insist on upholding the rules of her Morag Tong. Veya will atone for her crimes in exile, and Naryu will just have to hope that nobody notices her subterfuge.
It was interesting seeing Naryu in her native habitat, and even more interesting seeing her not completely in control of her surroundings. Veya was always headstrong, and I could tell it drove Naryu a little bit crazy that she could never seem to convince the girl to do the sensible thing. Veya definitely looked up to her mentor, though, and I could tell the two of them cared about each other a lot. So I'm glad for both of them that things worked out the way they did in the end.
A strange thought came to me as I learned more about their relationship, and thought back to the reason the Fate-Bearer had given for eliminating Naryu back in the Gold Coast. Something about a daughter, although Naryu insisted she'd never have children. But in the Morag Tong, having an apprentice is treated akin to having a child. Could it be that Veya is the "daughter" that will cause some future calamity? If that's the case, why not just go after Veya directly? Will sending her to Summerset avert whatever catastrophe she might have caused, or lead to it?
I had the chance to ask Naryu about the Fate-Bearers after things settled down. I was hoping she might have been able to deal with them on her own, but she hadn't run into them in person. They did, however, send her a cautionary letter, something about how fate might have been changed but the dangers lurking in the shadows have only grown. Ominous, but as Naryu pointed out, not necessarily something that needs to spook us. So I guess we'll see what comes of it.
I've been wondering about something else since going through all of this with Naryu, and speaking to her a few times in Vivec City in more recent days. The question embarrasses me a little to ask, and I don't think it's something I could ever bring up with her, but... I wonder... I mean, I know it's what she does, but... is it possible that Naryu doesn't realize that I'm not into women? Or... maybe she assumes she'd be the exception to the rule? I wonder, and I hope things don't get too awkward. It's probably just the same harmless flirting she does with everyone. Yeah, let's go with that.
I've learned a bit more about what it means to be a Telvanni. Not just what it's like to deal with them. I've already seen how they treat people. But I've been watching someone turn into one, and watched how it affected her relationships with the people she claimed to care about. And perhaps surprisingly, it's led me to question and ponder some things about myself.
I made it to Sadrith Mora, the Telvanni stronghold not too far from Divayth Fyr's giant mushroom tower. (Man, the Telvanni sure do love their mushroom towers. That's one thing we don't have in common.) One of the first people I encountered was an Argonian slave named Eoki, who entreated me to speak to the woman he referred to as "my heart" - a fellow slave who, he said, might just be able to pull off a plan to free the both of them if they had some help from an outsider.
It seemed like a bold thing to request of someone he'd just met, but I was all too glad to assist. I've been generally reining in my feelings about slavery, since there's little or nothing I can do to counter such a strongly-held tradition in an area where it's technically not outlawed. But I was curious to see what this brilliant plan involved.
As it turned out, it involved me doing a lot of running around fetching things and talking to people so that the clever Argonian, Sun-in-Shadow, could win her freedom and rise through the ranks of the Telvanni mages. The end goal, she claimed, was to put herself in a position where she could free Eoki and the other slaves suffering in bondage.
As the process unfolded, though, I found myself wondering if her intentions were really all that pure. I'm not sure what tipped off my suspicions, really. Maybe just the old cynicism kicking in again. Maybe it was the way she had me out and about doing the busy work that she wanted to take credit for (as Magister Therana slyly noted). But somehow I sensed something fairly early on that made me wonder if all of her machinations and social climbing were really for Eoki and the other slaves or whether it was just about veiling her ambition under a guise of altruism.
She kept insisting on patience, that the Telvanni played a long game and if she moved too fast it would all be for naught. To beat the system, she had to use the system. She had to become that which the slaves despised. At first it sounded like a reasonable plan - gain power and then use that power to gain freedom for her friends. But somehow the plan never progressed to that second stage. And the person who had most looked up to her lost his will to be patient, and decided to take his fate into his own hands.
I wasn't about to argue with Eoki that he should continue to bide his time until Sun-in-Shadow decided to move. I gathered that the two of them had already hashed over the topic and had each made up their own minds. It felt unfortunate to me, though, helping Eoki proceed with his plan to escape the slavers, thinking about all of the effort and risk that Sun-in-Shadow and I had gone through to advance as far as we had. It really would be for naught if Eoki and the others succeeded in escaping on their own. But at least they would have the freedom they longed for.
Things came to a head when Sun-in-Shadow appeared at the mine where we were about to bust out Eoki's compatriots. She was distraught at the thought that he would leave her instead of continuing to trust in her plan. But Eoki wasn't about to turn back on his mission. Instead, he made a last-ditch effort to open Sun-in-Shadow's eyes to true Telvanni brutality by bringing her along into the mine.
It was an eye-opening experience, but not in the way Eoki would have wanted. Sun-in-Shadow was overwhelmed and terrified by what she saw as Eoki led her through the mine and we released the captive slaves. And when he tried to convince her to escape along with them, she recoiled at the idea. She was a Telvanni mage now. She wasn't about to throw everything away to run off to some swamp.
It hurt her to think of Eoki leaving without her. But as Eoki remained immobilized by the defeated Telvanni slavemaster's lingering magical shackles, she realized that she could make a choice. She could choose to release him from those shackles and send him off to meet his friends at the boat... or she could take him back to Sadrith Mora with her, ensuring that he would remain close by until she could win his forgiveness.
It was a choice charged with emotion. If he left, she would never see him again. She couldn't bear the thought of not having him there sharing his love and friendship with her. But the alternative was to force him to remain a slave, denying him the freedom he so desperately wanted.
She looked to me for counsel. Her eyes shone with sadness as she thought about what she would be giving up if she let him go - the tokens of affection, the knowledge that there was one person in that cutthroat place who truly cared for her and could bring her joy and comfort. It felt like she was just waiting for me to validate her desire to hold onto what she had, to tell her that it would all be okay in time.
It was clear what she wanted. But was that really what was best?
I thought about the other would-be couple I had encountered in Sadrith Mora, a slaveowner's son and the Altmer slave with whom he was smitten. He painted a picture of forbidden love, an idyllic courtship hindered only by the disapproval of his imperious mother. But when I finally tracked down the slave, it turned out that she wanted nothing to do with the young man and only tolerated his attention in order to avoid punishment. His "love" for her was little more than selfish covetousness, and when she was finally free to declare her own intentions, he practically threw a tantrum over his toy being taken away.
The situation I was being asked to consider didn't seem to be quite that severe. There was no doubt that Eoki and Sun-in-Shadow really did care about each other. They wanted to be with each other. The problem was that they couldn't agree on where they should be with each other. Eoki had already decided that his freedom was worth leaving Sun-in-Shadow behind if she persisted in dragging her feet. And now Sun-in-Shadow had made it clear that she was not willing to leave behind the life she had built for herself.
But she was the one right now with the power to decide the fate of the man she loved. And the decision, for her, was tied up more in what would be preferable for her than what would be best for him. I could see that. Something in the way she described the gifts of wildflowers, the "silly Hist poems," the little things he did for her. It was all about what she got from him. And there was something that felt... trivialized about it. Like maybe she subconsciously regarded him as something akin to a toy too.
I have no doubt that she needed a trustworthy friend in her life. She had only gained more enemies and more scrutiny as she had risen through the Telvanni ranks. Without someone she could feel comfortable with, her life would be much more stressful and her happiness more tenuous. In a perfect world, Eoki would have been the one who could provide the love and support she needed.
But that was her perfect world. Not Eoki's. Eoki's perfect world lay somewhere beyond the ash fields of Morrowind, in a nice cozy swamp cradled by the Hist.
I wanted to tell her to put Eoki's needs before her own. Something like that platitude about loving someone enough to let them go. That saying has always seemed trite to me, but I couldn't deny that keeping Eoki with her would only make him miserable. It seemed to be an easy answer.
And then... my mind's eye turned inward. I should have known it would. Memories came back to me - the image of a man disappearing in a flash of light, the belief that I would never see him again, the recurring heartbreak when I couldn't help thinking about what might have been.
And a question... If you had the chance to hold onto the one you loved, how could you let him go?
I don't know if Sun-in-Shadow noticed the sudden change in my expression. When I came back to the present, she was still looking at me with those doleful eyes.
That feeling, that heartbreak, is something I would never wish on anyone who truly loves another person. And I could already see it creeping into Sun-in-Shadow's heart.
I remembered times when I had told other heartbroken lovers to simply accept their losses and try to move on. That's what I had done. That's what was necessary in a world where loss is inevitable.
But if you had the chance... if I had the chance... wouldn't I...
I closed my eyes. I pictured Sun-in-Shadow's woeful face. And I told her... to set Eoki free.
I had to. I knew it was the right thing to do. And to her credit, Sun-in-Shadow accepted that doing the right thing was more important than getting what she wanted.
She commented afterward, though, that she could see why other members of her House so often preferred to do the wrong thing. She would need to work through her grief, but even then she seemed already to be putting her coping mechanism into motion. She was looking forward to having time to continue her studies, and focusing more on herself than trying to live up to what someone else wanted of her. Without the distraction of being expected to help with a slave revolt, she could continue becoming the Telvanni she aspired to be. Which... I suspect is what she truly wanted all along.
For Eoki's part, he had had a revelation when he found himself trying to take what he wanted by force. It was something the Dark Elves would do, and it was something he would have to learn to forgive himself for. I hope he'll find whatever healing he needs once he reaches home and the Hist.
My revelation came more into focus after I had bid Sun-in-Shadow farewell. I couldn't shake that feeling, that realization that I had never reconciled the loss I thought I had accepted with the newfound possibility of there actually being a chance. A chance... for what? A new beginning? The love story I had always wanted? For everything to fall into place so that we can live happily ever after?
I can't deny that I want to see Darien again, more than almost anything. It's something I've been wanting ever since I found that note in Orsinium. I want him to be okay, and I want to rescue him from whatever he's facing right now and help him make it back home. But... what happens if I do?
It's something that I think I've subconsciously known I'd have to consider ever since I learned that he's still alive. If I do find him, and save him, what will I say to him when we're finally face-to-face again? Do I just blurt out everything I've been feeling since I lost him? Take the first opportunity to say what I've sometimes wished I had said when I had the chance?
If I did, if I couldn't hold it back, how would I expect him to react? To feel? Has he been yearning for that moment just as much as I have? Or... would it come as an unwelcome shock to be confronted with my feelings?
If there's one thing that scares me about seeing him again, it has to be that. I can say that now, in a way I haven't put into words before. As tempting as it would be to imagine myself rushing into his arms, it scares me to know that it may not be what he would want. He might never have thought of me in that way at all. And I can't possibly know without having that terrifying conversation where even bringing it up takes us past the point of no return. Could I even think of doing that, in the middle of whatever climactic reunion the fates lead us to?
In a way it's crazy to think of letting that chance go by. After being driven by these feelings for so long, to keep them bottled up when they might finally lead to happiness... it would be madness. But even then, when that moment comes, there might be other things at stake. There might be other things that are more important than what I want. And one of those things might be what he wants.
I don't want to have to ask myself the question that Sun-in-Shadow had to ask herself. I don't want to regret trying to impose my will on someone else like Eoki did. But I want... I've wanted... I can't not want to be with the man I love if it's at all possible.
When that moment comes, if it's not possible, can I imagine myself being content to let him go again?