Darien knew I was upset with him the moment he saw me. I told him I was listening, and waited for him to explain himself. I already knew what his reasoning was, though. Sitting around waiting for a bunch of mystics to hem and haw over a couple of shiny rocks wasn't getting things done. Not in his mind. Not when Nocturnal was already sitting in the Crystal Tower and every moment was precious.
And so he decided that drastic measures had to be taken, and that buying into Leythen's "enemy of my enemy" scheme was the way to go. I asked him if he really thought that was a good idea. "Not you too," he groaned, having already dealt with the disapproval of everyone on Artaeum. But he could see the worry on my face.
He rested his hands on my shoulders and his voice softened a bit as he explained why we needed to do this. After being betrayed by Nocturnal, Mephala would at least have an incentive to help us. And since he couldn't contact Meridia, we had to get the power we needed from somewhere.
I still didn't like it. But looking into his imploring eyes... if he felt that strongly about it... I relented, and reluctantly admitted that this might be our best option. Besides which, I had already technically made my alliance with Vile. Like it or not, we were in this.
But I still really didn't like it. And the look on my face told Leythen exactly that, even as I agreed to accompany him into Mephala's shrine and try to make contact with his Prince. He was willing to return to Artaeum to face his punishment when we were done, but first he needed to see what was going on with his comrades in the shrine. He felt that something was wrong, that it shouldn't have been so hard to get the warded door to grant him access.
And inside the shrine, things were very definitely wrong. The corpses of Leythen's fellow cultists and strange shadow yaghra alike were strewn along the corridors of the decrepit stone ruins. It was most certainly the work of Nocturnal and her minions. They had attacked the other Princes' cults, and now that the Triad alliance was broken, there was nothing keeping her from trying to wipe out the followers of her former co-conspirators too.
Waiting for us deeper within the shrine was none other than Nocturnal's Earl. Veya stared us down imperiously from the other side of a collapsed great hall. It pained her, she said, that things had to end this way, but carrying out her mistress' will was more important than anything else. Leythen was not impressed by her show of sympathy, and neither was I.
Darien noted that she was carrying Dawnbreaker, now corrupted with shadows. He wanted it back, but Veya wasn't going to play nicely. She revealed that betrayal had always been Nocturnal's plan, and taunted us to follow her into the ruins to witness true power.
When Leythen teleported after her, Darien was worried that he might be tempted by that power. But as we caught up with Mephala's Earl, he was angrily insisting that he could not condone power that only destroys and kills innocents. Veya had heard enough of that, and froze him in place so she could speak to me.
She probably saw the coldness in my eyes as I approached her, especially after she threatened Darien with a taste of his own blade. I still couldn't be sure how much of the old Veya was left, how much of a chance I had of reaching her, but the more I saw the less hopeful I became.
She wanted to offer me a "mercy." If I stood aside and let her mistress carry out her work, she would kill the Psijics quickly. If not, then we would all suffer before we died.
I didn't even validate the offer by giving an answer. If Veya, and Nocturnal, thought I would just stand aside and watch them siphon the life energy of the world itself to twist reality into something dark and corrupt... they obviously hadn't been paying attention.
Veya bristled when I addressed her by her name. As far as she is concerned, "Veya" died in Balmora when her old life came to an end. She has a new name now, to go with her new purpose. It's fancy and Elvish, and I don't plan on using it. She may not be the same Veya I knew, but that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend that she never was that person. If anything, it makes her shift in loyalties even more damning.
Having laid down her challenge, Nocturnal's Champion took her leave. The shadows remaining in the shrine interfered with Leythen's ability to contact his Prince, but he had a backup plan.
Darien let a hint of worry about me show after Leythen instructed him to circle around and meet us at the back of the shrine. He didn't want to think that Leythen would stab us in the back, but you never knew with the servants of Daedric Princes. Excepting himself, of course.
Fortunately, Leythen was pissed off enough about Nocturnal and her Earl that he was fully on board with the plan we were concocting together. He summoned a shimmering blood-red image of Mephala, who was highly amused that her former adversaries were now begging for her help. She was even more amused to learn that we had every intention of challenging Nocturnal within the Crystal Tower, and that was enough to convince her to consider our proposal. It wasn't an actual acceptance, but at that point a "maybe" was better than nothing.
Darien wryly commented on how aloof and ominous the Daedric Princes always seem to be. "Would it be asking too much to just get a straight answer out of them once in a while?" If only he knew how many times I'd asked that very question about his own Prince.
Darien took on the responsibility of escorting Leythen back to Artaeum while I made my own way back there. Valsirenn wasn't happy about the bargains we had struck, but since the mystics' hemming and hawing had failed to make the Resolute Diamonds usable, the assistance of our former enemies was officially all we had left. Just in case, though, she was going to have the Psijic Conclave on standby if things went badly in the Crystal Tower.
Sotha Sil wanted to see me too. The Tribunal, he said, were also making their own preparations just in case. He was intrigued by the way Nocturnal was using his method for drawing and storing life energy along with the abyssal pearls and the Crystal Tower to enhance her capabilities. The process of fusing the Heart back into the crystal of Transparent Law would be a particularly critical point. If Nocturnal was the one to do it, then she could establish a permanent connection with the Crystal Tower - and, via the Tower's connection to all realities, become infinitely powerful. She really could bend reality itself to her will.
It was a sobering thought. But Sotha Sil didn't seem to think it was a foregone conclusion that she would succeed. He was waiting to see what would happen, and he seemed to think it would all revolve around me. A catalyst, is what he called me. All I had to do was make sure that I was the one to repair the crystal, and Nocturnal would be defeated and repelled.
No sweat, right?
And so, it was time to gather my allies and turn our attentions to the Crystal Tower...
Okay so I haven't totally fallen off the face of the planet. I've been working on something I should have started working on a long time ago, and I wanted to get it finished and posted before I moved on to the next climactic part of our heroes' journey.
Something dangerous happened while I was writing about Ilsabet and Darien's adventures in Summerset. I started wanting art of the two of them together, and imagining scenes and settings for them. And then, knowing that nobody was going to just draw art for me, I got crazy enough to try actually drawing them myself. I'm pretty sure I'm better at writing than drawing, and I can't even try to estimate how ridiculously long it took to create this, but I'm actually really happy with how it came out.
And so here we have our portrait of The Hero and Her Knight:
Pardon me while I go over here and squeal like a little girl.
I found Darien sitting alone at a table in one of the side rooms of Ceporah Tower, being ignored by the mages bustling around him. He was trying unsuccessfully to enjoy a mug of ale, and discovering that the Psijics' mastery over the cosmos did not extend to their brewing capabilities.
He'd been feeling fidgety since returning with Leythen, and was glad to hear my news that we'd be beginning our assault on the Crystal Tower soon. But there was something pensive about his otherwise eager mood. The last time we waged war on a Daedric Prince, he recalled, we were surrounded by friends, allies we knew we could rely on. There was something celebratory about all charging out there together to save our world. This time, when he looked around all he saw were nameless faces who barely noticed he was there. This time, all he had was me.
But he did have me. And I didn't even need to remind him that he could count on me. He was grateful for that fact, and promised me that when this was all over he'd buy me a drink so we could have a real celebration.
I decided not to point out that he already owed me at least one drink, or that we already had a standing date for a long talk once we were done saving the world. I got a bit pensive myself when it hit me that this would be the last moment of quiet time we'd be likely to share together before we went back into the fray.
But there wasn't any time to spend on gazing into his eyes or thinking up something meaningful to say to him. And I knew he understood that too. And so we exchanged knowing smiles, and I left him to what was left of his terrible ale, and went out to look for the rest of our team.
I didn't expect to find Raz outside Ceporah Tower, but there he was, having been smuggled into Artaeum by Oriandra. He had wanted me to know of developments back on Summerset. He had been able to contact Queen Ayrenn, and she had made swift arrangements with the leaders of the other alliances to send a united force to stand against the Daedric threat.
...Except that this force wouldn't arrive from the mainland until well after whatever was going to happen happened. And so, as Raz said, we were on our own. His plan was to prepare evacuation strategies for Summerset, just in case the Crystal Tower persisted in exploding. But he was certainly very hopeful that we would succeed in stopping that from happening.
Valsirenn and Leythen were together, speaking quietly at a small memorial shrine honoring their lost daughter. It seemed that they were coming to terms in a way, and I had never heard them speak to each other so gently. Val confided in me that while things between them would never be the same, they had come to understand each other a little better. Perhaps it was easier for them to put aside their anger and old resentments knowing that they were facing the end of the world.
I did my best to assure Val that we wouldn't let Nocturnal remake reality. She appreciated the sentiment, and it reminded her of how the Ritemaster could always inspire confidence at the right moment. If they couldn't have him along to face this challenge, she was glad to have me.
I was still wary of Leythen's allegiances, but he had no reason to be antagonistic now that the Psijic Order and his mistress were technically on the same side. He pledged that he would do his part to summon Mephala here and secure her assistance. His aspirations of turning the world into a paradise without suffering might have collapsed along with the Court of Bedlam, but he wouldn't stand to see Nocturnal destroy everything to gain infinite power.
The group that assembled in the Dreaming Cave was somber but hopeful. In the Ritemaster's absence, Sotha Sil would be the one helming the portal that would send our assault team toward its destination. Valsirenn and Oriandra were on hand to assist him in maintaining our connection. Barbas was there too, having been allowed into Artaeum so that he could guide us through the Fields of Regret just as his master had agreed. Leythen stood ready to contact Mephala, and Darien was steeling himself to run heroically into what his instincts told him to run far, far away from.
When Lady Mephala appeared, she seemed to have already decided to go along with helping us. The chance to best Nocturnal was simply too enticing for her to pass up. She attuned the Resolute Diamonds that would grant us entry to the Crystal Tower, but she also turned them into an anchor point that would keep us moored to our own reality as Nocturnal's energy shifted the Tower through different planes of existence. She warned us that straying too far from the anchor could leave any one of us adrift in the nothingness between realities.
Her price for her assistance was twofold. She wanted us to take her Earl with us into the Crystal Tower. And she wanted a private audience with Sotha Sil once everything was finished. I wasn't about to speak for Sotha Sil, but I saw no reason not to bring Leythen along now that we were on better terms. Maybe he wouldn't make me feel as secure as Darien did, but he would be able to provide support that went beyond what either of us could do. And he had already demonstrated his commitment to foiling his mistress' betrayer.
Once Mephala had departed and her red mist cleared, I handed Vile's key over to Barbas so that he could open the way to his master's realm. It was time for me and my two companions to go. We would make our way into the Crystal Tower, face Nocturnal, retrieve the Heart, and repair Transparent Law. At least, that was the plan.
As I checked over my gear one last time, I heard Darien's voice from across the room. "If I die saving the world, know that our brief time together has made me a better man," he was saying, to... Oriandra?
I looked over at them with raised eyebrows, but Oriandra seemed even more confused than I was. Darien went on to tell her that it was okay to cry, and promised that he'd do his best to come back to her.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of the whole thing. I mean... he knew I was standing right there, right?
Darien noticed my quizzical look as he walked toward me, apparently oblivious to Oriandra's befuddled reaction.
The smile he gave me almost seemed like he was proud of himself. "See, I learned my lesson," he told me confidently. "A young lady's emotions have to be handled very delicately."
I glanced at Oriandra, who still looked like she had no clue what had just happened. "Really..."
He grimaced. "Wait... don't tell me you're jealous again?"
I looked at his beleaguered expression, and just sighed. He was such a dork. Even if I had wanted to be mad at him, it wasn't going to happen.
"Let's... just get going," I said, and headed for the portal before he could notice the amusement coming to my face.
As I went through the portal, I heard him still protesting. "Better safe than sorry, right? You know how I just inspire those feelings..."
The matter was put out of both of our minds when we materialized on the other side of the portal and got our first look at Clavicus Vile's realm. At first the Fields of Regret didn't look like anything out of the ordinary, just wooded hills and actual fields - until you noticed the floating walls spiraling up to nowhere and big chunks of some kind of weird stone just hovering in the air.
And then there were the purple meteorites crashing into the ground in front of us. Leythen's suspicions about Barbas abandoning us were answered when we found the hound surveying Nocturnal's incursion into his master's domain. He pointed us in the direction of this place's Crystal Tower, but as long as his home needed to be protected, that's where his priorities would lie.
And so we proceeded into the tower without our guide. On the inside it looked an awful lot like any of the other moderately-maintained Altmer buildings I'd seen on Summerset. There was an eerie quiet about it, though - at least until we started coming across the creepy zombie shadow people that had once been the Sapiarchs in this version of the Tower. Something must have shattered their minds and bodies when Nocturnal's power took hold, and now there was nothing left to them but instinct to repel the invaders trespassing in their territory.
We managed to hold them off, and our progress was steady until we came to what seemed to be a dead end where a bridge ran straight into a wall with no door. Before we could get into strategizing how to get around the obstacle, the wall itself began to reshape itself, as we got a firsthand look at the warping of realities. At least this time, reality was remaking itself in a way that was advantageous to us, but it was also an impetus to keep moving before the opposite happened.
We found someone we could actually speak with, on a floor that was free of shadow Sapiarchs but covered with rubble from the explosions that had shaken the tower. The woman had been protected from her peers' fate by a magic staff that she had happened to take hold of when the tower began to shake, but as the relic's magic was fading, so was she.
I found out as much as I could about what had happened there, but the woman was overcome with terror as she sensed her impending death. Leythen stepped forward and offered his magical aid, telling her to picture her loved ones. A kind of transcendent calm came over her, just before she vanished.
Leythen didn't have the power to prevent her from succumbing to the shadows' pull. But he had at least made her last moments peaceful. It was a show of kindness that I wouldn't have expected from him.
We had to keep moving, before the shadow zombies caught up with us again. Darien's knowledge of siege weaponry came in handy as we were able to fix up an old ballista to blast through the rubble blocking our way, and I got a few extra shots in against some baddies that showed up to see what was making all the noise. I think Darien was disappointed that we couldn't take the ballista with us, and I have to admit it was kind of fun.
We made our way into a musty-smelling library, where the sky peeking through the holes in the walls looked nothing like what we had seen in Vile's realm. It seemed we really had shifted into another reality.
I'd been wondering when Nocturnal's Earl would show her face, and she finally did so in the form of an illusion interfering with our attempts to get through a magically locked gate. She made one last attempt to lure Leythen back into the fold, but he was having none of it. Despite Veya's taunts that Nocturnal was moving ever closer to her inevitable victory, her former accomplice was as determined as any of us to keep pressing onward to oppose her.
Veya's sabotage left us without a key or a way to get the unlocking mechanism to work, but once again Leythen's Psijic magic came to the rescue. He sent me and Darien running for the gate while he forced it open - but just as we reached the other side, expecting him to teleport through after us, Veya herself appeared to block his way. The gate slammed shut, and Leythen was left on his own to face down his former ally.
She was intent on stopping all of us right there - but she didn't expect Leythen's next move any more than Darien or I did. Leythen bound her in some kind of glowy forcefield, and then both of them vanished.
When Leythen materialized again, he was alone - and he was also covered in some kind of black glowing energy. He had done the only thing he could think of to get Nocturnal's Champion out of our way for a time, spiriting her away to someplace that would be troublesome for her to get back from. But... that someplace had also been far enough away from our anchor point that he could feel himself beginning to be unmade, just as his Lady had warned.
The words of the prophecy suddenly came back to me as I realized what Leythen had done. An unexpected sacrifice... I certainly couldn't have anticipated that the self-important traitor I had first met would be willing to give himself up for a greater good. But as he looked back at me through the gate, I had a hard time holding his old sins against him. He was giving us a fighting chance, and I thanked him for it. He appreciated that I had trusted him and allowed him to reach a sort of reconciliation with his wife, and said to tell Val that he and their daughter would be waiting for her. And then his body was consumed by the black energy, until there was nothing left.
I stood there for just a moment, until I felt Darien's hand on my shoulder. I'm not sure either of us would have called Leythen a friend before that moment, but we both felt for his loss. But there was nothing more we could do there. We had to keep moving.
Darien urged me forward as we continued climbing. Neither of us wanted Leythen's sacrifice to be in vain. We had to press on, despite our enemies' impediments, and make the most of the time he had bought us.
We were nearing the top of the tower when Nocturnal's Earl reappeared before us. She still had the corrupted Dawnbreaker, which Darien angrily demanded back. "Come and get it," she challenged, intent on putting a halt to our interference in her mistress' plans.
I had long since discarded any sympathy for Naryu's wayward apprentice. She was now only my enemy, and with Darien by my side I took her down as readily as I would any other. As she knelt broken before us, she seemed astonished that the stolen sword would fail to protect her.
"Dawnbreaker was never intended for you," Darien told her, with a reproachful edge in his voice.
"Meridia's magic is gone," Veya retorted. "The blade isn't yours anymore either."
Darien and I exchanged looks. "We'll see about that," he asserted, perhaps as much to me as to Veya.
As he reached for the sword, suddenly Nocturnal's voice rang out around us. "Join Meridia in my eternal darkness!" she cried, and a barrage of shadows swiftly washed over us.
My mind scrambled for a way to react as everything turned black. It was happening so fast, and there was nothing for me to shoot at. "Darien!" I called, starting to panic when I realized I didn't know where in the inky black void he was.
Then I heard his voice, indomitable, fervent, adamant. "We are... not... dying... like this!" he roared, as through sheer force of will he drove the darkness back. I just watched, powerless, as the shadows retreated from the space around us, driven back by the resonating light of Meridia's unyielding Champion.
The effort had completely drained him, and the fact that it had worked amazed even him. I looked at him, stooped over, panting for breath, and in that moment I loved him more than I ever thought possible.
He could see the relief and admiration in my eyes when I went to speak to him. But there was a new air of introspective contemplation about him. He had finally come to understand the true nature of his own being. His own purpose. He saw it now, what it meant to be Meridia's vessel. If she had been overcome by Nocturnal's darkness, then he was Meridia's last Light. The Light... that would restore Dawnbreaker to its uncorrupted state. That would transform the tainted sword into a divine relic suited to repair the crystal of Transparent Law.
He actually smiled, as if he could already envision reality being saved. He could see me turning back Nocturnal, using the restored Dawnbreaker to save the world. It was just too bad that he wouldn't be around to watch me do it.
"Darien, what are you saying?" I asked, dreading that I already knew the answer, already feeling tears coming to my eyes.
He gave me that look, the one that always reassured me of his confidence in me, but this time there was an extra aspect of warmth to it. "I'm saying that you've got this," he replied. He had seen how time and time again, whenever a threat appeared, I inspired allies and found a way to win. "And I'll be at your side for this one final battle," he added. "Just... not in the way I originally expected."
He looked into my eyes as a radiant aura began shining around him. "I wouldn't do this for anyone else," he said, his voice infused with tenderness. "Thank you... for everything."
I reached out, knowing nothing could stop him, as the brilliance of Meridia's light blinded me. Then... all was still.
I didn't want to open my eyes again. I didn't want to make it real by seeing. But... when I did, when I had to... he was gone. There was only Dawnbreaker, shining brighter than I had ever seen it, floating gently above the ground not an arm's length away.
I knew what he had done. I knew what I had to do. But still I stood there, not wanting to believe it, whispering his name even though I knew he would not answer. I don't know how many tremulous moments passed before I finally reached out my hand to accept his final gift.
As soon as I touched it, a radiant warmth began flowing into my hand. It was his warmth. His radiance. I held the sword out in front of me, my other hand supporting the blade, and slowly the truth sank in. This was what was left of him. This... Dawnbreaker... was all I had left.
And then I held it to my chest, letting his warmth flow through me, and my mind's eye looked ahead to the challenge I was about to face. We would face it together. Just as he had said, he was by my side.
From that point there was very little to stand in my way. None of Nocturnal's minions had ventured this high in the tower. She saw me coming, though, and mocked the futility of my attempt to stop her. "The tower crystal is almost whole," she taunted. "You're too late, mortal!"
I retorted, not caring if she could hear me or not. "No. I'm not too late. We're not too late."
I strode forward, my pace purposeful but unhurried. All of my senses were on high alert. Nocturnal's shadows swirled above me, above the tower pinnacle where she was even now infusing her dark will into reality itself.
She stood above the corrupted crystal, still mocking me, secure behind her shadowy barrier. I brandished Dawnbreaker and the barrier dissipated, along with the vision of the Prince. She remained, more of a presence than a figure, and called forth her champion to once again rise and strike me down. What appeared from the shadowy void looked nothing like the Veya I had known, but something monstrous and harrowing.
"Meridia's power won't help you against me!" Nocturnal crowed, anticipating her champion's victory.
But she didn't understand. It wasn't just Meridia's power. It was Darien's power. I had Meridia's Champion with me. And while Nocturnal's Champion was a grotesque specter of what she had once been, the Champion of Light had been reforged into a perfect blade. A blade he entrusted to me, to the Champion of Coldharbour, to the woman who loved him. It's almost a pity that Nocturnal had no idea how outmatched she was.
Veya's specter was fierce, determined as she was to live up to her Mother's purpose for her. She rose not once but twice, ever more desperate to overwhelm me with her Prince's corruption. I remained unyielding, as our danse macabre wove its way around the tower-top platform, interspersing arrow shots with strikes of divine light.
When her champion's grotesque form at last lay still before me, Nocturnal took up a wail of defeat. She knew, as I did, that nothing now stood between me and the unfinished Transparent Law. It hovered in its pedestal, suffused with purple-black energy that reflected the dark sky of Nocturnal's realm. But it could not stay that way. I would not let it.
I held Dawnbreaker poised above the crystal. This was what he had given everything for. My eyes were drawn to the Dawnstar Gem, glittering in its setting. Before my vision could be overwhelmed by tears, I leaned forward and pressed my lips to the gem, still pulsing with warmth. And then, with no time left to lose, I plunged the divine artifact into the crystal. And the whole world went blinding white, as Nocturnal's final outraged scream reverberated and then faded.
The first thing I heard, even before the world came back into focus, was my own gasping breaths, as if everything outside myself had been muffled by something covering my ears. As my vision clarified, my gaze first settled on my hands, outstretched before me, now empty. My gaze drifted upward, to a sky now blue and peaceful, and then settled back downward onto the rough crystalline form of Transparent Law.
With no reason now to remain stoic, I fell to my knees before the crystal. It was the first time I had ever seen it as it was meant to be, whole, unsullied. I'm not sure I would have called it beautiful. The jagged edges, though, seemed to be somehow softened by the tears clouding my eyes.
There was a voice that seemed to come from somewhere far away. Who was it, I wondered, who had come all this way to call out to me, now that everything was done. I turned my head, and saw Valsirenn, standing in front of a portal, not very far away at all.
She had been able to make her way here with Psijic magic once the crystal had been restored and the tower had been reformed on Summerset. Once she had ascertained what had transpired atop the tower, she asked about Darien and Leythen. As I might have expected, it was Leythen's fate that elicited the stronger reaction from her. She decided that she could mourn later, though, which was just as well considering that I wasn't in much of a state to console her. She disappeared back to Artaeum, thinking ahead to what still needed to be done. But I wasn't ready to go back yet.
I looked up at the sky, letting my feet take me toward the edge of the platform where just minutes before I had been fighting to overcome Nocturnal's shadows.
"Look, Darien..." I murmured. "Look what we did..."
I began drifting around the edge of the tower promenade, letting my gaze wander past the stone balustrades.
"The sky is clear. It's beautiful. It's not dark anymore. It's so bright. Just the way you would have liked it..."
Tears started welling in my eyes again. But... there was a calm within me. I didn't feel a need to break down. Not just yet.
I drifted my way back to the portal that Valsirenn had left at the top of the tower. It was time to go back. I looked again at the crystal, just perched there in its place, gleaming blood-red in the sunlight that Darien had helped me restore. On a different day I might hate that crystal, hate it for being the thing that had caused so much trouble, that had made it necessary for Darien to be taken from me again. But right now, it was just there. It just was. And as long as it was, the skies could be clear, and I too could just... be.
I closed my eyes as the portal's light enveloped me. When I opened them again, there was the soft deep blue of the Dreaming Cave, and the steadfast form of Sotha Sil standing before me.
The Clockwork God was as analytical as ever as I mumbled my report to him. His prediction, the odds, probability, proof. He commended my perseverance, how I had never given up even when the darkness was unbearable. I made it clear that it was Dawnbreaker's power that had made Transparent Law whole, and the tears sprang to my eyes again when I spoke of the friends we had lost.
He responded with the cold detachment of logic. "Life and death. It's all part of the ongoing circle. As long as you remember them, they will never be forgotten."
I don't know if that last part was meant to have any kind of sympathy behind it, but it reinforced something my heart already knew. He would always be there, just as he had always been. My heart would never forget.
Sotha Sil went on to reassure me that while there would undoubtedly be other Daedric schemes to come, the fruits of Nocturnal's hundreds of years of laying this particular plot had been wiped out by one swing of Dawnbreaker. I suppose it was a kindness that, when I wearily asked what would happen next, Seht granted me a moment to simply bask in my success. "You have done well, my mortal friend. Even I could not have done better."
Having thus concluded his business with me, the Clockwork God took his leave to attend to other matters, and I was left standing alone in the murky expanse of the Dreaming Cave. I turned back to look, at the pool of shimmering energy, at the empty space where, every other time I had been here, someone had been waiting to meet me.
Some of those people would never be here again. And as I trudged slowly out of the cave, I wasn't entirely sorry to be leaving it behind.
When I stepped out into the open air of Artaeum, Valsirenn was waiting for me. I don't know if she noticed the faraway look on my face or stopped to think about what it meant. But she, having resolved to postpone her mourning, was all business. There was still a threat remaining, a problem to be solved. Work to be done. Of course.
I stared blankly at the vicinity of her collarbones, barely absorbing the words coming in my direction. The Crystal Tower was open, I think she said. People could just walk right in, as long as they weren't Daedra. The Sapiarchs needed to be convinced to accept help defending the tower. Something about a meeting with important people. No time to grieve. Ensure the welfare of Summerset.
"Right... Summerset..." I murmured, and trudged past Val up the stairs. Of course, Summerset needed my help. I would go and get those important people and tell them to come talk to the other people and then we'd go do the thing that needed to be done. Because that's what I do.
I'm not sure what direction I was supposed to go in. I was supposed to talk to Oriandra, I think? I wonder where she was... I don't think she was at that overlook with the benches, or at that little pool with the pink flowers, or on the cliffs, or on the beach, or tucked away in this little nook in this cherry tree looking out at the eternal sunset. But that's where my feet took me, and that's where I am. They can wait, can't they, just a little longer.
I still haven't wept, not truly. Not like he deserves. My sight clouds over sometimes, but then when I open my eyes again the warm pastels of the sky and the flowers swaying in the soft sea breeze are still there waiting for me. I'm glad he got to see them, even if he felt like an outsider here, even if the ale was barely better than water. I hope he found solace in the beauty here. I hope... he was happy. And I hope he knows how happy he made me.
It was a gift, wasn't it? The time I got to spend with him, after thinking it was all over, to have him with me for just a little while longer. His smile, his touch, the look on his face that told me he believed in me. Even when he was being reckless, even when I kind of wanted to tie him down and knock some sense into him, just having him there to worry about was more than I had any right to ask for.
And then... being able to tell him... knowing he knew... knowing it meant something to him... If nothing else, that opportunity set my heart at ease like I never could have imagined. If it was any kind of a gift to him, if my love brought him even a quarter of the joy it brought me, I would give it all again a hundred times over.
I don't know what it's going to be like when I finally have to stand up and walk away from this place and go back to playing the hero. I know that there's going to be a familiar ache in my heart that may never truly go away. But I will also carry something of him with me. All of those new indelible memories, up to and including the very end, and a lingering warmth that I will never ever let go. Even now, sitting here leaning my head against this tree trunk with the tears streaming down my face, it's as much out of gratitude as sorrow.
This is actually the first drawing I did. It started with me playing around trying out brushes in my new art software, and then I tried drawing a face and it actually looked like a face, and then I just kind of kept going. It's on the sketchy side but I think it captures the emotion I was going for, which is the important part.
So in the spirit of mix tapes being the best way to express our innermost emotional states, I present now a list of Songs I Heard on the Radio After Doing the Crystal Tower Quest that Made Me Think of Darien. Feel free to Google them if you want to see just how hopeless I am.
Now I Know - Lari White
Perfect - Ed Sheeran
No One Like You - Scorpions
Iris - Goo Goo Dolls
Everything I Do - Bryan Adams
A Thousand Years - Christina Perri
Let Me Be There - Olivia Newton-John
I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World - Ronnie Milsap
Somebody Loves You - Crystal Gayle (this song is 100% Ilsabet after the Orsinium letter)
With or Without You - U2
Where the Streets Have No Name - U2
Never Say Goodbye - Bon Jovi
Patience - Guns N' Roses
Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol
Here Without You - 3 Doors Down
and every sappy love song ever
Also, having listened to the Summerset soundtrack on loop while writing and drawing, I can say that the new Auridon track is the musical embodiment of my Darien feels. It's sad and lovely and wistful and it's got those little unresolved motives and I'm just gonna go cry some more.
That meeting ended up not being that big a deal. Oriandra actually took care of most of the rounding people up, thankfully. I did go talk to Sotha Sil, who excused himself from getting further dragged into things on Summerset. I don't really blame him. He had already taken care of negotiating a sort of truce with Clavicus Vile and Mephala, and he had much to do back in his own domain. I wasn't in much of a mood to argue with someone who had already done so much for us, so I just let it go.
By the time I met Oriandra at Alinor Palace, the council had already decided not to wait for me to show up. It was still a good thing that I had given myself some time to compose myself before I got back to work. I was more subdued than I've been in a long time, but if my eyes were still red or there were lines on my face, fortunately nobody commented on it.
If Valsirenn expected me to be able to convince the Sapiarchs with some kind of strong-willed speech, though, I was not going to be up to that task. All I could do was repeat that the Crystal Tower needed to be protected and that the Sapiarchs couldn't do it alone, just as Val had told me. But Sapiarch Larnatille stubbornly insisted that the Tower was the Sapiarchs' responsibility and the Psijic Order could not be trusted. Why, I myself was just a newcomer, she said, and she had no reason to believe I had Summerset's best interests in mind. For all she knew, I could be plotting with the Psijics to take over the Crystal Tower for our own purposes.
Her accusation stirred up a sudden surge of indignation within me. Didn't she have any idea what I had gone through to save their stupid tower? What it had cost? Did she really think Darien would give everything he had for some silly little trick?
But a confrontation wouldn't help anyone right now. And so I choked back the angry tears and simply told her through gritted teeth that I thought she was making a mistake.
I think Raz sensed something of what I was holding back, and saw that this was not a battle I was going to win on my own. He had made some preparations of his own, though. And so he invited some guests to come forth and make statements to the council. I watched, astonished, as Kinlady Avinisse related how I had saved Shimmerene while she was blinded by prejudice and hate. Justiciar Hyircil told of my efforts to reclaim peace from the Daedric cult at Cey-Tarn Keep. And Alchemy vouched for the loyalty and trustworthiness I had shown during my time with her troupe.
I had to hold back tears of a different type as I listened to them, feeling the knot in my stomach loosening a little more with each story. What I had done, during my time on this island, it had made a difference. And I wasn't quite as alone as I had been feeling ever since I drifted back from the top of the Crystal Tower.
Larnatille was much more receptive, even apologetic, when I spoke to her again. She finally relented, admitting that accepting help might be the best way to ensure that the Sapiarchs do not fail in protecting the Tower again. She still wanted nothing to do with the Psijic Order, but with the Mages Guild and the Divine Prosecution lending their aid, the outlook seems hopeful.
With the council's business concluded, I bid farewell to Val. She will be returning to Artaeum to act as interim Ritemaster until they can get their affairs in order. It's good to know that I will still have a place there as long as they call me ally and friend.
Back out in the throne room, I discovered that Raz had been even busier than I thought rallying people I had helped to come speak on my behalf. Speaking to each of them eased my mood quite a bit, to the point where I was even able to smile at the rascally Khajiit claiming the Proxy Queen's throne for himself.
It seemed that the tide had turned. Things really would be okay.
I had just finished making the rounds chatting with the visitors when my attention was diverted by two guards talking near the great hall entrance. One of them was claiming that a book had suddenly appeared out of nowhere while he was up on the balcony. A book just teleporting past the palace's magical wards? Potentially a cursed relic? Sounded like something I should check out.
As I approached the book, just lying there on one of the padded benches, a yellow mote of light shone above it and then faded. It almost reminded me of... but I was trying not to get pulled back into my melancholy. And so I took a seat on the bench, feeling more curious than apprehensive as I opened the mysterious book.
At first I couldn't be sure whose writing it was. It was... angry-sounding. It was about how the Daedric Princes are not to be trusted. The writer had learned that from his recent experiences. He had believed he had a purpose, but it hadn't turned out the way he expected.
And then I got to the part about him being Meridia's vessel. It was... it was him. He had written this, after he left me in the Crystal Tower. He hadn't just vanished into nothingness. He had simply returned to the Colored Rooms.
My heart practically leapt at the realization. But as I kept reading... what was he saying? Meridia was holding him prisoner, not keeping him safe? She had deceived him? Deceived all of us?
And... even though he was alive, and himself... he could feel himself fading. There was a darkness closing in. And when the light finally waned...
No, I couldn't believe it, even as I was reading the words. He couldn't give up that easily. Not the man whose indomitable spirit had overcome the ultimate darkness.
As I was trying to process these new revelations, I heard the sounds of the two palace guards coming up the stairs to the balcony, still discussing what to do with this "cursed" book. Without even thinking, I bolted out of my seat and shoved myself into the space between two bookcases on the other side of the hall. I held my breath as they walked past me toward the now-empty bench, and then clutched the book under my arm and scurried away down the stairs as quietly and quickly as I could. With my best "nothing to see here" face on and my heart in my throat, I hurried out of the palace as if I were making off with the Queen's crown jewels.
I didn't stop moving until I had reached a little out of the way corner nestled between rocky walls near a rushing waterfall. Once I was sure that no one could see me, I pulled the book back out and just held it in front of me, staring at its cover as I tried to steady my breathing.
A sinking feeling was beginning to settle in, a feeling that I was back to where I was after finding the letter in Orsinium. Darien was trapped in the Colored Rooms, and he needed help. I couldn't trust Meridia to take care of him. He hadn't asked me to save him this time, but my mind was already working out strategies. I could go back to Artaeum and have Val teleport me there through the Dreaming Cave. Or there was the statue in Eton Nir Grotto, where Meridia had spoken to me before. Maybe I could go there and parlay with her.
I closed my eyes and held the book to my chest, trying to will my thoughts to reach him.
Keep fighting, Darien. Keep fighting to hold onto that light. It's your light, not Meridia's. You can't ever give up. Keep that beautiful spirit within you.
I mulled over the situation for a few more minutes, letting my disquiet fully turn to resolve. And then I set out to put my plans into action.
...Only to watch them come to absolutely nothing. I did find Val, who was taking a moment out of her busy interim Ritemaster schedule for some quiet reflection at her daughter's memorial. She was sympathetic to my request to go after Darien, knowing as she does what it's like to find someone after so long only to lose him again. But she insisted that after being traversed by the likes of Daedric Princes, it had been necessary to essentially deactivate the Dreaming Cave so that it could be carefully cleansed and safeguarded before she would allow it to be used again, and she couldn't say how long that process might take. So, with my best option cut off, it was off to Eton Nir Grotto to shout at Meridia's maddeningly silent statue. I may have shot a few arrows into it for good measure, but if that offended the Prince it wasn't enough to make her come out and confront me.
So... there was nothing I could do. Again. As much as I wracked my brain trying to come up with something, anything, more to try, there would be no storming Oblivion this time.
By the time I left Meridia's forsaken shrine behind and came to rest in the grass beside a nearby stream, I was legitimately upset. Was it really all for this? For nothing? The happiness I had found during my brief time with him, and even feeling some measure of peace after his noble sacrifice? And now it was all back to frustration and hopelessness? I was supposed to just accept that the man I loved was even now fading from existence, and just go about my business?
I pulled out the book, wanting to read his words again. Maybe there was something I had missed, some clue that would tell me how to find him. There had to be something I could do for him.
I reread his warnings about the Daedric Princes, the description of his situation and Meridia's broken promises. Nothing there gave me any new ideas about how to save him.
But... wait. There was more. Somehow I hadn't noticed that the missive continued. How had it not occurred to me that there was more beyond that first page?
As his message continued, there was an immediate shift in tone. Despite the way things had turned out, Darien had found peace. Meridia had at least given him the chance to see the world and the people he cared about again. To save those he loved. I immediately felt my emotions softening as I read his words. It seemed I was not alone in feeling grateful for the time we had spent together.
He wished he had seen Skordo and Gabrielle, to make sure they knew how much he missed them. I felt a twinge in my heart realizing that Gabrielle had never been able to share the opportunity to see our friend again. I'll need to remember to go and find her, as soon as I can. She'll need to know everything he's done, how he helped save all of us.
And then... I saw my name. He wrote that he didn't know if I would ever understand how much I truly meant to him. And... that's the moment when I finally gave in to the tears.
He hadn't quite found the words to say to me while we were together. But I knew somehow, from the way he looked at me as his essence began to pour into Dawnbreaker, from the emotion in his voice. He wouldn't have done it for anyone else. He had given himself for me. And I knew just how much that meant.
But to see the words there on the page, to imagine what he might have wanted to tell me if we'd been able to have that nice long conversation... Maybe it was still wishful thinking, just a little bit. But if he had been moved to write these words, in a book he wasn't even sure anyone would find, I couldn't not take them to heart.
He went on to ponder if we might ever see each other again. In another time and place, perhaps. He might not even be the same version of himself by then. But he was okay with that, even if the person he is now was gone. I wasn't quite sure exactly what he meant by that, and initially it wasn't a comforting thought. But... thinking about it more, maybe it was a hint that the end might not really be the end.
I smiled through the tears as I read the rest of his message. He wished he could have had more time and more adventures with his friends. Gotten around to all of those drinks he had promised us. He hoped we would all find peace and happiness, and love. He would never forget us, and he wanted us to know the importance of holding onto and protecting those we love. Cherishing the moments together, and how very precious they were. I hoped he knew how much that was true of the time he had spent with me.
By the time I got to his characteristically cheeky send-off, I was crying and laughing in equal measures. It was so like him, wasn't it. It was a relief, after seeing his disappointments and dire circumstances, to see that his spirit hadn't been dampened. He was still that roguish charmer, who knew exactly how handsome he was, who cared for his friends more than anything, who knew how to lighten any mood with a moment of sly humor. Even when he could see the end looming, even when the future was so uncertain.
Once again I held the book to my chest and sent my thoughts out to the aether. There were no distinct words this time, just a feeling of love and longing and appreciation. I hope he could still feel it. I hope he knew that my heart was his and always would be. Even if he didn't think he could ever have that happy-ever-after that he thought his friends deserved. Maybe I wouldn't either. But what I had was worth just as much.
I could see it now, what he had really wanted me to know when he put his thoughts to paper. It wasn't about the dreadfulness of his plight. It wasn't about the necessity of saving him from certain doom. It wasn't, in some ways, even about him at all.
It was about his love, for me and all of his friends. For our world and all of the good things in it. More than anything for himself, he wished for us to be happy. And I felt, with some chagrin, that the last thing he would want was for me to be consumed by anger and hopelessness, especially on his account. I might not be able to stop myself from crying over him, but I also couldn't let myself stop living the way he would want me to. I just had to hope, and trust, that my knight would remain strong until we could find our way to each other again, and keep being the person - the hero - that he trusted and believed in. That was what I could do for him.
And so, even though the contents of this book hadn't done great things for my sense of closure, and part of me would still worry about him every moment he was still in the Colored Rooms, and these were far from the last tears I would shed for him, I knew I would be able to go on. There would be more people I could help, more friendships to create and nurture, so much more of the world to see and experience. That warmth of his would go with me all the way. Maybe he would experience it all with me, somehow, even if I couldn't be there to hold him in my arms for as long as I possibly could.
And... maybe he'll be right, as I pray he is, and it will be only a matter of time before we see each other again. Hopefully I'll be able to recognize him, even if he's not still an impossibly attractive Breton with a muscular physique and a roguish grin. No matter what, I'll be sure to have my smile ready for him.
Okay, one more drawing before we get back to our regularly-scheduled walls of text:
So this is more of a conceptual image than a literal depiction of something that happened in the story. Hopefully it gets across what I was going for, but just in case here's an explanation for anyone who wants to peek:
Ilsabet is reaching for Darien, desperately trying to hold onto him and save him, and Darien is likewise reaching for her - to offer her the gift of his light as his body begins to transform.
It was, I'll admit, a few more days before I got myself back into hero mode. Once I finally gave in to sleep, in the little camp I made for myself beside the stream, it was most of the way through the next day before I woke up again. And it was two or three days more of just wandering around the Summerset countryside before I felt up to facing civilization again.
Some of that time was spent just sitting places and looking at things, getting lost in my thoughts and then realizing I'd been there for hours without actually doing anything. But I did also get a lot of flowers picked, and some fish caught, and finished off a few stray yaghra who hadn't yet gotten the message that they had no need to be here anymore. So it wasn't a completely unproductive few days.
Oh, and I ran into someone from Vvardenfell who I was actually happy to see. Tirwin, the former slave who escaped her covetous young master with my help, was putting her shell-finding prowess to good use - for her own benefit this time - on the shore not far from the Alinor Docks. It was good to see that she's found a happier life now.
It was also a reminder that life goes on, that the world keeps moving around us even when we feel overcome by our own personal world-endings.
Upon reflection, it's kind of reassuring to see so many things just going along the way they would have even if reality as we know it hadn't almost come to an end a few days ago. There are still idiot egg-hunters almost getting themselves eaten by gryphons, and merchants wandering in search of customers, and snooty nobles finding reasons to be offended by trivial things. Maybe they don't realize how close we came to actual catastrophe. And maybe they're better off not knowing.
And meanwhile here I am, the one person who knows the most about what happened, trying to find a way to just go back to something I could consider "normal." Which was maybe not as simple a thing as I thought it would be.
It's a funny thing, though, that no matter how many times I save the world, I'll inevitably run into people who have no idea who I am and want me to help find their dog or something. I might get a little internally miffed at the bossier ones, like I did with Larnatille, but for the most part it's just regular people who need a hand with something they can't handle themselves. And finding lost dogs is certainly easier and less stressful than going up against Daedric Princes with the whole universe at stake.
So really, I'm not going to complain about doing grunt work even though I'm the Savior of Pretty Much Everything. Maybe that's part of reclaiming normalcy, too, knowing I'll always have a place wandering among the common folk, as long as people can use assistance from someone who's just a little bit stronger and braver than they are.
So then, a group of displaced migrants having issues with an uppity mer who claims to be the heir to the estate they're squatting on, amidst a string of mysterious disappearances. I'm on it.
So I finally got around to working up a response to this thread with Ilsabet's answers to 100 questions as a creative character-building exercise. I reckoned I'd post it here too as a record of her thoughts on herself as of the culmination of events on Summerset.
100 Questions for... Ilsabet Menard
Part 1: The Basics
1. What is your full name? Ilsabet Menard. 2. Where and when were you born? I was born in the month of Frostfall in 2E 566, under the sign of the Thief if that matters, in a little town in Glenumbra you've never heard of and you probably wouldn't stumble over even if you were looking for it. It's closer to Aldcroft than Camlorn, and just outside the edge of the moors. I was 16 years old when I woke up in the Wailing Prison and my life changed. 3. Who are/were your parents? My father was the stablemaster in our town. My mother took care of everything else while he was minding the horses. 4. Do you have any siblings? No, I'm an only child. 5. Where do you live now, and with whom? I have houses here and there, but I spend too much time wandering to call any one of them a full-time home. If I could choose just one, it would probably be my little house near Nimalten. I don't live with anyone else, unless you count the critters that seem to take up residence while I'm away. 6. What is your occupation? Adventurer, if that counts as a job. It's certainly what I spend most of my time doing, and I guess you could say it's a living. 7. Write a full physical description of yourself. Well I'm not terribly tall, and I guess you'd say I have a boyish figure. I'm pretty athletic but not too bulky or muscular. My hair is brown and straight and fairly long, although I usually have it up in a crown braid to keep it out of the way so it's easy to forget how long it is. My eyes are brown too. I'm usually wearing leather armor and a chestplate, unless I decide to wear a less armory outfit to try to blend in more with the regular folk. 8. To which social class do you belong? Working class, I guess. I mean that's what we were back home. I'm probably better off now, but I'm not exactly upper-crust either. 9. Do you have any allergies, diseases, or other physical weaknesses? Hmm, not really. I tend to stay in pretty good health. I mean considering how much I go through. 10. Are you right- or left-handed? Right-handed. 11. What does your voice sound like? Well female for one thing, not really high-pitched or girly, but not super low either. I like to think I sound assertive, like people should know they shouldn't mess with me or take me lightly. 12. What words and/or phrases do you use very frequently? Things like "How can I help?" and "I have some questions" and "No sir, I don't know what happened to whatever used to be in that chest." 13. What do you have in your pockets? This and that, some lockpicks, some traveling money and food, a few knickknacks I've picked up, Darien's note... 14. Do you have any quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics? I stick my nose into other people's business a lot. I also have this thing where I loot every container in a room before I go to the next room. And sometimes I just go picking flowers while someone's trying to talk to me. That's probably annoying, now that I think about it.
Part 2: Growing Up
15. How would you describe your childhood in general? We worked hard, but it wasn't bad. It was an honest way of life, and a lot simpler than how it is now. It was also a lot less exciting. Sometimes part of me misses that life, but I don't think the person I am now would be content there for very long. 16. What is your earliest memory? There are vague memories of being with Ma and Pa when I was little, but the most significant early memory I have was when I was still learning to ride and someone put me on this huge dapple horse and it ended up almost bucking me before Pa and one of the other men managed to get ahold of the reins. I just remember holding on for dear life and being more scared than I'd ever been. I've had a hard time trusting horses ever since then. I think I was around 8 when that happened. 17. How much schooling have you had? Ma Richard would give us our lessons after chores most days. I'm not sure if that counts as official school, but we learned what we needed to know. 18. Did you enjoy school? It was fine, nothing too strenuous, mostly a chance to show up the boys and see how much squirming Jacob could get away with before his ma yelled at him. 19. Where did you learn most of your skills and other abilities? My pa taught me how to ride, and our town's ranger taught me how to use a bow along with his sons. I guess I learned the rest of what I can do as I went along. 20. While growing up, did you have any role models? If so, describe them. I definitely admired Ranger Richard. The idea of someone knowing the area better than anyone and being able to sense dangers and keep other people safe seemed kind of heroic to me, I guess. And on some level I knew my parents were good people too, so they influenced me without me thinking about it too much. 21. While growing up, how did you get along with the other members of your family? I wasn't always a model daughter, especially when it came to expectations about me getting work done, but we all loved each other and I knew my parents just wanted to take care of me, even when I was being difficult. 22. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I remember pretending I was some great treasure hunter while I was out roaming in the forest, even though what I brought home was usually just pretty rocks or maybe some half-rusted junk I found somewhere. I also thought I might make a pretty good ranger. If I had stayed there, Ian and I might have been a pretty good team after he took over for his father. I definitely had no interest in taking after my father as the town's stablemaster, so it was probably lucky that I wasn't a son who would be expected to take over the family business. 23. As a child, what were your favorite activities? Mostly roaming around the forests seeing what I could find, either on my own or with one or both of the boys. Sometimes I also liked to just find hiding places around town and hole up by myself until I felt like coming out again. Sometimes I would make up imaginary stories for myself and play them out in my head as if I really were some kind of brave hero or plucky adventurer. It's kind of funny, now that I think about it. 24. As a child, what kinds of personality traits did you display? I was pretty adventurous, for a kid, if you count being more than five minutes away from home as an adventure. I was pretty inquisitive, and stubborn at times, and I liked to prove that I didn't need to be coddled by Ian or anybody else. But I wouldn't say I was too belligerent, and I was pretty good-natured as long as nobody pushed my buttons. 25. As a child, were you popular? Who were your friends, and what were they like? There weren't too many kids my age around, but I mostly hung out with the ranger's sons since Ian was a year older than me and Jacob was two years younger. We got along okay, aside from the usual squabbles, and I made them take me along when their pa was teaching them to shoot and taking them around the forests and into the moors. I'd say they were my closest friends growing up, and I might have even married one of them if everything hadn't changed. Ian was always more in older brother mode, and I think he kind of wanted to protect me even though I usually didn't feel like I really needed it. Jacob was always kind of a brat and was usually getting himself into trouble. 26. When and with whom was your first kiss? That was one of Darien's gifts to me, right after I told him how I'd been feeling about him all this time. He could tell it was my first one, too. It was... something I'll never forget. (For the record, I don't count the time Ian tried but I didn't let him and he only really got the corner of my mouth.) 27. Are you a virgin? Yes, that's one experience I haven't had yet, and I'm not sure when or if that'll change. 28. If you are a supernatural being (i.e. mage, werewolf, vampire), tell the story of how you became what you are or first learned of your own abilities. I don't think there's anything supernatural about me, although I'd be interested to know if that has anything to do with how good I seem to be at saving the world.
Part 3: Past Influences
29. What do you consider the most important event of your life so far? The event that changed my life was undoubtedly being sacrificed by the Worm Cult and finding myself in Coldharbour. There have been many momentous events since then, but none of them would have happened without that rebirth as the Vestige. 30. Who has had the most influence on you? I'd say I've been influenced by many people, both during my early life and during my time as the Vestige. Darien would be an easy answer, as I remember how his bravado strangely inspired me while I was still unconvinced that I was strong enough to be the hero type, and his belief in me has bolstered me all the way up to where we are now. But the Prophet, and the other Companions, and High King Emeric and the other alliance leaders, and so many of my friends and colleagues have all affected me in their own ways large and small. So really it's hard for me to pick just one person to the exclusion of all others, because the person I am now has been shaped by my contact with so many people. 31. What do you consider your greatest achievement? I mean... saving the world is a pretty big deal. And saving all the realities ever is even bigger. So I think I have to go with that. 32. What is your greatest regret? There are... a lot of those, actually. Mostly things that I wish I could have done but couldn't, or things I had to do that I wish I hadn't. People I've killed. Murdering King Kurog and putting the entire Covenant into jeopardy. Seeing friends turn against me and not being able to reach them before they forced me to kill them too. Wanting desperately to save someone but having no way to do it. I guess if I had to sum it all up, I'd say my greatest regret is that my bow and my blade are too often used to end lives when I wish they could be more effectively used to save people. 33. What is the most evil thing you have ever done? Evil is kind of a hard thing to qualify. There are the aforementioned killings, but any one of those could be given justification or called out as base murder depending on the perspective. I guess my penchant for stealing things is less justifiable, but it's also harder to think of purloining trinkets as evil. Let's just say I'm not proud of everything I've done and leave it at that. 34. Do you have a criminal record of any kind? Well... that depends on what you mean by record. I don't have a bounty on me right now... 35. When was the time you were the most frightened? There was the horse thing when I was a child, and the fear I felt in the Wailing Prison when I didn't know what was happening to me, and when I thought that assassin in Daggerfall Castle might actually kill me, and probably several other times since then when my life was on the line or I feared we might fail an important mission. Most recently, it was the moment of sheer panic I felt in the Crystal Tower when the shadows overcame us and I didn't know where Darien was or how I should react. 36. What is the most embarrassing thing ever to happen to you? Well hrm. I've had a few unfortunate experiences with alcohol. And I almost fell on my face in front of Darien while I was trying to act all businesslike. It's hard to stay dignified all the time. 37. If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be, and why? The obvious answer would be something that would have kept Darien from being taken from me, or something that would keep our world from being threatened so often. But I'm not sure how to even make that happen without changing or losing things that have been meaningful or valuable along the path that has brought us to where we are now. As I've mused before, it can be dangerous to think about doing away with the bad things when there were good things right alongside them. 38. What is your best memory? Watching the man I love drive back the ultimate darkness, purely through the strength of his will. I have never loved anyone more than I loved him in that moment. 39. What is your worst memory? I... as much as I might want to say it's what happened immediately after that best memory, what Darien did is too meaningful for that. Even the first time, when he disappeared in that flash of light... No, I know what it is. I can remember one night sitting in my gloomy house in Narsis, as the one last candle I had lit burned out, when it had finally sunk in that I had no way of finding Darien and there was nothing I could do for him. It might have been the pinnacle of the funk I was in after what happened in Wrothgar, just feeling the weight of that helplessness and regret and having it all crystallize in front of me as I sat there in the dark. I hope I never have to feel that way again.
Part 4: Beliefs And Opinions
40. Are you basically optimistic or pessimistic? I... like to think that things will work out okay, or maybe that's more of a hope that things won't be totally terrible even if they don't go the way we would want. But I've gone through enough to know that things will rarely be entirely good or entirely bad. So... a little of both? Clinging to hope, while being ready for setbacks and disappointments? 41. What is your greatest fear? I guess... that I'll make things worse while I'm trying to make things better. That I'll hurt people I care about. I guess that's two things, but they kind of go together. 42. What are your religious views? I don't worship any particular deity, but I certainly respect the higher powers and understand the power and influence they have both on and through mortals. Religious faith can buoy people through hard times, and it can drive people to do horrible things. It's interesting to observe. 43. What are your political views? I support and serve High King Emeric of the Covenant, although whether he still considers me his champion after what I did in Orsinium is still something of a question. I respect the other alliances' leaders, having interacted with and helped them, and despite my loyalty to my alliance I mostly want to see this conflict come to some kind of end that will allow people to live peacefully with some semblance of reasonable order. 44. What are your views on sex? I assume it's nice, people seem to enjoy it and find it worthwhile. I don't think I'd want to do it unless it would mean something with someone I really cared about. Preferably as part of an actual relationship or even marriage. But I guess I can't really judge people who do it just for fun. I wonder if he would have toned down the womanizing if something had actually happened between us... 45. Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable? Oh yes, can I kill. It's something I do almost without thinking about it anymore. I don't always want to, but when I have to, I rarely hesitate. If I need to protect myself or people I care about, or people who can't defend themselves, I consider it part of doing what I need to do. It's the same when I need to stop someone from doing something I can't allow. And sometimes my hand is forced and another person's death is the only way to resolve a situation. Then there are the Brotherhood contracts, but I have my own ways of rationalizing those. I also don't do so many of them anymore. 46. In your opinion, what is the most evil thing any human being could do? Cold-blooded betrayal of someone who trusts you absolutely is right up there. Especially since so many other horrible acts could be tied into it. 47. Do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love? I think so. I certainly know my feelings for Darien are true. Whether I'm his one true love or not, I couldn't say. But it's a nice thing to think about. 48. What do you believe makes a successful life? Being happy with your lot, making the world a little bit better, finding people to care about who preferably care about you too. 49. How honest are you about your thoughts and feelings (i.e. do you hide your true self from others, and in what way)? I think I do have kind of a persona, pretty much the whole hero thing, that I present to the world so that I seem confident and capable and like someone who should not be messed with. Those things are true, to some extent, but I'm much less likely to show the side of me that has crises of conscience or feels insecure or regretful or gets lost in thought when nobody else is around. I think people like Darien or Raz maybe sense or understand that part of me a little better, but most of the time it's the last thing I want people to see when I'm in mission mode and something important is at stake. 50. Do you have any biases or prejudices? Ummm... I try not to. There might be things that I feel under the surface, based on things I've seen or learned, that might subtly color how I view certain people or approach certain interactions. Like it's a pretty good bet that any given Altmer might see you as an inferior specimen or a Nord might be drunk at any given time. Does it count as a stereotype if it's usually true? 51. Is there anything you absolutely refuse to do under any circumstances? Why do you refuse to do it? There are some heinous acts I would never consider, and I'm not even going to list them. Pretty much if Molag Bal would do it, it's off the table. Aside from basic killing and stealing, which he would probably do just for fun. As a general thing, though, it's hard to say "never" when you don't know what circumstances might lead you to do something you wouldn't consider doing in a vacuum. 52. Who or what, if anything, would you die for (or otherwise go to extremes for)? I don't really like to think about dying for people or causes, because once that happens, I can never do anything for anyone again. But on the surface, since this question is really about what things are most important to me, I would go to some pretty far extremes for Darien or Raz or King Emeric or any number of my other closest friends. And if I thought that it was necessary for me to die in order to save the world or stop something really horrible from happening, and there was no other way around it, I would do it for the greater good.
Part 5: Relationships With Others
53. In general, how do you treat others (politely, rudely, by keeping them at a distance, etc.)? Does your treatment of them change depending on how well you know them, and if so, how? I try to be polite at the very least, although I can get a little curt if people are rubbing me the wrong way. I'd say I keep things professional and a little distanced while I'm dealing with people I don't know well, and it takes some trust and development of friendship for me to open up more. 54. Who is the most important person in your life, and why? I mean... I kind of have to say Darien, don't I? He's certainly the one who's on my mind the most, even though I've spent most of this whole mad adventure apart from him. And he's the one I most want to be with and care for and see happy. 55. Who is the person you respect the most, and why? Razum-dar is a pretty easy answer here. I do respect High King Emeric and Queen Ayrenn for their leadership qualities and what they're trying to do for their people, but Raz has a way of impressing me with how smoothly he handles just about everything he does. And if there's anyone besides Darien that I would trust implicitly with my life, it's him. 56. Who are your friends? Do you have a best friend? Describe these people. Darien, and Raz, and Gabrielle and Skordo and Naryu, and Indaenir, and Holgunn and Walks-in-Ash, and Lyris and Sai and the Prophet, and Kireth and Raynor and Neramo and Lerisa, and Verandis and Gwendis and Quen and Merric and Valsirenn and Oriandra... I really have made a lot of friends over the course of my journey. If I tried to describe them all and talk about our experiences together, I'd be here all day. 57. Do you have a spouse or significant other? If so, describe this person. I've never actually been in a relationship. I mean my heart belongs to someone, but we've never... formalized anything. 58. Have you ever been in love? If so, describe what happened. I mean... how long do you want to sit here listening to me? And have you ever met Darien Gautier? I mean I know he comes across as this reckless snarky playboy, but there's really a lot more to him than that. He proved that to me, while we were off being the heroes of the Covenant, and saving the world in Coldharbour. If you knew him the way I do, I wouldn't have to explain why my heart is his and always will be. Although if you really want me to recount everything we've done together and everything I love about him, I can think of plenty of worse ways to spend my time. But maybe I should save those musings for later. 59. What do you look for in a potential lover? He should be someone I can rely on, someone I know will have my back whether I need it or not. Someone I can let my guard down around, and we can make each other laugh and know what to say that the other needs to hear. Someone who can be my partner and we know we can get through anything together. Someone perhaps who's devastatingly handsome and can make me blush when he's not wearing a shirt. ...Although if this is supposed to be a generic question, then I guess that's less important than the other stuff. But it is a really nice bonus. 60. How close are you to your family? I haven't seen them since the bandits got ahold of me, a couple months before I landed in Coldharbour. I don't know if they think I'm dead or not. Sometimes I think I should have tried to contact them, but I don't know how I'd begin to reconcile my old life with the life I have now. So I just haven't been thinking about it too much. But I do still love them and hope they're well. 61. Have you started your own family? If so, describe them. If not, do you want to? Why or why not? I don't think I'm really old enough to start having kids. And I wouldn't say my lifestyle is really suited to it. I guess I might want to one day, if things settle down enough. Although it's complicated by the fact that the only person I can think of who I'd want to have them with isn't around right now. Maybe if things changed again... 62. Who would you turn to if you were in desperate need of help? Probably Razum-dar, if I could find him. Maybe Gabrielle, although I haven't been able to contact her since I left Anvil. I'd like to say High King Emeric, but I still don't know if I can show my face in front of him. I'd definitely say Darien if it weren't for the thing with him being stuck in the Colored Rooms. 63. Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who, and why? I'd trust most or all of my closest friends with my life. Of course sometimes friends turn out not to be who you thought they were, or have a change of heart, but the people who have had my back before have proven themselves. And I have a pretty handy way of dealing with turncoats. 64. If you died or went missing, who would miss you? The aforementioned friends, I would think. 65. Who is the person you despise the most, and why? Molag Bal, probably. Pretty much everything he stands for is despicable. And he's so damn smug about everything. 66. Do you tend to argue with people, or avoid conflict? I'll have my say, especially if I think things need to be done a certain way. But I can defer to other people's judgment if they have a bigger stake in the situation or it seems preferable to avoid conflict. 67. Do you tend to take on leadership roles in social situations? I'd say at this point I'm pretty used to asserting myself when things need to get done. In a purely social situation, which honestly doesn't happen very often, I'd probably be more comfortable sitting back and observing if there were more outgoing people around. 68. Do you like interacting with large groups of people? Why or why not? Doing things involving big groups can be exciting, but it can also be draining. I'd say it depends on how much drama there is going on. In general I probably prefer smaller gatherings and quieter conversations. 69. Do you care what others think of you? Yeah, in a certain sense, maybe more than I should. In the sense that I want to be respected and I don't want people to take me lightly and I definitely want people I care about to think well of me. But on the other side, I'll do what needs to be done without letting myself be held back too much by worrying about pandering to other people's opinions.
Part 6: Likes And Dislikes
70. What is/are your favorite hobbies and pastimes? I like wandering around and gathering stuff and finding treasure chests. And going fishing sometimes. And reading probably counts, even if it's just whatever books I come across during my adventures. Does rifling through people's dressers and safeboxes count? We could call that a pastime. Maybe the crafting I do, although that gets closer to feeling like work. 71. What is your most treasured possession? Probably my bow. It's gotten me through a lot. 72. What is your favorite color? Mmm... blue. 73. What is your favorite food? I eat a lot of braised rabbit with vegetables. It's surprisingly easy to scrounge up on the go. 74. What, if anything, do you like to read? I mostly pick up books here or there while I'm poking around places or hanging out in libraries in a new town. You can learn a lot about a place by seeing what books people have left lying around. 75. What is your idea of good entertainment (consider music, movies, art, etc.)? A good musician is always enjoyable. I like paintings sometimes too, as long as they aren't too pretentious. I haven't been to the theater very much but I think I would enjoy a play that told a good story. 76. Do you smoke, drink, or use drugs? If so, why? Do you want to quit? I'll have a drink every now and then, although I don't overdo it unless I'm having a drinking contest with a Nord or something. Smoking smells really bad and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be great for my lungs considering how much running around I do. Skooma really doesn't interest me, and I know enough to stay away from the dangers of anything addictive. 77. How do you spend a typical Saturday Loredas night? Honestly I hardly pay attention to what day of the week it is anymore. If this is about how I might unwind at the end of the week, I might try relaxing at a tavern listening to some good music. Or just finding a nice comfy bed and trying to get some sleep. 78. What makes you laugh? Besides Darien? I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor. At least when things aren't being all doom and gloom. Sometimes funny situations just pop up out of nowhere. And I can usually rely on some of my friends to know how to lighten a mood. Oh, and chickens running. That's hilarious. 79. What, if anything, shocks or offends you? My sensibilities have gotten a lot more jaded than they once were, but I'm still sometimes surprised by the depth of cruelty people can show and things like the way love can be twisted into bitterness and hatred. 80. What would you do if you had insomnia and had to find something to do to amuse yourself? I've done a lot of sitting and thinking on nights like that. I'm sure I could find more thinking to do. If I were going for amusement rather than philosophizing, I might hum to myself or see if there's a book lying around. 81. How do you deal with stress? It kind of depends. Sometimes I go fishing. Sometimes I go look for things to kill. Sometimes I just kind of throw myself onto whatever can pass for a bed and just hope it all goes away. And sometimes I take a deep breath, put on my "don't mess with me" face, and go get crap done. 82. Are you spontaneous, or do you always need to have a plan? I guess plans are good? I'd say I'd rather have a plan than not, but sometimes you just need to go where things are and do what needs to be done. I'm certainly content letting other people come up with the plans, as long as they don't seem like total suicide. And sometimes I go along with them anyway. (Gabrielle, I'm looking at you.) 83. What are your pet peeves? People taking me lightly tend to get under my skin. Lockpicks breaking at the worst possible moment. Those guards with lanterns getting in my way. Having to jump over a rock five times before I get my footing.
Part 7: Self Images And Etc.
84. Describe the routine of a normal day for you. How do you feel when this routine is disrupted? I'm not sure if I really have a "normal routine" every day, since I rarely know what any given day is going to bring. Go to a place, talk to people, see what they need, and go do it? That's about it. If something gets in the way of that, I just kind of take it as it comes and deal with that too. 85. What is your greatest strength as a person? Probably my determination and willingness to (try to) do the right thing even if it's hard or requires sacrifices. 86. What is your greatest weakness? My inability to entirely disengage myself from personal feelings like regret over the things I've had to do. 87. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? You mean besides giving myself the superhuman ability to make things just turn out the way I want them to? On a lighter note, I guess I'd maybe like to be a better dancer. 88. Are you generally introverted or extroverted? At my core, probably introverted. But I can deal with people perfectly fine when I need to. 89. Are you generally organized or messy? I try to at least keep track of the stuff I'm hauling around. It's harder to be messy when you don't stay in any one place for very long. I'd probably get lazier if I were just slouching at home. 90. Name three things you consider yourself to be very good at, and three things you consider yourself to be very bad at. Things I'm good at: shooting, helping people, and liberating things from their former owners. Things I'm bad at: translating ancient inscriptions without a guide, juggling (unless it's with enchanted daggers), and saying no when someone asks for help. 91. Do you like yourself? I... guess? Mostly? That's a hard thing to say. I certainly don't like certain aspects of myself, certain things I've done, certain things I wish I could have changed that I hope don't reflect too much on who I am as a person. There have been times when those things seemed much more a part of me than maybe they do now, when I would have said I was a poor excuse for a hero and not much of a decent human being either. But I think I've gotten past that now, knowing that people I care about believe in me, that I can make a difference even when things seem bleak. As long as I'm not giving up hope and still trying to do the best I can, I can be someone worth believing in. And that means something, right? 92. What are your reasons for being an adventurer (or doing the strange and heroic things that RPG characters do)? Well it wasn't something I set out to do intentionally, but when you get sold out to a cult and sacrificed and your soul gets stolen and this crazy old blind guy decides you're something special and you're pretty much destined to save the world, you kind of get set on a path that leads to you eventually saving the world. And since I didn't die in the process, here I still am doing what I can to keep saving the world whenever it becomes necessary, and in the meantime doing what I can to save little parts of the world, even if that's just helping someone find their lost dog or something. It's a thing to do, and fortunately I've gotten pretty good at it. 93. What goal do you most want to accomplish in your lifetime? It'd be great if I could accomplish getting Daedric Princes to stop trying to destroy or take over Nirn. Since that's not super likely to be achievable... I dunno, more little goals of trying to help people than one big massive accomplishment. 94. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Hopefully still alive and kicking, maybe still doing the hero thing, but maybe everything will be great and I won't need to be a hero anymore. ...But probably still doing the hero thing. 95. If you could choose, how would you want to die? If I could choose? Old and peacefully in my bed, knowing that the people I care about will be okay and that I've done what I needed to do with my life. 96. If you knew you were going to die in 24 hours, name three things you would do in the time you had left. 1) Round up everyone I care about and have drinks with them, with a special toast to the one who couldn't be there with us. 2) Write a letter to Darien with everything I could possibly think of that I would want him to know, and leave it in the place where I thought he'd be most likely to find it one day. Maybe I'd entrust it to Gabrielle. I'd have to think about that. 3) Do whatever I thought was necessary to make sure that Molag Bal didn't get his grubby grippers on my soul again. Or any of the other Daedric Princes, for that matter. If I'm going to die, I don't want any shenanigans going on. 97. What is the one thing for which you would most like to be remembered after your death? I'd like to be remembered as someone who made this world a little better. Maybe history won't record me as the great hero who saved the world, or maybe it will, but more importantly I'd like it if the people I met and helped remember that girl who did what she could to make things better for them in some way that made a difference. 98. What three words best describe your personality? Determined, resourceful, occasionally conflicted. 99. What three words would others probably use to describe you? Heroic, helpful, strong. 100. If you could, what advice would you, the player, give to your character? (You might even want to speak as if he or she were sitting right here in front of you, and use proper tone so he or she might heed your advice…) Be careful about beating yourself up too much. You already know that, I think, and you definitely know how much is out of your control and how little say you have over what it becomes necessary for you to do. You're doing your best, and you've come out of your trials stronger and with clearer eyes than before. Just keep doing what you're doing, and never give up on the people you love. (But you already know that too.)
You know what, I think Sotha Sil might have given me my House of Reveries name. Yes, I'm still thinking about that. At least I was thinking about it again just now. And Catalyst doesn't seem like such a bad name, does it? A person who makes things happen. Or things just happen around them whether they intend it or not. It's certainly fitting when you think about it that way. And it's a general personality trait, so it wouldn't matter what kind of performing I did. And people could call me Cat for short. Yeah, I kinda like it. Thanks, Sotha Sil.
I suppose it shouldn't come as any surprise that I haven't stopped thinking about what happened with the Daedric Princes. Especially since I learned about Meridia's true intentions toward her champion, the whole idea of what it means to be a Prince's champion has been weighing on my mind. Are they all just deceivers, just using those who represent them only to discard them when they're no longer sufficiently useful?
I guess I hadn't really thought about Princes having designated official champions before everything happened in Summerset. I mean there was a time I would have called myself Meridia's champion, since I took up her fight to oppose Molag Bal and stop the Planemeld. But obviously that was Darien's title, even before I ever met him, even before he knew it himself.
It makes a lot of sense, when I think about it, that Princes would have mortals working on their behalf here on Nirn. They certainly have active cults doing their bidding. But having one particularly strong or strong-willed mortal as a champion could be quite a power play.
I wonder how they chose their champions. Darien seems to think that Meridia brought him into existence to serve her, and Veya was called by Nocturnal after she had given up on everything else in her life. Leythen was probably similarly seduced after becoming disillusioned with the Psijics in the wake of his daughter's death. And all of them had whatever their Princes were looking for in a champion, and had proven themselves worthy of the title by the time we all came together on Summerset.
They were certainly devoted to their causes, from what I saw. Veya and Leythen believed in their Princes absolutely. They willingly served. To them, being their Prince's champion meant doing whatever they could to further their Prince's goals. And that's how it was with Darien too, while he was with me as Meridia's Champion.
Of course, just as Darien found out, the Princes may not be entirely forthcoming about what their goals really are. They may sow deception in order to reap loyal servants. I certainly don't believe that Nocturnal's true goals involved creating the utopia that Veya had bought into, and who knows what Leythen was led to believe by the Spinner of Secrets. Would they have served as faithfully if they had discovered, before it was too late, that their mistresses were faithless?
I find myself wondering if Darien is being punished for wanting to be free of Meridia's bonds of servitude. It's hard for me to understand why she would allow him to fade otherwise. Maybe if he just played along, she would have a reason to restore him and keep him around. Or maybe she figures he's served his purpose and she doesn't need him anymore. Just another thing to add to the parade of unanswered questions.
And then... you have me. The Champion of Coldharbour. It's what Meridia called me, and it's a title that makes sense to me given my pivotal role in the events that transpired in Molag Bal's realm. But I somehow doubt that Molag Bal, or any Daedric Prince for that matter, picked me out specially for some greater purpose when I was just a frightened kid who had somehow gotten myself sacrificed by a crazy cult. I suppose the Prophet saw something in me, that may have had something to do with visions of the future, but it certainly wasn't Molag Bal's idea to set me up as the hero who would one day defeat him.
So much has happened since then, it almost seems like a lifetime ago. But I can't be sure, deep down, if I've entirely left Coldharbour behind. Whispers come to me sometimes, echoes of the Planemeld. It's as if I can still hear the Lord of Brutality taunting me. But he's not predicting my defeat, or trying to break my spirit. He actually seems pleased that I've become so strong. As if I'll be of use to him. As if I'll come to serve his will.
He must know that I will never have any kind of allegiance to him. I may have been forged in the soulfires of Coldharbour, but it was for myself and my friends and my world, not for him. I only accepted the title of Champion of Coldharbour because to me it symbolized my victory over Molag Bal's domain.
After meeting three other Princes' champions, it occurred to me that I was different. They were their Princes' servants, and I was not. But now I can't help wondering how different I really am. If we're all just being deceived and used, then Molag Bal may think he does have some hold on me. And worse yet, the possibility I dread, is that I might actually be acting as his pawn in some way.
At whatever point he makes his intentions clear, he is not going to find me a willing participant in his schemes. He must know that. Maybe he's counting on it. He might even take pleasure in my defiance. Even now, it probably amuses him to know that just thinking about what he might have in store for me gets my blood running just a little hotter.
Well, enjoy it while you can, Molag Bal. If you've got something more in mind for Nirn and think you're going to be able to use me as your tool, you'd better have a damn good reason for me to go along with it. And in the meantime, I'll be making my own way whether you like it or not.
Oh no. Why did I have to look at that letter? Why did I even have to go poking around back in that little glade where there shouldn't have been anything interesting besides maybe a backpack to loot? Couldn't I have left well enough alone, at least until I've had some more time?
It's probably not something I should shy away from. I mean I've pondered lovers' sacrifices before. I just wasn't expecting it to come up again, so soon after... But one more good cry didn't really hurt me, did it. I've already accepted that it's not something I'm going to just get over overnight. This is just something I need to process.
It didn't seem so bad earlier when I met a woman who had been stricken with lycanthropy, whose fiance was beside himself that she would cause a scandal by running off with some Wood Elf. Her divided loyalties aside, she didn't want to return to him as she was. Not just because she disliked him as a person, and had never really wanted to marry him. But she knew there would be no place for her in Altmer society as a werewolf. She actually asked me to kill her, to end the existence that she couldn't see as anything but intolerable.
I didn't grant her wish. The choice of what to do with the rest of her life needed to be hers. I did take her signet ring back to her fiance, who decided that as far as the rest of the world needed to be concerned, his former intended had been killed in that grove. Rumors of a fling with a Wood Elf were bad enough for the reputation, but even a hint of lycanthropy would be catastrophic. And if there was one thing the man cared about more than preserving the marriage that he had been "working" toward for decades, it was preserving his own honor. And, I suppose, the honor of the woman he had been matched with.
He had tried to explain it to me earlier, since someone of my underprivileged race would surely not understand the complexities of Altmer matchmaking. It wasn't just a matter of finding someone compatible, falling in love, and agreeing to make a commitment. It was more like a long, grueling application process where experts needed to be consulted and every little detail about a person needed to be analyzed so that the perfect match could be procured. And then of course there were the negotiations, the evaluations of prospects, the deliberations about whether you can accept being wed to someone whose ears aren't as pointy as they could be.
It reminded me of a missive I had seen earlier, where an aunt was describing some potential suitors to her niece. It was all about pedigree, physical flawlessness, talents and temperament. The men she described didn't sound bad, but I have to wonder what it would be like to choose a mate the way you choose, I don't know, a horse or a place to live. Nothing to do with feelings, everything to do with facts and figures and other people's standards for getting the best you can get.
That was exactly what had happened with this ill-fated couple. They apparently made for a perfect match on paper, but the woman couldn't stand the man and all he really cared about was maintaining his status and finally getting the advantageous marriage he'd put so much effort into securing. It was miserable enough that the woman had wanted to leave everything behind to run away with someone she could actually care about. But everything had gone wrong.
I did feel sorry for her. Certainly more so than I did for her self-absorbed almost-husband. But in a way, aside from her having to manage her newfound lycanthropy, they both kind of came out of the situation the best they could. She won't have to marry a man she despises, and he can put on as much of a veneer of grief as he feels appropriate while his society is none the wiser about anything that would tarnish his reputation.
The letter I just delivered, that I can't stop thinking about, reminded me of that situation but in a different light. The man who wrote that letter seemed to truly love the person he wrote it for. Their engagement made him genuinely happy. She made him happy. And when he became afflicted with a blood-thirst that he could no longer control, his first thought was to protect her and both of their families.
And so he ran away from Lillandril, and ended up there in that glade where his life would ultimately come to an end. Wishing, to the last, that he could just see her face one more time, but knowing that he must deny himself that happiness for her sake. This was his final gift, the one greatest thing he could do for the woman he loved.
I'm not sure how long I sat there crying before I finally pulled it together enough to travel to Lillandril. The man had desperately wanted his beloved to read his letter, and so I was going to make sure she got it.
However I might have expected the woman to react, I think it's safe to say that I was more distraught over the man's fate than she was. At least she wasn't as callous about it as the werewolf's former intended, but once again she was mostly concerned with the practicalities of how things had turned out. I guess I should just expect that that's how it works here, where marriages are more like business transactions than lovers' unions. She still recognized the significance of his sacrifice, but that value came from his choice to go somewhere else to die with his shameful secrets preserved. He gave her the chance to pretend that his death had been an honorable one, and no one but me would have a reason to think otherwise.
It seemed unfortunate to me, that he didn't mean more to her. But maybe I'm just looking for an empathetic soul, someone who feels the same way I do right now. What if these people are better off keeping a safe distance around their emotional cores, shielding themselves from feeling devastated when someone close to them dies?
I mean we all know that death and loss are inevitable in this imperfect world, and not even Daedric Princes are going to change that. So would I be better off, if losing someone important to me didn't hurt so much? Would it be worth forcing myself to just not care?
Dammit, I'm going to cry again. No, I couldn't do that to him. Maybe it is a weakness of being an emotional creature. Maybe I can blame the shortcomings of my race. But Darien is more than a horse or a plot of land. ...Okay he'd laugh at me if he could hear me say that. But you know what I mean. If I have to feel this way for a little while, that's simply a measure of how much he means to me. And I have to say it would dishonor him to act like it was only about practicalities or pride.
But I really should work on this breaking down at the drop of a hat thing. It's not very heroic, is it. I'll... try to do better with that.
So I decided to stop by Artaeum again to see if the Dreaming Cave is operational yet. Spoilers, it isn't. They're working on it. Whatever.
Rather than just leaving in a huff, I decided to take the opportunity to wander around the island a bit. And I came across something I hadn't seen before during all the hustle and bustle of dealing with the Triad. Something that gave me some very interesting insight into the past, and the history of two very important mer.
I knew, of course, about Vanus Galerion having been part of the Psijic Order before he struck out to create the Mages Guild. And I sort of knew that Mannimarco had been involved with them too, before he set out to become the King of Worms. Thanks to a relic that revealed visions of long-past goings-on in a sealed vault, I have an idea of what led those two mer to their very different paths.
They were friends back in the day, perhaps having bonded over their superior intellect and skills. But Mannimarco's ambitions had a distinctly darker cast. I watched Vanus' growing concerns turn to aghast horror over the nature of his friend's experiments, turning beasts and even their own classmates into mindless thralls. It was a moral line that Vanus didn't want to get anywhere near, but Mannimarco only saw a pathway to the power he thought he deserved. And he wasn't going to let his friend or the Ritemaster or anybody else get in his way.
It led to his expulsion from the Order and exile from the island, which he saw as merely a stepping-stone toward introducing his brand of power to the mainland. I don't need to recount what that eventually led to, and I only hope that he's continuing to not enjoy his stay in Molag Bal's torture chamber.
I wonder how things might have been if Vanus or Iachesis had succeeded in stopping Mannimarco's work back then. Maybe the Planemeld never would have happened. The Worm Cult wouldn't have gotten off the ground, and all of those people (including myself) wouldn't have been sacrificed to fuel the Worm King's plot.
Or maybe he would have found a way to pursue his ambitions anyway, and if he couldn't master his necromantic arts under the Psijics' noses, he would have done it somewhere else. He doesn't seem like one to let a few setbacks hold him down for long. Would Vanus have been able to bring himself to kill his friend? Would he have been able to do it?
Hindsight is a pretty powerful thing, even as you know that nothing can be done about what happened in the past. I'm not going to be too hard on Vanus or anybody else for not taking Mannimarco out of the picture before he could become what he is now. I'm mostly just glad I won't have to deal with the Worm King ever again. At least I hope I won't...
Hey look, I helped out a pair of lovers who had kind of a tragic story and I managed not to blubber my way through it. And it didn't turn out as tragically as it could have! It's a good day!
I might have actually gone slightly overboard with the trying to help them have a happy ending. But I mean they were two people who truly loved each other, who had gone to great lengths to maintain a relationship despite everything else in their lives working to keep them apart, who were now trying to weather the greatest storm they had ever faced. How could I not want them to be okay in the end?
Things were pretty rough when I arrived on the scene. The stronghold of Sea Keep had been repelling would-be invaders from Pyandonea for millennia, but it had strangely been breached and routed in the middle of the night before the defenders could do anything about it. With the Maormer marauders occupying the keep, its commander was desperate to get back inside and mount a rescue.
But it wasn't just his surviving soldiers that Pandermalion was worried about. He revealed, once we were out of earshot of his subordinates, that the woman he loved was also being held inside the fortress. Before I could get too gung-ho about charging in after her, he further revealed that she was a Maormer... who was the captain of the crew that had taken over the keep... and the only person he had ever told about the secret back entrance that the invaders had used to get access to the place.
Well... that complicated things. I mean it wasn't Castire's idea to take over the keep, and she hadn't intended for her crew to drag her in chains to that secret door after she had signaled Pan for one of their clandestine meetings, but he wasn't wrong when he admitted that the break-in wouldn't have happened if he had put his duty first.
Under the circumstances, I wasn't going to tell him he was on his own, and as I got to know the two of them more I didn't come to regret my choice. Castire might have been the first Maormer I've met who wasn't either a smarmy bastard or outright trying to kill me. She was more pissed off about her crew's mutiny than anyone else, and she had no problem teaming up with a couple of her people's enemies to help us reclaim the stronghold.
Her pride as a Sea Elf was evident, though. There was no questioning her belief that her people were justified in their ages-old grudge against the mer who had sent them into exile. But in her eyes, Pan wasn't just another Altmer. He was someone special, who had become special to her over the course of their shared experiences. After gaining each other's respect as rival captains on the sea, they had found themselves clinging to the same chunk of wood after a spectacular shipwreck. Surviving together drew them closer, and they made vows to each other without knowing if they'd even make it back to friendly shores alive.
Continuing to meet meant risking everything they valued, given how their societies viewed each other. While Pandermalion did everything he could to keep his trysts under wraps, Castire had to hope that the loyalty of her crew would outweigh their aversion to being accomplices in a love affair that went far beyond treason.
Unfortunately that loyalty had given way to a desire to wipe away the taboo that they had been dragged into. Their revolt had already taken the lives of countless Altmer soldiers who knew nothing of their commander's indiscretions. And now the Maormer storm mage was preparing a massive onslaught that would level the fortress and take half of Summerset's southern coast with it.
As we went along trying to foil the Sea Elves' plan, both Pan and Cas showed traces of regret over what they had allowed to come to pass. If only they had parted ways after being rescued, if only they had been more mindful of their comrades, if only they hadn't been so selfish. If only they had realized that their love was an impossible dream, things never would have gotten to this point.
It didn't make me feel like I needed to cry, but I did kind of want to shout at them that they had something most people only dream of having, that had to be worth fighting for. I couldn't deny the tragedy that had befallen the keep, or fully absolve the two of them of their guilt over that tragedy, but the answer couldn't be to just throw away something beautiful or wish that it had never happened. It just couldn't.
After we found and defeated the storm mage, and the threat to Sea Keep and its environs had abated, the lovers found themselves at another turning point. They had put their trust in each other through this whole ordeal, once again not knowing if they'd be alive at the end of it, but willing to face the storm together. But now, with Altmer reinforcements on the way, the only way to preserve their respective ways of life was for Castire to disappear. Maybe this was their chance to do what they should have done all those years before.
Maybe that sentiment was true, but not in the way Cas might have originally thought. Their love might be an impossible dream as long as they clung to their old lives, but there still existed the possibility of forging a new life together, far away from age-old hatreds and expectations. There was much that they would be leaving behind, but they still had each other. They had their love. They had the chance to build a happy ending. And if they hadn't taken that chance, I probably actually would have cried.
There's no telling where the currents will take them after their swan-dive from the walls of Sea Keep. But they have the freedom now to follow that course, together. I hope the winds will be kind to them. And I'll try to take hope, wherever the currents of my own life lead me, knowing that love does sometimes find a way to win in the end.
After I finished up Summerset, and while waiting for Murkmire to arrive, I started doing some questing with a friend on a DC alt. Since I didn't start writing this thing until after I had finished the DC questline, I decided to take the opportunity to revisit some of those early events in Ilsabet's adventures. The continuation of the present-day story will have to wait a bit, but I think it'll be fun to get a glimpse of Ilsabet before she became a lovelorn badass action hero.
~~~~~WAVY FLASHBACK TRANSITION~~~~~
I don't know where I am. I don't know what to do. I'm sitting here hiding behind a tree wearing rags, surrounded by people I don't know. There are so many of them. Daggerfall is so huge. It's way bigger than even Aldcroft. I don't know anyone here or where anything is. That lady told me I should go find the ship captain who saved me, but I've been too scared to move from this spot.
Why am I here? Why did any of this happen? I don't remember dying. That's something you would remember, right? Maybe that was all a dream. That nightmarish prison full of zombies, and monsters, and crazy people with pots on their heads. That couldn't have been real, right?
But... if I didn't just escape from someplace called... Cold... something... Coldharbour, was it? Then where is everyone? Where's the boss and his lackeys, yelling at me that it's time to get started for the day? Why am I in this huge city, and not in the moors? Why can't I just be where I belong, back home? Why am I here, so far away from anything I've known, with no soul and no idea what's happening to me?
How do I get pulled into these things? Somehow I went from helping that ship captain find new people for her crew to deciding what to do with a huge weapon that could kill hundreds of people. Who thought I should be qualified to make that kind of decision?
Ah well, the decision is made, and I think I did the right thing. I guess I could see where Captain Kaleen was coming from, but even if the Redguard king would have good intentions, I just couldn't feel good about the idea of anybody enslaving dead warriors' spirits to fight for them. And who knows what might happen with the relic down the line. Somebody could steal it, or it could pass to somebody with worse intentions who would do who knows what with it. So I think it's better for it to just be gone.
I didn't expect Kaleen and Lerisa to react as harshly as they did. They even said they didn't know why they were ever friends with me. I mean Kaleen wouldn't even have a crew if I hadn't helped her out, but I sure wasn't going to say that to her face.
At least Jakarn is happy with me. Well and Lambur and Neramo and Master Kasan too. I was kinda worried when I didn't see Jakarn around after I destroyed the relic, but he and the others had just gone outside. I mean it's not silly to be worried about what he would think, right?
I think things will be okay. I hope. It's been a pretty tense voyage on the Spearhead, but at least Lerisa seems to be lightening up some, and I'm just kind of trying to avoid Captain Kaleen as much as I can. It's been funny watching Jakarn trying to manage his three girlfriends, and I think that big Nord guy is taking an interest in him too.
We'll see what happens once we get to Daggerfall. Hopefully it won't be as scary as it was the first time I was there. Maybe I can just kinda find a place to fit in and not get into any more trouble. I wonder if the stablemaster can use some hired help?
Okay this is crazy. What was I just saying about getting pulled into things? I was just walking around Daggerfall trying to get my bearings when this dog came up to me barking, like Butterball used to do whenever Jacob got his foot stuck in a rabbit hole, and the next thing I know I'm saving the King of Daggerfall from being killed by assassins. I mean the ACTUAL KING of Daggerfall. I'm not sure I could have told you who the King of Daggerfall was before now, but I just walked right into his castle with a captain of the guard, just in time to save him from the bad guys who wanted to kill him.
It was pretty intense. Even with the experience I've gotten with actual fighting recently, I wasn't sure I was going to make it out of that battle with the assassin leader. But somehow I got through it, and now King Casimir considers me a friend and I've got knights calling me the Hero of Daggerfall. If you had told me yesterday that this would happen today, I would have told you to roll over and go back to sleep.
It's got me thinking, though. I know it's the opposite of trying to keep my head down and live a quiet life, but maybe I should try traveling around a little bit and see what I run into. I've already heard about some trouble down south a ways and something in the woods up to the north. And the Prophet still wants to see me, if I can find him wherever he ended up after we fell out of Coldharbour. This big ol' city still feels pretty overwhelming, so maybe it would do me good to get out into the countryside for some fresh air. And maybe I'll find somebody who can use some help from a scrawny girl who's a decent shot with a bow.
Things seem to be a bit calmer in the woods now that we've pushed the corruption back. There still seem to be an awful lot of those big gross vines around, but I guess any progress is a good thing. The Wyresses seem happier, anyway. These cultists just keep coming, though. Whoever this Angof guy is, he's got an awful lot of people doing his dirty work.
I'm supposed to head to Aldcroft now. There's apparently something going on with werewolves in Camlorn, and there's somebody in Aldcroft who might be able to use my help. I can't shake the feeling that I'll need to be on my guard as soon as I get near the moors. If I'm lucky the gang won't care about me anymore since I went missing, but I'd really rather not run into them at all. It probably shouldn't be too hard to stay out of sight, since I know their usual routes and what to watch out for. And if I do run into trouble, I'm way better equipped to handle them now than I was before.
I guess the bigger question, once I get heading that way, is whether or not I should try going back home. I mean I guess that's always been a question, even before I realized that I'd be okay traveling around by myself. Doesn't it make sense to want to go back home, and be back with my family and friends? I do miss them quite a lot, like I have ever since the bandits got ahold of me. But whenever I think about just going back there and going back to my old life, I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like... something inside me doesn't feel quite right about it.
I mean I've been asked by a bunch of people to help them with things, some of which were a pretty big deal. Those visions the Prophet showed me, what he said about all of Nirn being in danger... that would be hard to ignore, even if there weren't also the matter of my soul being stolen. And even here closer to home, these Bloodthorn cultists could take over all of Glenumbra. Camlorn being overrun by werewolves sounds pretty serious too. Maybe it's not something that the Lion Guard can just go out and handle. Even though they should have plenty of people who are a lot stronger than me, maybe I can make some sort of difference, like I have been since I left Daggerfall. Maybe the world would be better off if I'm actively out here trying to help make things better, and not just puttering around in a little town that nobody's ever heard of.
...Wow, that came off way more high-falutin' than I intended it to. I mean I'm not trying to make myself out as some kind of hero who could save the world single-handedly or something. I just mean that maybe I could help make things a little better than they are now.
I'll keep thinking about it. We'll see how things go from here.
So much has happened so fast. It all started in Aldcroft, which didn't feel as big as I remembered it. I guess it has been a while since I was last there. The place had been swarmed with refugees from Camlorn, and even Duke Sebastien had joined them. Unfortunately, even though we were able to rescue him from the Bloodthorns, he hadn't been able to escape the lycanthropy. I should tell Alinon to try to get him a dose of his cure, although come to think of it I haven't seen Alinon since things calmed down in Camlorn.
Oh right, so Camlorn. It's funny, I remember wondering if I would ever in my life get to go there. I certainly never would have thought that if I did, it would be for something like this. Or that the entire place would be on fire and the people all scattered or dead. Or that I would be responsible for saving it from, of all things, an undead werewolf and his evil Reachman master. Who would believe that I could accomplish something like that?
Of course, I couldn't have done it alone. We wouldn't have even learned about Faolchu's weakness if it hadn't been for Gloria, and Gabrielle and her crazy magic powers made it possible to get into Cath Bedraud to go after Angof, and all of those people from the Lion Guard and the Mages Guild kept things from going totally haywire while I was focused on getting where I needed to be.
And then there was that captain of the Camlorn guard. He's... an interesting guy. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him when I first ran into him, but he ended up being more helpful than I might have expected after hearing him cracking all of those jokes when things were looking pretty dire.
I've been thinking, since meeting him, about how people act around other people, and how that might be different from how they are inside. I found a journal that belonged to him - don't tell him I said that - and it talked about dreams he's had, visions that matched what's going on now with what the Prophet called the Planemeld. Like he could actually see what was going to happen. He seemed pretty freaked out about it, but you would never know by looking at him. He just keeps cracking jokes and talking about women and looking forward to his next drink, and you'd think that he never takes anything seriously. But I also saw him trying to take care of the people of the city, and he seemed genuinely concerned about them. And while we were all in the belly of the catacombs in Cath Bedraud, everyone seemed to feel calmer with him around watching over them. His friend Alinon even said something about how "he's a better man than he pretends to be." Like he's a different person on the inside and just putting on some kind of act.
I'm probably thinking about this too much. If I'm being honest, though, I can kind of feel the same thing happening with me. I can feel myself acting braver than I really am, trying to match the confidence of the people around me, even though part of me still can't believe that I could be as strong as they are. When Darien brags about how good he is with the sword, it makes me want to show him how good I am with my bow. It might be easy to call it arrogance coming from him, until I see a similar bravado coming from me. And in both cases, it's kind of hard to tell how much of it is real.
I even told him I'd like to get a drink with him. I can't believe I actually said that! The real me would never do something that bold. Or maybe I should say the old me. I mean I am changing, that much I can tell. But it's not like I think anything is going to happen with Darien. He is funny, and I wouldn't mind the chance to get to know him better. But one drink doesn't really mean anything. I mean he's got more than enough women to keep him busy. It looks like Gloria is going to tag along with him, and I'm pretty sure he's going to have his hands full just with her.
I'm going to make my way toward Stormhaven now. Sir Lanis said they could use me up there. He seems to think things will be okay here in Glenumbra now that Angof is gone, and the Dragon Knights and the Lion Guard will be able to clean up what's left of the Bloodthorns and their vines. So it's off to see what craziness I can get involved in up yonder.
I wonder if we're going to have the chance for that drink before we go our separate ways. I'm probably not going to say anything about it if he doesn't bring it up. I wouldn't want him to get the wrong idea. Maybe I should just get going before anything gets awkward. I wonder if we'll run into each other somewhere again...
Well they sure weren't kidding about crazy stuff going on in Stormhaven. I haven't even made it past the first town and already we've got Daedric cults and slave traders. Sir Lanis could have warned me about what he was getting me into.
So far Stormhaven doesn't look too much different from Glenumbra. Walking the road from Crosswych, I couldn't even have told you where it switched over. But just about the first thing that greeted me when I got here were some cultists waving their hands around and summoning Daedra and tying people up to invade their dreams. These guys might be even freakier than the Bloodthorns.
They call themselves the Supernal Dreamers, apparently. I don't really know what supernal means, but they sure do like dreams. And messing with them. They even convinced Koeglin Village's constable that there was some big conspiracy going on, and got him so paranoid that he pretty much turned on the rest of the town. He even put a lady knight in the stocks because he didn't believe she was really a knight. I don't know what's going to happen to him now that he's the one in the stocks, but hopefully he'll calm down now that the Daedra (hopefully) won't be getting inside his head anymore.
The other end of Koeglin's troubles came courtesy of a gang of Dark Elf slave traders that had set up camp on an island just offshore and knocked out the lighthouse so they could wreck ships and scoop up the survivors. (I bet Crafty Lerisa would have a few things to say about that tactic.) In between trying to manage Constable Pascal's suspicions, I managed to put a dent in the slavers' operation, rescued a few captured townsfolk, and made friends with a ship captain and his crew. So overall it was a pretty good day's work.
I had kind of a strange feeling while I was dealing with the slavers. The way they were just grabbing people who strayed too far from their regular lives, it got me thinking about how the gang got ahold of me the one day I went off by myself away from what was familiar to me. I mean they didn't consider me a slave, not really, but it sure did change my life with no warning.
It also made me remember something I haven't really thought about since it happened. A man came to our camp to talk to the boss one day. He wasn't a Dark Elf, but he looked pretty seedy. Which, I guess, wasn't too unusual for people who did business with the boss.
The whole time he was there, I had this weird feeling like he was giving me the hairy eyeball. He even came over to me at one point, grabbed my wrist and pulled it upward, and started looking me up and down. Like he was inspecting me or something. It surprised me enough that I wasn't sure how to react, so all I really did was glare at him warily while I tried to decide if I needed to defend myself. The boss just laughed and told him not to be so rough, and then the man let me go and left the camp shortly after.
The experience kind of gave me the willies, but nothing really seemed to come of it. I think at the time I might have wondered if the man was interested in buying me, but as the weeks went by and he never came back, I guess I kind of put it out of my mind. I mean I made myself pretty useful, and the loot I brought in more than made up for the expense of keeping me around.
But I do wonder... The last thing I remember, my last night in the moors, was wandering past the boss' campfire and hearing something about a big deal going down soon. Now that I think about it, the boss had just come back from a meeting somewhere and seemed to be in a better mood than usual. But when they saw me looking at them, the boss and his mates seemed to kind of clam up, so I never got to overhear the details.
I wonder... could they have sold me off after all? Was it just to that Worm Cult that Lyris told me about, instead of to slave traders?
Brrrh. I'm not sure I want to think about it too much. It's not like I can change what happened or tell myself I should have seen it coming. Just gotta deal with how things are now. And right now, that means heading up to Alcaire Castle to check in on the trouble that Dame Dabienne was worried about.
So it's not just some random cultists that I'm dealing with. It's actual Daedric Princes.
Well I guess it's the cults of the Daedric Princes. But they make it sound like the actual Princes are the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes, sending their devotees out to orchestrate their plots for them. Things seem a lot more serious when I think about it that way.
I've had enough experience with Molag Bal to know that you don't take Daedric Princes lightly. The Prophet and I only barely escaped from the Wailing Prison, and Lyris' psyche was completely decimated before I managed to help her put the pieces back together. So if Vaermina wants to use her Supernal Dreamers to manipulate people's dreams and convince them to do atrocious things they would never consider if they were in their right mind, I'm going to have to be at the top of my game to stop them. Especially if she keeps sending these creepy Omen things that I'm going to have to keep defeating.
These dream worlds I keep getting sent into are pretty unsettling. They're real enough that you could believe they were authentic, but there's something very off about them. As an outsider being thrust into the nightmares-in-progress, it's easier for me to see the wrongness in them, but it isn't too hard to understand how someone could be gradually seduced into believing in everything they see and hear there. And it's creepy to think that that's enough to convince an otherwise rational person to wholeheartedly accept a twisted view of reality that would lead them to do something terrible with the belief that they were doing the right thing.
At least I have to believe that Sir Hughes would never have considered murdering Duchess Lakana if he weren't being controlled in some way, which is why I didn't order his execution. I know Duke Nathaniel isn't especially happy about that decision, but isn't there some value in hoping for redemption for someone who did something seemingly unforgivable?
Things got even more complicated after I arrived at Pariah Abbey. Turns out Vaermina isn't the only Daedric Prince moving and shaking in Stormhaven. I wouldn't have expected there to be an Azura cult right in the middle of High Rock, but there they were, quietly going about their business in their monastery - until the Supernal Dreamers decided to target them too. Seems Vaermina and Azura aren't on great terms. I wonder if they actually see each other in person and how it goes when they do. Maybe it's like when Ma and Mrs. Pearson used to pretend to be all polite to each other but you knew they were just waiting until the other one was out of earshot to start griping about all the little grudges they'd accumulated over the years.
But anyway. I took care of things for the Spirit Wardens, as best I could, and then Abbot Durak wanted me to go report on things to High King Emeric. I had to take a deep breath before I accepted the assignment, but I knew it had to be done and I might as well be the one to do it.
Wayrest is even bigger than Daggerfall, and even more confusing. I still don't really know where anything is. I just wander around and hope I get to where I'm going eventually. It also didn't help that when I got to what I thought was the edge of the city, it turned out I was actually in a place called Dreughside. Which was having an issue with dreugh, so I had to get that sorted out before I even got into actual Wayrest. (Side note, nobles, it's not okay to use beasties to kill off your townspeople because you're tired of being their lord or whatever.)
I finally did make my way to Wayrest Castle, and as nervous as I might have been about meeting High King Emeric, it didn't seem like that big a deal when I actually got to talking with him. Maybe getting used to this adventuring hero thing makes it easier to talk to important people, but he also seemed friendlier than I would have expected. Although he was also pretty grumpy about not getting enough sleep. But he seemed to already consider me a trusted friend, probably because he'd heard about what I've done to help at Alcaire and Pariah Abbey. And he definitely needed someone he could trust who could keep working on his behalf to stop the Supernal Dreamers and their agents.
Now that the Dreamshard is back in safe hands, hopefully he'll be able to rest a little easier. But we're not out of the woods yet. I'm going to head farther east and try to get this Daedric cult business put to bed for good. Well, the bad Daedric cults at least. The Azura folks seem okay.
Oh, and I ran into some familiar faces when my disoriented wanderings led me down to the Wayrest docks. The Spearhead was docked there, and I wandered on board to say hello, even though I predicted (correctly) that Captain Kaleen still wouldn't be happy to see me. Nicolene was even less happy to see me, since her two brothers were killed when the Aldmeri Dominion attacked near Daggerfall and she was sure that it wouldn't have happened if the Covenant forces had had that relic to use against the Elves. I felt sorry for her, but she didn't much want my sympathy, and it still wasn't going to convince me that I should have let anybody use that weapon to kill countless other people who were probably other people's brothers and sisters. So I just kind of awkwardly let her be while trying to be noncommittal.
It seemed like there were a lot fewer people on the Spearhead since the last time I saw her, and I found out why after I wandered onto what turned out to be Captain Marck's ship. Lambur's differences of opinion with Kaleen led her to strike out on her own, and several of the gang from Stros M'Kai and Betnikh went with her. They won't be able to afford their own ship any time soon, but signing on with Captain Marck will at least keep them sailing. At least it will when he gets done being drunk at the Cloudy Dregs...
I actually ran into Darien and Gloria again. They've been chasing coin and adventure across Stormhaven, and made it as far as Shinji's Scarp about the same time I was helping the Murtag Clan Orcs there. I tried talking Darien into helping me out with the ogre trouble, but it seemed there wasn't enough gold in it to interest him. That and he said something about the danger not sticking around for long now that I was on the scene. I guess that was his way of saying he knew I could handle it. Either that or he was just trying to be polite about ducking out of doing work.
Gloria seemed somewhat less enthused to see me. At least that was the impression I got. Seems like she's been kind of frazzled trying to keep up with Darien. I asked if the two of them were an item now, which I guess was kind of a cheeky thing to say, but it was pretty funny watching her insisting that she had no interest in him and he needed a babysitter more than a wife. So maybe I was a little bit off the mark when I predicted that he'd be the one having his hands full with her.
I didn't hang around long before I had to get back to work, but it was nice seeing another couple of familiar faces. Between them and the Spearhead gang, it almost makes it feel like the world isn't that big after all.
I'm trying to think of what I'm most afraid of. What kind of reality, confronting me within a dream, would paralyze me so much that I would give up on everything else?
It's hard to imagine being more scared than I was after I fell out of Coldharbour. But how many dangerous things have I faced since then, and here I still am? I guess it was the uncertainty of it all, having my bearings completely swept away and feeling more alone and lost than I've ever been. But the farther I've come since then, the more I've felt like I could handle what comes my way. Like maybe I'm actually becoming the hero I've been trying to be.
But what if all of that, everything I've accomplished, was exposed as a lie? What if the person I think I am was just a fraud? And the people I thought were my friends were just hiding their spite, pretending to support me while they prepared to stab me in the back?
It's hard to think about something like that being true. But how much harder must it have been for High King Emeric, who has accomplished so much more than I ever have? He's the ruler of all of High Rock, the creator and leader of the great Daggerfall Covenant, who united old enemies under one banner and may yet lead them to the foundation of a new empire. He's one of the most powerful men in the world, with a loving wife, devoted subjects, and strong allies. He has, and is, so much more than most people could ever dream of.
And yet his dreams turned into nightmares of self-doubt and self-loathing. For Vaermina, it wasn't enough to send her minions to mess with the king's subordinates and allies. She had to send her own consort to turn Emeric's successes against him, making him believe that everything he had done was built on lies.
His queen didn't love him, she reviled him and rued their marriage. General Godrun had only gotten close to him so that he could strike him down and provide the Covenant with a worthy ruler. The people who had looked up to him were cursing his name as they were sacrificed in the streets. Everything was helplessness and despair.
The Emeric I met in his dream world had already given up on everything he had been. He stood at the guillotine that he himself had prepared for his kingdom's traitors, resigned to a traitor's death as one unworthy to inhabit the life he had been leading. His eyes and his voice were both weighed down with despair as he rebuffed my attempts to break the dream's hold on him. In his mind, the peace of death was the only salvation he could hope to find. Hope itself was only another betrayal waiting to happen. And he was only a shell of a man, living a farce of a life that never should have belonged to him. That was what he truly believed.
But I didn't. I knew the man he really was. Even if I was no one special, even if I hadn't known him very long, I had seen enough to know he was a good man and a strong leader. I believed in him, even if he couldn't believe in himself. And as long as I had the strength not to give up, I wouldn't let him give up either.
The visions of betrayal and loss were certainly compelling. Wayrest under siege would be a terrifying sight for anyone. Remembering how easily Sir Hughes, Count Hosni, and General Godrun succumbed to the pull of corruption made their appearances even more sobering. But real or apparitions, I wouldn't let them stand in the way of saving my king.
When I confronted Vaermina's consort in the king's throne room, he already considered it to be his throne room. He was looking forward to finishing me off and spreading the news of my gallant sacrifice for his sake. I can only assume he wasn't expecting me to put up as much of a fight as I did, and his "reign" was suitably short-lived.
I returned to the guillotine ready to have to try once more to convince King Emeric to trust me. But with the dream's spell broken, he was already beginning to come back to himself. It was a slow dawning of realization, that he could still be the person he had wanted to be. That his life was his own. And I was relieved to see that he was beginning to embrace that reality, once he allowed himself to believe it would be okay.
That's what's most important, isn't it? Even when we're scared, even when we're not sure we can handle what's coming, we can't lose sight of that hope. That there's always a chance for things to be okay. And even if we can't handle everything alone, there might be someone a little stronger there ready to help. This time, that just happened to be me.
Now that things are pretty much back to normal here, the High King wants me to head up to Rivenspire. It's looking to be a political mission, rather than something involving monsters or cults. I'm not sure how much of a diplomat I am, but as always I'll do my best.
I sure was right about the world not being that big. I've barely gotten started in Rivenspire, and already I think I've seen more people I already knew than people I didn't.
Passing through Oldgate from Alcaire, who did I see waving at me but one Darien Gautier. Gloria was conspicuously absent, but before I could come up with a tactful way to ask about her, Darien started in telling me about his latest exploits. And it turns out they're pretty closely related to the situation High King Emeric wants me to look into.
Which, as it further turns out, has escalated into a full-blown civil war. I was expecting some squabbling between nobles, but one of them has actually turned his army on the others and has taken half the city of Shornhelm hostage.
It was a good thing I had Darien to fill me in on the conflict, or I probably would have just run right into the middle of things without having any idea what I was getting myself into. He's put his sellsword services to work in the employ of a Countess Tamrith, the current head of one of the three noble houses that's been sharing rule of Rivenspire since the end of Ranser's War. Things had apparently been going along well enough, despite some tensions between the houses, until Baron Montclair decided that he wanted to be King of Shornhelm and he wasn't going to let anyone tell him no.
It was like Ranser's War all over again, or so it seemed to Darien. I wasn't really old enough to be paying attention back then, but he seemed to remember it pretty well. And he was looking forward to heroically rescuing Rivenspire from its latest tyrant and impressing all the ladies. Including, I suppose, his smart and pretty employer.
I probably shouldn't be surprised that he has his eye on her, although he at least seems to be trying to keep it professional. So far. I'll be interested to see how that goes, knowing how he operates.
Of course, I haven't even met the Countess yet, but that's not because I've been lazy about getting over to her. The first thing I ran into, on my way up toward Shornhelm, was a farm that had been overrun by bloodfiends. They reminded me of the zombies from Glenumbra, but with more of a thing for blood. And apparently it's relatively easy to get turned into a bloodfiend yourself, if you get too close and they get a good scratch in. Wielding a bow has its advantages in situations like that, I have to say. I had to put down a couple of members of the farm family who were beyond saving, and I hope that the healer I spared will be able to manage her new condition without harming anyone else.
I must have gotten a bit discombobulated from there, since the next thing I knew I was off in the puckies somewhere trying to fend off harpies. Before I could say "man, I wonder what Bumnog and his gang are up to," there was Bumnog himself, still in the harpy-fending business, and not a whole lot better at it than when I met him and the Daggers in Glenumbra. Except they're not the Daggers anymore, I guess, since apparently somebody else in Rivenspire already has that name. But either way, we managed to sort of take care of the harpy problem for those horse nomads, and I put in a good word for the boys in the hopes that they'll get their act together eventually without me needing to keep bailing them out.
And then, once I finally made it into Shornhelm and had started looking around, I saw Nicolene standing in the tavern. I don't think she noticed me at first, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to talk to her, but she looked kind of distressed so I finally decided to see what was wrong.
I wouldn't say she was happy to see me, but at least she didn't bite my head off. She was worried about Kaleen, who had gotten into some kind of espionage mission assigned by the Redguard king. It was past their planned meeting time, so Nicolene couldn't help worrying that something had happened to her captain. And despite our old tensions, I couldn't help offering to look into things just in case Kaleen was actually in trouble.
That little assignment to keep track of a suspected Redguard traitor led to the discovery of a plot to poison Shornhelm's water supply to stir up enmity between the Redguards and Bretons. And one thing we could all agree on was that it needed to be stopped. The fact that we got to off the traitor in the process was a bonus for Kaleen, I suppose.
I don't know if Kaleen has rethought whether she can consider me a friend now, but she has cooled it a bit with the hostility. It will be good to know there are some familiar folks in town if things get hairy with this whole political thing. Although, I think I'd probably be looking for Darien first if I needed backup.
Speaking of which, I'd better finally get over to that chapel. Let's see what this Countess Tamrith has going on.
One side effect of this hero thing is that I keep having to make tough choices. I guess that's nothing new, given what I had to do on Betnikh. But it's harder when there are personal things at stake for other people. I mean I guess that decision had a personal effect on Nicolene, but I didn't know about her brothers at the time, and the stakes were so big that I don't think I could have been swayed from doing what I thought was right.
I guess I'm thinking about this more now because of what I saw in Verandis' memories. He was put into a difficult position too, more than once, and he had to try to do what he thought was right in the face of a valued friend pressing him to bow to his wishes. I can understand Baron Montclair desperately wanting to save his wife, but Verandis was in a position to see how Montclair's emotions were clouding his judgment - first in demanding that Verandis share his vampirism with the baroness, and then in allowing Reezal-Jul to manipulate him for his own nefarious purposes.
As a side note, Verandis and his proteges are certainly challenging my notions about what vampires are like. I guess I haven't run into too many of them so far, but the ones I have seen were definitely monsters. But Verandis and Gwendis and Adusa-daro are perfectly rational, personable people, even if their dining habits are a bit... odd.
I think that knowledge that vampires can be good people influenced my decision to spare Captain Janeve after she was turned. If I thought that was a difficult decision for me, the person who felt it most agonizingly was Countess Tamrith. Darien wasn't kidding about the Countess being religious, and she has always firmly believed that vampires and their undead ilk are abominations in the eyes of Arkay. As much as she loved her sister, as devastated as she was to lose her, it was in some ways harder for her to acknowledge the "monster" before her as her sister. And I can only imagine how hurtful that must have been to Janeve, who insisted that she still was herself, even as she grappled with her sudden and forced change.
Having everything you believe in challenged, because someone you love has become something you abhor. Being pushed into doing something that may have dire consequences, because in a moment of desperation you can no longer resist the urgings of someone for whom everything is at stake. And then having to live with the consequences of whatever comes out of those scenarios that you never asked to be in.
I can see Verandis trying to make amends for his role in what happened on the Doomcrag. He knew that his vampirism would react weirdly and possibly badly with the power of the Ayleid relic, which is why he had no intention of taking part in Reezal-Jul's ritual. But he did, after all, and now all of Rivenspire is feeling the aftershocks of the Montclair family's foray into vampirism. Whether he truly deserves blame for what happened or not, he is doing what he can to stop his former friends and save this land from further devastation. And I find that commendable.
What Countess Tamrith does from here remains to be seen. She still seems to be teetering between revulsion and relief when it comes to her sister. But above all she is looking ahead to what she and her allies must do to stop Baron Montclair.
And me? I'm taking an introspective look at my own choices, considering how what I do affects those around me and the world beyond. I mean the big choices are fairly obvious, like how Countess Tamrith will have to cope with my decision to spare Janeve. But now that I'm thinking about it, there are smaller things too that I might not have even noticed at the time.
Like today, when I came across Darien on the ground outside that cave, I stopped to talk to him and make sure he was all right instead of immediately running after Captain Janeve. Even as he insisted that his wounds weren't bad and saving Janeve was the higher priority, in some ways I was more concerned about my hurt friend than about going after someone I barely knew. It didn't seem like I was lingering too long, but was it selfish of me? If I had gotten into that cave sooner, would I have been able to stop Reezal-Jul? Was Captain Janeve turned because of my hesitation?
It's easy to blame myself, and it's easy to make excuses. I think maybe the right path lies somewhere in the middle. As long as I'm trying to do the best I can, I don't need to beat myself up too much when things go wrong. And then I can do my best to make things right, like Verandis is doing now.
I guess that's all part of being a hero too. I just hope it doesn't get too much harder from here.
Okay this is a new one. Today I passed through Hoarfrost Downs, for what I thought was going to be a quick stop on the way to meet with Verandis, and I ended up being there for the rest of the day helping this lady from the Shornhelm Guard convince some new recruits to join their ranks. It wasn't so bad when I was finding out that one guy's father was the war hero who took down Ranser at the height of his madness, or fighting a former bandit's boyfriend to win a bet to get her to join. The third prospect, though, that was where things kind of went off the rails...
The fellow had been trying for years to woo his childhood friend, convinced that she was the only woman for him. And he wouldn't even think of leaving town without getting an answer from her. But after knowing him for so long, she found him awfully boring. She liked him, but she wanted to feel excited when she thought of the man she loved. She wanted her pulse to race and her stomach to feel all fluttery. But he was just... kind of there. And she wasn't going to tie herself down to someone who was just kind of there, if it meant missing out on that exciting kind of love.
So, the guy needed some kind of display of affection to prove that he could inspire those passionate feelings. And my job depended on helping him do it. Because, you know, I'm totally a guru on getting a girl to fall in love with you.
Well hey, it wouldn't be the first time I've done something I wasn't really qualified to do. And why should this be so much harder than fighting fearsome monsters or outwitting Daedric Princes?
I mean I'm a girl too, so that was a place to start. What would make me fall in love with someone? I mean it would probably be about who he is as a person, maybe if I found him handsome, but mostly if he was just the kind of person who seemed special somehow and just made me feel that way about him. That's um... not very specific, is it. I'd probably have to admire him, and I'd just want to be around him a lot. He'd be someone I could feel comfortable with, like we could just sit around and talk and not worry about having to prove anything to each other. Maybe we could go on adventures together and we'd be a good team. That's important, I'd want to feel like we worked well together. Like he wasn't all bossy and didn't assume I couldn't do anything, but he could do stuff too and we could watch out for each other. And he wouldn't be whiny or prissy and we'd just do what we needed to do. And then at the end of the day we'd go home and just sit together and talk and laugh and fall asleep together. That would be nice, wouldn't it.
So um... I'm not sure if any of that actually helped with the current situation. I mean none of those things are particularly showy, and what this guy needed was one big gesture to make his lady love feel all fluttery. Maybe I could set up an adventure for the two of them, so he could impress her with his prowess or something? But um honestly, he didn't really seem like the adventuring type. I certainly wouldn't say he inspired much of anything in me. So maybe it was a better idea to think about what the lady liked, and try to come up with something that would especially appeal to her.
Fortunately, when I quizzed the man about his ideas, he was already sort of thinking along the same lines. He wanted to do something romantic and unique, that would convey the depth of his feelings for her. He was thinking maybe a big bouquet of flowers, or a piece of jewelry, or a heartfelt poem. Those all seemed like pretty good ideas. Just to be on the safe side, though, I decided to ask a few folks around town what they thought she would like.
The lady's brother already wasn't a fan of her suitor, and when I admitted that I was trying to help him out, he told me emphatically that she just looooved flowers. There was something a little shifty about his tone, though, so I wasn't so sure about that. Another man noted that the woman liked to go to the tavern to hear minstrels, so that made the poem idea sound pretty good. And someone else thought she was only interested in money and was probably waiting for someone to shower her with expensive gifts like jewelry.
I decided, after some reflection, to recommend the poetry route to my partner in courtship. Of course, it then became my job to come up with something for him, since he didn't actually know any poems. Another round of townsfolk-querying later, I had a few suggestions, and I found myself inclined to agree with the woman who felt that poems should come from the heart in a way that would express one's own feelings. You could borrow words from someone more eloquent, but really, isn't it what's truly inside that's most important? Wouldn't I want to know a man's true self, more than some superficial attempt to be flowery?
Of course, there was still the issue of this particular man's true self being kind of uninspiring. But if his feelings for her were really that strong, then surely putting them into words wouldn't be hard for him. And I was interested in seeing what he came up with.
In retrospect, I probably should have seen the warning signs, like when he insisted that he would put on a grand presentation in front of the whole town, and when he decided that he would improvise his poem on the spot instead of writing something down ahead of time. But seeing him so fired up, I wasn't about to quell his enthusiasm, and of course I hoped for the best on his behalf.
He called the lady out, and in front of everyone gathered around, he proclaimed his true feelings. Which, in his unprepared state, amounted to narrating her descent down the stairs and then wondering if she'd forgotten to brush her hair. I mean... at least it rhymed? But it also completely offended and embarrassed her, and she told him in no uncertain terms to go away.
The poor guy was heartbroken, but he also acknowledged that maybe he should have planned better. Honestly my thought on the whole thing, especially given the woman's high opinion of herself, was that he was probably better off without someone so high-maintenance. But he swore that he could never love again if he couldn't have someone like her. I actually started to feel bad for him, the way he seemed so genuinely hurt and hopeless. But... I also pointed out that he could find a place in the Shornhelm Guard, and he reckoned that if he wanted to die anyway it might as well be for a good cause.
So... success? For the Guard, at least. And maybe the guy will still be better off. The thought occurred to him, as he marched off behind his new captain, that getting some military experience might make him seem like more of a catch in a few years. So maybe he has that to look forward to.
In the meantime, though, there is one thing he said that I can agree with. This whole love thing is pretty complicated.