Grazhir :: Crossover :: Diagonal :: 08

 

Part II
Cyrodiil

 

“By the way… Do you happen to know what the fine is here in Cyrodiil for necrophilia? Just asking.”

08: Distant Abyss

He knew he was dreaming when he realized he was seeing events from a peculiar, higher viewpoint, and more importantly that Squalo, who had arrived to oversee Filigrana, had been chibified and that his mobile phone was then ludicrously large in his tiny hands as he made a call. Thankfully, speakerphone existed as an option. Nana and the children were nowhere to be seen as Squalo ranted in the general direction of his phone, only to be told that all the top Varia were chibified.

“Well what the fuck are we going to do!?” Squalo roared.

“Don’t you fucking yell at me, trash!” Xanxus roared back. “I called Enrico and told him what happened and to send Federico over as the new Varia Sky. He can figure it the fuck out. We’re packing up and as soon as he gets here we’re moving to Filigrana.”

“Wait… We’re sticking with this place?”

“Are you deaf, trash!? I just said we were. So make sure a room is ready for me. The others can sort themselves out for all I care.”

“Right, on it, boss.” Squalo stared at his phone for a moment after Xanxus hung up, then scowled and slammed his hand against the table surface, making the phone jump.

*

“Where the hell are we?” Renato muttered.

Kiri looked around with interest and saw some odd white-ish ruins a bit north of them, a large lake with a fair-sized walled city on an island at its center, plenty of trees and other greenery, and absolutely nothing that would suggest technology. The nearby road showed signs of passage, but the traces were so narrow he had to assume a cart was involved, not a car.

Lorenzo had a hand to his chest and his expression was one of mourning, possibly over the obvious lack of power poles or lines.

Kiri coughed to get their attention and said, “Are you too disoriented to have not noticed you’re back in adult forms?”

Renato blinked and brought his hands up to stare at them, then threw back his head and laughed. The others had similar reactions, though Rio grabbed Lal and swung her around exuberantly. Eventually Renato repeated his question and added, “And where the fuck is Sora?”

“Oh, did I forget to mention?” a familiar voice said.

Kiri whipped around to see Sheogorath standing there, idly swinging his cane. “Yes?”

“Your little—well, not so little now, is he?—friend is presently scheduled to be a hero to this fine land,” Sheogorath said breezily. “Right at the moment he’s stashed away in a prison cell in the city, all so can take a meeting with destiny.”

“What!?” Val shrieked.

“But if you all wait here, he’ll be along shortly.” Sheogorath inspected his fingernails. “Assuming the goblins don’t kill him. But he’s very skilled, I’m sure, so it’ll be fine.”

“So you’re saying that Sora, along with half our supplies, is currently in prison,” Kiri commented.

“Yes, old boy! Now, I should like to be helpful and point out that he should emerge from that grate over there—” He waved his cane toward the city. “—and be able to swim over to you. Hopefully he won’t dawdle in the water, as the slaughterfish do so like to bite people.

“As well, there’s an inn on the other side of the lake, outside the city, that I think may be suitable for you lot, but I’ll leave the decisions and negotiations to you.” Another portal appeared and Sheogorath vanished through it.

“Well, shit,” Renato muttered. “Anyone remember where we stashed the bottled water? Because I’m not drinking out of that lake.”

Val sighed. “Renato, will you enhance your eyes and see if you can find the grate he mentioned?”

“Right.” Renato took a breath and started scanning the island’s waterline, then pointed. “There. By that dock. We should probably wait over by those ruins.”

*

When he woke he was very uncomfortable. A moment to open his eyes revealed a semi-dim stone room. Considering he was lying on a stone outcropping, it was no wonder he felt achy. Metal gate doors were off to the side and he could see someone moving around in the cell across the corridor. He got up and went to peer out, but that attracted the attention of the opposite cell’s occupant.

“Pale skin, snotty expression,” the man said. “You’re a Breton!”

‘Eh?’ he thought.

“The masters of magicka, right?” The man made a rude noise. “Nothing but a bunch of stuck-up snobs with cheap parlor tricks. Go ahead, try your magicka in here. Let’s see you make those bars disappear. No? What’s the matter? Not so powerful now, are you, Breton?”

Sora eyed the man, his ragged clothing and decorations of dirt, then glanced up and down the stone hallway. Torches provided flickering and uncertain light.

“You’re not leaving this prison ’til they throw your body in the lake. That’s right, you’re going to die in here, Breton!” the man crowed. “You’re going to die!”

Sora rolled his eyes and decided to wait a bit. Once the prisoner went to sleep he could simply harmonize through the bars, cloak himself with illusion, and find his way out.

“Hey, you hear that? The guards are coming … for you!” The man giggled a bit madly and pressed up against the bars.

He moved to get a better view as he heard, “Baurus! Lock that door behind us!”

“My sons,” said a man with a cultured voice. “They’re dead, aren’t they?”

“We don’t know that, Sire. The messenger only said they were attacked.”

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought and stepped away from the bars. ‘What the hell is going on? And why am I in a prison to begin with? Where is everyone else?’

“No, they’re dead. I know it,” that cultured voice said as a man dressed in heavy armor appeared in front of his cell.

“My job right now is to get you to safety,” a woman said. “What’s this prisoner doing here? This cell is supposed to be off-limits.”

Sora eyed the newcomers. Another armored man, the woman, who was also armored, and an older man in stately red robes with fur trimming.

“Usual mix-up with the Watch. I—”

“Never mind that,” the woman said. “Get the gate open.”

Sora stepped back again and bumped into a small wooden table as one of the guards told him, “We won’t hesitate to kill you if you get in our way. Stand aside, over by the window. Stay out of the way and you won’t get hurt.”

Only once he was at the far wall, the one with the window, did the guard open the cell. The four of them entered and advanced. The woman went to his right and did something to the wall. A secret passage opened and the other three approached.

The robed man, however, stopped once he was in the light. “You… I’ve seen you…”

Sora furrowed his brow as the man stepped right in front of him. He was wearing a large diamond-shaped amulet of gold around his neck. Gems studded the outer edging, but the central mass was a huge red jewel, like a ruby, except that it sparkled with an inner fire.

“Let me see your face… Yes, you are the one from my dreams. Then the stars were right, and this is the day. Gods give me strength.”

‘Why do I have this awful feeling that Sheogorath put me here exactly for this? I knew there had to be a price involved aside from giving the Lord of Madness amusement.’

“Assassins attacked my sons, and I’m next. My Blades are leading me out of the city along a secret escape route. By chance, the entrance to that escape route leads through your cell. Perhaps the gods have placed you here so that we may meet. As for what you have done … it does not matter. This is not what you will be remembered for.”

‘Right,’ he thought, still mystified. “Who are you?” he asked softly.

“I am your emperor,” the man replied. “Uriel Septim. By the grace of the gods, I serve Tamriel as her ruler. You are a citizen of Tamriel, and you, too, shall serve her in your own way.”

His brow went up in disbelief.

“You will find your own path,” Septim said. “Take care. There will be blood and death before the end.”

“Please, Sire, we must keep moving,” the woman urged.

The party moved off through the secret passage, leaving both it and the cell open.

He huffed. If he followed them, he would likely emerge outside the city—assuming the emperor knew what he was talking about.

“You lucky bastard!” was hissed from the cell opposite.

Cashew chittered and emerged from his hair, then jabbed a paw at the tunnel.

“Has Sheogorath been telling you things?” he asked softly. “There are times when I really wish you could talk.”

Cashew pointed again and tugged on his hair.

“All right, all right.” It was only then that he realized he was in adult form again, and laughed breathlessly as he followed after the emperor’s party.

The path itself was fairly straightforward. He was stopped at a locked door along the way and noticed a broken wall, so he took that rather than try to harmonize through the wood. Bodies littered the path to that point, all but one of them dressed in red robes and hoods.

The new area was dimly lit, sported rats and some very odd horned creatures that walked on two legs and sent what he could only assume was magic at him, not to mention more than a few skeletons. The chests and crates he came across held an assortment of goods, but he mostly contented himself with taking gold coins and gems. There were also numerous species of plants, though most were varieties of mushrooms.

Eventually he found himself back in the original structure, through another handy break in a wall, and heard the emperor’s party again.

“We should find a defensible spot and protect the emperor until help arrives,” a man said.

“Help? What makes you think help will get here before more of those bastards?” another rebutted. “We need to get the emperor out of here!”

As Sora drew closer he heard the emperor say, “Have you seen the prisoner?”

“Do you think he followed us? How could he?”

“I know he did.”

“Sire, we have to go now.”

“Not yet. Let me rest a moment longer.”

‘He’s waiting for me specifically,’ he thought as one of the guards tried again to get the man moving and was put off. That being so he slipped down off the ledge he was on and down to the same level.

“Damn it,” a guard said and started to advance. “It’s that prisoner again. Kill him! He might be working with the assassins.”

“No,” the emperor said calmly and raised a hand. “He is not one of them. He can help us. He must help us.”

Sora eyed the guard who was seconds away from trying to run him through with a blade, but the man backed off before he was forced to defend himself.

“Come closer,” the emperor said. “I’d prefer not to have to shout. Don’t be afraid. My guardians will not harm you.”

He sighed and approached the emperor. The man looked resigned, weary, and heartbroken.

“They cannot understand why I trust you. They’ve not seen what I’ve seen. How can I explain? Listen. You know the Nine?”

‘No…’

“How They guide our fates with an invisible hand? I’ve served the Nine all my days, and I chart my course by the cycles of the heavens. The skies are marked with numberless sparks, each a fire, and every one a sign. I know these stars well, and I wonder … which sign marked your birth?” The emperor gave him a searching look. “The signs I read show the end of my path. My death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”

‘Again, he’s making no damn sense,’ he complained. “And me?”

“Your stars are not mine,” Septim said with a bare shake of his head. “Today the Thief shall guide your steps on the road to destiny.”

‘The Thief? Was that part of his dream, too, or just a guess? Because I have no clue what the hell he means.’ For a lark he asked, “Can you see my fate?”

“My dreams grant me no opinions of success. Their compass ventures not beyond the doors of death. But in your face, I behold the sun’s companion.”

He twitched, thinking of Renato.

“The dawn of Akatosh’s bright glory may banish the coming darkness. With such hope, and with the promise of your aid, my heart must be satisfied.”

“And you?”

“No trophies of my triumphs precede me. But I have lived well, and my ghost shall rest easy. Men are but flesh and blood. They know their doom, but not the hour. In this I am blessed to see the hour of my death. To face my apportioned fate, then fall. I go to my grave. A tongue shriller than all the music calls me. You shall follow me yet for a while, then we must part.”

The emperor turned away toward the exit and a dark-skinned guard shoved something at Sora. “You may as well make yourself useful. Here, carry this torch and stick close.”

He took it and followed when they departed. He could always use it to set things on fire if necessary. The emperor’s idea of “a while” was different from Sora’s, as it was the very next room where the way forward was barred and locked. There was another gate off to the side, that one open, and the guards went ahead to scout the route.

Sora stuck by the emperor, who said, “My guards are strong and true, but even the might of the Blades cannot stand against the Power that rises to destroy me.”

‘I’m not so fond of fatalists.’

“The Prince of Destruction awakes, born anew in blood and fire. These cutthroats are but his mortal pawns. Take my amulet,” Septim said as he pulled the chain up over his head. “Give it to Jauffre. I have a secret son, and Jauffre alone knows where to find him. Find the last of my blood, and close shut the marble jaws of Oblivion.”

‘Sheogorath mentioned Oblivion…’ “Then this is good-bye?”

“This is where my journey ends. For you, though, the road is long and dangerous. Here, give me your hand.”

Sora accepted the amulet and tucked it away inside his clothing for the moment. “I will remember you,” he said, mainly to be polite.

“Remember me, and remember my words. This burden is yours alone. You hold our future in your hands.”

The back wall of a nearby niche shifted just then and revealed itself as another secret. But from it boiled two red-garbed assassins who threw themselves at Septim, who had the misfortune to have his back to the thing. He was down and dead before Sora could blink, but he jerked into action and shoved his torch into one face, then the other, as the dark-skinned Blade raced in.

“No… Talos save us,” he said as he crouched by the emperor’s corpse. “We’ve failed. I’ve failed. The Blades are sworn to protect the emperor, and now he and all his heirs are dead.” The Blade whipped his head around to stare at Sora. “The amulet. Where’s the Amulet of Kings? It’s not here.”

He heaved a faint sigh and said, “The emperor handed it to me, to deliver to some fellow named, um, Jauffre?”

“Strange,” the man said as he stood back up. “He saw something in you. Trusted you. They say it’s the Dragon Blood that flows through the veins of every Septim. They see more than lesser men. But why would he want you to give it to Jauffre?”

Sora bit his lip. If only Jauffre knew about the other son, should he really be saying something to a guard whose name he didn’t even know? “Do you know who this Jauffre person is?”

“He’s the Grandmaster of my Order,” the Blade replied. “Although you may not think so to meet him. He lives quietly as a monk at Weynon Priory, near the city of Chorrol.”

“And to get there?” he asked, more than a little surprised that this Blade was so accepting.

“First you need to get out of here. Through that door must be the entrance to the sewers, past the locked gate. That’s where we were heading. It’s a secret way out of the Imperial City. Or it was supposed to be secret. Here,” the Blade said, and offered up a key. “You’ll need this for the last door into the sewers. There are rats and goblins down there, but from what I’ve seen of you—”

‘Which would be nearly nothing.’

“—I’m guessing you are an experienced Agent. Am I right?”

Sora blinked at him and nodded just to get on with things.

“I thought so. A few rats and goblins won’t give you any trouble. Once you’re outside, get that amulet to Jauffre. Take no chances, but proceed to Weynon Priory immediately.”

Sora nodded and took the secret passage, found the door he needed, and got through the sewers. He knew he was close to freedom when he could smell fresh air and water. Another gate was up ahead, down a long pipe-like tunnel, and once he was through he found himself at the water’s edge. Right in front of him was a wooden dock. Ahead of that was a little land mass, perhaps an island, with odd ruins constructed of a white-ish stone and featuring plenty of arches.

But of more importance was the group of people over there who looked suspiciously like his family. He rushed down to the water and flung out webs of flame so he could race across and rejoin his loved ones.

Val was jumping up and down excitedly and Renato was waiting at the water’s edge looking impatient. He made it across in record time and was pulled into a tight hug by his Sun. “Sora! Are you all right?” Renato asked, then threaded some flame into him long enough to check.

“I’m fine. Really confused, though. And what the hell is that?” he asked, pointing at what looked like a humanoid cat sprawled on the grass.

“A bandit,” Renato said casually.

Sora punched him in the arm. “If you don’t know, say so. Sheogorath seems to have left out a few details about this venture.”

“You might say that. Now come on. Val is going to vibrate to pieces if he doesn’t get to see you.”

He nodded and skipped over to his Cloud so he could pull him into a hug. The others grabbed him one by one aside from Romario and Dino, and Sora got Cashew to produce the picnic basket he had made up beforehand. A few minutes later they were all seated by the bandits’ campfire having a snack after Sora used some bottled water to wash up a bit first.

“Sheogorath stopped by after we arrived,” Kiri said. “Told us where you were and approximately where you’d come out, and that you were to be a hero to this fine land.”

He groaned. “Yeah. Apparently, the cell I was stashed in was the entrance to a not-so-secret passage out of the city. The emperor of wherever we are strolled on in with his guards. He said he’d seen me in his dreams and was more or less expecting me to pop up. The upshot is I’ve been given an item to deliver, supposedly of major importance, and the emperor fellow is dead—and probably his sons. It’s odd, I can’t help but be reminded of Nono and his lot, except it obviously went so differently this time there.”

“Either way, you could have gotten yourself out easily,” Lal said.

He nodded. “Absolutely. I was going to wait for the jerk in the cell across from me to take a nap—or make him take one—and go, but…”

“Sheogorath said there was an inn on the other side of the lake we might be interested in,” Kiri said, “but I would prefer to take a look at several places.”

Sora nodded and shoved another cookie in his mouth. After he swallowed he said, “I’m thinking from what I’ve seen we can count out electricity and vehicles. That being the case, how about we use that cart I spy over there? It looks like it’s in decent enough shape.” He eyed their crates of belongings.

Once their crates were loaded onto it, his brother looked at the sky and said, “We should probably follow the road north and around west. We have no idea how long it’ll take to get there, or what accommodations we can expect.”

The journey was marked by a fair number of creatures trying to have them for lunch, amongst them boars, wolves, some very odd large creature, bandits, lions, and … minotaurs. None of them were any problem, not with so many people capable of using their flames to great effect.

More ruins were passed, both of grey stone and white, a wooden inn, and several hours later they arrived at the bridge over to the large city. On their side were two buildings. One was a home and the other the inn Sheogorath had mentioned. It was nice enough looking, but way too small to house all of them.

Sora grabbed Renato and Viper and went inside to investigate. The door opened onto a tiny landing with stairs to either side. Upstairs had three doors—rooms for people to rent, he supposed. Downstairs was a common room with a bar. A lady with pointed ears was behind it. Sora distracted her so that Viper could slip off behind her and investigate.

“Welcome to the Wawnet Inn,” she said cheerfully. “Could I interest you in a room or perhaps a bit of wine? Oh, everyone’s talking about the assassination, of course. Here. Take my copy of the new Black Horse Courier,” she said, shoving a scroll at him, then tried to convince him to track down ten bottles of something called Shadowbanish Wine for her.

Viper returned and shook his head slightly, so Sora nodded and walked away from her without saying anything. Back outside they convened.

“The lowest level is barely as big as one of our bedrooms at Filigrana,” Viper said. “This place would be a lot of work in terms of expanding it.”

“The land here is quite sloped,” Shi added. “I’m not sure we could grow anything without a lot of bother. We could do terraces, though, I suppose.”

“So we definitely need to keep looking,” he said. “The rooms upstairs are barely big enough for a single person each. I’m also concerned that being so close to that city would be asking for it.”

“We could try to convert one of those ruins, I suppose,” Kiri said. “But for now, let’s some of us head into the city. The rest can remain here to guard the crates.”

“Um… All right. Renato, Viper, and Lorenzo, with me.”

“That looks like a stable over there,” Dino said, pointing at the other end of the bridge.

“Right, you and Romario, too, at least that far.” He looked at Kiri. “A couple of hours?”

Kiri nodded. “If you’re not…”

“We’ll be as brief as possible,” he promised. “Just get a feel for the place, then back here. Right, let’s go.”

On the way across the bridge Renato said, “You probably haven’t realized it, but you don’t look like you anymore.”

He stopped dead and stared at his lover. “What?”

“Your disguise is gone,” Renato elaborated.

“Oh…” He reached up to feel for the earring and realized it was gone. “I guess it doesn’t really matter now, right?”

Renato took his arm and got him moving again. “No, it doesn’t. But I figured I should say something before you caught sight of yourself in a reflective surface.”

Dino made a happy sound at the other side and dashed over to the horse pen. Romario sighed and said, “Once he’s had his fill I’ll drag him back to the others.”

Sora nodded. “Another reason not to go with the one back there. It’s too close to an established set of stables, assuming Dino would like to breed his own horses.”

Romario smiled briefly. “Oh … yes. He hasn’t shut up about it all week. We’ll see you in a bit.”

“Right.” They kept going and entered the very large and intimidating doors in the city wall, then shuffled off to the side to be out of the way of foot traffic. A nearby guard leaned toward them and said, “You look lost. Need any assistance?”

“Yes,” he replied. “The market area…?”

The guard nodded and turned slightly, then pointed off to the left. “Easiest way if you’re not used to the city is to go that way. Head up to that central spot there, then turn left and follow the main road. Through the doors is the Elven District, but keep on to the next set. That’ll bring you to the Market District, with most of the shops. You can go through the center Plaza District, but for now… Places have signs and such, so…”

Sora smiled. “All right. Thank you.”

Everything was made of stone, which was somewhat comforting in terms of solidity, but rather bare in terms of the view, though there were plenty of green places to liven up all that grey. Whoever had constructed the doors had done an excellent job, as even someone of Sora’s size could open them easily enough.

The Market District was more of the same, but signs were up at various doors to advertise their contents. Lorenzo pointed at the Mystic Emporium, so they went in. There were elves there, one behind the counter and one roaming about, but Sora ignored them for the moment, eyeing up the merchandise instead.

“That looks like chemistry equipment,” Lorenzo whispered. “And what are those odd crystals?”

“Maybe the soul gems that one person was babbling about on the street?” Viper whispered.

“Are you looking for alchemy equipment?” the male elf asked from his position behind the counter.

“Perhaps,” Lorenzo said. “Perhaps I should be more interested in a book store.”

The elf smiled. “There is The First Edition. If you go back to the main road and turn left, then take the first right onto the central spoke, it’s down at the end.”

Lorenzo nodded. “That could be highly informative,” he whispered.

“It’s not like we can buy anything,” he said, “but if we could read in situ…”

Viper snorted softly. “Money is never a problem. You know that, Sora.”

He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”

As he was passing back by the counter the elf said, “You’ve the look of one of the Akaviri.”

He shrugged. “It’s been said before,” he lied, and exited the shop. “I have no idea what he meant, naturally.”

“Maybe these Akaviri are their equivalent of Asian?” Renato suggested.

“I sup—”

“—heard they were offering to just give the castle away,” an overly excited woman nearby said. “I was even considering it. Imagine, an entire castle!”

“Really?” her companion replied. “But wouldn’t you have to fight off the bandits and marauders first?”

“That is true,” the first said a bit dolefully.

Viper touched his arm briefly. “I’m going to investigate. I’ll meet you at that book store,” he whispered, then veered off.

Sora continued on and made the specified turn, and they were in the shop a minute later. Lorenzo brightened up and immediately started browsing. Sora and Renato tucked themselves into a corner where they could oversee the room.

“You realize, of course…”

He looked at his Sun in confusion.

“The moment I get you someplace nice, and private…”

He blushed. Even after all their years together, Renato could still make him blush. “I hope nice includes a bed without bedbugs or other creepy crawlies, and preferably one that isn’t made of stone. I woke up on a stone slab, but I guess a prisoner shouldn’t expect much.”

“I can’t say I’m pleased that the price of our restoration is you being made to play hero,” Renato said, “but nothing was ever said about you doing it alone. If you don’t mind, when we have a moment in a reasonably safe place, will you see if you’re getting any nudges?”

“Because delivering an item can’t possibly be the extent of it? I expect after I make said delivery that I’ll be tasked with an escort mission.”

Renato raised a brow at him.

“I’ll explain in full once we’re back outside the city. Kiri or Viper can maybe throw up some protections. There’s not a lot to say about it, but—oh, that reminds me. That woman gave me a paper.” He fished it out and unrolled it so they could both read it.

Special Edition!
Emperor and Heirs Assassinated!

Elder Council Named as Regents!

Emperor Uriel Septim VII is dead, at the age of 87, having ruled Tamriel for 65 years. He was killed by assassins unknown. At the same time, in separate locations, the late emperor’s three sons and heirs (Crown Prince Geldall, 56; Prince Enman, 55; Prince Ebel, 53) were slain by other assassins. An investigation into the identity and motives of the assassins is under way, but the Elder Council, Imperial Guard, and Blades Guard have forbidden the publication of reports and rumors concerning the event until further notice.

By ancient precedent, the Elder Council rules the empire until a new emperor is crowned. No direct heirs survive, and the council has proposed no list of candidates. Chancellor Ocato, Imperial Battlemage, speaking for the Elder Council, presented an appeal to the empire’s citizens for calm, and asked that the people remember the Emperor, his sons, and the Elder Council in their prayers.

Emperor Uriel’s early reign was marked by peace and prosperity. The Empress Caula Voria bore him three healthy sons, was a loving companion to the Emperor, and a great favorite of the people. However, the emperor and the empire suffered terribly during the Imperial Simulacrum (3E 389-399), when he was held captive in Oblivion while the usurper Jagar Tharn assumed his appearance and ruled in his stead. Emperor Uriel was finally rescued and restored and the impostor defeated by the agency of the sorceress Ria Silmane and her shadowy protégé, but the affairs of the empire were in great disorder, and Empress Caula Voria, exhausted by her ordeal, withdrew from public life.

The decades following the Restoration were once again peaceful and prosperous, but increasing political tensions among the petty states of northwest Tamriel finally erupted in the Wars of the Iliac Bays, resulting in the establishment of the modern borders of Daggerfall, Sentinel, Wayrest, and Orsinium, and culminating with the remarkable events associated with the Warp in the West.

The latter years of the Emperor’s reign have seen a flourishing of Imperial influence in the provinces, and with the fortunate resolution of the religious wars and the Vvardenfell Crisis, and with the wise and firm guidance of King Helseth and his mother, Queen Barenziah, an extension of high Imperial culture even into the more remote parts of Morrowind.

The Emperor’s murder, and the murder of his three sons, is a terrible crime, and a great tragedy for the Empire. Battlemage Ocato assures us that all the resources of the Elder Council, the Legions, the Guard, the Arcane University, and the Imperial Battle College are being employed to bring the assassins to justice. But, in the meantime, the greatest tribute we citizens can offer to the memory of our beloved Emperor is to go earnestly and diligently about our daily affairs, honoring the life of the great Empire he loved so much, and served so faithfully for so long.

“How did they put this together so quickly? It’s even more similar than I thought, though,” he said, “but at least this one has the excuse of being guided by the gods for not stepping down at a reasonable age.”

“Well, we’re going to have to go on a reading spree,” Renato said. “We can’t afford to be too ignorant of this world.”

“Eh, when Viper catches up I’m sure he’ll not only have excellent information, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he suddenly has a whole lot of gold we can spend.” He tucked the paper away again and picked up the book sitting next to him. It was volume one of ‘Brief History of the Empire’, which lent credence to the idea that there were more in the series. He set it back down as Viper glided into the shop and over to them.

“The castle they were speaking of is off to the west, a bit beyond a town called Chorrol,” Viper said quietly.

“What’s-his-face said the place I’m supposed to make that delivery is right outside Chorrol,” he murmured.

“Then perhaps we should head that way and keep going. If we really could secure a castle…”

Renato nodded. “I’m for the idea. They’re obviously desperate if they’re willing to just hand over ownership. Hopefully the place isn’t too bashed up. Depending on what we find, we could have a nice home base to work out of.”

Viper angled his head toward Lorenzo, then glided over to him and said something Sora could not hear. Lorenzo nodded and started gathering up books and hauling them over to the counter.

“I hope the proprietor has a sack or something,” he muttered.

*

“Well, we can’t get there before dark,” Rio said. “We’re going to have to fit in at this inn as best we can for the night. We can break out the sleeping bags, right?”

“We can put a barrier at the end of the hall,” Viper said, “keep people away from the rooms.”

“How about Romario and I go buy a few horses to help carry stuff?” Dino suggested.

Viper nodded and said, “I’ll go along to make sure you’re not being suckered on the price.” He glided away and the two Cavallone took off after him.

“I’ll go in and rent us those rooms,” Kiri said. “Back shortly.” He strolled away, as well.

Renato gave him an expectant look.

Sora thought back to his time under the city. “The emperor asked me to deliver his amulet to some fellow at Weynon Priory outside Chorrol. Dire importance and all that.”

“I have a book on the Amulet of Kings,” Lorenzo said helpfully.

He nodded. “We can check that in a bit. He also told me that he had another son, one that no one knew about except for the fellow I’m making the delivery to. Odds are, I’m going to have to go find this son—presumably illegitimate—and escort him to this Jauffre person. So, if we luck out and get this castle, we’ll have a base to work from. We’ll have to figure out who goes with me and who stays with our new property.”

“I’m going with you,” Renato said firmly.

He nodded again. “You’re a healer, so of course.”

“I think you should have at least one illusionist, so either Kiri or Viper,” Lal said.

“I want to go,” Val said, a determined expression on his face.

Sora nodded. “Four of us should be enough. And depending on how all this shakes out, we can always rotate around, give everyone a chance to have some fun with destruction.”

Lorenzo looked up from his book and said, “This is mostly useless, but it does say the following: So long as the Empire shall maintain its worship of Akatosh and his kin, and so long as Alessia’s heirs shall bear the Amulet of Kings, Akatosh and his divine kin maintain a strong barrier between Tamriel and Oblivion, so that mortal man need never again fear the devastating summoned hosts of the Daedra Lords.

“But if the Empire should slacken in its dedication to the Nine Divines, or if the blood of Alessia’s heirs should fail, then shall the barriers between Tamriel and the Daedric realms fall, and Daedra-worshipers might summon lesser Daedra and undead spirits to trouble the races of men.”

He shook his head. “But not all Daedric Lords are the invading type if Sheogorath is anything to go by. I can see why the emperor felt it was so important, though.”

“We can see about more horses once we get to Chorrol,” Renato said. “Of course, that means learning to ride the damn things.”

“I don’t mind walking,” he said. “I do mind having to be my own pack animal for whatever Cashew can’t handle. So yes, we can check at Chorrol. Dino will probably want to visit every available stable he can find, just so he knows what’s available in terms of breeds.”

Kiri returned from the inn and dangled three keys. “We’ll just have to make do for the night.”

Sounds made them all look back toward the bridge. Viper, Dino, and Romario were approaching, but with only a single horse, oddly enough. Once they got close enough Viper quirked his mouth and said, “The ‘people’ there claimed that all the horses were owned by people in the city. And I did check, but there’s something about them…” He shook his head. “In any case, the only horse they’d sell was this old nag.”

Kiri shrugged. “Still good enough to pull a cart. We can try again at Chorrol on our way by, or back. Put the silly thing in the yard there and I’ll make sure no one steals her.”

*

The next morning, after a very uncomfortable night, Sora broke out some food to go with the various forms of drink Kiri had charmed out of the innkeeper. The horse was hitched to the cart and they set off again.

The walk was pleasant enough if one ignored all the varied (and ugly, at times) creatures that menaced them. “What kind of a place is this with spider people roaming the countryside and clicking at a person?” he muttered as Val bulked himself out mid-jump and landed on one, cracking it into pieces.

They passed a fort along the way—or more accurately, followed the road through it—and a farm, and then started up a slope. “I think that might be the priory,” he said as a building that vaguely resembled a church swam into view up the hill, partly hidden by trees.

“Then Chorrol must be right up ahead,” Kiri said. “The castle shouldn’t be much farther.”

He hummed. “How’s everyone feeling? You want to stop at the town for a meal, or press on?”

Looks went around. “If they really are under siege, we should probably keep going,” Rio said.

When no one objected Sora nodded. “On we go, then.”

In a reasonably short amount of time they were beyond Chorrol (Dino had looked longingly at the stables just outside the city) and heading up another slope. A red-haired woman with a sleek black horse stood there watching deer prance in the grass as they walked, but they passed her by and continued on.

Eventually a large stone building peeked out from the top of the next hill. “It’s awfully quiet for a siege to be happening,” Renato commented as they got closer.

Once they rounded the side of the rise and got to the front of the castle they could see fighting in progress between knight-types and bandit sorts. They rushed forward and lent a hand, easily taking out the marauders.

The guard there heaved a sigh and checked one of the bodies, then turned and walked away to enter the castle.

Sora shrugged and headed through the wall via the open portcullis. There was a stabling area off to the right inside the courtyard. To the left was a stone cottage with a thatched roof and a blacksmithing area. Sora kept forward and entered the castle itself, and was immediately occupied by that same guard honing in on him.

“This is indeed a dark day for all of us left. But I thank you for risking your own life to help us. Here, take this,” the man said, and handed over a scroll. “It’ll tell you all you need to know. As the newest master of the castle, I bid you welcome!”

Sora smiled briefly and unrolled the scroll. Renato snugged up against one side of him so he could read along, and Kiri grabbed his other side.

Last Will and Testament

I, Lord Kelvyn, son of Jaren, and a sworn Knight of the True Horn, upon my death do hereby bequeath Battlehorn Castle and all her lands, dependents, and chattels to the bearer of this document.

Such an unusual document requires some explanation. I resort to such measures out of desperation. I pen this while Battlehorn Castle lies besieged by a band of ruthless marauders, with little hope that any of us will survive. “Besieged” I say, although this petty battle would not have even rated a footnote in the great days of the Knights of the True Horn. We have fallen on hard times, indeed.

I will entrust this document to my last faithful retainers, with instructions to destroy it in the last extremity, although I accept that I may have provided the means for my murderers to legally take the lordship of Battlehorn Castle. So be it.

To the new lord of Battlehorn Castle, whoever you are, know that you inherit a stronghold with a proud tradition. Battlehorn Castle was built by a remnant of the Knights of the True Horn who were exiled from our homeland of Lainlyn in Hammerfell. After a failed battle to dethrone Baron Shrike of Lainlyn, our leader, Lord Kain, ordered us to split up into as many small groups as possible until the time should come that he would recall us. My father was part of a group that settled here in Cyrodiil and built Battlehorn Castle as a refuge while they waited for Lord Kain’s message … a message that never arrived.

Over the years, all the Knights of our little band either gave up or passed on, all but one: my father Jaren. Since his untimely death, I have continued to hold Battlehorn Castle in the hope that someday we will hear from Lord Kain and our great exile will be at an end.

I am afraid that the fortunes of Battlehorn Castle have fallen on hard times. What resources I had available I devoted to maintaining the castle itself—its walls still stand strong and its hearths still provide warmth. Sadly, this came at great cost, and many of the items within its walls had to be sold in order to meet the enormous payments such maintenance begets. If you find yourself with the means to restore Battlehorn Castle to its former glory, a friend of my father’s named Nilphas Omellian still holds many of the castle accoutrements in storage and on account. All that is required is to repay the Castle’s debts to Nilphas, and I’m certain he’ll happily return the items.

My final request for the new lord of Battlehorn Castle is to continue to uphold the proud traditions of the Knights of the True Horn, and to honor the memory of our brave service.

He nearly laughed. His family was not even close to being the “right” kind of people to inherit the place. When Kiri and Renato indicated that they were done, Sora handed the scroll off to Viper, who shared it with Lorenzo and Val, and looked around.

It was a grand place, with two floors (and probably at least one below-ground level), with grand staircases and columns and statues. There was a massive chandelier overhead and he honestly wondered how the men who cared for the place managed to get the candles lit.

“I want two people to go back out and strip those bandits for anything we can put in the armory here or resell elsewhere. The people who died defending this place, well, we can see about graves for them.”

Lal and Rio took off.

“Let’s take a tour, then. I’ll worry about reclaiming what was sold later.”

Upstairs in the back half of the castle was the Master’s bedroom. It was ridiculously large in comparison to the other bedrooms they had poked into. And like those, the most there was in terms of sanitary issues was chamber pots and a large tub that was probably filled with water heated at the fireplace.

Lorenzo scratched his head. “I could probably tap into an underground stream or something and figure out some piping. A water tower or two wouldn’t go amiss, either. Let me think about it.”

“I can ‘drill’ any necessary holes,” Shi reminded him.

“Yeah, and that’ll be an enormous help. I really don’t want to think about the smell, otherwise. We’ll figure it out.”

“We’re going to have to figure out a spot for a new Filigrana,” he said. “Up against the outer wall? Down at that pond? And who would build it?”

Kiri smirked. “I’ll just mind-control some bandits to do the heavy labor, dear brother. Once you actually have some mead ready to go we can try to sell it at an inn in Chorrol, or even the Imperial City, to make a name for ourselves. By the time that happens we could have a new Filigrana ready to go.” He walked over to one wall where a map that had seen better days was hung. “We’re on the border with Hammerfell, so it’s possible the road out there sees traffic. And even if doesn’t see much, word will eventually get around.”

“And you can always rustle up some other customers. All right, well, for the moment, we can set up in this room. We could certainly make it to Weynon Priory quickly enough, but the sun was on its way down, and I don’t particularly fancy wandering around just yet at night.”

They were halfway through getting out the sleeping bags when Lal and Rio wandered in. “All the bandit corpses are taken care of,” Rio reported. “We piled the goods just inside the front door for now. That guard handled his fellows. We also poked around that pond. It’s probably fed from underground, because there’s no visible stream running in or out of it. Didn’t see any fish, unfortunately, but there might be some.”

“There’s not a lot of flat land out there,” Lal said, “but we could maybe build up some raised beds to plant in since the courtyard isn’t exactly massive either. Or we just buy from Chorrol.”

Sora shook his head. “I prefer the idea of planters. They don’t have to be terribly large. We might be able to get some in the courtyard just by keeping them against the walls and out of the main path. Anyway, we can handle paying off the debts tomorrow.”

“After we acquire the funds,” Kiri said.

He hummed. “It’s in the Imperial City, so… Cashew, will you pop out some food supplies, please?”

A few sheets of cloth were located and tacked into place for a makeshift bathing area after they finished eating and a fire was started in the fireplace so they could heat water. Lal took a bath first and emerged a short time later looking refreshed.

“Maybe if that was placed over near a wall,” Lorenzo muttered, “and a drain installed, leading to a channel through the exterior wall…”

“I’m more concerned at the moment that there are ten of us yet for a bath and we can only haul water upstairs at glacial speed,” he said dryly, “but your idea is certainly something to look into.”

“Would you like me to help you bathe?” Renato asked with a leer.

He smiled instead of sighing and shook his head. “Ah, I’m an idiot. Val?”

“You want me to propagate water from a sample to speed this up?”

“Please.”

Val gave him a hug and grabbed a bottle of water. “If some of you will empty that tub out I’ll get started on heating more water.”

He snuggled into bed—he got the one already in the room—with Renato and dropped off, secure in the knowledge that Kiri and Viper had emplaced protections for the night, and promptly entered another weird dream.

“Hello, old boy!” Sheogorath greeted him. “How lovely to see you again. Getting on all right so far?”

The room he was in was stately and bisected in colour. Half the carpet runner he was standing on was purple and the other half was red, like Sheogorath’s outfit. A bored-looking, balding man in fussy clothing was standing nearby, staring at nothing in particular.

“Yes, thank you. I’m very happy to be myself again.”

“Capital! Now, I brought you here to ask you for a favor,” Sheogorath said blithely, though his expression made it clear it was not something he could refuse.

“How can I help?”

“I’ve been a bit bored of late and I wanted your assistance in causing a little mayhem,” Sheogorath said with a nod. “So! You’ll go to my shrine—it’s in the area between Bravil and Leyawiin—and I’ll explain there what it is I want. I’m sure this little quest of yours can wait a tiny while longer. It’s not like we’re talking about the end of the world or anything.” Sheogorath laughed gaily and waved his cane.

Sora’s eyes opened and he stared at the ceiling. It could do with a scrubbing.

“What is it?” Renato muttered as he took Sora’s hand and planted a kiss on his palm.

“A dream.”

Renato went up on one elbow. “What sort?”

“I have marching orders to go visit Sheogorath’s shrine before anything else. There’s something he wants, but I don’t get to know until I’m there.”

“So…” Renato frowned. “All right. We go there, and we can swing by the Imperial City on the way back to deal with the castle debt, then hit Weynon Priory. If you are sent off to go find this missing son, we can still come back here first so everyone’s updated.”

“Yeah,” he said, and sighed. “Nothing else for it. I knew there’d be a price.”

“So did I, but I can’t say I like that you’re the one paying it.”

*

Sheogorath’s shrine was a bit of a pain to find. He had asked Kiri to take care of the castle debts as they had no idea how long this “favor” would take. Dino was itching to go buy some horses, but Kiri asked him to wait until he got back and had plenty of local currency.

Sora, Renato, Viper, and Val made the long walk back toward the city, parting with Kiri at the inn they had considered purchasing, then curved south and east to get to the road headed toward Bravil. By the time it was getting dark they happened upon an inn just off the main road, called the Faregyl Inn, and stopped for the night.

The next morning they continued on and bypassed Bravil. They had just come across a bridge over the river when his intuition tugged at him and caused him to stop and turn around.

“What is it?” Val asked.

“We’ve gone too far,” he said softly. “It’s roughly northwest of here, through the trees. I’m going to…”

Renato nodded. “You listen and steer, we’ll deal with Bambi and his friends.”

The shrine was a huge statue of Sheogorath, complete with cane, and complete with mad worshipers. The females wore only their undergarments and the males had left off their trousers. “I guess his worshipers are just as … eccentric as he is?” Two men there kept standing up from the bench they were seated on, would pause for a heartbeat, then sit back down again. It was like some ritual with unvoiced steps.

Val went over to the one wearing a white robe and came back a minute later to say, “We need some lettuce, some yarn, and a lesser soul gem to offer.”

“Somehow I think a god would notice if I made illusory ones,” Viper opined.

“Bravil or Leyawiin?”

He sought the answer inside and said, “Doesn’t matter. They’re both about the same distance. So let’s go to Leyawiin so we can see what sort of horses they’re selling, and pick up what we need there. We can check the stables at Bravil on the way back.”

Cashew chittered and spit out some objects. Lettuce, some yarn, and one of those funny crystals hit the grass in front of him.

“Thank you, Cashew,” he said and gave his companion an affectionate petting, then crouched down to retrieve the items. He placed them at the feet of the statue and was startled to hear Sheogorath’s voice in his head.

“Another mortal dares to summon me, and already I am bored. But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. I could turn you into a goat. Or a puddle. Or a bad idea. I could make you—oh, it’s you, old boy! How lovely to see you again.”

He nodded and craned his neck to look up at the statue’s head for a moment.

“There’s a little settlement called Border Watch,” he was informed. “It’s a nice, peaceful place … and dull, dull, dull! You’re going to make their lives interesting. They’re a superstitious bunch. Everything is an omen or a portent. Let’s make one come true. Find their shaman and ask about the K’Sharra prophecy.”

He fidgeted when he heard nothing more, then turned to his friends. “All right. I take it none of you heard that?”

They shook their heads.

“We need to go to a place called Border Watch,” he said. “I’ll explain on the way. It seems to be south of here, but it’ll probably take less time to go back to the road first.”

*

Border Watch was almost directly west of a place called, appropriately enough, Water’s Edge. It boasted a small community of those cat people. A tawny one near the entrance to the village spotted them and said, “Welcome to our town, friend. The gods are always watching over Border Watch.”

He smiled. “I was hoping to speak with your shaman…”

“Ri’Bassa is our shaman. You will find him in his house most of the time,” she said, and pointed at a house to her left.

“Thank you,” he said.

She cat-smiled and replied, “You’re always welcome in Border Watch!”

The house proved to be empty—or at least knocking brought no answer—so they climbed up the steps into town. It was somewhat terraced, and houses were built to either side of the main path, and more up at the top. He spied what might be an inn sign off to the left.

A figure up there was wearing hooded robes, so Sora went to talk to him next.

“Welcome to Border Watch, stranger. You are welcome here. I am Ri’Bassa, shaman of our people.”

He smiled. “A pleasure to meet you. I was wondering… Do you know anything about a prophecy of K’Sharra?”

“You know of the K’Sharra Prophecy?” Ri’Bassa said with surprise. “How odd! Are you some sort of scholar?”

“Yes,” he lied. “Do a lot of traveling, too.”

“Wonderful! I would be glad to tell you more. It has been told from our fathers, and our fathers’ fathers, that our time in this place will come to an end. My great-great-great grandfather, K’Sharra, foretold of a time when we would receive three signs from the gods, signaling the end of the world.”

“Signs?”

“Oh, that’s a matter of trust,” Ri’Bassa said. “And I don’t trust you enough yet to say.”

“What about Border Watch itself?”

“I’m glad you asked. I could go on all day about our little community. We are but a handful of Khajiit, as you can see. Many are the evenings we spend around the cooking fire, sharing stories of Elsweyr. The smell of our food travels for miles! If you’d like to stay, I’d suggest getting a room at the Border Watch Inn. We don’t get many visitors, but S’thasa serves a fine ale.”

He smiled. “Is that the inn over there?”

Ri’Bassa nodded. “Yes, yes. She also has the finest collection of cheeses in the Empire! Her prized cheese has such a powerful aroma, she keeps it sealed in a case!”

“Great. I think we’ll go take a look.” He gave a parting nod and they moved off toward the inn.

The first thing he noticed inside were two cases, presumably locked, with cheese in them. One had just a single sample, but the other had a half dozen varieties. The bar was next, opposite two numbered doors, and an area with tables was down at the far end.

He rented both rooms from the proprietor, who was pleased to tell him all about her precious cheeses, and Viper leaned in long enough when they were investigating a room to whisper, “I’’ll be back shortly.”

He nodded.

Renato leaned in next to whisper, “What do you want to bet we need that damn cheese? After S’thasa there goes to sleep I’ll pick the lock and slice off a piece. No sense taking the whole thing and chancing her noticing her prize is missing.”

“Sounds good. But if it really is that pungent, wear gloves? And maybe Cashew has something you can put it in.”

They repaired to the seating area after buying some food and drink from S’thasa to wait for Viper to return. The place was empty, but he supposed it would fill up when evening rolled around and chores for the day were done, and people were able to take some time to socialize and relax.

Viper, once he joined them, imparted the following: that the three signs were plagues, of vermin, famine, and fear. First, rats, which was only appropriate for felines, but it did beg the question of why the shaman would use poison instead of just slicing through the buggers with clawed hands or weapons. Famine referred to their pen of sheep. The final one, fear, was utterly ridiculous, and his brain cramped just thinking about it.

“Right,” he whispered. “We’ll get the cheese in the middle of the night and use it in that cooking pot outside tomorrow, yes? And as much as I hate the idea of taking out those sheep…”

“I agree,” Val whispered, “but you kind of don’t have a choice. Not unless you want to find out what’ll happen to you if you refuse. Probably get turned into a toad or something.”

He blew a flat raspberry in distaste. “This mead is … average,” he said to change the subject once residents started filing into the inn. “We need to start sourcing things. And now that I think about it, I think planters on the upper walkways would be all right. They don’t have to be very wide. But that way, with the portcullis down, we would still have food available if someone decided to try to attack again. And if Lorenzo can figure out a way to get running water for us…”

His friends nodded. “Certainly a way to increase safety when half of us are away,” Renato said. “Maybe you could try feeding all of it some flames?”

He shrugged. “I could do a test case. We definitely need to source honey, though. Anyway…”

A few hours past midnight Renato slipped out of the room they were sharing and secured a thin wedge of that cheese, and the next morning it was quietly slipped into the pot over the cooking fire outside by an invisible Viper.

A short time later a plague of rats piled into town and caused the residents to run around in a panic, all except for the shaman, who dropped down piles of poison. Sora eyed them dubiously; it looked like grain soaked in poison, and the rats were eating the stuff.

Ri’Bassa paused near them and said, “You’ve seen it! You’ve seen the first sign! Perhaps this is the beginning of the K’Sharra! We’re doomed! Doomed! Run while you can, stranger! Get out!” He hastened off down the steps, his head darting back and forth, presumably looking for more rats.

He considered taking some of the poison to taint the feed trough for the sheep, but that seemed a bit rude. If he poisoned the feed, and used that to kill the sheep, the residents probably couldn’t butcher them for meat. That being so, he asked Viper to cover his absence and went off to the pen long enough to web into the poor beasts and ease them into death, then slipped back into conversation with his friends.

The shaman flew by a few minutes later, but Sora was more interested in the voice suddenly invading his head.

“You’ve done well, old boy. I’m amused, I think. Head into the center of Border Watch. And make sure to duck.”

Laughter followed him as he tugged on Val’s arm and headed where directed. The sky was steadily turning more and more pink, and then into an odd orange-pink. And then, the Plague of Fear began. Burning projectiles rained down from above, resolved to be dogs. They hit the ground with meaty thuds and the Khajiit of Border Watch again ran around in a panic.

Viper smirked and murmured. “We should probably go.”

He nodded and started down the steps, taking care to avoid any of the dogs. “And perhaps arrange for an anonymous delivery of new sheep.”

He checked in at the shrine on their way back north and heard, “Good times, good times. I hope you had as much fun as I did.”

‘Well, no, not really.’

“Here, take this. It’s a fun little toy, the Wabbajack. Now, go away. Before I kill you.”

A staff inserted itself into his hand. It was fairly plain but for the cap, which was metal and featured three versions of Sheogorath’s face with varied expressions.

“Time to get on with ‘destiny’, I think.”