Grazhir :: Crossover :: Diagonal :: 09

09: Frozen Eyes

The priory had a chapel, a house of sorts, a stable, and a sheep pen. Jauffre was upstairs in the house, reading a book.

“Hello, I’m Brother Jauffre. Can I help you?” the man said when he noticed them standing there awkwardly.

“The emperor asked me to deliver the Amulet of Kings to you,” he said, getting it out.

“This cannot be,” Jauffre breathed. “No one but the emperor is permitted to handle the amulet. Let me see it.”

Sora handed it over, rather pleased to be rid of the thing.

“By the Nine! This is the Amulet of Kings!”Jauffre’s voice turned from surprised to suspicious as he said, “Who are you? How did you get this? What do you know of the emperor’s death?”

He explained what had happened as succinctly as possible, though he was a bit more detailed on the emperor’s actual words—as much as he could remember, anyway—and Jauffre slowly relaxed.

“As unlikely as your story sounds, I believe you. Only the strange destiny of Uriel Septim could have brought you to me carrying the Amulet of Kings.”

He shrugged, not particularly caring if he was believed or not, so long as no one tried to kill him again. “Who is this Prince of Destruction?”

“None other than Mehrunes Dagon, one of the lords of the demonic world of Oblivion. The emperor’s words—‘Close shut the jaws of Oblivion’—certainly suggest that he perceived some threat from Oblivion. But all the scholars agree that the mortal world is protected from the daedra of Oblivion by magical barriers.”

“Then how can…?”

“I’m not sure. Only the emperors truly understand the meaning behind the rituals of coronation. The Amulet of Kings is ancient. Saint Alessia herself received it from the gods. It is a holy relic of great power. When the emperor is crowned, he uses the amulet to light the Dragonfires at the Temple of the One in the Imperial City. With the emperor dead and no new heir crowned, the Dragonfires in the temple will be dark, for the first time in centuries. It may be that the Dragonfires protected us from a threat that only the emperor was aware of.”

“All right,” he said, then looked around to ensure none of the monks were nearby. “The emperor mentioned his … other son.”

Jauffre nodded. “I am one of the few who know of his existence. Many years ago, I served as captain of Uriel’s bodyguards, the Blades. One night Uriel called me in to his private chambers. A baby boy lay sleeping in a basket. Uriel told me to deliver him somewhere safe. He never told me anything about the boy, but I knew it was his son. From time to time he would ask about the child’s progress. Now, it seems that his illegitimate son is the heir to the Septim Throne. If he yet lives.” He paused for a moment, then said, “If you would be so kind…”

“You’d like me to find him.”

“Yes. His name is Martin. He serves Akatosh in the chapel in the city of Kvatch, south of here. You must go there and find him at once. If the enemy is aware of his existence, as seems likely—”

‘I don’t see why, but all right…’

“—he is in terrible danger. And please, let me know if there’s anything you need. My resources here are limited, but I will help in any way I can.”

He nodded. “We’re off, then.” Once outside he said, “Knew that was coming.”

“I’ll say one thing for this country,” Val said, “they put up signs all over the place so you always know where you’re headed.”

*

It was starting to get dark by the time they got to Skingrad. Farther along the road would be Kvatch, then Anvil (which was on the coast). He was interested to note that the Tamika Vineyards were outside Skingrad, along with the Surilie Brothers Vineyards. Apparently it was an excellent area for growing grapes.

The sun was steadily making its way toward dusk, but they pressed on. In theory, they should be able to arrive at Kvatch in good time, find Martin, and keep him safe overnight before heading back to Weynon Priory.

As they walked up the slope to the start of the switchback that led to Kvatch a grouping of tents swam up out of the fog, which seemed a bit odd. Once they got close enough it was evident the people there were refugees of some sort. Sora stopped the closest one and inquired about Martin.

“If you mean the priest, I don’t think he made it out of the city. Very few of us did. But Savlian Matius might know more. He’s in charge of the city guard that are defending the camp. He’s at the barricade at the top of the road. He’s trying to hold what’s left of the guard together.”

A look up showed what might be smoke, but the gathering darkness was making it terribly difficult to be sure. Still, if the people in the camp had fled the city… Higher up the fog cleared and barricades became visible, and the sky was steadily becoming brighter and more pink as they ascended, rather like how it had changed when Sheogorath had intervened in Border Watch.

Great curving spikes rose out of the ground, tipped with red, and dead trees abounded at the crest of the hill. It was only once they came around the bend that he realized a massive portal was planted in front of the gates to the city, filled with a shifting field of yellow and orange and red.

“Stand back, civilian!” ordered a guard. “This is no place for you. Get back to the encampment at once!”

In no time flat Sora had agreed to figure out how to close the Oblivion Gate blocking the way and had entered with his friends. The place was hellish, with lava, spikes, broken walkways, and bizarre plants, some of which attacked. There were towers in the distance, but access to them was blocked by a huge gate.

He sighed.

“There’s no help for it,” Renato said. “Let’s just be careful.”

Viper made a thoughtful noise. “Let’s cloak ourselves, yes? If we can sneak past any beings here…”

Sora nodded. “I’ll handle myself and Renato.”

A long and confusing trek later saw them at the top of a tower—the wrong one, apparently, but one that contained a caged man—and in possession of a key.

The man—presumably one of the guards sent in to close the gate—was naked but for his smalls and bleeding heavily. He gasped, “You must get to the top of the large tower! The Sigil Keep, they call it. That’s what keeps the Oblivion Gate open! Find the Sigil Stone. Remove it, and the gate will close! The Keeper has the key—you must get the key!” He then slid down in a dead heap.

“Maybe he overheard some of the Daedra talking…?” Val said uncertainly.

“I’d like to know if we’ll have time to get the hell out before it closes,” Renato said as they retreated back to ground level and continued on.

At the top of the tallest tower was the sigil stone. It hovered up near the open ceiling, bathed in fire. Renato pushed forward and reached out to grab the thing. He only managed a few steps back and was turning to run when it all went funny.

A few moments later Sora found himself back in Kvatch and the gate was shattered around him. Savlian asked for help within the city walls.

“I need to go in anyway,” he said. “So let’s go.”

Inside the chapel was a mere two guards and a handful of townsfolk, one of whom was Martin. Sora had no real idea how to broach the subject of his mission, so he simply said, “You’re in danger. The emperor told me to find you.”

“The emperor is dead,” Martin replied. “Who are you? What do you really want with me?”

“We need your help.”

“If you came to me for help, you’re more of a fool than you look. Look around. What good is a priest?”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re Uriel Septim’s son, all right?”

“Emperor Uriel Septim? You think the emperor is my father? No, you must have the wrong man. I am a priest of Akatosh. My father was a farmer.”

“For the love of cannoli. The daedra came here for you.”

“An entire city destroyed to get at me?” Martin said in disbelief. “Why? …Because I’m the emperor’s son?”

“If you’re a priest of Akatosh, surely you’d have some idea what being in the Septim line means. Why would I lie to you about something like that? This is hardly the time for practical jokes,” he said, waving a hand around at the destruction evident even in the chapel.

Martin frowned. “I don’t know, it’s strange… I think you might actually be telling the truth.”

‘That’s good,’ he thought, ‘because if you don’t cooperate soon, I’ll have to help you do so.’

“What does this mean? What do you want from me?”

He could understand how confusing if might be to have information like that dropped out of nowhere, but he still felt impatient and annoyed. He wasn’t used to not being listened to. “Come with me to Weynon Priory,” he said as calmly as he could. “Brother Jauffre is waiting to speak with you. I told him I would come find you and get you to him safely.”

“You destroyed the Oblivion Gate, they say. You brought hope. You helped them drive the daedra back.” Martin took a deep breath and exhaled. “Yes. I’ll come with you to Weynon Priory and hear what Jauffre has to say. Lead on.”

Savlian wasn’t done with them yet, though. He wanted to fight to the castle to save the local count. Sora was about to ask Martin to wait for them in the chapel when the man stepped up to the door and made to open it.

Needless to say, the count was dead and Kvatch would be a long time rebuilding.

*

Martin spent a lot of time muttering to himself on the journey to Weynon Priory, but Sora was partly appeased when the man complimented his cooking. He was also not shy about getting into the thick of things when it came to beating back the local wildlife.

As they walked up to the priory an elf came racing toward them with a red-garbed assassin chasing after him, which boded badly. Once he was taken care of—and his friends—they found Jauffre in the chapel.

“You’re back. Thank Talos! They attacked without warning. I was praying when I heard Prior Maborel shout. I had just time to arm myself.” Jauffre suddenly looked alarmed. “The Amulet of Kings! I fear that was the target of this attack. I kept it in a secret room in Weynon House. We need to go see if it is safe.”

It wasn’t. The next thing he knew they were off to some place called Cloud Ruler Temple, north of Bruma. Along the way several patrolling Imperial Legionnaires recognized Sora, which he found to be a bit odd—word obviously traveled fast in Cyrodiil, not to mention accurate descriptions—but the walk itself was pleasant enough. The weather was fine despite the change to a much higher altitude.

Jauffre made an offer for him to join the Blades after they were safely inside Cloud Ruler Temple and Martin had been introduced, but Sora demurred.

Jauffre nodded. “Very well. Many serve the Empire in their own way. But we would be honored to have you, if you change your mind. But to press on, we must see about getting back the Amulet of Kings before the enemy takes it out of our reach. You should go back to the Imperial City, to Luther Broad’s Boarding House. Baurus may have learned something about the assassins. Give my warm regards to him. Tell him he should not blame himself for the emperor’s death. He did well to send you to me.”

“I will do so,” he said, then departed. Back outside and on the path down toward Bruma he sighed.

“We should probably overnight in Bruma,” Viper said. “And then go fill the others in. I know it’s out of the way, but…”

“But they deserve to know what I’m up to,” he said, “and we still have a lot of things to plan. The sooner we can get through this crisis the sooner we can get back to business as usual.”

Renato looked at him sidelong, a faint smile on his lips.

*

“And that’s where we are right now.”

“I’m ready to start construction of Filigrana whenever you’re ready,” Kiri said. “Say the word and I’ll go track down some bandits to press into service.”

“I don’t see why not now,” he replied. “Just because the world’s going to hell is no reason not to keep pressing forward. I’d also like planters up on the curtain walls or in the courtyard.” He noticed that his room had gained rather a lot in the way of furnishings since he’d last been there, not to mention the rest of the castle, and Lorenzo and Shi had been busy when it came to sanitary arrangements. Thankfully. “If you can manage it, an extension to the front wall to contain a garden wouldn’t go amiss, and Shi can carefully create an opening into it. The difference in height can be accounted for with good soil.”

“Who do you want with you this time?” Lal asked.

“Um… Renato, Shi, and … you, Lal.”

She nodded. Rio looked a little disappointed, but stayed quiet.

“You’ll all get a chance, Rio,” he said. “If not for this mess, for something else.”

“I know. And there’s just as much to be done here, so…”

“Yeah. While we’re away, if those of you here could get started on the construction, sourcing honey, possibly grapes—there were two wineries down at Skingrad—maybe purchasing chickens and cows and sheep… I just want to get everything as close to normal as possible. Maybe we can set some bee hives out behind the castle to see if we can attract some colonies, I don’t know. I have a hard time believing the people already making mead are frolicking through the countryside thieving from normal beehives like bears.”

Val snickered.

“We’ll also need to incorporate measures to hold off those assassins Sheogorath mentioned,” Viper reminded them. “We brought a fair amount of those panels, so it should be all right. Just have to assemble them again, and make sure they still function correctly.”

“Have we considered melting down the gold we brought and recasting it into the coins they use here?” he asked.

Lorenzo nodded. “I could see about making a mold. It’d be simpler to just sell it as is, though. Surely people dig up gold nuggets or find them washed out into streams. Same with gems, except we didn’t bother with any of those. There are mines, presumably. We could try to cut a deal with some jewelry makers, I suppose. We’ll figure it out.”

“All right. See if you can figure out something a little nicer for a kitchen while you’re at it. I know we have a cook now, but…”

Rio patted him on the back. “We’d prefer you do the cooking for our family and leave the men-at-arms to the mercy of that fellow. He’s competent, but he’s not you.”

“He also hasn’t the first clue how to make anything approaching the sort of food we’re used to,” Kiri groused. “I would about kill for some of your baked penne right now, or your minestrone.”

“Me, too,” he said with a sigh. “Campfire cooking is all very well, but… Well. Lal, on a side note, have you tried using your Rain Flames yet?”

She looked startled by the question, then chagrined. “It never even crossed my mind. I’ll run some tests before I go to sleep.”

“Okay, so,” Renato said, “we have some priorities. Lal, if it still hurts to use them… But either way, I’ll give you a look in the morning just to make sure everything’s as expected.”

“Okay, yeah.”

Sora plucked Cashew out of his hair and looked him in the eye. “Have you picked up anything interesting that we should leave here? Seeds, perhaps?”

Cashew tilted his head to the side contemplatively, then wriggled free and spat out a collection of items onto the table. There were seeds, berries, odd plants…

“Hm. Thank you,” he said as Lorenzo started sorting through things. “Hopefully you can figure out what all of that is and what we’d need to get started.”

“I’m on it,” Lorenzo said distractedly.

Renato clapped his hands. “Right. We’ll leave after breakfast, then.”

Kiri got up and started ushering people away, though he did help Lorenzo carry away all the things Cashew had presented.

Renato exhaled slowly and went to throw the latch on the door, then started heating water for a bath. Sora eyed him a bit nervously, not sure what his lover had in mind. Bathing together as infants was a touch different than in adult bodies. The tub was only big enough for one person.

Renato looked over and smirked at him. “You’re biting your lip, tesoro. Why would that be?”

He shook his head. “You know very well why. We’ve barely had a moment to ourselves since we transitioned to this world, and though we’ve readjusted to being ourselves again, almost as if that curse had never happened…”

“True. Bundled together in a too small bed in some barely private place isn’t much fun, nor is it very comforting or relaxing. But don’t get ahead of yourself. Let’s just relax, okay? Now come here,” Renato said as he poured the last bit of water into the tub.

Once he was over there his lover started to slowly remove Sora’s shirt. “I wonder if becoming an alchemist and using my flames during the process would magnify any healing properties.”

“Huh. I suppose there are a whole hell of a lot of ways we could make a killing, assuming our theories play out right.” He pushed Renato’s hands away and took care of the rest of his clothing, then stepped into the tub and sat down, shuddering in pleasure at the warmth of the water. “Oh that feels nice,” he breathed. “I’d still prefer to be able to shower first and use this for soaking, but right now I just don’t care.”

Renato chuckled and picked up a washcloth and some soap. “So bring up the idea of water purification to Lorenzo. A cistern feeds the shower or water for bathing, and it can be collected a floor down, purified, and… I’m not sure, really, used on the plants or for animals?”

“Or he figures out an electrical system, even if he has to charge batteries with his flames on a regular basis. I suppose if we got super lucky we’d have a handy thermal vent nearby, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Renato leaned in from behind and swiped the washcloth over Sora’s chest. “I don’t think the gods of this universe would appreciate us setting up our own power company, but for us, here? I don’t see why not.”

He shivered when Renato kissed the side of his neck.

*

Breakfast featured an upset cook. Sora took over in the castle’s kitchen to make a meal for his family, shooing the man off to the side and out of his way. As a kindness Sora made sure the cook got a plate of his own, which backfired when the man moped over his plate at the difference in taste.

Sora simply rolled his eyes discretely and left the man to do the washing up. He, Renato, Shi, and Lal departed the castle after double-checking their supplies and Renato had had a chance to web into Lal long enough to check her health.

On their way toward Chorrol Lal said, “So I tried them last night. I didn’t have any problems, though I checked to make sure I was still all right with Mist and Cloud. It all seems fine now.”

He nodded. “Then we still have two people in the group capable of cloaking if necessary.”

“Which can come in handy all of the time,” she said, “and especially if we end up in one of those gates you described.”

The Imperial City was reached without more than the usual bother and they located Luther Broad’s Boarding House in the Elven Gardens District. But before they could go in a man stopped them long enough to shove a scroll at Sora, saying, “Here’s a copy of the Black Horse Courier. Identity of the Grey Fox revealed!”

He snorted softly and tucked it away for later. He was fairly certain he already had one about that figure. The people working for the “paper” were not shy about forcing copies onto people. Baurus—and considering the only person in the place Sora recognized was one of the men from that whole escape thing, he must be the one—was dressed rather commonly and seated at the bar, tankard in his hand.

Sora took a seat next to him and was immediately spoken to.

“Listen,” Baurus said softly. “I’m going to get up in a minute and walk out of here. That guy in the corner behind me will follow. You follow him. I want to see what he’ll do.”

He nodded slightly and waited. Baurus finished off his tankard and pushed it toward the bartender, then got up and walked off toward where the entrance to the cellar generally was in these structures, that being under the steps leading upstairs. Sure enough he was followed, so Sora and his bunch padded off after the two.

Down the steps and around the corner the spy raised his hand and cast some spell. An entire set of armor materialized around the man, along with a weapon in his hand. The second he advanced on Baurus, Renato shot and killed him. A quick rifle through the man’s belongings produced a book: Mythic Dawn Commentaries Volume I.

“Good work,” Baurus said as he approached. “I’m glad to see you, by the way. You just caught me at a bad time.”

Sora nodded and introduced his friends, then explained why he had come. “What have you learned?”

“The assassins who killed the emperor were part of a daedric cult known as the Mythic Dawn. They apparently worship the Daedric Lord Mehrunes Dagon. I’ve been tracking their agents in the city; I guess they noticed.”

“I have good news and bad news. The enemy has the amulet, but the emperor’s heir was found—his name is Martin—and escorted to Jauffre. They’re at Cloud Ruler Temple now.”

“Thank Talos he lives! Martin Septim, you say… We will restore him to the throne! It is the sworn duty of all Blades.”

‘How you can you restore someone to something he’s never had?’ he wondered, then asked, “Right, what’s next?”

“There’s a scholar at the Arcane University. Tar-Meena’s her name. She’s supposed to be an expert on daedric cults. How about you take that book to her—” Baurus nodded at the one Sora was holding. “—and see what she makes of it. I’ll keep running down leads on the Mythic Dawn network. If you learn anything you can find me here at Luther Broad’s. May Talos guide you.”

Sora headed back upstairs, and then up another level long enough to crack open that book. The contents were the usual hysterical ramblings he had come to expect from religious crackpots, but Renato pointed out that each paragraph had an ornamental first letter that ended up spelling out “green emperor”.

He snapped the book shut and tucked it away for the time being. “If that’s true, and there’s more of them, as the name suggests, then perhaps the message will become clear if we can find them. For now, let’s see if we can talk to this Tar-Meena person.”

“With a name like that, I expect she’s not human,” Lal commented.

“Proabably not.”

Tar-Meena turned out to be an Argonian. “Ah, you must be the one I got the message about.”

Sora eyed his friends in confusion. Did Baurus employ ninja in order to get messages around that fast? It wasn’t as though they had dawdled sightseeing on their way to the tower.

“How can I help you?”

“…I was told you knew a lot about daedric cults. What can you tell me about the Mythic Dawn?”

“You know of them?” she said in surprise. “One of the most secretive of all daedric cults. Not much is known about them. They follow the teachings of Mankar Camoran, whom they call the Master. A shadowy figure in his own right.”

“I see. I found one of their books…”

“Ah, yes. ‘Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes’, wonderful! You have a scholarly interest in daedric cults, then?”

“More like I need to find them,” he said reluctantly.

“Find them, eh? I won’t poke my nose any further,” she said. “Official business and all that. I’m used to working with the Blades, don’t worry. Say no more. In any case, finding them won’t be easy. I’ve studied Mankar Camoran’s writings a bit myself, at least those that I could find. It is clear from the text that the ‘Commentaries’ come in four volumes, but I’ve only ever seen the first two books. I believe that his writings contain hidden clues to the location of the Mythic Dawn’s secret shrine to Mehrunes Dagon. Those who unlock this hidden path have proven themselves worthy to join the ranks of the Mythic Dawn cult. Finding the shrine is the first test.”

“So I’ll need all four volumes,” he said. “Any idea where I could find them?”

“Here,” she said, and handed over a book. “You can have a copy of volume two. Treat it gently, if you please! Now, as I’ve said, I’ve never seen the third and fourth volumes, but you can try First Edition, over in the Market District. Phintias, the proprietor, caters to specialist collectors. He may have an idea of where to locate those books.”

“All right. Thank you, for the book and your time.”

Outside, an investigation of the second volume revealed more of those fancy initial caps, and those spelled out “way where”, which brought them up to “Green Emperor Way where”.

“Sadly,” Renato commented, “I don’t think scouring that part of the city will do much for us just yet.”

“I agree,” he replied. The book was tucked away and they headed off to the bookstore Lorenzo had spent so much money in.

When asked the proprietor said, “I happen to have a copy of volume three on hand, but I’m afraid it is a … special order. Already paid for by another customer. Sorry. Gwinas would be disappointed if it was gone when he came to pick it up. I don’t know him personally, but he was very eager to get his hands on it. Came all the way from Valenwood. As a matter of fact, he’s already late for his appointment to pick up the book. Feel free to wait for him if you want to speak to him yourself.”

They shuffled off to a corner and settled in to wait. If the man did not appear by closing time they could always return the next day, or make a covert visit during the middle of the night. Thankfully, it wasn’t horrifically long before an elf of some kind entered the shop and said, “I’m here for my book. Mankar Camoran’s ‘Commentaries’, volume three.”

“Ah, of course,” said the proprietor. “Here you go. Keep us in mind for any future needs!”

“Thank you, thank you!” the elf said as Sora’s group got up and prepared to corner the man. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve been looking for this book!”

Before he could leave Sora tapped him on the shoulder.

The elf turned around. “What?”

“I’d like a brief look at that book you just purchased.”

A frown graced the elf’s face. “Have you been following me? Leave me alone! That book is mine!”

Out of patience, Sora threaded Sky Flames into the man and pumped him full of serenity.

“Just a look?” the elf said, then handed it over.

Sora flipped through it long enough to get “tower touches”, then said, “And the fourth volume?” as he handed it back.

“You can only get volume four directly from a member of the Mythic Dawn,” the elf said compliantly. “I had set up a meeting with the Sponsor, as he called himself.”

“I think it’d be wise for you to disassociate yourself from this,” he counseled. “After all, the Mythic Dawn is responsible for assassinating the emperor.”

The elf gasped and shoved the book back at him. “Keep it! And take this!” He reached into his pocket and removed a note. “It tells you where to go. I don’t want anything to do with the Mythic Dawn if that’s true!” He dashed off outside.

The note read:

Your interest in the writings of the Master has been noted. You are taking the first steps toward true enlightenment. Persevere, and you may yet join the exalted ranks of the Chosen.

If you wish to continue further down the Path of Dawn, you will need the fourth volume of the Master’s “Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes”. It can be obtained only from a member of the Order of the Mythic Dawn. As your designated Sponsor, I will pass on my copy to you if I deem you worthy.

Study the first three volumes of the Master’s writings. Look for the hidden meaning in his words, as best you are able.

When you are ready, come to the sunken sewers under the Elven Gardens in the Imperial City. Come alone. Follow the main tunnel until you reach the room with the table and chair. I will meet you there and give you what you desire.

The Sponsor

He passed it over so that Lal and Shi could read it, then they returned to Luther Broad’s to see if Baurus was hanging about. He was, back on his stool with a tankard of something in hand.

“What have you found out?” the man asked quietly. After being informed of what Tar-Meena had said and about the meeting, he said, “This might just be the break we’ve been looking for! Good work. We need to get that fourth book, then. If Tar-Meena is right… Well, let’s go. I know that part of the sewers well.”

*

“All right. The room with the table is just through this door. I always wondered who put it there,” Baurus said after stopping at a door. “I happen to know that if you go up the stairs there, you can get a vantage point on the meeting room. I think I’d better be the one to handle the meeting. You’ll be my backup. Keep watch from above in case of trouble.”

Sora laughed quietly. “Ah, no. I’ll meet the Sponsor.”

“No,” Baurus protested, “it should be me. I have a blood debt to repay these Mythic Dawn assassins. Besides, I’ve trained for this kind of thing my whole life.”

He shook his head. “And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t. You’re too worked up and not thinking straight. You’ve already been noticed by their agents. You think they won’t recognize you in there?”

Baurus started to object again, then sighed. “Very well. We’ll do it your way. Be careful, and remember, we can’t leave here without that book. It’s our best chance of getting the amulet back.”

He hummed and leaned over to whisper to Lal, “Make sure he doesn’t get uppity. Tranquilize him if you have to.”

She nodded sharply.

Sora went into the room and glanced through some bars off to one side on his way to sit down. An elf in red robes was lurking back there. Only after he was in place did the gate open and the elf emerge.

“So. You want to become one of the Chosen of Mehrunes Dagon. The Path of Dawn is difficult, but the rewards are great. I have the book you seek. With it and the Master’s other three books, you will possess the key to enlightenment.” The elf stopped his pacing suddenly and his head shot up to look at the catwalk overhead. “I told you to come alone! Brothers, kill them!”

Sora shot threads at the elf and killed him by piercing his heart, while his friends took care of the other Mythic Dawn lackeys. On the elf’s body was the fourth volume, along with an interesting ring. The fancy caps of that volume revealed “midday sun”, bringing the entire message to “Green Emperor Way where tower touches midday sun”.

Baurus was glad to have gotten through things with a minimum of fuss, but unfortunately it was far too late to do anything that day. They took rooms at an inn and went to Green Emperor Way the next morning to look around. The only real thing of interest they found was a standing tomb with a carving in one of the inset areas. It had a map etched onto it, which was odd on its own, but above it was a fiery sun, which was suspicious.

They stuck around to wait until noon, though it started raining. “I hope whatever clue we’re supposed to get here isn’t affected by that,” he muttered. At noon the carving lit up with red light, despite the clouds covering the sky in sullen grey, and a particular spot in the northeast part of Cyrodiil was marked.

Renato got out a map and compared the two. “Looks like Lake Arrius.”

“Let’s get lunch, then we can head out. We can always stop at Cheydinhal. Distances in this country are deceptive.”

*

There was a door of wooden planks covering a cave entrance overlooking the lake. “All right. Lal, cloak yourself. Renato, Shi, sneak along behind. I don’t know if they’ll appreciate multiple people popping up to join the party.”

Renato frowned, but nodded.

Inside was a fairly large cave with Mythic Dawn tapestries to either side of another plank door, a large metal brazier with a fire in it, and a person standing guard. As Sora approached he could overhear what sounded like a ritual greeting between the guard and another similarly dressed figure, but the one moved away toward a set of bars.

When he approached the first person the man said, “Dawn is breaking.”

“Greet the new day,” he replied, as the other figure had.

“Welcome, brother. The hour is late, but the Master still has need for willing hands. You may pass into the shrine. Harrow will take you to the Master for your initiation into the service of Lord Dagon. Do not tarry. The time of Preparation is almost over. The time of Cleansing is near.” The guard unlocked the door and held it open.

Sora walked slowly, blocking the guard’s sight for long enough that his friends could slip through, then went through himself. A ways down the tunnel he was stopped by an elf.

“I am Harrow, Warden of the Shrine of Dagon. By following the Path of Dawn hidden in the writings of the Master, Mankar Camoran, you have earned a place amongst the Chosen. You have arrived at an opportune time. You may have the honor to be initiated into the Order by the Master himself.”

‘Terrific.’

“As a member of the Order of the Mythic Dawn, everything you need will be provided for you from the Master’s bounty. Give me your possessions, and put on this initiate’s robe.”

Considering that he was wearing nothing of note or real value—Cashew carried that sort of thing—he didn’t bother to quibble, though giving a stranger an eyeful was not his idea of fun.

“Very good. Follow me. I will take you to the Shrine.” Harrow turned to lead the way.

Sora signaled to where he could feel Lal, telling her to search the place for anything of value, then followed Harrow as slowly as possible, trying to arrange his expression to one of awed reverence. He was led into a large cavern with far too many Mythic Dawn tapestries (‘Seriously, why so damn many?’ he thought.), braziers to light the area, barred off openings, and finally down a “hallway” with multiple openings.

Only when Lal caught back up in his senses did he scurry over to the very impatient Harrow and follow him through another door. The upper level of the new cavernous space held a handful of cultists, but down below a ceremony was going on. Sora signaled.

Harrow went down in the next heartbeat and the others on their level seconds later. Sora flew down the steps to the ceremony level and began to pierce various cultists with his webs, but the one conducting the ceremony portaled out in a way not so dissimilar to how Sheogorath did.

There was a nearly naked Argonian tied to an altar that rested beneath a massive statue—of Mehrunes Dagon, he assumed—so he took a moment to free him before poking around. It was just as well that he had moved away considering that barely had the Argonian gotten up and fled did the statue shake and topple over, crushing that spot.

The bodies of the cultists held nothing of particular interest aside from Harrow having his belongings. Camoran must have been the one who portaled away, which meant the amulet was beyond his reach for the moment, but a book had been left behind. A quick look showed what were probably daedric symbols and designs, so he tucked it away.

“Right. Let’s go, guys.”

*

After another night spent in Cheydinhal they headed to Cloud Ruler Temple. Jauffre spotted them coming up the steps and hastened over to greet them. “Thank Talos you’ve returned safely! Do you have the amulet?”

Sora shook his head. “Camoran escaped with it, but he left behind a questionable book. I think it’s the Mysterium Xarxes.”

“Ah, all right. You should take that to Martin straight away. He’ll be in the Great Hall. He’s hardly taken time to sleep since you left.”

Martin was inside flipping through one of a number of books. “Ah, you’re back. I told Jauffre not to worry.” He paused for a moment. “I can see you have bad news. You didn’t recover the amulet, did you.”

Sora handed over the book in answer.

“By the Nine!” Martin said in shock as he opened it and quickly shut it again. “Such a thing is dangerous even to handle! But you were right to bring it. I know some ways to protect myself from its evil power.”

“Do you think it can lead us to Camoran?”

Martin’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. Maybe. I suspect the secret of how to open a portal to Camoran’s Paradise lies within these pages. But I will need time. Tampering with dark secrets, even just reading them, can be very dangerous. I’ll have to proceed carefully. In the meantime, you should probably speak to Jauffre. He was concerned about reports of spies in Bruma.”

“All right, but… The book itself is evil?” he said, trying to understand.

“It was written by Mehrunes Dagon himself, and given by him to Mankar Camoran. I believe Camoran used it to create his Paradise. I will study it. It is clear to me now that the only way to stop the Oblivion invasion is to relight the Dragonfires. Emperor, Amulet, and Dragonfires—with these divine gifts, the daedra of Oblivion have been kept at bay for thousands of years.

“While the Dragonfires burned, the divine barriers kept the daedra from making more than fleeting visits to our world. But the Dragonfires can only be relit by an heir of Septim blood wielding the Amulet of Kings. This was the essence of Camoran’s plot. He was undone only by the merest … chance … but his complete victory remains perilously close. We must recover the Amulet of Kings and relight the Dragonfires, before it is too late to stem Dagon’s invasion.”

“How is it you know so much about…?” He shrugged, not willing to say it outright.

Martin looked rueful. “I put aside the dark arts when I became a priest. But the workings of fate may be seen in this, too. ‘The gods can turn anything to good’, or so I piously told those who came to see me for advice. Perhaps I may yet come to believe it myself.”

Outside he murmured, “I can’t remember. Did he admit to messing around with daedra before this?”

The others shrugged. “He probably had something of a wild youth,” Shi opined, “and set it aside once he matured some.”

“Well, wild around here is a bit different than back home,” he said, “and with potentially far more reaching consequences.”

Jauffre, when approached, said, “I hope Martin knows what he’s doing with that evil book. I fear for what it could do to him if he’s not careful.”

“He said something about spies?”

“Ah, yes, I hope you can help there. The gate guards have reported seeing strangers on the road for the past several nights. I cannot leave Cloud Ruler Temple undefended while my men search the whole mountainside, but these spies must be eliminated.”

He nodded. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you. Talk to Steffan. He can tell you where he has seen them. Captain Burd in Bruma may also be able to help. I’ve asked the Countess to have the guard keep an eye out for strangers. Track down the spies and kill them,” Jauffre said, frowning in his seriousness. “Find out what they know, and what they’re planning, if possible. We can’t afford to let the Mythic Dawn operate out of Bruma with impunity.”

“Ah, which one is Steffan?”

Jauffre looked around the courtyard, then pointed.

Sora nodded and went over to speak with him.

“What can I do for you, sir? Spies? We always see them near the runestone at dusk,” Steffan said. “They aren’t too woodcrafty, but Grandmaster Jauffre has forbidden us to range too far from the walls.”

He recalled seeing an odd grouping of stones on the way up, the central one having an interesting carving on it that gleamed green. “Thank you. We’ll check into it.”

Halfway down the switchback he said, “Let’s split up to question people in town. We can meet outside the church.”

The first person he stopped was a beggar. A small bribe convinced the man to talk. “Ah, it’s coming back to me now. Yeah, seems I saw someone looking out the window at Jearl’s house the other day. Someone I’d never seen before. When Jearl wasn’t home. You see what I mean?”

“Which house is that?” he asked, and got directions. In a place like Bruma it wasn’t difficult. All he needed was which tier and how far from the end.

Captain Burd, once he was located, said, “Except for Jearl coming back from a trip down south, things are pretty quiet. Not much travel right now with the Oblivion Crisis. I’ve told my men to keep a sharp eye out, but I’ve had no reports of any strangers in town. What about you? Turned up anything suspicious?”

“I heard tell that Jearl has a visitor.”

Burd looked surprised. “Really? That is odd. I know for certain that she returned alone. I don’t like it. Since you’re with Cloud Ruler Temple, I’m going to authorize you to search Jearl’s house. I’ll pass the word to my men. We won’t interfere. I trust that you’ll handle things … appropriately. The less I know about it, the better.”

With that he nodded and departed to meet up at the church. Shi arrived first, then Lal, then Renato. They went as a group to Jearl’s house and Renato picked the lock. The interior looked innocent enough, but there was a trap-door partly hidden by a rug. Downstairs was a copy of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries, volume one. Volume two was on a table nearby, along with a note.

Jearl —

The Master was pleased to hear of your activities outside of Chorrol. The more gates that we open, the nearer we are to the glorious Cleansing.

The Master has chosen you and Saveri for a most crucial mission, a sign of your advancement through the ranks of the Chosen. We have learned that the Septim heir has gone to ground at Cloud Ruler Temple, the lair of the accursed Blades. The Master has made its destruction the top priority of the Order, and Lord Dagon has committed whatever resources are required.

Pending your report on the Septim’s activities at Cloud Ruler Temple, and your assessment of Temple defenses and possible routes of escape, we plan to open a Great Gate in the open ground before Bruma as soon as possible.

Remember, the first three Lesser Gates represent only the preliminary stages of Great Gate Deployment. Do not in any way compromise your cover in defense of those gates. New ones can be quickly and easily reopened. And once the Great Gate is opened, the fall of Bruma is assured. Cloud Ruler Temple cannot stand long after that, and the Septim will be caught like a rat in a trap.

We would welcome any further details you can offer concerning the Imperial agent who rescued Martin from Kvatch, but again, we caution you … do not risk a confrontation. This individual is not to be trifled with.

The Dawn is breaking.

Ruma Camoran

The cellar led to a place outside the city walls, which he supposed was convenient for a spy’s purposes.

“So, I’m not to be trifled with, huh? Let’s go lurk quietly by the runestone and see about ending the careers of a few spies, shall we?”

*

“What have you learned about the spies?” Jauffre asked once they tracked him down inside the Great Hall.

“For one, they’re dead. For two…” He handed over the orders they’d found in the woman’s cellar.

“Excellent work. I knew I could count on you. The gods did not idly choose you as their agent, whatever you may think.”

‘I think you’d be surprised who chose me.’

“But it is clear that Mankar Camoran will soon bring all his power to bear against Bruma. I will warn the Countess of the danger. You should speak to Martin. I believe he has made some progress with the Mysterium Xarxes.” Jauffre strode off purposefully, so Sora moved on to speak with the heir.

“I’ve deciphered part of the ritual needed to open a portal to Camoran’s Paradise,” Martin said as he looked up from his reading material. “The Xarxes mentions four items needed for the ritual, but so far I have only deciphered one of them: the ‘blood of a Daedra Lord’. In fact, daedric artifacts are known to be formed from the essence of a Daedric Lord, from whence they derive their great power. Not an easy thing to come by, obviously—”

Sora nearly snorted.

“—but we will need a daedric artifact. Bring it to me when you have acquired one.”

In town, for it was full dark by the time they emerged, they were nearly at the inn when a man dressed in a quilted doublet stopped him and said, “Good day. I’m Tolgan, herald to the Countess Narina Carvain here in Bruma. She requests your company at your earliest convenience.”

“Ah… What’s this regarding?”

“Countess Carvain would prefer if you speak to her in person. She also said to present you with this stipend as a taste of things to come. My Lady holds court from eight in the morning to six in the evening each day. That would be the time to see her.” Tolgan smiled and strode away.

At the inn, upstairs in one of the rooms they’d rented, he frowned. “That almost sounded like an improper advance, but I’ll assume it wasn’t. I’m not parting with the Wabbajack, so we’ll have to track down some other daedric artifact.”

“So let’s nose around in the Imperial City on our way home to check in,” Lal said. “Maybe we can charm some information out of someone.”

He looked at Renato and Shi, who both nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

During breakfast he overheard two townswomen rabbiting on about some merchant in Anvil who had an amazing magical tent (“Big enough for a dozen people!” one of them said excitedly.) and resolved to check it out. If nothing else, if they could secure ownership of the thing, it would make all the traipsing around the country a little less of a bother if the tent was as magnificent as rumored. They heard whispers of a number of possible shrine sites while in the Imperial City, but the one rumored to be near Anvil gave him the excuse he needed to go there after Battlehorn Castle.

At home there was already evidence of Kiri being hard at work mind-controlling the dregs of society into action. The start of a cellar was being dug near the pond, and a grouping of rudimentary tents were not far off as “housing” for the workers. Inside the castle walls he could see work had begun on the planting beds, which was just as welcome.

Inside he could see evidence that work had been done in the “kitchen” of the castle, which was another welcome sight. The cook pouted when he saw him, but Sora brushed that off and headed down to the cellar where the vintner was. His work was coming along nicely, and Sora assumed that those who had stayed behind had sourced and provided him with what he needed to make his special brews.

He had plans for those, along with his personal variants of mead. His own work would have to wait until he was done with all this destiny stuff, unfortunately. He did not want anyone messing with his mead, and while forgiving to a point, it did have to be strained or filtered every so often and moved to new containers during the process. His own use of Sky Flames was not something the vintner could do, so it was best to just wait on that.

That afternoon he shooed the cook away again and prepared dinner for his family. Rio had his first bite, then asked, “Who gets to go this time?”

Sora rolled his eyes. “You, for one. And Viper. I’m sure we’ll run into more gates that ought to be closed, and having along an illusionist is always a good idea. The faster we can get through them the better. Stopping to fight every raging daedra is just a waste of time when they’ll only regenerate a short time later.”

Rio cheered up, looked sad for a moment when he realized it meant more time away from Lal, then cheered up again as he had more of his meal.

*

They closed two gates on the way to Anvil, one on either side of an Ayleid ruin, and also found a Wayshrine of Akatosh. The Horse Whisperer Stables outside Anvil sold white horses (something he would pass along to Dino), and they had spent enough time closing those gates—even with cloaking themselves to avoid fighting—that it was full night when they arrived in the city.

They found the inn and entered, ordered some food from the proprietor, and sat down to eat before heading up to sleep for the night. In the morning he asked around about a tent merchant and was pointed at a young woman having breakfast.

“I used to be in the service of our Lady Umbranox, using my magical talents to track her wayward husband,” the woman said. “But somehow he became completely untraceable, even for someone with my formidable magical skill, so I was graciously ‘relieved of duty’. Anyway, I’m retired from intrigue and adventuring for now, and planning on setting up shop here in Anvil to make a living. What can I do for you?”

“I heard in the Imperial City that you make enchanted tents?”

“Yes, yes,” she said, “I think you might be an ideal buyer. In my travels, I learned to enchant fine cloth to make a special set of tent materials. Once placed on the ground and activated by someone, these materials will become a fully furnished luxury tent. Anything you place in the tent will still be there the next time you use it, making it the perfect portable abode. I’m settling down now, so I’ve been looking for just the right buyer for my tent. The price is ten thousand septims. Are you interested?”

Sora tilted his head at Viper, who immediately set to “haggling” the price down to something “reasonable”. A short time later Sora was eating breakfast, the new owner of a magical tent.

As they were trying to leave a well-dressed (by Tamriel’s standards, anyway) man said to him, “I have a manor for sale if you’re interested.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said and kept going.

“Really?” Renato asked once outside.

“Well, maybe. Depending on how much travel we have to do once things are set up, it wouldn’t hurt to have a place in each city we could use, right?”

“Eh, I suppose so, though we do have that tent now.”

“True, but we have to test it out first. But houses in each city would mean a private place to meet people if necessary. We’ll see.”

There was another Oblivion Gate outside the city, which they entered with the intent to close. Viper huffed once they were inside it and said, “Wait here. I can be invisible and fly. I can get this closed in no time flat.”

He thought about it for a minute, then nodded. He knew just how damn effective Viper was and could not see the point in arguing. “We’ll wait here if you need backup.”

Viper nodded and disappeared. Sora tracked his movement until he was out of range, then amused himself by “killing” any daedra who got too close to their position. A short time later everything went shaky, and white, and then they were staring at the ruined remains of a gate.

With that out of the way they headed north in search of the shrine someone in town had gossiped about. Another gate presented itself, and that time Viper went in alone to handle things. He was back shortly and they continued on north.

Malacath’s Shrine was located, but by then it was full dark and raining hard, so Sora decided to see about using the tent. He got the enchanted materials out and poked around, finally finding a piece that looked as if it was meant to be pulled. He did, and the materials flipped out of his hand and expanded into a fairly large tent in a brownish colour.

He pulled the flap aside and stepped into the promised luxury. There was a large bed, plenty of storage options, a seating arrangement, and—an odd looking altar or book stand? Investigation showed there was a manual attached to the side, which revealed the thing to be both a spell-making altar and an enchanting altar, something otherwise only available at the Arcane University (or so gossip said).

“I suppose that makes sense given who made this place,” he muttered, then set the manual down.

“I wonder if Lorenzo could manage something with this in terms of enchanted clothing,” Viper said.

“Even with us not being capable of magic?”

Viper shrugged. “It’s Lorenzo. He’d take it as an insult if he couldn’t figure something out.”

“Well, we’ll mention it to him when we get back to the castle. I also notice there’s an alchemy work surface here, but none of the actual implements.”

Renato eyed the thing contemplatively, then turned away from it. “Well, it’s certainly huge in here. Much bigger than on the outside. Enchanting is pretty cool, but brown isn’t really our colour.”

He shrugged, then spotted something on the central support post. When he touched it the walls all turned from brown to green, which gave him pause. “Am I hallucinating or…?”

“No, no you’re not,” Viper said in bemusement.

He touched it again and the walls turned blue. A few more tries got them to an amber colour, so he stopped. “Close enough, I guess. And if we all piled on crosswise, I bet all four of us could sleep on that bed.”

“Or we could break out a few sleeping bags,” Rio said. “Realistically, this should be outfitted for twelve people in a pinch, but maybe only four normally. A little rearranging and we’d have the room to do it.”

“I agree. And with all this storage there’d be no problem keeping a full set of sleeping bags here. Nothing saying we can’t make more if we had to. Just need to find some geese. Cooking, on the other hand… Not inside, anyway.”

The next morning they had a chat with the worshipers present and realized they needed some troll fat as an offering. Sora raised a brow at Cashew, who promptly spat some out. “I don’t even want to know what that tastes like,” he said with a slight shudder, then went over to the statue to offer it up.

As before, a voice inserted itself into his head. Daedric Princes were less kind than Viper in that regard. Their voices always felt like they were rattling around in there. “You brought a present. Good. That’s smart. You want something? Then, if you’re smart, you do what I tell you. Lord Drad took my orgres. Says he owns them. Lying maggot!”

Sora winced at the sheer volume.

“They’re my ogres! Lord Drad put my little brothers in chains, working in the mines. I don’t like that. Get over to Lord Drad’s estate. Let my ogres loose, and get them out! Okay? Get going!”

Sora sighed and shuffled back. He was momentarily confused when he knew exactly where to go, but shrugged it off. These people were deities, after all. Lord Drad’s estate turned out to be very nice at first glance.

“Wow,” he said softly. “If we didn’t already have the castle I’d consider setting you on the owner of the place, Viper. Plenty of growing space, a nice manor house…”

“But out of the way,” Rio pointed out. “There’s not even a proper road to this place.”

“Yeah, well… Let’s head inside to see what the local lord has to say for himself. Though I admit I am tempted to pick all his berries and vegetables first.”

“I welcome you to my humble home, stranger,” a dark elf said inside. The man had an oddly-rounded face and a quite narrow chin. “What brings you to this place?”

“We were exploring and saw it…”

“The land is good, the farm productive. But it’s mining the wealth from beneath the land that will make my fortune. Blackwood isn’t so bad, once you get used to the flies. And being lost all the time. And the zombies and the will-o-the-wisps.”

Sora smiled blandly. “I heard a rumor that you enslaved ogres.”

Drad’s expression went fiercely superior. “Can you think of a better use for the mindless beasts? Under my eye, they do some good in this world.”

“So slavery is good in your book?”

“I don’t believe I asked for your opinion on this matter,” Drad retorted sneeringly. “I am done speaking with you. Please leave my estate.”

They ran into his wife on the way out and, while reluctant to talk, she did mention the nearby mine where the ogres were being kept. The entrance was beyond the fields and up a slight rise.

“I could be mistaken,” he said as they picked strawberries along the way, “but I think we should avoid killing anyone. Just get in, free the ogres, and get the hell out.”

“Two teams?” Rio suggested.

He nodded. “Cloaks or sneaking or whatever. Pick any locks you find, snag any loot, and we’ll meet back outside.”

*

“Good job! No one owns ogres but me! And I fixed that maggot!”

And he had. When they’d emerged from the mines with all their stolen goodies it was to the amusing sight of the freed ogres standing guard over Drad and his poor wife, who were working the fields.

“The ogres own Drad! Make Drad eat dirt! Bwuahaha! Now you get a present. Keep up the good work. And be nice to my little brothers!”

A very heavy weapon inserted itself into his hand, and he looked down to see a warhammer of sorts. He nodded and stepped away from the altar. “I think if we push it we can make it back to Battlehorn before it gets too dark.”

Rio took the hammer and swung it around a few times, grinning.

The next morning they emerged into the courtyard with the intent to head to Cloud Ruler Temple when Sora noticed something odd off to his right. He dashed up the steps leading to the top of the curtain wall and stared in disbelief at an Oblivion Gate up the hill. “Well, shit. Better take care of that first.”

Viper nodded and floated away.

“If I could figure out how to use that enchanting altar,” Lorenzo said thoughtfully, “then any of us could easily clear a gate without fighting. Maybe not as quickly as Viper, because we can’t fly, but…”

Sadly, Falco could no longer carry Rio and Leon had never flown, exactly, more like hanglided places, which was less than useful when trying to ascend a tower. Still, enchanted items to make them invisible? Not having to sneak everywhere like little ninjas?

As soon as Viper returned they headed out and arrived at Cloud Ruler Temple at around noon. “I’ve learned that the Mysterium Xarxes is both the gate and the key to Camoran’s Paradise,” Martin said without looking up, leaving Sora to wonder when the man had learned to figure out who was approaching him. “In some sense, the book is Camoran’s Paradise. He bound himself to the Xarxes when he created his Paradise, using dark rituals which I will not speak of further. A gate can be opened from the outside, however. It will be more difficult, as I will have to temporarily bind myself to the book. But I believe it can be done. I will continue working to decipher the arcane items needed for the binding ritual.”

Sora laid the hammer on Martin’s desk.

Martin looked up at that. “I won’t ask what you went through to obtain this, my friend. I know all too well the depravity of the princes of Oblivion.”

Sora shrugged. “It was fairly simple, actually. Just a case of sneaking around to free some slaves.”

Martin nodded, looking relieved. “The ritual will consume its physical form. It won’t be seen again on Tamriel for many years. Who knows the tale of how this Dwemer hammer came to embody the power of one of their most bitter foes?”

Having no idea what the man was talking about, Sora simply nodded as if in agreement. “What’s next?”

“Apparently there’s some trouble down in Bruma. Jauffre will know more.”

“We seem to be simultaneously getting closer and further away from the end goal,” Renato muttered as they wandered around looking for the Grandmaster.