Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 20

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6.4

Dovahkiin

A Blade in the Dark
Morning Star, 2nd, 4E 202

Delphine was both chatty and ridiculous along the way. “I hope you’re Dragonborn, I really do. But we’ll find out soon enough. We may both end up dead, but at least it gets me out of Riverwood. I don’t really think I’m cut out for the quiet life. I doubt the Thalmor are aware of you yet. So we should be safe from them, at least.”

‘So that trip to Ustengrav and all that chatting up of Farengar in Whiterun were done by your twin?’

She also liked to say we couldn’t afford any delays and that we had to keep moving. And then, as we approached that bandit stronghold, the one with the two towers, she said, “This is a notorious bandit hideout. But it’s also the shortest way to Kynesgrove, so . . . we may have to kill a few bandits.”

Instead of just killing the lookout and keeping on, she charged on inside and killed all the other bandits, as well. I don’t think she’s quite right in the head. She actually ran all the way to Windhelm and then swung back around south to get to Kynesgrove rather than cut across the hot springs.

Just as we reached the road heading up to the town Delphine suddenly stopped and said, “Wait. Something’s wrong.”

A woman came flying down the path, yelling, “No, you don’t want to go up there! A dragon—it’s attacking!”

Good to know we were in time for the festivities.

“Come on. Hurry,” Delphine said as the woman ran off toward Windhelm. “We might be too late.”

We sprinted up into the town and then around to get to the area behind it and up where the dragon mound was. Not even halfway up I could see that black dragon again from Helgen. “Sahloknir, ziil gro dovah ulse!”

“Lorkhan’s eyes! Look at that big bastard! Keep your head down, let’s see what it does.” Then she readied her blades and sneaked the rest of the way.

The two of us crouched behind a large outcropping of rock. Big Black was hovering over the mound, and began to speak again. “Sahloknir, ziil gro dovah ulse! Slen tiid vo!”

The mound burst open and a skeletal dragon was revealed. As it began moving it, too, spoke, even though it had no flesh. “Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik?” Slowly, like the reverse of the decay of the two dragons I had already killed, the thing’s flesh and muscle and scales were returning to it.

“Geh, Sahloknir, kaali mir.” Big Black—Alduin—turned his attention to me, crouching there behind the rocks, and said, “Ful, losei Dovahkiin? Zu’u koraav nid nol dov do hi.”

I stood up at that point because there was no sense in doing otherwise.

“You do not even know our tongue, do you? Such arrogance, to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah.”

‘Actually, it was given to me, not taken. And I understand enough.’

“Sahloknir, krii daar joorre.” Alduin pumped his wings and flew away.

“I am Sahloknir,” the newly-resurrected dragon roared. “Hear my Voice and despair!”

“This one’s mine!” Delphine shouted.

‘Then why am I here? Oh, right, proof.’

I summoned a fire atronach even though I wasn’t sure it could help (but it would help my skill in Conjuration), then started in with lightning.

“Dovahkiin, your Voice is no match for mine!”

“And why would it be?” I muttered between casts. “I haven’t killed enough of you guys yet for it to count. Just because I understand the words doesn’t mean I understand the words.”

“We have to get this thing grounded!” Delphine shouted.

“Really? I had no idea,” I muttered. Eventually we did enough damage to force Sahloknir to land, and then the real fun could begin. Delphine switched to blades and I brought in another atronach. We wore it down further and eventually it keeled over dead. I had gotten a little jaded already when it came to dragons, I’m afraid.

“I’ll be damned, you did it! That was well done. Come on. I’ve been wanting a closer look at one of these buggers,” Delphine said and hastened toward the corpse.

When I approached, however—

“Wait. Something’s happening. Gods above!”

—the usual happened. But this was my third, so the disturbance to my system from absorption wasn’t nearly so staggering. When I eyed Delphine I could see the shock on her face, and the blossoming hope.

“So you really are—I—it’s true, isn’t it? You really are Dragonborn.”

I busied myself for a short time with picking off whatever bones and scales I could get before turning to her. “Well?”

“I owe you some answers, don’t I? Go ahead. Whatever you want to know. Nothing held back.”

‘We’ll see about that.’ “Then who are you and what do you want with me?”

She looked around the area first to check for any people. “I’m one of the last members of the Blades. A very long time ago, the Blades were dragon slayers, and we served the Dragonborn, the greatest dragon slayer. For the last two hundred years, since the last Dragonborn emperor, the Blades have been searching for a purpose. Now that dragons are coming back, our purpose is clear again. We need to stop them.”

That sounded a bit too simplistic to me, but—“I see. What do you know about the dragons coming back?”

“Not a damn thing,” she admitted. “I was just as surprised as you were to find that big black dragon here.”

‘I wouldn’t say surprised, exactly, but—’ “That black dragon was the one who attacked Helgen, when Ulfric escaped his execution.”

“Interesting. Same dragon. Damn it, we’re blundering around in the dark here!” she said with a healthy amount of frustration, hands going up in a futile gesture. “We need to figure out who’s behind it all!”

I eyed her again. “Any suspicions as to who might be?” I asked, betting she was going to bring up the Thalmor again.

“The Thalmor are our best lead. If they aren’t involved, they’ll know who is,” she said confidently.

“Why them? What’s your reasoning?”

“It’s nothing solid. Yet,” she admitted. “But my gut tells me it can’t be anybody else. The Empire had captured Ulfric. The war was basically over. Then a dragon attacks, Ulfric escapes, and the war is back on. And now the dragons are attacking everywhere, indiscriminately. Skyrim is weakened, the Empire is weakened. Who else gains from that but the Thalmor?”

‘Has this woman not read The Book of the Dragonborn?’ I wondered. I found a copy easily enough after I’d heard the term in that silly song. There was a damn prophecy involved. I blinked, remembering the Dragon scroll Serana and I had found. I couldn’t remember anything from it, but—“Are the Thalmor after you specifically, or. . . ?”

She sighed. “Before the Great War, the Blades helped the Empire against the Thalmor. Our Grand Master saw them as the greatest threat to Tamriel. At the time, that was true. Maybe it still is. So we fought them in the shadows, all across Tamriel. We thought we were more than a match for them. We were wrong.”

That sparked a memory of something I’d read at the Arcanaeum, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. “So you want to find out what the Thalmor know about the dragons,” I said musingly.

“If we could get into the Thalmor Embassy—it’s the center of their operations in Skyrim. Problem is, that place is locked up tighter than a miser’s purse. They could teach me a few things about paranoia. I have a few ideas, but I’ll need some time to think it through, pull some things together. Meet me back in Riverwood, and keep an eye on the sky. This is only going to get worse.” She took off at a steady jog before I could ask any more questions, which saw me irritated.

I hoofed it toward Riften, intending to spend the night in my house down there. Maybe, just maybe, I could convince Brynjolf to do me a favor.

Diplomatic Immunity
Morning Star, 3rd, 4E 202

As luck would have it a dragon found me not far from the house. It was just me and my summon, and I would be damned if the stupid beast burned down my peculiar little dwelling. It was after I killed it and had absorbed its power that I realized I had absorbed four souls so far, but only one of them had actually provided me with deeper meaning on a Word of Power.

Because of that I wasn’t paying proper attention as I continued on to the house, to the point that I about had the stuffing scared out of me when I heard Brynjolf say from the darkness, “Hello there, lass.”

A Word burst into understanding in my head and I breathed out, “Laas!

“Interesting little fight there,” he said. I watched him approach, a golden glow showing me his life essence. “You’re not very talkative.”

I cocked my head to the side, then continued on to the house, Brynjolf following. Inside I removed my mask as I said, “How’d you know it was me?”

He blinked slowly. “You look different.”

I rolled my eyes and removed the helm. “Brynjolf. Answer the question.”

“Aye, lass. I told you once before it’s about sizing up your mark. You may wear different garb and not be showing your face, but you’ve the same build, height, and you move the same way. You could masquerade as a Dunmer and I’d still know it was you.”

I sighed. “Well, that simplifies things, then.” I headed into the mushroom and up the ramp so I could take a seat. The helm and mask went onto the floor beside my chair, along with the gauntlets. I summoned Luggage to me and fished out some refreshments, handing some mead to Brynjolf while I uncorked some blood.

“So you’re the Dragonborn they’ve all been rabbiting on about.”

“Yes, unfortunately. And I have something of a problem right now.” I took a long pull from my bottle and sat back.

“That makes two of us—having a problem, that is.”

“Oh? Shall we trade woes?”

He was silent for a time, sipping at his mead. “With the understanding that we keep each other’s secrets, aye.”

I exhaled in relief. I really did think I could trust him, despite not actually knowing him all that well. “All right. I need to steal something from the Thalmor.”

“Really now, lass. That is a problem. You’re no thief.”

I laughed. “Right. I can’t recall ever stealing anything and I’m not all that good at sneaking around. I was planning to go scout out their installation in Solitude and the embassy itself, see what I could find before trying to break in. I can be invisible, I can pick locks, but I have to scout the situation first. A part of me was hoping you might be able to come along and help, but I realize that’d take you away from Riften for a fair stretch of time. I’m willing to pay for it like a proper job, not just impose on a friend.”

Brynjolf had another pull on his mead. “If I can swing it, maybe we can exchange favors. Tell me more about the situation?”

I gave him the bare rundown of what had happened starting with Helgen, but without actually mentioning Delphine’s name. “I have this horrible feeling she’s going to try to get me into the embassy in a far too obvious way, and even with a disguise I don’t want my face to be known. No one even knows my name. It’s just Dragonborn. I’m wearing a disguise and a mask for a reason.”

“Oh, you need not explain that one to me,” he said. “I can see it easily enough. You already have a life. No sense mucking it up by mixing roles.”

“Exactly! She has her gut feeling and I have mine. I think whatever plan she comes up with will involve me going there in plain view, and I really don’t like that idea. Something goes wrong, the Thalmor make the connection between their infiltrator and the Dragonborn, and then I have Thalmor trying to kill me every other minute. I already have enough assassins after me as it is.”

He arched a brow at me inquiringly.

I shrugged. “Four or five Dark Brotherhood assassins already and one Boethiah cultist, and that’s as myself. I’ve no idea why, either. Nothing so far while parading around as Dragonborn, unless you count those two cultists from Solstheim who tried to off me in plain sight in the middle of Whiterun.”

He seemed a bit nonplussed at that information, but quickly enough rallied back. “Either the Dark Brotherhood has really gone downhill these days, or you’re very good at defending yourself.”

“Eh, a bit of both, I think. I got the feeling they were brand new members. But maybe after the first one failed they started using me as an initiation test. One of them waltzed up to me in broad daylight, blades out, with a warning war cry. I mean really. It was embarrassing.”

He grimaced. “Let me tell you my side, then. You asked me a bit back if I’d found someone to help with that job, and I did. He was a bit young, but got the job done. After that he found his way to the Ragged Flagon and starting doing jobs and getting things done, bringing in a fair bit of coin. Apparently that was taken badly by a certain someone. On top of all that there was someone out there deliberately making things sour for us, and turned out to be the woman we all thought killed our former Guild Master.”

“Thought?”

He nodded. “Turns out she was set up. The real culprit was the current Guild Master. After a number of jobs the boy was sent on turned up information relevant to her involvement, Mercer took him along to go after her, but when he came back he said she’d killed the boy as a distraction and gotten away. Not long after that Mercer’s behavior got even more strange than usual. He disappeared right after I got a message from her, saying she had proof that Mercer was the real killer.

“I decided to risk it and met with her. She’d broken into Understone Keep, into some researcher’s laboratory, to get a rubbing of the language used in the journal she’d retrieved from our former Guild Master, and got it translated by a contact up in Winterhold. When we checked back at the guild we found that Mercer had bunked off for good.

“Now, I can’t go into all the details, because it’s not my secret to tell, but we’re short manpower to take Mercer down. If I convince her that you could be that extra power, we could trade services. Otherwise, we’ll do it as a job, breaking in and getting whatever information we can find from the Thalmor. It’d be costly, though.”

I shook my head. “Gold isn’t an issue if it comes to that. I make a fair bit selling enchanted stuff. I could also make trade in enchanted gear for your colleagues, if that would be more attractive. If your friend agrees, though, who am I? Myself, or the Dragonborn?”

“That’s a fair question,” he said, draining the last of his mead. “Yourself, I think. Someone up at the College is a friend of hers and could vouch for you.”

“Enthir?” I guessed. He did deal in shady goods, after all.

“Aye. It’ll take you a few days to do your scouting, so that gives me some time to convince her. Just come to town as usual, or send a message with where to meet when you get back.”

“I really appreciate this, Brynjolf. You were the only person I could think of to ask that I thought I could count on.”

“Now that’s a strange thing to be saying to a thief, lass,” he said with a smirk.

I gave him a sarcastic smile. “Just go talk to her. I’m heading to Solitude for a bit.”

Morning Star, 5th, 4E 202

I spent the better part of the day at Castle Dour, keeping an eye on the Thalmor Headquarters and giving my skill at Illusion a workout. No one ever went in, and no one ever went out. Either the place wasn’t being used or they had some other exit available to them. ‘But come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any Thalmor in the city. Altmer, yes, but not Thalmor. Even the prisoner escorts I’ve seen in the area never go here.’

Morning Star, 6th, 4E 202

The embassy was patrolled by at least four Thalmor, walking in endless squared circles around the inside of the perimeter wall. There were guards out front and probably plenty more in the buildings on the property. Jumping over the wall might not be much of an issue for myself, but Brynjolf was a different story, and finding the time between guards to throw a length of heavy leather over the spiked top so that he could make use of a rope to haul himself up and over was problematical, to say the least.

‘If they bring prisoners here,’ I thought, ‘they—well, there are some pretty horrible stories told about their methods. Even the Legion at Helgen used torture. They’d have to remove any bodies, so. . . . Several places I’ve been already had places to dump corpses, but I imagine they’d not want the smell to get too bad. I wonder. . . .’

I left and headed downhill, out of sight of the embassy. It was built up at the top of the road, which meant there might be some kind of entrance lower down, through a cellar. They were in the northernmost part of Skyrim and high enough up that snow was everywhere, even in the warmer months. Dumping corpses out would be like placing them into a box of ice. And if the cold didn’t freeze the bodies, scavengers would feed on them.

There was a path of sorts going down, very faint at first, nothing more than a game trail, but it became something more. The way met up with a more substantial road, though it was still just packed dirt and not a proper road lined with cobblestones. Around the bend to the north was another game trail, that time leading to an almost fully-concealed cave entrance.

No blood at the entrance, but that meant little. Inside might well be a different story. I went in cautiously, senses on alert. ‘Ah, a troll,’ I thought, hearing the characteristic lumbering sound. It was the kind of sound only heard when the skies weren’t having a stormy rage, as the muffling qualities of heavy snowfall and the shriek of the wind usually covered it.

I lured the thing closer to the entrance and set it on fire. Repeatedly. There were plenty of bones and blood in the cave to mark its occupancy. Deepest in was a relatively fresh body—a mage, going by the clothing. The troll must have been saving it. It was up over my head that was of more interest. A trap door. There were more bones scattered around the area, leading me to believe that the door might well lead into the bowels of the embassy. No doubt locked, but if it wasn’t receptive to being picked, there were other ways around that.

I wasn’t aware of any other places the Thalmor had, so it was time to return to Riften.

Morning Star, 11th, 4E 202

I had sent Shadr with a piece of parchment to Brynjolf, with just a little drawing of a mushroom on it. Considering that I’d helped Shadr from being extorted after a deal he’d made had been caused to go sour he was happy to help me out. And I’d tipped him, so that hadn’t hurt.

I spent the time at the house, keeping an eye out for dragons and any other nefarious sorts lurking in the woods. Brynjolf would show up when he could get away, or when he had news either way. I also spent time on alchemy.

Brynjolf appeared early in the morning and his expression was a pleased one. “She’s agreed,” he said after letting himself in and helping himself to a bottle of mead. “That means we’re headed to Irkngthand. Easiest way to get there without getting lost is to head up to Windhelm and go west along the river, then south.”

“Sounds like an area with a lot of Dwemer ruins,” I commented. I knew damn well Blackreach ran under that entire area, and farther north to Alftand. For all I knew Irkngthand was one of the ruins I had passed under in my meanderings in the vast cavern below.

“Aye, that it is. We can go as soon as you’re ready. She’ll meet us on the road north.”

I nodded and summoned Luggage to make sure it was carrying a decent amount of supplies. More for them, but I did check my stock of blood potions and related supplies just to be safe. If we were going to a Dwemer ruin the odds were against finding anything palatable within, though there might be bandits camped outside. I was already wearing my own face and gear; the Dragonborn armor was packed away in Luggage where it would be safe.

We angled northwest to reach the spot where a dirt road split off from the main one. The cobbled road led to Fort Greenwall and Shor’s Stone beyond that, but taking the dirt version avoided the bandit-infested fort entirely. She ghosted on up to us shortly after that, a Dunmer if her voice meant anything. It was soft, and soothing to listen to, but unmistakably Dunmer accented.

“Greetings,” I said as I continued to walk. “I’m Yvara.”

“Yes,” she replied, “Enthir had much to say about you.”

“Is he still pissed that I called him on his ‘all deals are final’ policy being only a minor detail when it comes to his own bad deals?” I asked archly.

She chuckled softly. “He doesn’t like to be reminded of his mistakes. I am Karliah.”

“Lovely to meet you. Any friend of Brynjolf’s is possibly a friend of mine. I mean, I don’t know, he’s got some odd friends and all. Dodgy sorts who like to mix mead and wine together, or claim that apple and cabbage stew is delicious.”

“Now see here, lass,” Brynjolf protested.

Karliah chuckled again and said, “Come on, then. We’ve a long way to go.”

I nodded and started jogging, careful not to go too fast for either of them. “I assume that Brynjolf has told you I’m not exactly the best at being stealthy, but I can hold my own.”

Brynjolf snorted quietly in amusement as Karliah said, “Yes. And that you can be invisible when you choose. How are you with a bow?”

“Eh, fair enough, though it could use a lot more work. Depending on what we run across inside the place I can conjure one up to use. Or we can all just skitter by like ghosts. The target isn’t in the incidentals, really.”

“Well said.”

By the time we arrived it lacked only a handful of hours to midnight. Unfortunately, there were indeed bandits camped outside, and if we wanted to get any rest at all before continuing after Mercer we would need to ensure they would not sneak up on us in the night. So, they all died, and I had a lovely large meal. Inside, through a door up at the very top of the exterior ruins, we found a lot of dead bandits.

“Mercer did this,” Karliah said softly. “I recognize his style. It’s probably a warning to any who would dare come after him.”

“We can’t be far behind,” I said, having crouched down to test one of the bodies. “This one’s still warm and the blood hasn’t coagulated.” I called Luggage to me and fetched out a number of pre-prepared bottles, then methodically went about draining any viable corpses of their remaining blood for blood potions.

“We need at least a few hours of sleep,” Brynjolf said. “I don’t know about you two, but I desperately need at least a little before we go on.”

“Well, I just fed well so I’m energized. I’ll keep watch. You two get some sleep. Say, two hours?”

They nodded and dragged bodies away from the sleeping pallets that littered the floor, then bedded down.

Morning Star, 12th, 4E 202

It took most of the day to get through Irkngthand. There were innumerable Falmer to deal with and sneaking by wasn’t always possible. Didn’t help that Mercer had collapsed a tower inside and forced us to take a much longer route through the city. I don’t know if he already knew the layout of the place or was simply hoping that by doing so he would prevent us from following entirely.

We did eventually catch up to him in time to see him prying the second of two “eyes” from a prodigious statue of what looked to be a Snow Elf.

“He’s here and he hasn’t seen us yet. Brynjolf, watch the door,” Karliah said just above a whisper.

‘Really?’ I thought. ‘Those Dwemer doors aren’t exactly noiseless.’

“Aye, lass. Nothing’s getting by me.”

To me she said, “Climb down that ledge and see if you can—”

“Karliah,” Mercer said in a gravelly voice as he dropped down from the statue’s face and turned toward us. “When will you learn you can’t get the drop on me?”

The ledge I was standing on abruptly cracked and sent me down toward the bottom of the room, leaving Karliah and Brynjolf back up by the door. Mercer was staring at me with a hint of confusion on his face, and I could see he was a Breton like myself.

“Have you brought another fool to die in your stead, Karliah?” Mercer taunted. “Has she been filling your head with tales of thieves with honor?” he asked me.

“If anyone falls here this day, it’ll be you,” I promised.

“Then the die is cast, and once again my blade will taste blood. Karliah, I’ll deal with you after I rid myself of your irksome companions. In the meantime, perhaps you and Brynjolf should get better acquainted.”

I won’t pretend to understand what he did, but somehow he got Brynjolf to turn against Karliah. It was unwilling, I knew, because I could hear him apologizing over and over again up there. Mercer went invisible, but that would not be a problem. I immediately summoned my lich and prepared a spell, and watched as the lich unerringly ran the man through with several ice spikes, allowing me to see where he was without invoking any powers of my own, and send my own spells against him. I used lightning instead of fire. Didn’t want to melt the ice.

Mercer soon realized that being invisible was no benefit and revealed himself fully, at which point I did my damnedest to fry the bastard’s head. Those ice spikes would still hurt either way. Mercer’s control over Brynjolf slipped enough to free my friend, but by then I had him down and breathing his last breath. A spike of ice through his forehead sealed it.

While Brynjolf and Karliah were sorting themselves out I started to search the body. I knew there was something Mercer had stolen, though I didn’t know the details. But then the whole place shook like a dragon landing and parts of the ceiling started caving in.

“Damn it,” I hissed, and summoned Luggage to me. I stripped Mercer’s body down—even his smalls—and threw every last thing into Luggage and got it to close back up. Water was pouring in from broken pipes and drowning was a distinct possibility for my two allies. “Are you watertight?” I asked Luggage.

It moved indecisively so I dismissed it for the time being and called up to the others, “I’ve stripped the body and have it all stored.”

“The damage has blocked off the doors here,” Brynjolf called down.

The water level was rising at an alarming rate so I raced up the broken pathway Mercer had been using and leaped over to perch on the shoulder of the statue. “I hope you two can swim,” I called to them. It wasn’t long before they were treading water near me, and we were all looking upward trying to see if escaping through one of the wide, broken pipes up there was a possibility.

Instead, another part of the ceiling collapsed, sending huge chunks of stone down into the water, swamping us with a backlash of waves. But it revealed what looked to be a way out above the room we were in, and when the water level kept on rising we were able to crawl out onto solid footing and stagger away, into a fissure that had Dwemer pipes and machinery along the sides, making it that much more narrow.

I waited several minutes, looking back the way we’d come, until I was certain the water hadn’t risen so far as to drive us on, then summoned Luggage back. I hauled out everything I’d stripped off Mercer and set it on the ground. I saw Brynjolf eye the smalls sitting on top I said, “When I said everything, I meant it.”

He chuckled and shook his head, moving to lean against the wall and rest while Karliah started rifling through the goods. “Got it,” she said triumphantly, and pocketed something. Then she produced the two eyes Mercer had pried from the statue.

I sighed softly and thought of Gelebor. What was such a detailed statue of a Snow Elf doing in a Dwemer ruin?

Karliah offered one of them to me, and I blinked in surprise. “I’m already getting paid back for this job.”

Brynjolf shook his head. “Now then, lass, it’s loot. One for the guild, one for you. Believe me, when I do the job you need I’ll tiptoe off with whatever looks good.”

“Eh, given that reasoning, sure,” I said and accepted it. We stayed in that cave for at least an hour, just drying out. Nobody brought up the fact that I had single-handedly brought down the target. Whatever it was they’d been after had been retrieved and it was up to Karliah to deal with it further. Brynjolf and I had a date.

As soon as we were dry we exited the cave. Karliah had been correct in her earlier assumption that we were under a lake for we were facing one. A look at my map oriented me and showed me the Nightgate Inn was nearby, so Brynjolf and I went there to get rooms for the night.