Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 21

23042015

6.5

Dovahkiin

Diplomatic Immunity
Morning Star, 14th, 4E 202

“So that’s it, then,” he said, gazing upward.

I hummed softly. “If a pick won’t work, acid might, or repeated applications of ice and fire to ruin the metal.”

He gave me an interested look. “I hadn’t thought of that one.”

“Oh, you Nords,” I teased. It was an hour past midnight and I hoped everyone was sleeping so that our entrance was unremarked. “Okay, you’re up first.”

Brynjolf did his damnedest to pick the damn thing open, to no avail. Then he took the acid I offered him (it had been fun tracking down more than one Afflicted and luring them into a position where they’d need to use their bizarre attack against hostile wildlife so I could collect the goo) and we both stood to the sides so he could splash it without either of us being caught in whatever dripped down. It sizzled, but no go.

“Bugger,” I muttered. “Okay, let me try this.” I alternately froze and fired the door and succeeded in warping the metal, but the lock didn’t crack and it did not open. I spent a minute kicking snow over the acid on the ground in frustration before something occurred to me. Borri, opening that gate at High Hrothgar. “Okay, I have one more idea before we have to try slipping over the damn wall up there. Stand back a little.”

Brynjolf did so and I concentrated on the word “open”, trying to unlock some deeper meaning, searching for something inside me from the dragon souls I’d absorbed. “Bex!” I said sharply, looking at the trap door; it popped open with a quiet groan of tortured metal. “About damn time,” I muttered.

“Right, lass, nice and easy.” Brynjolf crouched down and offered his laced hands to give me a leg up.

With his help and my own jumping prowess, I easily launched myself up through the trap door and landed lightly. “Laas!” I whispered and slowly spun in a circle looking for auras. There was just one, in a cell nearby. I laid flat and extended an arm down to give Brynjolf a hand. He was able to use that to get himself up high enough to grab the edges of the opening and pull himself up the rest of the way.

I closed the door as quietly as I could and then tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the cell. “One life form. I don’t see any others down here,” I whispered.

He nodded and we sneaked over to the cell to have a look-see. Brynjolf gasped quietly and pulled me off a short distance. “That’s a fellow guild member, lass.”

I frowned. “We’ll take him along, then. Ah, you get his cell open and I’ll do some healing. I’m sure they’ll need it.”

“Aye. But you go look around first for what you need. I don’t want him to see a stranger straight off and I do have some potions handy.”

I nodded. “All right.” I cast Muffle on my feet and skulked off around the corner; there was a desk there and a chest against the wall. Rifling through the desk revealed nothing of interest so I picked open the chest. Inside was a key and a book or journal entitled Thalmor Dossier: Esbern that I tucked away. A quick look around showed nothing else of interest except for two sets of stairs, so I checked in with Brynjolf, keeping out of line of sight of the prisoner.

“He’s not waking up,” he whispered. “They worked him over pretty hard.”

I sent out a stream of healing magic and when the man began to stir I sidestepped out of view. “Back in a couple. I’ve not found it yet.”

Brynjolf nodded so I scurried off up a set of stairs. They led to a door, but did not provide access to the other set of stairs so they obviously led to different parts of the embassy grounds. The door was locked, of course, so I set about picking it open, and prepared an invisibility spell. I eased it open just enough to slip through, then nudged it closed and whispered, “Laas!”

There was one person up a level higher and two on the floor I was on, so I’d have to be careful. I studied their movements until my invisibility was about to wear off, then refreshed it and started moving. In a chest by a desk (which was lacking in anything of interest) were another three documents, one of which was entitled: Dragon Investigation: Current Status.

First Emissary Elenwen,

We anticipate a breakthrough in our efforts to uncover the party or power behind the dragon resurrection phenomenon. An informant has identified a possible lead, whom we have brought back to the Embassy for a full interrogation. The subject is obstinate, but by all indications is holding back the information we seek. I have authorized Intermediate Manual Uncoiling—I do not expect more will be necessary, unless you feel time presses.

I know you prefer to be present for the final questioning; I will inform you immediately when the subject is fully receptive. Two days should tell the tale.

In the meantime, if you wish to audit our technique, your expertise is welcome, as always. I have placed the prisoner in the cell closest to your office stairs, for your convenience.

—Rulindil, 3rd Em.

I tucked all of them away and retreated back to the door I’d used and went back to Brynjolf.

“I think I have it,” I whispered. “There are three people upstairs, two of which are on patrol. I think we better get out of here.”

“A little more healing first, if you will. My friend here could use it.”

I made sure my hood was obstructing any real view of my face and looked back at the prisoner, then started healing him again while Brynjolf kept an eye on both sets of stairs. When the man could stand Brynjolf carefully led him off to the trap door and opened it. “I’ll go down first,” he said. “Etienne, you come down next and I’ll make sure you get down safely.”

Etienne nodded shakily and shortly thereafter it was my turn, but I had Brynjolf give me a leg up again so I could reach through and pull the door back down behind us. They would still figure out how it was done, but no sense leaving it open to be noticeable straight away. We hustled our find away as quickly as possible and once we were in the clear we got him mounted on Horse and took off through the night.

Brynjolf stole two horses from Dragon Bridge like the thief he was and with all three of us mounted—I reclaimed my faithful horse—we headed toward Morthal, then cut down through Labyrinthian. We split up at Fort Greymoor, with them continuing on east. I headed south along the road toward Markarth, but only long enough to be sure they wouldn’t see me turn east and cut across the wilds so I could stop in at Elysium.

One of the things I did while there was place the Dragon Elder Scroll into Luggage, just in case. But it also gave me time to rest a bit and read over all of the documents I’d purloined. I looked at the first unread one, Thalmor Dossier: Ulfric Stormcloak.

Status: Asset (uncooperative), Dormant, Emissary Level Approval

Description: Jarl of Windhelm, leader of Stormcloak rebellion, Imperial Legion veteran

Background: Ulfric first came to our attention during the First War Against the Empire, when he was taken as a prisoner of war during the campaign for the White-Gold Tower. Under interrogation, we learned of his potential value (son of the Jarl of Windhelm) and he was assigned as an asset to the interrogator, who is now First Emissary Elenwen. He was made to believe information obtained during his interrogation was crucial in the capture of the Imperial City (the city had in fact fallen before he had broken), and then allowed to escape. After the war, contact was established and he has proven his worth as an asset. The so-called Markarth Incident was particularly valuable from the point of view of our strategic goals in Skyrim, although it resulted in Ulfric becoming generally uncooperative to direct contact.

Operational Notes: Direct contact remains a possibility (under extreme circumstances), but in general the asset should be considered dormant. As long as the civil war proceeds in its current indecisive fashion, we should remain hands-off. The incident at Helgen is an example where an exception had to be made—obviously Ulfric’s death would have dramatically increased the chance of an Imperial victory and thus harmed our overall position in Skyrim. (Note: The coincidental intervention of the dragon at Helgen is still under scrutiny. The obvious conclusion is that whoever is behind the dragons also has an interest in the continuation of the war, but we should not assume therefore that their goals align with our own.) A Stormcloak victory is also to be avoided, however, so even indirect aid to the Stormcloaks must be carefully managed.

That said quite a lot about the war. Something to consider down the line. I then read the next one, entitled Thalmor Dossier: Delphine.

Status: Active (Capture or Kill), High Priority, Emissary Level Approval

Description: Female, Breton, mid 50s

Background: Delphine was a high-priority target during the First War, for both operational and political reasons. She was directly involved in several of the most damaging operations carried out by the Blades within the Dominion. She had been identified and was slated for the initial purge, but by bad luck was recalled to Cyrodiil just before the outbreak of hostilities. During the war, she evaded three attempts on her life, in one case killing an entire assassination team. Since then, we have only indirect evidence of her movements, as she has proven extremely alert to our surveillance. She should be considered very dangerous and no move against her should be made without overwhelming force and the most careful preparation.

Operational Notes: She is believed to still be working actively against us within Skyrim, although we have no location on her. Assumed to be working alone, as no other Blades are known to be active in Skyrim, and she has in the past avoided contact with other fugitive Blades for her own security (one of the reasons she has so far evaded elimination). Her continued existence is an affront to all of us. Any information on her whereabouts or activities should be immediately forwarded to the Third Emissary.

Something to keep in mind when dealing with the woman, and it explained her rampant paranoia.

The final one was entitled Thalmor Dossier: Esbern.

Status: Fugitive (Capture Only), Highest Priority, Emissary Level Approval

Description: Male, Nord, late 70s

Background: Esbern was one of the Blades loremasters prior to the First War Against the Empire. He was not a field agent, but is now believed to have been behind some of the most damaging operations carried out by the Blades during the pre-war years, including the Falinesti Incident and the breach of the Blue River Prison. His file had remained dormant for many years, an inexcusable error on the part of my predecessor (who has been recalled to Alinor for punishment and reeducation), in the erroneous belief that he was unlikely to pose a threat due to his advanced age and lack of field experience. A salutary reminder to all operational levels that no Blades agent should be considered low priority for any reason. All are to be found and justice exacted upon them.

Operational Notes: As we are still in the dark as to the cause and meaning of the return of the dragons, I have made capturing Esbern our top priority, as he is known to be one of the experts in the dragonlore of the Blades. Regrettably, we have yet to match their expertise on the subject of dragons, which was derived from their Akaviri origins and is still far superior to our own (which remains largely theoretical). The archives of Cloud Ruler Temple, which is believed to have been the primary repository of the oldest Blades lore, were largely destroyed during the siege, and although great effort has been made to reconstruct what was lost, it now appears that most of the records related to dragons were either removed or destroyed prior to our attack. Thus Esbern remains our best opportunity to learn how and why the dragons have returned. It cannot be ruled out that the Blades themselves are somehow connected to the dragons’ return.

We have recently obtained solid information that Esbern is still alive and hiding somewhere in Riften. Interrogation of a possible eyewitness is on-going. We must proceed carefully to avoid Esbern becoming alerted to his danger. If he is indeed in Riften, he must not be given an opportunity to flee.

I sat back with a sigh, wondering if that weird old man in the Ratway Warrens behind the tricked-out door was Esbern. I pulled supplies from my desk and made copies of everything to store at Elysium, then tossed the dossiers on Delphine and Ulfric into Luggage. I would keep the other two on me for the time being.

I also wished I had read the one on Esbern beforehand and could have warned Brynjolf about the Thalmor, but if Etienne was the one they were interrogating regarding his location, Brynjolf should already be aware of it and would warn his people accordingly. Either way, Brynjolf had walked away with some loot, just not the loot he was expecting.

Even with the impetus to get a move on I stayed to rest for a while.

Morning Star, 15th, 4E 202

Delphine looked both pleased and pissed off to see me. “I don’t think you were followed,” she said quietly. “Come on. I have a plan.”

‘I’ll just bet you do,’ I thought as I followed her down to her little hideout.

“I figured out how we’re going to get you into the Thalmor Embassy,” she said earnestly.

I could have just told her I’d already done so, but I wanted to see where her plan was going, so I played along. “You wouldn’t be coming, too?” I asked innocently.

“That would be a bad idea. I’d be too likely to attract the wrong kind of attention. But they don’t know you at all, yet.”

It was the “yet” part that stuck in my craw. It was as though she expected me to end up on the wanted lists just as she was. And then I could become a dragon-slaying, Thalmor-killing paranoiac like her. “What’s your plan, then?” I asked as evenly as I could.

“The Thalmor ambassador, Elenwen, regularly throws parties where the rich and connected cozy up to the Thalmor. I can get you into one of these parties. Once you’re inside the embassy, you can get away and find Elenwen’s secret files. I have a contact inside the embassy. He’s not up for this kind of high-risk mission, but he can help you. His name’s Malborn, a Bosmer, with plenty of reason to hate the Thalmor. You can trust him. I’ll get word to him to meet you in Solitude, at the Winking Skeever—you know it? While you’re doing that, I’ll work on getting you an invitation to Elenwen’s next little party.”

“And, once I’m inside the embassy, then what?”

“That’s when the fun starts. You’ll have to slip away from the party without raising the alarm. Then you’ll need to find Elenwen’s office and search her files. Malborn should be able to point you in the right direction. After you’ve spoken with Malborn at the Winking Skeever you can meet up with me at the stables outside the city and I’ll get you ready to go.”

I nodded slowly, internally seething, then shook my head. “No, I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she shot back. “I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long time, remember?”

“Yes, I’m sure you have. But I have a serious problem with the fact that it’s extremely likely that it’ll be noticed that this mysterious guest has vanished, and so has a lot of important documentation. I’d end up as just another name on the Thalmor list of persons to be executed, which would greatly hinder my passage around Skyrim. In fact, I feel like you’re being a bit cavalier with my life, actually.”

Delphine sputtered in anger, but stopped when I threw the report about dragons on her table. “Now, see, I had a look around personally since I saw you last, to get a feel for the place. I found a perfectly viable way inside, and found some interesting information. The best part is no one there should have a clue who broke in and helped themselves. The Thalmor have no idea what’s caused the dragons to return. Take a look.”

“Really?” she said skeptically, and not without some anger. “That seems hard to believe. You’re sure about that?”

“As I said, take a look. And why would you want to send me there anyway if you weren’t going to believe me after I came back?”

She deflated as she read the document, the red flush of anger fading. “You’re right, you’re right. I just—I was sure it must have been them. If not the Thalmor, who? Or . . . what?”

“I have no idea, but the Thalmor have a lead on someone who might know, and I intend to go track him down. His name should ring some bells for you. It’s Esbern.”

Delphine stepped back a pace in shock. “Esbern? He’s alive? I thought the Thalmor must have got to him years ago. That crazy old man,” she said, almost fondly. “Figures the Thalmor would be on his trail, though, if they were trying to figure out what’s going on with the dragons. Esbern was one of the Blades archivists, back before the Thalmor smashed us in the Great War.

“He knew everything about the ancient dragonlore of the Blades. Obsessed with it, really. Nobody paid much attention back then. I guess he wasn’t as crazy as we all thought. Ironic, right? The old enemies assume that every calamity must be a plot by the other side. Even so, we’ve got to find Esbern before they do. He’ll know how to stop the dragons if anybody does. Do they know where he is?”

“Mm, they think Riften.”

She nodded thoughtfully, then said, “Talk to Brynjolf. He’s . . . well connected. A good starting point.”

‘Why not just say go to the Ragged Flagon? Is this some payback for pissing her off, with her hoping I get offended over having to deal with thieves?’ I nodded and said, “Right. I’m off.”

“Wait!” she said. “He’s not going to believe you. If you find him, ask him where he was on the thirtieth of Frostfall. He’ll understand.”

On my way to Riften I seethed some more. Miss High and Mighty back there was too valuable to the cause to risk on a skeever-brained infiltration plan, but the Dragonborn wasn’t? Pfft. And then to question my word on the information I’d brought back?

A Cornered Rat
Morning Star, 16th, 4E 202

I arrived at Riften some time after midnight. It was a risk going down to the Ragged Flagon dressed as the Dragonborn, but I had little choice in the matter. I couldn’t go as myself, and hopefully my armor was intimidating enough that the thieves down there would hold off on getting itchy. Better yet, it’d be nice if Brynjolf was down there. I entered the city through the gate by Mistveil Keep and skulked along the wall until I could slip down to the canal level and into the Ratway.

There were a few vagrants down there with more bravery than sense which I had to kill, but I arrived at my destination very quickly and entered the Ragged Flagon. To my great relief Brynjolf was there sitting with a fellow I vaguely recalled was named Delvin. Delvin jerked his head in my direction and Brynjolf turned to look, then jumped up and came to meet me.

“You after the old man?” he murmured.

“Yes. Anyone been asking about him? Thalmor infesting the place?”

“Aye, lass, to both. Oddly enough, one of my fellow thieves was making some inquiries, which is highly suspicious. He’s here tonight, in fact. If he tries to leave you can bet I’ll be holding him for my own inquiries.”

I nodded. “I’d rather word not got out I was down here, if you catch my meaning, but some of your lot may wonder how it is you know the damn Dragonborn. If I’d had more time I’d have scrounged up a completely different set of armor, but oh well. Anyway, all right. I’m going down there and I’ll wipe out any Thalmor I run across. You keep an eye out here. Try to keep tongues from wagging? Please?”

He chuckled softly. “As best I can, lass. If you come back through and the place is deserted, don’t be getting any fool ideas about what happened to us.”

“Ignore any screams of mortal terror, then,” I joked and walked on. I wasn’t even long past the door when I spotted several Thalmor soldiers. I took a deep breath and summoned a Wrathman from the Soul Cairn and began arcing lightning everywhere.

I had to take out several more on my way to that weird door, but when I arrived everything was quiet for the time being. I knocked, repeatedly, until I could hear movement on the other side and the cover over the slit at eye height (for a Nord, anyway) slid to one side.

“Go away!”

“Esbern? Open the door. There are Thalmor infesting the Warrens and they’re after your hide.”

“What!? No, that’s not me. I’m not Esbern,” he said with a complete lack of conviction. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The cover slid shut with a bang and I could hear muttering.

‘Great, this one’s as paranoid as Delphine.’ And speaking of her—I knocked again until he opened the cover and said patiently, “Delphine said to ask where you were on the thirtieth of Frostfall.”

There was silence from the other side, though I could see him peering out at me. “Ah. Indeed, indeed. I do remember. Delphine really is alive, then? You’d better come in then and tell me how you found me and what you want.”

It took him a long couple of minutes to undo the multitude of locks and open the door. “There we are! Come in, come in! Make yourself at home!” He closed the door behind me and secured the largest of the locks, then said, “That’s better. Now we can talk. So, Delphine keeps up the fight, after all these years. I thought she’d have realized it’s hopeless by now. I tried to tell her, years ago. . . .”

“Look. The Thalmor have found you. We have to get out of here.”

“Yes, yes, so you said. But so what? The end is upon us. I may as well die here as anywhere else. I’m tired of running.”

Irritation rose up like a cresting wave. “I don’t care, Esbern. I came here to get you to Delphine. You can take it up with her, and then you can go get yourself caught by the Thalmor and interrogated until your brains come out your ears.”

“Haven’t you figured it out yet? What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what’s going on? Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said! Nothing can stop him! I tried to tell them. They wouldn’t listen. Fools. It’s all come true—all I could do was watch our doom approach.”

“Alduin,” I said, “the dragon who’s raising the others.”

“Yes! Yes! You see, you know, but you refuse to understand!”

“Again. I don’t care. Right now isn’t the time for long explanations. Delphine wants you, so pack up whatever you need and let’s go. Maybe there’s some Blades sanctuary here in Skyrim you two can hide out in instead of mouldering down here like a mad hermit who was never in his life a Nord.”

Esbern stopped his pacing and looked at me sharply, partly offended and partly with an air of epiphany. “Ah!” He turned quickly and started gathering up books and other things. “Give me—just a moment. I must gather a few things. I’ll need this—no, no, useless trash—where’d I put my annotated Anuad?”

I turned away to keep an eye on the door as he kept racing around packing.

“One moment, I know, time is of the essence, but mustn’t leave secrets behind for the Thalmor. There’s one more thing I must bring. Well, I guess that’s good enough. Let’s be off.”

I nodded and unlocked the single lock he had reset and opened the door. On the way back we ran into more Thalmor, but Esbern proved to be more than just a tired, disheartened old man. He was quite handy with magic, especially shock spells and summons. The Ragged Flagon was deserted—Brynjolf had obviously packed everyone away somewhere safer in case Thalmor overran the place—so we continued on into the Ratway proper, only to find more Thalmor and one Khajiit. She was a spy or informant for the Thalmor judging by the note I found on her, but it was one fewer witness left behind.

Alduin’s Wall
Morning Star, 16th, 4E 202

“I really hope you’re rested,” I said once we’d slipped out the gate by the keep and gone far enough from the guards. “It looks to be mid-morning and we have a long way to travel. With the Thalmor and informants there dead we might be okay if we just push through to Riverwood.” Inside I was angry that it had all taken far too long as I’d hoped to get back out of the city under the cover of night. Now there were guards and people in the marketplace who’d seen me, which meant they could be targets for interrogation by the Thalmor. We headed west on the main road. I intended to take the pass to Helgen then get to Riverwood from there.

An assassin showed up not long after we passed the road north to Ivarstead. A rough search of the body revealed nothing, not even the usual parchment with orders, leaving me in the dark. I had to assume that Elenwen was involved somehow. She had realized someone had broken in, knew about Esbern, sent forces to Riften along with an assassin. Perhaps that Khajiit informant had tipped more than just the Thalmor off? Why the assassin would have waited so long to strike, on the other hand, was a bigger mystery.

We hit the pass as the sun was starting to sink; if any Thalmor found us there shouldn’t be any witnesses left after we slaughtered them. But it remained that it was later than I wanted. Esbern was pretty spry for his age, but the long run was wearing him down. Once we got through the pass I would take a shortcut that’d shave quite a bit off our time, even if the going might be a bit rougher than Esbern would appreciate.

Even with the shortcut we rolled into the inn some time before midnight. I admitted, if only to myself, that I was pretty tired after jogging for so long while escorting an old man and with the possibility of Thalmor popping up at any moment.

“Delphine!” Esbern said happily. “I—it’s good to see you. It’s been . . . a long time.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Esbern. It’s been too long, old friend. Too long.” I could swear Delphine actually seemed choked up with emotion that wasn’t anger there for a moment. “Well, then. You made it, safe and sound. Good. Come on. I have a place where we can talk. Orgnar, hold down the bar for a minute, will you?”

“Yeah, sure,” said the guy behind the bar.

In the hideout Delphine said, “Now then. I assume you know about—”

“There’s no time to lose,” Esbern interrupted, having caught his second wind and acting with far too much energy. “We must locate—let me show you. I know have it here somewhere. . . .”

“Esbern,” Delphine said with exasperation, “what—”

“Give me—just a moment,” he interrupted again, rummaging around in his pack. “Ah! Here it is. Come, let me show you.” Esbern placed a book on the table and tapped it. “You see, right here. Sky Haven Temple, constructed around one of the main Akaviri military camps in the Reach, during their conquest of Skyrim.”

Delphine leaned my way and muttered, “Do you know what he’s talking about?”

“Shh!” Esbern said sternly. “This is where they built Alduin’s Wall, to set down in stone all their accumulated dragonlore. A hedge against the forgetfulness of centuries. A wise and foresighted policy, in the event. Despite the far-reaching fame of Alduin’s Wall at the time—one of the wonders of the ancient world—its location was lost.”

“Esbern,” Delphine said, exasperated again, “what are you getting at?”

Esbern looked up in confusion, perhaps shock. “You mean . . . you don’t mean to say you haven’t heard of Alduin’s Wall? Either of you?”

“Let’s pretend we haven’t. What’s Alduin’s Wall and what does it have to do with stopping the dragons?”

“Alduin’s Wall was where the ancient Blades recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return. Part history, part prophecy. Its location has been lost for centuries, but I’ve found it again. Not lost, you see, just forgotten. The Blades archives held so many secrets. I was only able to save a few scraps.”

“So you think that Alduin’s Wall will tell us how to defeat Alduin?”

“Well, yes, but, there’s no guarantee, of course,” he admitted.

“Sky Haven Temple it is, then. I knew you’d have something for us, Esbern. I know the area of the Reach that Esbern’s talking about,” she said to me. “Near what’s now known as Karthspire, the Karth River canyon. We can meet you there, or all travel together, your call.”

I would have pressed for more information, but I was tired and feeling pretty damn cranky. I agreed to rendezvous with them near Karthspire. They could run off now if they wanted to. I had a ways to go to get to Whiterun. I would get some damn sleep, check over any messages that might be waiting for me, and then . . . I’m sure they’d have scouted the place by the time I arrived.