Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 29

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9.1

Interlude

Rain’s Hand, 3rd, 4E 202

I left for Winterhold as soon as possible, killing a Volkihar vampire along the way who had just killed a Vigilant. I pulled the usual trick at the cave near town, then went straight to my quarters.

I would stay a while, go over paperwork, do some reading. . . .

The laughable thing was I still had three schools of magic to master. They were very close, but not yet there. The other thing was—what now? I could pretend I was never the Dragonborn, so long as I never got caught near a dying dragon, that was.

After some thought I decided I would just go back to how it was before. I’d wander around, advance my skills, maybe even start learning Alchemy properly. Once I had that decided I went down to the Arcanaeum to look for something to read. That damn chest was still there, mocking me, and Urag was seated at his desk. Maybe another time.

While I was browsing around (where I found out from a random book, incidentally, that the Dwemer called Blackreach FalZhardum Din) I heard more than a few of my colleagues speaking, and one thing that stood out was that whatever it was Arniel was waiting for might have arrived. Being nosy, I tracked him down. He needed help, but then Arniel wasn’t much for exerting himself, as I had come to learn over the months I’d been a part of the College.

Enthir was supposed to obtain something for him, but. . . . Well, it’ll be more of the usual.

And Colette had obviously gone mad. The entire time I was speaking to Enthir I could hear her over in the next room, casting mage armor on herself over and over again. Why? Was that her idea of a nervous quirk? She always was rabbiting on about how people were sabotaging her. Maybe she thought, in addition to that, that she would be attacked at any moment by the forces of evil. Then again, she had a tendency to rub everyone the wrong way.

On a whim I went to the Hall of the Elements to see if any lessons were being held and walked into a lecture being given by Faralda on “External Pressures”, as she called them.

“It is no secret that both the Synod and the College of Whispers have recently made inquiries as to the status of our College here in Winterhold. At this time, there is no indication that either group is aware of the other’s correspondence. The College of Winterhold has thus far declined requests for direct meetings.

“This has been at the specific request of Arch-Mage Aren. Aren believed that although the initial communications were innocent enough, they were sent with a particular motive in mind. The Synod’s harsh rules and draconian structure are maintained only by suppressing any opposition to their Council’s policies. It is entirely possible that they look to our College here in Winterhold in order to find supporters for their organization.

“Likewise, the College of Whispers has long been driven by its desire to directly oppose the Synod. They focus on research banned by the Synod, such as Conjuration and Necromancy. The College of Whispers hopes to learn that our College also supports these avenues of research. Thus they may claim that the Synod is indeed a political minority in the Empire and should be treated as such.

“Our actual position and policies are irrelevant. No matter the facts of the response, it will certainly be twisted to suit the whims of either group. Indeed, it has been jokingly suggested that we send the exact same response to both, which each will warp into support for their side. At present, these two groups do little beyond attempting to gain the attention and favor of the Emperor. They appear to have little interest in real study and research for the sake of gaining knowledge.

“Arch-Mage Aren believed, as does Arch-Mage Yvara, that their conflict poses a significant threat to the autonomy of our College, and I concur. Falling in with either would threaten to draw much unwanted attention to our College. If either group goes through less official channels and attempts to contact you directly, please refer them to Master-Wizard Tolfdir. Say as little as possible so as to avoid compromising our neutral position.”

Rain’s Hand, 4th, 4E 202

I was, unfortunately for College business overall, on my way again far sooner than I had expected, though mainly because I wanted to help Arniel and hopefully get him back to being more useful.

While in town I checked in at the Jarl’s longhouse. With the changeover from Stormcloak to Imperial control we then had Kraldar in as the new Jarl. He was, as I recalled, favorable in tone toward the College, which was a relief. After a quick chat with him my status as Thane was reinstated, and I was ready to leave town.

If nothing else, I could finally go to and from Winterhold without having to fight past that fort on the way.

Rain’s Hand, 5th, 4E 202

‘You have got to be shitting me,’ I thought, gazing down at the person I’d just killed in self-defense. ‘I have vampire assassins after me now? She’s not even tricked out like she’s one of Harkon’s idiots, so—what? Did the Dark Brotherhood farm out the contract in the hopes that someone else could manage to off me?’

I kicked the corpse and kept going.

I supposed I was a bit insane to be traveling at that hour, but . . . it was a clear night, coming up on dawn, really. I was headed to Riften, and I was feeling so relaxed (assassins notwithstanding) just meandering along, pausing for an extended soak in the hot springs, picking flowers—like the old days before all that Dragonborn nonsense.

Brynjolf was out in the marketplace when I wandered into town, hawking a new product. “Genuine Powdered Aetherium!” he cried out. “Want to look younger? Change the colour of your hair? Add some vivacity to your vitality and potency to your potential? Works well mixed into mead, ale, or even wine. Only twenty gold coins! Also works well as a skeever deterrent.

I was a bit surprised, actually. I would have thought with his increased responsibilities at the guild he would not have the time to be at ground level keeping an eye out for possible recruits and trying to shift dodgy goods.

I wandered by his stall casually, shooting him an amused look, and ducked into the Bee and Barb. Marcurio didn’t give me a second look, which is just as it should be. Well, he offered his services, of course, but. . . . After I bought a selection of beverages and some food I exited. A good stretch of time was spent rifling through all the wares for sale, with a hope of something of interest, and also collecting alchemical ingredients.

Brynjolf was packing up when I wandered back through, so I strolled on by him again, headed for the canal. We met up a short time later in the Ragged Flagon and cozied up to a free table on the fringes of the main bar area. I produced some Velvet LeChance for Brynjolf, a blood potion for myself, and smiled at him. “So. . . .”

“Yes?” he said innocently.

I shook my head and smiled again. “So now you’re using my tales to come up with—” I stopped. Had to laugh.

“Aye, lass. And why not? I’ve only got so much imagination.”

I sighed, chuckled a little, and said, “So what is the stuff?”

“Ah. Powdered crystallized honey. Used blue mountain flower for the colouring.”

I shrugged. Should be harmless. Assuming anyone bought any, that was. “Got attacked again. Another assassin. Vampire, not Volkihar, no note or orders on her.”

“Really now. What is it about you that draws them in? I just can’t figure.” He took a sip of his drink and shook his head.

“Because I’m short?” I suggested facetiously. “Oh, that reminds me. That guy, the one who stole Katria’s work? Met him. I don’t even understand how he knew I had the thing on me. I didn’t think it was showing. But he flipped out and said I couldn’t be allowed to live because I knew too much, and attacked, him and his guards. He’s dead now.”

Brynjolf blinked at me.

“You know, one of these days I’m going to steal you away from the guild for a while. Haul you off to the hot springs or something. I swear, you spend too much time in this town.”

Delvin overheard that comment and laughed roguishly, causing Brynjolf to aim a scowl over his shoulder at the man. “Go on then, Bryn. Let the lady steal you away.”

I got up, flashed some fang with a grin, and hauled Brynjolf up. “I have permission! It’s almost like not stealing at all! Thank you, kind sir.” And then I dragged a mostly unprotesting Brynjolf away to the Ratway.

Rain’s Hand, 6th, 4E 202

I was disturbed to see, as we went by the main entrance to Riften (mainly in order to get to the road from my house outside town) that there were two cultists sniffing around. Brynjolf noticed my unease, but refrained from saying anything just then.

And I did not take him to the hot springs. Instead we made the journey to Elysium. He had never been there and I thought it’d be amusing to drag him halfway across the country. Besides, he really did spend too much time in Riften. I introduced him to Valdimar, showed him around, and then spent a few hours in the “hot spring” out back.

“So why the uneasiness?” he finally asked, after we were happily soaking in hot water with bottles of mead and blood off on the edges.

“Eh. . . . You ever spoken to one of them?”

He shook his head. “Seen them, ghosting through the city.”

I sighed heavily. “They’re cultists. You might have noticed I have a set of their gear in the armory as a souvenir. Not long after I was introduced to destiny I was attacked in Whiterun. They’re from Solstheim, followers of some guy named Miraak. The ‘True’ Dragonborn, according to them. Shockingly this is only the second time I’ve seen any of them, but. . . . I suppose the only way for me to find out what’s going on would be to go to Solstheim.”

“What causes you to hesitate? Is it because you prefer to leave that part of your life behind?”

“Well, yes. At least partly. I’m uneasy because aside from killing me I don’t have any idea what they want. If there’s another Dragonborn out there, with mad cultists on his side, can I really afford to ignore them in the long run?”

He opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“So, taking up with strange men, are we?”

I looked over and smiled as she came closer. “Ah, you’ve seen him before. But in case you didn’t catch his name, this is Brynjolf. Brynjolf, this is Serana.” I eyed the sky. “You going to join us?”

“Sure. Why not?” she said, then quickly stripped down to her smalls and waded in, taking the seat across from me.

“Valdimar tell you I was back here?”

She shook her head. “He wasn’t inside. Maybe he’s gone into town. But I saw your horse so I knew you were around somewhere, and I could hear your voices.”

I nodded, glanced at Brynjolf, then looked at her and said, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. I know, you were off with Valerica, getting things settled, so the absolute last thing I wanted to do was get in the way of any of that by dropping any of this on you.” She furrowed her brow in confusion and I just shook my head slightly. “While you were gone, something mind-boggling happened. You remember that Dragon Elder Scroll?”

“Of course.”

“Well, it became relevant again. See. . . .”

Some time later, once I was done with my recital, she shook her head. “Maybe I should pay extra to get the Black Horse Courier to deliver to the castle,” she joked.

I snickered and felt more than a little relief. I’d felt bad about keeping this from her. I knew I could trust her, that wasn’t at issue, but I really did want her to have that chance to reconnect with her mother. I was relieved that she wasn’t angry at the omission or delay.

“So do you plan to go?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said stubbornly. “It’d mean putting on that face again. It’s bad enough I was running around with both faces during all the ruckus, but to do the same over there? The place is too small from what I understand. It’d be . . . odd, I guess.”

She got a thoughtful look on her face, nodded slightly, and looked at Brynjolf. “So, Thieves Guild.”

“Aye.”

“All the way out here? Relaxing in a pool with this trouble-magnet?”

“I was stolen,” he deadpanned.

Rain’s Hand, 9th, 4E 202

There was another assassin, a few hours before dawn. I wasn’t even sure if I was in Whiterun, The Rift, or The Pale at the time. Really now. Giving the Khajiit, and the Dark Brotherhood, a really, really bad name. It was pitiful.

I found some poor guy outside a tomb. I think if I’d let him he’d have sobbed on my shoulder. He was fairly young, a Nord, and easily startled. “Ah! Oh, by Kyne you startled me. There’s a necromancer around here so watch yourself. . . . Can you help me? He’s in the tomb doing gods know what with my dead relatives.”

I could think of a lot of things, actually, but suspected that outlining all of them would make the poor fellow collapse in horror. “Sure,” I said easily. “What’s going on?”

“Vals Veran.”

I nearly snorted. What a ridiculously alliterative name.

“My family has never really seen eye to eye with him and he has finally gone off the deep end. He’s gone in to defile our family tomb by using our ancestors for his filthy dark elf necromancy.”

I arched a brow at him in mild disbelief. “I kind of doubt his race has much to do with anything. I’ve seen plenty of Nord necromancers in Skyrim, my friend.”

“Oh, uh. . . . Well. My aunt went in after him, but she hasn’t come out yet and I’m afraid to go in by myself.” He blushed at the admission and ducked his head. I almost expected him to start toeing the floor any second.

“So, why did you let her go in alone if you’re willing to go in now with someone else?”

The tips of his ears went red at the question and he sighed. I felt the life being sucked out of me at the sound. Lengthy, stuttering, morose, ashamed. “I’m not proud of it. I’m terrified of that place and Aunt Agna knows it. My Da locked me in there in a drunken rage when he left us . . . three days in there eating the offerings left for our dead before Aunt Agna found me.”

Well, at least that was an understandable reason, so perhaps I should be a touch more kindly toward him, especially as he was willing to stiffen his spine and go in at that point—with help, of course. “All right. Let’s go.”

“Great! I’ll unlock the door and we can go inside, then you can lead the way.”

Funny. That sounded awfully familiar. What was it with people always pushing me to the front? And I was supposed to lead the way in an entirely unfamiliar tomb?

Inside he said, “We should get after Vals Veran before he does more damage here.”

The gods were torturing me for being helpful, I just knew it. “Right.” I headed forward and he fell in behind me. “And how do you feel about ‘killing’ your ancestors?”

“We’re not killing them,” he replied, “they were already dead. We’re helping them back to Sovngarde.”

I would have to discuss that with Serana, actually. I know that one lady actually managed to get two souls to pop up in protest after their bodies had been conscripted into her “army”, but never having spent any real time learning about necromancy (as opposed to knowing spells which would press a corpse into temporary service—as a distraction, in my opinion) I had no idea if what he was talking about was even normally possible. That was, long after they had died. Not like that one fellow I got books from and sold to Vekel, who performed his travesties on the freshly dead, or near dead. I shook my head slightly and tried to pay attention to the tomb.

“That dark elf is about to be a dead elf.”

I flung my hand up in disgust. “Stop with the racism or I’m turning around and leaving you here alone!”

We eventually came to a cooling corpse after taking down any number of draugr.

“No!” he cried, and it was then that I realized I didn’t even know his name. “Aunt Agna! Talos, why didn’t I go in with her?”

“How about you check those doors there,” I suggested, and as soon as he turned away I did a quick check of the body. I found a note on her, amongst other things, but that was the only thing I took.

Golldir, don’t be such a milk drinker. I know you’ve been scared of Hillgrund’s Tomb since your brother locked you in there when you were children, but we can’t let Vals Veren get away with this!

‘Wow, they both do it. And someone’s memory is messed up. Why was this note even still in her pocket?’

Hillgrund and our other ancestors need us to protect their remains, and I’m going in, with or without you. I’m sure one dark elf is nothing to worry about, but if something should happen, don’t forget to check the secret passage in case he barricaded himself in the deeper chambers.

—Aunt Agna

Just then Golldir made a frustrated sound. “He’s barred the door. Gods only know how he’s . . . defiling the bodies of my ancestors in there! Agna once told me there is a secret room deeper in where they buried disgraced members of the family. Maybe that will get us into the main chamber.”

Something about seeing his aunt laid out dead stiffened his spine, because Golldir took the lead at that point. We fought through yet more draugr—well, he fought, I incinerated them—and then he looked around and said, “This looks like the area Agna told me about. She said that the bear would show the way. . . .”

I quickly located the chain necessary to open the secret passageway and gave it a yank. The lid cracked off a nearby sarcophagus and hit the floor.

“You found it!” he said excitedly. “The passage goes through the sarcophagus.”

I palmed my face and prayed for the strength to endure.

“I don’t like this,” he continued, “but we’d better keep going.”

Finally—we came to the alternate door to the main chamber. We slipped inside and were more or less immediately noticed by Veren.

“The dead should be made to serve the living, not the other way around!” Veren said grandiosely, mockingly.

“I’ll return my ancestors to Sovngarde, and you with them!”

‘He wants to send a Dunmer to Sovngarde?’

“Sovngarde is a myth, you s’wit! And now you can join your ancestors in service to me!”

Veren gestured and a handful of draugr staggered out to play. We “killed” them, Veren gestured again, we “killed” them, and we did it a third time. During all this I had a Dremora Lord out, and Veren was being a skeevy little bastard by teleporting every time I tried to nail him with a spell. But after that third wave of draugr—which included a Deathlord—he finally stopped teleporting. Maybe he could only do it so many times in any given time frame? Maybe he was feeling confident?

He died.

“Thank you for your help with Vals,” Golldir said afterward, and I praised Akatosh that the man had finally learned you did not need to use a person’s full name every time you referred to them. “Please, take this”—he handed me a coin pouch—“and leave me to see to Aunt Agna and my other family members.”

I nodded and went to unbar the main doors, then hastened off. I checked the pouch outside and blinked in shock. ‘Wow. Fifteen hundred septims. I am very impressed. And glad I only yelled at him once.’

I tucked the money away and continued on randomly, eventually stumbling over a cave on a river. Outside was a lot of bloody bones, several bodies—I ducked in out of curiosity. There were plenty of trolls in there, feasting on miners, merchants, and bandits. While I was there, clearing the place out, I found a strange knife or dagger. I’d never seen anything like it, nothing constructed in that fashion before. It didn’t really look like any style I was familiar with. I was especially pleased when one of the bows I looted was a Daedric one. Even if I never used it, a traveling companion might be able to.

Rain’s Hand, 10th, 4E 202

At the College I went to see Arniel, hoping to get some kind of specifics regarding what he had ordered and had been lost. He was singularly cagey about the whole thing, so I decided to show him the knife I’d found and get his thoughts. I never expected it to be the one he was so desperately seeking.

“The dagger. . . ? By Akatosh, they didn’t even wrap it correctly?” He shrugged his tunic sleeve down to cover his hand and snatched the dagger out of my hand. “You didn’t touch it did you? Well no, of course you must have! Did you attempt to wield it? And you’re not dead? Gods, it’s a wonder it’s in one piece!”

‘Funny, I don’t recall the part where I said I tried to use the thing,’ I thought, eyeing him in bemusement. “So this is it? Do you have everything you need for your experiment now?”

“I do—I do indeed. Keening, one of the great tools of Kagrenac himself, is finally in my possession. I don’t think I really believed this day would come. This artifact is beyond nearly all value. A singular instrument of immense power, a tool of impossible import. Keening, and its counterpart, Sunder. Used by the tonal architects of the Dwemer to tap into the Heart of Lorkhan.”

I stifled a yawn and nodded. “And. . . ?” The man could talk the ears off a mammoth given the chance.

“Now we see whether my theories are correct. I apologize if I have not been clear about my work. I didn’t want to discuss it for fear this moment would never come,” he said. “Everyone knows the Dwemer disappeared. No one knows why. This little experiment is a first step in recreating the events of their disappearance in an effort to unravel that mystery. Lacking the heart of a dead god, I am substituting the crystal you helped craft in its place.”

I frowned. Had I really done that? I honestly had no recollection. Most members of the College avoided him or were short with him, so maybe I had, in and around other things.

“I also lack Sunder, the counterpart to the dagger Keening. I am reasonably confident, however, that this will still work. I certainly don’t expect it to have quite the same results. I’m no tonal architect, of course! Well, I suppose it’s time, isn’t it? Let’s see what happens. You, uh. . . . You may want to stand back a step or two.”

I shuffled back to just the other side of the archway.

“But please, don’t leave entirely. You’ve been instrumental in this process. I’d like you to see the results first-hand. Right, then. . . .”

He placed some soul gem into one of the holders in the room and brandished Keening, then slammed the edge of the blade against the gem. “Hmm. That—that didn’t really do anything, did it? Perhaps a little harder?” He tried twice more with no better result. “I don’t understand,” he almost wailed. “This should produce some notable effect.” He took a step back, huffed, and shouted, “Work, damn you!” Then he started striking the gem with Keening over and over again.

And then he was just . . . gone. Vanished. Keening hit the floor. I realized, as I was crouching down to retrieve the dagger, that I suddenly had knowledge of how to summon his spirit, or shade, or something like that. Curious, I summoned him.

He appeared in spirit form, blessedly silent. Well, except for the part where he sounded like a Dead Thrall. Blech. I would have to try him out in battle at some point, but, for now, paperwork!

Rain’s Hand, 13th, 4E 202

I saw another cultist not far out of Winterhold, which pissed me off. A Thalmor patrol in the area killed him without a second thought, which saved me the trouble. It was a little odd that it was just the one, though.

I got to Elysium several hours later and retired to my room for some sleep, and popped awake again about mid-morning. When I was in Whiterun another one of those fits came over me and I found myself agreeing to help a handful of people. I told Amren I’d bring his sword back should I find it.

Took a wrong turn and stumbled into the Hall of the Dead, where the Priest of Arkay there, Andurs, wanted his amulet back. “Tell me,” he said, when I came through the door (which made me wonder if he was starved for conversation), “do you believe in mighty Arkay, god of life and death?”

“Yes,” I said simply. If I could believe in Akatosh and Meridia and Sheogorath and Hermaeus Mora, I could believe in Arkay.

“I’m glad to know that,” he replied with relief, “because I need your help. You see, I’ve lost something precious: my Amulet of Arkay. It’s the source of my divine powers and also a sacred badge of office. I misplaced it in the catacombs. I’d look for it, but I’ve been hearing noises down there. I fear the dead have become . . . restless. Without that amulet, I’m powerless to confront them. Would you be willing to search for it?”

I eyed him for the moment, feeling more than a little annoyance. He was a priest, but completely ineffective without his amulet? His only power came from a piece of jewelry? I probably had ten of the damn things in my jewelry box at Elysium! Prayer wasn’t any good at all? Spells? Faith? “Of course,” I said, smiling politely.

“I’ll just wait here and make sure nothing foul escapes the catacombs.”

‘While being utterly powerless to actually do anything if something did,’ I thought as I went through the doors. ‘Well, unless he flings himself bodily against the doors in the hopes that would be enough to keep them closed. He is a skinny old man, though.’

There were, indeed, skeletons roaming around in there, but a five year old child could knock one of those to pieces with a damn potato as their only weapon. I found his amulet and brought it back to him.

“Oh, thank Arkay. Please, take this gold for your troubles.”

I nodded in thanks and hastened off to donate that money to the temple, along with some of my own, then wandered into the marketplace to see what was for sale. Carlotta heaved a huge sigh when I neared—the kind of sigh that generally meant “please help me”—and I asked her if something was wrong.

“Life’s hard enough with all these men propositioning me. But that bard is the worst.” When I arched an inquiring brow at her she continued, “Mikael is begging for a dagger up against his throat, the way he goes on about me. I’ve heard him boasting at the Bannered Mare, saying he’ll ‘conquer’ me ‘as a true Nord conquers any harsh beast’. Hmph.”

“Well now,” I said. “I think I’ll go have a little chat with him.”

“If you want to try, go right ahead. I don’t think anything will get through that thick skull of his, though.”

I smiled at her. “If he won’t listen to words, I’ll just have to beat the stuffing out of him.” I then headed off to the Bannered Mare to find me a bard. Mikael was warbling out some tune or other, playing his lute, so I waited until he was done to pull him off to one side. The look he gave me told me exactly what he was thinking. “You really ought to leave Carlotta alone,” I said quietly.

He tossed his hair back and said, “I’m sorry, but that fiery widow is mine. She just doesn’t know it yet.”

“I don’t think you understand who you’re dealing with, friend,” I replied softly, intently. “Your harassment of Carlotta will stop.”

Maybe it was because I had pulled him aside so nobody was listening in. Maybe it was something he saw in my expression. But after a few moments he sighed and said, “Maybe you’re right. I guess I just didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t handle one lass. On my honor, I won’t bother Carlotta ever again.”

I nodded. “Thank you. I know about you Nords and your honor, so I expect I won’t hear anything about this again. But should I, know that I will relieve you of your manhood with the dullest blade I can find. Or fire. I’ve always liked fire.” I wandered off muttering, “Maybe a paralyzation spell and an ice spike would work, too. . . .” It was pissing rain when I went back outside.

“Really?” Carlotta said, brows up in disbelief. “You convinced that lute player to stop chasing me? I’d thank the gods, but I’ll settle for thanking you. Here’s some coin for your help.”

I thanked her and took the pouch, knowing I would just donate it to the temple, and decided to chop some wood for Hulda. She was always pleased when someone lent a hand for that sort of thing. Sigurd from Belethor’s wasn’t hogging the damn pile so it was simple enough. I knew there was another one around town somewhere, but I’d be damned if I could remember where. Hulda was appreciative and handed over a little coin as well, also destined for the temple.

I dropped the money off before heading back home for the remainder of the day.