Sunday, January 4, 2015

Black Horse Dispatch 16 - A Blade in the Dark

Continued from Dispatch 15 - Cloak and Dagger.

And with that, we race through the night - if there really is someone or something resurrecting dragons, we must get to Kynesgrove in time to witness it. It rains at the start, leaving me drenched, but that can't be helped.

Roughly at the halfway mark, we are attacked by a black-clad Argonian, but he proves no match for my companions. He carries a letter with him:

"As instructed, you are  to eliminate Araneus Venator by any means necessary. The Black Sacrament has been  performed - someone wants this poor fool dead.

We've already received payment for the contract. Failure is not an option.

- Astrid."

And now I feel much colder. I thought the Black Brotherhood had been wiped out 13 years ago, but apparently not. Who has set them on my trail? Not that there is a shortage of people wishing for my death, but who could afford them? A new and terrifying possibility springs unbidden to my mind...

And I want to make one thing clear to my readers: There is absolutely no proof that I am in any way related to the Septims, and just because I am apparently also a "Dragonborn" does not make me a scion of that line. Granted, I have no memories of my father and not many fond ones of my mother, but the protagonist of a story turning out to be the long-lost heir of a throne is only ever found in the worst kind of fiction. Trust me on this.

A short time later, a lone Dunmer woman attacks me. It... doesn't go well for her, and I avert my eyes from the scene of carnage created by my minions.

We reach Windhelm Hold, and it begins to snow. Fortunately, no Stormcloak patrols are in the area - presumably, they prefer to stay close to a warm, cozy fireplace, the bastards - not slowly freezing to death like me. As we reach the Windhelm stables, I can't go on - I build a makeshift fire right next to the horses (who are presumably as glad as I am to have a little warmth (though they don't show it). But even that is not enough, and I make the decision to head into Windhelm itself.

Inside the gates, I witness two of Ulfric's upstanding citizens bully a dunmer woman, accusing her and her fellow resident dark elves of being "Imperial Spies" and threatening to visit them next night. Fortunately, they leave without violence - perhaps the four strangers suddenly taking an interest in their actions might have something to do with it. As the woman explains, that's par for the course in Ulfric's city - not only the dunmer are harassed, but also the Argonians and anyone else who is a Nord.

I spend an hour at Candlehearth Hall warming myself up - but that needs to suffice.

Sundas, 24th of Last Seed.

As dawn breaks, I search for the Agent near Kynesgrove (who has declined to enter Windhelm) when I hear a draconic roar and an ancient voice shout:

"Sahloknir! Ziil gro dovah ulse!"

Damn! I am too late!

...

Damn. I'm not too late!

It's that big black bastard from Helgen! He is doing something at the burial mound - a pillar of light is emerging!


"Slen Tiid Vo!"

A skeletal dragon emerges from the mound. Its flesh begins to reform, and it speaks!

"Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik?"

Alduin? The one from the tablets of the road to High Hrothgar? The one that was "shouted out of the world"?

The Black One replies:

"Geh, Sahloknir, kaali mir.

Then it looks straight at me.

"Ful, losei Dovahkiin? Zu'u koraav nid nol dov do hi.

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

Normally I would say a witty retort at a time of this, but I really don't want to upset the enormous black, flying abomination further right now.

"Sahloknir, krii daar joorre."

With that, the Black One flies off. As the other dragon - now fully restored - jumps into the air and breathes lightning at us, the meaning is clear, however: "Kill those meddlesome mortals for me!"

But my minions and I have practice at this now, and the fight is short. The Agent, who had apparently hidden nearby to join in for the fight, is suitably impressed - and as promised, she finally parts with the real story.

"I'm one of the last members of the Blades. A very long time ago, the Blades were dragonslayers, and we served the Dragonborn, the greatest dragonslayer. 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."

Interesting. I had read about the predecessors of the Penitus Oculatus - the favored servants of the Septim Dynasty - but this facet was new to me. And apparently, they have been searching for a new Dragonborn since the Septim dynasty ended, but never found one.

Until they found me. Which does not give me warm and fuzzy feelings - quite the contrary.

But the Agent doesn't know anything about why the dragons are returning, either - but is surprised to hear that the Black One was also the one who attacked Helgen. Which leads to the suspicion that the Thalmor were behind the attack, as the liberation of Ulfric and the prolongation of the Civil War plays right into their hands.

I am... less certain. Unlike the Agent, I remember Helgen (as much as I wish I didn't), and the Black One didn't strike me as a creature that could be controlled by anyone. I doubt it would have spared Ulfric if he had been in its path, and Stormcloacus Maximus likely only survived because he knew when to duck and cover.

But the Agent remains convinced that the Thalmor might hold some important clues, and considering how they have spread out their goons all over this promise, I can't really disagree. The Agent seems to have some ideas for infiltrating the Embassy, and promises to figure out a way, given some time - I should visit the Secret Hideout again once this time has passed.

"Oh, and what was your name, anyway? I never asked..."

"Araneus Venator."

The look on the Agent's face is quite extraordinary.

"Not the... writer for the Black Horse Courier?"

"Indeed I am, and I must say that this visit to Skyrim was rather more newsworthy than I could have guessed."

"Of all the people in Tamriel, why did it have to be you? Please, by the Divines, don't talk about..."

"Don't worry - I always protect my sources."


Continued in Dispatch 17 - The Road to Riften.