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"Bound by mortality, but not morality."


Parax
[[Pary SkyrimPar skyrim fur|px]]
Parax

Primary weapon

Bound weapons, Staff of Magnus, general magic

Allegiance

Himself

Appearance

Argonian

Activities

Hunting, accumulating money, adventuring, collecting

Skin color

  • Dark blue with black patches
  • Dark grey with blue-ish patches (vampirism)

Eye color

  • Light blue
  • Orange-yellow (vampirism)

Strengths

Hyper intelligence, mastery of magic, darkness, combat expertise

Weaknesses

Boredom, sunlight, fire


Background Edit

It's the Fourth Era of Nirn. Humanity's relations with the elves have always been rocky, but not as they are now. The Empire is crumbling and recovering from a war with the Aldmeri Dominion, and to make matters worse, the treaty created to end the conflict has divided the citizens and plunged the nation into civil war. Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Windhelm leads a rebellion consisting of most of Skyrim's local Nord population, hoping to break the province off from the Empire and preserve their traditions. The Thalmor—the Dominion's main authority—sit back and watch as the stagnating Empire rips itself apart from the inside. The Stormcloak Civil War, as it has been termed, is not the only problem, however; magic has come to be feared and resented among most Nords; vampires are on the rise, growing in power and number; the Forsworn—Reachmen named so after being exiled from their land for their brutal targeting of citizens—continue to spread across the west of Skyrim, plunging the hold into a war between them and its current rulers.

And that was when a traveler came along; an Argonian going by the name of Parax. Who he was and how he came to be was a bit of a mystery; he simply showed up and began to wander the continent of Tamriel, observing and studying its inhabitants. He was quite unlike other Argonians, being just as unusual as one as his behavior and mannerisms made him appear enigmatic. He certainly didn't speak like an Argonian, be it his avoidance of mentioning the race's sacred Hist, or the terms they used, or the vocabulary in general; he spoke in a more refined fashion—not that Argonians couldn't be as such. His voice was nothing like the rest of the bipedal lizards, instead sounding more like an Altmer accent. Even his name was different: Parax—nobody heard a name like that before. Alongside his unusual nature, few could tell what was going on in his head—many things, though among them was a plan to put an end to the chaos plaguing the world. It was something he kept to himself, however—understandable, given the state of things. With that in mind, he set out north for the province of Skyrim in hopes of quelling the civil war that was rapidly weakening the Empire. Along the way, he quickly found himself among the conflict between the Empire and the Stormcloak rebels. The next thing he knew, he was being bound, forced into a crude tunic, and thrown into the back of a wagon...

Venture to SkyrimEdit

Sundas, 17th of Last Seed, Fourth Era 201. Parax awoke in a moving wagon. He looked around; Imperial soldiers on horses guarded the wagon; one of them looked somewhat elderly with his short, combed-back grey hair, and wore unique, golden armor. A member of high authority, perhaps. Another wagon was in front of the one Parax was in; it was filled with men and women, all of them —except one—wearing a blue uniform. The one without the uniform was taller than the others, and had a very pale complexion. His face looked skull-like, and his head was bulbous. He looked nothing like the other inhabitants of Tamriel.

Next, the Argonian's head slowly maneuvered itself to face upwards into the morning sky, through the foresty pine trees, gazing upon the bright sun and silky, bulbous clouds rolling over the tall, snow-capped mountains of Skyrim. The time had to have been around 11:36 AM. His eyes and head drooped to look down at his hands, which were bound at the wrists by chains. He began counting to himself, muttering quietly, "Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen..." before ceasing.

Then Parax looked at the other four prisoners in the wagon he was in; one—whose name he heard to be "Ralof" some time when he was half-conscious—wore the same blue uniform and chainmail, in addition to a thin, light beard and blonde hair that extended to his shoulders. Another man of a darker skin tone and hair color was dressed in rags, and the third—a bearded Nord with chestnut-colored hair—wore noble clothing and a fur cape. A fourth was an Orc, who was, like the dark-haired man, also wearing rags; well-built and bearing a dark complexion and a furious expression that would terrify the gods themselves, the Orc also possessed long, black hair, which he kept neatly groomed. His jawline was less pronounced as well; very unusual for an Orc. The third man was gagged, but Parax did not understand why.

"You. You're finally awake," said Ralof grimly.

"…Wh-where am…" Parax mumbled. His head ached, and it hurt to talk. Hurt to move. Hurt to even think.

"You were trying to cross the border, right?" asked Ralof. "Walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there." Ralof pointed his head to the man in rags.
Par skyrim carriage

The start of Parax's great journey.

"Damn you Stormcloaks," said the thief, angrily, "Skyrim was fine until you came along. Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn't been looking for you, I would've stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell." The thief looked at Parax. "You there. You and me - we shouldn't be here. It's these Stormcloaks the Empire wants."

"We're all brothers and sisters in bind now, thief," replied Ralof.

"Shut up back there!" ordered one of the Imperial horsemen in an annoyed tone.

"And what's wrong with him, huh?" asked the thief. He was looking at the gagged man, confused.

"Watch your tongue! You're speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King!" exclaimed Ralof.

"Ulfric… the Jarl of Windhelm? You're the leader of the rebellion…" said the thief, piecing together the situation. His confused expression suddenly turned into horror. "But if they captured you… Oh gods, where are they taking us?!"

"I don't know where we're going… but Sovngarde awaits," replied Ralof. His expression was grim.

"No, this can't be happening!" cried the thief. "This isn't happening!"

Now he realized why the man was gagged. According to gossip he had heard a little bit around the time the Stormcloak Civil War started, Ulfric Stormcloak had become dismayed by the outlawing of worshipping the god Talos across the Empire, challenged the late High King of Skyrim to honorable combat. He then proceeded to literally destroy him using the Voice, an ancient power that could bend reality itself if studied and meditated on intensely. The Empire had been hounding him ever since, only to find themselves fighting countless men and women who supported Ulfric. The man who started the civil war was in manacles, and now Parax was in the same exact wagon as him and his followers.

Parax sighed. He knew he was in trouble. Remaining calm, he began thinking of a way to escape. Could he jump and make a run for it? No, the soldiers would shoot him down before he could even stand up. Have the others serve as distractions? They were surrounded; there was no way anybody here could leave the wagon alive. It would just be a vain attempt. All Parax could hope for was a miracle—this was one of those moments where he couldn't make one himself.

"Hey, what village are you from, horse-thief?" asked Ralof.

"Why do you care?" replied the thief, crying.

"A Nord's last thoughts should be of home."

"Rorikstead… I'm… I'm from Rorikstead," replied the thief, regaining his composure.

The wagons arrived at the gate of a small town. One of the guards leaned over a walkway above the gate.

"General Tullius, sir! The headsman is waiting!"

The gate opened with a loud, creaking sound. Looking on into the town, Parax saw that the civilians inside had cleared a path in the road to avoid getting in the soldiers' way. Speaking of soldiers, there were many of them, probably making up about half the town's population. And the headsman? He may very well be on his way to his own death. He sighed loudly as he attempted to think of a plan. Maybe the Imperials would realize he did nothing wrong and just let him go. Still, it wouldn't hurt to think of something; they were quite desperate to get the civil war over with, which may very well mean killing him just to be sure.

"Good, let's get this over with," replied Tullius—the man in the golden armor, in a voice that sounded sarcastic and annoyed. He seemed to be the most anxious to end this.

"Shor. Mara. Dibella. Kynareth. Akatosh," the thief quickly started talking to himself, finally panicking again, "Divines, please help me!"

The wagons entered the town. Countless citizens and soldiers came out of their homes, watching. Children were pushed back in by their parents.

"Look at him," moaned Ralof, "General Tullius the Military Governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves… I bet they had something to do with this."

Parax observed the tall individuals Ralof was referring to. They had a golden tint to their skin, and wore dark, long, hooded robes. They sneered at the prisoners and went back to talking with each other.

"This is Helgen," mumbled Ralof, "I used to be sweet on a girl from here. I wonder if Vilod is still making that mead with juniper berries mixed in. Funny. When I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers made me feel so safe..."

One of the kids came out of his house. He looked on in amazement at what was going on as the wagons rode through the streets of the town, making their way towards what looked like a fort further in. Come to think of it, everybody seemed to be staring, wide-eyed at the events unfolding before them. Even moreso, they were watching the gagged man intently, as if they had been awaiting the day they got to see him being taken to the chopping block. Some were shouting curses at him.

"Where are they going, daddy? Where are they going?" asked the child.

"You need to go inside, little one," responded his father, who emerged from the building. The man donned hide clothing and stood beside his wife, who wore a grey-blue dress.

"Why? I wanna watch the soldiers," said the child.

"Inside the house. Now."

"…Yes, Papa…"

The wagons pulled up in front of the fort. There was a rather heavy presence of soldiers, obviously precautions to make sure the execution of Ulfric went off without any interference. A priestess of Arkay—recognizable by her trademark orange-yellow robes—was also there to give the prisoners their final rites. There was no trial that would await these people, just death. The Imperial captain in charge of the city's Legionnaires stepped forward. She was a dark-skinned woman with a stern expression on her face—in fact, she seemed more like she was just disgusted all the time, as if there was some horrible stench under her nose—and covered head-to-toe in heavy, gleaming steel armor.

"Get these prisoners out of the carts!" ordered the captain, "Move it!"

The wagons pulled up next to each other. Now the Imperial soldiers had taken another formation, surrounding the wagons to form a wall of people. Parax was still scanning the area around him; perhaps if he could get close enough to one of the Legionnaires, he could wrestle his sword out of his hand and hold him hostage until he could get away. Then again, there were archers up in the areas above, ready to put an arrow in anybody who decided causing trouble here was a good idea. Besides, they already knew his face, and for the plans he had in mind, he would need a clean slate. An active manhunt for him by the entire Imperial Legion would only hurt him in the long run.

"Why are we stopping?" asked the thief.

"What do you think? End of the line," replied Ralof.

The prisoners stood up and got out of the cart. Parax looked around, searching for a way out. Are the prisoners already planning something? Perhaps the Imperials will try to confirm who he is before they execute him. Ralof bumped Parax on the shoulder mid-thought.

"Let's go," said Ralof, "shouldn't keep the gods waiting for us."

"NO! Wait, we're not rebels!" shouted the thief. He was crying and blubbering again. Parax closed his eyes and tried to ignore him; he absolutely hated it when people succumbed to their emotions and stopped thinking straight. Then again, not many people had the same mindset as him—they weren't looking for a way out. They were all awaiting their deaths, just dealing with it in their own way. Even the horse thief's incessant whining was just his way of dealing with the fact that he was going to die here.

"Face your death with some courage, thief," said Ralof.

"You've got to tell them! We weren't with you! This is a mistake!" replied the thief. He had lost all composure, and was now desperate.

"Step towards the block when we call your name! One at a time," ordered the Imperial captain.

Parax climbed out of the wagon and joined the other prisoners. One of the Imperials, whom the captain addressed as Hadvar, opened a scroll, ready to read the names of the convicted.

"Empire loves their damn lists," mumbled Ralof.

"Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm," announced Hadvar.

Ulfric, the gagged man, stepped forward and marched towards the chopping block.

"It has been an honor serving with you, Jarl Ulfric," said Ralof.

"Ralof of Riverwood."

Ralof followed Ulfric. Parax began to feel hopeful. He knew he hadn't done anything—at least, anything that would get him sent to the chopping block. In Skyrim, at least; after all, he just got here. It seemed that all that worrying was for nothing.

"Lokir of Rorikstead."

"No, I'm not a rebel. You can't do this!"

Lokir, the thief, rushed forward, pushing the Imperial captain out of the way. She ordered him to halt, but he continued running.

"You're not gonna kill me!" shouted a hysterical Lokir.

"Archers!"

One of the guards fired an arrow, hitting Lokir in the back of the head. He stumbled for a moment before slipping and falling flat on his face. Several soldiers headed over to the body and began dragging it away. Pity—Parax would've left it there for the rest of the executions as an example.

"Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four..." Parax whispered.

"Anyone else feel like running?" asked the captain. She noticed Parax, but didn't recognize him.

"Wait… you there. Step forward," ordered Hadvar.

Parax stepped forward, hopeful that he would be released.

"Who… are you?"

"Parax."

"Captain… what should we do?" asked Hadvar, "He's not on the list."

"Forget the list. He goes to the block," replied the captain.

Parax felt a chill run down his spine. He raised one of his spiky eyebrows and coldly stared down the Imperial. However this went down, priority number one was now making sure that this bit her in the ass.

"…By your orders, Captain," said Hadvar, looking at Parax sadly. "I'm sorry. We'll have your remains returned home."

"Wonder how that will be done," mumbled Parax, glaring at the captain.

"Follow the captain, Parax."

This was not happening. How was he going to make it out? If he escaped, the only door he could probably use was behind the executioner, but what if it was locked? How does he hope to escape this place? Parax followed the captain to the group of prisoners; the rest had been called over. General Tullius was addressing them.

"Ulfric Stormcloak," Tullius started, "Some here in Helgen call you a hero. But a hero doesn't use the power of the Voice to murder his king and usurp his throne. You started this war, plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down and restore the peace."

A loud, strange roar was heard in the distance. Everyone in Helgen looked around, trying to understand where exactly it came from. It sounded deep and otherworldly—nothing like any creature in Tamriel; whatever it belonged to had to have been large.

"What was that?" asked Hadvar, nervously.

"It was nothing. Carry on," ordered Tullius.

"Yes, General," replied the captain. She turned to the priest, "Give them their last rites."

"As we commend your souls to Aetherius," started the priestess, "Blessings of the Eight Divines upon you-"

"For the love of Talos, shut up and let's get this over with," interrupted one of the Stormcloaks, stepping forward. He shoved the woman aside and stood before the chopping block.

"…As you wish," responded the priestess.

"Come on! I haven't got all morning!" shouted the Stormcloak.

The captain forced the rebel onto the chopping block, and the executioner raised his axe.

"My ancestors are smiling at me, Imperial. Can you say the same?" demanded the Stormcloak.

The executioner brought down his axe, and with a loud thud, the Stormcloak's life was ended. The captain shoved the body off the chopping block with her foot.

"You Imperial bastards!" yelled one of the Stormcloaks.

"Justice!" shouted one of the Imperial supporters.

"Death to the Stormcloaks!"

"As fearless in death as he was in life," mumbled Ralof, mournfully looking at the rebel's headless body.

"Next, the lizard!" ordered the captain.

"Why so crude?" growled Parax. He pulled his arms away a few times to test the strength of his bindings.

The roar was heard again, but closer and louder. The prisoners and Hadvar were even more nervous.

"…There it is again," said Hadvar, "Don't you hear that?"

"I said. Next. Prisoner," ordered the captain, gritting her teeth.

"To the block, Parax. Nice and easy," whispered Hadvar.

Parax reluctantly walked forward, but he did not stand before the chopping block. Instead, he halted halfway through and faced Tullius and the captain.

"Fuck this. What you all see before you is a criminal. A man who has broken your laws, and is about to pay the price for it," the Argonian started calmly. Meanwhile, another part of his mind channeled its focus, and a small flame appeared in his hand. Then he remembered why his hands were manacled instead of tied with rope like the others; he had tried this earlier and had to be beaten down by Imperial soldiers. "I can assure you all that what you see and what is, are two different things. No, I don't say this as some idiot who thinks what they did wasn't wrong—I literally did not do anything. Your captain here-"

"Enough!" the woman interrupted. She stepped forward and tried to end Parax's antics, but he had other plans. At this point, he was just doing the only thing he knew how to do: survive. It was either that or have his head chopped off and put in a basket with that other one, the last experiences of his life being the stench of a bloody, severed head. And because of that, he caught the captain's hands with his own, though he found difficulty in it due to his wrists being bound together. He swerved behind her and held the chain bonds against her neck. The Stormcloaks were cheering him on.

Knee in groin from behind. Bite. Headbutt. Gravely injure. Human shield. Use Hadvar's conscience to reason with Tullius. Escape. Deal with captain later.

In the split second after he had pressed the chain against the woman's neck, she had interrupted his attempts to further plan out the fight and elbowed him in the side, her metal gauntlets digging into him. He tried to hold on, valuing his survival over stopping just a little pain, but several soldiers had come in to pull him off her. Nobody had fired any arrows, not wanting to risk hitting their superior. The captain turned to face the Argonian, who promptly spat in her face; she responded with a punch to the gut before having him dragged to the block, his head forced down onto it and his back held bent down towards it with the captain's foot. But even then, when all seemed lost, fate had more in stock for him than an uneventful death in Helgen.

"What in Oblivion is that?!" demanded Tullius, pointing upwards. A large, lizard-like creature on wings flew overhead.

"Sentries, what do you see?" asked the captain.

"It's in the clouds!" shouted an Imperial.

"Dragon!" cried one of the Stormcloaks.
Par chop chop

Parax's life is now in fate's hands.

The dragon landed on top of the fort with a loud thud, releasing a shockwave that knocked the executioner off balance. It shouted into the air, darkening the sky; the guards fired arrows at it, only to be burnt alive by the dragon's breath. Parax threw himself off the chopping block as the prisoners and Imperials dispersed. The dragon set the town on fire, burning several buildings to the ground. Civilians panicked.

"Guards, get the citizens to safety!" ordered Tullius.

"Die, for the love of the gods, die!" cried one of the Imperials, firing arrows at the dragon.

"Hey, Argonian, get up!" shouted Ralof, "Come on, the gods won't give us another chance!"

Parax got to his feet and looked up as Helgen was helplessly being burned to the ground. His vision had gone blurry for a moment, but returned as he shook his head violently and looked around. In the few seconds the dragon was present, the area had already become engulfed in a bright orange-red light, flames eating away at the buildings throughout Helgen. A great shadow passed over with great speed.

"This way!" said Ralof, leading Parax to the keep.

Parax followed, running through the keep's entrance as Ulfric Stormcloak—now unbound and ungagged—closed the door behind him.

"Jarl Ulfric," Ralof panted, "what is that thing? Could the legends be true?"

"Legends don't burn down villages," replied Ulfric in a deep voice.

The Orc, the unusual creature from earlier, and one of the Stormcloaks were walking around the keep, checking the pulses of the fallen. Another roar sounded out and an explosion was heard.

UnboundEdit

"We need to move, now!" ordered Ulfric

"Up through the tower, let's go!" shouted Ralof.

Parax and Ralof turned to the staircase and began to go up it, running into one of the Stormcloaks.

"We just need to move some of these rocks to clear the way," said the Stormcloak, carrying the rubble from place to place.

As Parax, Ralof, and the others advanced to help the soldier, the dragon's head forced its way through the tower, sending rocks and the Stormcloak flying across the room. The dragon breathed fire through the gap in the wall, torching another Stormcloak nearby.

"See the inn on the other side?" asked Ralof. "Jump through the roof and keep going!"

"Are you mad?!" Parax retorted. "A bloody dragon is right there!" He sighed as he considered his options; with all the chaos going on outside the tower's entrance, there wasn't really much of a path forward besides this. Listening to the dragon's wings flapping as it flew off towards another section of the town, Parax got out from the cover of the wall behind him and jumped.

There was a loud crash as Parax slammed against the second floor of the town inn, whose roof had been burned away. He heard the crackling of fire as he climbed back to his feet, and immediately his nostrils were filled with smoke. His eyes watered a little as he swerved out of the way of the tall Orc, who landed with an even louder thud and rolled once before standing up straight. Immediately, he started struggling with his bindings in an attempt to wrestle them off. By the looks of things, his wrists were more tightly bound than the other prisoners' had been.

"Save it!" Parax shouted, wheeling around to face a gap burned into the other side of the room, though part of him felt like he had completely forgotten something back up there. He sprinted forward, his manacles making his movements slightly awkward as his torso unnaturally swerved side to side, followed closely by the Orc. Together, they ran along whatever remained of the roof of an extension to the inn, leaping off and landing on the ground. Hadvar was present; the Imperial was darting from building to building, escorting civilians and grouping them up. Another soldier was nearby; Parax recognized him as the one who manacled him earlier. The Orc continued over towards Hadvar while Parax walked up behind the soldier and wrapped the chain between his cuffs around his neck. He crossed his hands to tighten his hold over the Legionnaire, pressing his palms against his head and channeling his flame spell into burning through his flesh. Unable to scream, the soldier lunged back, throwing himself and Parax into a building.

The need to survive was in mind for both parties, though the soldier was in a state of panic as his vision was darkening and the fire of Parax's spell burned the sides of his head away. Parax, on the other hand, seemed to be able to maintain his calmness as he tightened the chain pressing into his victim's neck and kept his concentration up, continuing to torch the man's head before slamming it into the building repeatedly. The soldier stopped struggling after a few more seconds; Parax sifted through his pockets for the key to his cuffs. Though he found it, the dragon landed nearby and clamped its jaws down, narrowly missing the Argonian as he sprinted through the wreckage and ran to join Hadvar and the Orc.

"Haming, you need to get over here, now!" Hadvar exclaimed at the little boy from earlier, who was cowering behind a charred wagon. The child was shaking, his eyes constantly fixated on two burnt bodies, one wearing hide clothes and the other a blue-grey dress.

"Oi, snap out of it!" the Orc growled, picking up a chunk of wood and flinging it in the boy's direction. As if he was in a trance that was just broken, Haming's head immediately turned in the direction of the others, promptly getting out from behind cover and running frantically towards them. The dragon landed nearby and unleashed another burst of fire, which narrowly missed Haming and the Orc.

"Gods! Everyone get back!" ordered Hadvar. He turned to Parax and the Orc, "You still alive, prisoners? Keep close to me if you want to stay that way. Gunnar, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defense."
Par skyrim alduin

Parax's first encounter with a soon-to-be nemesis.

"Gods be with you, Hadvar," replied a decrepit elderly man, who immediately began to escort Haming and the other civilians towards several other soldiers.

Parax and the others followed Hadvar, the dragon still flying overhead. They surveyed the entire area, not once letting their guard down as they ran between a damaged perimeter wall and a house. The dragon seemed to have taken a strange interest in them, as it began closing in on their location.

"Stay close to the wall!" Hadvar yelled.

The dragon landed above the group, jabbing at the three with its wings. It kept itself steadily balanced on the perimeter wall as it tried to burrow its head down into the alleyway, but there was simply not enough room. It attempted to blast them with more of its fiery breath, but its targets were too well blocked off for it to accurately aim at them. Growling loudly in frustration, it took off, giving the group the chance to get out of the passage.

"General Tullius, over here!" Hadvar shouted, attracting Tullius's attention. He then faced the group briefly again. "Quickly, follow me!"

The group ran past a squad of Legionnaires, who were keeping the dragon occupied. Or, at least they thought they did; by the looks of things, it was shrugging off whatever arrows they shot. The dragon began to circle overhead, observing the soldiers as if it was trying to torment them further as it decided which one to put out of his misery first.

"Get to the keep, Hadvar—we're leaving!" Tullius ordered as he and numerous soldiers sprinted for one of the several doors into the town's fort. As Hadvar, Parax, and the Orc prepared to join them, they were cut off by chunks of rock and wood, which were flung by the chaotic explosions of fire and the dragon itself.

"It's you and me, prisoners," said Hadvar. "Stay close!"

Hadvar and the others ran to one of the alternate entrances of Helgen's fort, while the remaining Legionnaires whom had been cut off desperately tried to fight off the attacking dragon.

"What does it take to kill this monster?!" cried one of the Legionnaires. As he said this, his cries turned to shrieks of agony as he and his fellows were enveloped in flames.

Meanwhile, the three rapidly approached one of the few entrances to the fort that had yet to be blocked off. As they grew nearer and nearer, they came face to face with Ralof, who had emerged from the piles of rubble and wreckage and entered the courtyard as they had. He now wielded a war axe; both he and the weapon were splattered with blood. A tall, pale creature whose face possessed skull-like features was standing beside Ralof, though the Stormcloak didn't seem to pay much mind to him. It approached Hadvar and simply stood there, not saying anything.

"Ralof, you damned traitor! Out of my way!" shouted Hadvar, unsheathing his own sword.

"We're escaping, Hadvar. You're not stopping us this time," replied Ralof smugly.

"Fine, I hope the dragon takes you all to Sovngarde!" Hadvar growled.

Parax had only a few seconds to pick a side. He already didn't trust any Imperials in Helgen, and siding with Ralof would create a good image for him with the Stormcloaks. This could be his chance to escape and fulfill the plans he had come to Skyrim with. Finally, he could bring order to this chaos-consumed country. Parax and the Orc left Hadvar's side, while the tall creature stubbornly stood next to the Imperial. Both groups took off, with Ralof, Parax, and the Orc heading into the keep, and the tall figure running through another door with Hadvar. Parax, the Orc, and Ralof entered the keep and found themselves over a dead Stormcloak. Ralof gripped the soldier's hand.

"We'll meet again in Sovngarde, brother… Looks like we're the only ones who made it."

"Pity," replied Parax, looking back at the door. The body of another Stormcloak was slumped up by a wall beside it; his throat appeared to have been slashed.

"That thing was a dragon, no doubt. Just like the children's stories and legends. The harbingers of the End Times…" Ralof's face was more grim than ever, but he immediately changed the subject. "We better get moving. Come here, let me see if I can get these bindings off."

The Orc held out his arms, allowing Ralof to cut the ropes tying the his hands together. Meanwhile, Parax used the key he had taken from the Imperial soldier he attacked to unlock his manacles.

"There you go," Ralof said, "You might as well take Gunjar's gear. He won't be needing it anymore."

Parax stepped forward and took the dead Stormcloak's clothing and weapons, while the Orc did the same with the body beside the door. As they did so, Ralof tried opening one of the doors to another corridor.

"Bah, this one's locked. Let's see about that one." He motioned his head in the direction of a gate, which was on the other side of the room.

The Orc approached the gate and tried to slide it open, but he had no more luck than Ralof did with the door.

"Damn. No way to open this from our side," muttered Ralof.

"So what do we do now?" asked the Orc in an irritated tone.

"Come on soldier, this way!" shouted the familiar voice of a woman. Then it all came back to Parax—this voice belonged to the Imperial Captain from earlier. The one who sent him to the block.

"Imperials! Take cover," whispered Ralof.

Parax, Ralof, and the Orc hid behind the wall beside the gate. The Captain and Imperial soldier accompanying her opened the gate and came charging in. Taking advantage of their ignorance, the Orc pressed a sword he looted against the front of the soldier's neck and slit his throat, while Parax and Ralof ambushed the Captain. However, she was more prepared for this, and managed to punch Ralof in the face and threw him against a wall, while Parax drove Gunjar's axe into her side. The Orc embedded a knife into the Captain's shoulder while Parax kicked her in the knee, causing her to fall down. The Argonian looked down upon her and slowly knelt down to pick up her dropped sword, pressing her hand away from it with the axe he claimed.

"Remember me?" Parax hissed as he stood back up and ran the blade along the Captain's neck. He promptly tossed Gunjar's axe to the Orc, who caught it and put it on his belt. After giving the Captain a few seconds to recognize his face, Parax swung her own sword into her neck, spraying her blood about. He held the weapon back out and swung it into her neck again, and again, and again, until her head rolled to the side and fell off. He sighed as he stood over her corpse, then turned to face the Orc.

"Nice," the Orc commented blankly.

"What's your name?" asked Parax, looking up at the Orc. Up until this point, he didn't realize just how big he was; he towered over him like some half-giant, and his muscles suggested he could probably break someone his size in half if he tried.

"Rellik."

"Let's see if one of those Imperials has a key to that gate," suggested Ralof.

Parax and Rellik looted the Captain's corpse, taking some of her armor and a key to the other door.

"That's it! Come on, let's go before that dragon brings the whole tower down on our heads!" Ralof exclaimed.

The trio unlocked the door and exited the room. They headed down a staircase towards another exit, but the dragon from earlier attempted to burrow its head through it. Part of the tower collapsed, sealing off the door.

"Damn, that dragon doesn't give up easy," panted Ralof.

With the dragon retreating back outside, the three were free to continue on. They passed through another door into a room that bore resemblance to a torture chamber, with cages lined up and various tools on a nearby table. An Imperial disappeared through a nearby door, while several others turned around to see Parax, Rellik, and Ralof. The torturer grinned.

"You won't leave here alive," said one of the soldiers, and the groups clashed blades.

DragonbornEdit

1:47 PM. The group emerged from the cave system below Helgen. They had been down in the dark for so long, enough for the brightness of the sun to hurt their eyes. When their vision adjusted, they found themselves looking down a sloping, forest-covered hill with a great river at the bottom. Many more mountains and hills dotted the vast landscape, all of them having great ruins of the ancient Nords digging into them. Though there was much grass, snow was one of the most common things in Skyrim; the province was, after all, in the far north of Tamriel and a place whose fall and winter were the most prominent seasons. The dragon from Helgen suddenly soared overhead, not taking notice of them, and disappeared into the distance.

"There he goes. Looks like he's gone for good this time," said Ralof. The man was visibly sweating.

The three had finally made their way to freedom. They looked around, finally outside, and not in Helgen. Parax and Rellik began walking down a path; they carefully followed Ralof, as these lands were new to them.

"But there's no way to know if anyone else made it out alive," continued Ralof. "This place will be swarming with Imperials soon… We better get as far as possible. My sister, Gerdur, runs the mill in Riverwood just up the road; I'm sure she'd help you out. Good luck, and thank you; I wouldn't have made it without your help today."

"You're not coming with us?" Rellik asked.

"I think it would be best if we split up," replied Ralof. "If I get caught, then at least they won't assume you're with me."

"They would either way," said Parax. He lightly tapped the Stormcloak uniform Rellik was wearing. He also pointed to himself, as he was wearing the late Gunjar's gear. "Besides, we'll be better off in a group anyways—you've seen what we can do, and it's only a little while longer before you're rid of us."

"I didn't mean it that way, but you're right," the Nord agreed. He led the two on the road, pausing to look on at one of the Nordic ruins in the distance. Whatever was left of them was mostly just a series of massive stone arches jutting out of the mountain north of them. A structure was embedded in the mountain behind the arches, and a door could be seen. "Bleak Falls Barrow. Most believe that place to be haunted. It used to give old Hadvar nightmares—he always imagined draugr creeping down the mountain to take him in his sleep."

"You knew Hadvar?" Parax inquired.

"Aye, he and I were thick as thieves when we were younger," Ralof explained. "It pains me that he chose the wrong side in this war. No matter; let's hurry up and get to Riverwood—we need to change out of our gear."

On the three went, wandering down the stone and dirt road for what felt like hours. Soon enough, they came to three light brown stones that stood up from the ground. They each had a different design on them; one depicted what looked like an armor-clad warrior with a massive axe, another of a masked man with a cloak and dagger, and lastly a bearded wizard with a staff. Each stone had a circular gap in it, and a shaft leading upwards from it and out of the top.

"The Guardian Stones, three of thirteen Standing Stones spread across Skyrim," Ralof remarked. "They're said to give certain blessings to those who manage to activate them, but I never could quite figure it out. You're welcome to give it a shot if you'd like."

Parax and Rellik were clearly able to quickly deduce what each Standing Stone represented; Rellik, having a preference for physical combat, approached the stone with the warrior carving. Parax had always been fascinated by Tamriel's magic, but the circumstances he was under had severely limited his arcane knowledge for the time being. Still, he was fond of the few spells he had learned in the little time he had, among them being the ability to shoot flames and ice from his hand. They were weak at the moment, but with patience and practice, he would be able to hone them. As such, he faced the stone depicting the wizard. Much to the three's surprise, a bright blue light suddenly shimmered in the circular hole in the center of each of the two stones, then a blue beam shot off into the sky; the stones had been activated.

"Amazing," Ralof whispered to himself. "Just like the ancient legends… The stars will lead you both to honor and glory. I myself may not be a fan of magic, but the fact that you could even activate those… Thousands of years ago, it was said that only one could be active at a time."

"I'm sure we'll all have an explanation soon enough," said Parax. "Let's get going."

"You two go on, I want to try my luck with these again," Ralof replied. "Just follow the road and you'll be there."

Parax and Rellik went on, leaving the Nord staring in awe at the Guardian Stones. Eventually, they reached Riverwood, and proceeded to search for a mill as Ralof had mentioned. However, Parax noticed something that Rellik did not; an Imperial in light armor and a tall, bald figure walking into the blacksmith's house. Oddly enough, the Imperial—whom he realized to be Hadvar—appeared to be somewhat in a trance, as if he wasn't fully aware of his environment. Parax was glad to see that the two had made it out (especially Hadvar, whom Parax respected for his help), and continued on with Rellik to find Gerdur. The two encountered her, asking for help. Though reluctant at first, she listened to their story; that they had escaped with Ralof and that he said she would help. Furthermore, they assured her that there was, in fact, a dragon that flew near Riverwood, and that she wasn't seeing things.

"I don't know why, but I actually believe you. You've got the look of someone who's actually seen a dragon," replied Gerdur, dumbstruck. "Things just go from bad to worse. First the war, now dragons. The Jarl needs to know about this; Riverwood is defenseless."

"How do we get to Whiterun from here?" asked Parax.

"Cross the river and then head north. You'll see Whiterun on its hills as you pass the falls," replied Gerdur.

Just then, Ralof arrived. He came running into the village and embraced his sister.

"Gerdur!" exclaimed Ralof.

"Brother! Mara's mercy, you're safe," the woman sighed with relief. "Your friend told me about Helgen… But is it safe for you to be here? Are you hurt? What's happened?"

"Gerdur," interrupted Ralof, "Gerdur, I'm fine. At least now I am. Is there somewhere we can talk? There's no doubt that word from Helgen will reach the Imperials."

"You're right," replied Gerdur, "follow me. Hod, come here, I need your help with something."

Parax and Rellik followed Gerdur and Ralof to a stump. Gerdur's son, Frodnar, came running in to pester Ralof with questions, joining the conversation.

"Uncle Ralof! Can I see your axe? How many Imperials have you killed?" the boy asked quickly, begging to be enlightened and inspired. "Do you really know Ulfric Stormcloak?"

"Hush, Frodnar," Gerdur ordered, gripping her son's shoulder. "This is no time for your games. Go and watch the south road. Come find us if you see any Imperial soldiers coming."

"Aw, mama, I want to stay and talk with Uncle Ralof!" Frodnar insisted.

"Look at you, almost a grown man!" said Ralof, quickly forming an idea. Won't be long before you'll be joining the fight yourself."

"That's right! Don't worry, Uncle Ralof, I won't let those soldiers sneak up on you!" And with that, he began to march on over to the gateway, carefully watching the road to Helgen with a stern look on his face. Parax couldn't help but smile from amusement.

"Thirty-nine, forty, forty-one..." was Parax's input, albeit in a hushed whisper.

Gerdur sat Ralof down on the stump beside him, then got on her knees and placed both hands on her brother's arm. "Now, Ralof, what's going on? You three look pretty well done in."

"I can't remember when I last slept…" Ralof muttered, pressing his hands to his face. " Where to start? Well, the news you heard about Ulfric was true. The Imperials ambushed us outside Darkwater Crossing. Like they knew exactly where we'd be. That was... two days ago, now. We stopped in Helgen this morning, and I thought it was all over. Had us lined up to the headsman's block and ready to start chopping."

"The cowards!" Gerdur exclaimed. "Not even a fair trial?"

"They wouldn't dare give Ulfric a fair trial. Treason, for fighting for your own people!" Ralof growled. "All of Skyrim would have seen the truth then. But then... out of nowhere... a dragon attacked..."

"When your friends told me, I didn't believe it at first either."

"I can hardly believe it myself, and I was there!" commented Ralof, his eyes widening at the thought of the horror he had faced. "As strange as it sounds, we'd be dead if not for that dragon; in the confusion, we managed to slip away. Are we really the first to make it to Riverwood?"

"Nobody else has come up the south road today, as far as I know," said Gerdur.

"Good. Maybe we can lay up for a while," Ralof sighed, his head drooping. "I hate to put your family in danger, Gerdur, but..."

"Nonsense. You and your friends are welcome to stay here as long as you need to," replied Gerdur. She turned to Parax and Rellik and gave them both a reassuring smile. "Let me worry about the Imperials. Any friend of Ralof's is a friend of mine."

"Thanks, sister. I knew we could count on you," said Ralof.

"I ought to get back to work before I'm missed, but... did anyone else escape? Did Ulfric..."

"Don't worry. I'm sure he made it out. It'll take more than a dragon to stop Ulfric Stormcloak," Ralof stated proudly.

Soon into the conversation, Gerdur's husband—who introduced himself as Hod—arrived at his wife's request. The two began talking for about half an hour before Parax and Rellik left the mill to ask the other residents for help. As they wandered the village, they came across a distraught wood elf—or, as they were also known, Bosmer—who introduced himself as Faendal.

"Did I see you talking to Sven? Maybe I did… maybe I did not. Just… I'd stay away from him if I were you," said Faendal.

"Alrighty, only about a day in Skyrim and I'm already encountering the crazies," Parax muttered, closing his eyes and drooping his head in annoyance.

"What's your problem with Sven?" asked Rellik.

"He's a bard, or so he says," replied Faendal. "Occasionally he finds time to do his job here at the mill. Thinks his ballads and sonnets are going to convince Camilla Valerius to marry him. As if she would say 'yes.' An intelligent, beautiful woman like her wouldn't fall for that nonsense... I hope."

"…You 'hope'? You don't sound very secure," noted Parax, cocking his head to the side.

"A true bundle of confidence," Rellik commented.

"I've been thinking... maybe Camilla needs a little help seeing Sven for what he is. Could you... could you give her this letter, and say it's from Sven?" asked Faendal. "I think I've matched that Nord's lack of cleverness perfectly."

Parax sighed, questioning whether he should do so. However, upon seeing Sven's own odd behavior and similar attempts to have Parax deliver a false letter, he weighed Faendal's potential usefulness in the future and spoke to Rellik about it. After a few moments of discussing, the two sided with Faendal and indulged his request. Faendal rewarded Parax and Rellik by paying them, as well as giving them a few supplies that he had been saving up. He also promised to assist the two with anything they needed, insisting that he owed them one. Afterwards, the two agreed to help Camilla and her brother recover a trinket of theirs—a golden claw, if they happened to find it on their adventures. According to the two, it had been stolen by bandits that resided in Bleak Falls Barrow. They took the time to rest in the local inn before heading out at dawn, and after Rellik acquired his own copy of a map of Skyrim, he simply split off and began making his way to Whiterun.


7:39 AM, Morndas, 18th of Last Seed. Parax, while traveling on the road to Whiterun, came across the path to the cave known as Bleak Falls Barrow— the same place that Camilla and her brother claimed their claw was taken. Figuring he would find something helpful, he found himself wandering away from Rellik and onwards along the path, disposing of several bandits that tried to attack him on the way—stealing their fur clothes along the way. Traveling into Bleak Falls Barrow, he found several dead bandits, which were signs of a fight. There were two other bandits nearby; whether they killed the others or something else was responsible was unknown to Parax. Regardless of their allegiance, two well-placed arrows in the bandits' heads allowed Parax to continue deeper into Bleak Falls Barrow.




Rellik looked over his shoulder as he walked along the cobblestone road to Whiterun. The smoke from Helgen could still be seen in the distance, its dark plumes billowing up and blowing towards the west, disappearing behind one of the many mountains that dotted the region. But that wasn't all he was looking for; he had both eyes open and undividedly attentive to his immediate surroundings. Many horrors happened inside of Helgen, but the one that posed a threat to him right now was the man he witnessed strangling that soldier during the chaos. He seemed so confident that nobody had noticed, or even cared for that matter if they did, and there was a look in his eyes as he plucked the keys to his shackles from his corpse. It wasn't a look of fear or desperation, which would've made sense in the moment, but rather one that gave off a vibe of near-indifference—there was, perhaps, a split second there that the look said, at the very most, "Hmmph. How unfortunate."

He had seen enough of that. And so he fled, because he knew that wasn't the last of it and it wasn't worth getting involved. He came to Skyrim to get away from things like that—to settle down and introduce a little simplicity for a change. There was no way he was going to deal with another homicidal maniac. Not again.

Upon rounding the mountains along the path, a city surrounded by short walls of stone came into view in the far distance. It appeared to wind and twist up a hill, with the summit nesting a grand palace-like structure. A few other buildings dotted the area outside the wall, as well as a large cluster of tents that wrapped around the eastern portion of the wall.

Finally, peace. Of course, it was important that Rellik speak to the Jarl and warn him about the incident at Helgen, then it would be time to settle down.




As he ventured further, he came across yet another bandit standing near a lever. He pulled the lever next to him, but it was a trap; the poor sod was promptly riddled with poison darts before Parax could kill him himself. Entering the room, Parax observed his surroundings. There was a gate, and multiple carvings into stone on the wall. A puzzle, but how could he solve it? Looking around a bit more closely, Parax noticed that on two separate walls, there were 3 carvings; on one wall, they were all in place. On the other wall, the carvings could be rotated to reveal different pictures. He then saw the answer to the puzzle: the unmovable carvings had a pattern: the first two were snakes, and the third was a fish of some sorts. With some difficulty, Parax turned the other three carvings to match the others, and promptly pulled the lever; the door opened.

Too easy, Parax thought to himself.

Parax calmly walked through the gate, readying a bow he had picked off one of the Imperials in Helgen. No sign of hostile individuals, and there probably wouldn't be for a while, as the bandits were unable to figure out the puzzle. Putting away his bow, Parax walked over to a chest on the opposite side of the room and took whatever he could. After noticing a book titled "Thief" in good condition, he began to question whether he was alone. He immediately drew his bow again, ready for any would-be surprise attacks. Walking down a staircase nearby, he heard someone crying for help. They apparently heard his footsteps, which surprised Parax; he was used to being hard to detect, being a man of cleverness and stealth.

"Is that you? Is that you, Harknir?"

"No," responded Parax, walking into the room, disturbed by the large amount of spider webs that covered the walls, floor, and ceiling. "Tell me, who are you?"

"Kill it! Get it away from me!" shouted the Dunmer, who was trapped in the webs.

"Kill what-?"Parax asked, but stopped mid-sentence. He looked up; a giant Frostbite Spider was hanging from the ceiling. Parax readied his blade as the creature dropped to the ground, managing to kill it and set it alight with a fire spell—he was quite fond of magic, and had only used a few of the spells he knew back in Helgen. Now he was more interested in learning and mastering the arcane arts; perhaps he could hone his skills up north at the College of Winterhold, an institution for mages.

"Please, don't leave me, for Arkay's sake!" begged the Dunmer, who introduced himself as "Arvel the Swift". Parax walked up to him. "You did it. You killed it. Now cut me down before something else shows up."

"…Where's the golden claw?" asked Parax, brushing his sword against Arvel's throat.

"Yes, the claw. I know how it works. The claw, the markings, the door in the Hall of Stories. I know how they all fit together! Help me down, and I'll show you. You won't believe the power the Nords have hidden there." exclaimed Arvel, excited.

"How it works"? Don't tell me I have to actually let this trash live a little while longer.

"…Fine. Let me see if I can cut you down," replied Parax, suspicious of Arvel.

"Sweet breath of Arkay, thank you!"

Parax readied his sword and carefully hacked at the webs holding Arvel to the wall, dropping him onto the ground. Arvel got up, but instead of keeping up to his end of the bargain, he turned around and fled.

"You fool! Why should I share the treasure with anyone?!" yelled Arvel as he ran down the hall behind him.

"Goddammit!" Parax angrily blurted out. He chased Arvel down the hallway, but the thief was very quick. At some point in the chase, however, the two were attacked by… things. Undead monstrosities. Ancient, but still rotting. With no other choice, Parax and Arvel stood, back-to-back, fighting off the creatures, known as "draugr". Barely surviving, Arvel suddenly turned on a tired Parax. Even then, Arvel was still not as clever as he believed; he was decapitated before he could land a hit. Parax then searched his body and acquired the golden claw. However—intrigued by what Arvel was speaking of—Parax ventured deeper into Bleak Falls Barrow.

Yet another obstacle only a few seconds after Arvel's death: blades. Swinging blades. A long hallway with swinging blades. How the hell was he going to get past these?

"…Well. Shit," Parax mumbled to himself. He stood in front of the blades for a few moments, calculating the time it took for them to have to go from one side of the hallway to the other. Taking a deep breath, Parax lunged forward, dodging the blades narrowly and rolling forwards. When he emerged, he was on the other end of the hallway, only to be greeted by more draugr. However, through quick timing and knowledge of swordplay, Parax emerged victorious. Several traps, a beautiful waterfall view, and countless draugr later, Parax found himself in the Sanctum. Making his way through, he then came across a door; it had three rings with carvings, similar to the puzzle at the beginning of Bleak Falls Barrow. There was also a keyhole of sorts, but it was shaped like a claw. Parax examined the golden claw, studying it for a possible solution to the puzzle; he found one on the underside. It had three pictures; from top to bottom, they were a bear, a winged creature of sorts, and an owl. Parax turned the rings on the door until the images displayed matched the ones on the golden claw, and then put the "key" in the hole.

The door opened. Voila. Walking through, Parax found himself in a cavernous room; the ceiling had a gap leading to the surface, and the room had a chest, a table, a coffin, and a round wall with odd writings on it. Parax approached the wall, and examined the writings; one of them was glowing brightly. Suddenly, waves of blue light shot out of the wall and coated Parax. He felt strange; his mind felt clearer, and he seemed to know… something. But he didn't know what it was. Knowing nothing about what just happened, but aware that it would be useless to guess, Parax decided to brush it off until he could find someone with more knowledge on it than him. He then emptied the chest of its contents, and found himself being attacked by yet another draugr that suddenly emerged from a coffin beside him. Unlike the others he had faced in the ruins, it was covered head-to-toe in old, dark, rusty armor with numerous spikes and horns sticking out of it. A large, dark sword was held firmly in its hands, but it was not rusty like its wielder's armor. The blade had a dim, light blue aura—perhaps the reason it was still… "fresh".

"Mey volaan. Hi nis oblaan fin lein-naak," was all Parax could hear as the creature garbled at him in some language. It then lunged for him with its sword, but Parax was able to block it with his own weapon, side-stepping to the right to avoid being cornered against the mysterious wall. It continued its aggressive onslaught of attacks with seemingly no effort; finally, the blade slid against his scaly arm and cut into him. The wound felt cold, like Parax was in some place that had frozen over, and he found his mind drifting away slowly. As the draugr went in for another strike, he regained his focus and stabbed it with his sword, piercing its rusted, decomposing armor.

After disposing of the undead monstrosity, Parax found an odd stone in the coffin; it was covered in markings similar to the ones on the wall. Curious, he took it—certain that it would come in handy later—and exited the room via a secret entrance, which led back into the first room through a previously sealed stone doorway. Parax then left Bleak Falls Barrow and resumed his journey to Whiterun.


7:47 PM. Parax made his way to Whiterun, taking a moment to admire the size of the city. From the angle he was at, all he could see was the rooftops of buildings clustered together and surrounded by a great stone wall of multiple layers and sections, though the wall was clearly falling apart, likely due to years of neglect. The city was atop a massive hill, and on the summit sat a great, palace-like building. Alongside the walled city were countless other wooden buildings, as well as tents whose lanterns had yet to go out. Only a few people were around at this point, with most of them either retiring into their homes for dinner or bed, or going off to the market area in the walled off section. As he approached the door to enter the city, one of the yellow-clad guards at the gate stopped him.

"Halt!" ordered the guard. "City's closed with the dragons about. Official business only."

"Riverwood calls for the Jarl's aid," Parax replied.

"Someone else from Riverwood mentioned this earlier," said the guard. "You'd better go on in. You'll find the Jarl in Dragonsreach, at the top of the hill."

Parax walked past the guard and entered the city. The first thing he saw was an argument between a female blacksmith—Adrianne Avenicci—and an Imperial Legionnaire—Idolaf Battle-Born. When he approached, he inquired to the two about Whiterun; Adrianne suggest that he go to Jorrvaskr, the mead hall of the Companions, while the Legionnaire went into great detail about a feud between Whiterun's most powerful families, the Battle-Borns and Greymanes. Apparently, the families were once close, now divided by the civil war plaguing the country. He further suggested joining up with the Imperial Legion to help restore the order. Low on time and not in the mood for sidetracking, Parax kept the suggestions in the back of his mind and went to Dragonsreach. As he approached the stone stairway to the palace, however, he bumped into a man, who was hefting a medium-sized barrel through the city.

"I am so sorry!" the man apologized. The details of his face weren't that easy to see, considering the time of day, but what Parax could make out was that he was a Nord—probably in his mid-forties or so. He had a dark grey color to his long unkempt hair, which stuck out in numerous parts and stretched down over most of his left eye. The man was dressed in a mixture of clothing and armor made from hide and had strapped to his belt a sword similar to the ones the draugr of Bleak Falls Barrow wielded. "Honestly, they need to light up these parts of town more."

"No worries, the fault is mine," replied Parax. "Sort of in a hurry."

"To eat dinner with the Jarl?" asked the Nord, setting the barrel down and resting his body on it. He was examining Parax's rather simple fur garb as well as making note of the time. "Yet you look like you lost an argument with a cave bear. Then again, I suppose they're one and the same these days." The Nord paced from side to side, keeping his eye on the Argonian. "But you're not from here—I don't recognize you. Not that you're unwelcome; it's great to have a new face once in a while."

Parax took a few moments to consider his answer. The man seemed friendly and intelligent enough for a short chat. "I'm from Riverwood—Gerdur sent me to get some help from the Jarl. Long story."

"Ah, I haven't seen Gerdur in a long time," the man lamented. "Name's Ivrik—give her my regards. And this is Kveer." He motioned his head towards another Nord—a rather light-haired one in a set of leather armor. He had a scruffy-looking beard, which almost made it hard to tell he was smiling in a greeting manner.

"Nice to meet you," said Kveer.

"Parax, and the pleasure's mine," the Argonian replied. "I'll be sure to relay your message to Gerdur when I get back."

"Well, if Gerdur said it was urgent, then I doubt she was kidding," said Ivrik. "We'll let you go about your business. In the meantime, we have a shipment to deliver to the school." The Nord bowed his head politely before picking the barrel up and heaving it through the streets. Kveer followed suit with a small crate. Parax smiled, pleased by the warm welcome, then proceeded up the staircase to Dragonsreach.

The building was dimly lit on the inside, with the few sources of illumination being a few braziers lining the sides of the large staircase inside and a great fire in the middle of the main hall. On each side of the palace were two doorways—one leading into a kitchen, the other to a room containing bookshelves, a desk, an alchemy station, and an enchanting table. A man in dark blue robes sat at the desk, his face buried in a book. Two more staircases were on either side; next to the robed man's quarters was a staircase leading up, and one leading down on the kitchen's side. A golden throne sat across the main hall from Parax, seating a bearded, light-haired man in noble clothes, looking back and forth between the tables lining either side of the room as he contemplated something.

Rellik—no longer in Stormcloak apparel, but rather a set of iron armor—was there as well. A split-second was all Parax needed to notice a look of defeat on the Orc's face, which was immediately concealed by something a bit more indifferent.

"Apologies—I tend to get... distracted," said Parax. "Anything from the Jarl?"

"He's not really in a good mood," replied Rellik. "You'd think they'd care more about a dragon attack, but they won't even let me talk."

Parax simply brushed this off and approached anyways; it took less than a second before he found himself at the end of a female Dunmer's blade.

"What's the meaning of this interruption?!" demanded the Dunmer. "Jarl Balgruuf is not expecting any visitors."

"I have news from Helgen. It's about the dragon attack," responded Parax. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer to kill me and wonder later why nobody came to warn you about just what kind of danger your hold is in."

"Mind your tongue, outsider, or I'll cut it out," the woman growled.

"I invite you to try, but alas, we must save that encounter for another time," Parax replied. "I have vital information concerning Helgen, and the Jarl would most certainly wish to speak with me personally." Parax lightly pushed the Dunmer aside and approached the throne.

"So, you were at Helgen?" Balgruuf asked grimly. "You saw this dragon with your own eyes?"

Why yes, I did. In fact, I had just the perfect view while the Imperials were trying to cut off my head. Lighting, angles, and so on.

"Yes, I was. As was my... friend," answered Parax. He lowered his head and looked down at his feet. "So many bodies..."

"He's telling the truth," Rellik vouched for Parax. "I'm not sure who made it, but the dragon is still out there."

"The dragon destroyed Helgen. And last I saw it was flying around this very area," Parax explained. "Riverwood's in danger as well, and I come on their behalf requesting that troops be garrisoned there."

"By Ysmir, Irileth was right!" exclaimed Balgruuf. The Dunmer looked over at a man next to Balgruuf and smirked.

"Yes, she was," Parax muttered under his breath in a somewhat condescending tone. He didn't know what Balgruuf was talking about until the Dunmer gave a look to the Nord, but made the comment anyways to get things over with.

"What do you say now, Proventus?" asked Balgruuf, turning to the man beside him. This was obviously whom he was referring to—Proventus Avenicci, steward to the Jarl. "Shall we continue to trust in the strength of our walls? Against a dragon?"

Dragon or not, no intelligent being would trust the walls in their current state.

"My lord, we should send troops to Riverwood at once. It's in the most immediate danger, if that dragon is lurking in the mountains…" Irileth suggested.

"The Jarl of Falkreath will view that as a provocation!" Proventus protested. "He'll assume we're preparing to join Ulfric's side and attack him."

Oh, shut up already.

"Enough! Irileth, send a detachment to Riverwood at once," Balgruuf ordered.

"Yes, my Jarl." Irileth turned around and walked out of Dragonsreach, towards the barracks.

"We should not-" mumbled Avenicci, only to be interrupted by Balgruuf.

"I'll not stand idly by while a dragon burns my hold and slaughters my people!" Balgruuf shouted.

"If you'll excuse me, I'll return to my duties." Avenicci walked away from Balgruuf.

"That would be best," the Jarl confirmed. He then turned his head to face the duo before him. "Well done. You sought me out, on your own initiative," Balgruuf congratulated Parax and Rellik. "You've done Whiterun a service, and I won't forget it. Here, take these gifts as a small token of my esteem." Balgruuf proceeded to motion to one of the guards; he immediately went upstairs and returned some time later with sets of armor. Though Rellik was more than happy to wear the set he was given, Parax stuck with the fur armor he stole from one of the bandits at Bleak Falls Barrow, preferring to be light and agile. "There is another thing you could do for me. Suitable for someone of your particular talents, perhaps. Come, let's go find Farengar, my court wizard. He's been looking into a matter related to these dragons and... rumors of dragons." Balgruuf got up, and led Parax into the room with the robed man.

"Farengar, I think I've found people who can help you with your dragon project," Balgruuf announced. "Go ahead and fill them in with all the details."

"So the Jarl thinks you can be of use to me?" Farengar—the robed man—asked. "Oh yes, he must be referring to my research into the dragons… Yes. I could use someone to fetch something for me. Well, when I say 'fetch', I mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone tablet that may or may not actually be there."

"Point me in the direction and consider it done," said Parax.

"Straight to the point then? No need for the tedious hows and whys?"

"Well, normally I'd ask about why this thing is important and what it has to do with the dragons—things like that," the Argonian retorted, clasping his hands together at the waist. "Alas, time is of the essence, and you wouldn't be sending me if you didn't think it was important—even then, I'd be going anyways just to make sure. Not important."

"Ah, no mere brute mercenary, but a thinker. Perhaps even a scholar?" Farengar asked, maintaining a tone of condescension. "You see, when the stories of dragons began to circulate, many dismissed them as fantasies. Rumors. Impossibilities. One sure mark of a fool is to dismiss anything that falls outside his experience as being impossible." Farengar walked around the room. "But I began to search for information about dragons—where had they gone all those years ago? And where were they coming from?"

"…So what do you need us to do?" asked Rellik, leaning over the desk.

"I… ah, learned a certain stone tablet is said to be housed in Bleak Falls Barrow—a 'Dragonstone' said to contain a map of dragon burial sites. Go to Bleak Falls Barrow, find this tablet—no doubt interred in the main chamber—and bring it to me. Simplicity itself."

"Oh? Do you mean this stone?" Parax held out the odd stone he found in Bleak Falls Barrow.

"Ah, the stone from Bleak Falls Barrow!" Farengar exclaimed. "Seems you're a cut above the usual brute the Jarl sends my way."

"I suppose I'm just lucky."

"Farengar!" Irileth shouted. She entered Dragonsreach with a Whiterun guard and ran into the room. Farengar looked up from the Dragonstone. "Farengar, you need to come quick. A dragon's been sighted nearby." Irileth turned to Parax and Rellik. "You should come too."

"A dragon? How exciting!" Farengar exclaimed. "Where was it seen? What was it doing?" He followed Irileth out of the room.

"I'd take this a bit more seriously if I were you," Irileth responded, glaring at Farengar. "If a dragon decides to attack Whiterun, I don't know if we can stop it."

Parax and Rellik followed Farengar, Irileth, and the guard. They sprinted up the staircase next to Balgruuf's throne. Upstairs, the guard who entered with Irileth was filling the Jarl in on the details.

"So, Irileth tells me you came from the Western Watchtower?" Balgruuf asked.

"Tell him what you told me. About the dragon," ordered Irileth.

"Uh... that's right. We saw it coming from the south," started the guard. "It was fast... faster than anything I've ever seen."

"What did it do? Is it attacking the watchtower?" Balgruuf looked at the guard, dumbstruck.

"No, my lord," the guard answered. "It was just circling overhead when I left. I never ran so fast in my life... I thought it would come after me for sure."

"Good work, son. We'll take it from here. Head down to the barracks for some food and rest." Balgruuf patted the guard on the shoulder. "You've earned it. Irileth, you'd better gather some guardsmen and get down there."

"I've already ordered my men to muster near the main gate," Irileth responded.

"Good. Don't fail me."

Parax and Rellik circled the table in the middle of the room. Balgruuf turned to them, picking a piece of enchanted steel plate armor off the table.

"There's no time to stand on ceremony, my friend. I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon. You survived Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons then anyone else here," Balgruuf said, walking up to the two. "But I haven't forgotten the service you did for me in retrieving the Dragonstone for Farengar. As a token of my esteem, I have instructed Avenicci that you are now permitted to purchase property in the city. And please accept this gift from my personal armory." Balgruuf held out the armor to Parax and Rellik. The latter took it and tried it on.

"I should come along. I would very much like to see this dragon," Farengar suggested, heading towards the stairs. Irileth stopped him.

"No. I can't afford to risk both of you," Balgruuf responded. "I need you here working on ways to defend the city against these dragons."

"As you command." Muttering, Farengar went downstairs to his room and began studying the Dragonstone.

"One last thing, Irileth. This isn't a 'death or glory' mission. I need to know what we're dealing with." Balgruuf looked Irileth in the eye, and Parax could tell the two were close.

"Don't worry, my lord," Irileth answered. "I'm the very soul of caution."

"Proventus fits that a bit more," Parax commented.

Parax, Rellik, and Irileth ran down the stairs, left Dragonsreach, and headed back towards the entrance to the city. Citizens were outside and visibly nervous, trying to ask the three what was going on, only to be sent back inside. Guards were lined up at the main gate, awaiting orders.

"Here's the situation," started Irileth. "A dragon is attacking the Western Watchtower."

"…A dragon?" one guard asked, his mouth gaping.

"You heard right! I said a dragon!" Irileth answered. "I don't care where it came from or who sent it. What I do know is that it made the mistake of attacking Whiterun!"

"But Housecarl," one of the guards said, walking forward, "how can we fight a dragon?"

Irileth began pacing back and forth. "That's a fair question. None of us have ever seen a dragon before, or expected to face one in battle. But we are honorbound to fight it, even if we fail. This dragon is threatening our homes… our families. Could you call yourselves Nords if you ran away from this monster? Are you going to let me face this thing alone?"

"No, Housecarl!" answered one guard.

"…We're so dead," another guard mumbled, looking down at his feet.

"But it's more than our honor that's at stake here," Irileth continued. "Think of it—the last dragon seen in Skyrim since the last age. The glory of killing it is ours, if you're with me! Now what do you say? Shall we go kill ourselves a dragon?"

The guards cheered with approval and unsheathed their blades.

"Let's move out," Irileth finished her speech. She ran out the city gate, followed by Parax, Rellik, and the guards. The group made its way down a pathway as it left the protection of the city's walls, passing through the outskirts of Whiterun.

"Oi, Parax! What's the hurry?" called out a man's voice with a slight Nordic accent. Sure enough, Ivrik and Kveer came running out of the dark of the night, panting heavily. "Irileth, what's wrong?"

"No time to explain, Ivrik," the Dunmer replied in her usual aggressive tone. She and the others passed on by, marching along the pathway. "The Western Watchtower's been attacked; we're taking the newcomers to go investigate."

"Newcomers?" Ivrik echoed. He then looked at Parax and Rellik and smiled excitedly, immediately picking up his pace. "You two are staying with us?"

"For a while," Parax answered. "We're still settling in."

"Well, then since I do not believe my greeting was adequate, I would like to accompany you," said Ivrik. "Work at the school has softened me and dulled my blade. It's time I take up something a bit more exciting again."

"If you insist," Irileth concurred. "It's good to fight alongside you again, Ivrik."

The group continued its march down the pathway towards the Western Watchtower—or rather, what was left of it. About half of the structure was still up, surrounded by charred corpses and smashed stone. Arrows littered the area, sticking up out of the ground, as if they had been fired at something too fast for them to hit. Ivrik and Kveer showed up while the others surveyed the area, each now carrying a crude-looking bow and a quiver of arrows.

"No signs of a dragon attack now… but, it sure looks like it… I know it looks bad, but we've got to figure out what happened. And if that dragon is still skulking around somewhere…" Irileth unsheathed her blade. "Spread out and look for survivors. We need to know what we're dealing with."

Parax, Rellik, Irileth, Ivrik, Kveer, and the guards walked over to the remains of the tower, searching for survivors. One or two of the guards wandered off to check the bodies, while the rest stuck close to Irileth. Rellik stood still and surveyed the area. Ivrik knelt down next to a guard who looked like he had been dropped from far up, muttering something to himself. Parax climbed up the smashed stone stairs that led into the watchtower. One guard peeked out of the tower's entrance and saw the group.

"No, get back! It's still here somewhere!" shouted the guard. "Hroki and Tor just got grabbed when they tried to make a run for it!" He paused and looked off into the distance, his eyes widening and his body trembling with fear. "Kynareth save us… here he comes again…"

The group turned in the direction the guard was looking; a massive green dragon covered from the back of his head to the end of his tail in sharp spines was flying towards them. Parax unsheathed his sword and prepared himself for battle. Rellik reached for his bow and nocked an arrow, while Ivrik followed suit.

"Here he comes! Find cover, and make every arrow count!" Irileth ordered.

The dragon breathed fire onto one of the guards, setting him alight. Rellik fired an arrow at the dragon, hitting him in one of his eyes; Parax looked at him in surprise and admiration, having never seen a better shot. The dragon circled the tower and landed on part of the debris, breathing fire at the group again. They took cover, waited for the dragon to stop, and responded with a shower of arrows. The dragon took off again, firing a blast of flames at Rellik—who quickly got out of the way—and landed behind Irileth and the guards.

"That's it! Bring that bastard down!" yelled Irileth.

As he landed, the dragon took advantage at his now-still environment by releasing another stream of fire upon the party. Rellik—who had been the primary target of the flames—ducked out of the way and slid behind a chunk of rubble, preparing another arrow. Kveer and a town guard were not so fortunate, as the following explosion of fire splashing against the ground coated them both and ate away at their flesh and armor at an alarming speed.

"Kveer!" Ivrik cried out in horror. He looked wide-eyed at the smoldering bodies that were fighting alongside him just seconds ago. Clenching his teeth, the Nord prepared another arrow, lunged out from behind cover, and landed a shot right inside the dragon's right nostril. The beast reeled its head back with a loud snort, shouting something that sounded like it was cursing as it coughed another burst of fire off to the side.

"Go now!" Irileth commanded, flourishing her blade as she suddenly seemed to appear out of thin air, slashing and tearing at the dragon's wings. Its head suddenly wheeled around to face her, its jaws snapping madly at the Dunmer. Fortunately, she was too quick for it, dodging this way and that as she kept the dragon focused on her.

The group charged at the dragon, firing arrows and slashing at it. He responded by breathing fire once again, narrowly missing the group. Parax readied a spell in his left hand and shot several ice spikes at the dragon, while Rellik stabbed him in the eyes to blind him. Irileth and the guards cut away at the dragon's wings, tearing them apart and trapping it on the ground. They then focused on the beast's head; the dragon clamped his jaws around one of the guards, crushing him before throwing him to the side. In her anger, Irileth leaped onto the dragon's head, driving her sword into its forehead. Parax and Rellik joined in, stabbing it in the head and throat, and the monster roared out in pain. Suddenly, it lashed out and seized Parax's sword, snapping the blade in half and throwing the fragments to the side. It struggled for a few seconds, shouting at the group in an odd language, before finally collapsing on the ground, limp.

"Damned good shooting, boys!" Irileth congratulated the guards.

"I need a better sword," Parax muttered, examining his broken blade.

Ivrik said nothing, as he quietly strolled over to Kveer's charred corpse and sat down next to it, lowering his head in regret and loss.

Suddenly, the dragon's remains began to burn up; everything on it had been enveloped in bright orange flames. The flames grew brighter and larger, and a loud crackling sound could be heard, and within seconds only the skeleton remained, likewise glowing brightly. Irileth shouted for everyone to get back, uncertain of what was about to happen. Waves of blue and orange light rose out of the skeleton and flowed into Rellik, and the Orc staggered back in surprise. One of the guards ran up to him, his mouth gaping.

"I can't believe it…" the guard muttered. "You're… Dragonborn."

Parax looked at Rellik and the guard, confused. "Dragonborn? What do you mean?" Parax asked.

Ivrik slowly turned his head to face the others. "Dragonborn..."

"Yeah, what the hell is a Dragonborn?" Rellik asked, standing back up.

"In the oldest tales, back when there were still dragons in Skyrim, the Dragonborn would slay dragons and steal their power," the guard answered. "That's what you did, isn't it? Absorbed the dragon's power?"

"I don't know what happened to me," Rellik said, looking at the guard with a confused expression.

"There's only one way to find out. Try to Shout; that would prove it," suggested the guard. "According to the legends, only the Dragonborn can shout, the way dragons do."

"Dragonborn?" another guard asked, walking up to the group. "What are you talking about?"

"That's right!" exclaimed the guard. "My grandfather used to tell stories about the Dragonborn! Those born with the Dragon Blood in 'em! Like old Tiber Septim himself."

"I never heard of Tiber Septim killing any dragons," the second guard said in disbelief.

"There weren't any dragons then, idiot," replied the guard, annoyed. "They're just coming back for the first time in… forever. But the old tales tell of the Dragonborn who could kill dragons and steal their power. You must be one!"

"What do you say, Irileth?" asked the second guard. "You've been awfully quiet."

"Come on Irileth, tell us. Do you believe in this Dragonborn business?"

"Hmmph. Some of you would be better off keeping quiet than flapping your gums on matters you don't know anything about," answered Irileth, glaring at the guards. :Here's a dead dragon, and that's definitely something I understand. Now we know we can kill them. But I don't need some mythical Dragonborn. Someone who can put down a dragon is more than enough for me."

"You wouldn't understand, Housecarl," insisted one of the guards, crossing his arms. "You ain't a Nord."

"I've been across Tamriel. I've seen things just as outlandish as this," Irileth responded, irritated. "I'd advise you all to trust in the strength of your sword arm over tales and legends."

"If you really are Dragonborn like out of the old tales, you ought to be able to shout. Can you? Have you tried it?" suggested the superstitious guard.

The guards and Irileth continued bickering; Parax and Rellik looked at each other. The former put his hand on Rellik's shoulder, sharing with him what he learned in Bleak Falls Barrow—the strange wall with the glowing letters in the unknown language, and the voices coming from it, chanting something in an unknown language over and over again. Rellik didn't understand how he knew how to Shout, but he tried it with the information Parax gave him. Rellik yelled out a single word, "FUS."

And with that, it was a power like no other in the world of Nirn. Whatever this "Dragonborn" thing was, it only briefly seemed important to Parax when he saw that Rellik would be able to permanently kill a dragon and consume its power. That in itself would've made a powerful weapon, at least in the short term goal of getting the dragons out of the way for Parax's more important plans. But this? This was different, and though it would seem so trivial in any other case outside of stopping the dragon threat, it was clear that there was even more to it than simply killing a dragon. When Rellik shouted that word, it was like the threads sewn into the fabric of reality had been undone; time and space themselves unraveled and crumpled into a transparent, anomalous sphere, blasting into one of the guards and causing him to stagger like the wind had just gotten knocked out of him.

"That is Shouting… you did it! You are Dragonborn!" the superstitious guard declared excitedly.

"It is no coincidence you have come here," Ivrik commented, shuffling forward. He seemed to be just as surprised as everybody else present.

"I don't know about this Dragonborn nonsense, but I'm sure glad you're on our side," Irileth said. "You'd better get back to Whiterun right away. Jarl Balgruuf will want to know what happened here." The group then headed back to Whiterun.

"I don't know about you, Rellik, but this looks important," Parax suggested. "Seems like we'll be working together a bit longer than we thought."

"Together?" the Orc repeated.

"Of course—this dragon problem isn't something to be ignored," replied Parax. "If we want to get anything done, working as a team will be our best move.

There was a long, drawn out sigh from Rellik. "Can't have a normal life if immortal dragons are everywhere. Fine."

Parax slid his fingers across the pommel of his sword-handle, scratching at it with his fingernails before letting it rest in its sheath, kept in place only by whatever remained of its broken blade. Rellik passed by him and set off along the road back to Whiterun, his recently-acquired iron boots clanking on the stones and shuffling against his ankles as he walked. Parax let out a sigh. "Ten, eleven, twelve," he counted again, then quietly hummed to himself as he followed the Orc down the road, disappearing into the night.

The Greybeards Edit

Whiterun. 1:04 AM, Tirdas, 19th of Last Seed. Parax and Rellik bolted into the city, heading through the streets and up the hill and many staircases to Dragonsreach. A loud, booming sound was heard, followed by the voices of old men shouting "Dov… ah… kiin". Everyone across Skyrim seemed to have heard it, as people were coming out of their houses to investigate the commotion.

"This day just gets weirder and weirder… and I've seen many things," Rellik said, sighing. The pair passed through the doors of Dragonsreach and walked over to Balgruuf, who was pacing around upstairs, contemplating what he had just heard.

"You heard the summons. What else could it mean?" Balgruuf asked Avenicci. "The Greybeards…" Balgruuf noticed Parax and Rellik and immediately approached them. "So what happened at the watchtower? Was the dragon there?!"

"Your dragon is dead," Rellik answered. "We lost a few men, and the tower was destroyed, but at least we got it."

"I knew I could count on Irileth," Balgruuf sighed with relief. "But there must be more to it."

Parax and Rellik looked at each other and nodded. Balgruuf simply stared in wonder, his eyes widened and his glance shifting left and right to the two.

"Well, it turns out I may be something called 'Dragonborn'," said Rellik, scratching his head. "I don't exactly understand what that means."

"Dragonborn?" Balgruuf asked, crossing his arms. "What do you know about the Dragonborn?"

"When the dragon died, he absorbed some kind of power from it," Parax responded. "Then he did something that the others called 'Shouting'."

"So it's true…" Balgruuf looked at Rellik in dumbstruck. "The Greybeards really were summoning you."

"…The Greybeards?" Rellik looked at the Jarl, confused. "I don't follow."

"Masters of the Way of the Voice. They live in seclusion high on the slopes of the Throat of the World."

"I don't understand. What exactly would the Greybeards want with me?" asked Rellik.

"He said they're masters of the Way of the Voice," said Parax. "I'm assuming that's related to Shouting; seeing how you were able to do it, perhaps they're… similar to you."

"The Dragonborn is said to be uniquely gifted in the Voice—the ability to focus your vital essence into a Thu'um, or Shout. If you really are Dragonborn, they can teach you how to use your gift," Balgruuf explained, and he proceeded to lead Parax and Rellik downstairs. He returned to his throne and resumed contemplating everything, taking in all that had happened recently. A Nord, who was earlier sitting at one of the long tables of Dragonsreach, stood up and approached the throne.

"Speak, Hrongar," Balgruuf mumbled.

"Didn't you hear the thundering sound as you returned to Whiterun?" the Nord asked. "That was the voice of the Greybeards, summoning you to High Hrothgar! This hasn't happened in... centuries, at least. Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned when he was still Talos of Atmora!"

Just then, Avenicci spoke up. "Hrongar, calm yourself. What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here? Capable as he may be, I don't see any signs of him being this, what, 'Dragonborn'?"

"Nord nonsense?!" Hrongar exclaimed, offended. "Why you puffed-up ignorant... these are our sacred traditions that go back to the founding of the First Empire!"

"Hrongar. Don't be so hard on Avenicci," Balgruuf intervened.

"I meant no disrespect, of course. It's just that... what do these Greybeards want with him?" Avenicci insisted.

"That's the Greybeards' business, not ours," Balgruuf answered, ending the debate. He then turned to Rellik. "Whatever happened when you killed that dragon, it revealed something in you, and the Greybeards heard it. If they think you're Dragonborn, who are we to argue? You'd better get up to High Hrothgar immediately. There's no refusing the summons of the Greybeards. It's a tremendous honor."

"By the looks of it, it certainly seems so," Parax said.

"I envy you, you know. To climb the 7,000 steps again. I made the pilgrimage once… did you know that? High Hrothgar is a very peaceful place. Very… disconnected from the troubles of the world. I wonder if the Greybeards even notice what's going on down here. They haven't seem to care before. No matter, go to High Hrothgar. Learn what the Greybeards can teach you." Balgruuf stood up and walked up to the fireplace. "You've done a great service for me and my city, Dragonborn," the Jarl continued. "By my right as Jarl, I name you Thanes of Whiterun. It's the greatest honor that's within my power to grant. I assign you Lydia as a personal Housecarl, and this weapon from my armory to serve as your badge of office. I'll also notify my guards of your new title. Wouldn't want them to think you're part of the common rabble, now would we?" Balgruuf looked at Rellik. "We are honored to have you as Thane of our city, Dragonborn."

Rellik couldn't help but smile as Balgruuf handed him one of his most prized weapons—a war axe titled "Axe of Whiterun". Everyone—except Avenicci—bowed to Rellik, honored to have him in their midst. Parax, looking around, finally joined in. After some time, Parax headed on over to Farengar's quarters. The mage was still studying the Dragonstone from Bleak Falls Barrow; it was clear he was deep in thought about it.

"I hate to bother you, but physical weapons just don't seem to agree with me," said Parax. "Before Rellik and I leave for this Greybeards business, I must ask: do you have any spellbooks for me? I need a suitable replacement for my sword."

"Hmmph, I had you figured for a mage," replied Farengar, looking up. "You wish to learn the arcane arts? Yes, I have some spells you could make good use of." The mage turned away from his desk and went through a door behind him, returning a few minutes later with differently-colored books. He laid them out on the table; they all talked about different types of magic, but one in particular intrigued Parax. It was a purple book of the Conjuration school of magic, granting its reader knowledge of a "bound sword"—a spectral weapon that could be summoned at any time. As its wielder became more powerful, so would the sword, making it sharper, lighter, and easier to use. It could even grant its owner the ability to "soul trap" those it wounded, sealing their spirits away in crystals that could be used for enchanting items.

"I'm going to go ahead and assume these aren't all for free," Parax muttered.

"The total cost is about two thousand septims," said Farengar. "I like you guys, but I went to great lengths to get these."

"I'll just need one, then," the Argonian concluded. "I'll take the bound sword."

With that, Parax paid Farengar the appropriate amount of gold—nearly all that he had—and took the spell tome. As soon as it was in his hands, he opened it up and looked upon the pages. As he read, it felt like time was starting to slow down, and his eyes darted around the pages, which he rapidly went through one-by-one. The very text in the book seemed to burn away as he absorbed every single fragment of knowledge that had been infused with it, and all of a sudden, it flashed brightly and disintegrated, its charred remains falling to the floor and burning away into nothingness. Time sped up again, and he felt like he had absorbed its knowledge in an instant. He waved his right hand and used the knowledge—it was just as much a part of him as his arms or legs—and a ghostly sword faded into existence before him.

"You learn at an impressive rate," Farengar commented. "Normally it takes a great deal of concentration to properly channel a spell once it has been learned."

"What good is knowledge if it cannot be put to use, after all?" said Parax. He wrapped his fingers around the handle and gazed at it in amazement, then motioned for it to fade out of reality before leaving the room. Rellik was waiting impatiently, and the two companions proceeded to walk towards the entrance to leave.

"You said you wanted to get back into the life of excitement," Parax said to Ivrik, who was idling nearby. In this light, it was easier to make note of the dark green arrowhead tattoo stretching across his right cheek. A swirl was seen in the middle of it as well. "What better way is there than to pay a visit to the Greybeards? You get to witness the start of the Dragonborn's great journey."

"As much as I hate to admit it, I'm still needed here in Whiterun," the Nord sighed. "I'm sorry, but the people at the school have said it themselves—they're hopeless without me. I cannot abandon them, even for this; besides, you two seem like you'll do just fine on your own."

"Then may this be goodbye, but only for a while," replied Parax. "We shall return some day."

"Goodbye, Parax," said Ivrik, bowing respectfully. "And you as well, Dragonborn."

And so the two continued to make their way towards the main doorway. As they wondered about what the future had ahead of them, they found themselves interrupted. A dark-haired woman in steel armor was standing in their way, though it was clear she didn't have belligerent intentions. Instead, she bowed politely and turned to face Rellik.

"Greetings, I am Lydia. The Jarl has appointed me to be your Housecarl," the Nord declared proudly. "It's an honor to serve you."

"In a language I understand, please. What exactly is a Housecarl?" Rellik asked.

"As my Thane, I'm sworn to your service," Lydia replied. "I'll guard you and anything you own with my life."

"Thane?"

"The Jarl has recognized you as people of great importance in the hold," answered Lydia. "Heroes. The title of Thane is an honor. A gift for your services. Guards will know to look the other way, if you tell them who you are."

"Translation: You're a noble now," Parax whispered into Rellik's ear. "We are thankful, but for now we will not require assistance. We will come find you should we need any." Lydia nodded affirmatively and went over to one of the tables. Parax and Rellik took their leave and headed over to the stables, where fresh horses awaited them—gifts from the Jarl. They each took a horse and rode off for a nearby town marked on their maps, now on their way to begin the journey to High Hrothgar.




As far as Ivrik was concerned, the recent news was quite possibly the best that he could have ever hoped to receive. The heroes of Skyrim had risen as predicted, and with the return of the dragons and the naming of the Dragonborn, the prophecy was undergoing the last steps. Finally.

In the schoolhouse, he paced from one end of the second floor to the other. After about five minutes of silently repeating this, he stopped by the staff's residence quarters. A tall, pale Bosmer woman leaned against a table on the opposite side of the room, while a middle-aged Nord man sat on one of the four beds. The latter had been staring at one of the empty beds for some time.

"Wonder how we're going to explain this to the children," said the woman, her forehead resting in the palm of her hand. Her eyes moved upwards, towards the heavily-breathing figure standing by the beds. "How are you holding up, Ivrik? Err, don't answer that."

Ivrik let out an audible, sorrowful sigh as he stepped forward and sat down on the bed adjacent to the other man. He began tapping his fingers against one of the bedposts, starting from his pinky and making his way up to the index, then repeating the process over, and over, and over. "Not important," was his answer. "This isn't about how any of us feel, or even about how much Kveer meant to us. This is about him and him only. He deserved better. May he live on in Sovngarde, and may he watch over this world in these times."

"Well, he doesn't think we're doomed yet, so I guess he isn't broken," said the other Nord. "It'll take some time to give Kveer the funeral he deserves. He didn't have a lot friends outside the school."

"I want to start tomorrow, Elwynn," replied Ivrik, looking over to the Bosmer. "Kveer hated it when people dwelled on moments like these, and he especially wouldn't want to be the center of one of them."

"Aye," the other man agreed. "He'd want it done and over with."

"Don't you think we should dedicate some time to him, though?" Elwynn commented.

"We need to stay strong for him, but yes," Ivrik sighed after a long pause. "We'll prepare a funeral pyre for his body tomorrow—anybody who knew him can come. I'd rather give it more time and thought, but again... not what he'd want."

"Done and done," said Elwynn. "Bollig, head into the city at dawn and let the children's families know that there will be a cancellation day tomorrow. Kveer's funeral will begin at dusk, and anybody who knew him will be encouraged to attend. In the meantime, get yourselves some rest; we have a long day ahead of us."




12:25 PM. The first thing Parax and Rellik had to do to get to the 7,000 steps was to make their way to Ivarstead. As it was on the opposite side of the mountain overlooking Whiterun, the two made a return trip south, where they passed Helgen. Bandits were raiding the place of whatever they could find, and attempted to attack the duo; they were quickly disposed of, and the journey continued. Eventually, they reached Ivarstead, and began asking around for directions. During their search, they came across a Bosmer—Gwilin—who was talking about the 7,000 steps with a Nord—Klimmek. Klimmek gave directions to the two, and asked if they could deliver food and supplies to the Greybeards for him in exchange for a reward; the pair agreed, and began the climb.


High Hrothgar. About three hours, numerous packs of wolves, and a frost troll later, Parax and Rellik finally made it. They dropped Klimmek's supplies off in one of the chests outside the temple, and headed on in. Inside, four old men in dark robes approached them. It was hard to make out their bearded faces, as the inside of the building was dark and barely lit, and the men all wore heavy hoods over their heads.

"So, a Dragonborn appears," said one of the men. "At this moment in the turning of the age."

"I'm answering your summons," replied Rellik. "They say I'm special—that I have the soul of a dragon."

"We will see if you truly have the gift. Show us, Dragonborn. Let us taste of your Voice."

Rellik stepped forward, faced the men, and yelled, "FUS". The space between the parties became distorted as the old men staggered backwards, barely keeping their balance.

"Dragonborn…" the man mumbled in awe. "It is you. Welcome to High Hrothgar. I am Master Arngeir. I speak for the Greybeards. Now tell me, Dragonborn… why have you come here?"

"I am here because I wish to understand this whole Dragonborn thing," Rellik answered. "Well, and the world is apparently in danger and I'm supposed to be its only hope."

"Just like a storybook," commented Parax.

"We are here to guide you in that pursuit," Arngeir started, "just as the Greybeards have sought to guide those of the Dragon Blood that came before you."

"You mean he's not the only Dragonborn?" Parax asked.

"You're not the first," Arngeir answered Parax's question, but was not speaking to him. "There have been many of the Dragon Blood since Akatosh first bestowed that gift upon mortalkind. Whether you are the only Dragonborn of this age… that is not ours to know. You are the only one who has been revealed thus far. That is all I can say."

"I'm ready to learn," Rellik said, curious. "Teach me how to use the Voice."

"You have shown that you are Dragonborn. You have the inborn gift," replied Arngeir. "But do you have the discipline and temperament to follow the path laid out for you? That remains to be seen." Arngeir walked away from Rellik and joined the other three men. "Without training, you have already taken the first steps towards projecting your voice into a Thu'um, a Shout. Now let us see if you are willing and able to learn. When you Shout, you speak in the language of dragons. Thus, your Dragon Blood gives you an inborn ability to learn Words of Power. All Shouts are made up of three Words of Power. As you master each Word, your Shout will become progressively stronger." He turned to one of the Greybeards. "Master Einarth will now teach you 'Ro', the second Word in Unrelenting Force."

Each Greybeard stood around Rellik, and another one of the old men approached him. Parax deduced this to be Einarth.

"Ro means 'Balance' in the dragon tongue," Arngeir continued. "Cross it with Fus—'Force'—to focus your Thu'um more sharply."

Einarth whispered, "Ro", and a clear wave of distorted air was fired from his mouth. Writing appeared in the floor, glowing and alternating between blue and orange. Parax couldn't read it, but he knew it to be of the same alphabet written on the wall in Bleak Falls Barrow. Rellik glowed as he approached the words, which slowly disappeared; the Orc had learned "Ro".

"You learn a Word like a master… you truly do have the gift," said Arngeir, dumbstruck. "But learning a Word of Power is only the first step… you must unlock its meaning through constant practice in order to use it in a Shout. Well… that is how the rest of us learn Shouts. As Dragonborn, you can absorb a slain dragon's life force and knowledge directly. As part of your initiation, Master Einarth will allow you to tap into his understanding of 'Ro'."

Light flowed from Einarth, granting Rellik use of his newly-learned Word of Power. Parax looked on in amazement that words could not accurately describe. His interest had peaked, and he had great ideas that this power could bring to fruition.

"Now let us see how quickly you can master your new Thu'um," Arngeir suggested. One of the Greybeards—Borri—stepped forward, and Shouted. A ghostly image of him appeared in front of him...


6:49 PM. Rellik, Parax, and the Greybeards exited High Hrothgar via the back door, and were now in the courtyard.

"We will see how you learn a completely new Shout," said Arngeir. "Master Borri will teach you 'Wuld', which means 'Whirlwind'.

Borri whispered a Shout—"Wuld"—and markings appeared in the ground in front of Rellik. Like before, Rellik absorbed them, and Borri gave him the knowledge of using the Word. The Greybeards took him to a gate, and the fourth—Wulfgar—demonstrated the usage of "Wuld"; Borri pulled a chain to open the gate, and Wulfgar used the Shout to sprint through it before it closed. In the end, it didn't take long for the Orc to master the same process; Arngeir complimented Rellik's ability to learn Shouts so quickly, and assigned him his final lesson; acquire the horn of Jurgen Windcaller, the founder of the Greybeards. The horn was said to be housed in a place called "Ustengrav", which Arngeir marked on Parax and Rellik's maps.

"Are there others who teach the Thu'um to others?" Parax inquired, looking up from his map. For the moment, he had been thinking of Ulfric Stormcloak, the man who was said to have used the Voice to kill High King Torygg.

Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty...

"If there are, I do not know of them," replied Arngeir. "However, many have come to study the Voice with us over the years. They would have been inducted into our order, but for some... their hearts lay elsewhere."

"Like Ulfric Stormcloak," said Parax.

"There have been others—their names are their own business now. But yes, Ulfric was among them." Arngeir seemed to speak solemnly, with a few hints of disdain in his voice. "The Thu'um should solely be used for the worship of Kynareth."

"What about me?" asked Rellik. "How can I use the Voice to stop the dragons, then?"

"You are the Dragonborn," Arngeir answered. "As such, you are the exception to the rules—you can use the Voice on pure instinct, and it is our duty to help you unlock your potential."

"Then it is time we help you help us," said Parax. "We shall fetch the horn and complete Rellik's training."

And thus, the two set off to retrieve the horn, informing Klimmek of the delivery and returning the golden claw to its owners along the way.

The BladesEdit

3:25 PM. Middas, 20th of Last Seed. After hours of traveling, resting, and occasional raids on bandit hideouts, Parax and Rellik arrived at Ustengrav. The area was bloodstained and had multiple fresh corpses lying around. Drawing their weapons, the duo continued. Upon entering, they found more bodies, and in the distance were two mages practicing spells on victims; first, they killed one of them, then they raised the poor sod from the dead as a mindless thrall. Remarking on how poorly the spell was done, the teacher had his apprentice try it on another victim. Parax and Rellik silently approached the mages, but were too late to save the test subjects. After attracting the mages' attention, Parax and Rellik slaughtered them before venturing deeper into Ustengrav.

Advancing further into the Nordic ruins, the two encountered two more mages; they were being attacked by countless draugr. Rather than let the mages and draugr cause even more problems, Parax and Rellik simply killed them with arrows before continuing onward. Deep inside the ruins, they found multiple treasure rooms and powerful draugr, but even they did not pose a threat. After disposing of the new opponents, they searched the room, finding a staircase that led onto the room's second floor, as well as a bridge; they made their way across and went down a ramp. At the bottom was a skeleton and bag of gold; the two took the gold and then opened the door next to it, taking them into the next area: the Ustengrav Depths.

Now in the deepest areas of Ustengrav, Parax and Rellik found themselves inside of a giant room; the ceiling had a large gap that let the sunlight through; the floors were all composed of stone bridges and doors, which all likely were connected; the bottom floor was grassy and forestlike, a sight that Parax remarked to be "beautiful". Disposing of more draugr guardians, the two advanced into a tunnel, which led them to a dining hall; oddly enough, the food was still fresh, despite being inside of an ancient Nordic ruin. Across the dining hall was yet another staircase, which took them on a path into the forested room. They found themselves on a platform lined with pressure plates; one of the undead guardians accidentally activated them and was immediately set on fire by the traps. After fighting off the rest of the undead guardians in the room, Parax and Rellik went down a ramp that spiraled down the side of the large room. When they got to the bottom, there was yet another wall with markings on it (which Parax began referring to as "Word Walls" due to them giving Shouts to Rellik).

However, they were not in the right area; the pathway that led deeper into the ruins was back on the platform with pressure plates. Returning to the platform, they crossed a nearby bridge, finding themselves near three stone panels. Rellik stepped on one of them; it glowed red and a gate in front of them opened. However, there were three of the gates that had yet to be opened. Parax stepped on another panel; yet another gate opened. Unfortunately, however, the gates were timed, and kept closing before the two could make their way in. The two studied the panels, seeing which one opened which gate, and how long each gate lasted. After memorizing the pattern, the two stepped on them in the proper order—from the bridge to the gates—and Rellik used Whirlwind Sprint to dash through, his arm around the Argonian to take him with him. Though it took several tries, the duo got to the other end of the hall, which took them on to the resting place of the horn. The two approached the stand that the horn should've been on… but there was a problem.

"Son of a bitch," Rellik muttered, angrily, "it's not even here!"

Parax paced around the stand, but noticed something; in place of the horn was a letter. Parax picked it up and read it aloud:

"Dragonborn, I need to speak to you, urgently… Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and I'll meet you. A friend."

"So somebody is aware of who we are, and now they've stolen the horn. Now they expect us to come peacefully if we want it. I ought to punch whoever did this in the nose…" Rellik growled angrily.

"Fear not, Rellik. We'll have the horn soon, and even better, whoever took it," Parax assured Rellik.

The two proceeded to exit the room via the door behind the horn's former stand, headed up another staircase, and found themselves in a secret passage—clearly a common part of Nordic ruins—which took them outside of Ustengrav. They then began their journey to Riverwood.




The sun was starting to set now, its bright orange glow shining over the mountains that lined Skyrim's landscape. A surprising number of people had actually come to Kveer's funeral at the fringes of Whiterun; Ivrik figured there wouldn't be any more than five or so, not including the children at the school—he didn't expect the twenty-three that showed up. Of course, the whole thing was done and over with in about thirty minutes, with a few words of kindness being said before whatever remained of Kveer were burned. Some people stuck around for a while afterwards, though Ivrik was not one of them. In fact, he was perhaps the first to leave, migrating to the forge Adrianne and her husband worked. Neither of them were home, being at the funeral and all, and had given Ivrik permission to use the forge, provided he help them in return.

"Of course," said Adrianne. "With everything you've done for us, it's the least we could do."

"I'm a little rusty, but I remember enough. Don't worry, I'll take good care of the forge."

"Just make sure you replace the materials you use," Ulfberth, Adrianne's husband, chimed in. "Money's tight as it is in this town."

"I shall," replied Ivrik. "I wouldn't want to take advantage of you."

Clank.

And so Ivrik went to work. He laid out two gold and steel ingots each and began forging his new sword. While the smoke from Kveer's pyre drifted into the dark of night, the pounding could be heard throughout the Plains District.




7:32 AM, 21st of Last Seed. Parax and Rellik arrived at Riverwood; both felt like they wanted to punch someone in the face. Despite their anger, they managed to contain it, and calmly walked into the Sleeping Giant Inn. Inside, they asked the innkeeper—Delphine—if they could rent the attic room; she informed the two that there was no attic room, but they could rent another. Parax and Rellik, though suspicious, each rented their own separate rooms and waited, contemplating the recent events. Soon after, Delphine entered Parax's room with Rellik, having spoken to him and given him the horn a few minutes earlier. She led the two into another room, and shut the door behind them. With the coast clear, she opened up the dresser on the far side of the room and slid the back of it to the side, revealing a staircase leading downstairs. Not fully trusting Delphine, Parax and Rellik were cautious while going down the stairs with her, ready for any possible surprise attacks.

Downstairs, Delphine introduced Parax and Rellik to a new associate of hers. Parax recognized this "associate"; he was the tall, mysterious figure from Helgen. Delphine explained that this figure, who knew himself simply as "the Sentinel", was also investigating the issues in Skyrim; Delphine offered aid to the Sentinel in exchange for him helping her.

"Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty seven..."

"The Greybeards seem to think you're the Dragonborn," started Delphine, facing Rellik. "I hope they're right."

"You're the one who took the horn?" Parax asked.

"Surprised? I guess I'm getting pretty good at my harmless innkeeper act," responded Delphine.

Just making sure I know who to kill.

Rellik looked around the room curiously. "…What's with all the cloak and dagger?"

"You can't be too careful," Delphine answered. "Thalmor spies are everywhere."

"And what exactly do you want with me? I'm a little busy at the moment."

"I didn't go to all this trouble on a whim. I needed to make sure it wasn't a Thalmor trap. I'm not your enemy—I already gave you the horn. I'm actually trying to help you; I just need you to hear me out."

"Go on, I'm listening." Rellik's agitation was starting to decrease. Parax's, on the other hand, was steadily rising; this woman was interfering in his own plans with addressing Tamriel's crises, dragon-related or otherwise. She may have claimed to be trying to help the two, but Parax could see in her eyes that she was more ambitious for herself than for them. Still, if she was willing to pledge her allegiance to them, she would make a useful asset, and so Parax held his tongue.

"Like I said in my note, I've heard that you might be Dragonborn," Delphine continued. "I'm part of a group that's been looking for you... well, someone like you, for a very long time. If you really are Dragonborn, that is. Before I tell you any more, I need to make sure I can trust you."

Word gets around here fast.

Rellik and Parax knew they didn't have much of a choice. Well, Parax wasn't exactly against forcibly extracting the information, but he didn't wish to alienate a potential ally. "Go on," said Rellik.

"We remember what most don't," Delphine answered. "We remember what most don't—that the Dragonborn is the ultimate dragonslayer. You're the only one that can kill a dragon permanently by devouring its soul. Can you do it? Can you devour a dragon's soul?"

"Yes, that's how I first learned I was Dragonborn."

"Good. And you'll have a chance to prove it to me soon enough."

"So," Parax interrupted, "What's the part you're not telling us?"

"Dragons aren't just coming back, they're coming back to life. They weren't gone somewhere for all these years. They were dead, killed off centuries ago by my predecessors. Now something's happening to bring them back to life. And I need you two to help me stop it."

"How do you know of this?" Rellik asked, leaning over the table in the middle of the room.

"I know they are. I've visited their ancient burial mounds and found them empty. And I've figured out where the next one will come back to life. We're going to go there, and you're going to kill that dragon. If we succeed, I'll tell you anything you want to know."

"So… where are we headed?" Parax asked, sighing.

"Kynesgrove," answered Delphine. "There's an ancient dragon burial near there. If we can get there before it happens, maybe we'll learn how to stop it."

"Just one question: who's the tall guy?" Rellik asked.

"…Rellik, she explained it a few minutes ago."

"Ah yes, that's another thing about him, and it's what has made him a valuable asset to me; he can edit himself out of people's memories and persuade them to do what he wants to weaker minds. It's helped me get far in my… plans." Delphine ordered the Sentinel to stop toying with Rellik's mind; the creature did as told.

"I'm not weak-minded," Rellik growled, his brow furrowing.

"Of course you're not," said Parax. "Just not as strong as I am, apparently. As for Delphine… I'm assuming he just sees her as useful and you as a toy."

"Then he can piss off," muttered the Orc, waving his hand at the Sentinel. "Now, let's go kill us a dragon."

"I need to get into my traveling gear. Give me a minute and I'll be ready. " Parax and Rellik walked upstairs, while Delphine changed into her armor.

"You know, there should be some sort of defining characteristic for us," Parax suggested. "Back in Helgen, I stumbled upon this." He produced with his right hand a dark blue book with a silver logo on the front cover; it resembled a serpentine dragon, the symbol of the Empire. On it was great, bold, silver text in all capitals: "THE BOOK OF THE DRAGONBORN". Then he revealed another copy of this in his left hand. "Rellik, take this one. I found it down in the cellar."

Rellik held out his hand and accepted the book. The Sentinel really didn't seem to care enough to comment on the lack of a third copy.

"That's better. Let's get on the road to Kynesgrove," said Delphine. She emerged from the cellar in a set of dark leather armor, with what looked like a katana strapped to her side.

Parax, Rellik, and Delphine exited the room with the secret entrance. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Parax opened the door and exclaimed, "That was absolutely amazing!" Everyone in the inn looked at an embarrassed Delphine, who hurried Parax and Rellik out the door.

"Orgnar. I'm traveling," Delphine declared. "You've got the inn 'til I get back."

"Right. Happy trails," replied Orgnar, the inn's cook.

The three exited the Sleeping Giant Inn and took a brief look around the village of Riverwood, surveying their surroundings. After a moment, the three wished each other good luck, and with that Delphine took off on her horse. Parax waited for a moment before speaking up.

"Come, let's return the horn," said the Argonian, looking up at the great mountain that the river and village ran about.

"What about Kynesgrove?" Rellik asked. "We can return the horn any time."

"If we bring it back to the Greybeards, they'll finish up whatever business they have with you for the time being," Parax replied. "If you're going to stop a dragon, it's best that you're prepared. Last time, we had Whiterun's city guard and the Jarl's personal bodyguard—with this, it's just us three."

"If it'll get things done, then so be it," Rellik agreed. The two each climbed onto their horses and rode down the stone path after Delphine. However, once they made their way around the western and northern sides of the Throat of the World, they took a turn south and headed for Ivarstead instead of continuing northeast for Kynesgrove. Upon their arrival to the village, they repeated the same, aching pilgrimage up the mountain to High Hrothgar.

Meanwhile, Parax continued to think of Delphine and how she might fit into his plans. At this point, all she really did was take the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller before he and Rellik could, and now she was taking them halfway across Skyrim to kill a dragon, all to prove themselves to her. He even almost considered just convincing Rellik to abandon whatever errands she was sending the two out to do—she seemed almost totally useless. However, he kept the thought to himself instead; she was clearly resourceful as a woman in hiding. Perhaps there was more to her than what he was seeing so far. The Greybeards may have been eager to train Rellik to use the Voice more effectively, but Delphine was a person of action. Maybe she could help them stop the ongoing dragon issue. After all, she clearly appeared to know more about this than anyone else; even the Greybeards, who hadn't come down from High Hrothgar for decades, were unlikely to have a grasp on what was going on.




Nivnus shut the door behind him in a bit of a half-slam, blocking out the cold, snowflake-filled air of Windhelm. He let out tired sigh as he stepped into the confines of his home, taking a moment to lean against one of the walls and rub his aching knees. He pulled his worn, dark hood down and likewise let down his black hair, which, when released, fell past his shoulders. When he resumed walking, the first few of the dark grey floorboards creaked loudly; dust got kicked up and swirled about the Dunmer, who changed into more casual clothes—a dark red cotton shirt and some dark grey pants. He didn't even consider footwear, instead letting his toes run free as he dropped his previous set of garb onto the floor with the rest of his gear. Will have to clean later.

The room was dark, with several paper lanterns hanging from the floorboards of the second story. Nivnus didn't bother to light them; instead, he proceeded to a wooden staircase adjacent to his wardrobe, more dust falling off as the steps shook with each step. He was on the second floor now, a medium-sized painting of the god Talos hanging on the wall to his left. Nivnus held up the sack of coins from the past week or so's earnings, dropping it onto one of the stacks of crates before him, then proceeded to his right. He walked beside several bookshelves about his height, his hands spread out, his fingers running along the books as well as the railings separating him from the stairs to his right. He stopped and, this time, lit two paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, then took a moment to stare at a map of Skyrim adorning the wall above his rather small bed, then proceeded to remove his dark silver, onyx-encrusted circlet from his head and put it on a desk beside the bed. Dropping a piece of parchment onto a pile of others, he spun to face the ceiling as he fell onto the bed and let out another tired sigh.




Soon enough, Parax and Rellik arrived at the sanctuary of the Greybeards. Stepping inside, they could see that the four monks of High Hrothgar were already waiting, forming an invisible square in the room with each of them functioning as one of the corners.

"I knew you would be successful in retrieving the horn," Arngeir congratulated, looking up at the two with a pleased smile. "You have passed all the trials, Dragonborn, and now it is time. Time for us to officially recognize your title. First, we shall teach you the final word of Unrelenting Force—'Dah', which means 'push'."

The Greybeards stood up, with Wulfgar stepping forward, his head drooping so that he could face the ground. He whispered the aforementioned word, and for a whisper, it still retained a good deal of power to it. It thundered and boomed throughout the building, and like the other Words of Power that had been taught to Rellik, carvings of an ancient alphabet burned into the floor and glowed with a bright orange fire. Much akin to Rellik absorbing a dragon and stripping it down to the bones, the flames tilted in the Orc's direction and flowed like a stream of water into him, engulfing his body in light and vanishing into nothingness. Similarly, a similar light left Wulfgar and became one with Rellik, and with that, the Dragonborn looked up, taking a long, deep breath.

"Fus... Ro... DAH!" The air around the Orc became distorted, as if the very fabric of reality had been torn at, and suddenly countless forms of pottery, potions, and other items came clattering to the floor. Parax's brows raised and his eyes widened as he glimpsed at Arngeir out of the corners of his eyes. He couldn't tell whether the speaker for the monks was more pleased or annoyed. In fact, Arngeir himself probably didn't even know. Still, the Greybeard managed to crack a smile in Rellik's direction.

"It... it is done," said Arngeir. "At last, your training in the Voice has been completed, Dragonborn. Now, we shall officially recognize you and Speak to you."

As he finished his declaration, Arngeir made a motion with his hand at Parax, prompting the Argonian to step away. As soon as he was what they deemed a safe distance, they all began to speak in loud, thunderous chanting at the same time.

"Lingrah krosis saraan Strundu'ul, voth niid balaan klov praan nau." the monks said. Well, at least it seemed like they were just talking for them. But for Parax and Rellik, the four of them were practically shouting at a deafening volume. A couple items toppled off their shelves and Rellik seemed to slightly stagger. "Nau Thu'umu, mu ofan nii nu, Dovahkiin. Nal suleyk do Kaan, nal suleyk do Shor, ahrk naal Suleyk do Atmorasewuth."

Even from where he was, Parax felt the ground quaking beneath him. In fact, it wasn't just the ground that he felt moving—he could feel the mountain, and everything on it, and the air around it shaking violently, yet it was no ordinary earthquake. The ground didn't open up and pottery didn't go flying from their resting places and shatter. But at the same time, the very foundations of reality itself shook, and Parax fell against a wall. Now he realized why the Greybeards had him move away.

This power. I wonder if I could harness it... It would be quite valuable in my arsenal.

"Meyz nu Ysmir, Dovahsebrom! Dahmaan dar rok," the Greybeards finished saying, and everything went back to normal. Parax twisted his finger around in his ear, as if to try and clear it.

"Dovahkiin," Arngeir spoke, "you have tasted the Voice of the Greybeards and passed through unscathed. High Hrothgar is—and shall always be—open to you." He and the other monks clasped their hands and bowed their heads. Even Parax followed suit.

"And what exactly did you say to me?" Rellik asked. It was clear he didn't know whether to feel honored, confused, or both.

"My sincerest apologies, Dragonborn," Arngeir said abruptly. "I forgot that you have yet to understand the tongue of the dragons. It's something along the lines of... 'Long has the Stormcrown languished, with no worthy brow to sit upon. By our breath we bestow it now to you in the name of Kyne, in the name of Shor, and in the name of Atmora of Old. You are Ysmir now, the Dragon of the North, hearken to it.'" Once more, the Greybeards—and Parax—bowed.


7:51 PM. Parax and Rellik arrived at Kynesgrove, but a woman known as Iddra tried to convince them not to go to the burial mound. Her warnings were brushed aside, and the duo continued onward. Up near the mound, they met up with Delphine. They slowly approached the burial mound, and watched, dumbstruck, as the dragon from Helgen flew over it. The dragon chanted in his kind's language, and a bony claw forced its way above the ground. Finally, the living skeleton of a dragon burst out of the mound, and its skin began to regrow. The two dragons began conversing before they noticed Parax and Rellik. The first dragon—the one with the more demonic appearance—began talking to Rellik in the dragon language, only to realize that he could not be understood.

"You do not even know our tongue, do you? Such arrogance… to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah," said the dragon. He turned to the newly-resurrected dragon—Sahloknir—and spoke to him. The demonic-looking dragon took off, leaving Sahloknir behind to fight off Parax and Rellik. Sahloknir flew above the two for a short time, setting Iddra on fire in the process. He then landed in front of Rellik, Parax, and Delphine. Rellik and Parax fought Sahloknir from the front, while Delphine slashed and stabbed at the dragon's wings.

"I am Sahloknir!" the dragon declared. "Hear my Voice and despair!"

Sahloknir took off again, albeit somewhat limply due to Delphine damaging his wings. Parax immediately readied a spell in his left hand—seen in the form of an orb of white, shimmering mist—and held it out at the dragon. The sound of ice cracking rang out as a cloud flowed forward faster than the lot could notice, and everything went cold, as if all the heat in the world was gone. The stream of coldness collided with the dragon's left wing, spreading over it and engulfing its flaps of skin. Only seconds after flying into the air, the winged beast collapsed back onto the ground, leaving him open for Parax, Rellik, and Delphine. Delphine and Parax slashed at Sahloknir's sides to distract him, while Rellik jumped on top of his head. The dragon flung his head around wildly in an attempt to throw his attacker off, but it was no use, as Rellik had dug a dagger into the monster's left eye and held on tight. After multiple stabs to the jaw and temple, Sahloknir collapsed in a heap. He cursed the three in his kind's language, and immediately began to burn up; his skeleton was all that remained when Rellik absorbed his soul. Delphine looked at the Orc in amazement, pleased to see that he was reliable.

"So you really are... I... it's true, isn't it? You really are Dragonborn," Delphine said, astonished. She looked at Rellik and Parax as they approached.

"No shit," replied Rellik.

"I owe you some answers, don't I? Go ahead. Whatever you want to know. Nothing held back."

"For starters, who the hell are you and what do you want with me?" Rellik asked.

"I'm one of the last members of the Blades," Delphine answered. "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."

"I've seen that dragon before, the one that got away," Rellik noted. "The one covered in spikes."

"Really? Where?" Delphine asked.

Parax spoke up. "It was the one that attacked Helgen, when Ulfric escaped from the Imperials. I hoped we'd have the chance to thank him in our own way when I saw him here."

"Interesting. Same dragon…" Delphine paced for a moment, trying to figure this out. "Damn it, we're blundering around in the dark here! We need to figure out who's behind it all!"

"What's the next part of your plan?" asked Rellik.

"The first thing we need to do is figure out who's behind the dragons." Delphine replied. "The Thalmor are our best lead. If they aren't involved, they'll know who is."

"And what would prompt such an act of… bringing the dragons back?"

"Nothing solid. Yet. But my gut tells me it can't be anybody else." Delphine said. "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?"

"So, we need to find out what the Thalmor know about the dragons…" Rellik tried to think of what to do. "Any ideas?"

"If we could get into the Thalmor Embassy... it's the center of their operations in Skyrim…" responded Delphine. "Problem is, that place is locked up tighter than a miser's purse. They could teach me a few things about paranoia..."

"In that case, how do we get into the Thalmor Embassy?" Parax asked.

"I'm not sure yet. I have a few ideas, but I'll need some time to pull things together... Meet me back in Riverwood. If I'm not back when you get there, wait for me. I shouldn't be long. Keep an eye on the sky. This is only going to get worse."

The three proceeded back down the hill and sought out their horses, which had panicked and fled due to the conflict nearby. Fortunately, they were able to locate their steeds, making the trip back to Riverwood that much easier.

The Companions Edit

7:35 AM, 22nd of Last Seed. Rellik and Parax came to the inn without Delphine, for she and her horse had vanished into the darkness of the night during the ride back; she approached them from the shadows, having been watching them as they made the return trip. She assured the two that she made sure nobody was following them, and the three returned to the basement. There, the Sentinel was writing down notes and researching the issue with dragons. Delphine assumed her usual position at the table, while Parax and Rellik waited for her to fill them in on the next plan.

"I've figured out how we're going to get you into the Thalmor Embassy," Delphine announced to the two.

"You're not coming with us?" Parax asked. turning his head slightly away from the katana-like weapons on the wall to face Delphine.

"That would be a bad idea," Delphine answered. "I'd be too likely to attract the wrong kind of attention. But they don't know you at all, yet. My friend here will be accompanying you. You'll find him… useful."

"And this… plan of yours? It didn't seem to take you that long to think of it. Are you sure it is going to work?" At this point, Parax was looking at the numerous potions—helpful or otherwise—lining several shelves in the back of the room. He quietly took a few that he recognized as healing potions—noticeable by their pinkish-red contents—as well as some blue vials that he knew to help with regenerating magicka more quickly.

"I've been doing this a long time, remember? While the Thalmor's been looking for me, I've been watching them," replied Delphine.

"…So, once again, as my learned colleague so curiously inquired, how do we get in there?" Rellik asked.

"The Thalmor ambassador, Elenwen, regularly throws parties where the rich and connected cozy up to the Thalmor. I can get you into one of those parties. Once you're inside the Embassy, you 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. Wood Elf, plenty of reason to hate the Thalmor." Delphine looked back down at the table and began jotting down notes on a few slips of paper. "That said, you can trust him. I'll get word for 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 little party. Meet me at the Solitude stables after you've arranged things with Malborn. Any questions?"

"Yeah, when is it?"

"Not for a while. I'll send you a letter when it's time."

"Fair enough. We'll attend our day-to-day business while we wait," said Parax.

Parax and Rellik walked back upstairs and rented one of the inn's rooms, taking some time to get a little rest out of a rather tiring and demanding day. They still questioned whether Delphine was even useful to begin with; most of her suggestions and knowledge could've probably been acquired from the Greybeards instead of her. The only reason they were tied up in this in the first place was the fact that she took the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Still, her assistance with getting into the Thalmor Embassy would be their final test for her—a way to see if she was even slightly useful. After a couple hours of thinking and resting, the two left the inn, climbed onto their horses, and returned to Whiterun. There, they left the horses in the stable-master's care, as the animals were clearly tired.


11:24 AM. Jorrvaskr. Parax had not yet forgotten his plans for Tamriel. The next step: spreading influence. Parax led Rellik into the mead hall Jorrvaskr, where the two were to do anything that would mean making the two more influential. Upon entering Jorrvaskr, the first sight were two members of the Companions—Njada Stonearm and Athis—fighting each other. Njada managed to beat Athis into submission, but was immediately pulled off by the others when she continued hitting him. Following the advice of the other members, the duo sought out Skjor—a middle-aged, balding man wearing garb made of wolf fur. He sat on a bench near the front door; they proceeded to ask him for advice on joining the Companions. Skjor—albeit bluntly—directed the two over to the Harbinger of the Companions, Kodlak Whitemane, who mainly resided downstairs.

Per Skjor's advice, Parax and Rellik passed through the mead hall, observing many members—humans, elves, and beast races alike, proof of greater tolerance than that of most Nord guilds—feasting and drinking to their hearts' content. A great fireplace sat in the middle of the building, surrounded by long, wooden tables covered in plates of food and drink. Weapons lined the walls, freshly sharpened and ready to kill. A staircase was to the right of the front door; downstairs the two went, entering a wide, red-carpeted hallway with numerous doors lining the walls. Tables and shelves were in every corner, all of them containing weapons, food, and large pouches of coins. Though tempted, they did not take any of it at Parax's advice, as they still needed to actually join the group.

They wandered down the great, candlelit corridor, passing rooms full of beds and fancy furniture, receiving looks from the members. Apparently, Rellik was the talk around here, having helped several members slay a giant attacking Whiterun upon his first arrival. That, and the fact that he was the Dragonborn. The two paid little attention to this, however, instead continuing to the very end of the hallway and entering a room titled "Harbinger's Quarters" on the door. Inside were two men—one being a large, dark-haired, young man in heavy armor, and the other more elderly and possessing scars that showed decades of experience. They were each addressing each other by their names; the young man was known as Vilkas, and the older one went by Kodlak.

"But I still hear the call of the blood," Vilkas said.

"We all do. It is our burden to bear," replied Kodlak. "But we can overcome."

"You have my brother and I, obviously. But I don't know if the rest will go along quite so easily."

"Leave that to me," Kodlak answered. He noticed Parax and Rellik, and turned in their direction. "Strangers come to our hall."

"We wish to join the Companions," Parax said.

"Would you now? Here, let me have a look at you." Kodlak examined the two, looking both of them in the eyes. "Hm. Yes, perhaps. A certain strength of spirit in both of you."

"Master, you're not truly considering accepting them?" Vilkas asked in disbelief.

"I am nobody's master, Vilkas," Kodlak answered, turning to his comrade. "And last I checked, we had some empty beds in Jorrvaskr for those with a fire burning in their hearts."

"Apologies. But perhaps this isn't the time. I've never even heard of these outsiders," Vilkas insisted.

Guess someone's not up to date on Rellik's giant story.

"He's the one your fellows have been talking about," said Parax. "The one who helped out with a certain giant problem a few days back. Understandable if you didn't recognize him; he and I sort of left in a hurry."

"Sometimes the famous come to us. Sometimes men and women come to us to seek their fame. It makes no difference. What matters is their heart." Kodlak smiled at Parax and Rellik.

"And their arm." Vilkas leaned back and listened, placing his hands behind his head.

"Of course. How are you in a battle, boys?"

"We can handle ourselves," Parax replied.

"That may be so. This is Vilkas. He will test your arm." Kodlak turned to the other Companion. "Vilkas, take then out to the yard and see what they can do."

Parax and Rellik left the room, accompanied by Vilkas. They went to the other end of the hall, climbed the stairs on their left, and exited Jorrvaskr at the nearest door. Outside, Vilkas paced around the two, examining them. He didn't seem to carry the prejudice for non-Nords that most of his kind was known for, but it was clear he seemed to favorite Rellik more. After all, the Orc seemed to fit Nord tradition more than Parax, carrying a steel sword and dagger on his belt and a shield, bow, and quiver of arrows on his back—essentially, physical weapons as opposed to Parax's preference for weightless, more versatile magic.

"You, Orc, ready your weapon," the warrior commanded. "We shall fight first, then your friend is next." He reached behind himself and wrapped his fingers around the handle of the rather large steel sword on his back, then slid it out of its sheath and held it out.

Rellik did as he was told, readying his sword and cautiously stepping to the side, as if to circle Vilkas before going in for the kill. Suddenly, he lunged forward and began swinging, with Vilkas blocking each strike with his own blade. Parax watched curiously, and at that point knew he had found what he was looking for. Sure, he could've just hired any expert duelist when he was finished with the dragon problem, but now he saw something in Rellik besides just somebody who could solve the current crisis more easily than anyone else could. Rellik was a quick learner, remembering every strength and weakness in Vilkas's style and using them to his advantage, and he possessed a determination to not only integrate himself into the Companions, but to complete whatever task lied ahead of him. To most, whatever was going on right now between Rellik and Vilkas would've just been seen as an experienced student practicing with a master, but Parax saw more: he saw a leader. Perhaps it would be best if he befriended this potential leader.

"Alright, lizard, let's see if you can do the same," said Vilkas, taking Parax out of his thoughts. He brushed Rellik's blade away from his neck and waited for the Orc to step aside. "No magic tricks, though; we are warriors, not mages."

"In that case, I will require a sword," Parax replied. He waved Rellik off as the latter held out his own weapon. "No need, I'll be able to handle this myself." With that, he simply cracked his knuckles and readied his bare, scaly hands; much unlike Rellik, he seemed to have a preference for lighter armor, though he didn't mind a combination, wearing steel cuffed boots and a pair of gauntlets he took from a soldier in Helgen to compensate in protection for the sleeveless fur tunic he was wearing. "Now Vilkas, I say this because I don't want to hurt you: give it your all, because I will try to kill you."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves here," Vilkas responded, giving the Argonian a look. "This is just practice. You know, a test at your sword-arm."

"I've always been a fan of the process of either learning or dying. Helps you see how quick someone is on their feet." Parax threw himself at the Nord and blocked the blade with his thick gauntlets as the latter swung it as a reflex; the gauntlets dented a bit, but Parax had the angle he needed. He quickly pushed Vilkas's blade to the side—surprising everyone watching given the Companion's own strength and cleverness—and clenched his fist as he held it back to deliver a blow to his opponent's head. Realizing this, Vilkas shoved the Argonian away and thrust his blade forward at his side, trying his best not to injure him. By then, however, Parax had already swerved to the side and had taken the dagger on Vilkas's belt, swinging this way and that, with the Nord blocking each strike as he did with Rellik, until Parax changed angles and had his weapon to Vilkas's neck. Smirking, he handed the dagger back and gave Vilkas room to move again.

"Not much of a fan of what you did," said Vilkas, motioning to Parax, "but I'll admit, those are valuable skills; you two might just make it. For now, however, you're still whelps to us, so you do what we tell you. Here's my sword; go take it up to Eorlund to have it sharpened. And be careful, it's probably worth more than you are put together." Vilkas handed his sword over to Parax and pointed to a rock balcony overlooking Jorrvaskr's courtyard. He carefully handled the weapon and proceeded to head up a nearby stone staircase; at the top, he found himself looking upon an outdoors forge. The fire pit seemed to glow with a certain reddish hue, something Parax never really noticed in the other forges he had seen, at least in Skyrim. A massive stone carving of a bird with its wings spread stood upright and towered over the stone balcony, keeping the majority of it in the shade. An old man with long, light grey hair was working hard on a sword, and only paid attention to Parax for a very brief moment before returning to work.

"I'm guessing you're the newcomer then?" said the man, whom Parax deduced to be Eorlund Gray-Mane, one of the most famous blacksmiths in all of Skyrim, from Vilkas's orders. In fact, he saw that the old man himself was an observative one, being able to recognize the sword Parax carried as Vilkas's, despite Parax having no other weapon on him.

"One of two, to be exact," replied Parax. "By your comment though, I take it that all newcomers are errand-runners."

"Oh, don't worry too much about it. They were all whelps once," Eorlund explained, smiling as he began to think back on old memories. "They just might not like to talk about it. And don't always just do what you're told; nobody rules anybody in the Companions."

"They seem to be doing quite well for a group without a leader," said Parax.

"Well, I'm not sure how they've managed it, but they have. No leaders since Ysgramor. Kodlak is the Harbinger, and he's a sort of advisor for the whole group, but every man is his own. Every woman, her own." Eorlund took Vilkas's sword as Parax handed it to him, setting it down near a grindstone for later.

"If only the same could be said for most," the Argonian sighed.

"If you mean the war going on, as far as I'm concerned, Stormcloaks and Imperials ain't much different," said Eorlund. "Both sides want to tell you how you should live your life, but I guess I'd rather hear it from a real Nord than some Emperor down south. Anyways, I would like to ask you to help me out with something."

"Hmm?"

"See that shield over there?" The Nord motioned his head over to a stone table, upon which multiple weapons and armor lied. An ornate steel shield was among them. "I've been working on that for Aela—the red-haired woman, in case you haven't met her yet. My wife is in mourning and I need to get back to her soon, so I'd be much obliged if you could take this to Aela for me."

"Unlike most, I see the difference between helping out an old blacksmith and just doing someone's work for them," replied Parax. "That said, I'll bring it to Aela as soon as possible."

"Good man," said Eorlund, smiling.

"Might I ask why your wife is in mourning?" Parax inquired, approaching the stone table and picking up the shield. "Besides the obvious."

"One of our sons is dead and she won't accept it," replied the blacksmith. "She keeps insisting that the Thalmor kidnapped him or something. It wouldn't surprise me, to be honest, but she needs to face the reality of this. Now, I'm not really one for many words, so I'd like to leave it at that."

"Of course," Parax said, nodding and turning back towards the staircase. He headed on downstairs and sought out the red-haired woman Aela, whom he quickly located in the courtyard of Jorrvaskr. She was sitting at a table near the back door, conversing with two people; Parax recognized one of them immediately as Skjor.

"How do you manage to hold your ground like that?" Aela asked a woman in hide armor. This was Njada, the person Parax and Rellik saw fighting the Dunmer Athis when they arrived at Jorrvaskr earlier.

"You have to remember, it's not about strength. It's about leverage," replied Njada.

"But strength doesn't hurt," said Aela.

"Well, no. I'm just saying there's more to defense than muscle," Njada explained, only to stop talking when Parax approached.

"Present from Eorlund," Parax announced, holding the shield out to Aela.

"Ah, good. I've been waiting for this. Are you new here?" asked the Nord.

"You know this one? I saw him training in the yard with Vilkas," said Skjor.

"Heard you gave him quite the thrashing," Aela commented, throwing Parax a grin of admiration. "Come, follow me." She and the others stood up from their chairs and led Parax through the back door.

"Don't let Vilkas catch you saying that," Skjor chuckled.

"How about a real fight?" asked Aela. "Think you could handle Vilkas then?"

"I'd prefer to show rather than tell," Parax answered. He then leaned in and whispered, "Between you and me, though, I think I could do a lot more than handle him."

"Ah, a man of action," the woman commented. "Let us hunt together sometime."

"Hey, Farkas!" Skjor suddenly shouted. After a few seconds, a muscular man bearing a very similar appearance to Vilkas emerged from the living quarters downstairs and came sprinting over to the two.

"Did you call me?" asked the man.

"Of course we did, icebrain," Aela joked. "Show this new blood where the rest of the whelps sleep."

"New blood?" It took the man a moment to notice Parax. "Oh, hello. I'm Farkas. Come, follow me."

"Hey Rellik, get over here; my friend here has something to show us," said Parax, signaling for Rellik to come with him. The Orc stood up from the U-shaped table and followed Parax and Farkas downstairs.

"Skjor and Aela like to tease me, but they are good people. They challenge us to be our best," Farkas commented, opening the door wide enough for Parax and Rellik to go through before it closed behind him. He led them through the hallway and through a door into a room lined with various furniture and comfortable-looking beds. To Parax's relief, they actually looked very clean; he wouldn't complain much if they weren't, but he still had higher standards for someone who spent most of his time adventuring. "Here's where you guys sleep; just pick a bed and fall in it when you get tired. Tilma keeps the place clean day and night, so don't worry about anything being dirty or anything. Anyways, let's get you started on work—you're part of the Companions now, after all."

Now considered part of the "family", Rellik and Parax were sent out to do tasks; Parax went off to wipe out a camp of Forsworn—an organization widespread across the Reach hold and infamous for brutal murders, all in the name of reclaiming their lost land—while Rellik was instructed to raid a bandit camp. The two considered the jobs to be rather easy compared to the rest of their usual activities, and swiftly accomplished the tasks. It wasn't long before Parax and Rellik became popular with the other Companions. The others were actually quite surprised, considering the two had only joined this very day. It was likely that Rellik's Dragonborn status and Parax being his "Shield-Brother" almost all the time contributed to their rapidly-growing reputation, as most members who had been around for months or even years hadn't attained this status yet.

Having gained the favor of the Companions, Parax and Rellik were sought out by Skjor. The veteran Companion sent the two off to Dustman's Cairn with Farkas; their objective was to acquire a "shard of Wuuthrad"—a piece of the battleaxe that was wielded by the Companions' founder, Ysgramor. With their new mission assigned, the two set off with Farkas, ready to do whatever it took to complete Parax's "ultimate plan". At least, that was what Parax had in mind; he wasn't just ready to fill Rellik in on what he had in mind for him until he had properly formed a strong friendship with him.


Noon, 23rd of Last Seed. Dustman's Cairn. Parax, Rellik, and Farkas entered the ancient Nordic ruins, but found something unexpected; there were signs of recent combat in the room, which Farkas noted. The three readied their weapons, prepared to face any possible threats that awaited them. As they made their way deeper in, fighting through some draugr on the way, the three came across a large room with an enchanting table and a cell with a lever. When Rellik went into the cell to pull the lever in hopes of opening a nearby locked door, the gate behind him closed. Farkas, who was examining the room, immediately took notice of this and quickly approached the gate. Rellik moved the lever back into place, but the gate remained shut.

"Now look what you got yourself into," Farkas said, sighing. "No worries, just sit tight, I'll find the release."

As Parax and Farkas looked around the room, several people wearing fur armor appeared behind them from the shadows. Their garb was noticeably darker than fur armor typically found in Skyrim. Thicker, too.

"It's time to die, dog," declared one of the figures.

"We knew you were coming," said the person next to him.

"Last mistake, Companion."

"Who are they?" asked one of the hunters, suddenly taking notice of Parax and Rellik.

"It does not matter," answered another hunter; his tone and the uniqueness of his armor—in this case, markings and thick armor plating on the shoulders and back—suggested he was of an elevated status in the group. "They fight with these mutts, they die!"

"Killing you will make an excellent story," said one hunter, unsheathing his blade.

Farkas grinned at the hunters. "None of you will be alive to tell it," he declared.

Parax readied his blade, but Farkas suddenly hunched over. Dark fur began to grow out of everywhere on his body, and his armor appeared to simply fade away to make way for his body as it rapidly grew to tower over everyone. Claws developed. His skin greyed. A tail grew. He became… something. Something Parax and Rellik had never seen before. It looked like a humanoid wolf of sorts. The beast fell on all fours and howled loudly, then unleashed a deafening roar; the hunters attempted to close in on the Companion, but were sent flying by a single swipe of his powerful claws as he leapt back onto his hind legs. Within seconds, most of the hunters were dead or dying as Farkas shot around the room as little more than a blur of dark grey; the one hunter who was not killed immediately attempted to flee, only to be seized by the throat and thrown against a wall. A loud crack was heard, and the hunter ceased moving. Farkas, still in this beast-like form, resumed searching the room for the cell's release; seconds later, the gate opened. Rellik walked out of the cell and stared at Parax, dumbstruck. The Argonian simply looked back, unsure of what to say.

"I hope I didn't scare you," Farkas said, grinning, once again in human form. He emerged from a doorway to the side.

"…What was that?" Rellik asked.

"It's a blessing giving to some of us," Farkas answered. "We can be like wild beasts. Fearsome."

"You're going to make us werewolves?" Parax looked at Farkas, intrigued.

"Oh, no. Only the Circle has the beastblood," replied Farkas. "Prove your honor to be a Companion. Eyes on the prey, not the horizon." He turned towards a tunnel. "We should keep moving. Still the draugr to worry about."

The trio continued deeper into the ruins, fighting off more draugr and hunters, who appeared to have a hatred for werewolves. During the adventure, the two greatly impressed Farkas (though Rellik impressed him more, as Parax was constantly using magic and bound weapons instead of physical ones), who began to consider them for the Circle.


6:38 PM. Countless draugr, hunters, skeevers, and frostbite spiders later, the trio finally entered the main chamber—the home of the shard of Wuuthrad. As they stepped forward to claim it, the coffins surrounding them opened, and several draugr stepped out, weapons ready. Farkas, Rellik, and Parax fought back-to-back for the next few minutes, slashing, shooting, and Shouting; through blind luck or a miracle, the three survived the encounter. Rellik picked the shard of Wuuthrad up, and the trio began searching for a shortcut out. Luckily for them, they found a door that led into a path, which in turn took them out of the ruins. They then made their way back to Whiterun.


11:40 PM. At last, Whiterun. Jorrvasker. Parax, Rellik, and Farkas were home. However, when they arrived at Jorrvaskr, the veteran Companions were not inside; Aela, Skjor, Vilkas, and Kodlak were all outside in the courtyard, waiting for the trio and lighting the area up with torches. The three approached them, and it was then that they knew what this "Circle" was. The two had an idea of what they were getting into, but they were not afraid; in fact, they were curious. Especially Parax, who was wondering what fate had in stock for him. Perhaps if he and Rellik were to acquire lycanthropy, it would be a useful resource in the plans known only to him.

The Silver HandEdit

"Brothers and Sisters of the Circle," Kodlak started, "today we welcome two new souls into our mortal fold." He proceeded to point his torch towards Parax and Rellik, who stood in the middle of the group as its members made way for them. "These men have endured, have challenged, and have shown their valor. Who would speak for them?" Kodlak looked around as Farkas stepped forward. "Would you raise your shield in their defense?"

"I would stand at their backs, that the world might never overtake us," Farkas answered.

"And would you raise your sword in their honor?" asked Kodlak.

"It stands ready to meet the blood of their foes," Farkas answered.

"And would you raise a mug in their names?" asked Kodlak.

"I would lead the song in triumph as our mead hall reveled in their stories," Farkas answered.

"Then this judgment of this Circle is complete," Kodlak declared. "Their hearts beat with fury and courage that have united the Companions since the days of the distant green summers. Let it beat with ours, so the mountains may echo and our enemies may tremble at the call."

"It shall be so," announced the rest of the Circle. With that, the members of the Circle—Aela, Farkas, Vilkas, Skjor, and several others—each congratulated the two. Soon enough, they all dispersed, while Kodlak walked up to Parax and Rellik.

“Well, boys, you're part of us now," Kodlak said. "I trust you won’t disappoint.”

Parax was quite pleased with how quickly he and Rellik managed to get into, essentially, the highest positions in the Companions. He was just as much surprised as well, considering the fact that they were relatively new to the guild. Some would assume the Companions were simply being too trusting—finally entering an era in which it begins to decay and will accept anybody. Perhaps they were just good at getting others' trust; Parax knew that he could be quite charming when he needed. The same couldn't exactly be said for Rellik, but he had a certain air about him that made those he met feel… confident, and relaxed. He was able to fill the vacancy as a close ally, after all.

"Is it true that the Companions are werewolves?" Rellik asked. It was clear that the question had been on his mind for quite some time. He was curious, but not so much so as to ask Kodlak within earshot of others.

"I see you’ve been allowed to know some secrets before your appointed time. Yes, it’s true. Not every Companion, no—only members of the Circle all share the blood of the beast. Some take to it more than others," Kodlak replied.

"Hmm. What do you think of this… modification?" Parax asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Well, I grow old. My mind turns towards the horizon, to Sovngarde," Kodlak answered. "I worry that Shor won’t call an animal warrior as he would a true Nord warrior. Living as beasts draws our souls closer to the Daedric lord, Hircine. Some may prefer eternity in his hunting grounds, but I crave the fellowship of Sovngarde."

"Looking for a cure?" Rellik asked, clearly offering help.

"Yes, but it’s no easy matter. But you don’t need to share the worries of an old warrior. This day is to rejoice in your bravery and speak to Eorlund for a better weapon than... whatever that is." Kodlak pointed at Rellik's Imperial sword, then to the empty space where Parax's weapon should be. The Argonian let out a quiet, dry chuckle. Well, more of a grunt than a chuckle, but enough to get the message across.

Rellik bowed respectfully, as did Parax, before heading up to the Skyforge; there, Eorlund gave the duo Skyforge steel swords—some of the finest weapons in Skyrim. Of course, Parax doubted he'd really need to use it often; at the very most, it would only be a necessary substitute for his bound sword in the company of his fellow Companions, given the Nord distaste for magic. A shame, really, if one considered the respect for magic the ancient Nords had. Perhaps Parax could restore this old viewpoint as a little side project in the future. There just so happened to be a college up in the northeast; this College of Winterhold taught a variety of magic, and held all kinds of knowledge that could help him. Rellik may require assistance, though—he wasn't exactly a frequent user of magic.


7:27 PM, 25th of Last Seed. Parax and Rellik waited outside Jorrvaskr, near the stairway to the Skyforge. Skjor had told the two to meet him here, apparently having something planned for them. There they stood, passing the time by discussing their current situation. Rellik mostly just seemed like he wanted the dragons out of the way so he could settle down somewhere. He also seemed to question the necessity of the two's membership in the Companions instead of trying to find a way to beat the dragons, which continued to wreak havoc across Skyrim. Parax, on the other hand, insisted that the guild would test and hone their skill in combat, as well as provide powerful allies. Nords all across Tamriel had a great deal of respect for the Companions; no doubt they would rise up to fight if the legendary Dragonborn, accompanied by the guild led by their ancient hero Ysgramor himself, called upon them. He did withhold one piece of information in particular, however. As far as the dragons were concerned, they were just the beginning in Parax's eyes. He saw a threat on the horizon that could very well be just as bad: the Thalmor. Elven supremacists holding the idea that if they were to enslave all other races and unmake the world, they would become gods. These were the same bastards that went to war with the Empire a couple decades back and forced them to outlaw the worship of the god Talos, hoping to weaken his influence so as to continue with their plans. Parax was not going to let that happen.

"There he is," said Rellik. He nudged Parax on the shoulder, taking him out of his thoughts.

Skjor could be seen exiting the back of Jorrvaskr, looking around as if he was paranoid of something. He also looked up at the night sky to see if it was sufficiently dark, then he made his way over to the new Companions.

"Are you ready?" Skjor asked.

"Ready for… what?" Rellik responded with a question of his own. It only took him a moment to make the connection. "You mean…?"

"We'll talk more in a minute," answered Skjor. "Wait just a little bit, then you can start asking questions."

"Where exactly are we going?" Rellik looked at a faint outline of a door in the rock. He tried to stick his fingers in it and move it out of the way, but it wouldn't budge.

"Here's all you need to know: Jorrvaskr is the oldest building in Whiterun. The Skyforge was here long before it was," Skjor answered. "And the Underforge taps an ancient magic that is older than men or elves. We bring you here to make you stronger, new bloods. Now let's move."

Parax and Rellik looked towards the door-shaped outline. Skjor slid the rock to the side—as if it was light as a feather—and went in. The two followed; inside the room was a stone basin and three stone altars. A humanoid wolf—similar to the one Farkas transformed into—was walking around the room. Unlike Farkas, however, the animal had a paler complexion to its hair, at least in the face and under the arms. A dark red mane stretched across its back and coated the arms, hands, and lower body.

"I would hope you recognize Aela, even in this form," Skjor said, confidently walking past the werewolf. "She's agreed to be your forebear."

Parax and Rellik looked at the transformed Aela carefully, and slowly approached the basin. Skjor stood next to Aela.

"We do this in secret because Kodlak is too busy trying to throw away this great gift we've been granted," Skjor said, pacing around Aela. "He thinks we've been cursed. But we've been blessed," Skjor continued, walking over to Parax and Rellik. "How can something that gives us this kind of prowess be a curse? So we take matters into our own hands. To reach the heights of the Companions, you must join with us in the shared blood of the wolf. Are you prepared to join your spirit with the beast world, friends?" Skjor paced around the two, awaiting an answer.

Parax could only achieve his goals if he and Rellik did whatever it took to rise to the top. Besides, it seemed that the Companions were able to control these beast forms they could take on. With practice—or, if they were lucky, the minute they had this ability—they would be able to control something greater than man. They could become a creature of the wild, a scourge of nature, with better senses and prowess than they already had. Worth a shot.

"We're ready," Parax replied, speaking for himself and Rellik. The Orc seemed somewhat reluctant, but he nonetheless grunted in agreement. Despite his hesitation, he was just as interested in seeing what the beast blood could do for him as Parax was, though perhaps in a different way than the latter.

"Very well," said Skjor. He unsheathed his sword and walked back over to Aela. He grasped her arm, held it over the basin, and made a cut on it, causing her blood to drip into the water; he then instructed the two to drink it.

Parax found himself slightly disturbed by the ritual, but the two complied nevertheless. It didn't take long before a tingling feeling could be felt, followed shortly by that of numbness. Their vision began to blur, and everything went dark.

The two found themselves outside the Underforge, but they felt different. Parax looked at himself and Rellik; he was coated in dark fur, and he had grown claws. He felt a strong, barely controllable urge. An urge to run. To kill. To taste. To sink his teeth into something alive and taste blood. He couldn't help but leap over the wall in front of Jorrvaskr, sprinting across town. "Werewolf!" cried the guards, who attacked him. Arrows flew through the streets and stuck into buildings and such throughout the city. Citizens panicked and ran inside. The werewolves continued to charge madly about the place, climbing structures and biting and clawing at anyone who got in their way. One of the guards, however, managed to land a lucky arrow in each of their necks. Everything went dark again. At least, that's how it felt. It wasn't so much them falling asleep as it was that of watching a play and forgetting all about it when it's over.


8:22 PM. Parax and Rellik found themselves in the Eastmarch hold, just a little outside the city of Windhelm. They looked around; Aela was pacing. A dilapidated structure could be seen in the distance; some old abandoned fort, by the looks of it.

"Are you awake yet?" Aela asked impatiently. "I was starting to think you might never come back. Yours was not an easy transformation. But you're still alive, so congratulations. We even have a celebration planned for you guys." Aela looked towards the fort they were outside of. "There's a pack of werewolf hunters camped nearby, at Gallows Rock—that fort you see over there. They're called the Silver Hand. I think you've met them before. We're going to slaughter them—all of them. Lead on; Skjor's already scouting ahead."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. What just… gah, what just happened?" Parax felt a pain in his neck. He pressed his hand onto it and moved his head about, cracking his neck.

"You were born into the pack, brother," Aela responded. "I almost envy you. That first time is always the most... intense. You gave us even more trouble than Farkas did at his first turning."

They no longer possessed the bestial forms they found themselves in back in Whiterun. They looked like themselves again, but part of them felt different now. The bloodlust that overcame Parax when he first took form as a lycanthrope had settled down, and yet, something lingered. His senses were more attuned—he could hear chatter from the fort in the distance, and picked up on scents that he never smelled before—but that wasn't it. A desire to stalk, and hunt, and feed. He anticipated conflict and the chance to pursue his prey.

Speaking of prey, he came to see them in a different light than before. They were no longer adversaries to be fought and defeated. They weren't just obstacles anymore, or target practice. They were prey, and they were to be treated as such; they existed to be hunted and toyed with. Before, violence was a gateway to the mental stimulation he craved, and a tool to be used to get what he wanted. Now, the only words that even slightly came close to describing how he felt was "covet". He coveted violence, and he coveted the hunt. He coveted conflict, and blood, and combat. He lived for it.

And yet, he and Rellik appeared so calm. Parax was always adept at keeping his cool, but what about Rellik? The Orc seemed so casual, simply lying there on the ground like the two had simply taken a nap. He always did seem mysterious to Parax—enough that even he couldn't read him sometimes—but this definitely sold it.

"Very well… I guess we should get going," Rellik mumbled, pulling himself up.

"Feel any different?" Parax inquired, raising an eyebrow at the Orc.

"Not really," replied Rellik. "Doesn't really feel like anything to me." He abruptly turned away to face the fort. "Come on, let's go find Skjor."

The three headed towards Gallows Rock. It looked like a fort that was falling apart, but it was heavily guarded; countless men and women clad in dark fur armor were patrolling the area or camping nearby, cooking meat of some sorts. Aela, Parax, and Rellik easily took them out with their bows before heading on in. There were bloodstains on the wall and a gate blocking their way. Wolf skulls were nailed to the walls. At least, they looked like wolf skulls, but they were too big to be.

"Look at this. Cowards must have locked the place down after Skjor charged in. You can taste the fear," Aela remarked, chuckling to herself. A grin of delight crept across her face.

Parax and Rellik examined the gate; the former looked around and pulled a chain hidden within the skull trophies, opening the gate and leading to a stairway. Downstairs, the three discovered two more Silver Hand hunters sitting by a campfire under a gap in the ceiling, cooking food. Two arrows and both hunters were down. The three looked around the room; still no sign of Skjor, but a cell showed a werewolf hanging from the wall. Aela walked in.

"There's a dead one, isn't there. Thought so," Aela said. She sniffed the corpse, "Nobody we know, by the smell. Some can't separate the animal from themselves. Go feral. This poor sod could have been anyone." Aela turned away from the body and walked out of the cell. "We should keep moving."

Rellik and Parax went through a door on the right and up a staircase. At the top, there were two Silver Hand members patrolling, and one at a desk, her back turned; Aela and Rellik quietly cut the patrolling hunters' throats while Parax fired an arrow into the third one's head. The third hunter slammed her head on the desk with a loud thud. Aela looked around the room, taking notice of the various cells that lined the walls. She looked inside the cells; most of them had dead werewolves.

"Nothing we can do for these ones now. Don't even want to think about what those cretins did to them before they died," Aela said, sighing.

Unfortunately, several more Silver Hand members must've heard the noises and conversing, as they were scaling another staircase on the opposite end of the room to investigate. Rellik, Parax, and Aela managed to send the hunters back to the bottom with a few arrows to their heads and torsos. The Companions then headed downstairs, still suspicious of where Skjor must've gone.


9:09 PM. Countless corridors and Silver Hand hunters later, they were near the main chamber.

"We're getting close now. Be careful," warned Aela. "Their leader is a tricky one. They call her 'the Skinner.' I don't think I need to tell you why."

They entered the room, finding a woman in steel armor and a cape made from what was clearly werewolf fur skinning several victims of the most recent hunt. She turned around—hearing the door open—and spotted the Companions. Alerting her fellow hunters, the Skinner unsheathed her sword and charged at the trio. Rellik dueled her, while Parax and Aela took out her allies. With the Skinner alone and outnumbered, Parax and Aela were able to close in and repeatedly stab her; Rellik finished her with a swift decapitation. But there was still a problem: where did Skjor go? Parax, Rellik, and Aela looked around the room in search of clues, sniffing the air for their ally's scent, and there it was; Skjor was lying in the back of the room, dead. Aela got on her knees, mourning her fallen comrade.

"The bastards... somehow they managed to kill Skjor," Aela mumbled, shocked. "He was one of the strongest we had, but numbers can overwhelm. He should not have come without a Shield-Brother!" Aela turned to Rellik and Parax. Tears were in her eyes and a look of fury that would fill anybody with a deep sensation of fear was on her face. "Get out of here! I'm going to make sure we got the last of them, and see if there's any information to be gotten from the bodies. You and I have work to do. The Silver Hand will tremble at our sight."

Parax and Rellik looked at Skjor's body sadly, and walked out a door in the back. They found themselves in the room with the fireplace, killed the last survivor, and left for Whiterun.


5:16 PM, 29th of Last Seed. Jorrvaskr. Parax, Rellik, and Aela had been searching for more shards of Wuuthrad, as well as stealing plans from the Silver Hand; the shards were supposedly meant to bring honor to the Companions, while the numerous attacks on the Silver Hand were for the purpose of wreaking vengeance for the blood spilled by the hunters. By now, however, Kodlak had caught wind of what the three were doing, and requested that Parax and Rellik see him.

"Take a seat," Kodlak said; the two each sat down. "I hear you've been busy of late."

Uh oh.

"We work to avenge Skjor's death," Parax answered, knowing he and Rellik had been caught.

"Your hearts are full of grief, and my own weeps at the loss of Skjor. But his death was avenged long ago," Kodlak assured. "You have taken more lives than honor demanded. The cycle of retaliation may continue for some time." Kodlak changed the subject. "Anyways, I have a task for you. Do you know the story of how we came to be werewolves?"

"Skjor said it was a blessing from Hircing," Rellik answered.

"Aye, that sounds like him," said Kodlak. "As in all matters of faith, though, the reality is more complicated than one believer would tell you."

"So what is the truth?" asked Parax.

"The Companions are nearly five thousand years old," Kodlak started. "This matter of beastblood has only troubled us for a few hundred. One of my predecessors was a good, but short-sighted man. He made a bargain with the witches of Glenmoril Coven. If the Companions would hunt in the name of their lord, Hircine, we would be granted great power."

"And in turn, you became werewolves."

"They did not believe the change would be permanent. The witches offered payment, like anyone else. But we had been deceived."

"But does the beast blood not grant you untapped potential?" Parax asked, unsure of what was so bad.

"The witches didn't lie, of course," Kodlak responded, "but it's more than our bodies." Kodlak leaned back in his chair. "The disease, you see, affects not just our bodies," Kodlak continued. "It seeps into the spirit. Upon death, werewolves are claimed by Hircine for his Hunting Grounds. For some, this is a paradise. They want nothing more than to chase prey with their master for eternity. And that is their choice. But I am still a true Nord. And I wish for Sovngarde as my spirit home."

"Well, is there a way for you to be cured?" Rellik brought up his question from his acceptance into the Companions.

"That's what I've spent my twilight years trying to find out," Kodlak replied. "And now I've found the answer. The witches' magic ensnared us, and only their magic can release us. They won't give it willingly, but we can extract their foul powers by force. I want you to seek them out. Go to their coven in the wilderness. Strike them down as a true warrior of the wild. And bring me their heads. The seat of their abilities. From there, we may begin to undo centuries of impurity."

"Where is this coven of theirs?" asked Rellik.

"You will find them in Glenmoril Coven; it's in the southwest, in the Reach," replied Kodlak. "Don't worry about details—you'll know when you see it."

"It shall be done," Parax said as he got up. "I trust Rellik and I will still be able to make use of this."

"Good, and correct; this cure is only for me. Now move quickly. And don't leave any of them alive. Talos guide you, lads."

Parax and Rellik left Kodlak's quarters, exited Jorrvaskr, and began the long journey to the Reach.


2:46 AM, 30th of Last Seed. Parax and Rellik reached Glenmoril Coven. Having done research on the resident witches, the two knew that a direct fight would be a challenge. Thus, they agreed to stick to bows and kill the witches from the shadows. Readying their weapons, the two advanced. Inside, they carefully searched, making sure not to be spotted. There was a fork in the path; on the right was one of the witches, who was feeding a pet frostbite spider. Parax and Rellik carefully nocked their arrows, aimed, and fired; down went the first witch. Rellik walked up to the corpse and began cutting, while Parax looked out for any other hostile entities. Sticking to stealth, the duo managed to kill nearly every witch in the cave, and took with them their heads. The last one, however, was trickier; she had apparently been watching the two from the shadows, studying their movements. When the other witches were dead, she stepped forth and fired an ice spike at Parax, hitting him square in the chest.

"You belong to Hircine now!" the witch announced, firing another ice spike at Rellik. The Orc dodged it and shot the witch in the arm. The witch screeched in pain, and readied her claws as Rellik charged. The two slashed and countered, tiring and wounding the other, and the witch finally managed to imbed one of her claws in Rellik's chest. Knocking him to the ground, the witch stood over Rellik, ready to deliver the final blow; before she could, however, Parax snuck up behind her and impaled her with his bound sword. He then claimed her head, and the two looked around as voices could be heard all around them. More witches was apparently present, but they weren't like the hagravens; they were still of their human, elf, or beast race appearances, but anyone of the Glenmoril Coven was not to be underestimated.

The witches closed in on the group, firing ice, fire, and lightning from every direction; Parax blocked the magic with a ward, but his power was not exactly attuned, as he was still getting the hang of Nirn's magic. As the ward slowly faded, the witches got closer and closer, and Rellik lunged forward with his sword at the ready, lopping off heads and limbs at surprising speeds. Parax took advantage of the witches' shock to ready his bow and arrows, but before he could make a shot, an ice spike pierced his bow and severed it in two. Fortunately, the attacker—the final witch remaining—was cut down by Rellik before she could finish the Argonian off. With a groan, she dropped a spellbook to the ground, and Parax proceeded to examine it. The tome spoke of a "bound bow"; it was essentially just like his bound sword—a ghostly weapon from Oblivion—and came with an ethereal quiver that never seemed to run out of arrows. Parax viewed it as a simple replacement for his previous bow, but he would eventually grow to love and cherish the spell.


8:23 PM. Jorrvaskr. Parax and Rellik arrived at their home, but it was not in the way they had hoped. The bodies of several Silver Hand members littered the area around Jorrvaskr, and several Companions were standing outside, watching for any other attackers.

"The Silver Hand. They finally had the nerve to attack Jorrvaskr," Torvar said. "We got most of them, but I think a few stragglers made it out."

Parax and Rellik were worried. Immediately, they ran inside Jorrvaskr; there, they found more dead Silver Hand members, and Kodlak was lying lifeless on the floor. Farkas and Njada were kneeling next to the body. Vilkas noticed the two, and walked up to them.

"…Where have you been?!" Vilkas asked.

"What happened here?" Rellik asked in turn.

"One of the fiercest battles I've ever seen," replied Vilkas."The Silver Hand. They finally had enough courage to attack Jorrvaskr! We fought them off, but… the old man. Kodlak. He's dead."

Damn.

"Was anyone else hurt?" Parax inquired.

"No, but they made off with all the fragments of Wuuthrad," Vilkas answered. "But you and I are going to reclaim them. We will bring the battle to their chief camp. There will be none left living to tell their stories. Only songs of Jorrvaskr will be sung! We will avenge Kodlak, and they will know terror before the end…"

Parax and Rellik turned back, and left Jorrvaskr with Vilkas to destroy what little remained of the Silver Hand. Only the latter exactly knew where the organization's home base was, so they made sure to stick by him. After they were out of Whiterun and safely out of the prying eyes of those who would misunderstand, they entered their werewolf forms and headed off with a newer and more vicious lust for blood.


4:45 AM, 31st of Last Seed. Parax, Rellik, and Vilkas were outside the primary camp of the Silver Hand—Driftshade Refuge, somewhere southeast of the town Dawnstar; at last, sweet revenge was on its way. Three guards were present on the outside of the bandit clan's fortress, which appeared as a small, slightly decayed building of stone leading underground, slanting into the hill behind it. The odor of blood and rotten flesh filled the air, emanating from the heads of lycanthropes impaled on spikes outside the base. The group surveyed the area from afar, using the cover of a rock to avoid being spotted themselves.

"One for each of us," said Vilkas, grinning with clenched teeth. "Parax, use some of that sneaking of yours; get over there and take the milk drinker on the roof. Rellik and I will deal with his friends by the door, and they will know fear."

"Seems he's already got that in mind," Rellik commented.

Indeed, Parax was already near the camp with his bound sword ready. The guard up on the slanted roof of the ruin realized too late what was going on as Parax slashed his throat open, pushing him off the ledge and onto the ground. The other two looked up at the shadowy figure of Parax, their vision mostly blurred by the snowstorm and dark of night. He simply stared back down from the roof at them, and then they saw that he was simply distracting them. By then, however, Rellik and Vilkas were already beside them, and with a single cut from each of the two, the werewolf hunters collapsed to the ground, dead. The three proceeded on through the building's door, smelling the scent of the Silver Hand members throughout the fur-lined corridors.

"I say we embrace our gift of the beast for this," Parax suggested. "We can slay them not in the forms they are familiar with, but rather the ones they fear."

"They will die at the hands of those they have hunted for so long," said Rellik. "For irony's sake, and because the inner beast demands it."

"Aye," Vilkas agreed, "we shall show them the strength Hircine has given us."

Having reached an accord, the Shield-Brothers shifted into their werewolf forms, their garb and weapons vanishing as their bodies twisted into great, bipedal wolves. They bounded off down the halls, entering a large chamber with multiple stone pillars. Five members of The Silver Hand occupied the area and performed a variety of activities, from drinking or eating to singing songs of their triumphs over lycanthropes. Alas, their singing and celebrating was soon overcome by the howls and roars of beasts, and then the werewolves were upon them. In his panic, one of the guards near the door on the opposite side of the room ran through it as Parax sprinted toward him on all fours; the door shut as he reached it, blocking him off from his target despite him constantly throwing his weight against it. The door was sealed and too strong for even the strength of all three of the werewolves, staying stubbornly in place and ignoring the thrashing and clawing.

The man who escaped either alerted the rest of the guards by now or they heard the commotion themselves, as more of the hunters had come out from an alternative door to the side, which led to a kitchen-based sector that likewise led further into the base. Groups upon groups came charging out at the lycanthropes with their silver swords and shields clanging—silver being a highly effective and caustic weapon against undead and all forms of lycans—but no amount of cutting or bashing seemed to stop the fury of the Companions, who simply tore them apart and flung them about. "For the love of the gods, die!" they would cry out, but no Silver Hand member would be leaving this place alive tonight.

Soon enough, the trio, covered in cuts but strong enough to carry on nonetheless, found themselves in the room where the guard from earlier escaped to, but the room was now empty; anyone who was here had either run off to their deaths or retreated deeper inside the camp. It took another few minutes before the so-called beasts returned to their regular forms, their lycanthropic bloodlust being sated and causing the beast form to wear off. Rather inconvenient timing, too, as they were just about to reach the sleeping quarters of the Silver Hand's highest authority. Their chief was expecting company, sitting at a table in the company of half a dozen armored figures. The shards of Wuuthrad were arranged neatly on another table nearby.

"I will admit, I must applaud the lot of you," the man spoke calmly. He was eating a slab of cooked meat; Vilkas seemed to be detecting something in it that made him both angry and uneasy. "Nobody's managed to raid this place before, what with our armory of silver and fortifications. I suppose that was to be expected from the old man's death."

"At least this one seems to understand why he's about to die," said Parax. "Most of the idiots I kill have the same look of confusion on their faces even as I sever their heads."

"Cowards, the lot of you!" Vilkas exclaimed. "You hunt our kind like animals, and don't even have the decency to fight us yourselves! You murder one man and take what doesn't belong to you!"

"That 'one man' was old and weak," replied the chief. "Perhaps his successor will be more brag-worthy prey. I didn't hit a nerve, did I?"

Parax, Rellik, and Vilkas were fresh out of patience for further banter; they lunged forward and ganged up on the closest Silver Hand, cutting him down before moving onto everyone else. The chief calmly got out of his seat and picked up his sword from underneath the table, strapping it to his belt and gathering up the fragments of Wuuthrad in a sack, which he slung over his shoulder. After securing the sack to his belt as he did the sword, he unsheathed his weapon and jumped over the table at the conflict, swinging the blade at the Companions. Rellik took notice of the attempted attack and blocked it with his own sword, but the chief merely used this to propel himself forward a bit more and land behind everyone. And with that, he ran off down the corridors in an attempt to escape; he seemed to know that there was just no beating these three. Indeed, he was right in this case, as his remaining guards were being cut down while he made his escape.

"These men don't matter, get the shards!" Parax shouted. He readied his flames spell and blasted the remaining Silver Hand members; the magical fire stuck to them and set them alight like they were coated in oil, and the Companions quickly headed after the fleeing chief. Parax soon noticed that a figure had joined them in the chase; his garb suggested he was the man who eluded the initial fight in the base earlier. The man was moving differently from anything he had seen before, using the furniture as walkways and shortcuts through the rooms, effectively outrunning the group and continuing on. It was only about a minute or so before they all caught up to the chief, but not in the way they had expected; he was lying on his back atop a table with multiple knives in him. The shards of Wuuthrad were organized around his body, but his coin purse and sword were missing. This clearly had something to do with the agile bandit from earlier, but what he was after was beyond Parax. He probably just got ambitious and wanted to take the mantle for himself, or saw this as an opportunity to desert the Silver Hand. It would certainly explain why he fled the scene earlier; he didn't want to hunt werewolves anymore, he wanted to escape. Then again, he seemed capable and calm enough to kill the Silver Hand's leader and leave Wuuthrad's shards neatly organized around his body.


8:29 PM. The Skyforge. The three made it back—late, somewhat, having rested at an inn on the road after a long night of fighting—but nobody was in Jorrvaskr. Parax, Rellik, and Vilkas searched for the other Companions, eventually finding them at the Skyforge, along with Avenicci, Balgruuf, and countless other residents of Whiterun. They appeared to all have been waiting for the trio to return. Kodlak's body was lying on top of a wooden pyre atop the Skyforge, with numerous red carpets and blankets bearing the theme of the ones that covered the floors of Jorrvaskr. Candles lined the edges of the Skyforge, lighting up the area even more.

"Who will start?" Eorlund asked.

"I'll do it," volunteered Aela.

"Before the ancient flame…" started Aela.

"We grieve," said everyone else.

"At this loss…" said Eorlund.

"We weep."

"For the fallen…" said Vilkas.

"We shout."

"And for ourselves…" said Farkas

"We take our leave."

Aela approached the forge and lit Kodlak's body on fire with a torch. After staring at the flames for a moment, she turned to everyone else.

"His spirit is departed. Members of the Circle, let us withdraw to the Underforge, to grieve our last together."

Everyone walked away from the fire, while the Circle waited for the coast to be clear. Then, they entered the Underforge. Parax and Rellik delivered the fragments of Wuuthrad to Eorlund, who asked Parax to bring him one more, which Kodlak kept in his room. Parax complied, and searched Kodlak's quarters. Inside, he found the fragment of Wuuthrad and Kodlak's journal, as well as a small, golden box akin to a ring box, containing a pink gemstone. He wasn't sure why, but the gemstone gave off a feeling of importance to him, like it was embedding the thought into his head. He kept this in the back of his mind for later, as he wasn't quite sure what to do with it just yet.

Figuring he had some time, Parax read the journal in private. Through this, Parax learned that things were going just as he wanted: Kodlak wanted Rellik to become the new Harbinger of the Companions. Putting the journal back where it belonged, Parax gave the final fragment of Wuuthrad to Eorlund before going into the Underforge. Inside, he found Rellik, Vilkas and Farkas arguing with Aela.

"The old man had one wish before he died. And he didn't get it. It's as simple as that," said Vilkas.

"Being moon-born is not so much of a curse as you might think, Vilkas," Aela insisted.

"That's fine for you. But he wanted to be clean," replied Vilkas. "He wanted to meet Ysgramor and know the glories of Sovngarde. But all that was taken from him."

"And you avenged him," said Aela.

"Irrelevant," Rellik growled.

Farkas interrupted. "Kodlak did not care for vengeance."

"No, Farkas, he didn't," responded Vilkas. "And that's not what this is about. We should be honoring Kodlak, no matter our own thoughts on the blood."

"You need to understand, Aela," Rellik continued, "we may view the beast blood as a gift—one to be used to enhance our performance in combat and prowess when hunting prey—but Kodlak does not. Err, did not. Don't force him to abandon his own dream of entering Sovngarde just because you yourself have no interest in it. He was our Harbinger; honor him and his wish."

Aela paced for a moment, thinking. Soon enough, she looked back up and stared each of her fellow Companions in their eyes. "You're right," she said. "It's what he wanted, and he deserved to have it."

"Kodlak used to speak of a way to cleanse his soul, even in death. You know the legends of the Tomb of Ysgramor," Vilkas said.

"There the souls of the Harbingers will heed the call of northern steel," confirmed Aela. "We can't even enter the tomb without Wuuthrad, and it's in pieces, like it has been for a thousand years."

As Aela said this, Eorlund answered, carefully holding Wuuthrad. "And dragons were just stories. And the elves once ruled Skyrim. Just because something is, doesn't mean it must be. The blade is a weapon. A tool. Tools are meant to be broken. And repaired."

"Is that…? Did you repair the blade?" Vilkas asked Eorlund, dumbstruck.

It didn't seem to take him an awful long time. Best blacksmith in Whiterun? More like best blacksmith in the world.

"This is the first time I've had all the pieces, thanks to our Shield-Brothers here," Eorlund responded. "'The flames of a hero can reforge the shattered.' The flames of Kodlak shall fuel the rebirth of Wuuthrad. And now it will take you to meet him once more. The rest of you, prepare to journey to the Tomb of Ysgramor. For Kodlak." Eorlund turned to Parax and Rellik, and handed Wuuthrad to the Orc. "As the one who bore the fragments, I think you should be the one to carry Wuuthrad into battle."

Aela unsheathed her blade, shouting, "For Kodlak!" Parax patted a surprised Rellik on the back, and the Companions left the Underforge.


7:24 AM, 1st of Heartfire. It had been countless hours of traveling, killing bandits, and even fighting a patrolling dragon before Parax and Rellik finally reached Ysgramor's tomb, an ancient Nordic ruin which was situated on an island northwest of the town of Winterhold, which was in turn located along the northeastern coast. The very first thing they saw was a great statue of Ysgramor, but it wasn't holding the axe the hero was known to carry into battle. The two were greeted by Farkas, Vilkas, and Aela, who had arrived just a little before them. After all, an axe as heavy as Wuuthrad and Parax's tendency to stop randomly—either to buy from a traveling merchant, collect herbs, or something of the such—were certainly going to slow them down a little.

"This is the resting place of Ysgramor," Vilkas told the two. "And his most trusted generals. You should be cautious."

"Traps and spirits of old?" Parax asked, recalling his many adventures in Nordic ruins before and after his arrival to Skyrim.

"The original Companions," answered Vilkas. "Their finest warriors rest with Ysgramor. You'll have to prove yourselves to them. It's not that you're intruding. I'd wager they've actually expected us. They just want to be sure that you're worthy. Be ready for an honorable battle."

"Will you not be coming with us?"

"Kodlak was right. I let vengeance rule my heart," said Vilkas, sadly. "I regret nothing of what we did at Driftshade, mind you, but I can't go any further with my mind fogged or my heart grieved."

Parax nodded, and—as instructed by Vilkas—Rellik placed Wuuthrad in the hands of the Ysgramor statue. A gate on the far side of the room opened, and the Companions prepared themselves. They advanced into the next room, and watched as two ghosts walked out of coffins on the walls. The ghosts were easily defeated, and the Companions continued on. Advancing through several more rooms and cutting through the ghosts of the original Companions, the group found themselves in a large, flooded room. More ghosts were fought, and Farkas was wounded in combat. He slowly climbed back to his feet.

"Ugh… I can't go any farther, Shield-Siblings," Farkas said.

"What's the matter?" Rellik asked.

"Ever since Dustman's Cairn, the big, crawly ones have been too much for me," replied Farkas, referring to the sounds of frostbite spiders in the next room. "Everyone has a weakness, and this one is mine. I'll stay back with Vilkas, keep him company."

Groaning, Farkas returned to the first room, while Aela remained with Parax and Rellik. The three remaining Companions killed off the frostbite spiders and advanced deeper into the ruins, finding themselves in a large, grave-lined room. Even more ghosts of the old Companions.


8:44 AM. Parax, Rellik, and Aela were finally in the main chamber. The resting place of Ysgramor, and the very area where Kodlak's lycanthropy could be cured. Indeed, the ex-Harbinger's ghost was waiting for them, warming his hands near a blue fire.

"Of course," said Kodlak. "My fellow Harbingers and I have been warming ourselves here. Trying to evade Hircine."

"But there's no one else in here," Rellik said, confused.

"You see only me because your heart knows only me as the Companions leader," replied Kodlak. "I'd wager old Vignar could see half a dozen of my predecessors. And I see them all. The ones in Sovngarde. The ones trapped with me in Hircine's realm. And they all see you. You've brought honor to the name of the Companions. We won't soon forget it."

"Did he now?" Kodlak asked. "I can only hope. You still have the witches' heads?"

Rellik held out one of the Glenmoril Witches' heads. "All of them."

"Excellent. Throw one of them into the fire. It will release their magic, for me at least."

Rellik threw the head into the blue fire. Kodlak immediately knelt down, and a large, red, ghost-like wolf leaped out of him, roaring. It lunged forward at Parax, tackling him to the floor. Rellik immediately stabbed at the beast, while Aela riddled it with arrows. Soon, the wolf fell, and Kodlak got back up.

"And so you have slain the beast inside of me. I thank you for this gift," Kodlak said. "The other Harbingers remain trapped by Hircine, though. Perhaps from Sovngarde, the heroes of old can join me in their rescue. The Harrowing of the Hunting Grounds. It would be a battle of such triumph. And perhaps some day, you'll join us in that battle. But for today, return to Jorrvaskr. Triumph in your victory. And lead the Companions to further glory." Kodlak named Rellik the Harbinger of the Companions, just as Parax had hoped. The ghost then vanished, now in Sovngarde.

Aela approached Rellik. "Did I hear right? Did he say you were to lead the Companions?" she asked.

"…This doesn't upset you, does it?" Parax asked, referring to her tone.

"I'm just surprised," Aela answered, and she turned back to Rellik. "But your strength and honor are apparent to all. Come, let's tell the others."

The three made their way back to the first room and informed the brothers of Rellik's new promotion. Ultimately, they were just as surprised as Aela that someone as new as Rellik would be given the rank, but agreed with it nonetheless. After all, he had accomplished more in only a few days than most of the other members had in years; he would certainly bring the guild to glory. And with glory came influence, and that was why Parax even bothered getting Rellik into the Companions. He seemed to fit their definition of a true warrior, and with him as Harbinger, there was no doubt that the guild's admirers would lay down their weapons for him.

Unfortunately, any celebration would have to be put off for later, as Parax had plans to drag Rellik off for the city of Windhelm, the capital city of the Stormcloaks. They stuck around for a little longer, socializing with the other Circle members, even traveling with them for a short time on the road, stopping by at a tavern or two to relax after a great many days of tireless adventures. But alas, all things come to an end, and this was no exception; soon enough, the two found themselves making their way for Windhelm. After quite a bit of questioning, Parax informed his companion that he hoped to get information on the rebels. He also had the intention of going to Riften—somewhere southeast of Windhelm—having sensed some sort of opportunity to expand his influence in Skyrim.

RiftenEdit

6:39 PM. Windhelm. Parax and Rellik had stepped inside the city for the first time. The first thing they saw was a Nord—Rolff Stone-Fist—bullying a local Dunmer for not joining the Stormcloaks. The two intervened, telling Rolff and his fellow Stormcloak supporter to leave the citizen alone; the Nords responded by trying to punch them. Such violence ended in Rolff and his friend being beaten into submission; Parax and Rellik left the two on the ground, and resumed exploring Windhelm, curious to study the home city of the Stormcloak rebellion. Quickly, they began hearing rumors of a young boy—Aventus Aretino—performing the Black Sacrament in an attempt to summon the Dark Brotherhood—an organization of deadly assassins. Intrigued by the information and curious about what may happen, the two decided to look into the matter while they were in town. It didn't take long for them to come across two people—a young boy and a Dunmer woman discussing the strange happenings in the Aretino home.

"Then it's true, what everyone is saying? That Aventus Aretino is doing the Black Sacrament? Trying to summon the Dark Brotherhood?" the boy pestered.

"Oh, Grimvar... always with the nonsense," the woman sighed. "No, no, of course not. Those are just tales..."

"Fine, then I'll invite him out to play," the child retorted. He turned to a nearby house and began walking quickly towards it, a devilish grin on his face. "He lives right there. I'm going to knock on his door..."

"No, child! Wait!" the Dunmer panicked, running after him. She knelt down and caught him in her arms, stopping his movements. Parax and Rellik simply stayed behind the corner of the street they were at, waiting for the coast to be clear. "That boy, that house—they're cursed!"

"Ha! Then I'm right. I knew it!" said the boy. He didn't struggle against the embrace, instead standing in place with a victorious smirk. "He's trying to have somebody killed!"

"All right... I won't deny it, child," the woman muttered in defeat. She turned the child around and put her hands on his shoulders, a somber look in her eyes. "What you heard is true, but Aventus Aretino walks a dark path. His actions can lead only to ruin." With that, she stood back up and led him away from the house and down the road. "Now, enough—We will speak no more of this. I am the only friend you need."

Parax's head turned away from the corner and faced Rellik, who was behind him; per the usual, the former smirked and the latter simply shrugged. They proceeded over to the building the boy was talking about, with Rellik taking watch and Parax putting his head to the door. Hearing nothing, he tested the door's lock, pulling it open and heading on in with Rellik.

The mood seemed to have instantly changed. Inside the Aretino residence, they could hear the voice of a young boy mumbling something; it sounded tired and croaky, as if overworked. The deeper into the house they got and the closer they were to the voice, the louder it became, as did the sound of something sharp being jabbed into the floorboards over and over. When they were in the living room, the voice was easier to hear, and now whatever the boy was saying had become comprehensible.

"Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear..." said the child, along with the sounds of the floor being stabbed at. Parax and Rellik carefully approached the source of the voice, finding a young Nord boy hunched over an effigy of sorts—a skeleton that the two couldn't even begin to understand where it came from, along with a heart and something or someone's flesh. Several candles were lit up and encircling it.

"Please... How long must I do this?" the boy, clearly Aventus Aretino, cried as he stabbed at the effigy several more times. "I keep praying, Night Mother. Why won't you answer me?"

Parax entered the room without saying anything. Instead, he tapped his fingers on the wall to get the child's attention. Immediately, he whipped his head around in response to the sound; upon seeing Parax, his expression of extreme weariness and frustration transformed into an excited smile.

"It worked! I knew you'd come, I just knew it! I did the Black Sacrament, over and over. With the body and the... the things," Aventus cheered. "And then you came! An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood." As he said this, he looked behind Parax to see Rellik. "Two assassins!"

Uh... Wait, what now?

"You don't have to say anything. There's no need," said Aventus before either of the duo could respond. "You're here, so I know you'll accept my contract."

"Contract?" Rellik asked in the background.

"My mother, she... she died. I... I'm all alone now. So they sent me to that terrible orphanage in Riften. Honorhall," Aventus started to go off on a rant. His excitement was replaced with pure hatred and anger as he tightened his grip on the knife in his hand. "The headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her 'Grelod the Kind'. But she's not kind. She's terrible. To all of us. So I ran away, and came home, and performed the Black Sacrament. Now you're here, and you can kill Grelod the Kind!"

"This is an awfully dark path you are on, boy," said Parax. "I hope you understand what you are doing."

"I've never been more sure about anything in my entire life," the boy replied, suddenly sticking the knife into the wall to his side. "Someone like Grelod doesn't deserve to live one more day. She's a monster. And don't worry about payment—I have a family heirloom in my possession. I'm sure you'll find it quite valuable."

Parax sensed a desire to intervene in Rellik. He quickly held his hand up and cast a light spell, blinding everyone looking in his direction—in this case, Rellik and Aventus. Before anything else could happen, he backed away and dragged Rellik out of the house. "Let's just not say anything about it," the Argonian urged as the two fast-walked away from the Aretino residence and down the street.


10:41 PM, 2nd of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik reached Riften, ready to spread their influence even further. As they were about to enter the city, however, a guard stopped them.

"Hold there," ordered the guard. "Before I let you into Riften, you need to pay the visitor's tax."

"I don't recall any of the other cities having this. What's the tax for?" Rellik asked.

"For the privilege of entering the city," the guard answered. "Why does it matter?"

"Don't try that bullshit with us," said Parax. "I've heard the rumors."

"What rumors?" Rellik inquired.

"Alright, alright, keep your voice down… you want everyone to hear you?! I'll let you in, just let me unlock the gate," the guard responded, quickly walking over to the gate and unlocking it.

Parax and Rellik pushed the guard out of the way and entered Riften. The city was more or less unclean, and many shady-looking figures wandered the dark alleyways, some observing the two. A deep waterway surrounded the market in the center of town, with a few bridges on both the level Parax and Rellik were on, and down below in a slum-like section. A blonde, long-haired Nord woman was nearby, clad in iron armor and wearing a noticeable amount of blue-green war paint on the left side of her face. She could be overheard talking to a friend of hers.

"I had another run-in with the Thieves Guild," the woman said.

"Be careful, Mjoll. The Thieves Guild has Maven Black-Briar at her back," said an Imperial man in dark brown clothes. "One snap of her fingers, and you could end up in Riften Jail... or worse."

"They represent the reason I'm here," Mjoll replied. "I can't just ignore them, Aerin."

"I know. I just don't want you to leave; you're the only good thing that's happened to this city in a long time."

Parax and Rellik walked over to the two, hoping to acquire information; after all, these two seemed to possess knowledge on the city. This Thieves Guild was the reason Parax even brought Rellik here in the first place. Mjoll quickly took notice of them, recognizing them as newcomers to the city.

"You're strangers here too, eh?" Mjoll asked.

"Yes, we're a bit lost, and a guard tried to extort money from us at the gate," Parax said. "What's this 'Thieves Guild' you're talking about?"

"To call it a guild is ridiculous," Mjoll responded. "How can people who would betray each other over a gold coin be considered part of an association?" Mjoll turned around, looking at the market in the center of town for a moment. "They're the worst kind. Even the Dark Brotherhood abides by a strict set of rules and tradition. These thieves are just rabble. What do you think?"

"I agree completely," Parax lied. "Men without a code cannot be trusted; they only open the door to chaos. The proof lies all around us—look at this city, for example. I'm certain it looked far more impressive in the past." In actuality, he was planning to learn more about the Guild. If he played his cards right, he could rise through the ranks just as Rellik did with the Companions; he would have access to money and markets that could potentially boost his goals and influence.

"You know, I'm beginning to respect you," Mjoll said, smiling. Admittedly, Parax admired her determination in the eyes of danger; in the future, she may actually make a keen ally and perhaps friend. He'd just have to hide any ties to the Thieves Guild, assuming he even gets that far. "Other than Aerin, you seem to be the only other person I've met I might be able to trust. Since we share the same opinion of them, let me warn you that they're recruiting others to join their 'guild' and you should be cautious."

"Don't worry; our willpower would make the gods jealous," replied Parax. "What about this 'Maven' your friend was talking about? Typical corrupt aristocrat, I take it?"

"Maven Black-Briar, the matriarch of her family, represents everything that's wrong with this city," answered Mjoll, clenching her first. "She's bribed countless officials, has friends back in the Imperial City and freely associates with the Thieves Guild. I've tried everything I can to protect Riften's citizens from her family, but to no avail."

"Implying her whole family is like her?" Rellik asked.

"Well, there's Ingun Black-Briar, Maven's daughter," said Mjoll. "Strange girl, probably the only good one. She likes to spend time down in Elgrim's Elixirs working on her alchemy. Then you have Hemming, Maven's son; spoiled brat and heir to her empire. He follows her word like a loyal dog follows its master. And finally, Sibbi; the worst of all of them. He's in Riften Jail for murder."

"They just all sound so delightful," said Parax in a sarcastic tone, prompting a laugh from Mjoll. "Hmm, you seem like the adventuring type, much like myself. Perhaps some day we can take down more people like Maven."

"I've been adventuring across Tamriel since I was a fresh-faced young woman barely able to swing a blade," Mjoll responded. "My travels have taken me from High Rock to Valenwood, Elsweyr to Morrowind and all points in between."

"What brought you all the way over here, then?"

"Many years ago I lost my blade, 'Grimsever,' within a Dwemer ruin. I took it as a sign that I was wasting my days in search of wealth. You and I are indeed alike, as you said; We seek challenge and great fortune. But for me, that's where the similarities end. You see, Riften is my great beast to be slain and my fortune comes from gratitude and trust."

"I have no doubt I'll be able to earn that gratitude and trust," said Parax. "Let's start with something small; how did you lose your blade?"

"It was lost years ago in a Dwemer ruin. Without it, I feel almost as defenseless as a newborn. I don't think I'll ever be able to find a replacement."

"We could find it for you," Rellik suggested.

"I was about to suggest that very thing," said Parax. "My friend and I enjoy helping people just as much as we do traveling the land. It's actually our motivation for traveling in the first place." Let's not forget extreme boredom.

"I couldn't ask you to undertake such a treacherous journey, it would be a fool's errand," Mjoll said, sighing. "But I see that spark in your eye and I know better than to warn you away. Grimsever rests with the Dwemer ruin of Mzinchaleft. Tread carefully, friend... those same ruins almost took my life."

"Your warning will be heeded. How exactly did you lose it, anyways?"

"I was adventuring in the depths of the ruins when I was attacked by a massive construct... like nothing I had ever seen," replied Mjoll. "When the colossus struck, Grimsever was knocked from my grasp and I was wounded badly. It was only through blind luck that I was able to crawl away from the Dwemer abomination and make my way to the surface. I must have collapsed, because the next thing I remember is Aerin standing over me tending to my wounds."

"An interesting story, Mjoll. We'll let you know if we find it," Parax said, walking away with Rellik.

Mere seconds after their encounter with Mjoll, Parax and Rellik saw two people debating on one of the bridges overlooking the waterway surrounding the market; one was a woman dressed in a uniform of sorts—that is, light brown with various pouches for storage, and a hood that was down—and the other was a man in tattered clothes. The woman appeared to be rather angry, but it wasn't over anything personal; this was business, plain and simple.

"I'm really getting tired of your excuses," the woman said. "When you borrowed the money, you said you'd pay it back on time and for double the usual fee."

"I know I did," replied the man. "But how was I to know the shipment would get robbed?"

"Next time, keep your plans quieter and nothing would have happened to it."

"What? Are you telling me you robbed it?" he asked, his expression changing from fearful to furious. "Why? Why are you doing this to me?"

"Look, Shadr. Last warning," said the woman, glaring at Shadr. "Pay up or else. All I care about is the gold. Everything else is your problem." She then turned around and walked away into the building behind her. Most likely a tavern, given the sounds of music coming from it and a sign above the door labeled "The Bee and Barb".

Parax and Rellik walked up behind Shadr. Parax tapped him on the shoulder.

"Huh? What do you want?" Shadr asked. His eyes were wide from surprise.

"What was that argument about?" Parax inquired. "It seemed… intense."

"I owe a great deal of money to someone and I think they cheated me," replied Shadr. "I don't know what to do."

"Elaborate," Parax said.

"I was able to work out a deal with the stables in Whiterun to sell me some of their tack and harnesses," Shadr responded. "I borrowed some gold from Sapphire to pay for the shipment, but it got robbed before it even arrived. Now Sapphire wants her money back, and if I don't pay her, I think she's going to kill me."

"What if we were to work something out with that woman… with Sapphire?" Parax offered.

"You will?! Oh, thank you! Be careful with Sapphire. She mixes with all sorts of nasty people." Shadr bowed his head respectfully before heading down the streets and out the doors. Judging by his smell, he was probably going to the stables.

Parax and Rellik went into the building Sapphire entered—the Bee and Barb—already setting into place the former's plan. Inside, Sapphire was leaning against a wall. She noticed them as they walked up to her.

"Yeah? What's your problem?" Sapphire asked, retaining the same look of anger as when she was talking to Shadr earlier.

"Oh, no problem," Parax responded. "Just a poor stable boy seems to be having trouble with debts, and we figured we could help him out."

"I knew that stupid kid would try and find a way to weasel out of his debt," Sapphire said angrily. "Look, this is really simple. I lent him some gold, he promised to pay me back and now he says he's broke. End of story."

"You know this is a setup," Parax said, raising his eyebrow. "I know a bullshitter when I see one; more importantly, I know it's bad for business—even illegitimate business—if people were to, oh, I don't know, catch wind that said business can't be trusted to honor its own agreements."

"All right, all right," Sapphire responded, her patience finally wearing thin. "I guess I made enough from his shipment. No need to waste any more time threatening a stable hand. Tell Shadr he doesn't owe me anything."

Parax gave Sapphire a cheeky grin before walking away triumphantly with Rellik. The two headed over to the other side of the room and sat at a table to plan their next course of action. It was then that Parax finally decided to confide his plan in Rellik, having gained the Orc's trust and vice versa. He kept his voice down to avoid being heard, and was actually quite surprised that Rellik was more than happy to be a part of the plan. Though the Orc did indeed wish for a normal life, he also recognized the threat of the Thalmor and had no intention letting that threat become worse than it already was. Their discussion was, however, interrupted when a man in green, fancy clothes came strolling over to them. He sported medium-sized red hair, as well as a beard and mustache.

"Never done an honest day's work in your life for all that coin you're carrying, eh lads?" the man asked. "Name's Brynjolf, how do you do?"

"…I'm sorry, what?" Parax cocked his head to the side, curious.

"I'm saying you've got the coin but you didn't earn a septim of it honestly. I can tell," Brynjolf replied, smirking.

"How could you possibly know that?" Rellik asked.

"It's all about sizing up your mark, lad," said Brynjolf. "The way they walk, what they're wearing. It's a dead giveaway."

"Our wealth is none of your business," Parax responded.

"Oh, but that's where you're wrong, lad. Wealth is my business. Maybe you'd like a taste?" Brynjolf proposed.

"What do you have in mind?" asked Parax.

"I've got a bit of an errand to perform, but I need some extra pairs of hands," Brynjolf answered, crossing his arms. "And in my line of work, extra hands are well-paid."

"What do we have to do?"

"Simple. I'm going to cause a distraction and you're going to steal Madesi's silver ring from a strongbox under his stand. Once you have it, I want you to place it in Brand-Shei's pocket without him noticing." Were it not for the commotion and music that filled the tavern, people probably would've heard the discussion.

And you don't expect me to simply warn him of this.

"Why plant the ring on Brand-Shei?" Parax asked.

"There's someone who wants to see him put out of business permanently. That's all you need to know."

Parax knew he wasn't going to learn anymore, but the Guild was vital. "We'll do it."

"I'll be at the market come eight in the morning till eight in the evening," Brynjolf said, smiling, as he walked away from the table.

"So what's next?" Rellik asked.

"Simple," replied Parax. "He just made it blatantly obvious that he's part of the Thieves Guild. We're going to impress him, but until then, we might as well go tell Shadr of his debt."

Parax and Rellik exited the Bee and Barb to inform Shadr that his debt has been cleared. The stable worker rewarded the two with some gold and a potion of invisibility, and returned to his duties. With this done, Parax began a search for Grelod the Kind, with Rellik following closely behind but unaware of what he was up to. Eventually, Parax was able to locate Honorhall Orphanage, which he promptly entered. Whatever doubts he and Rellik had about Aventus's claims of Grelod went away the instant they heard the voice of an old woman spouting threats and other forms of abuse at the orphans in the building.

"Those who shirk their duties will get an extra beating," the old woman, Grelod, declared. "Do I make myself clear?"

Extra?

"Yes, Grelod," said the children.

"And one more thing! I will hear no more talk of adoptions! None of you riff-raff is getting adopted. Ever! Nobody needs you, nobody wants you. That, my darlings, is why you're here. Why you will always be here, until the day you come of age and get thrown into that wide, horrible world. Now, what do you all say?"

"We love you, Grelod. Thank you for your kindness."

"That's better. Now scurry off, my little guttersnipes."

The children dispersed, leaving Grelod alone in the room. A strong hatred found itself burning inside of Parax's mind; his exceptionally low tolerance of the rude factored in Grelod. He approached the old woman and tapped her on the shoulder, a flame spell swirling into existence in the palm of his hand.

"What do you want? You have no business being in here!" Grelod exclaimed in her typical irritated tone.

"Aventus Aretino says hello," Parax responded, smiling.

"Aretino? Why that little bastard!" shouted Grelod. "You tell him I'm coming for him! And when I find him, it will be the beating of his miserable life!"

Grelod continued to rant, but was interrupted by a shower of flames, prompting her to fall to the ground screaming in agony. She desperately tried to drown it out with a bucket of dirty mop water, but the flames stuck to her like paste. They never even spread from her to the rest of the building—they burned Grelod and Grelod only. As Parax approached her, the fire went out and left a charred woman in a fetal position; he attempted to pick up and carry her dying body away before anyone who heard the screams arrived, but he could already hear the stampede of footsteps making their way towards the room. By the time anyone entered, the two were gone, and the last thing Grelod heard was the laughter of the children she had abused for so many years.

The Thieves GuildEdit

"What the hell was that all about?!" Rellik demanded answers in a hushed tone. The Orc was trying his best to keep his voice down, not wanting to alert anybody who may overhear.

"Precisely what it looks like," replied Parax calmly, quickly leading his companion through the city, away from the orphanage. He examined a dark purple, transparent stone about the size of his palm—which started to glow dimly accompanied by a black aura—then pocketed it.

"We've been here for... what, a couple hours?" the Orc noted, "You're already just going into places and setting people on fire?"

"Yes," Parax answered. "Why?"

"You don't do that! We don't just go around killing whenever we please!"

"But I just did," said Parax. He held up a dark purple stone, which also possessed a faint glow to it along with a slight black aura. "Better yet, there'll be no consequences for us. The end result is that Aventus will be paying us for the death of a cruel, rude woman, and the far nicer assistant will be taking over."

Rellik grabbed Parax's lower jaw so that he could turn the Argonian's head to face him instead of away. "No more doing that. We're getting this Thieves Guild business done and figuring out how to fix this dragon problem, not killing people for money. Are we clear?"

"Let go."

Parax and Rellik stared each other in the eye, not once blinking. Finally, Rellik gave up and let go of the other's jaw. He sighed and the two resumed their walk through the streets, taking the time to get to know the few people who were still up. After some time, they returned to the Bee and Barb and rented one room each; Rellik retired to bed, but Parax simply gazed out a window (he was very specific on having a room with at least one window) into the night, thinking. He thought about the Thalmor, and the dragons, and the Thieves Guild. He thought about the encounter with Rellik in the streets. He thought about how Rellik might be a problem at some point. He thought about everything—that was all he did for the next couple of hours, then he finally turned back to his door and went downstairs.

He didn't expect the place to still be serving customers, and yet, there they were—the resident Argonian couple and tavern owners, Talen-Jei and Keerava, along with a Nord waitress, providing food and drinks to the few who were still up at this time. The place didn't have that many people in it, though—just a table at which a grey-haired Nord and who was likely his son were sitting. Feeling a tad peckish himself, Parax took a seat at one of the lone tables and patiently waited for Talen-Jei, the male Argonian, to finish his own tasks of managing the place and taking orders. The tavern owner approached the table Parax was at and clasped his hands together at the waist.

"Welcome to the Bee and Barb, milord," the barkeep greeted in a welcoming tone. "What would you like? Something simple as soup, or perhaps a cooked venison steak? We are serving special drinks as well, if that piques your interest." As he said this, Talen-Jei gestured to a wooden sign on the wall behind the counter, which listed various types of dishes and drinks, from soups, to pies, to cooked meals and so on. Parax, deeming it polite to decide his meal prior to Talen-Jei's arrival, didn't even look at the list.

"My money is somewhat depleted, so I'll only need something simple," said Parax. "A potato soup is all I'll need... and did you mention special drinks? I didn't notice such things on the menu."

"Aye, we didn't have room to put them on, but that gives me a chance to interact more," replied Talen-Jei. "We have three of them of my own recipe—I brought them over from my days as a bartender in Gideon."

"It seems you have piqued my interest. Let's hear them, then," Parax said while nodding. He maintained his normal, polite tone.

"The first is the 'Velvet Lechance', which is a mixture of blackberry, honey, spiced wine and a touch of nightshade," Talen-Jei announced proudly. He paused for a moment, remembering that he had mentioned the normally toxic nightshade. "Perfectly safe, I assure you."

"You have my utmost trust," Parax replied, smiling.

"Second, we have the 'White-Gold Tower' which is heavy cream with a layer of blended mead, lavender and dragon's tongue on top," Talen-Jei continued. "And lastly, but only for the bravest of souls, we have the 'Cliff Racer' which is Firebrand Wine, Cyrodiilic Brandy, Flin and Sujamma."

"Tempting," said Parax. "I'm feeling quite brave." And in need of sleep. Parax leaned forward a bit, his smile twisting into a confident smirk. "The Cliff Racer it is."

"Coming right up." Talen-Jei turned back towards the kitchen area and began walking.

"Take your time," Parax commented, "I'm in no rush."

As he waited for his order to be filled, Parax leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. He began mumbling to himself, "Twenty, twenty-one, twenty two..."

"I'm sorry you disapprove, father, but I've made up my mind," whispered the voice of a young Nord man, which Parax immediately picked up on in his brief state of meditation. "I'm not a warrior, I'm a businessman."

"The only reason you have the gold for your 'business' is because I gave it to you," retorted the older man sitting across from him, his voice rising as he spoke.

"If it means so much to you, I will pay you back," said the son.

"It's not about the coin, it's about honoring your legacy by picking up arms and keeping this land free," growled the father. "The sooner you remember that, the better."

"Perhaps he will be able to accomplish more through business than brute force," Parax intervened, tapping his finger on the table in front of him. "Think of the funds he could dedicate to Ulfric and the Stormcloaks instead of dying on the battlefield."

"It would be far more honorable to die than what he does now, but you would know that if you minded your own business," said the older Nord, turning to Parax. "Partnering with an Imperial whore like Maven, engaging himself to another Imperial whore like-"

"Don't talk about Vittoria like that!" shouted the son, shooting his father a glare from across the table. "And he's right, father—I could do so much more like this! Besides, it's not about who wins this war—this is just business, not politics!"

"This has everything to do with politics, Asgeir!" said the father.

"If you're done eating, continue your shouting outside," Keerava barked. "I don't need you disturbing the guests. That goes doubly for you, Vulwulf."

"Fine. Let's go, son," growled the older Nord, standing up out of his chair and storming out, slightly limping. Asgeir took a moment before he followed, stopping briefly by Parax.

"Thank you, I think," said the young Nord. "Not many people stand up to my father like that. Please forgive him."

"Don't let him tell you what you can and cannot do," said Parax. "Brains will serve you better than any weapon."

"To be honest, I think this war is just plain stupid," Asgeir sighed. "My business isn't even about honor and winning the war, and more about pursuing my dreams—I suppose I'm not your average Nord."

"Nor should you be," Parax commented reassuringly. "I came to Skyrim for business purposes as well, you know. Perhaps we can work together in the future."

"Asgeir, now!" Vulwulf's voice boomed through the door he exited.

"Go—we can talk again later," said Parax.

"What about not letting him tell me what to do?" asked Asgeir.

"You still need him, ridiculous as he may act," replied Parax. "When your business has stabilized itself, you'll be free to act more independently. Until then, just play along."

"In that case, I will see you later," said Asgeir. "It was nice talking to you."

The young man left the building, leaving Parax alone with his thoughts. It didn't take much longer before Talen-Jei returned from the kitchen with the soup and drink Parax had ordered, both of which the Argonian consumed heartily. Once he was finished, he paid the two barkeeps appropriately—along with a small bonus in good faith—then returned to his room upstairs. Unlocking the door with the room key Keerava gave him, he retired into his bed and closed his eyes.


8:05 AM, 3rd of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik wandered the market area in the center of town, checking out the various goods sold by the numerous merchants sitting in their stalls. Each called out the name of their business as they advertised their products, from Grelka's armor shop to Madesi's fine, exotic jewelry. The two hadn't spoken much since the encounter outside the orphanage, but the silence was interrupted when Brynjolf emerged from a potion stall and tapped each of them on the shoulder.

"Okay lads, ready to make some coin?" the red-haired man asked.

"'Ready' would be an understatement," Parax replied.

"Excited, then? Good. Wait until I start the distraction and then show me what you're made of," instructed Brynjolf. He pointed a Dunmer salesman out to be Brand-Shei, and an Argonian to be Madesi, the jewelry salesman.

Parax and Rellik quickly walked away from their so-called client and resumed their business of inspecting the goods at the market. For such an apparently run-down city, the businesses were certainly no slouches; every product in the market was of impressive quality, and the two would've been happy to buy something from them. However, the shopping was interrupted when Brynjolf began to call out to everyone from his potion stall.

"Everyone! Everyone! Gather 'round!" he exclaimed. "I have something amazing to show that demands your attention!" The businessman waved his arms at everyone to get their attention. "This way everyone, over here! No pushing, no shoving, plenty of room!"

Everyone at the market—business owner and customer alike—slowly turned their heads to face the Nord, who continued to wave his arms. Soon enough, they dropped whatever they were doing and walked over to the stall, waiting for whatever it was Brynjolf was going to be talking about this time. It was clear that the man had some sort of positive standing with the people, otherwise they probably would not have paid attention. Either that, or he was just a good businessman, as he implied in his conversation with the duo last night.

"Come on, Brynjolf, what is it this time?" Brand-Shei asked.

"Patience, Brand-Shei," replied the red-haired man. "This is a rare opportunity, and I wouldn't want you to get left out."

Rellik quickly snuck behind Madesi's stall, checked around for any guards, and began picking the lock. Parax walked into the crowd and slid behind Brand-Shei.

"That's what you said about the Wisp Essence and it turned out to be crushed nirnroot mixed with water!" Madesi exclaimed.

"That was a simple misunderstanding," Brynjolf said, "but this item is the real thing."

Rellik successfully unlocked the stall and proceeded with unlocking Madesi's strongbox. He quickly looked around to make sure he wasn't being watched. It was actually quite interesting for Parax, seeing how Rellik worked; not everyone is good at picking locks, but the Orc showed to be very skilled at it. It only added to Parax's curiosity in his past.

"Lads and lasses," Brynjolf continued, holding up a bottle containing a mysterious liquid, "I give you Falmerblood Elixer!"

"Oh come on, are you talking about the Snow Elves?" Brand-Shei demanded.

Rellik rolled Madesi's ring across the market; Parax checked to see if anyone was watching as he quickly picked it up. He knelt over behind Brand-Shei, who was too busy concentrating on Brynjolf. Everyone else was likewise too distracted to notice what the Argonian was doing.

"The one and only," Brynjolf replied, grinning. "Mystical beings who live in legends were masters of great magic. Imagine the power that coursed through their veins!"

"Well, how much does it cost?" Brand-Shei asked. It seemed he was finally convinced.

Parax slid the ring into Brand-Shei's pocket and silently backed away from him as Brynjolf continued to advertise his product. Success; nobody saw what had happened and the duo still had a relatively good relationship with the locals (at least, for people who had just recently arrived). Brynjolf seemed to be the only one who noticed, as he immediately wrapped up his advertisement, placed the potion in his hand back in its place, and smiled confidently.

"Well, I see my time is up. Come back tomorrow if you wish to buy," Brynjolf said, returning to the confines of his stall.

"What a waste of time," Brand-Shei mumbled, walking away.

Brynjolf approached Parax and Rellik. By the look on his face, he was clearly impressed by the teamwork the two displayed—and even moreso by how well everything played out. "Looks like I chose the right people for the job," the thief said, congratulating the two. "And here you go… your payment, just as promised." Brynjolf handed each a bag of coins from his stall and continued speaking. "The way things have been going around here, it's a relief that our plan went off without a hitch."

"What's been going on?" Parax asked.

"Bah. My organization's been having a run of bad luck, but I suppose that's just how it goes," Brynjolf replied, scratching his beard. "But never mind that. You did the job and you did it well. Best of all, there's more where that came from… if you think you can handle it."

"We can handle it," Parax assured Brynjolf. Just as he planned; the two now had a chance to make their way into the ranks of the Thieves Guild. After that, they'd have access to all kinds of resources and contacts that could benefit them. They may even get a few things important to stopping the dragons. Speaking of which, word had been spreading about a small town west of Riften being burned to the ground. Few survived, now holed up in Riften's bunkhouse.

"All right then, let's put that to the test," Brynjolf said. "The group I represent has its home in the Ratway beneath Riften… a tavern called the Ragged Flagon. Get there in one piece, and we'll see if you've really got what it takes."

In one piece?

Brynjolf walked away from Parax and Rellik; the latter proceeded to ask about the next part of the plan. He may not have been a fan of what was going on, but he knew that it would be wise to just go with it.

"We're going to establish our influence here," Parax answered. He led Rellik to a staircase, which in turn led to several wooden platforms; these were the lower areas of Riften, and where most of the poor lived. This region was mostly a moat flowing into the city from the lake Riften was built next to. A trapdoor of sorts was at the bottom of the moat, but it wasn't of any importance. Instead, the two entered the sewers via a door somewhere along the walkway. Meanwhile, a combination of Madesi's panic and pointers from Brynjolf and a few locals led to one of the guards escorting Brand-Shei to the city's jail. "As you may have deduced already, we're on our way to joining the Thieves Guild. Think of what we could do with that."

"What does a band of thieves have to do with fighting the dragon apocalypse?" Rellik asked.

"Well, for starters, we're going to gain access to important resources," replied Parax. "Not just money, but eyes and ears. Potentially artifacts and things like that. Not to mention, it's a nice buffer as we wait for Delphine to tell us about the Thalmor party."


The Ratway. Parax and Rellik found themselves in a large, dark sewer, though a good deal of it seemed to be based mostly on collecting water; only half appeared to be for sewage disposal. Regardless, the place wasn't exactly the most pleasant to be. The two slowly advanced through the wet passageways, stopping in their tracks when they heard two Nords talking.

"I dunno, Drahff. They'd skin us alive if they knew we were doin' this," warned one of the men.

"Why are you always acting like such a big baby, Hewnon? I've gotten us this far."

"This far? We're livin' in a sewer," complained the first one, Hewnon. "You said we'd have a house as big as the Black-Briars' by now."

"You worry about bashing people's heads in, I'll worry about the Guild. Okay?"

"Okay, okay."

"I'm going to check the entrance to the Ratway. Be right back."

That doesn't sound good.

Drahff walked in Parax and Rellik's direction. The two had already concluded that the Nords were plotting to undermine or overthrow the Thieves Guild. Either way, they would be problems to the duo's plans; Parax fired a bound arrow into Drahff's forehead, killing him instantly. Hewnon turned around in shock, but Rellik had already put an arrow in his skull before he could react. The two slumped over, dead, allowing Parax and Rellik to continue traveling through the Ratway. They found themselves on one of two platforms on each end of the room; both were separated by a large gap, and the bridge for the two was up. One lever—the release for the bridge— was on the other platform. Parax and Rellik looked around and saw a door at the bottom floor of the room. Jumping down, the two made their way through the door, finding themselves face-to-face with a few rather... less reputable members of society.

"You look delicious," said one of the lowlives, grinning at Parax and Rellik.


10:45 AM. The Ragged Flagon. Parax and Rellik opened a door, taking a moment to wipe off any blood or dirt they got on them during their little adventure through the Ratway. On the other side of the door was what looked like a tavern; it was mainly just another part of the sewers, but was fortunately dedicated to water collection instead of... waste. A pool constantly being filled with water was in the center of the ring-like walkway of stone, and on the other side of the chamber was a wooden dock of sorts. A fireplace, several tables, and a counter were over there, and several figures could be made out thanks to the dim light of the fire. Parax immediately recognized one of their voices to be Brynjolf's.

"Give it up, Brynjolf… those days are over," said one man, no doubt the bartender.

"I'm telling you Vekel, this one is different," the red-haired Nord insisted.

"We've all heard that one, Bryn! Quit kidding yourself," said one of the thieves, who dismissively walked away. He was a rather large Imperial sporting leather armor and pronounced, dirty-blonde mutton chops.

"It's time to face the truth, old man," Vekel continued. "You, Vex, Mercer… you're all part of a dying breed. Things are changing!"

Parax and Rellik approached Vekel and Brynjolf, the latter turning around to point at them.

"Dying breed, eh? Well what do you call that then!" Brynjolf said, grinning triumphantly. They two were busy trying to get past the tall Imperial.

"Vekel doesn't like strangers snooping around the Flagon," the man grunted, glaring down upon the duo.

"I'm sorry, who are you?" Parax asked, not exactly paying attention to the Imperial's attempt to be intimidating.

"They call me Dirge, 'cause I'm the last thing you hear before they put you in the ground," replied the mountain of flesh. "Why?"

"I like to know people's names before I humiliate them," said the Argonian. "Helps me keep track of who's coming after me, 'Dirge'."

"You think you're real funny, doncha?"

"No, your name is funny," Parax chuckled, pushing Rellik to the side so as to single-handedly challenge the enforcer. "I may seem calm on the outside, but internally... I haven't laughed this hard for a great many years."

"A few broken bones should straighten you out," Dirge grunted. He threw a punch in Parax's direction, but he quickly caught his fist and twisted it behind his back as he pushed him up against a nearby crate. One of the people present—a medium-height woman with short, blonde hair—was about to make a move on the Argonian, but Brynjolf held an arm out with a slight chuckle.

"My companion over there and I are looking for a job," he whispered in a hissing, deep tone. "Please get out of my way before I take yours."

With that, he released Dirge, who shuffled over into the shadows and leaned against a wall, his glare never leaving his face. Parax and Rellik approached Brynjolf, who appeared slightly amused by the event, but a hint of annoyance was in his expression.

"'Ello," greeted Parax.

"Well, well… color me impressed, lads. I wasn't certain I'd ever see you again!" said Brynjolf.

"Why, because a few degenerates made their homes in the Ratway?" Parax asked rhetorically. "We've dealt with worse."

"Wasn't that hard," Rellik paraphrased.

"Reliable and headstrong? You're turning out to be quite the prizes!" Brynjolf exclaimed. "So… now that I've whetted your appetite with our little scheme at the market, how about handling a few deadbeats for me?"

"Deadbeats?" Parax asked. "What did they do?"

"They owe our organization some serious coin and they've decided not to pay," replied Brynjolf.

"And who are they?" Parax inquired.

"Keerava, Bersi Honey-Hand and Haelga," Brynjolf answered. "Do this right, and I can promise you two permanent places in our organization."

"How do you want us to handle it?"

"Honestly, the debt is secondary here. What's more important is that you get the message across that we aren't to be ignored. A word of warning though… I don't want them killed. Bad for business."

"Consider it done. Tell us a little about them," Parax said.

"Simple; they don't want to pay up what they owe us, but again, they are not to be killed," Brynjolf explained. "Keerava has a soft spot in family. Perhaps if you spoke to her boyfriend Talen-Jei, you could learn a bit about them so as to intimidate her. Bersi has a priceless but ugly urn in his shop; you could always smash it to bits to make him listen. Haelga runs a bunkhouse in Riften, and you'll find her to be a very… devoted to Dibella. Just threaten or confiscate the Dibella statue in her room to make her give you what we want."

"Thanks for the information," said Rellik. "They'll be back in line before you know it."

The two proceeded to turn around and head back for the door to the sewers. As they walked by a table near one of the darker corners, a voice called out to them. It had a Dunmer accent—something like what we would call Australian.

"Brynjolf, eh? Lemme guess, 'e just plucked ya off the street and dropped ya into the thick of things without tellin' ya which way is up? Am I right?" The duo turned in the direction of the voice, spotting a figure sitting at the darkened table. Their eyes adjusted to the shadows, revealing a bald Breton counting small pouches of coins.

"If you're such an expert on this, perhaps you can give us some advice," Parax retorted.

"See, that kinda attitude comes from someone who wants ta get rich and stay alive long enough ta enjoy it. Name's Delvin, and we're goin' ta get along nicely," said the man. He gave a crooked smile and began scribbling notes. "So, if you've got the nerve, I've got plenty o' extra jobs ta help get the Guild back on its feet."

"The others were saying something along the lines of that," Parax recalled.

"Look around ya. The Flagon, the Guild... it's all fallin' apart," Delvin sighed. "A few decades ago, this place was as busy as the Imperial City. Now, you're lucky if ya don't trip over a skeever instead."

"What exactly happened here?" asked Parax. "It seems a bit odd to go from that successful to this low so quickly."

"Look, I know the others think I'm a bit daft for sayin' stuff like this, but I'm gonna give it to ya straight. Somethin' out there is piss-drunk mad at us. I don't know who or what it is, but it's beyond just you and me. We've been cursed."

"That doesn't sound good," said Rellik. "If we've been cursed, do you know of any way to fix it? What do we do?"

"I'll tell ya what we do. We spit in that curse's face and turn things around down here," replied Delvin. He pounded his fist on the table before getting back to writing. "Put things back the way they were. That's where you come in. I've got plenty o' work available that could guide us down the road to recovery. All ya need to do is ask and we can both come out of this smellin' like a rose."

"We'll keep it in mind," said Parax. "Right now, we're already a bit busy with some contracts, but we'll get around to yours when we can."


11:01 AM. The two emerged from the Ratway and carefully surveyed the area, making sure not to be spotted near the entrance by anybody who may be living in the moat, or perhaps taking a moment to gaze over one of the bridges. After all, they couldn't risk their identities being compromised if they wanted this to go off without complications. When they were certain that the coast was clear, they proceeded up one of the wooden staircases and returned to the market. The duo wandered through the city, making note of the shops, homes, and other buildings. They already knew where the Bee and Barb was, and thus they knew where they could find Keerava and Talen-Jei; after all, they had spoken with the two the night before. Parax had learned of Haelga's bunkhouse during his stroll through the streets after the confrontation with Rellik—somewhere up near the city's northern gateway. As for Bersi, he ran the Pawned Prawn shop next to the Bee and Barb.

"Who goes where?" Rellik asked. "I don't know where the bunkhouse is."

"I managed to find it last night, so I will deal with that," replied Parax. "We already know where the Bee and Barb is, and Bersi's shop is right next to it, so you're free to pick one or the other, or even both if you so desire."

"Bersi it is, then," said Rellik. "Keerava and Talen-Jei were good to us; extorting from them sounds more like your specialty." The Orc was about to be on his way, nearly disappearing into a nearby alleyway, but Parax stopped him.

"You're forgetting something," said Parax. He held up a long cloth of sorts—large enough to completely envelop a person. The Argonian had swiped it during their walk through the market. "Can't let Bersi knowing who you are now, can we?" Were he and Rellik on better terms, he probably would've just tossed it at him. However that wasn't the case; Rellik still didn't approve of Parax's methods, like his sudden murder of Grelod. Granted, she was a cruel woman, and as far as Rellik was concerned, she deserved every ounce of agony the fire put her through. After a few hours alone in the Bee and Barb, he had had come to agree that killing her was fine—it was how casual Parax was about it that rubbed Rellik the wrong way. He didn't just kill her for the orphans' sakes; he did it because he wanted to. Something about burning the old woman alive had given Parax a sense of satisfaction, not to mention profit. And Parax could see that feeling in the Orc's eyes—he knew it was bringing up something in Rellik's memories that shook him.

And so Parax knew that he had to strengthen his bond with Rellik. After all, the two were going to be working together for quite a while, and Rellik seemed likable enough to be considered a friend in the future. Thus, instead of a simple, indifferent, impersonal toss of the fabric, he approached his companion and handed him the folded cloth.

"Right. Thanks," the Orc said, nodding and forcing a smile.

"We're in this together, Rellik," said Parax, returning the nod. "We must work as a team if we want things to work out—the world itself depends on our success."

"Mhm," Rellik replied. "Oh, and..." he paused, searching for words, "...That thing with Grelod. I know you did that for more than just helping the kids, but good job anyways. She was a bitch."

The Argonian chuckled. "That she was. Oh, and you might want to wear something other than armored boots when you go into that store. Call me paranoid, but the fewer connections Bersi can draw, the harder it is for him to know it was you."

"I'll keep it in mind," said Rellik. And off he went, disappearing into a nearby alley, wrapping the cloth around him as he walked away.

"Oh, Parax!" a familiar voice called out a few moments later. It was that of a woman—young, by the sound of it, and Nordic, by the accent. The clanking of boots echoed through the streets as an armored figure approached him.

"Good to see you again, Mjoll," Parax greeted politely as the woman's shoulder-length blonde hair and painted face came into view. "I knew we'd meet again, but not this soon."

"I'm out on patrol," the Nord stated. "Looking for any possible Guild activity; hopefully if I can interrupt their business enough, this city will be rid of them. I noticed somebody over here and recognized it as you." She scratched her head curiously. "What brings you here alone, anyways? You're much safer if more people can see you. Harder to get mugged that way."

Mugging me is tantamount to suicide.

"Crowds just make it easier to get pickpocketed," replied Parax. "At least with robbers, I'll know who's after me, and I can handle my own."

Not to mention, I'm the one choking the money out of people.

"Ah, a fellow warrior," Mjoll noted, making a fist out of her armored hand and putting it on her chest in respect. "One who faces conflict head-on rather than let it linger. Still, you don't seem the vigilante type; what brings you out here?"

"Getting to know people, for starters," Parax answered. He put his hands together behind his back and tilted his head slightly. "I'm also hunting for business in the less crowded areas of town. Figured I'd help those who aren't profiting that much."

"Well, then who am I to keep you?" said the woman. She walked up to him and held out her hand. "Best of luck to you in your endeavors."

"Likewise," said Parax, taking her hand and shaking it. "You and I share the same goals. We may take different paths to reach them, but overall, we just want a better world."

Mjoll smiled, nodded, and resumed her path, disappearing into the same alley Rellik went through.

Maybe if I keep her distracted, she'll have more difficulty detecting Rellik.

"Look for Rellik while you're at it!" Parax called out down the alley. "If you see him, tell him I need to speak with him immediately!"

"Will do!" replied the voice of Mjoll.

The seeds had been planted. Mjoll was the kind of person who would do anything to help people, especially if she believed it would help free Riften from corruption. She was certain of that with Parax, and so she would now be distracted with two different tasks: sniffing out suspicious activity and locating Rellik to pass along the message. Granted, those two tasks would be one and the same, but to Mjoll, they were not, and now her mind was divided. It may have only been a rather small effect, but whatever difference it made may very well allow Rellik to complete his business and slip away.

Parax smirked to himself and proceeded north, navigating the streets of Riften until he came across a cluster of buildings near the northern gate. One of them was about the size of a house—or, at least, a house designed to sustain a large amount of people. A sign hung from a nearby lamp post with "HAELGA'S BUNKHOUSE" printed on it. Before proceeding into the two-story building, he took a couple minutes out of his time to break into another house—a small one whose owner was out wherever at the moment, and had only equipped their front door with a rather poor lock. Money was of no concern to him here; the only things he took were a blanket from their bed and some spare clothes. He proceeded to remove his own garbs and put on the "borrowed" clothing, then wrapped the blanket around most of his body. Still, his face could be recognized if he ever encountered Haelga again; using what he knew of magic, he focused what he had read on illusions and channeled every ounce of his willpower, though nothing seemed to have happened at first. As such, he tried again, and again, until a muffled hissing sound could be heard as his dark blue and black scales seemingly morphed into light skin. His tail appeared to have vanished, and his reptilian head and horns took on the appearance of a light-haired Nordic man. Though he was satisfied with the magical mask he had put up, he could feel a sense of exhaustion; his head pulsed and he was somewhat dazed. Knowing he was in danger of passing out or losing the illusion, he made sure every necessary precaution was taken and exited the building, going on into Haelga's bunkhouse.

It was actually quite roomy inside, and this was only the first floor. A few dining tables were to his left, lit up by several of the many candles throughout the building. The creaking of wood could be heard throughout the building, particularly on the second floor and in a few adjacent rooms. A counter was between Parax and a doorway on the other side of the room, and at it stood a blonde, middle-aged woman in a dark blue dress. She also wore a dark green apron and a red necklace carved in the likeness of many leaves held together. The main piece housed a purple gemstone; this was an amulet of Dibella, and last Parax recalled, Haelga was a worshiper of Dibella, the goddess of beauty.

"Looking for something?" the blonde woman asked politely. A younger lady—sporting dark hair and a somewhat dirty, brown dress with a blue undershirt—sighed loudly and rolled her eyes. The older woman, obviously Haelga, shot a glare at the girl, who immediately resumed sweeping the floor.

"Yes, actually," Parax replied, slowly walking towards the woman. He had dropped his accent now and had a more plain voice, but it retained its soothing feel. "You."

Haelga seemed a bit surprised for a brief moment, but immediately began to smile slightly. "Is that so?" She leaned over the counter in an effort to give the visitor a good look at her chest.

One of the things Parax had heard of Haelga from a few of Riften's residents was that she was... adventurous—her practices as a Dibella worshiper contributed to that. With just the right movements and words, nearly any man who came by could find themselves in her bedroom. Even Parax was able to catch her attention with three words, the proper moments, and the right tone of voice. However, he was quickly growing bored of the situation and found himself wanting to get it over with. His rapidly growing headache didn't help, either; it was a miracle that he was even able to pull this off without shuffling from the discomfort.

I guess the rumors of her sleeping with three men in the same week are true.

Not that he held any contempt for the promiscuous, of course. It was her life, after all. Just another fun activity, just like how Parax found it fun to bring harm to those he thought of as discourteous or detrimental to society—bandits, serial killers, child abusers, and the like. However, her activities would also allow Parax to exploit them, and so he did. He continued making his way towards her, whispering sweet nothings and whatever clichés that came to mind. He talked about how beautiful she was, and how dedicated and hard-working she had to be to run a bunkhouse like she did, and how she deserved a break from it all. And all the while, he was dropping a few coins as he passed across the room. The young girl carefully migrated to the area the coins landed, sweeping her broom before kneeling over to pick them up.

"Svana!" boomed throughout the room. The young girl stood up straight. Haelga was looking over Parax's shoulder and staring the girl down.

"It's alright," Parax said calmly. He then turned back to face Haelga and leaned next to her. "Let's continue this somewhere else."

Haelga was shaking now. She reached into her pocket and hurriedly fiddled with a key, which she inserted into the lock on the door behind the counter.

Oh wonderful, now she's removing the key, and putting it back. Aaaaand removing... and putting it back.

The door unlocked with a "click", and in the two went. And there Parax saw it—a small, golden statue of Dibella on the dresser. Among the other things in her room were rose petals, a horker tusk (which probably belonged under the bed, and almost tripped Parax upon entry), stamina potions, and more. The scent of honey was also present. However, Parax was not here to make note of that, and so he simply turned to the statue and produced a dagger, which he then proceeded to hold up to the statue's head.

"When I said I came here for you, I didn't mean it like that," the Argonian muttered as Haelga turned around.

"Oh, you son of a bitch," said Haelga. Her eyes widened as she grew more and more nervous of what fate was to befall her beloved statue of Dibella. She almost lunged at Parax, but couldn't bring herself to. "Who even does that? Come into a person's home and defile Lady Dibella?!"

"Interesting how you can afford all of the things here in this bunkhouse of yours, and yet you can't even pay back that one hundred septims you borrowed from the Guild," Parax replied. He still retained a plain voice, but now had applied a more aggressive tone to it.

"Is that what this is all about?! I've already told Brynjolf that you can't get blood from a stone," the woman growled.

"Club someone over the head with it then," said the Argonian. "I'm not going to sit here discussing it with you. It's not a debate—we know you have the money, and unless you're willing to fork it over, I'll just go ahead and take this statue of yours. They're worth a few hundred septims, aren't they?"

"Please, don't! Not Lady Dibella!" cried Haelga. "Fine, I'll give you your gold. Maybe you and Brynjolf can choke on it together."

"You, of all people, telling me about 'choking'," Parax retorted. "Never thought I'd see the day."

The Nord had finished filling a small pouch with coins by now, tossing it towards Parax. He examined the contents for a few seconds before tossing the statue back. He turned around and smirked at the fact that she had given him double what he demanded—she was just that scared. However, it seemed like this was also to distract him, as she suddenly stepped down on the blanket covering him, causing it to slip off and fall to the floor. In that moment, he had lost his focus, and the illusion that kept him appearing as a Nord dropped. Once more, his reptilian features came into view as he turned his head toward her with an intense glare.

"And you—why didn't you help?!" Haelga shouted at Svana, the young girl who had been tidying the place. "Whatever. I have your face now, leech."

"Clearly, our people aren't the only ones who don't like cheapskates," said Parax. He was now in front of Svana, patting her on the shoulder with one hand as he gave her half of the coin pouch's contents with the other. "Haelga, tell anyone about this and 'Lady Dibella' will disappear from your room tonight. There are many more methods I can employ to get in there—I just wanted to make things clear this way." He then headed on out of the bunkhouse, re-entered the house he broke into, returned the blanket and clothes, put on his old fur armor, and disappeared into the alleyways of Riften. He knew he didn't have to threaten Haelga—she would be far too embarrassed to reveal what had happened—though the urge to rub a little salt in the wound was a bit too enticing for him.

About twenty minutes passed. Parax waited and waited, allowing word of his and Rellik's visits to Haelga and Bersi's places to hit the marketplace. At some point, he even saw Mjoll sprinting through the streets to get to the bunkhouse, hoping to investigate the issue. When she passed on by, Parax resumed his walk through the city, stopping by the Bee and Barb in yet another one of his disguises. He didn't even have to say anything—Keerava was already waiting with the gold. She tossed it to him as soon as she saw a "man covered in rags and a long cloth" enter. He immediately exited, went around a corner, threw off his disguise, and casually headed over to the Pawned Prawn.

"What do you want now, you gods-damned milk-drinker...?!" exclaimed a bearded-but-balding Nord in red work clothes. He paused when he realized it was just a potential customer. "Sorry about that—I suppose you've already heard."

"I have, but I can assure you that I am not here for malicious purposes," replied Parax. "I've actually come here to purchase food and potions. Do you sell red apples?"

"That I do," replied the man, who was obviously Bersi. "It's nice to have a visitor who isn't trying to rob you of your gold."

"Yes, I've come to give you my money instead of taking yours," the Argonian said, making a friendly smile. "Five red apples should do, as well as one potion of stamina and one potion of healing."

"You're in luck, friend," said Bersi, taking the requested items from the shelves behind him and in the counter between him and Parax. "That'll be fifty-five gold."

"Only fifty-five?" Parax inquired, raising an eyebrow and cocking his head to the side. "Let's make it one hundred."

"Shor's beard, man! Nobody in Riften is that generous! What is your name?"

"Well, I'm not from Riften," Parax retorted. "My name is Parax, and it was a pleasure doing business with you."

"That's an understatement," said Bersi. "Please, come back to the Pawned Prawn soon!"

"Next time I'm in town. What got it its name, anyways?"

"Catchy, isn't it?" Bersi asked, grinning. "In my youth I was a fisherman... I had a beautiful ship named 'the Brawny Prawn'. But the years have a way of creeping up on you. I ended up selling that ship to open this place. Seemed only fitting to name it after her. Well, changed it a bit I suppose." The Nord stared blankly at a nearby window, reminiscing. Then he became aware of his surroundings again and lost his smile. "If I had been smarter, I would have kept my boat. Coming to this city was a big mistake."

"So people have been telling me," sighed Parax. "Hopefully that will change some day. Perhaps sooner than later—I hear the Thieves Guild has been dying off lately."

"They used to be pretty feared around here. I mean, you'd whisper the name and it'd send chills down your spine." Bersi chuckled at the thought. "Now, they're nothing more than ruffians and thugs trying to pry a few extra coin from honest people. All it would take is a small force of guards to go into the Ratway and flush them out."

"Oh, would you stop working him up with all that talk?" a woman sighed, emerging from one of the doors behind the counter. She looked like she was around Bersi's age, with her red hair tied up in a ponytail. Her left eye was cloudy, implying blindness. "Sorry about that. Bersi here worries a little too much about Riften and not enough about himself."

"It doesn't hurt to be aware of what's going on," said Parax.

"Hah! That's what I told her!" Bersi commented.

"But..." the Argonian continued, "...it also doesn't hurt to relax a little. Now then, I have to go meet up with my friend—I bid you both goodbye and good luck."

He exited the shop and wandered off into the market area. At this point, he just had to find Rellik, wherever the Orc had gone. He stood in place, retreating from the events of the world and taking shelter in his mind. There, he thought of where Rellik could've gone and how he would be as a traveling companion. He thought of what place Rellik would have in his secret war against the Thalmor, and how far he'd be willing to go to help him achieve it. At least he was cooperating more now. It didn't take very long before he exited his thoughts, hearing a familiar, feminine voice.

"Damn that stubborn woman!" she shouted. It was none other than Mjoll, once again.

"Hmm?" Parax looked up and nearly managed to get Mjoll's attention. Apparently she hadn't noticed him yet and was just venting to Aerin.

"It's Haelga," Mjoll muttered. "She won't tell me who visited her bunkhouse."

"Everyone in this city is too scared to speak their minds, Mjoll. It's just the way things are," said Aerin. "I don't like it either, but I'm just saying, don't be surprised."

Parax, still remaining unnoticed, smirked to himself and resumed strolling around the marketplace.

Shortly after that, Parax would go on to meet up with Rellik and return to the Ragged Flagon with him. The gold was delivered to Brynjolf, who decided that the time had come; Parax and Rellik belonged in the Thieves Guild's uniform. He brought the two through a secret passage in one of the Ragged Flagon's cabinets; there, they found themselves in the Cistern. The three saw a man across the room, standing on a walkway. The man was an aging Breton with medium-sized, dirty blonde hair, and a five o'clock shadow. His uniform was black instead of the usual dark brown, and he carried an enchanted dwarven sword that had a dim red glow to it. Parax concluded this man to be the current leader of the Thieves Guild. Brynjolf led Parax and Rellik across the Cistern over to the man.

"Mercer? These are the ones I was talking about... our new recruits," Brynjolf said.

"This better not be another waste of the Guild's resources, Brynjolf," replied the Breton, annoyed. He immediately turned to face Parax and Rellik. "Before we continue, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. If you play by the rules, you walk away rich. You break the rules and you lose your share. No debates, no discussions... you do what we say, when we say. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal," Parax answered.

"Good. Then I think it's time we put your expertise to the test," said Mercer. "Brynjolf, fill them in on our most recent contract."

"Wait a moment, you're not talking about Goldenglow, are you?" Brynjolf asked, turning to Mercer. "Even our little Vex couldn't get in."

"You claim these recruits possess an aptitude for our line of work," Mercer responded. "If so, let them prove it. Goldenglow Estate is critically important to one of our largest clients. However, the owner has suddenly decided to take matters into his own hands and shut us out. He needs to be taught a lesson. Brynjolf will provide you with the details."

"Mercer, aren't you forgetting something?" Brynjolf reminded his Guildmaster.

"Hmm?" Mercer asked, turning back to face the three. "Oh, yes. Since Brynjolf assures me you'll be nothing but a benefit to us, then you're in. Welcome to the Thieves Guild." He sounded rather unenthusiastic about it, simply walking off afterwards.

"Welcome to the family, lads," said Brynjolf more enthusiastically than Mercer. "I'm expecting you lot to make us a lot of coin, so don't disappoint me."

"So how do we get our cut of the spoils?" Parax asked.

"Simple," replied Brynjolf. "Do as we say and keep your blade clean—We can't turn a profit by killing. "You should talk with Delvin Mallory and Vex. They know their way around this place, they'll be able to kick some extra jobs your way." Brynjolf began walking away, but stopped abruptly. "Oh, and talk to Tonilia in the Flagon… she'll set you up with your new armor."

"Tell us about the Goldenglow job, and we'll be set," Parax said.


9:40 PM. Goldenglow Estate. Parax and Rellik were only just outside of the property, which was situated on an island in the middle of one of the various lakes around Riften. Despite receiving Thieves Guild uniforms from Tonilia, they refrained from wearing them until they were at their destination. Parax wasn't really a fan of uniforms, though; they were too "official" for him, not to mention their tendency to attract attention. Rellik concurred, though he also preferred denser armor to the uniform's leather.

Most of the mercenaries outside the main building were quickly dispatched with arrows, while the more resistant ones fell to Parax and Rellik's superior swordsmanship. The thugs out there didn't really seem or feel like genuine threats to the two's progress. It was like they were just being kept around for show, to deter potential intruders. Despite warnings to keep their blades clean, the mercenaries weren't considered vital enough to be kept alive anyways. After all, they weren't regular clients of the Guild—nor were they ever clients to begin with—and wouldn't have been much benefit to keep around. As instructed by Brynjolf, the two set three of Goldenglow's beehives on fire before heading in to collect the bill of sale.

None of the mercenaries outside the building had a key to get in, and all the doors were locked. Probably a precaution by Aringoth—the owner of Goldenglow—either out of anticipation of his property being attacked, or just simply because he didn't trust his hired thugs. Either way, the place was locked down tight, and there weren't that many windows on the building. Rellik tried to break through one of them, only to stumble backwards as his fist collided with the glass. He nearly lost his balance, but was able to catch himself and avoid further embarrassment. Parax, who had been watching from a few feet away, briefly turned his head to watch Rellik fall backwards, raising an eeyebrow before studying the windows.

"Getting soft already, Rellik?" the Argonian commented. It was obvious he was just joking, so not much offense was taken. "I expected this place to be well-fortified until we dealt with those poor excuses of guards... Looks like Aringoth planned further ahead than I thought." He examined the window closely, then an idea came to mind. "Nothing a little magic won't do..." Parax began moving his fingers around and curving them into his palm, as if he was stroking something in his hand. His palm darkened and a faint humming sound could be heard as a dark purple orb faded into existence, his fingers wrapped around it. The orb appeared to be sucking inwards into a black abyss, then burst in his hand. What appeared was the ghostly bound sword he had gotten accustomed to, its handle being tightly wrapped around by Parax's fingers. And all of this was happening as he pressed his hand to the window; the sword appeared to phase through the glass.

"Nice," Rellik commented, drawing an impressed face and nodding.

"Now, with just the right jolt," Parax said. As soon as he said "jolt", he jerked his hand downwards, or at least tried to. His weapon didn't budge, and nothing happened to the glass. "Jolt..." the Argonian repeated, trying again, but this time attempting to move his hand to the right.

"Nice," Rellik repeated. This time he had a sarcastic tone to it.

"It's not easy to get glass of this caliber," Parax muttered. He let go of the sword and casually waved his hand at it, and the weapon faded away into nothingness. Suddenly, he started talking in a louder, more cheerful tone. "Well, we could always try the front door."

Parax trotted over to the entrance to the building and attempted the same process, this time with two summoned swords in between the double doors—specifically, where the doorknobs and locks met. With a quick twist, followed by turning the doorknobs, the Argonian headed on in, cursing under his breath about how simple it was as opposed to how he thought it was. Rellik followed, smirking.

The two were now inside the building, stepping out onto a bear rug that spread across the wooden floorboards of the main room. A single guard was present, albeit lying against a sack in the corner, snoring. Before either of the two got off the rug, Parax halted, stopping Rellik as well to stop his steel boots from clanking on the hard wood. He made several shushing sounds with his mouth before kneeling over and putting his hands on one of his boots, sliding his foot out. Rellik caught on and followed suit, and once both of them finished, they picked the boots up and carried them around in their hands. They now silently traveled through the building barefoot, passing through the hallways and ignoring the chatter between the other mercenaries. Still, though their boots no longer made loud, clattering sounds on the wooden floor, Rellik's steel armor still made some noise as it shook around on his body, and both he and Parax's weapons did the same as they bounced into their moving owners. On the bright side, most of the thugs were too busy conversing to pay attention to what could easily be one of their own men patrolling, and the rest were asleep and thus held the same apathy.

On the duo went, scaling a staircase to the second floor as they hunted for Aringoth. From what they knew of him, they just had to find a high elf in casual clothes; he would have no need of armor, as he already had countless mercenaries to serve as his muscle. It wasn't until they rounded a corner and ran straight into one of the patrolling sellswords that their cover was blown and their search was temporarily halted. It took him a moment to realize Goldenglow had been infiltrated; he probably would've even mistaken them as one of his fellows if he hadn't been around them long enough to get to know them. The man unsheathed his blade.

"What the hell-" he commented. Rellik interrupted him by slamming his boots onto either side of the man's head. Dazed, the mercenary's eyes went loopy as he fell to the ground.

The next thing the two knew, they could hear shouting from one of the nearby rooms. Then the shouting got louder and more widespread, as if the guards who heard the commotion realized what was going on and their shouting alerted everyone else. Footsteps echoed from everywhere in the building.

"Boots," Parax barked an order. Holding up one hand and moving his fingers around in different ways, a white orb with a blue aura flashed into view, appearing in his hand accompanied by crackling sounds. Various symbols, letters, and things of that nature could be seen circling it. Parax flung his hand outward at the other end of the hallway; a glowing light blue circle stretched across the area from wall to floor, then became somewhat faded. He had cast a frost rune, such that anyone who came running over it in their hurry to investigate the commotion would be flash-frozen. Meanwhile, Rellik had taken the dead mercenary's sword and stuck it through the handle of the door leading downstairs, temporarily keeping it locked in place. The duo proceeded to slip on their boots as quickly as possible; they readied their weapons and hoped for the best. Rellik had pulled his bow off of his back and nocked an arrow, while Parax prepared two small orbs in his hand—one was similar to the rune spell, albeit with small, ice-like spikes protruding from it. The other was a bluish purple and crackled with electricity.

The door leading downstairs jerked about an inch or so as the mercenaries behind it tried to push it open. Other than that, it wouldn't budge, and so the men and women behind it started to stab at its wooden surface to break it down. The muffled sound of a small explosion rang out, followed by an icy tingle as two bodies fell stiffened to the floor, once housing the spirits of two thugs. Parax and Rellik wheeled around in the direction of the burst as several more mercenaries came running down the hallway, their path clear with the rune's detonation. What they didn't expect was the two intruders waiting for them, their mistake unforgiven as single arrow alongside a flying icicle came soaring through the air. The former sank into a woman's chest, dropping her to the floor as she let out a puff of air. The spike of ice struck another mercenary who failed to see it coming, causing him to twirl and stagger briefly before falling on one of his comrades.

The others kept coming, however, with Parax trying to shoot them all down with a combination of ice spikes from one hand and bolts of lightning from the other as Rellik readied another arrow. One mercenary did a dive roll under one of the spikes, which in turn hit one of the men behind him and knocked him to the floor. Readying his own bow behind a table that had been positioned against one of the walls, the mercenary prepared an arrow and fired it down the hallway, hitting Parax in his left arm—the one with the lightning spell. In response, the Argonian cast out another rune, which instantly detonated on one of the thugs and sent the others reeling backwards and to the side to avoid getting it. Before the newly-frozen hireling fell to the floor with a loud thud, Parax sprung up and kept himself angled such that it stood between him and the guards, tossing himself through a door near the table the archer was behind.

"This is the part where you give up!" shouted one of the mercenaries. "Nobody messes with Goldenglow!"

Parax used his right hand to pry the arrow out of his arm, and immediately afterwards crimson blood began to squirt out onto the floor. Sifting through his pockets for one of the healing potions he purchased from the Pawned Prawn, he managed to locate one of the red bottles and pulled the cork out. The contents were immediately guzzled and Parax could already feel the effects of muscle and skin mending itself, the wound he suffered glowing a bright orange-yellow like the sun. Meanwhile, Rellik crouched down on the staircase to the door—giving him somewhat adequate cover from the arrows as the others began getting out their own bows. He fired another arrow at random, hitting another mercenary in the thigh and nearly tripping him.

"While we're still alive and breathing!" Rellik called out down the hallway. He had glanced behind him for a moment and saw that the door leading downstairs was nearly completely torn through.

Suddenly, Parax veered around a corner on the other side of the hallway; apparently the door he took cut through and led into the hallway that met with the one where all the fighting was taking place. As if taken by surprise, the mercenaries turned to face their attacker, who had already slashed through several of them with his bound sword. Rellik quickly jumped out of cover and sprinted down the hallway with his sword at the ready, deflecting an arrow fired by one of the archers while the sellswords downstairs finally succeeded in tearing the door down. Chopping through as many as he could and beating down the rest, Rellik rammed into Parax and pushed him back around the corner. They ran through another door and quickly locked it behind them.

"Did they see you?" Parax asked.

"No," Rellik replied.

"Good," the Argonian muttered. "Fewer witnesses to silence."

"Worthless mercenaries," sighed the voice of an Altmer. The two turned around to see him getting up from a desk. "I didn't think Maven or Mercer would allow me to get away with this, but I had little choice."

"You have no choice now," Parax retorted. "Key to the safe downstairs, now."

"I can't," replied Aringoth. He sounded genuinely terrified, like somebody was watching him. Still, he slowly inched over to the two. "If I do, I may as well cut my own throat."

"I can help out with that, if you're unable to do it yourself," said the Argonian. He was about to hold up his bound sword, but the damn thing vanished from his hand. A rather annoying feature of the blade; the spell only lasted for a few minutes before it had to be cast again.

"I don't believe you," Aringoth said. "That's not your way."

A loud thud came from the door. Shouting could be heard from the other side, as well as the sounds of maces and swords being smashed and stabbed into the wood.

"We've been given orders to kill you should you get in the way," Rellik commented. It was clear that he knew the two were running out of time and wanted to get this over with already.

"Then by all means, give it your best shot. Not that it will change anything, with the rest of my clients about to come bursting through that door any second now."

Aringoth leaped forward and tackled Parax. He was quickly pulled off and thrown against a wall by Rellik, but the Altmer sunk his knife into his enemy's side. Before he could go any further, however, Parax flung an inkwell at him, landing a hit on the side of the elf's head. Disoriented, Aringoth stumbled forward and slammed into a wall nearby; Rellik pulled the knife—which had, for the most part, been stopped by his armor—and promptly jammed it into Aringoth's throat. Parax stood up and checked the Altmer's body for his cellar and safe keys.

"Wonder what we're going to tell Brynjolf," said Rellik.

"It was clearly self defense," Parax replied. He smirked for a moment at his joke, then remembered that the mercenaries were still trying to get through the door to the bedroom. Knowing that he and Rellik were outmatched, the two proceeded to slide open one of the windows and dive outside, leaving a few magic runes lying around the place to slow their pursuers down. They then re-entered through the front door and headed downstairs.

Downstairs, there were very few mercenaries, all of whom were quickly dispatched of; two of them, however—an Orc and a Nord—were guarding the safe due to their larger builds. Parax fired a bound arrow; the Nord took it, pulled it out, and the mercs charged the two. Fortunately, the mercenaries lacked in brains what they had in muscle; the Nord mercenary's charging stab was quickly thwarted with Parax dodging, causing him to stab the Orc mercenary. The Nord was promptly taken out when Rellik bodyslammed him into a wall and stuck his sword into the man's eye socket. Meanwhile, Parax unlocked the safe and emptied it of its contents, which composed of a piece of parchment and a few jewels.


12:08 AM, 4th of Heartfire. The Ragged Flagon. Parax and Rellik had removed their Theives Guild armor and donned their old gear again—Parax back in his fur garb and Rellik in his steel plate armor from Whiterun—before returning to Riften. It took some time and patience, having to avoid dragons and all, but they were soon back in town and ready to make their special delivery. They headed through the shortcut to the cistern in the Riften cemetery and sought out Brynjolf.

"Word on the street is Goldenglow's been hit," said Brynjolf. "Good job, lads."

"We found this in the safe," replied Parax, holding out what he believed to be a bill of sale.

"Let me see what you found." Brynjolf took the parchment. "Aringoth sold Goldenglow?! What was that idiot thinking? He has no idea the extent of Maven's fury when she's been cut out of a deal, but I'm certain he'll find out." Brynjolf examined the bill of sale more closely. "If only this parchment had the buyer's name instead of this odd symbol. Any idea what that might be?"

Parax and Rellik looked at the parchment and examined it along with the Nord, but they couldn't figure out what the strange marking meant. Perhaps the Guild's decline had a deeper meaning than a simple stroke of bad luck. Maybe Delvin was right.

"No idea."

"Blast. Well, I'll check my sources and speak to Mercer. But for now, you're off to Maven Black-Briar. She asked for you by name."

"I thought we did the job like you asked," said Parax.

"Oh, no. Nothing like that. You're calling on her for business," Brynjolf responded.

"What does Maven want from us?" Rellik asked.

"That's between you and Maven, and I prefer to keep it that way. Don't worry about it. Maven's business dealings usually involve quite a bit of gold for her people."

"Now that you mention it…" Parax reminded Brynjolf.

"Of course, your pay. You're smart as a whip, lad," chuckled Brynjolf. "Keep doing right by us and there's plenty more where that came from."

The man led the two over through one of the tunnels and into an enclosed storage room. After unlocking and sifting through one of the chests, he prepared two sacks of coins and handed one to each of the duo. Brynjolf then sent the two on their way to the local tavern for their appointment.


1:11 AM. The Bee and Barb. Parax and Rellik went upstairs, where they found Maven Black-Briar pacing. She was somewhere in her late forties to early fifties, though she didn't look very old. Maven stood with a very authoritative posture, and her fancy garb and neatly done black hair only added to how highly she clearly thought of herself.

"So you're them. Hmm. You don't look so impressive," Maven commented in a rather snobbish tone.

"How about we skip the conversation?" Parax suggested, mimicking Maven's all-business behavior.

"You're a firebrand, aren't you?" Maven replied sarcastically. "It's about time Brynjolf sent me someone with business sense. I was beginning to think he was running some sort of beggar's guild down there."

"You have no faith in the guild?" Rellik asked."

"Faith? I don't have faith in anyone," Maven said. "All I care about is cause and effect. Did the job get done and was it done correctly. There's no grey area."

"Where do we begin?"

"Head to the Bannered Mare in Whiterun and look for Mallus Maccius. He'll fill you in on all the details."

Parax and Rellik walked away and left the tavern, the latter groaning about Maven's unpleasant attitude. Sadly, they knew they were going to have to put up with her for the time being if they wanted to succeed. Perhaps when they didn't need her anymore, something could be done to humble the woman. The time for that would probably not come for a long time, though, so the two pushed the idea to the back of their minds. The two exited the city of Riften and rented a fresh pair of horses, which they rode west for the Whiterun hold.


4:11 PM. The Bannered Mare. Parax and Rellik entered the tavern and began wandering; they were unsure where Mallus was or what he even looked like, as they were not provided with any details. However, they did notice a rather shady-looking fellow—an Imperial with dark hair and sunken, colorless eyes—observing them, and concluded that it was Mallus. When they walked up to the table and asked for his name, Mallus cut to the chase.

"I'm going to keep this short 'cause we've got a lot to do," the Imperial started. "Honningbrew's owner, Sabjorn, is about to hold a tasting for Whiterun's Captain of the Guard and we're going to poison the mead."

"…Right. And do you have the poison?" Parax asked.

"No, no. That's the beauty of the whole plan," Mallus replied. "We're going to get Sabjorn to give it to us. The meadery has quite a pest problem and the whole city knows about it. Pest poison and mead don't mix well, you know what I mean? You're going to happen by and lend poor old Sabjorn a helping hand. He's going to give you the poison to use on the pests, but you're also going to dump it into the brewing vat." Mallus leaned back, grinning at the two. "Maven and I spent weeks planning this. All we need is someone like you to get in there and get it done. Now get going before Sabjorn grows a brain and hires someone else to do the dirty work."

"So you want us to kill off the pests and run Sabjorn out of business. I take it you have a reason for getting rid of the pests…?" Rellik asked.

"Once Sabjorn is out of the way, Maven has plans for this place," Mallus said. "One way or another, we don't want the pests coming back. Consider it just more of the dirty work. I did my part getting them in there, now you need to clear them out."

"As for reaching the vats?" Parax asked.

"Both of the buildings are connected by tunnels made by the pests infesting the meadery. There's an entrance to it in the basement storeroom of the warehouse that used to be boarded over. I've already removed the boards so the meadery would get infested. That's where you should start."

"One last thing," started Parax. "Surely, there's another reason you're doing all this. I sense something personal about our little arrangement."

"I made the mistake of borrowing coin from Sabjorn," answered Mallus. "He's allowing me to pay it back, but he's working my fingers to the bone! He treats me like a slave... I have to do every nasty, dirty job in the meadery. If this plan works, not only is my debt gone, but I'll be set up for life. Maven and I worked out a little deal. If Sabjorn ends up in jail, she's going to take over his meadery. And guess who gets to run the Black-Briar Meadery in Whiterun? You're looking at him."

And naturally, we're doing all of it. If you can't just plant the poison yourself, there's something you're not telling us. I suppose we'll find out soon.

Parax nodded to Rellik, and the two left the Bannered Mare, exited Whiterun City, and headed over to the nearby Honningbrew Meadery. Inside was Sabjorn, a balding man in his mid-thirties, pacing around impatiently. He was clearly worked up about the upcoming visit of Whiterun's Captain of the Guard, having set the place up to look nicer than it usually did.

KarliahEdit

"What are you gawking at?" Sabjorn demanded. "Can't you see I have problems here?"

"Something's wrong, I take it," replied Parax.

"Are you kidding me? Look at this place," said Sabjorn, looking around the room nervously. He glimpsed at two dead skeevers on the floor and continued. "I'm supposed to be holding a tasting of the new Honningbrew Reserve for the Captain of the Guard. If he sees the meadery in this state, I'll be ruined."

"You could use some help," Parax offered. "My friend and I could give that."

"Oh really?" Sabjorn responded, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. "And I don't suppose you'd just do it out of the kindness of your hearts, would you? I hope you're not expecting to get paid until the job's done."

"That's the only way we operate," Parax answered.

"Well that's not how I operate, so forget it," replied Sabjorn angrily.

"Should I yell 'skeever' and save you the trouble, then?" Rellik threatened. It seemed he was finally getting into the right mind for what Parax had been planning.

"Okay, okay. No need to make rash decisions." Sabjorn gave the two each a bag of coins. "Here's half. You get the rest when the job's done. My only demand is that these vermin are permanently eliminated before my reputation is completely destroyed." Sabjorn held out a bottle of poison and handed it to Parax. "I bought some poison. I was going to have my lazy, good-for-nothing assistant Mallus handle it, but he seems to have vanished. If you plant this in the vermin's nest, it should stop them from ever coming back."

"We'll take care if it," said Parax. "Expect us back in ten minutes, tops."

Parax and Rellik walked into the next room and took a key off the rack. They went down a nearby staircase and unlocked a door at the bottom, and headed on in. Behind the door, the two found themselves in a dusty room stacked with barrels. Two skeevers were wandering around; Parax and Rellik took them down with arrows before advancing further. Going through a tunnel, the two found themselves in a filthy cave, filled with skeevers and frostbite spiders. The monstrosities were quickly taken out.

"This man has no idea how to take care of his place," Parax remarked.

"I regret stopping here for a drink on my way from Riverwood," Rellik mumbled, shuddering.

"Maybe Mallus will do a better job. Untrustworthy, but good enough to meet Maven's standards."

The two advanced further, passing by various traps with skeevers in them. They were disgusted at how poorly the basement was being taken care of, trying to hurry through and get the pest problem over and done with. As they traveled deeper in, however, they came across something… unusual. A man in fur armor was sitting at a desk, surrounded by skeevers. He was writing in some journal, muttering incoherently to himself. Parax and Rellik slowly approached the man; one of the skeevers took notice and let out a high-pitched screech. It was as if the rodents were under some sort of spell; anyhow, the man immediately jumped out of his chair and hurled a fireball at the two. The duo narrowly avoided it and took cover behind a pillar of rock as their attacker resumed launching various destruction-type spells at them.

"Rellik, we're going to need your brute strength for this," Parax said, readying his bound bow. "We're both going to attack him from separate sides of this rock, and slowly close in on him. When you get close enough… go wild."

Rellik held out his own bow, and the two nocked their arrows. Both of them simultaneously jumped out from a different side of the rock, just as Parax instructed. Parax launched the first arrow directly into the mage's hand, leaving him with only one to fight. Rellik fired his arrow into his other hand, completely disarming the man. Though the Breton desperately pulled the arrows out of his hands, Parax and Rellik were right in front of him. He weakly thrust his hands forward with an arrow in each hand, though it clearly pained him to do so; both of the unofficial exterminators took advantage to seize him by each arm in an attempt to manhandle him. Parax pulled one of the ghostly arrows out of the quiver that had appeared on his back with his bow and stuck it into the man's eyeball, ending the struggle.

"So... some crazy guy was doing all this?" Rellik wondered aloud. "I figured Maven or Mallus had done it as part of the scheme."

"I don't even know anymore," Parax muttered. "I'll be having a word with Mallus when this is over, though." He picked up the book the mage had been writing in earlier and began to read through it. "Well, we know his name's Hamelyn now... Apparently, he got thrown out of the College of Winterhold and has sworn revenge on them."

"By creating a skeever army?" Rellik raised an eyebrow. "Why was he even in Whiterun, anyways? The only thing separating here from Winterhold is a few mountains."

"His journal mentions that he got imprisoned in Whiterun jail at some point during his exile," replied Parax. "I suppose he had a lot of time to let his anger boil."

Rellik looked at Parax with a disturbed expression, and the two continued onward, taking Hamelyn's journal with them—but not before placing the poison in the skeever nest next to the crazed mage's desk. At last, they found a door that led up into the meadery's brewing building. Parax went up onto the walkway above the brewers and dumped the last of the poison into it. The two immediately went back the way they came, as leaving the building and going into the meadery via the front door would cause suspicion. They emerged from the basement inside the main building and met up with Sabjorn, who was nervously tapping his fingers on the counter near the front door. In the room stood Mallus and Caius, Captain of the Whiterun Guard.

"Well it's about time!" Sabjorn commented. "I had to stall the captain until you were finished."

"Well, Sabjorn. Now that you've taken care of your little pest problem, how about I get a taste of some of your mead?" Caius suggested, impatiently waiting. The man, who was leaning on a wall until the duo got back, finally straightened up and grabbed a mug from the counter.

"Help yourself, milord. It's my finest brew yet... I call it Honningbrew Reserve," Sabjorn said proudly. "I think you'll find it quite pleasing to your palate."

"Oh come now, this is mead... not some wine to be sipped and savored." Caius went over to a spigot connected to the brewing room and began to pour himself a drink. Sabjorn stared in anticipation, wiping his mouth briefly to avoid drooling. As Caius sipped the mead, however, he appeared to have tasted something… unpleasant. "By the Eight! What… what's in this?!" Caius demanded.

"I... I don't know," replied Sabjorn, eyes widened. "What's wrong?"

Mallus tried his best not to grin. He briefly glanced over at Parax and Rellik, silently congratulating them on a job well done.

"You assured me this place was clean!" Caius exclaimed, grasping his stomach. "I'll see... see to it that you remain in irons for the rest of your days!" The Nord promptly vomited.

"No, please! I don't understand…"

"Silence, idiot!" Caius ordered. "I should have known better... to trust this place after it's been riddled with filth."

"I beg you... please. This is not what it seems!" Sabjorn shot Parax and Rellik a glare, as if he was about to lunge over the counter in front of him and strangle one—or perhaps both— of them. Whatever violent thoughts were going through his mind never came to fruition, however, and he simply stood there, legs quaking. Caius, on the other hand, walked over to Mallus and crossed his arms, scanning the man from head to toe.

"You... you're in charge here until I can sort this all out," the captain said, approaching Sabjorn again.

"It will be my pleasure," replied Mallus. With Caius's back turned, he happily gave Sabjorn a smug smile. The same look was given to his "helpers".

"And you... you're coming with me to Dragonsreach," Caius continued. "We'll see how quickly your memory clears in the city's prisons. Now... move."

"Look, I assure you, this is all just a huge misunderstanding!" Sabjorn pleaded.

"I said move!" Caius yelled, unsheathing his sword. He spat as he stumbled forward for a moment, nearly embedding his sword in the table.

Sabjorn looked down at his feet, sighed, and complied. Caius proceeded to bind the former owner's wrists before leading him out the door of Honningbrew Meadery. Never again would Sabjorn set foot in the building; he couldn't possibly face what his business was going to be turned into.

"Farewell, Sabjorn," Mallus commented dryly. He looked out the window of the meadery and waited until Caius and Sabjorn were gone, then he turned to face the duo and smiled widely. He looked like he was going to explode with excitement, though he instead resorted to slicking his long hair back.

"We need to look through his books," Parax said when the coast was clear.

"So, Maven wants to hunt down Sabjorn's private partner, huh?" Mallus asked, smirking. "You're welcome to take a look around Sabjorn's office. He keeps most of his papers stashed in his desk." Mallus handed Parax the key to Sabjorn's room and belongings, and announced to the two his plans for the meadery. He had all sorts of ideas for the place, from redecoration to an increase in standards. And with Maven's influence, it was bound to flourish. But alas, none of that mattered for the moment; all Parax and Rellik wanted was whatever evidence they could find on Sabjorn's mysterious partner. They went upstairs to investigate, eventually coming across several letters. After some more searching, the two concluded that they had what they needed and departed for Riften. They refrained from paying any visits to anyone, not wanting to draw suspicion—a series of unfortunate events occurring whenever they were around was bound to do that.


1:28 AM, 5th of Hearthfire. The Bee and Barb. Parax and Rellik were once again in the tavern and meeting place of Maven's choice. They proceeded up the stairs to the second floor, where they found Maven waiting in the same place as they found her after the events at Goldenglow. She seemed bored and annoyed out of her mind, though her mood elevated slightly when she noticed the two approaching.

"I trust you have good news for me," Maven said.

"Job's finished," Parax replied, handing Maven the letter. "Here's the information you requested." She took the parchment and broke the seal; were it not for Sabjorn resealing it, Parax would've examined it as soon as he had it.

"This doesn't tell me much," Maven commented, looking at the letter. "The only thing that could identify Sabjorn's partner is this odd little symbol."

"Yes… I've seen that symbol before," Parax said, remembering the Goldenglow bill of sale. Just like it, the top of the letter was marked with the drawing of a dagger in front of a black circle.

"Well, whoever this mysterious marking represents, they'll regret starting a war with me. You should bring this information to the Thieves Guild immediately." Maven turned back to the table behind her, picking up an Elven sword. "There's also a matter of your payment. I believe you'll find this more than adequate for your services." Maven held the sword out; Parax took the blade and left with Rellik. Though neither of them planned to use it, its good condition and status as an elven blade would definitely fetch a pretty price.


The Ragged Flagon - Cistern. The two climbed down the ladder from the shortcut to the cistern and took a moment to scan the area for Brynjolf. The man was nowhere to be seen, prompting them to manually search the entire base. Soon enough, they found the Nord in the storage room from earlier; the room additionally functioned as a place for physical training, and Brynjolf could be seen practicing his archery on a dummy on the wall opposite of him. Parax began to wonder privately about what was going on here—about Aringoth's client, who also happened to be Sabjorn's, and why they were so afraid of mentioning them. Who was this person, lurking in the shadows, and what did undermining the Guild have to do with it? Was Mjoll playing a part? What about the two men encountered on the first trip to the Ragged Flagon?

"Word on the street is that poor Sabjorn has found himself in Whiterun's prison. How unfortunate for him," Brynjolf said, smirking. He interrupted Parax's thoughts and brought him back to the world of the living.

"Yet very fortunate for Maven." Rellik smiled.

"Exactly! Now you're beginning to see how our little system works," Brynjolf commented. "Maven sent word that you discovered something else while you were out there. Something important to the to the Guild?"

"The same symbol from Goldenglow was involved," Parax replied.

"Then this is beyond coincidence. First Aringoth, and now Sabjorn," concluded Brynjolf, crossing his arms. "Someone's trying to take us down by driving a wedge between Maven and the Guild."

"Is there anything we can do about it?" asked Parax.

"Mercer thinks he knows a way to identify this new thorn in our side," Brynjolf answered. "He wants to meet with you right away… and if I were you, I'd hurry. I've never seen him this angry before."

Parax and Rellik complied and immediately left the training room. They looked for Mercer, finding their guildmaster hunched over his desk near the Guild's main vault. A map was rolled out across the desk with various markings, all connected by lines drawn by Mercer. The Breton took a moment to notice the two standing on the other side of his desk, slowly looking up with a scowl.

"Ah, there you are," Mercer said.

"We found the same marking at Honningbrew Meadery," Parax informed Mercer.

"This only adds to my long list of questions. I've consulted my contacts regarding the information you recovered from Goldenglow Estate, but no one can identify that symbol," Mercer replied. "It would seem our adversary is attempting to take us apart indirectly by angering Maven Black-Briar. Very clever."

"You admire them?" Rellik asked.

"They're well-funded and they've been able to avoid identification for years. I'm impressed it reached this point," Mercer answered. "However, don't mistake my admiration for complacency; our nemesis is going to pay dearly."

"How so?" asked Parax.

"Because, even after all their posturing and planning, they've made a mistake. The parchment you recovered from Goldenglow Estate mentions a 'Gajul-Lei'. According to my sources, that's an old alias used by one of our contacts. His real name is Gulum-Ei. Slimy bastard."

"You want us to pay him a visit," Parax deduced. "We'll get on it."

"Gulum-Ei is our inside man at the East Empire Company in Solitude. I'm betting he acted as a go-between for the sale of Goldenglow Estate and that he can finger our buyer. Get out there, shake him down and see what you come up with. Talk to Brynjolf before you leave if you have any questions."

The duo knew they had no time to waste; they spoke to Brynjolf for information on Gulum-Ei, who proceeded to fill them in on ways to get the information they wanted form him. After learning as much as they could, the two immediately left the cistern, ready to embark for Solitude. Once they were situated on horses and on their way, Parax allowed himself to drift off back to his thoughts, while half of him dedicated itself to not falling off his horse or sending it the wrong way. Again, he wondered about who was causing all of this and why they would go to such lengths to undermine the Guild. Come to think of it, by the way things looked, this didn't seem to be some sort of honorable crusade like what Mjoll had in mind. Whoever was doing this knew how the Guild functioned. They knew the members and what made them tick. Furthermore, he began to wonder about Mercer himself; he wasn't quite sure how to put it, but he felt the guildmaster knew a bit more than he was letting on.


10:28 AM, 6th of Hearthfire. Parax and Rellik made it to Solitude, at long last. The center of Imperial activity in Skyrim, and even the outside of the city agreed with that title. It was magnificent, vast, and almost castle-like, and it sat atop a massive archway of rock. The city overlooked a great harbor, as well as the Sea of Ghosts to the north. The harbor was filled with sturdy docks and countless ships, and hundreds of sailors and merchants traded their goods. Though it was a nice sight to behold, the two knew that they had important business to attend to; they headed up a road along the beach surrounding the harbor and traveled uphill towards great metal doors. Numerous guards dressed much like those of the other holds—albeit in red and boasting shields with the face of a fierce wolf etched onto them.

"If you've come to Solitude to join the Legion, speak to Rikke. If not, keep your nose clean while you're here… or you'll end up like Roggvir," warned one of the guards. He signaled for the door to be open, granting entry to the duo—which had dismounted at the stables minutes ago.

"No idea who that is, but I'm assuming he's not in the best situation at the moment," Parax replied, and the two entered the city.


Solitude. The first thing the duo saw was a crowd gathered around the chopping block. A dirty blonde-haired man in rags was surrounded by Imperial soldiers and stood by the chopping block, though he didn't show an ounce of fear. Besides the image of an impending execution, the rest of the city was even grander on the inside of the walls than from the road or docks. Buildings of stone were everywhere to be seen, and the streets managed to carry out the difficult task of being busy and staying reasonably clean. Archways lined the city and continued to add to its similarities to a great castle. Red flags bearing the wolf head insignia hung everywhere like it was required.

"They can't hurt Uncle Roggvir. Tell them he didn't do it!" exclaimed a little girl in the crowd by the chopping block.

"Positions," ordered one of the Legion soldiers. He was a well built, bearded man with dark hair and stood in a commanding fashion.

"Yes, Captain Aldis," replied one of the guards. Immediately, anyone who was not the captain, the executioner, or the man in rags stood around the stairs leading up to the chopping block, obviously to prevent someone from getting any funny ideas concerning rescue.

"Svari, you need to go home. Go home and stay there until your mother comes," whispered one of the men in the crowd.

"Lock the city gate," said Aldis.

"You should tell her that her uncle is scum that betrayed his High King," said a woman in the crowd. "Best she know now, Addvar."

"You're all heart, Vivienne," the man muttered.

"Roggvir," Aldis started. "You helped Ulfric Stormcloak escape this city after he murdered High King Torygg. By opening that gate for Ulfric you betrayed the people of Solitude."

"Traitor!"

"He doesn't deserve to speak!"

"There was no murder!" Roggvir exclaimed. "Ulfric challenged Torygg. He beat the High King in fair combat."

"Liar!"

"Such is our way!" Roggvir continued. "Such is the ancient custom of Skyrim, and all Nords!"

"Boooo!" shouted everyone in the crowd.

"On this day… I go to Sovngarde," Roggvir declared, stretching his neck across the chopping block. The executioner raised his axe and brought it down with a great thud. Roggvir's head rolled away from his body, and the crowd left the scene, having had their share of blood and death. Everyone seemed to casually ignore the events as the guards proceeded to clean up the mess.

Parax and Rellik split up to search for Gulum-Ei, eventually meeting again at a tavern—the Winking Skeever, near the market area by the city's entrance. Inside, they saw the only Argonian in the room besides Parax. This had to have been Gulum-Ei—not just because of the name, but the look in his eyes spoke volumes. The two knew their target and approached him casually.

"So, what do we have here… Hmm, let me guess," the Argonian started. "By your scent, I'd say you were from the Guild. But that can't be true, because I told Mercer I wouldn't deal with them anymore."

"We're here about Goldenglow Estate," said Parax.

"I don't deal in land or property," Gulum-Ei answered. "Now, if you're looking for goods, you've come to the right person."

"You can drop the act now, Gajul-Lei."

"Oh, wait… did you say Goldenglow Estate? My apologies," Gulum-Ei said. "I'm sorry to say I know little about that… bee farm, was it?"

"You acted as a broker for its new owner," Parax pointed out. "Come on, do you think we're stupid?"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I can't be expected to remember every deal I handle."

"Identify the buyer and we'll forget what we know," Rellik intervened.

"I don't care what you promise," replied Gulum-Ei. "If I tell you the buyer's name and word gets around, it could ruin me!"

He may speak as a legitimate businessman, but he is just as corrupt as the guards in Riften.

"What would it take to identify your mysterious client?" Parax asked.

"Well, now that you mention it, there is something I've been trying to get my hands on," Gulum-Ei said, leaning back. "I have a buyer looking for a case of Firebrand Wine. There just so happens to be a single case in the Blue Palace. Bring it to me, and we'll talk about Goldenglow Estate..."

Parax sent Rellik out of the tavern to get the wine. The Orc arrived a few minutes later with the case and set it down on the table in front of Gulum-Ei.

"Good. Can't have the buyer getting impatient and looking elsewhere for this, can we?" said Gulum-Ei, examining the wine. "Here, take this. I certainly can't use it, but I suppose I need to pay you something for the goods." Gulum-Ei dug into his pockets.

"You're trying to bribe us now?" Parax asked.

"Not at all. I consider it an investment in prolonging my life. As for Goldenglow Estate, I'll tell you what I know." Gulum-Ei pulled out several soul gems and put them on the table. "I was approached by a woman who wanted me to act as the broker for something big. She flashed a bag of gold in my face and said all I needed to do was pay Aringoth for the estate. I brought him the coin and walked away with her copy of the deed."

"Did she say why she was doing this?"

"Not at all," replied Gulum-Ei. "I tend not to ask too many questions when I'm on the job—I'm sure you understand. However, I did notice she was quite angry... and it was being directed at Mercer Frey."

"You never got a name?" Rellik inquired.

"In this business, we rarely deal in names; our identity comes from how much coin we carry."

"Bullshit," the Orc growled.

"Look, that's all I know. I never promised you I'd have all the answers." Gulum-Ei stood up with the case of wine and walked towards the door. "Now, since our transaction is done, I'll be on my way."

"I must apologize for my associate's behavior," said Parax. "He's... irritable. Otherwise, thank you for your time; we'll take our leave."

Parax and Rellik could only watch as the Argonian left, stubbornly and obviously withholding valuable information. Off went Gulum-Ei through the tavern's front door, the case of wine in both hands.

"Well, that went well," Rellik said sarcastically.

"It did, actually," Parax replied. "Our friend is confident that he just got us off his trail... and we're going to follow him."

Parax opened the door slightly and peered through; Gulum-Ei was heading to the city's main doors, his back facing the duo. Parax and Rellik quietly left the tavern, following close behind Gulum-Ei. About a minute after the Argonian left the city itself, Parax and Rellik exited through the doors and spotted him on the other end of the road. They silently stalked Gulum-Ei, but he must have noticed something suspicious, as he began looking behind himself every now and then. That, or he was just being cautious. Fortunately, the two managed to remain undetected, hiding behind a wall or rock, or in a bush when Gulum-Ei was watching. They followed him down to the Solitude docks and watched as he disappeared behind a door on one of the walkways. Parax and Rellik followed closely, but there was a problem; the door was being watched by one of the city guards.

"Great, now what?" Rellik asked, looking around for a way to distract the guard.

"Watch," Parax answered, picking up a stone. From a bush, he threw it at the guard, provoking him to leave his post to search for the thrower. Parax leapt from the bush, surprise-attacking the guard and knocking him out.

"Impressive," Rellik complimented.

"Leave the key on him, or he'll know where to look first," Parax said, though he took the key and used it to unlock the door. He opened it, locked it again, and held it open for Rellik, who went in. The Orc took up the task of holding the door open while Parax planted the key back on the guard; immediately, they hurried through the door and shut it.

Behind the door, the two found themselves in a large, water-filled cavernous room filled with walkways and countless shelves of products neatly packaged in boxes, bags, and barrels. The duo surveyed the room for Gulum-Ei; across the water, on another one of the walkways, the Argonian placed the case of Firebrand Wine on a shelf and walked up a staircase, disappearing behind another door. Parax and Rellik continued forward, taking note of the various thugs hired to guard the cave-like warehouse. The two snuck by whoever they could, but soon figured that the thugs weren't going to be easy to bypass stealthily; subsequently, they simply killed the guards with their bows before continuing onward. Following the same route as Gulum-Ei, the two came across a copy of a map, which showed various trade routes and plans for the East Empire Company. Figuring the map would be of use to the Guild, the duo took it and took the staircase they saw Gulum-Ei on earlier.

The two were now in the deeper areas of the warehouse—Brinewater Grotto—the living areas of Gulum-Ei's thugs. The two silently snuck past the thugs, killing or knocking out anyone who was too much of a problem. Rellik had objected briefly, though it was through observation that the two saw that these guards weren't exactly employees of the East Empire Company; they were your everyday thugs and mediocre mercenaries. Anyhow, they went on through the grotto, and soon enough, they saw Gulum-Ei, who was inspecting several items on a shelf. Unfortunately, the Argonian was not willing to give up any more information to the duo, and shouted for his thugs when he saw them.

"You picked a bad time to get lost, friend," said one of the mercenaries, chuckling to himself.

The first thug lunged at Parax, who quickly parried his attack, stuck a knife into his throat, and flung him into Gulum-Ei, knocking him down. Three more thugs ran in; the largest one pulled a large, black sword with a thin blade out of its sheath on his back, and the other two were holding daggers. The blade wielded by the large man was known as an ebony greatsword (as a note, ebony was the name of an obsidian-esque metal on Nirn instead of a type of wood).

"Meat?" Parax asked jokingly while pointing his sword at the large thug. "Or potatoes?" He then pointed to the smaller thugs.

Rellik aggressively pushed Parax out of the way, unsheathed his sword, and slashed at one of the smaller thugs. The blade was quickly blocked, and the second "potato" lunged at Rellik. Parax, on the other hand, was approached by the larger thug, who swung his sword at him. He narrowly dodged the blade, punched the thug in the face, somehow disarmed him, and then attempted to stab him. Unfortunately, the bound sword, being a temporarily-conjured weapon, vanished at the worst time possible, leaving Parax disarmed. Before he could summon the blade again, the thug's hand shot forward in the form of a clenched fist. Parax ducked under the attack as it collided with the wall behind him, causing the thug to scream out in pain. Parax then punched his opponent in the groin and slid behind him, kicking him in the legs and tripping him. The thug, frustrated, punched Parax in the stomach and grabbed him by the throat, hoisting him against the wall. He was quickly met by Parax's bound sword, which impaled his head. Putting away the blade, Parax summoned his bound bow, pulled a bound arrow out of its quiver, and marched towards Gulum-Ei, stabbing one of the "potatoes" with it. While Rellik finished off the last thug, Parax approached the Argonian.

"Mister Gulum-Ei," Parax started, "I would like to repeat my question from earlier: who is behind Goldenglow?"

"And I would like to repeat my answer: I don't deal in names with things like this," replied Gulum-Ei smugly. "Just because you killed my bodyguards, it doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to remember her name!"

"Her?" Rellik spoke up. He had slid his Skyforge steel sword into the sheath on his belt and taken the ebony greatsword from one of the mercenaries. The Orc didn't seem to be bothered by all the weight he was carrying, simply shrugging it off and walking over to the two Argonians. Parax had turned Gulum-Ei around and shoved him into a wooden shelf.

"Yes, I caught that one as well," said Parax. "Tell us who your client is—my patience is running thinner than your cock."

"Sounds like you have a lot of patience left, then..." Gulum-Ei muttered. Rellik closed his eyes and looked down, trying not to laugh. Not just in the way one does it to convey amusement, but as if to say, "Oh, now he's getting it."

And Rellik was correct in his assumption, as Parax suddenly produced a dagger from a sheath hidden in his fur clothing and slammed it down into one of the shelves. The blade just barely missed Gulum-Ei's hand, which was plastered to the wood as Gulum-Ei tried to push backwards to resist Parax and wrestle free. As the dagger embedded itself into the shelf with a schunk that echoed throughout the room, Gulum-Ei stopped struggling. Rellik, who had taken to looking through the chests scattered about the place and left Parax to deal with Gulum-Ei, wheeled around. For a moment, he actually thought Parax had hurt or killed his interrogatee.

"Now, there's no need to do anything rash…" Gulum-Ei insisted, suddenly losing his calm attitude. "This isn't as bad as it seems! I was going to tell Mercer about everything, honestly! Please… he'll have me killed!"

"Mercer doesn't need to know," Parax chuckled, savoring the moment. He felt his respondent relax and backed off, letting him turn around.

"I see you wish to be reasonable. Perhaps I misjudged you," said Gulum-Ei. "The name of the person you want is Karliah."

"You say that name like we should know it," Rellik noted, sifting through one of the chests that filled the area.

"…Mercer never told you about her?" Gulum-Ei asked, surprised. "Karliah is the thief responsible for murdering the previous guildmaster, Gallus. Now she's after Mercer."

"And you're helping her?" Parax asked. Under his calm demeanor, he chuckled on the inside at how fun it was to mess with Gulum-Ei.

"Help? No… No! Look, I didn't even know it was her until after she contacted me. Please, you have to believe me!" Gulum-Ei begged, terrified of what could happen.

"Where is Karliah now?"

"I… don't know. When I asked where she was going, she just muttered, 'Where the end began.'" Gulum-Ei dug into his pocket, pulling out the Goldenglow Estate deed. "Here, take the Goldenglow Estate deed as proof. When you speak to Mercer, tell him I'm worth more to him alive."

"I think you could repay us better than just giving us the deed to Goldenglow," said Parax, shooting Gulum-Ei a smile that sent shivers down his spine. "You know that you owe us a lot more."

"Hah, now you're speaking my language," the businessman sighed. "If you want any of your goods—especially stolen goods—sold for a good price, talk to me. I'll fence them for you."

"We already have contacts of that sort," growled Rellik. "How about you provide us with goods too, since you work for the East Empire Company?"

"Say that's all and we'll call it a deal," Gulum-Ei hissed.

"That's all," Parax confirmed.

Parax took the deed and nodded to Rellik, and the two walked away from Gulum-Ei, heading back for the door to the Solitude docks.

"To Mercer, then?" Rellik suggested.

"No," answered Parax. "While he was rambling, I managed to interpret a few of the things he was saying. We have time, but not that much time… still, Riften is a long way away, and there's still a city we've yet to explore. Perhaps rest there on the way... work on that network of ours." Parax pointed to a city on the west side of his map: Markarth.

"It can't wait?" asked the Orc.

"It could, but there's something about Mercer I'm trying to figure out right now," Parax explained. "I detect something off about him."

"Well, he is heading an underground criminal syndicate…"

"Not just that," the Argonian muttered, "something else—something I can't really name yet. Until then, I want to at least establish some sort of contact in Markarth."

"You're the boss. Have it your way," Rellik sighed.

The Forsworn ConspiracyEdit

6:38 AM, 7th of Heartfire. Markarth. Two horses approached the great city of Markarth, halting at the stables a couple dozen yards away from the main gateway. Their riders, an Argonian and an Orc, climbed off the animals and paid the fee to keep the horses there, then continued on down the stone road to the city. It was hard to see Markarth from outside, thanks to its massive stone wall connecting the mountains and leaving the city entrance as the only way in, but Parax and Rellik could make out a single, tall tower on the inside. Parts of the city's wall and the decaying structures nearby had a sort of gold-copper plating on the doors and roofs, a design exclusive to places of Dwemer creation. There were several guards keeping watch near the door and atop the wall; they all wore a similar outfit to those stationed in the other holds, albeit green as grass instead of red, purple, or yellow, and the uniform lacked sleeves of chainmail. Instead, each of the faceless, helmeted men's bare, muscular arms stuck out, giving them a more thug-like look.

"First time in Markarth, traveler?" one of the guards asked. "Take my advice: you see anything, don't get involved. The city guard will take care of it."

"Noted," said Parax. "We'll bear that in mind." With a nod, he and Rellik proceeded through the main door and passed on through.

Markarth was even more beautiful than he expected, at least in some ways. Though it was clear that it had seen better days, it retained a certain beauty that dwarven cities often had. Smooth, expertly-carved buildings lined the sides of the walls and mountains on the right, whereas the ground on the left sloped off into a large pond overlooked by wooden walkways, as well as what looked like a silver mine. Two different sites for smithing were near the pond, and though they were clearly doing well, the workers seemed to be undergoing rather rough conditions; perhaps Parax could do something about that later. In the center of the city was a massive hill of rock jutting out of the ground and housing several buildings, among them a tall tower and what looked like an old temple dedicated to the god Talos. Two great waterfalls poured over the mountains on the other side of the city, just missing the buildings and stone bridges, flowing into streams down the city and ending in the pond.

Still, in spite of Markarth's beauty, Parax was beginning to question how civilization had survived in Skyrim this long. After all, the first thing he and Rellik saw upon entering the city was an attempted murder. In the market near the residential part of the city, a Breton man had randomly unsheathed a knife, shouted, "Glory to the Forsworn!" and charged at a woman in the market. Fortunately, Parax was able to cast a lightning bolt at the man, knocking him against one of the guards. The assassin was promptly cut down, and the guards began trying to calm everyone down. Parax and Rellik attempted to leave the crime scene, only to be stopped by yet another Breton—which seemed to be the common ethnicity in the west—in work clothes.

"Gods. A woman attacked right on the streets," the human-elf descendant mumbled. "Are you all right? Did you see what happened?"

"Some man," replied Parax. "A Breton, I think. Attacked that woman while shouting something about… 'Forsworn'."

"The Forsworn? Strange. Well, I hope the Eight give you more peace in the future, for what it's worth," said the man. He noticed a slip of parchment on the ground and picked it up. "Oh, I think you dropped this. Some kind of note. Looks important."

"This is yours, I take it," Parax responded, knowing it was obviously the Breton trying to be sneaky. Unfortunately for him, he was a bad liar and Parax was good at reading people. Perhaps that was why he felt suspicious about Mercer, even though he couldn't determine what the cause was exactly.

"My note? No, that's yours. Must have fallen out of your pocket."

The Breton walked away, scaled a staircase, and entered a large temple—specifically, the one dedicated to Talos up on the central hill of rock. Parax, on the other hand, read the note; it told him to meet him at the city's Shrine of Talos and was signed by a man known as "Eltrys". Knowing the note obviously belonged to the person who gave it to them, the two agreed to follow him into the same temple; they were stopped by the woman they had just saved, however, who still carried a look of shock on her face.

"By the gods, that man nearly killed me," said the woman. "You saved my life, and for that, I honestly don't know how to thank you. Hold on, I think I have something..." She fished around in her pockets for something.

"That won't be necessary," Parax replied. "One shouldn't have to expect a reward every time one saves somebody's life."

"No, it is absolutely necessary," the Nord insisted. She procured a necklace with a gold chain and several sapphires embedded in it. Despite Parax's protests, she put it around his neck. "I was buying jewelry for my sister—a souvenir, I guess—but I think you deserve it more. Please, just take it."

"What's your name?" the Argonian asked.

"My friends call me Margret—I suppose you can too," answered the woman with a friendly smile. "What about you?"

"I'm Parax, and this is my associate, Rellik," was his response.

"Pleasure to meet you," Rellik said plainly.

"I haven't seen either of you here before," said Margret. "Visiting?"

"We're stopping in Markarth for supplies," replied Parax. "Though we'll probably be staying here for a night or two."

"Well, then I'll have to recommend the Silver-Blood Inn," the Nord woman stated, gesturing to a building nearby, dug into the side of the central rock hill. "I'm staying there myself, and I have to say that the service is great."

"Then we'll be seeing you soon," said Parax, smiling. "Anyways, I'd like to stay and chat, but Rellik and I do have business to attend to. Nice to meet you, Margret."

With a mutual, friendly wave, the parties split, with Parax and Rellik heading up to the Shrine of Talos in the middle of the city, and Margret resuming her browsing at the market.

The Forsworn… who were they? According to the residents of Markarth, they were the Reach's original inhabitants, and were now killing the current residents of the hold in some plan to take over. Murderers of some sort. No, not just simple murderers. Terrorists. An entire organization dedicated to spreading carnage and fear as revenge—that is, for the carnage and fear they themselves were exposed to several decades ago. After the Great War between the Empire and the Thalmor, a conflict had broken out over control of the Reach—a conflict that was ended by Ulfric Stormcloak, one of the men Parax and Rellik met at Helgen. Apparently, he had liberated Markarth using the same power of the Voice he killed High King Torygg with, then spent some measure of time purging all who refused to help take up arms against the people who would come to be known as the Forsworn. It was a shame that they managed to survive whatever Ulfric did.

Inside the Shrine of Talos, the two encountered the Breton from earlier, the only other person inside. He was leaning against a large, golden statue of Talos, a god whose ban was currently banned in Skyrim and the Empire itself. The legality of his worship was what brought upon the Great War in the first place, and ever since its end, the Thalmor had free reign in Tamriel; anyone believed to still worship Talos after the war would go on to disappear from their homes. Just another reason for Parax to add to his list of why he was plotting against them.

"I figured this was your note," said Parax, folding Eltrys's note up and burning it with one of the temple's candles. "What is it that you want?"

"I'm sorry to drag you into Markarth's problems, but after that attack in the market, I'm running out of time," said Eltrys; his calm and innocent behavior had suddenly switched to paranoid and conspiratorial. "You two are outsiders. You're dangerous-looking. You'll do." Eltrys examined Parax's fur armor, horns, and claws, as well as Rellik's steel plate armor. Indeed, the two actually did look pretty intimidating when they wanted to, though it didn't seem to stop lowly bandits from trying to raid them.

"…What. The hell. Are you talking about?" Rellik asked.

"You want answers? Well, so do I. So does everyone in this city," Eltrys said. "A man goes crazy in the market. Everyone knows he's a Forsworn agent. Guards do nothing. Nothing but clean up the mess."

"You said you're running out of time. Let's get to the point," ordered Parax.

"This has been going on for years," Eltrys continued. "And all I've been able to find is murder and blood. I need help. Please. You find out why that woman was attacked, who's behind Weylin and the Forsworn, and I'll pay you for any information you bring me."

"Who was Weylin? Where did he live?"

"He was one of the smelter workers," answered Eltrys. "I used to have a job down there myself, casting silver ingots. I never knew much about Weylin, except he lives in the Warrens, like all the other workers."

"And Margret? What would make her a target?" Parax asked, inquiring about the woman.

"She's not from Markarth. The air about her screamed 'outsider'. Visitors to the city usually stay at the Silver-Blood Inn."

"So we've been told," said Parax. "I see you've been doing quite a bit of research on this."

"Yes. It all started when I was a boy," replied Eltrys. "My father owned one of the mines. Rare for anyone who isn't a Nord. He was killed. Guards said it was just a madman, but everyone knew the murderer was a member of the Forsworn. I've been trying to find out why ever since. Gotten nowhere so far, and then I got married. Have a child of my own on the way. I swore I was going to just give up, for my child's sake, but it's like my father's ghost is haunting me. Asking me 'Why?'"

He's definitely going to die.

"Hmm. Very well," agreed Parax. "Rellik, get down to the Warrens and find anything you can about Weylin. See to it that they listen to reason, by any means necessary. We'll meet up here after."

"What about you?" the Orc grumbled.

"I'm heading over to the Silver-Blood Inn," he replied. "There should be some information on Margret." As he said this, he proceeded towards the door, then began muttering to himself, "Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four..."

Rellik and Parax left the Shrine of Talos; as instructed, Rellik found his way over to the Warrens—a decadent place down by the city's pond for the lower class—while Parax went into the Silver-Blood Inn. Though it took some time, he managed to locate Margret's room and sneak into it for clues; she obviously had no intention of telling him why she would be a target for the Forsworn, and Parax seemed to be the only one who noticed there was something off about her. Inside the room, he removed his steel gauntlets to reduce noise and got set to searching the room carefully and quietly, finding a journal hidden away under the bed. With nothing else to make use of for information, he opened it and began to read to himself. One particular part—the last page, specifically—confirmed his suspicions.


"Meeting at the Treasury House later today. Took them long enough. These people act like they own everything.

Thonar Silver-Blood is the younger brother, but he's obviously the one in charge. Makes all the deals, bullies local landowners into selling to him. Even employs that wispy girl at the door to deter "trouble-makers" like me.

General Tullius is growing impatient, but I'll bring back the deed to Cidhna Mine. On my life, I won't allow a group of Stormcloak sympathizers to own the prison to the most notorious criminals of the Reach. They say no one escapes. Why? Is it really that secure?

Maybe I've played my hand too soon by rushing the confrontation with Thonar. There are shadows around every corner in this city, and I know I'm being watched."


His thoughts were interrupted when he heard a light footstep behind him. Instinctively, he spun around and caught a hand with one of his own; it was clenching a knife. With the other, he put his hand over the face of the woman standing in front of him, recognizing Margret as he pinned her to a wall nearby.

"So, it looks like you know a little more than you've been letting on, Margret," Parax hissed, bringing the woman's hand—the one with the knife—down to a table. He dug at her wrist with his claws until she let go of the weapon. "An Imperial spy. I'll admit, you may have, for a second or two, fooled me. Just a little." He took his hand off her mouth, keeping it just a few inches away from her face in case she tried to scream.

"Seems you're not just a traveler, either," Margret whispered. "What are you, one of Thonar's dogs?"

"Your journal and accusation implies that Thonar Silver-Blood was responsible for the attack in the market," said Parax. "Which means either he's working with the Forsworn, or his lackeys are using them as a scapegoat. In case you haven't deduced yet from my ranting or even the fact that I saved your life in the market, no, I am not working for Thonar."

"Seems I've been losing my touch lately," Margret sighed. "The Silver-Bloods own Cidhna Mine, the toughest prison in Skyrim. I need to buy or steal the deed to the mine, but that doesn't seem to be how things are done here. Mark my words, Thonar is responsible for that attack in the market. Somehow."

"Clearly," Parax replied. He had nothing left to say, and thus saw no reason to stick around and wait for anyone to catch him. Finished with his questions, he put his gauntlets back on and left the inn. However, there seemed to be some sort of problem; one of the city guards was standing outside, waiting for him.

"You. I've seen you snooping around. Asking questions," said the guard, suspiciously. "Back off. You don't want to know what happens to troublemakers here."

"Same thing that happens to them everywhere else," the Argonian responded. He clicked his teeth and showed off his fangs for a split second. "I remove them and the annoyance they pose to me."

"We'll see," said the guard, who seemed to back up slightly. He had all the legal authority he needed to have Parax thrown in jail, but the latter's very presence seemed to make him a bit reluctant to try, even in public. "This is your last warning, citizen. We keep the peace here—stay out of our business."

Their business.

It was immediately clear that the guards were in on whatever was happening. Next to that, it strengthened the growing suspicion Parax had of Thonar Silver-Blood. Whoever this man was, he had to be related to the incidents—it was just too obvious to ignore. He kept this in mind as he walked through the streets, mindful of his surroundings in case someone attempted to kill him like with Margret. Fortunately, he met no opposition as he made his way back to the Shrine of Talos; Rellik was already waiting inside with Eltrys.

"Alright," started Parax, holding up Margret's journal and waving it about. "Margret is an Imperial agent sent by the governor-general himself to acquire the deed to the city's mine, which is apparently a prison as well. My theory so far is that Thonar, the one who's supposedly 'in charge', according to Margret, had Eltrys's father killed those many years ago to acquire his mine or otherwise remove competition. Likewise, he sees Margret as a threat to his business, and thus attempted to kill her. The only remaining question is, why would the Forsworn be following his orders if he's supposed to be their enemy?"

"From what I've found, Weylin was ordered by a man known as 'N' to attack Margret," said Rellik. "'N' is likely the one handling these orders… having 'troublemakers' killed. Speaking of which, 'N' sent one of his minions on me back in the Warrens. I kicked the shit out of him for a name; this 'N' person is named 'Nepos the Nose'. But like you said, who is Nepos, and why is he the one in charge of these assassinations? Moreso, why is he taking orders from Thonar?"

"Excellent work, you two," said Eltrys, applauding the duo. "Here, take this. And remember, there's more where that came from for any more information you can bring to me." Eltrys handed the two self-appointed detectives each a large bag of coins. "As for Nepos, he's one of the more upstanding figures here in Markarth. Lives up in the higher levels of the city, but he's out for the time being. Should be back tomorrow, maybe slightly earlier, so if you want to investigate his place, now's your chance."

"I'd prefer a more personal approach," replied Parax. "We may get more important information from Nepos himself; if he's remained undetected for years, I doubt he's been leaving clues."

"So be it. Personal approach it is," Eltrys sighed. "I guess we wait, then."

"I need some fresh air," Rellik commented. He turned towards the door of the temple and left, followed closely by Parax.

The two wandered around the market area of the city for some time, hoping to pick up on any clues that may help them with their investigation. After some time, Rellik headed off to other parts of the city, while Parax investigated the crime scene and the areas around it, though he made sure to remain inconspicuous in case another guard grew suspicious of him. At some point, he came across a man of Imperial descent, who introduced himself as Tyranus, a Vigilant of Stendarr; he was asking questions to anyone who passed by about the house behind him, which seemed to be visibly dusty and abandoned even from the outside. According to Tyranus, the house was a suspected location of activity for worshipping Daedra—supernatural, typically malevolent beings known all across Nirn. Still hyped from his investigation of the market incident, Parax agreed to help the priest figure out what was wrong with the house.

Inside the building, it was dark and dusty, with a few dimly-lit candles. Furniture was tipped over. Books and food were scattered across the floor. Cobwebs connected just about everything in the house. The priest led Parax through the house, explaining what was supposedly wrong.

"Fresh food. No wood rot on the furniture," the vigilant said. "Someone's been here. Recently. But the people I asked say no one enters or leaves…"

"Daedra are sneaky," Parax commented, half listening, half examining his surroundings. He looked inside a chest to his right, casually taking an enchanted Elven sword stashed in it—it should fetch a nice price. The vigilant tapped Parax on the shoulder.

"Wait. Did you hear that? I think it came this way," Tyranus said, running through a door suddenly. "That's it. Something's inside the house. Come on, we're getting to the bottom of this."

Parax followed Tyranus deeper into the house, running towards a door. Locked.

Damn it.

"Come out! We know you're here! ...There's another door. See if you can get it open."

Parax stuck a lockpick into the door; it shattered instantaneously. Suddenly, the house darkened. Everything that wasn't nailed to the floor began drifting around. Some of the items were flung at the two. A fork stuck into Parax's arm; he quickly pulled it out and healed the wound with a minor spell, purging any possible poisons in the process.

"Stendarr's mercy!" exclaimed Tyranus. "This isn't an ordinary Daedra. We have to get help."

You're part of one of the toughest anti-Daedra factions on the continent, and a few floating objects sends you running?

A voice echoed in Parax's head. It sounded deep. Sinister. The tone of it made him feel like it was trying to lure him into something. In fact, it partially sounded like the owner of the voice was trying not to orgasm.

"Weak. He's weak. You're strong. Crush him."

Parax brushed it off and followed Tyranus back to the front door. Still, he kept himself aware of his environment, not wanting to fall victim to a potentially powerful Daedra.

"You first. Come on. Let's go."

Locked.

"No. Kill him. Crush his bones. Tear at his flesh. You will kill. You will kill, or you will die!"

The furniture in the room began crashing to the ground and lifting up, only to fall again. A loud, pounding sound could be heard, but nobody outside the house seemed to hear anything. The candles flickered on and off. There were no windows, and no amount of shouting seemed to attract attention. Whatever was going on in here, there would be no help for the two; they had to find a way out, and quickly. Maybe one of the destruction spells Parax picked up on in Cyrodiil... or perhaps a proper usage of Unrelenting Force.

"Get out of my head, Daedra!" yelled Tyranus, brandishing a mace and smashing a chair that had been flung at him by an unseen force. He looked around the room, terrified of the humanoid shadows that seemed to be closing in on the two, causing the candles to flicker and the flames to jerk around violently. Tyranus turned to Parax; it was clear that he was scared out of his mind, despite being a professional Daedra hunter. "The Daedra has us. It's you or me!"

"Now, mister. I'm certain we can work something ou-"

Parax was interrupted by Tyranus, who launched a lightning bolt at him. Having spotted the attempted attack just as it began, he was able to swerve out of the way, causing the bolt to hit a dresser and set it alight. The vigilant proceeded to charge Parax, mace ready, but he missed, again being too slow for the Argonian. Instead, he zipped by and embedded his mace in one of the walls. Parax took advantage of the distraction; he grabbed his former ally and pinned him down.

"Listen, it doesn't have to end like this!" Parax exclaimed.

Tyranus headbutted Parax and launched another lightning bolt at him. Tired of trying to reason with him, Parax did the only thing that he could actually do: fight back. Fus. Ro. Dah. A burst of wind, a ripple in the air, and a great force sent Tyranus flying into the wall. A loud cracking sound was heard, like the back of someone's skull being shattered, and Tyranus collapsed to the ground, lifeless, his head bleeding profusely.

Parax looked wide-eyed at the corpse of the Vigilant of Stendarr. What just happened? Did he just pull off a Shout? Without even bothering to train? But there was no way he could be the Dragonborn; even though Arngeir mentioned the possibility of multiple ones, he doubted that he was one of them. He never was the kind of person to view himself in a "Chosen One" sort of light—as far as he was concerned, he was a force of nature sent to restore a desperately-needed balance. It didn't matter anyways; he could Shout, and that was good enough for him. His brief moment of surprise died away, and with that the voice of the Daedra echoed throughout the house again.

"Yes. Your reward is waiting for you, mortal. Further down."

Parax groaned. Mortal. Damned arrogant Daedra. He tried to open the front door again; still locked. Seeing no other choice, Parax went back downstairs. The door from earlier was wide open and led into a cave-like tunnel. At the end was an altar with what looked like a rusted mace. The weapon seemed awfully familiar—probably from some book he had read in the past. Parax cautiously proceeded towards the altar; just as he predicted, another trap. Several curved spikes shot out of the ground, forming a cage around Parax.

"Fool! Did you think Molag Bal, the Lord of Domination, would so easily reward you? What do you see from that little cage? Speak!"

"A rusted mace," replied Parax in an annoyed tone. He had grown quite bored of the situation and just wanted to go back outside and wait for Nepos to come back to Markarth.

Arrogant, wannabe, drunk-on-power deity. If I really have to put up with this to put down the Thalmor, I'm going to open my wrists.

"Rusted. Dry. There was a time when this mace dripped with the blood of the feeble and the worthless. But a Daedric Lord has his enemies, and my rival Boethiah had her priest desecrate it. Left it here to decay. Until you came."

"…I take it you want revenge?"

"Revenge? No. I want submission. I want the priest who did this to bend his knee and give me his soul. He comes by to perform Boethiah's insulting rites at my altar, but he has been missing. Captured and bound. Left to rot. Save him. Let him perform his rite one more time. And when he does, we will be waiting for him."

"And what exactly has you so convinced that I'll do this when I leave?" asked Parax.

"Do so, and you will gain my favor, mortal. The influence of a great and powerful Daedric Prince can come in handy, you know. You shall be properly rewarded when you have completed your task."

The spikes deactivated, freeing Parax. Killing a Daedric priest in the name of a rivaling Daedra. Won't this be fun. I suppose I have a day to spare. Parax went back upstairs and left the house. Outside, he met up with Rellik and told him to keep looking around. When asked where he was going, Parax only said, "I honestly don't know."


6:21 PM. Drudach Redoubt. Parax, led by beacons of dark, blood-red light set by Molag Bal himself, approached a cave surrounded by tents; in the camp, two primitively-dressed Bretons were standing at attention, keeping close watch. Parax fired a single arrow from his bound bow into one of the guards' heads, killing her instantly. The second one retreated into one of the tents, and Parax descended into the camp. The Breton leapt from the tent with his sword drawn; he was met with a burst of Unrelenting Force, sending him back into the tent and causing it to collapse on him. Parax cast fire on the tent, ensuring the Breton a brutal death.

Parax went into the cave, where he found more of the primitively-dressed Bretons doing their day-to-day activities. Parax lodged an arrow into one of the residents' heads from afar, and the one next to him ran over to investigate; he suffered the same fate.

"Don't move! This is a stickup!" Parax shouted. Of course, he meant this jokingly, having a tendency to pair humor up with this kind of situation.

This managed to alert all of the inhabitants of the cave; they, too, were shot down, except for one of them, a leader of sorts. He wore a unique headdress—the skull of a deer—and wielded two spiked swords. The headdress-clad Breton lunged a Parax, who parried the attack and kicked him in the hand; his opponent dropped his sword, shouting in pain, and promptly received a kick to the groin. He clumsily swung his other sword at Parax, missing; Parax responded with a swift slash at the Breton's neck, but the latter suddenly caught the spectral blade with his free hand and slowly pushed it back, seemingly unaffected. It was then that Parax noticed something else about this opponent; he had a large gap in his chest, and a strange, red-brown, pinecone-shaped organ where his heart should be. The man also seemed to be undead, in a way; he was very pale and obviously had a higher tolerance for pain and injury than mortals. Perhaps this was the Forsworn counterpart to lichdom.

Whatever it was, that object in his chest had to be important, and so Parax reached out with his own free hand and grasped it, tearing it out of the Breton's chest; after a few seconds of gaping in horror—at least, that's what it seemed, though it was hard to see the rest of his expression in that headdress—the man fell to the ground and ceased moving. Parax examined the strange object in his hand, then proceeded to pocket it when he remembered that he still had to get back to Markarth. An elderly, bearded man could be seen in a cage nearby, his dark blue robes dirty from being in there for who-knows-how-long. This was most likely the priest of Boethiah, Daedric Prince of Treachery.

"You there," moaned the old man. "Are you here to kill me? Slay the mighty Logrolf while he sits tied and helpless?"

"I'm here to rescue you, actually," Parax assured Logrolf.

"Rescue?" Logrolf asked, confused and suspicious. "No one knew where I was, when I was taken. Who sent you?"

"Boethiah herself," replied Parax.

"The Dark Mistress? Sent you? Hah! Now tell me the one about the troll who gives gifts to good little boys and girls."

That slightly annoyed Parax. He was usually very talented at persuasion and lying. It must've been Logrolf's own experience with the embodiment of deception that allowed him to see straight through the lie.

"…Molag Bal."

"So, the King of Corruption sends his messenger to challenge me. Very well. I will meet with Molag Bal, and I will venerate his altar in Boethiah's name, as I did before. Cut me loose, minion of the Hated One. I need to get to Markarth."

Parax opened the cage and cut Logrolf's bonds; the priest bolted from his position and exited the cave, having suddenly gained a burst of energy despite imprisonment by the Forsworn. Parax followed behind, sharing the old man's destination. He didn't particularly have a problem with whatever Molag Bal had in stock, especially with the promise of the Daedric Prince's blessing in mind. Still, that was all the Daedra was to Parax—a tool. One of godlike power, but a tool nonetheless.


11:50 PM. Markarth. Parax had returned, though Logrolf had apparently gotten to the city long before he did. Entering the abandoned house and going downstairs, he found the Daedric priest caged up in front of the altar. Despite the situation, Logrolf seemed rather calm, simply resuming his ritual to Boethiah.

"Molag Bal," said Logrolf, arrogantly. "You think you can best Boethiah's faithful? I have won this contest before!"

"Ah. But I have my own champion this time, Logrolf."

"What?!" Logrolf exclaimed. He turned around to see Parax approaching the altar. "You!"

"Mortal," Molag Bal continued. An invisible force carried the mace from the altar to Parax's hand. On cue, he grasped the weapon's handle in his right hand and examined it. "I give you my mace, in all its rusted spitefulness. Crush the spirit from Logrolf's bones. Make him bend to me."

This was it—the moment where he would gain the favor of a Daedric Prince. He didn't care about how wrong it was, just that he would finally get the thing over and done with and have Molag Bal on his side. Parax readied the rusted mace and promptly bludgeoned Logrolf; though clearly in pain and suffering tremendous wounds, the old man muttered taunts under his breath, refusing to give in. This continued until he was dead on the floor, his body broken. It was several seconds later that the lifeless corpse suddenly began to stir again, moaning in agony even as the wounds covering it healed. His robes were still soaked in blood. The deep voice of Molag Bal laughed loudly, reveling in the victory he had been waiting for for so long.

You mortals and your frail, limp, pathetic bodies! Try it again!

"No... Boethiah..." the priest whispered to himself, his voice breaking slightly.

There was no time for Logrolf to regain his composure, for Parax struck him through the gaps in the cage again, and again, and again. The man bled like a stuck pick as his bones shattered. One of his hands was mangled. He could barely hold himself up because his legs were smashed. Several of his ribs were snapped and pushed into his body. An eye was missing, having been torn out by one of the rusted spikes on the mace. How the man was even alive still was baffling, though it wasn't unlikely that Molag Bal himself was preserving him to deny him the sweet freedom death would grant him.

"No more… NO MORE! I submit, Molag Bal! I submit!" Logrolf exclaimed. He broke down and began crying loudly, his bloodied tears dripping to the already blood-stained floor.

You bend to me?"

"Yes!"

"You pledge your soul to me?"

"Yes!"

"You forsake the weak and pitiful Boethiah?"

"YES!" Logrolf shouted, throwing himself at the cage. He had been so mangled and twisted that he actually managed to slip through a gap. However, his torn robes were caught on the barbs of the cage, leaving him dangling awkwardly as he slumped to his knees. He wouldn't be able to escape, anyways; no amount of adrenaline would be able to power his broken body.

"You're mine now, Logrolf. Kill him."

Before Logrolf could react, Parax lunged forward and struck him on the side of the head with the mace, knocking him against the wall behind him. Nothing else was needed for his existence to end, for he was already bruised, bloody, and clinging to life. The corpse that was once Logrolf simply lied there, motionless. The mace in Parax's hand immediately began to glow a bright green, the rust covering it dissipating instantly. A carving of a horned creature's face could be seen on it, its eyes glowing red. It much resembled the altar upon which countless were sacrificed in the name of the Lord of Domination.

"The Mace of Molag Bal! I give you its true power, mortal. When your enemies lie broken and bloody before you, know that I will be watching. Now, I have a soul in Oblivion that needs claiming. Take care of the house while I'm gone."

A loud, thunderous laugh that gave of a feeling of malice echoed throughout the house, and Parax was alone again. He felt a chill go down his spine. While some would be repulsed or regretful in his place, he felt a sense of relief and accomplishment. He had the power of a Daedric Prince on his side now; another asset to his plans. Even better, he managed to kill a few hours of his time as he and Rellik awaited the return of Nepos. He walked out of the altar room and headed back towards the house's door, exiting the building; he didn't speak a word of what transpired to anyone.

Parax exited the abandoned house without bothering—or even thinking—to look back. What was done was done; he had the blessing of a powerful Daedra at the mere cost of killing another's worshiper. He doubted that he would have to expect retaliation any time soon. After all, Logrolf valued his own well-being over Boethiah, and Daedra were not known for their forgiving nature. If anything, Boethiah would approve of the Argonian's ability to weed out the disloyal, even if that wasn't his intention. Whatever the case, his thoughts were—as usual—interrupted when he made eye contact with a familiar face. A messy light-haired Nord in hide armor was making his way around the market, consulting the local jeweler, Kerah. It wasn't so much Parax's surprise at recognizing the Nord as it was the latter's enthusiastic greeting upon seeing him.

"Parax!" Ivrik called out in his usual energetic manner. He had jerked to the side to wave at him, nearly spilling his coin purse in the process. Recovering from a moment of embarrassment, he beckoned the Argonian to come over, and so he obliged.

"I didn't expect to encounter you here," Parax commented, brushing off the thoughts of recent events in the house of horrors to focus on conversing with the Nord. "What a small world, Skyrim is."

"Aye," Ivrik agreed. Kerah tapped him on the shoulder, prompting him to turn around attentively and accept a garnet-infused necklace from the shopkeeper. "After what happened in Whiterun, you two inspired me to take up my old adventuring habits again. I forgot how soft my legs have gotten over the years." He moved his hair out of the way as he brought the necklace down around his neck, the circular part with the garnet hanging down to his chest. "I suppose I owe thanks for the lack of dragons in the Reach to you and Rellik."

"Surprisingly enough, there haven't been many in these parts," replied Parax. "The few we saw didn't seem to care to bother with us. I haven't seen many attacks from them lately."

"Perhaps news of Rellik reached them and gave them a good scare!" the Nord laughed heartily. "What brings you here, anyways?"

"Oh, just getting to know our way around," Parax answered. "At this point, we're hunting for solutions to this dragon problem. Tracking them down and killing them brute-force style just doesn't sound like it'll work. While we do that, we've figured we might as well make good use of our time."

"That's for sure!" Ivrik agreed. Even Parax couldn't resist smiling at the Nord's consistent optimism. "Word has it you got into the Companions... and Rellik became Harbinger in only two weeks!"

"Like I said, small world, at the rate word gets around," said Parax.

"I hope I can be a part of something big in time," Ivrik continued. "So far, I've just been wandering around Skyrim. The most I've done since I left Whiterun was clear out a few bandit hideouts." He grasped the garnet part of his necklace and held it up. "I'm gonna try and collect souvenirs from my adventures, to tell my kids some day."

You're middle-aged. Might want to hurry.

"Try taking souvenirs from the scenes of your adventures," the Argonian suggested. "It'll make them all the more memorable."

"I think I'll do just that," said the Nord, smiling appreciatively at the advice. "I've heard a few hagravens have holed up somewhere in the Falkreath hold. Damned things have been making life miserable for people down there. Apparently they've gotten their hands on some spellbook and think it gives them the right to hurt everyone else."

"Don't get in over your head," Parax cautioned. He didn't want Ivrik to get killed so soon after leaving the safety of civilian life. "Remember that you're a little rusty at this."

"If I don't do it, who will?" Ivrik sighed. He seemed grim now, in contrast to his usual cheerfulness. "I can't let other people die when I could've stopped them." Then his expression reverted to optimism and confidence, and the Nord smiled excitedly. "Trust me, I still know a trick or two about hagravens."

"Well, then I won't keep you," said Parax. "Good luck in your endeavors—I need to find Rellik."

The Argonian turned away and began to wander the streets of Markarth again. Soon enough, he encountered Rellik, who had done some more research on the Forsworn and Thonar Silver-Blood. After having the new findings explained to him, the two proceeded to the Treasury House—a building in the residence sector near the staircase to the Shrine of Talos. Inside of the building was a long wooden desk flanked on each side by a stone counter, complete with pillars jutting out of them. Silver and golden pottery and things of that nature adorned the place, and what looked like the Dwemer counterpart to a chandelier—mainly a large bowl composed of metal bars and a glowing red orb inside—hung from the ceiling above a woman who stood at the desk. The main room branched off on either side of a vault gate of sorts; by the looks of things, the bedrooms for most of the residents were on the right, whereas the left door had "Thonar and Betrid" carved into it. An elderly woman in a light brown dress was taking her time sweeping the stone floor and cleaning the blue carpets throughout the place alongside a man, and a younger woman sat by a table nearby, reading a book. The twp people cleaning the house were both Bretons.

"Hello, do I know you? Name's Rhiada," said the woman at the desk. By the looks of things, she was a few months pregnant.

"Good evening, miss," Parax greeted, approaching her. "We are here for business with Thonar Silver-Blood."

"I'm afraid he's asked to not be disturbed," replied Rhiada. She spoke with a hint of fear in her voice. This must've been Eltrys's wife. "He has important business."

"Are you sure? I'm certain a man like him would be expecting us by-" Parax insisted, but he was interrupted by the woman.

"No. No he isn't." Her lips seemed to be quivering.

The feeling of irritation crossed Parax for a brief moment. It just seemed that practically everyone he had been encountering in Markarth was annoyingly stubborn, having a tendency to interrupt or ignore his attempts to reason with them. Of course, in Rhiada's case, she was just afraid of her boss. All the more reason to put the man in the ground. In the three stare-filled seconds of silence that passed by, he began to compose a response—something that would target her fear and shut her down. Or he could just walk by anyways; they would need half of the city's guards to bring him and Rellik down.

"You're married to Eltrys, correct?" he asked.

"Let me put it into better words for my friend here," Rellik spoke up. The Orc towered over Rhiada, even when he was leaning over the desk to stare her down. "Your boss has been quite a problem for us lately, what with the recent murders, or the attack in the market. Things like that. Now, you seem like a nice woman, and look at that! You and Eltrys have a baby on the way! Sadly, that kid may not have a future, your husband getting into some pretty heated stuff lately." Next, he put one of his hands on his sword and tapped the pommel. Parax understood the cue and began examining the Mace of Molag Bal. "Whoever takes the blame for that depends on whether you let us through."

"In other words, we're not asking—we're demanding in the nicest way possible," said Parax.

"...Go right in, then," Rhiada mumbled. She looked down where her unborn child was located and stroked her belly.

Satisfied with the woman's cooperation, the two proceeded to make their way around the desk, passing by the older women and going through the door. They both didn't seem to care, either being too preoccupied or too apathetic. Or perhaps Parax and Rellik weren't the first to get this far. The very thought kept the duo on their toes.

"That intimidation thing. Keep it up," Parax said, patting Rellik on the back.

"What are you doing here?" demanded the voice of a middle-aged Nord, who was writing on a slip of parchment. The man looked up from a table near a fireplace and ceased his writing. "I told them no visitors!"

"Tell us, Thonar, what exactly do you know about the Forsworn?" asked Parax.

"They're crazy," replied Thonar. "Think they rule the Reach. Well guess who really runs things around here? Me. I own the mines. I make the coin pass to the right hands. That answer your damn questions? Now get out."

"I meant the things you know that most others don't," the Argonian hissed. He leaned forward and grabbed the man by his shirt, pulling him out of the chair he was sitting in. However, before he could continue the interrogation, a crashing sound followed by shouting could be heard from the main room. "Rellik, please check that out."

"Already on it," said Rellik, peeking his head out of the door. "Uh, the cleaning people are going berserk."

"What? By the gods, Betrid…" Thonar muttered. He wrenched himself from Parax's grip and zipped past Rellik. "Betrid, no! We had a deal you Forsworn bastards!"

Parax and Rellik watched as Thonar lunged at the Bretons, slashing the male's throat, but it was too late; the woman with the book had already been stabbed multiple times. Rhiada was able to defend herself with the objects on the desk, striking the old woman with the items to fend her off. Parax took it upon himself to end the problem, coming up behind the cleaner woman and bludgeoning her in the back of the head with the Mace of Molag Bal. The back of her head immediately caved in as she collapsed to the floor.

"My wife. They killed her," Thonar said tearfully. He knelt down by the corpse of his wife and held it tightly to himself, sobbing. "Damn Madanach. Damn his Forsworn backside."

Big bad boss of Markarth has a bit of a soft spot, I see.

"A deal with the Forsworn, huh?" Parax noted. "Time to start talking."

"Fine. You want to know what the Forsworn really are? They're my puppets," Thonar growled, looking up at Parax and Rellik for a brief moment. "I have their 'king' rotting in Cidhna Mine. He was supposed to keep them under control."

"Their king?" asked Rellik.

"Madanach. The King in Rags. While we were off fighting the elves in the Great War, Madanach was busy ruling over the Reach. Until Ulfric came and put them down. When their uprising was crushed, I had Madanach brought to me. He was a wild animal, but a useful one. I offered him a stay from execution if he used his influence to deal with any annoyances that came up. Competitors, agents, idiots. So I've let him run his little Forsworn rebellion from inside Cidhna Mine. Now he's out of control."

"I've heard from the residents about Cidhna Mine. What is it?" Parax asked.

"My prison. The source of half the silver in Skyrim. The most secure prison in Tamriel. No one escapes. I thought keeping Madanach down there would keep him under control."

"Clearly, we share a common enemy," said Parax. "Allow us to help you with this issue."

"You already got what you wanted, you damn hound!" Thonar exclaimed. "This is your fault. You and Madanach are animals, and I'll see you both rot to death in Cidhna Mine for this. Now get out of my house!"

Parax stood there for a second, contemplating his options. He could just kill Thonar right now, but that may just end up causing even more havoc. On the other hand, Thonar may prove useful for a short time; he was the one keeping the order. He knew who the other Forsworn spies were. Parax would have to save him for later, because for now, Madanach and Nepos had to be dealt with. After that, he and Rellik would return to Riften and inform Mercer of Karliah's connections to their recent dilemmas—give Thonar some time to track down the rest of the Forsworn inside Markarth and kill them. Then, and only then, would he leap at the first chance he got to put an end to Thonar's grip over the Reach. With this in mind, he simply turned back towards the door to the outside and left the building with Rellik.

The King in RagsEdit

Parax and Rellik ran out of the Treasury House, ready to confront their final target: Nepos the Nose. At long last, coincidentally while the two were interrogating Thonar, Nepos had returned to Markarth from whatever business he was attending to. He was a thin old man of Breton descent, sporting a medium-sized grey beard and thinning hair. Green clothing covered his body, complete with gold linings and a short fur cape. It was clear that the man had a great deal of influence here in the Reach, being able to accumulate that kind of wealth. Bretons were often thought suspiciously of in this part of Skyrim, given the Forsworn's average population, making it all the more surprising. Whatever the case was, this man had the money and power to keep his life as secure as possible, but it was all going to end tonight.

Nepos had finally finished unloading his carriage by the time Parax and Rellik exited the Treasury House, proceeding up a stone staircase by the market, flanked by several servants carrying his belongings. A light-haired woman was alongside him, whispering something into his ear. It was then that the elderly man turned his head to face the two for a brief moment, though he didn't appear to be neither surprised nor fearful. Rather, he seemed confident in what the future had in store for him, and simply continued up the stone stairs with his fellow Bretons. Parax's eyes followed the group carefully, tracking his targets' movements until they disappeared through a door in one of the highest reaches of Markarth—a portion of the city overlooking the market and main doorway.

"Time to go," said Parax, taking a right and heading up a stone walkway, as if to go to the Shrine of Talos. Rellik, who was busy observing his surroundings incase somebody was watching, followed closely behind. Instead of going to the temple, however, Parax took a sharp left across a thin, stone bridge, crossing over the road that contained the residential homes and the altar of Molag Bal.

"What about Eltrys?" Rellik asked.

"There's no time left, Rellik," Parax replied. He sounded casual in his tone, but a hint of regret could be detected. "Eltrys is no longer in the Shrine of Talos, but wherever he is now, Thonar's men will find him before us. Let us deal with Nepos before they get to us too."

"We can take them though! What are you talking about?" the Orc inquired, reluctant to just continue on like that.

"For a time, perhaps, but we are but two men with an entire city—and perhaps an entire hold—against us," said Parax. "And in that chaos, we'll only give Nepos the time to escape."

"He didn't seem to be in much of a hurry when he saw us," Rellik retorted.

"He's confident because we're not the first to get this far," Parax insisted. "If we go off to find Eltrys, the city guard will be on top of us. If we survive that, Nepos would know and flee the city."

"Thonar won't allow that."

"Thonar's power base would dissipate because the guards would be focusing on us, not Nepos," said Parax. He was growing annoyed now by Rellik's insistence on saving Eltrys. "And even if Nepos is somehow captured, we'll be dead or rotting away in Cidhna Mine with no way to bargain our way out. If we escape and Nepos isn't captured, it'll take years to track him down again. Now, let's stop wasting time and kill the bastard already."

Parax said all that he had left to say, and proceeded to turn back and resume his walk along the upper levels of Markarth. Rellik stood where he was for a moment, contemplating Parax's statements, before finally following the Argonian. On they went, taking care not to fall off the walkways and into the streets below; it didn't take long before they reached the doorway Nepos disappeared into. They stood outside for a short time, contemplating how to get in there without being ambushed.

"Sorry about that, by the way," said Rellik.

"No worries, it was understandable," replied Parax. "We can save the world from the dragon apocalypse, but we can't save one man from a corrupt businessman. Thonar's got a special place in the afterlife reserved for him, needless to say."

"What's the plan?" Rellik asked.

Parax listened through the door for a few seconds. He could hear the sounds of conversation, but it sounded casual. Nobody was panicking, or sounded like they were in a hurry to get something done. The way things seemed, either Nepos was expecting the two, or simply didn't believe they would dare come into his home.

No impending ambush detected.

"I think he wants us for dinner," said Parax.

Rellik's eyes shot up at Parax for a moment in surprise.

"Not that kind. After you."

Rellik proceeded to open the door and head on in with Parax. As expected, nobody really seemed to have been disturbed by them, except for the light-haired woman from earlier. As soon as she spotted them, she darted towards the door and stood in their way, as if to try and stop them from entering.

"It's late and the old man needs his rest," the woman growled. "Please come back later, at a more appropriate time."

"Oh, peace now, Uaile," the voice of an elderly man called out from the back of the house. "Let them in."

"But-"

"For the Old Gods' sake, woman! I said let them in!"

The woman, Uaile, paused for a moment before turning back to face the two. She sighed loudly, and in an annoyed tone, muttered, "You heard him. Go on."

As instructed, Parax and Rellik proceeded through the house, passing the maid and climbing a short staircase. At the top was a large, stone room with numerous doorways leading off into different parts of the house. Shelves and dressers lined the walls, all of them bearing a variety of silverware and jewels. A small, golden case akin to a ring box was open, with a pink gemstone resting in it. It reminded Parax of a similar gem he had seen in Kodlak's living quarters. Just like the first one, he felt that it was somehow important—he didn't know why, just that it was—or useful at the very least.

Nearby was a lit fireplace was a wooden rocking chair, where an old man sat. None other than Nepos the Nose, he calmly and slowly rocked back and forth, not taking his eyes up from the book he was reading. He let out a muffled "Hmmph" to let the two know he acknowledged them. He just didn't care enough to face them.

"I'm sorry about my housekeeper," Nepos said, not taking his eyes off the pages of his book. "She's a little protective of me. Now, what is it you want?"

"You already know the answer to that, 'N'," said Parax.

"Ah, yes. You've proven to be real bloodhounds," Nepos replied, congratulating the two. He was still reading his book calmly; as far as he was concerned, he was the one in control. "Well, you've sniffed me out. I've been playing this game for almost twenty years. Sending the young to their deaths. All in the name of the Forsworn. And I'm tired. So tired."

"And why would you do that?" asked Rellik. "What do you hope to accomplish?"

"Because my king told me to. Madanach. When the uprising fell at the hands of the Nords, they threw him in the mines. I don't know how, but he lives. I get his messages, and I hand out his orders without question."

"Yes, yes, we know about your little uprising all those years ago," muttered the Orc. "Get to the point."

"Markarth and the Reach are our lands. That is why we are the Forsworn. We cannot claim the home that is rightly ours. But then during their war with the elves, we had our moment. We drove the Nords out of the Reach in a great uprising. Then Ulfric and his men came. Those of us who didn't run were executed, except for myself, my king, and a handful of others."

"And Madanach?" Parax asked. He had picked up the golden box with the unusual gem in it and started playing around with it. The gem appeared to be floating slightly above the bottom half of the box, and slowly spun around in the air when he poked it.

"He is the King in Rags. A man who once held all the Reach within his grip," said the old man, turning a page of his book. For the first time, he looked up to face Parax, somewhat annoyed by him touching his belongings. "He stokes the passions of the downtrodden in this city. Directs them to kill the enemies of the Forsworn in our name. All from inside Cidhna Mine. A Nord prison. The irony is quite thick."

"Well, isn't that just wonderful," said Parax. "You know, I was kind of hoping for more, but the only thing new I've gotten from you is this gemstone. You were a lot more cooperative than expected though, I'll give you that." He looked over to Rellik as a small, dark purple orb formed in his hand. "Rellik, I think our business is finished here."

"My dear boy, what makes you think you're getting out of here alive? You were seen coming in. The girl at the door is a Forsworn agent masquerading as a maid. You aren't the first ones to have gotten this far. You won't be the last." Nepos chuckled to himself, putting his book down.

"You know what the best part of being completely unknown to the world is?" Parax commented, pocketing the gemstone. "I get to practice on people like you without anyone making the connection." The purple orb burst into dark particles as a ghostly sword formed in front of him, levitating above the ground. Parax grasped the sword by the handle and quickly cut down Uaile as she approached him with a dagger.

The remaining servants each drew knives from several nearby display cases on the dressers and lunged at the duo. Parax kicked Nepos out of his chair, fracturing the old man's back and dropping his head next to the fireplace. Rellik swiftly decapitated one of the other servants before blocking an incoming strike from another, who quickly and repeatedly stabbed and slashed at him with precise aim. Whoever these people were, they were all trained killers. Even Nepos, though age had clearly gotten the best of him. Eventually, Rellik grew tired of having to keep blocking the lightning-fast attacks of the servant he was fighting, and proceeded to exclaim, "Fus Ro Dah!" Immediately, the man soared across the room, slamming into the dinner table in the center; it broke where the man impacted with it and both chunks flipped from the force, falling on him but not quite killing him.

While Rellik busied himself with finishing off the remaining servants, Parax knelt down next to Nepos and picked up a pair of tongs resting by the fireplace. Using the metal utensils, he picked up a hot coal from the fireplace and pressed it against Nepos's hand.

"You were right about one thing: we're not the first to get this far. What we are going to be the first to do, though, is put an end to the madness you and the Forsworn have put the Reach through," the Argonian declared, pressing the coal harder against the old man's hand. "Don't worry, Thonar will get what's coming to him too, but first things first, I want to pay a visit to your 'King in Rags'." The man grunted in pain every time Parax burned him, but he still seemed to be perfectly calm. "I'd like you to be around to see it though. I want you to see what you could've done versus what you did do."

"You're not going to kill me then?" Nepos mumbled, turning his head on his side to talk better.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, of course I'm going to kill you," Parax replied, pressing his bound sword to Nepos's hand and slowly running it across. Blood trickled out of the wound it formed, and a dim purple glow could be seen swirling about inside. "You're familiar with soul trapping, yes?"

"A common Forsworn practice," said Nepos. The man finally caught on and began to tremble. "You're not..."

"I wouldn't expect your soul to require a black soul gem," the Argonian continued. He pulled out a dark purple, transparent stone about the size of his palm and set it down. "But I suppose you are technically a human being, so I can't take any chances." Before Nepos could say anything else, Parax plunged the spectral blade into the back of his throat. It took a few seconds before the old Breton stopped twitching and the soul gem next to him started to glow slightly. A dim, black aura seemed to surround the soul gem, signaling that it was now occupied. "It's never too late to pay for your crimes. Hope you like your new home."

Why have most of them been old thus far? Grelod the Kind, Nepos the Nose...

Parax stood up and approached Rellik, who had finished dealing with the remaining servants in the house. The two nodded affirmatively before one of the servants burst out from the wreckage of the dinner table. Bleeding from the numerous wounds he had sustained from being flung into the table, the man tackled Parax before the Argonian could react and violently stabbed at him with a fork. He motioned for Rellik to back off to avoid getting hurt himself, and in an attempt to throw the man off him, proceeded to Shout.

"Fus Ro Dah!"

But the Breton wasn't going to fall victim to that again. Instead, he wrapped his arms around Parax's head and directed it to face Rellik, causing the Shout to strike the Orc and send him flying out the house's front door. The last thing Parax saw of Rellik was him rolling off the ledge and into the streets of Markarth. The Orc seemed just as surprised as Parax had been when he first used a Shout against Tyranus, his eyes lighting up in shock as he flew out of view.

"Rellik!" Parax exclaimed. "Damn it!" He jabbed his fingers into the servant's eyes to blind him before finally flinging him off. Before the Breton could react, he slashed his throat with his bound sword and left him to die on the floor while he ran outside to find his comrade. He looked around worriedly for the Orc, but he was nowhere to be seen. Rellik had vanished. Getting more and more concerned with what could've happened, he ran through the city, only to see groups of Markarth guards closing in on him.

The search for Rellik would have to wait, because now Parax was in danger too. Evading an arrow from one of the guards, Parax turned back and bolted through the residential area of the city, hoping to lose his pursuers in the dark of night. More and more guards filled the pathways as they converged on the Argonian, forcing him to run back up onto the higher levels of Markarth. He took a sharp right into the alleyway containing the door to the Shrine of Talos, but guards were already on the other end of it. He turned back; the guards were already there too. He narrowly dodged an attack from one of the guards, ran into the Shrine of Talos, and slammed the doors shut behind him. To keep the doors sealed, he inserted his Skyforge steel sword into the door handles, stopping the guards from opening them back up. He walked at a quick pace down the slope into the temple, forming a plan in his head.

Doors sealed for a short time. Narrow hallway, not much wiggle room. Plant fire runes. Climb above statue of Talos. Summon bound bow. Wait for guards to get through. Let them cross fire runes. Kill from afar. Engage with ranged magic-

His thoughts were interrupted when four more city guards came around the corner, apparently having been waiting for him to return. One of them was carrying somebody over his shoulder, then proceeded to drop them onto the floor. It was none other than Eltrys; the man's fingers had been lopped off, his skin carved with numerous markings. An arrow was sticking out of his mouth.

"We warned you, but you just had to go and cause trouble," said one of the guards, walking forward. He was more muscular than the other two, and his chainmail was dark green. "Now we have to pin all these recent murders on you. Silence witnesses. Work. Work. Work."

"Corrupt guards are a lot more fun when they're working for me," Parax growled. He stared the guards down—even the ones wearing helmets felt the Argonian's eyes making contact with theirs.

"We have a nice arrangement in this city, and we're not letting you get in the way. You have a problem wth that? Take it up with Madanach. I'm sure the King in Rags and his Forsworn would love to meet you. Now you're coming with us. It's a life sentence in Cidhna Mine for you."

Parax knew there was no point in resisting. He could kill these guards, but they were only making things easier for him at this point. He was going to Cidhna Mine, and he was going to kill Madanach. He could sense a friendly presence nearby, accompanied by the sounds of swords clashing and men shouting. The guards approached Parax, weapons drawn.

"You'll never see the sun again. No one escapes Cidhna Mine. No one," the guard said confidently.

"Neither will you," replied Parax. He smirked as they removed his sword from the doors and escorted him outside. One of them struck him over the head, and as his vision went dark, Parax could see a tall, built figure getting closer. He appeared to be wielding a large sword and spoke in a deep, rough voice.


5:01 AM, 8th of Heartfire. Cidhna Mine. The guards stripped Parax of everything he had on him. Put all of his possessions in a large chest without a second thought. Beat him. Threw him in the prison and received their pay from Thonar. Parax woke up in a cell; inside, an Orc in armor stood before him. It wasn't the Orc he was hoping to see, however—instead of Rellik, this one was a woman clad in steel armor. She had short, dark hair, and a mace rested on her belt. She crossed her arms and let out a grunt as she noticed her prisoner awakening.

"All right, prisoner. Eyes front," ordered the Orc. "You're in Cidhna Mine, now. And we expect you to earn your keep. There's no resting your hide in a cell in this prison. Here, you work. You'll mine ore until you start throwing up silver bars. You got it?"

"Sorry, can you repeat the question?" Parax asked, obviously trying to provoke her. "I'm a little deaf in this ear."

"Don't get smart with me. I'm in charge. You keep it up, I'll have your toes cut off." The mercenary shouted down the tunnel behind Parax, "All right. Open her up. Now, you. Get down there."

The Argonian was promptly sent into the main section of Cidhna Mine. Every inch of the place was repulsive in every way; the prisoners who lumbered around tiredly smelled like they hadn't had a bath in years. A few rotting corpses were piled up in a large heap of dirty hay, which reeked of dung. The walls and floor of the massive stone chamber were riddled with gaps from the neverending mining of the prisoners. The stench of blood, sweat, and tears filled the air. This was the mine all people feared—nobody who came here would leave. Their bodies, perhaps, but whoever left would be a different person than the one that was thrown in here with the rabid dogs that called themselves the Forsworn.

Parax's plan had already been set in motion. As long as he survives this, there's no possible way it will go awry. He walked out of his cell, finding himself in the legendary, feared Cidhna Mine. In the first room, there was a campfire and several pathways; one of them was sealed with a small gate, guarded by an Orcish prisoner, and the others led off into deeper sections of the mine. Parax wandered around the maze, talking to the prisoners about their histories and such. There was one thing he found very interesting, however; Rellik was there! Parax rushed over to to greet his companion and friend.

"What the hell was that all about?" the Orc demanded to know, standing upright with the same look of surprise as he had when Parax used Unrelenting Force on him. "Since when did you know how to Shout?"

"I had been wondering that myself, Rellik," said Parax. "The only other time I did something like that was the other day. Just the usual story—someone tries to kill me, I leave them bleeding on the floor. Somehow, I was about to use the Voice against him. It didn't feel strained, either; I just said the words, focused on getting him out of the way, and out of the way he was."

"So what did I miss?" Rellik asked. "One moment, we were kicking Nepos and his Forsworn buddies' asses. Next moment, I find myself being flung out the door and hitting my head on a rock."

"Stole Nepos's journal, accidentally knocked you out of his house, and got arrested by the guards," replied Parax. "Speaking of which, how did you end up in here?"

"Woke up at the bottom of a stream and went to the Shrine of Talos," Rellik answered. "There were a few guards waiting for me… They killed Eltrys. I slaughtered the bastards and got tackled by the entire city guard."

"You always were stubborn," Parax said, chuckling. He was a tad disappointed that he wouldn't have the chance to kill the men who beat him himself, but, knowing Rellik, knew they got what was coming to them. "Come. Our plans just got a lot better."

"Better?" Rellik echoed. He took a whiff of the air and shuddered. "What do you mean better?"

He received no direct answer. Still, Parax could tell that his companion was starting to realize what he meant. After all, Madanach was the one causing all of this; Thonar may have been giving the orders, but without Madanach, the Forsworn would be loose. The Silver-Bloods would have no choice but to purge the city of their favorite killers, then send out mercenaries to deal with the rest throughout the Reach. Not that they would be able to get rid of all of them—that would be for Parax to deal with over time. All they had to do now was kill Madanach, and now they were in the perfect position to do so. In fact, Thonar himself may have wanted this to happen as well. Perhaps he would release them for dealing with the problem they both shared. Parax led Rellik back into the room with the fireplace and gate. One of the prisoners had been watching them carefully, finally deciding to confront them.

"What are you in for?" asked the man, stroking his grey hair, which was surprisingly well-kept and slicked back, though it was dirtier than a skeever nest. "Name's Uraccen."

"Nothing."

"Innocent? So was I, for the first one. The other murders were all me, though. My advice? Serve your time at the pickaxe and get out. You don't want to end up getting a shiv in the guts over a bottle of skooma."

"Skooma?" asked Rellik.

"Bottles of moon sugar. Khajiit use it as a... pick me up. Good way to pass the time. Prisoners smuggle the stuff in. Only currency we have down here."

"Do you happen to know a man named Madanach?" Parax inquired, trying to stay on track. The sooner he got out of here, the better. "I've been wanting to speak with him."

"If you're asking, that means you're the new lifers. Tough luck, friends. Those guards sold you out but good. No one talks to Madanach, I'm afraid. Not without getting past Borkul the Beast…" Uraccen looked over at the Orc prisoner by the gate. "And you don't want to talk to Borkul the Beast. Madanach's guard. Big, even for an Orc. Heard he ripped a man's arm off and beat him to death with it. He's old-fashioned like that."

It was worth a shot anyways. Parax and Rellik still had to get back to Riften and report their findings to Mercer; they hadn't expected things to take as long as they did. That said, it was either find a way to Madanach now, or mull it over for a while and arrive at the same conclusion. The only difference was that there may be no Guild left if he took too long. With that said, he decided to just get it over with and talk to Borkul. He proceeded over to the gate, and soon enough began to see what Uraccen meant by the Orc's size. To summarize things: even if he were standing on his toes, he wouldn't be nearly tall enough to make eye contact with Borkul the Beast.

"The new meat. So soft. Tender," Borkul mumbled, grinning. Parax raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. "What was it like killing your first ones, huh?" the Orc asked.

"Probably the most exciting moment of my life," replied Parax, adopting a slower tone, as if he were reminiscing. Only Rellik seemed to notice that he was saying this to gain the Orc's favor. "I don't know whether it was the blood covering my hands, or watching the light leave her eyes. I felt my heart rushing like a racehorse as she fell to the ground."

Rellik, playing along, began to drool and mouthed, "Blood."

"True killers, like me," Borkul said, admiring the two. "The gods put us here to fill their halls with souls. You'll fit in fine down here."

"How about you? What are you in for?" Parax asked.

"Murder. Banditry. Assault. Theft. And lollygagging. Guards brought me in about twelve years ago. Was running a good group of bandits up until then. But these Forsworn. They're nothing like the men I cobbled together. They're real killers."

"Twelve years and now you're Madanach's guard," said Parax. "If only I were to have that kind of privilege."

"Hah, the way you've been describing things to me, I'm sure we could make some room for you. But if you want to talk to the King in Rags, you've gotta pay the toll." Borkul declared. Parax hoped this wasn't going the way he thought. "How about you get me a shiv? Not that I need one, but it's nice to have in case I need to do some 'shaving.' Ha ha."

"Don't have one."

"Then find one. That dung heap Grisvar's been known to make a few."

Somewhat relieved, Parax and Rellik agreed to the terms and began looking around the mine for Grisvar. They found him a few minutes later, talking to his fellow inmates. A dark-haired, balding inmate with a slight mustache, the man didn't look very threatening—he was moreso a man who relied on cunning than force. Still, he was apparently the expert on making shivs, so they would have to get on his good side. Grisvar instructed the two to get a bottle of skooma for him, and he would make a shiv in return. The two were directed towards Duach, a prisoner known for a mysterious method of smuggling skooma into the mine.

"You give me one more look, and I'll cut you open. This is my skooma… get lost," Duach dismissed the two angrily.

"Please," Parax implored, widening his eyes. His hands were trembling as he tried to talk to the Breton. "I need it. Just one bottle and I'll mine for you for for a week."

"That desperate? Must be getting the shakes... All right," Duach reluctantly handed a bottle to Parax. "Take it. Old gods keep you."

Parax mouthed, "Thank you," to the man and immediately rushed back to Grisvar with the skooma, handing it over. Grisvar, who had made the shiv surprisingly quickly, proceeded to give the weapon to the Argonian in exchange for the drug. It was then that the duo finally had their shot at Madanach; they returned to Borkul with the shiv.

"Ready to pay the toll yet?" the Orc asked, smirking.

"One shiv," replied Parax. "One visit to Madanach."

"You got that right," said Borkul, motioning for Rellik to halt. "Your friend can wait outside—he didn't pay the toll yet."

"So be it," said Parax. He nodded to Rellik, who muttered something under his breath and sat down near the campfire. Parax went on through the gateway, traveling through a narrow, rock tunnel until he found himself in a cramped room. A desk was crudely fashioned from some rocks and rotting wood, and at it sat an elderly man in a dirty tunic. His shoulder-length grey hair was getting white—remarkable for someone living in conditions like this. Still, for all the filth he was living in, he had it better than the other inmates. Not only did he have a private bodyguard, but he even had a bed, unlike the bedrolls that everyone else had to sleep on; it was covered in grime and dirt, granted, but it was definitely more comfortable than the bedrolls. A few wine bottles rested nearby, along with a small sack of what seemed to be coins. It seemed unusual for Madanach to require money in prison, but it was there nonetheless. Probably just something shiny for him to look at to keep reminding himself that he was once part of the civilized world.

"Well, well. Look at you," said Madanach, turning around briefly to address his guest before returning to his notes. "The Nords have turned you into an animal. Wild beasts caged up and left to go mad. So, my fellow beast, what do you want? Answers about the Forsworn? Revenge for trying to have you killed?

"A way out sounds like a good start," replied Parax. He scanned his surroundings for something he could use as a weapon; admittedly, he should've thought a little further ahead in getting a second shiv from Grisvar.

"Your freedom? Yes. But even if you were to escape Cidhna Mine, your name would still be stained with all that blood," taunted the King in Rags. "You're one of us now, you see? Slaves. The boot of the Nord stepping on your throat. Maybe if you understood that, I could help you. There's a man named Braig inside these mines. Besides me, he's been here the longest. Tell him I sent you. Ask him why he's here. I want you to know how widespread the injustice of Markarth is."

"Everyone has their own side to the story," said Parax. "What you call injustice, others view as nothing but justice."

"I had Markarth. My men and I drove the Nords out. We had won, or so we thought. Retribution was swift. I was captured, quickly tried, and sentenced to death," Madanach explained. "But my execution never came. Thonar Silver-Blood stopped it. He wanted the Forsworn at his call, that I would point their rage at his enemies and spare his allies. And I have. Humiliating at first, but I knew he would let his guard down eventually. That he would come to trust I was under control. This was our land. We were here first. Then the Nords came and put chains on us. Forbid us from worshipping our gods. Some of us refused to bow. We knew the old ways would lead us back to having a kingdom of our own. That is who we are. The Forsworn. Criminals in our own lands. And we will cut a bloody hole into the Reach until we are free."

"Sorry to crush your dreams, but Thonar doesn't seem to agree with that," the Argonian retorted. "Last I heard, he's been wanting to have you killed lately."

Madanach's hand stopped. He put down his quill and breathed in loudly for a few seconds. "Then the time has finally come. Go speak to Braig, my fellow beast, then return to me when you are finished."

"Remind me: why should I talk to Braig when you can just tell me what happened?" Parax inquired. He was stalling now, buying time as he silently grasped a pickaxe that had been left near the bed.

"You want to hear all sides of the story—I'm giving you the chance do," the old man replied, not once turning around to face Parax. "Once you realize that the Nords are the villains and not us, I'll grant you the freedom you desire. It's either that, or you can kill me with that pickaxe and figure things out for yourself. Oh, and you'll have to deal with the other prisoners in here."

"Well, when you put it that way..." Parax dropped the pickaxe to the ground, its head embedding in the dirt. "Sounds like I have a meeting with Braig. He's down the right passageway, correct?"

As Madanach nodded his head slightly, Parax turned back towards the gate and exited the King in Rags's quarters. Upon re-entering the room with the small campfire, Rellik prepared to get up to ask about what he had learned. However, he received no answers; instead, Parax simply walked by him, motioned for him to stay put, and proceeded down a passageway to the right.

He could've killed Madanach there, whether the Forsworn leader knew it or not. However, now was not the time; he had a way out of Cidhna Mine, after all. That was more than what Thonar was offering him, and even then, Parax had no idea whether Thonar would show any gratitude anyways. So all he could do now was play Madanach's game and earn his way out. He would speak to Braig and earn Madanach's trust, then he would be free from Cidhna Mine.

Madanach was a smart man; he didn't need to turn around or even listen to Parax's movements to know that he was ready to kill him. It was as if the Breton had predicted everything, like he was waiting for this exact moment to happen. With his bold attack on Thonar's own home, it became clear that he was only in Cidhna Mine on his own will, biding his time, testing his boundaries while the Forsworn grew stronger. Now that he knew Thonar was coming after him, Madanach knew it was time to leave Cidhna Mine, and chances were he had a way too. He didn't seem like the kind of person who would think of a way out after all the things he had done.

Perhaps it was related to something Parax had noticed on his way to Madanach's room. When he was paying a visit to the King in Rags, he spotted a pile of rocks off to the side. It didn't seem like it was just a bunch of stones thrown on top of each other, though; they were strategically placed, like they were covering something up. Perhaps the Forsworn had found another way out of Cidhna Mine besides the way they were thrown in. And chances were that there was something about it that only they knew about. Something that meant Parax couldn't kill them just yet. Whatever it was, he just had to play his cards right and he would be out. Granted, so would the prisoners, but they would be thinking he was one of them at that point, and they would be long dead by the time they realized they made a mistake.

Parax reached the end of the passageway, where he found the one man to have been in Cidhna Mine just as long as Madanach. Braig was slumped up against a vein of silver ore, his long, light hair covering his eyes. He apparently took notice of the Argonian approaching him, but he didn't seem to care enough to move. Still, he let out a grunt to inform Parax that he acknowledged him.

"Madanach sent me. He sas that you have a story to tell me."

"My story, huh? Everyone in Cidhna Mine has a tale," Braig replied. "Let's hear yours first. When was the first time you felt chains around your wrists?"

"Far back, but more recently I was in Helgen," said Parax. "I was being sent to the executioner."

"So you know what it's like to have your life in someone else's hands. Why should they get to decide? Isn't judgment for the gods?" Braig sighed. "Any family?"

"Some… but they're far from here."

Braig continued, "I had a daughter, once. She'd be 23 this year. Married to some hot-headed silver worker or maybe on her own learning the herb trade. The Nords didn't care who was and who wasn't involved in the Forsworn Uprising. I had spoken to Madanach once, that was enough." Tears began forming in Braig's eyes. "But my little Aethra didn't want to see her papa leave her. She pleaded to the Jarl to take her instead. And after they made me watch as her head rolled off the block, they threw me in here anyway, to dig up their silver!"

"I'm sorry," Parax sympathized. He walked closer and put a hand on Braig's shoulder. "But that doesn't right what you've done to the innocent."

"I'm not Madanach! I was never a leader of the Forsworn. The only anger I can justify is my own. But every family in the Reach has a story like mine. There are no innocent onlookers in this struggle. Just the guilty, and the dead."

"Then again, my sincere apologies for what happened to you."

"My daughter is the one who needs your pity. My only regret is not killing more Nords before I was locked up."

"Sorry." His habitual politeness got the better of him three times in a row.

Parax sighed as he stood back up. For a moment, he actually almost pitied Braig; he went through a lot, and the atrocities committed years ago were unforgivable. Still, that didn't justify the sprees of murder performed indiscriminately on the Reach's population. To Parax, Braig was just another Forsworn, no different from the raiders he had encountered in separate parts of the Reach. Just another angry Reachman who thought killing everything that wasn't a Breton would bring back their home. Parax didn't have time for this, or Madanach's attempts to emotionally manipulate him. But alas, he was forced to keep this under wraps as he returned to Madanach, as intent on killing him as when he entered—despite Borkul's protesting, he proceeded on to the private cell. This time, Rellik had been allowed to join him.

"Imagine hearing a story like that, over and over," Madanach said, clearly attempting to feed on the duo's remorse. "Each time a different family, each time a different injustice. Your meddling above ground reminded me of how removed I've been from the struggle. My men and I should be in the hills, fighting."

"So, what exactly is your plan to get out?" Parax asked.

"I need a show of loyalty from you. I don't need a shiv in the back while we break out. Have you met Grisvar the Unlucky? He's rightly named, and he's also a thief and a snitch. He's outlived his minor usefulness. Take care of him, and then we can leave Cidhna Mine for good. Can your friend here be trusted to make the right decision?"

"Rellik's just as eager as I am to get out of here," replied Parax. "He won't be any trouble."

Once again, Parax exited Madanach's quarters, this time with Rellik accompanying him. They went on through the mine, wandering the ore-filled passageways in search of Grisvar. They soon found him by a wagon, loading chunks of silver ore from a pile into it. He seemed a tad surprised to see the two, but Parax's presence allowed him to relax a little.

"I take it your friend here also needs a shiv?" Grisvar asked, still somewhat uneasy. Parax continued walking towards him. "Do you have more skooma? One bottle and I'll fashion another for you."

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry," replied Parax. "Madanach says hello."

"What? No, no, don't kill me, please!" Grisvar pleaded.

Before the Nord could do anything, Parax had already swiped a shiv from his pockets and stuck it into his side. He tossed another to Rellik as he shoved the man in his direction; the Orc hesitated for a good three seconds as his companion struggled with Grisvar, then finished the latter off with a quick slash to the throat. The man attempted to mutter something as he gurgled on his own blood, but simply collapsed onto the ground and stayed there, motionless. The two said nothing as they turned back to speak to Madanach. They returned to the Breton's room to report their actions.

"You've finally become one of us," Madanach said, congratulating the two. "Come with me. I think it's time I announced my plans to you and your new brothers."

Madanach got out of his chair and walked out of the room; Parax and Rellik followed him, and they soon found themselves in the room where they met Uraccen and Borkul. Surrounding the campfire, the other prisoners were gathered. They all had distressed looks on their faces.

"What's going on, Madanach?" Uraccen asked. "You wouldn't have old Grisvar killed unless you weren't planning on needing him."

"My brothers, we have been here long enough. It's time to leave Cidhna Mine and continue our fight against the Nords," Madanach announced. He then pointed at the gate near his room. "Through this gate, just beside my quarters, is a tunnel. A tunnel that leads right through the old Dwarven ruins of Markarth, into the city. Well, what do you say, my brothers?"

"The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!" the prisoners shouted.

Madanach turned back to Parax and Rellik. "I say you've earned an early pardon. Let's go."

"Where exactly did this tunnel come from?" Parax asked.

"It's a little gift from the dwarves," Madanach answered. "Who knew they would end up helping our cause? We have to move. We'll talk more once we see the sky."

Parax and Rellik followed the Forsworn back through the gate; the group proceeded to remove the rocks that had been piled up. As Madanach said, there was a tunnel sealed with a gate; the King in Rags inserted a key into it and turned it. The gate opened, and Madanach led his followers into the tunnel. They went through a gold-colored, metal door, and found themselves in the ruins underneath Markarth. Advancing deeper in, the group walked through a long, rock hallway. Decorating the walls were odd markings, metal vents of some sort, and glowing crystals locked in metal cages. This was the first time Parax had gotten to see the work of the Dwemer, and now he was already interested in it. He wondered what kind of advancements the legendary, subterranean elves had made compared to the current technologies of Nirn, and how they made them. Perhaps someone in Markarth could tell him more.

At the end of the tunnel, the ruins became less impressive. They had been broken away and in their place was a large, cave-like room, filled with giant spider webs. Parax already knew where this was going; he readied his shiv. The other prisoners did the same, understanding what Parax expected. The group advanced slowly through the room, looking around the room carefully for frostbite spiders; all they could hear were the loud footsteps made by the monstrosities. Madanach, being one of the many Forsworn capable of magic, cast an orb of light into the air, revealing to the group countless frostbite spiders.

"Don't. Make. Any. Sudden. Movements," Parax quietly said.

The group slowly and silently walked across the room towards one of the tunnels, but their hopes were crushed when one of the larger spiders dropped from the ceiling, landing on Duach. Madanach launched a lightning bolt at the spider, but yet another landed near the group. One-by-one, more and more frostbite spiders were falling from the ceiling to attack their prey. Madanach and the other Forsworn launched bolts of lightning and fire, while Parax and Rellik slashed at the spiders with their shivs. The group was obviously outnumbered, and time was running out. Parax grabbed Madanach and Rellik, pulling them into the tunnel on the other side of the room. Any surviving Forsworn quickly followed; most of the frostbite spiders were too big to fit into the tunnel, and the few that were small enough were quickly killed by the Forsworn.

At the end of the tunnel, the group stopped to admire the next room they were in. It was one of the few ruins under the city that wasn't destroyed yet. Parax took the time to examine the Dwemer markings and statues around the room; it truly was a sight to see, but there wouldn't be much time to savor it. One of the Dwemer creations was alive! It looked like a gold, thin statue of sorts, with a large sphere base. Inside the sphere were several gears and wheels, and the construct was literally armed with a crossbow and blade. Braig was the first to see it, and quickly launched a spike of ice from his hand. The spike tore off one of the construct's arms, and it responded by firing its crossbow at Braig, landing a bolt in his arm. Borkul, meanwhile, had charged the construct, beating it down with his bare hands. With the threat gone, Madanach led the group across the large platform they were on, descended a nearby staircase, and ran through a tunnel at the bottom. At the end of it, a Forsworn woman was waiting for the group. She was standing next to several chests.

"Madanach. I've brought what you asked for," said the Forsworn.

"Good work," said Madanach. He turned to Parax and Rellik. "Get ready while I have a word with our favorite outsiders."

The woman pointed towards the chests. The prisoners dug through them, taking clothing made from bones and fur; they looked exactly like the garb Parax had seen on the primitive Bretons from Drudach's Redoubt. Madanach approached Parax and Rellik, dragging two of the chests over to them.

"I had Kaie recover all the things the Nords stole from you," said Madanach, stepping away from the chests. "You better get ready before we break out into the city. And take this. It's blessed with the old magicks. Something to remember me by. Time to finally see the sky, and make it rain red."

Parax and Rellik opened the chests; each one had their possessions. Every single item that they had prior to their arrest. In addition, each chest contained Forsworn armor, but the sets had a slight, red tint to them. They must've been enchanted, unlike the armor he had seen on other Forsworn. Just Madanach trying to buy their loyalty.

"So what happens now?" Parax asked, putting his old fur armor on. He folded the Forsworn garb up, tying the gloves and boots to his waist. The body armor was hung around his lower body like a waist cape, and the deer skull that served as a helmet was tied to his back like a hood that had been pulled down. The rest of the prisoners were mostly dressed now and began to put on their boots.

"Now? I announce to all of Markarth that I have returned," Madanach replied. "Don't worry about your name. They'll know who to blame and fear after today. It'll take years, but I'll organize the Forsworn again. We'll reclaim our land, and then, when power is ours, we'll have peace. A kingdom. Until then, let me offer you a warning: beware the Forsworn. No place in the Reach is safe from us now. You can meet us at Drudach's Redoubt if you ever want to see how things are going."

Not if I have anything to say about it.

Parax made sure Rellik was fully equipped in his armor. The Argonian suddenly raised two knives and flung them across the room; the blades stuck in Kaie and Uraccen—the former straight through the back of her mouth, and the latter in the heart—dropping the two Forsworn flat on their faces.

"What are you doing?!" Madanach shouted, quickly picking up a sword lined with sharpened bones.

"Stopping you."

Madanach lunged at Parax, swinging his sword at the outsider. Parax quickly countered it with his Skyforge steel sword and dodged the next slash. Parax grabbed Madanach and flung him behind him, dropping the Forsworn leader off the dirt platform they were on. Madanach climbed back to his feet and ordered the other Forsworn to attack; the murderous group unsheathed their blades and readied their magic. Parax and Rellik dodged the Forsworn warriors' lightning bolts and ice spikes before jumping off the platform themselves. The two ran back into the tunnel and into the stone room with the dead dwarven construct, followed closely by Madanach and the Forsworn, their chants echoing throughout the ruins.

Parax and Rellik quickly hid in the room under the large, stone platform. From behind the walls, they listened for the Forsworn that entered the room, searching for the two. One of the former prisoners—Odvan—peered into the room, and was promptly impaled by Rellik's blade. The other Forsworn were immediately alerted to the duo's location and and promptly closed in. Escaping the room under the platform through another gap, the two surprise-attacked the Forsworn, cutting down Braig. Rellik threw Madanach into Borkul, and the duo ran up the stairs and onto the top of the platform, ready for the grand finale with their newfound enemies. Madanach and Borkul were the last two Forsworn standing, ready to crack Parax and Rellik's skulls.

"I think I'll take my fellow mastermind," Parax said, walking over to Madanach.

"You won't leave here alive," Madanach growled, clutching his sword.

"You can tell that to the countless others who got in the way," replied Parax. "Say hello to Nepos for me." He looked down at one of his pockets to see a black soul gem sticking out, then smirked at Madanach. "Oh, right."

Madanach took a swing at Parax, who quickly caught his fist. Parax shoved the King in Rags backwards, while Rellik and Borkul began dueling. Madanach drew his sword and slashed at Parax; the blade was swiftly blocked by the self-proclaimed mastermind. Parax returned the attack, striking Madanach on the leg with his Skyforge steel sword and kicking him into the wall behind him. Parax then lunged at Madanach, who narrowly avoided being stabbed by the Argonian. Lusting for revenge, Madanach punched Parax in the face and pushed him onto his back. The King in Rags then launched lightning at his opponent, who easily blocked them with a warding spell. Meanwhile, Rellik had thrown Borkul in Parax's direction; the Argonian rolled out of the way, and Borkul crashed into Madanach. By now, Madanach's fury had come to fuel his persistence and lethality; he unleashed a frenzy of fireballs at the duo, only to be interrupted by Parax firing an ice spike into his hand.

"Didn't see that one coming, didya?" Parax said, chuckling. "You're not the only one with magic."

Parax rushed up to Madanach and Borkul, punching the latter in the face. Madanach swung his fist at Parax, who quickly dodged the punch. As a result, the Breton accidentally hit the already-stunned Borkul. Parax punched Madanach in the crotch and sprinted out of the way as Rellik sent a surge of power in the Forsworn leaders' direction. Fus. Ro. Dah. Madanach and Borkul were sent flying and rolled down the staircase. Borkul broke his neck, and Madanach was left covered in deep cuts.

"Why… Why would you do this?" Madanach demanded, trying to crawl.

"I understand your situation, Madanach. Really, I do. You have your points, yes. It was your home, and it was forcibly taken by the Nords. Your fellows were butchered and tortured by Ulfric and his followers. You were forbidden from worshipping your gods. Somewhat ironic, given the civil war going on. However, you have gone farther than necessary. You and the Forsworn. You've become terrorists."

Parax motioned to Rellik, who nocked an arrow.

"You've become so… consumed by your anger. By your lust for vengeance. Braig said the Nords didn't care who was Forsworn and who was innocent. Likewise, you don't care who stands in your way or not. You make no distinction. You plan to paint the walls with the blood of anyone who isn't one of you. Even the innocent. You've teamed up with... hagravens." Parax shuddered at the word. "We understand your position. I fully sympathize with you. But you've gone too far."

Rellik pulled back the arrow, ready to fire.

"I've looked into your kind. Sacrifices to the Daedra. Raids. Blatant hostility. Your honeyed words don't convince me, never did," Parax continued, his speech pattern speeding up, "but I can assure you this: you will have your revenge. You just won't be there to see it. I'll tell Thonar you said hi."

Rellik released the arrow; it stuck in between Madanach's eyes, ending the life of the King in Rags. Parax searched the Forsworn leader's body, confiscating his notes, journal, and even the key he used earlier. After insisting that he just liked to collect keys, Parax headed towards the tunnel, but stopped when he heard someone groaning in pain. Parax walked over to the source to see Braig lying on the ground.

"Likewise, I'll tell the one responsible for your daughter's death the same thing," Parax assured the dying Forsworn. "If it means anything, I'm sorry." With that, the Argonian released a jolt of electricity into Braig; the charge was high enough to kill the Forsworn quickly and painlessly. "Well, let's be off, I guess. Riften, was it?"


12:09 PM. Parax and Rellik emerged from the ruins, accompanied by a Markarth city guard. Outside the ruins waited Thonar Silver-Blood and several more guards.

"My eyes inside Cidhna Mine tell me that Madanach is dead," said Thonar. Parax sighed and rolled his eyes. "You've done a great service to the Silver-Blood family. I've had the Jarl officially pardon you, and taken care of a few other loose ends."

"You had your thugs lock us up," Parax replied. Rellik chuckled to himself.

"And you've proven that was the best move I could have made," Thonar said. "Don't give me that look. You're free to go. Here, how about a little token for your efforts? My family's ring, and you can keep all the things the guards confiscated from you when you were jailed. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out how we're going to fill our recently emptied mine."

Thonar walked away, leaving Parax and Rellik to continue with their plans. The two took a moment to check up on their supplies and pay a final goodbye to Margret, then proceeded to exit the city. They headed on down to the stables to retrieve the horses they left there earlier, now fed and refreshed. Before either of them climbed up onto their mounts, however, Parax could tell Rellik had a question he had been meaning to ask.

"Go on, speak," the Argonian said. "You don't need my permission."

"What about Thonar?" Rellik asked.

"We'll deal with him later," answered Parax. "Give him some time to remedy the issues in the Reach and clear our records completely. Next time we're in Markarth, we'll pay him a little visit."

Well, that escalated quickly…Edit

2:09 PM, 9th of Hearthfire. The Ragged Flagon. Mercer had apparently departed the Guild's homebase, having business to attend to as he awaited the return of Parax and Rellik. According to Brynjolf, he had gone off to speak with numerous contacts in the surrounding areas and had been absent from the Ragged Flagon for several hours. With nothing else to attend to, the two went about their business, with Rellik dropping down onto one of the two newest beds—recently installed for the Guild's newest members. Parax, on the other hand, took a seat at the Guildmaster's desk, claiming Mercer's chair. He sat there for some time, reminiscing on the past few hours he had been experiencing, skipping ahead to the more memorable parts.




Parax sat at one of the chairs in the mead hall of Jorrvaskr. The sounds of mugs clanging and battle cries fit only for the Companions rang throughout the building. At long last, it was time for Rellik to have his long-overdue celebration as he was officially appointed as Harbinger of the Companions. Indeed, it was one of the grandest parties Parax had attended during his Tamrielic adventures, and certainly anybody in Whiterun would agree. Not just the attending Companions, but even the other citizens of Whiterun; those living closest to Jorrvaskr had great trouble sleeping over the noise.

Despite this, Parax didn't seem to be a part of the celebration. He was present, granted, and he was happy to speak with the other Companions, but he didn't actively take part in the whole thing. He was tired, his body aching from the beating the guards gave him, not to mention all the running around in Markarth and Cidhna Mine. Fortunately, his lycanthropy numbed most of the pain and enabled him to stay awake after everything, but he nonetheless didn't feel very active. And so he simply sat in a chair, gazing into the fireplace in the middle of Jorrvaskr, piecing together recent events from Markarth, as well as Karliah and her motivations for undermining the Guild. Rellik was surprisingly fine, energetically telling stories of his and Parax's run-ins in Markarth and competing with Aela and Farkas in archery and swordplay.

"I still can't believe it," commented a young woman. Parax turned his head slightly in acknowledgement, identifying the speaker as Njada Stonearm. She had removed her hide helmet for the party, allowing her silvery hair to drop down to the bottom of her neck in the back. "You two just show up, and a few days later, one of you's already the new Harbinger!"

"Eh, I've seen more surprising things in my years," Parax said in a somewhat monotone voice. At this point, he was just responding to her, but his mind was elsewhere. "You could learn a thing or two from him."

"What guidance could he offer me?" Njada scoffed. "He wasn't even here for two weeks before he got it, then you guys just disappeared on us."

"He may have been new, but clearly there was something Kodlak saw in him," replied Parax. He thought back to the old man's journal; when he read it during the funeral, he learned that Kodlak had apparently been having visions of sorts depicting Rellik as some grand hero. Evidently the visions featured them fighting the forces of evil and saving the countless souls trapped in Hircine's realm. "Otherwise he never would've achieved the position in the first place. Again, that's where you use this as a chance to learn from him instead of sitting here, being angry at him."

The Argonian proceeded to get out of his chair, walking over to another side of the room and plopping himself down in another. His reasoning was the same as it was for not paying much attention to Njada: she was overall one of the more arrogant members of the Companion. Skilled, but arrogant and severely lacking basic manners. He preferred to keep his distance from the rude, having an extremely low tolerance for them; sarcasm was fine, but unyielding, undeserved rudeness often provoked his personal brand of justice.




"Oi lad, Mercer's back," Brynjolf said, interrupting Parax's flashback. He jolted him back to the real world with a friendly jerk of the shoulder. "You'll probably want to get out of his chair." He paused for a moment, taking a sip of the Black-Briar mead in his hand. "That look you're making says there's something wrong. What is it you had for Mercer again?"

"Does 'Karliah' ring a bell?" Parax answered.

Brynjolf had been taking another sip of his mead when Parax responded. The name seemed to hit him like the strike of a bear, as he suddenly reeled back, jerked his head to the side, and sprayed his mead everywhere. "Karliah?! Mercer's gonna have a heart attack. Now you definitely want to get out of his chair."

As the Nord said this, the sounds of footsteps approaching rapidly sounded out across the floor of the cistern. Mercer had approached the desk and motioned for Parax to get out of his chair, which the Argonian proceeded to do. The Breton moved behind the desk and began looking through several notes. A map of Skyrim was laid out in front of him, with numerous markings on areas formerly associated with the Thieves Guild. Rellik had also come to the desk, having finished his power nap and now being far more aware of his environment. The Orc's eyes were more widely open, and he seemed more interested in what was going to happen next instead of wanting to get it over with like he usually did.

Mercer was clearly anxious from the moment he walked into the cistern. Hell, his sudden departure before Parax and Rellik could return made that apparent. Whatever was going on right now, it was getting the Guildmaster riled up; be it from a realization—or at least an idea—of who was behind all this, or perhaps fear of Maven's wrath for the consecutive failures to stop it, Mercer had grown desperate.

Still, it seemed that he only had a couple hints as to the culprit behind Goldenglow, as he stared up at the duo like he was expecting an explanation. Parax had dragged Rellik off to the other side of Skyrim for reasons beyond the Orc's understanding, after all. Then again, Mercer always had that kind of expression—the annoyed, irritable kind that matched his voice. Maybe he didn't know what was going on and was simply fearing for the Guild's descent to rock bottom.

"Did Gulum-Ei give up any information on our buyer?" Mercer asked. He looked up and eyed Parax expectantly. Much to the Argonian's surprise and relief, he didn't seem to care about his lateness.

"Yes," replied Parax. "Our friend in Solitude said Goldenglow Estate was purchased by a… 'Karliah', I believe it was."

Mercer continued to stare at the two with the same expression, like he was still registering the response. After a few seconds, he muttered, "…No… it can't be…" Despite the tone of his voice, the man seemed to have already anticipated this. By the way he was acting, however, it also seemed that he wasn't going to lose his cool in front of the other Guild members. He had to have known quite a bit about Karliah to have seen this coming. "I haven't heard that name in decades… This is grave news, indeed. She's someone I hoped not to cross paths with again."

"Gulum-Ei also said she was a murderer," said Rellik.

"Karliah destroyed everything the Guild stood for," Mercer replied. He let out a loud sigh and looked back down at the slip of paper from Goldenglow, which was sitting on the desk. "She murdered my predecessor in cold blood and betrayed the Guild. After we discovered what she'd done, we spent months trying to track her down. But she just vanished."

Parax raised an eyebrow and contemplated the statement for a moment. "And she just came back, just like that, all to undermine us?"

"Karliah and I were like partners," Mercer said. "I went with her on every heist. We watched each other's backs. I know her techniques, her skills… if she kills me, there'll be no one left that could possibly catch her." Mercer started pacing around his desk. "If only we knew where she was…"

"'Where the end began' should hold some sort of importance to you," Parax mentioned. "Any idea what it means?"

"There's only one place that could be," said Mercer. "The place where she murdered Gallus. A ruin called Snow Veil Sanctum. We have to go out there before she disappears again."

"We?" Rellik asked. Despite his sudden interest in the next adventure, he was surprised by the statement. "You mean the whole Guild, right?"

"No—we're not leaving this place unoccupied and at the mercy of our enemies. I'm going with you two and together we're going to kill her," Mercer declared. He slid a large pouch of coins across his desk. "Here's your payment for Solitude. Prepare yourself and meet me at the ruins as soon as you can. We can't let her slip through our fingers."

Parax and Rellik held their maps out and had Mercer mark the location of the ruins on them. The Guildmaster then began searching his private chest at the foot of his desk to prepare himself for the journey. Meanwhile, Brynjolf told Parax and Rellik that Tonilia had a new of Guild armor for each of them. After fetching the armor from her, Parax and Rellik agreed that they still had time before Mercer would be ready. With this in mind, they each accepted some contracts from Vex—the blonde Guild member who tried to intervene in Parax's encounter with Dirge—and Delvin, in order to become more popular in the business. As one of the jobs Parax received was in Windhelm, he decided to pay Aventus a visit on the way.


1:31 AM, 11th of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik were traveling to the location Mercer marked. Soon enough, they came across what looked like ancient Nord ruins—in this case, a large dome of stone, just enough of a slope to scale. At the top was a circular gap with a series of stone steps sticking out of the round wall, allowing entry to an open chamber with an iron door. A bloodstain was present on the door, apparently surviving in the harsh conditions of Skyrim's snowstorm-covered northern coast. Nearby was a camp and a dead horse with its head almost completely severed, hanging off the neck by a flap of skin. The camp's tent was tattered from numerous sword slashes, and the campfire had been stamped out. What used to be small containers of food and drink had been smashed and scattered about the area, littering the snow-covered hill.

When the two had finally arrived at the ruins, they found that they were alone, with nothing but the numbing cold and howling of the wind to keep them company. Or so they thought, until Mercer came stepping out from behind a collapsed stone pillar. He had been wiping his gold-colored dwarven sword with a handkerchief, implying he had only just gotten to the place and made short work of the campsite outside. He had taken to wearing baggier clothing over his usual Thieves Guild uniform, having a fur coat wrapped around his body and covering his entire head, save his face. Likewise, Parax was warming himself with a warmth spell being used in short, controlled bursts to heat the air around him. Rellik didn't seem to have that much trouble with the cold temperature, but he did shiver every now and then. Fortunately for him, he had donned a set of leather armor to be lighter on his feet—as was required for the kind of business hand Parax had gotten into. He had also wrapped himself in some fur garments crudely fastened together for warmth, as well as stuffing more fur into the steel gauntlets and boots that were now missing their accompanying body armor.

"Good, you're finally here," Mercer said. "I've scouted the ruins and I'm certain Karliah is still inside."

"Have you seen her?" Parax asked, shivering slightly. He was ready to just go inside already—at least there was the chance of it being somewhat warmer than where he was now. At least, that's how it was like at Ysgramor's tomb a few miles north of Snow Veil Sanctum: cold on the outside, reasonably warm on the inside.

"No, I found her horse," Mercer replied. "Don't worry, I've taken care of it... she won't be using it to escape."

No shit.

"Let's get moving, I want to catch her inside while she's distracted," he continued. Then he did something that neither of the two expected; he motioned his hand to the side, towards the ruins. "Take the lead."

"Beg pardon?" Parax commented. "Aren't you the one who knows this more than we do?"

"I'm sorry, I was under the impression I was in charge," Mercer responded sarcastically. "You're leading and I'm following. Does that seem clear to you?"

Parax glanced at Rellik for a split second, immediately noticing that the Orc was just as suspicious as him. Mercer had to have known that the two may very well be killed because of this. Then again, they shouldn't have expected anything better from a selfish thief, let alone the leader of the Thieves Guild. Still, there wasn't going to be any reasoning with Mercer, and so Parax simply decided to play along. At least now he would be more cautious of his situation, ready for whatever surprise was headed his way.

"…Understood."

He could pretty much feel Rellik's surprise at his reaction. The Orc had been traveling with Parax for about a month at this point; he had gotten used to the adventurous Argonian's more confrontational personality. He was well aware that Parax had no qualms using deception if it meant getting the job done, but he was just as aware of his tendency to talk down individuals who were behaving as Mercer did. Despite this, Rellik said nothing and simply waited for Mercer to turn his back towards the ruins so that Parax could in turn face Rellik. The Orc gave his companion a nod to signify that he trusted in whatever plan he had up his sleeve for this. Truth was, Parax didn't exactly have a plan at this moment.

"Just make certain you keep your eyes open," Mercer instructed. "Karliah is as sharp as a blade. The last thing I need is you blundering into a trap and warning her that we're here."

"How did Gallus die, anyways?" Parax asked. He made sure to conceal his suspicion from the Breton.

"Twenty-five years ago, I was standing outside these very same ruins. Gallus told me to meet here, but he wouldn't say why," answered Mercer. "When I arrived, Gallus stepped from the shadows. Before he uttered a sound, an arrow pierced his throat. Before I could even draw my blade, her second arrow found its mark in my chest."

"Both of you? She took on both of you guys on her own?" Rellik spoke up.

"Karliah was a master marksman. And her greatest weapon was the element of surprise. I was lucky… she missed my heart by mere inches. I staggered away from the ruins, and my vision began to blur. It was then that I realized the bitch had poisoned her arrows."

"And Gallus?" asked Parax.

"The last thing I saw was Karliah dumping his body into an opening atop the ruins; an unceremonious end for a remarkable man. To this day, I've regretted allowing her to escape. Even if it meant I would die trying. I meant Gallus that much…"

"Not the kind of brotherly love I'd expect from thieves," Rellik commented. He then muttered loud enough only for Parax to hear, "What's next—a pair of trolls dragged him to safety and nursed him back to health?"

"She was a stubborn Dunmer. Always had to do everything her way," said Mercer. "But she was also the best, bringing in more coin a month than some thieves heist in a year. Gallus trusted her too much and let her get close."

"They were together, then," the Orc deduced.

"If you want to call it that, yes. Me? I think she was softening him for the kill. Gallus would call her his 'little nightingale'. He was obviously smitten by her."

"So why would she kill him?" Parax asked.

"Greed? Jealousy? Spite? Who can say what her to such an iniquitous act? One thing's for certain: I intend to find out before she draws her last breath. Let's get going."

Bullshit. Parax could feel it. There was something Mercer was twisting about the story, but there was little he would be able to do now. Even though every fiber in Parax's being urged him to cut the Guildmaster down, that would accomplish nothing in the long run; he'd still have to explain his actions and then get to the bottom of this Karliah issue. It would be best to simply comply and keep his guard up.

Parax walked over to the entrance of the ruins, only to find them locked. Mercer approached the door and motioned for Parax to move.

"They say that these ancient Nordic burial mounds are sometimes impenetrable," Mercer mumbled, fiddling with the lock. "This one doesn't look too difficult. Quite simple really, I don't know what the fuss is about these locks. All it takes is a bit of know-how and a lot of skill." After a few seconds, a clicking sound could be heard as the door opened. "That should do it. After you."

Parax and Rellik walked into the ruins. Inside, the place looked like it was falling apart, and it reeked highly of decay. Granted, practically every Nordic ruin the two had gone exploring in was like that as well, but it just seemed to be more noticeable in this particular one. On the bright side, it was better than the freezing cold outside the place. Either way, they were going to have to put up with their senses laid numb for a while.

"The stench in here... this place smells of death," Mercer groaned with a look of disgust on his face. His face pinched and his eyes squinted, and it seemed like he was going to vomit. Parax was surprised to see that he and Rellik had a higher tolerance for this sort of thing than Mercer.

Parax smirked and crept up to the Breton, leaning in closely to say something. He didn't particularly like Mercer, nor did he often have the opportunity to jab him with one of his typical comments; now it was his turn to mess around with the Guildmaster. "Do you fear stench?"

"Just keep your guard up," Mercer growled, pushing Parax's face away from him.

The trio crept down a staircase to find themselves in a burial room. Coffins and urns lined the walls, and a single chest was in the middle. However, there was one thing about the ruins that annoyed Parax the most: a dead draugr was lying on the floor, next to the chest. Parax and Rellik proceeded to loot the corpse, chest, and urns, and began to walk across the room. Suddenly, loud knocking could be heard from two of the coffins; within seconds, they opened, and a draugr walked out of each one.

"I hate these things," Parax complained.

The two draugr rushed the group; Parax easily put it down with a burst of fire, while Rellik and Mercer disarmed and eviscerated the other. The trio walked into the door on the other side of the room, and surveyed the area; bodies were lying around, and a blood splatter was near a pull chain across the room. Obviously, the chain was a trigger to the locked door next to it just as it was one to the large, spiked trap nearby; the insidious device was meant to swing towards the chain and crush or disembowel whoever was unfortunate enough to not move quickly.

"Pull the chain over there, and watch out for the spikes," Mercer said, pointing at the pull chain. "Looks like Karliah reset all of the traps."

Parax walked over to the pull chain and picked up a greatsword from one of the corpses. He stuck the blade into the ring at the end of the chain from afar and tugged; the chain went down with ease, unlocking the door. Parax swiftly jumped away from the chain as the spiked trap swung in his direction, missing him completely. The trio then continued on into the catacombs of the ruins.

Behind the door, the thieves found themselves in a series of connected hallways; there was a strong scent of oil throughout the hallway, but Parax did not see any. Each intersection of the area had a single, dormant and heavily armored draugr. Parax signaled Rellik, who fired an arrow at the draugr across from them; it pierced the eye of the undead monster, which simply slumped over, dead. As they advanced, Parax took notice of a locked door and quickly picked it. He took whatever he could find in the room behind the door, namely potions of healing and magic. In the meantime, Rellik and Mercer disabled the beartraps lying around the hallways and stealthily killed the single draugr patrolling.

Unfortunately, the three unintentionally woke up one of the resting draugr, which in turn called upon its brethren. The four undead monsters charged at the trio; Mercer cut one of them down with ease with his dwarven sword, while Parax forced his way through the crowd and left Rellik to help the Guildmaster. Having finally found the oil he was smelling, he realized that it was coating the floor of this particular hallway. Telling the others to run, Parax launched a fireball across the room; it landed on the oil at the end of the hallway, setting it alight. Parax, Rellik, and Mercer just barely managed to avoid being roasted alive, though the draugr were not as lucky. The three waited for the flames to clear before continuing onward.

By the time the trio had gotten through the charred hallways and into another room, they found themselves introduced to even more of the ancient Nords' traps.

"Bone chimes… clever," Mercer noted. "Rigged to wake the draugr I'd bet. Don't blunder into any of them."

The three carefully made their way across the room, making sure to avoid the bone chimes hanging from the ceiling to the floor. On the other side, they pulled a chain, opening the gate next to it. In the next room, the three found themselves in the company of five heavily-armored draugr, and even a Word Wall across from them.

"Well… this is going to be fun," Rellik said.


2:46 AM. It had taken the group about an hour of fighting the draugr and solving puzzles, but the trio was getting deeper and deeper into the ruins; soon, they would either reach the farthest reaches, or find Karliah—whichever came first. Still, it's not like it was going to be a flawless, normal exploration through the ancient Nordic catacombs. Then again, none of the escapades Parax and Rellik ever went through were things that would be deemed "normal"—murder, tomb-diving, dragonslaying, and general mischief weren't exactly ordinary practices. But for these two, it was just another day, with the added bonus of a third party to accompany them. It was actually sort of amusing—Mercer demanded caution, yet continuously set off traps. He urged silence as he angered the sleeping draugr. It was like he had never even stepped foot inside of a Nordic ruin before; maybe he wasn't as cunning as the two had concluded earlier.

They found themselves in the last hallway, but at the end was one of the ancient Nords' "claw doors", which Parax recognized from Bleak Falls Barrow. However, he did not have the proper claw key to bypass the door. It wasn't likely that someone else had removed it from the tomb, given the dangers of Nordic ruins. Granted, sometimes people were able to do this, but it was still a very slim chance for those less skilled in combat or stealth like Parax and Rellik were.

Then again, there was something Parax had noticed about some of the draugr that inhabited Snow Veil Sanctum: they had fresh wounds. Yes, even the somewhat-preserved, decomposing walking corpses that were the draugr could have something about them that was somewhat fresh. By the looks of things, the creatures had been struck with arrows that were shortly thereafter removed, with the occasional slash of a well-sharpened sword. Perhaps Karliah had taken the key on one of her runs through the place and sealed herself behind the door in front of the group. It must've been some time since she gave her cryptic hint to Gulum-Ei, considering it would've had to have taken a week or so for the draugr to resurrect. They were walking into a trap, but at least they would be wary now.

"Ah, it's one of the infamous Nordic puzzle doors," Mercer mumbled casually. "How quaint."

"Any idea what we're going to do now?" Parax asked, examining the door.

"Without the matching claw, they're normally impossible to open," replied Mercer. "And since I'm certain Karliah already did away with it, we're on our own."

"Wonderful," Parax said sarcastically.

"Fortunately, these doors have a weakness if you know how to exploit it. Quite simple, really." Mercer walked over to the door and began to fiddle with the lock, his back covering up whatever he was doing from Parax and Rellik.

If Mercer was blundering about this tomb, then how exactly was he so damn good at picking ancient Nord locks? Nobody—not even the Thieves Guild—could've been doing what Mercer was doing. One does not simply figure out how to pick an entirely different locking mechanism as quickly as the Guildmaster did, and no amount of experience with the settlements across the world could've possibly helped him. The two had, for a moment, been assuming Mercer was just not as smart as they thought after watching his work whilst exploring the stone tunnels, but they were once again having doubts. One minute he seemed like he was playing then, then the next he looked clumsy and unprofessional. On the other hand, he could've just learned how to mess with the locks on a past trip, given his past with the place, but that still seemed unlikely.

"Karliah's close. I'm certain of it," Mercer said. "Now let's get moving."

Parax was growing more suspicious of Mercer every second now. What was that slight error he detected in the Guildmaster's story? What the hell was Mercer up to? It looked like he was about to find out, and when he did, he would be ready. He anticipated betrayal. The circular claw key door slid downward and allowed entry into another stone chamber, only to be greeted by a harsh cold wind and the sound of an arrow striking something above them. Water could be heard splashing downward, and immediately the one torch lighting the place up went out. The three quickly maneuvered out from under the water to avoid getting splashed—not just because they didn't want to be wet, but to also avoid hypothermia. Parax didn't have enough time to summon his bound sword, instead opting for the Skyforge steel sword strapped on his back. He stood in front of Mercer, with Rellik standing beside the Guildmaster and preparing his own Skyforge steel sword.

"Come out here, you traitor!" Mercer shouted as he drew his blade again. Suddenly, a whizzing sound closed in on the trio, followed by a schunk as a sharp pain accompanying a golden glimmer started at Parax's gut and spread across his entire torso. An arrow had lodged itself into him.

"Son of a-" Parax grunted. The pain of the arrow hitting him wasn't as sharp now, but remained present as a feeling of nausea overcame him. His body went numb and limp right after another jolt of pain, this time the feeling of the arrow being ripped out of him. As Parax fell to the ground, he heard another flesh-piercing sound next to him, and then Rellik went down as well. It was still dark, but his and Rellik's vision were better than any normal person's—a perk of being a lycanthrope. Unfortunately, his vision was blurry from what the arrow had done to him, and all he could see was a masculine figure stepping over him, steadily approaching another who appeared to be wielding a bow. Every time the archer fired an arrow, the other—Mercer—was somehow able to deflect it with ease.

"Do you honestly think your next arrow will reach me before my blade finds your heart?" Mercer asked, his sword still drawn. He was almost within striking distance of the other figure.

"Give me a reason to try," replied the voice of a woman in a sing-songy voice—she sounded like she was better off reciting lullabies than breaking into people's homes and storing their stuff away in a waterway. No doubt this was Karliah, the Dunmer thief he had heard so much about.

"You're a clever girl, Karliah," Mercer growled with a mixture of contempt and respect. "Buying Goldenglow Estate and funding Honningbrew Meadery was inspired."

"'To ensure an enemy's defeat, you must first undermine his allies.' It was the first lesson Gallus taught us," replied Karliah.

"You always were a quick study."

"Not quick enough, otherwise Gallus would still be alive."

Aaaand there's the final piece of the too-obvious-to-be-solved-quickly puzzle...

"Gallus had his wealth and he had you," Mercer retorted. "All he had to do was look the other way."

That son of a bitch, Parax thought. Even when he knew something was wrong with Mercer—even when he could smell the bullshit like he was actually on a freshly-fertilized farm—he was still unable to stop history from repeating itself. And now he and Rellik were powerless, sprawled out on the floor of some dusty old crypt. Now all he could do was hope that Karliah was as good as he had been told—that she would be able to put an end to Mercer right then and there. The only problem with that was that even though Gallus would finally be avenged, there would be no way to prove Karliah's innocence. When they got back to the Ragged Flagon, they would just end up looking like they were working with Karliah. Or they could just blame her again...

"Did you forget the Oath we took as Nightingales?" Karliah asked angrily. "Did you expect him to simply ignore your methods?"

"Enough of this mindless banter!" Mercer growled. He raised his blade with one hand and quickly unsheathed a dagger with his other. "Come, Karliah. It's time for you and Gallus to become reunited!"

"I'm no fool, Mercer," Karliah replied. And with that, she suddenly vanished. Not by ducking into the shadows for cover, like most masters of stealth would do, though. As in, she completely disappeared; Mercer still had his weapons ready, anticipating whatever trick she had up her sleeve. "Crossing blades with you alone would be a death sentence. But I can promise you that the next time we meet, it will be your undoing."

Parax could hear muffled footsteps getting quieter and quieter; Mercer, as if he could sense Karliah's presence dissipating, slowly turned back to face Parax and Rellik. He put away his dagger and simply looked at them, turning his head to face them separately like an automaton. He seemed a lot more slick in his movements, and appeared to be far more aware of his environment than earlier.

"How interesting. It appears Gallus's history has repeated itself," Mercer said, grinning. "Karliah has provided me with the means to be rid of you, and this ancient tomb becomes your final resting place."

I knew I was going to get myself killed someday—I just never expected it to be in the bowels of an old, decrepit tomb. The smell of blood would be better than the smell of decay.

"But do you know what intrigues me the most?" Mercer asked, sliding the blade of his sword along Parax's shoulder. "The fact that this was all possible because of you two. Farewell. I'll be certain to give Brynjolf your regards. After all, it's not like you two could've gotten this far without Karliah's help." He smiled as he fed on whatever lie he was going to use to blame the two for what transpired here.

With that, Mercer stabbed Rellik in the chest with his sword. Parax felt a jutting pain as the same happened to him; his vision got blurrier and darker, and he slowly slipped into unconsciousness.


8:53 AM. Parax's eyes shot open. His vision was blurred. His chest hurt. He felt heavily weakened, but forced himself up anyways. Instinct kicked in, and with it came the need to survive. For the next few seconds, it didn't matter where he was or how he got there, though wherever he was, it seemed very light out, and he could hear the crackling of fire nearby. He held his hand out and wrapped his fingers around the blurry image of a pale, ghostly sword handle, only to tumble over onto his side before he could do anything else. The pain started up again from his gut and he pressed his empty hands against it, writhing.

"Easy, easy. Don't get up so quickly," said a woman's voice. More specifically, the sing-songy voice of Karliah. "How are you feeling?"

Parax's vision returned to him. He looked around to see the Nordic ruins of Snow Veil Sanctum in the distance. He was back at Karliah's camp, and with him, the Dunmer thief herself, clothed in an old, worn out Thieves Guild uniform. Rips and tears were apparent, as well as numerous stains—grass, dirt, blood, food, drink, and so on. Under her warm hood were what Parax noticed to separate her from other Dunmer; her eyes were a bright purple color instead of red. Her hair was messy and knotted, hanging out of her hood in unkempt bunches. Rellik was nearby; he was just getting his upper body armor back on, covering up the stitched-up cut that Mercer had given as a parting gift. Parax looked down at his chest, where Mercer had left him an equally lethal wound; his fur garb was still on his body, but a recent rip in it had been recently sewn shut. Pulling his collar forward to take a look inside, he saw that his wound had also been stitched up.

That's going to leave a scar. Wait—this woman doesn't look the cleanest-

The Argonian swooped his hand down into one of his pockets and procured a disease-curing potion. He uncorked it and dumped the contents onto his wound, then let go of his collar and it snapped back into place as he sat up. Still reminded of the pain from his recently-acquired wounds, he looked up at Karliah and tilted his head to the side as he thought of her question. "Snow Veil Sanctum, remember? You shot me." His voice was dripping with sarcasm. It hurt to talk and breathe still, but he seemed to be used to the pain.

"No, I saved your lives," Karliah replied, smiling. She was sitting down on a battered wooden barrel.

"Yes, after you shot me," Parax insisted.

"My arrow was enchanted with a unique paralytic effect. It slowed your hearts and kept you from bleeding out," Karliah retorted. "Had I intended to kill you two, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Parax looked over at Rellik with an eyebrow raised, only for the Orc to return the look. It was like the two were communicating solely through facial expressions, saying things that only they would understand. One minute, one of them was glaring, while the other was smirking, then the other way around, then one would look surprised, and so on. Finally, Rellik sighed and tapped Karliah on the shoulder to get her attention.

"One flaw with your plan," the Orc stated, hunching over to look the Dunmer in the eye. "You see, by the sounds of things, you never intended to shoot us in the first place, nor did you expect Mercer to bring company. Yet now you're telling us that your plan was to shoot us all along, saving us from certain death?"

"Yes," replied Karliah confidently. "Initially, I was planning to use the arrow on Mercer, but I never had a clear shot—he was busy hiding behind your friend here. I made a split-second decision and saved both of you."

"What, so you just shot me instead?" Parax inquired, now standing. "You could've just admitted that it was too dark or something, but now you're portraying it as some convoluted plot of yours." This was unusual for Parax; for most of the adventures he and Rellik had been going through in Skyrim, the Argonian presented himself as near-stoic, never losing his cool. Now he had adopted a more angry attitude. His voice kept rising and his accent began switching between his usual Altmer one and some distant, unidentifiable kind. "Don't keep us in suspense, woman—this whole thing has been a complete fucking nightmare. Just tell us what the f-" He paused and rolled his eyes once, then he motioned for Karliah to speak.

"Maybe she did have some sort of plan formed when she shot you," Rellik commented, taking over the role of mediator. "What I can't wrap my head around was how she knew Mercer-"

"I was Mercer's partner for years," Karliah stated. "I knew his tricks, and I knew he would pull the arrow out and use it on you."

"Wait a second..." Parax held up his hand as he paced around the camp. "No clear shot, knew Mercer would hit us bo-you're using us!" The Argonian reeled around and flinched, the pain in his chest being strained as he reached his arm out to point at the Dunmer. "That's good—you may actually be smarter than I thought. Can we keep you?"

"...What?" Rellik spoke up, confused at Parax's sudden change in behavior.

"Rellik, you're fired. I want Karliah on my team," Parax declared. He smirked and made a gesture to imply he was joking. "Kidding."

"I couldn't just take Mercer alive," Karliah explained, getting back on track. "That would involve killing you two; I could've, but even if I did so and got Mercer to admit to his crimes, that wouldn't be enough. As far as Mercer's concerned, you two are dead, but now you can help me prove his guilt."

She's right. We can't just go back to Riften now—Mercer will probably come up with some lie about how we joined forces with Karliah. We'll have the entire Guild hunting us down like dogs.

"You need an ace in the hole," Rellik summarized. He appeared to be out of breath and in pain like Parax, but it didn't seem to whittle him down. Probably a dose of that draconic willpower. "We really are in your debt..."

"More than you realize," replied Karliah. "The arrow I used was locked away tightly in a house in Morrowind—it took me years to find a way to steal it. I can only hope my decision was the right one." The thief held up the pieces of a broken arrow, which she had been holding on to for some reason.

"Depends on if you know how exactly we can prove what Mercer did," said Parax.

"My purpose in using Snow Veil Sanctum to ambush Mercer wasn't simply for irony's sake," Karliah replied. "I recovered a journal from Gallus's remains when he died. I suspect the information we need is written inside."

"Well, what does it say?"

"I wish I knew," Karliah muttered. "The journal is written in some sort of language I've never seen before."

"You've been carrying around a vital piece of this puzzle for over two decades and you don't even know what it says?" Rellik commented. "So much for your brilliant plan."

"Karliah, you're fired," Parax declared. "Rellik, welcome back to Team Parax." He turned to face Karliah again. "Any idea how to translate the journal?"

"Being on the run constantly and never sleeping in the same place twice don't exactly make translating... whatever this is... an easy task," the Dunmer retorted. "But now, given the circumstances..." She paced around, then looked up with a wide-eyed expression of realization. "Enthir... Gallus's friend at the College of Winterhold—he can help us! He's the only outsider he even trusted with the knowledge of his Nightingale identity!"

"He also called you his 'little nightingale'," said Parax. "Coincidence?"

"There were three of us. Myself, Gallus and Mercer. We were a anonymous splinter of the Thieves Guild in Riften," Karliah explained. "Perhaps I'll tell you more about it later. Right now, you need to head for Winterhold with the journal and get the translation." Karliah handed Gallus's journal and four bottles of poison to Parax. "Here, take these as well; they may prove useful for your journey."

"You won't be coming?"

"I'm afraid not. There are preparations to make and Gallus's remains to lay to rest. I promise to join you there as soon as I can."

"Very well… we'll get the translation to you as soon as we can," Parax said assuredly. "Well Rellik, at least this time, we won't be traveling for too long. The College should be only a little bit north of us."

"You mean that behemoth over there," Rellik commented, looking to the side. Indeed, the Orc was correct; a massive spire of stone jutted out of the beach that ran along the cliff edges where the three stood. Amazingly enough, they were at least an hour's walk from the structure, but it looked much closer. It had been harder to see in the snowstorm that blanketed the area when they first went into Snow Veil Sanctum, but now that it had become much clearer, they realized just what they were gazing upon.

"Yes, that one," Parax breathed.

To make things worse, their horses were dead—undoubtedly slaughtered by Mercer and left to rot when he escaped the ruins, as a precaution to slowing Karliah down. Muttering with contempt and giving little hints to each other about the many ways they were going to kill Mercer, they gathered a few remaining supplies from their dead horses—mostly stamina potions and food that they didn't pack with them when they went into Snow Veil Sanctum. Then they proceeded along the cliff edge, in the northwest direction for the town of Winterhold. How they were going to even get into the College of Winterhold and speak to Enthir was another story; the mages there had become extremely reclusive due to problems with the local Nords. In other words, they'd have to become full-fledged members—apprentices expected to train frequently to maintain their membership. They weren't quite ready for that, as Parax wanted to save joining them for after the Thieves Guild business. He couldn't afford to focus on them with the issues with Mercer going on now. Perhaps if he honed his magical knowledge, he could advance more quickly and get things over with.


12:09 PM. Winterhold. Finally, after what felt like days—and only realized to have been approximately three hours due to Parax's obsessive-compulsive noting of the time—the two were in the city of Winterhold. Well, it was originally a city, but now it was more of a small village, with only a few homes still intact alongside the Jarl's longhouse and a tavern. Everything else was little more than chunks of a few houses. The town was practically hanging off the icy cliffs, overlooking a deep trench that separated the town from the College of Winterhold, both of which who were in turn connected by a crooked, decayed stone bridge. Parax had only heard bits and pieces of what happened here; apparently an accident occurred in the north that caused half of Winterhold to fall into the Sea of Ghosts. The college had remained intact, however, spawning a distrust—and sometimes outright hatred—of mages that spread across Skyrim like wildfire.

As they entered the town, they saw that the residents looked just as bad—gaunt and ragged. Whatever kept them here had to be more than simple devotion to the place they called home; they were poor and unfit to settle down elsewhere. However, one person did appear to be from out of town. He was a Nord clad in leather, and his tan implied he was from one of the areas due south. Not exactly the kind of garb you'd see in Markarth or Riften. Whiterun, maybe, but the man's general look, as well as the appearance of the tools strapped to his back, suggested he was from the Falkreath area. He noticed the two just as quickly as they noticed him, as he examined them thoroughly from afar before getting out of the bench he sat on outside the tavern. Producing something from a satchel wrapped around his arm, he approached the duo.

"Excuse me, who are you?" the Nord inquired, holding tightly to a letter.

"Parax," the Argonian replied. He cautiously eyed the man and was sure not to make his injuries apparent. "We never had this meeting."

"Whatever that means... I've been looking for you," the man said, "I have a letter for you—your eyes only, of course. It goes for your friend Rellik as well."

"Who sent it?" Parax asked, furrowing his spiky eyebrows.

"I don't know. Couldn't see his face. Creepy fella. Black robes. But he paid a hefty sum to get this delivered to you." He nodded cheerfully and turned back towards the tavern. "Well, that's it, I guess."

The courier staggered over to the inn, this time disappearing through the door. He was obviously not used to the cold, but his duty to delivering mail was apparently a bigger priority than keeping himself heated. Meanwhile, Parax unfolded the letter he received, and though the contents confused him at first, he had become alarmed only a moment later. All it had was a black handprint on it and the words "We know" on the bottom.

There was silence. Rellik leaned over to take a look, intrigued by the Argonian's expression.

"Well, that's not creepy or anything," Rellik forced a laugh. He held his chest as he did so, still hurt by the wound Mercer gave him. "Looks like you have a secret admirer."

Not just any secret admirer, unfortunately. This hand was the symbol of the Dark Brotherhood. It was the only thing that made sense; though he had his share of shady activities, the note made it painfully clear that the Dark Brotherhood was aware of his murder of Grelod the Kind. He had cheated them out of a contract as far as they were concerned... even if they weren't the only business that specialized in killing. The question was whether this foreboding note was done to make him paranoid before a vengeful attempt on his life, or out of respect for pulling the kill off. Still, they were not high up on his list of priorities, and so Parax simply folded the letter up and pocketed it before he proceeded over towards the stone bridge to the College of Winterhold. A stone archway stood at the town's end of the bridge, with a short ramp from the bridge to the ground, and at the top of the ramp was an Altmer woman whose red hair branched off in two directions behind her head.

"Halt, travelers!" cried the elf. "To cross the bridge is to ensure your own demise! The way is perilous and not to be taken!"

Parax paused for a moment and frowned, creating a look on his face that said, "What the hell?" Rellik eyed him, waiting for one of his usual responses.

"Is that why you're standing out here in master's robes?" the Argonian asked. "Never mind that—our friend Enthir wrote to us. He said he needed to talk to us about his girlfriend Karliah."

"Enthir is not here," replied the Altmer. "He spends his lunches in the Frozen Hearth just over there." She pointed towards the tavern. "The College of Winterhold is not for people to come in-and-out for chats—it is a source of magical knowledge. If you have no such business here, turn back!"

"Alright, alright!" Parax turned back towards the tavern the courier went into and headed for it. Rellik tried to ease the awkwardness with a polite bow to the Altmer woman, then quickly began to follow. They went on inside and began looking around. Were they not aware that Enthir was part of the College of Winterhold, they would've had trouble identifying him, but they were able to do so by the mage's robes he wore. By the looks of them compared to other mage robes Parax had seen, Enthir had a reasonably upstanding position in the college. He was a Bosmer, much like Faendal from Riverwood, though Enthir had considerably darker and fiery brown hair, as well as red irises in contrast to Faendal's light skin and hair and yellow irises. The duo's presence instantly found itself on his radar, as he glimpsed at the two and could tell they were here to speak with him. He motioned for them to come on over to the table at which he sat; they obliged, taking their seats beside him.

"What is it?" Enthir asked.

"We're here on behalf of Karliah, Enthir," answered Parax.

"Karliah? …Then it's all finally happening," Enthir mumbled. "Do you have Gallus's journal?"

"Turns out she's had it longer than you think," Parax replied. "Only now, she has two people who can help her." He pulled the journal Karliah gave him out of his pocket and set it down on the table. "Just one problem."

"A problem? Let me see it." The Bosmer slid the book in front of himself, opening it to begin reading. Almost immediately he started frowning, then smiled slightly.

"We're told you know how to translate it," said Rellik.

"This is just like Gallus," Enthir chuckled mournfully. "A dear friend, but always too clever for his own good."

"Obviously, otherwise he wouldn't have written the damn thing in... whatever that is," Parax commented.

"He's written all of the text in the Falmer language."

"I hate those things..." Rellik muttered. "Got to acquaint myself with them in a job for the Companions."

"Could you be so kind as to translate said text?" asked Parax.

"I'm not versed enough in their alphabet to know, though I do know someone who might," replied Enthir. "The court wizard of Markarth, Calcelmo, may have the materials you need to get this journal translated."

"Markarth again," commented Rellik.

Parax sat there, staring blankly at the table and tapping his fingers on its wooden surface. He was muttering something inaudible before he finally spoke up. "I'm told you're awfully well-educated, Enthir, no doubt thanks to that gargantuan of a building outside. Tell me about it."

"What needs telling? It's the College of Winterhold," Enthir replied.

"No shit—I mean, why should we go all the way to Markarth when we could consult the mages there?" asked Parax. "With all the knowledge they have in there, one would expect at least one is versed in Falmer."

"The College is off-limits to those who aren't members, and I'm not intent to risking myself with whatever is translated," said Enthir. He shook his head and frowned as he pushed Gallus's journal over to Parax.

I expect nothing more from underworld scum.

"You owe Karliah that much," Parax insisted, then let out a muffled cough. "She is a dear friend to you—Mercer, who killed Gallus, was a dear friend to you—and she's been on the run for twenty-five years."

"And I've found a way to fix things without risking myself in the process, and that's a tablet on the Falmer alphabet in Calcelmo's laboratory," replied Enthir, shaking his head again. "If you want to consult the mages there, you're free to, but I have no reason to put myself on the line. Otherwise, it's Markarth for you."

They don't need to know of my allegiances either, and I don't have time to deal with the College yet. I could always torture him, but I may need him later.

"Well, I certainly don't plan on walking all the way back there this time," Parax grumbled. "We'll travel Skyrim's north for the first part, Rellik—we can stop by one of the cities along the way." As he said this, he and Rellik got up out of their seats and stood up straight, their breathing shortening as they did so. Parax took Gallus's journal off the table and pocketed it.

"A word of warning," Enthir continued. "Calcelmo is a fierce guardian of his research. Getting the information isn't going to be easy."

"Why did Gallus write the text in Falmer, anyways?" Parax asked, inspecting the journal. He sounded annoyed, clearly wishing he didn't have to go all the way back to Markarth just to understand the journal.

"Besides the fact that there are only a handful of people in Tamriel that even recognize the language?" Enthir asked sarcastically. "I'm fairly certain he was planning some sort of a heist that involved a deep understanding of the Falmer language. Sadly, we never had the opportunity to speak about the details."

"Where did he acquire the knowledge to use it?"

"Ironically, I pointed him in the same direction as I pointed you. To Markarth and Calcelmo. I'm only hoping whatever means he used to learn the language will still be available to you."

"What exactly is a Falmer?" Parax asked. He was curious what Rellik had dealt with last month. Though the word had come up several times and he had somewhat of an idea of the creatures, he had much to learn about them.

"In the time before man, they were known as the snow elves. They lived in the sunlight and had a very prosperous society."

"I assumed they would be something like your kind," the Argonian noted, referencing the "mer" part of the word.

"Like the Bosmer? Yes, I would say their culture quite possibly rivaled our own."

"Then what drove them underground?"

"The Nords went to war with the Falmer in the First Era," Enthir explained. "Killed them by the thousands to drive them from their snowy homeland. The Falmer retreated underground and forged an uneasy alliance with the dwarves, who ended up betraying them. The betrayal made them what they are now… horrible, blind monstrosities with a burning hatred for any but their own kind."

So they're the elves everyone says Ysgramor hounded to the ends of the world.

"If you ask me, they're more like victims than the malevolent beasts you describe them as."

"Yes, I suppose you're right. Forgive me, I've lost several close friends to the Falmer and it tends to distort my view," said Enthir. "If you wish to learn more about them, you're welcome to my tome on the subject. Should be on my table."

There was a short pause. Parax felt himself getting curious about the previous Guildmaster. "What can you tell us about Gallus?"

"He was a dear friend of mine and a surprisingly astute pupil of academia. I was devastated when he was killed. I suppose that risk always coexisted with his line of work—I just never thought his luck would run out."

"He was bright and academic, yet he chose the path of a thief." Parax felt the irony as he said this; when he thought about it, he and Galllus were actually not that different. He suffered from a great deal of boredom himself, and was well-aware of his tendency to risk himself for the sake of having an adrenaline rush. He could've channeled his intelligence and abilities into anything he wanted, and yet he, like Gallus, elected to work in the shadows and put himself in danger for one reason:

"He did it for the thrill, of course," replied Enthir. "He was quite clear that he felt more in his element climbing through a window rather than hunched over a dusty tome."

"How did you meet him?"

"Ah yes, quite an amusing anecdote, actually," Enthir reminisced. "I caught him trying to break into my laboratory. I was about to show him the error of his was when he made a curiously astute comment about my research notes. I was astounded, and in turn it led to a conversation. Who'd have imagined it would've led to such a strong friendship?"

The gears of Parax's mind turned as he processed the information. He smirked before turning away. "That'll be all for now," he said as he walked towards the door and opened it for Rellik. "Look on the bright side, Rellik—we can pay Thonar a visit this time around."

"Calcelmo is stubborn as a mule," were Enthir's parting words of warning. "Be careful when you speak to him!"

Breaking and EnteringEdit

10:42 AM, 12th of Heartfire. Markarth. Parax and Rellik finally reached Understone Keep to talk to Calcelmo. On the way there, they had watched a dispute between Thongvar Silver-Blood—Thonar's brother—and a priest about the recent closing of the Hall of the Dead in Markarth. After Thongvor was out of earshot, Parax offered to help the investigation in his spare time. According to the priest, something or someone had been consuming the corpses. Keeping this in mind, Parax and Rellik walked over to Calcelmo, who was hard at work in his quarters. The old man, an Altmer stood hunched over a desk with numerous dwarven-esque materials piled on top of it, and his blue mage robes were covered in dust. His grey beard hung out of his hood and shook as he trembled in frustration.




The smell of blood could be detected as the two rode over the rolling hills of the Reach. Their lycanthropic senses picked up on a mixture of fear, anger, and confusion; though this was not unexpected in the Reach, the surprising part was that the scent was from the Forsworn. They hadn't ambushed anybody on the road, nor had they abducted a victim for some blood sacrifice—instead, whatever ill fate that was suffered was their own. Parax and Rellik grew uneasy, and what started out as minor curiosity grew into a desire to see what had happened. Following the many scents that induced excitement and thoughts of the hunt, the two directed their horses along a new path. They continued onward, their curiosity and anticipation growing with the potency of the smell and taste of blood and fear.

What they found only added to their confusion; Lost Valley Redoubt, home to Bard's Leap Summit, a place to which where bards often traveled to leap from as a form of celebration, had been a stronghold for the Forsworn for many years. The ancient rock walls that lined the waterfall-covered stretch of land provided its residents with the perfect cover to complement the high ground advantage it provided, and the Forsworn were known to perform many rituals here. Now all had been swept away, with bloodied bones and bodies donning the hide armor of the savages that littered the place. Tents were torn, flipped over, and burned. What could've possibly been responsible for this?

The two climbed off their horses and knelt down to examine the large tracks that covered the ground. Or, at least, they would've been able to if there were any. Not a single trace could be found that hinted at what wiped out one of the largest Forsworn camps in Skyrim. Parax prepared two bound swords in his hands, while Rellik unsheathed his ebony sword. They made their way through the camp, stopping briefly as Rellik saw fit to claim a pair of ebony boots that had been lying around the camp. The Orc smiled victoriously as they he slipped them on without a problem.

Their ears twitched and wiggled as the sound of quick, painful breaths could be heard, and immediately the two sprinted in the direction of the source. A man—one of the Forsworn—was sitting against a stone table, gasping and clutching his chest.

"What happened here?" Parax asked as he dispelled his weapons, putting his hand on the Breton's hand and moving it away from the deep cut on it. He was bleeding profusely, his garb covered in dark crimson splotches.

"It started with just one..." the man coughed and his eyes widened. "Just one patrolling the area... We thought nothing of it..."

"Go on," said Parax, feeling his own wound from Mercer. He prepared a healing spell and cast it on the man's wound, but only just enough to keep him alive. "There's more where that came from, if you elaborate."

"A few hours later, it started to storm... Then there were more of them... Jeahel got hit by lightning..." The man's breathing began to slow down and sound more desperate as he croaked, "Then they attacked."

Parax healed the Forsworn a little more to allow him to allow him to talk.

"It was like they planned it all out," he continued, albeit clearer. He gasped at the amount of blood he was sitting in.

"Who did? Who planned it out?" Rellik asked. The Orc knelt down on the other side of the Breton; he noticed he had something clutched in his hand and tried to wrestle it out of his grip.

By now, Parax had gotten a good look at the man's wound prior to healing it, and set his mind to piecing the information together as he paced around the area. It didn't take long for him to realize exactly what had wiped out the Forsworn here. "I know what did this..." was all he could say before being interrupted.

"Bears," was the Forsworn man's answer. "Bears! I played dead while they killed everyone! The damned things slaughtered us all!"

Not yet. I'll handle that.

"Bears?" Rellik echoed. He looked up at Parax with a raised eyebrow and confused look.

"The Forsworn have dominated the Reach for years and resisted every attempt to quell them, and you're telling me you got wiped out by a few bears?" Parax asked with a hint of disappointment. At the same time, he began wondering about the man's wound, which appeared to have been burned into his body. Not enough to cauterize the wound, but just enough to char his flesh.

"Certainly says a lot about our own skills," Rellik muttered as he finally pried a bear claw from the Breton's hand. "We couldn't penetrate this place if we tried."

"Not just any bears... there's something wrong with them..."

"Is this claw enchanted?" Rellik inquired as he examined the claw. It possessed a slight reddish-orange glow to it—a fire enchantment, by the looks of it.

"So a pack of enchanted bears is running around slaughtering Forsworn," said Parax as he turned back around to face the two. He whispered something to himself before he walked back over. "Not our problem yet, but I will deal with it later." The next thing they knew, Parax had swiped the claw from Rellik's hand and slashed the Forsworn's throat open, spilling even more of his blood onto him and causing him to go limp. A sizzling sound was heard as the area around the cut turned dark.

"Probably should've seen that one coming," Rellik commented.

"Problem?" asked Parax.

"Not this time."




Parax cleared his throat and was about to greet the old man who stood before him, the both of them somewhat lost in their thoughts. However, as Parax would soon find out, Calcelmo was a rather jittery man, especially when he had his mind on the Dwemer projects lying about him. With that, the mage wheeled around, a bit of saliva stuck to his grey beard and a furious look in his eyes.

"What are you doing here? The excavation site is closed!" Calcelmo exclaimed. "I don't need any more workers or guards!" After a brief pause, he seemed to recognize the two. "Especially with your history!"

"We were looking for you, actually-" Parax said, only to be interrupted.

"I told you I'm not hiring any more guards!" Calcelmo replied, frustrated. "Why do you people always bother me when I'm trying to finish my research? You idiot...s! Do you even know who I am? The most recognized scholar on the Dwemer in all of Tamriel, and you people keep bothering me!" Calcelmo seemed to have finally realized he was getting carried away. His expression of anger quickly warped to embarrassment as his face turned a bright red. "I... I'm sorry I... I got too excited. I'm in the middle of some very... stressful work, and I shouldn't have yelled." After a few seconds of silently regaining his composure, Calcelmo looked back up, his face still somewhat red. "How can I help you?"

"…Why would you need guards?" Parax asked.

"To protect my research, for one," Calcelmo answered. "There are more cutthroat scholars out there who would steal my findings if they got the chance. And the excavations into Nchuand-Zel are dangerous. Dwemer machines and traps still function even after thousands of years."

"We heard you own the Dwemer Museum in this city."

"Correct. It's a private place where I can catalog my research. Occasionally, the Jarl will come in and have questions, but that's thankfully rare."

"You wouldn't mind if we went in, would you? We've had an interest in the Dwemer ourselves—that's why we sought you out."

"Persistent, aren't you? Oh, very well. Who am I to stand in the way of curiosity? I'll let you in if you agree to something for me. You see, there's a giant spider in Nchuand-Zel. My workers call her 'Nimhe', the poisoned one. If you deal with Nimhe, I'll let you into both the excavation site and my Dwemer Museum. What do you say?"

"Alright," Parax agreed.

"That spider's as good as dead," said Rellik.

"Enthusiasm. Good. Here's the key to the dig site." Calcelmo handed Parax a key and pointed the duo at the door across the room. "I trust you won't cause any trouble like the last time you were in this city?"

"I believe that issue's been cleared up," Parax said. "Framed by the Forsworn and all, and thankfully everyone knows we're innocent."

It was then that Parax would insist that he deal with Nimhe, while Rellik figures out what was going on in the Hall of the Dead. Though initially annoyed and overall disappointed, Rellik went into a nearby door, using the key from the priest to unlock it. Meanwhile, Parax crossed the bridge and approached the entrance to the ruins, taking a brief moment of his time to pause and look over to his left to address a presence he had felt. There, a young Khajiit could be seen peeking out from behind one of the two, small Dwemer towers that flanked the bridge. He nodded at the child as he passed in between the towers, then continued forth.


Nchuand-Zel. Parax looked around at the glorious ruins he found himself in. It was a long, wide, stone hallway, decorated with various markings and—just like in the Markarth ruins—vent-like structures and crystals. There were wheelbarrows filled with metal objects, obviously of Dwemer origin. On top of that all, however, the room was very dusty, prompting Parax to just get it over with. After taking some time to admire the Dwemer structures, Parax went down the hallway and found himself in a cavernous, mine-like area. There were frostbite spiders crawling around the walls, carefully watching Parax; several well-aimed lightning bolts and all that remained of the creatures were piles of ash.

Advancing further, Parax could hear increasingly loud footsteps in the next room. He looked up to see the horror that Calcelmo had warned him of; the largest frostbite spider he's ever seen. By the looks of things, it had to have spanned at least twenty feet in width, and moreso in length. Even the massive spider he encountered in Bleak Falls Barrow was dwarfed by this thing. It took notice of Parax as it crawled around on the web-covered ceiling, knocking a cocooned Imperial soldier off and sending the body plummeting to the ground as it adjusted itself.

"In hindsight… maybe I should've let Rellik tag along…" Parax mumbled to himself, eyes widened.

Nimhe dropped from the ceiling, almost landing on Parax. The Argonian summoned his bound sword and watched the giant spider carefully. After several seconds of staring, Nimhe attempted to strike; Parax jumped, narrowly dodging the beast's mighty fangs. As its mandibles clicked together, he found his way onto its head and slashed away an eye or two. Before he could drive his sword into Nimhe's forehead, however, she began shaking violently, throwing Parax off her and into a wall. As he regained his balance, Nimhe charged at him; Parax had only a split-second to think, and quickly caught the frostbite spider's fangs before they could clamp down on him. Pushing his feet against her, Parax managed to distance himself—up the wall—from the range of Nimhe's fangs as she continued her attempt to close in on him.

Slowly, he managed to angle his right hand as he slid it along one of the spider's mandibles, preparing a fire spell and casting it while his fingers were still clenched around the appendage. Nimhe was ruthless, however, as she promptly jerked her head—and subsequently her fangs—around, dragging her prey along the stone wall and nearly shaking him loose. Now he was casting a flames spell in both hands, which were still tightly holding onto the spider's mandibles; this time, it seemed to buckle under the heat and pain, becoming sluggish in movement and giving Parax an opening. The Argonian promptly let go of one of the fangs in an attempt to aim his right hand directly at Nimhe's face, only to be shaken again and causing him to spray fire elsewhere wildly.

The freed mandible clicked with the other, though wasn't quite able to hit Parax's left fingers, or Parax himself for that matter. It immediately backed up, still jerking its head around, this time shaking him loose and flinging him underneath her. Now Nimhe had the opportunity to go on the offensive, letting herself drop in an effort to crush her enemy under her weight; but when she hit the ground, Parax had already rolled out of the way, blasting her with a lightning bolt. He was certainly not getting out of this unscathed, however, as the spider reflexively kicked him across the room, causing him to slam against a stone wall and knocking the wind out of him. Pain exploded in his chest where his wound was and spread throughout his body, swirling about the stitched-up cut and causing him to clench his teeth.

"You've put up with worse... Now kill this damn thing!" Parax groaned to himself as he tried to climb back to his feet.

Nimhe charged forward again, only to stagger as another lightning bolt struck her, this time coming from the side. She regained her balance and turned to face her attacker, though yet another bolt struck her. And another, this time knocking her backwards and flipping her over; she slammed into a wall, her body charred, sizzling, and lifeless. Parax, who was still lying on the ground, looked slowly over to his savior, who revealed themselves to be none other than the Sentinel.

"You, sir, arrive at the most convenient times. I applaud you," Parax panted, slowly clapping as he did so. "So when exactly did you arrive?"

"Only a few hours ago," replied the Sentinel in its dry, raspy voice. "We assumed you were in need of assistance. Delphine will require you and the Dragonborn's presence soon."

"Well, firstly, we're going to need your help for something. Why don't you stick with us for a little longer? You can go back to doing… whatever you do… afterwards."

Parax got up and inspected a wood platform nearby; several dead Imperial soldiers littered the area, one of them carrying a note. The note detailed the soldier's travels in the Dwemer ruins, and complained about the scholars who were accompanying him. However, there were no other bodies, leading Parax to conclude that these scholars were deeper in the ruins. Parax kept the note for future plans, and returned to Calcelmo.




Meanwhile, while Parax was off dealing with Nimhe, Rellik proceeded into the Hall of the Dead, entering through a door not too far from Calcelmo's own workstation. A rather eerie place, Markarth's Hall of the Dead possessed a look that implied it hadn't been cared for in some time. This wasn't just because a good portion of it was a Dwemer ruin, however, but because whatever the source of all the mischief here was, few had dared to step inside the place. Rellik kept this all in mind as he passed through the darkened hallways, his hand on the handle of his Skyforge steel sword (as opposed to the heavier ebony greatsword) and his steel boots clanging against the cracked stone.

"Not many would walk blindly into a crypt, smelling of steel and blood, but not fear," echoed the voice of a woman. Rellik couldn't determine where exactly it was coming from, though he instinctively pulled his sword out of its sheath and began to listen more carefully.

"Creepy, dirty woman eating dead bodies... please present yourself," the Orc muttered, turning around in various directions in case the woman tried to take him by surprise.

"I feel the hunger inside of you. Gnawing at you," the feminine voice continued, slowly starting to take on a more seductive tone. "You see the dead and your mouth grows wet. Your stomach growls. It's all right. I will not shun you for what you are. Stay. I will tell you everything you have forgotten."

Rellik didn't have a response this time. His face pinched and his eyes squinted, as if his facial expressions were the only way he could possibly convey one message: "What the hell are you talking about?"

There was more silence, save the sound of Rellik's boots. Finally, he spoke up, "Well, go on then," as he sheathed his weapon.

"You were young when you first tasted human flesh, weren't you?" said the voice, this time right behind him. Rellik didn't flinch, letting the woman get closer to him. Instead, he continued to mentally tell himself, "What would Parax do?" And so he waited, appearing to be intrigued by these suggestions, and perhaps learning if there was more to this, or if the woman was simply crazy.

"A brother or sister had died? An accident, of course," she continued, now right up behind Rellik. She had to stand up on the tips of her toes to rest her chin on his shoulders and whisper into his ear. "Then the hunger set in. Curiosity. What's the harm in just one bite? It's okay, now. You've found a friend who understands you. You can let go of your guilt."

"My mother," Rellik lied, albeit in a tone that sounded like he was correcting her.

"And now, you have a new mother," she whispered again, the stench of corpses emanating from her mouth. "Namira, the Lady of Decay, accepts you for what you are. She has a place for us, where we can sate our appetites without judgment."

Rellik slowly turned around and took the Nord woman's hands in his own. Then he remembered that his partner in adventuring tended to blend the truth with a lie. "Ever since I've entered this world, I have always felt... different." He struggled slightly with his words, not exactly being adept in the art of deception. Still, he did his best to maintain it without losing his straight-to-the-point attitude. "Even among those who were closest to me, I felt like I stood out. I want to belong again. I want a life that feels normal."

"And you will have just that," said the woman, who proceeded to take him in an embrace. "Come with me to Reachcliff Cave. You don't have to worry about the troubles of the world anymo-"

Crack. That was the sound of the Nord's right shoulder as Rellik suddenly twisted her arm behind her back and pinned her against a wall. "Just kidding. Who eats rotten corpses?" he growled with a hint of satisfaction in his voice. And before she could make another comment, he had already snapped her neck. Picking her body up and throwing it over his shoulder, he began to walk through the halls of the place as he headed back towards the exit, keeping an eye out for a spot to stash the body. Eventually, he settled for an unclaimed coffin, sealing the corpse away and leaving the Hall of the Dead.




As Parax headed back across the bridge towards Calcelmo's workstation, he found Rellik waiting for him there; the Orc filled him in on the details of the woman who was desecrating the bodies, and her worship of Namira, and the possibility of there being more of her in Reachcliff Cave. However, they had not been deemed a high enough priority for the time being, and so the two simply returned to Calcelmo.

Having dealt with Nimhe, Calcelmo granted Parax and Rellik access to the Dwemer Museum. The duo headed on in, bringing the Sentinel with them and informing the priest of the issue in the Hall of the Dead being taken care of. The Sentinel took advantage of his hypnotic abilities to get the two past security, and allowed them to look around the museum for anything that interested them. However, when they advanced deeper into the museum, they found themselves in Calcelmo's laboratory; this area was strictly off-limits, and the trio could hear the court wizard's assistant and nephew telling the guards to kill anyone who wasn't one of them. Nonetheless, the Sentinel managed to keep these people in line, allowing Parax and Rellik to get to Calcelmo's quarters easily; they even managed to acquire a Dwemer Puzzle Cube—an object Delvin has been searching for—on the way.

Inside Calcelmo's quarters, Parax, Rellik, and the Sentinel searched for something that could help them translate the contents of Gallus's journal; surely a scholar on the Dwemer would have something related to the Falmer they enslaved so long ago. Though they failed to find anything on the lower floor of the mage's chambers, they did notice a corridor off to the left, which in turn took them to the second floor of the area. Among the various items scattered about the area—Dwemer-related books and creations, an enchanting table, alchemy station, and typical household furniture—was a stone tablet that jutted out of the floor, surrounded by various notes. Upon further inspection, the three had realized that the tablet had the entire Falmer alphabet carved into it, as well as translations such that it could be interpreted in Tamrielic.

"Excellent," Parax whispered to himself, albeit loudly enough for Rellik and the Sentinel to hear. "One of you, find me some rolls of paper and a piece of charcoal." As he uttered the command, he found himself nearly out of breath, the wound to his chest paining him again and causing him to exhale all of the air in him just to talk.

The Sentinel stood nearby and refused to budge. Instead, it simply watched as Parax knelt down in front of the stone tablet and held his hand out behind himself, stubbornly waiting. Rellik likewise stood stiffly, though he soon sighed and snatched several paper rolls off one of the tables in the room and tossed them to Parax. Because he wasn't looking, they each bounced off his head, forcing him to turn around and pick them up himself, as well as catch the piece of charcoal that Rellik next threw at him.

"And now, to get these notes down..." the Argonian continued talking to himself.

"I don't suppose you want a quill and inkwell while you're at it," Rellik commented. "Perhaps some grapes?"

"That won't be necessary," Parax replied blankly, his mind focused on getting the notes as he pressed a roll of paper against the tablet and began rubbing the charcoal on it. "We won't have much time getting too good of notes... On second thought, yes—a quill and inkwell would be lovely."

Rellik seemed to have already anticipated Parax's answer, as the latter had turned around just in time to catch a tossed inkwell with both hands. The Orc then walked up to him and set down a quill as he removed the inkwell's cap. His eyes still trained on the tablet, Parax began to copy the stone carvings with the quill, then he paused for a moment.

"Would you both be willing to head back and prepare the horses? I imagine we'll want to make a quick getaway," said the Argonian.

"Why is that?" asked Rellik, cocking his head to the side.

"I suspect the lot back in the museum are going to be onto us relatively soon," Parax replied, resuming his copying of the Falmer alphabet.

"We have a mind controller right here," said Rellik. Feeling more relaxed as he said it out loud, he felt more free to grasp his wound.

"And they have a mage who will probably have found a way around it by now," Parax insisted. "Destruction isn't the only school of magic we're versed in; understanding our environment and preparing for our enemies is what makes us so formidable. Just go to the stables and prepare the horses, and see if they have a spare for our friend."

Rellik looked over to where the Sentinel had been standing, only to realize that it was nowhere in sight. There wasn't a trace of where it had gone, or even a sound that indicated it left in the first place; it was just gone. He looked back over to Parax, who was still taking notes with the stone tablet.

"You didn't see it, I presume," Parax said, his eyes not moving from the tablet.

"See what?" asked Rellik.

"When we were entering this tower after exiting the uppermost level of the museum, there was a waterfall," he continued.

"Yes, I'm aware that there was a waterfall," Rellik replied, annoyance in his voice at the vagueness of Parax's statement.

"Look harder next time—there's a pathway leading under it. I believe there will be a bit of a drop somewhere down it, but I suppose that's why there's a pool there."

There was more silence for a moment. After a few more seconds, the Orc went back downstairs and exited to carry out the next task. In truth, however, Parax simply felt that the Sentinel's presence made things too easy and less "exciting", and so he sent his accomplices away. After a few more minutes, he had nearly finished copying the notes; now he had two copies of the Falmer alphabet and its Tamrielic translation—one copy in charcoal rubbing, the other in ink. Unfortunately, the sound of a door opening and slamming shut alerted him to the presence of somebody else in the tower. Voices echoed throughout the place. He recognized them as Calcelmo's nephew Aicantar and Captain Aqullius of the Markarth city guard.

"I… oh, alright. If there's a thief, he won't leave this tower alive. But shouldn't we inform Master Calcelmo?" the captain asked.

"I'll deal with my uncle. Just… go!" Aicantar, the assistant wizard, ordered. "Scour this place from top to bottom!"

Meanwhile, Parax had finished his notes and began breathing on the ink as intensely as possible. The footsteps of Aicantar and the guards were growing louder, however, prompting Parax to roll the rubbings and dried notes up and spring up onto a stone walkway off to the side. As soon as they spread out to investigate the area, Parax jumped down from the walkway and silently made his way out the door. Now outside, he climbed down from Calcelmo's balcony via the pathway under the waterfall and fled Markarth. He had not forgotten Thonar Silver-Blood, however, and by now concluded that the time had come. Sneaking into the Treasury House, Parax gently woke up Thonar, who was lying in bed. Needless to say, the talk of the city was about how Thonar had apparently been stabbed several times. Given a broken-off part of a wall and Thonar's broken fist, there was likely a very brief moment of resistance.


5:37 PM, 13th of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik entered the Frozen Hearth, the former admiring his new favorite black soul gem—one that bore Thonar's name carved onto it by a knife. Enthir, Karliah, and the Sentinel were waiting in the basement, Enthir's current base of operations. How the Sentinel had gotten there before them was a mystery, though it probably wasn't worth bringing up; Enthir and Karliah didn't even seem to notice it.

"New toy?" Rellik asked, taking notice of the soul gem, which Parax had been carving at out of view during the trip back to Winterhold.

"Oh, say hello to Thonar," Parax said, waving the soul gem around. "Now he can see how it's like to be imprisoned for the rest of his days." Which have recently been extended indefinitely.

"Back, eh?" Enthir said, looking up from his table. "And how was our friend Calcelmo?"

"This should help translate Gallus's journal," said Parax, handing Enthir the charcoal translation.

"…I suppose it would be inappropriate for me to ask how you obtained this, so I won't," replied Enthir, taking the translation. "A rubbing, eh? Odd, I expected notes."

"It's quite the tale," Parax responded.

"I understand," said Enthir. "Now, let me take a good look at this. Over here, please."

Enthir began studying the paper, memorizing the letters, and then examined Gallus's journal, copying a translated version on the blank papers in the book. It took somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes before he had translated what seemed to be the most important parts of the journal.

"Hmm," Enthir mumbled. "This is intriguing… but highly disturbing. It appears that Gallus had suspicious about Mercer Frey's allegiance to the Guild for months."

Parax peered across the table, reading Enthir's translation.

"Gallus had begun to uncover what he calls an '…unduly lavish lifestyle replete with spending vast amounts of gold on personal pleasures inconsistent with gold earned,'" continued Enthir.

"Does the journal say where this wealth came from?" asked Karliah.

"Yes," replied Enthir. "Gallus seems certain that Mercer had been removing funds from the Guild's treasury without anyone's knowledge."

"Anything else, Enthir? Anything about… the Nightingales?"

"Hmm…" Enthir mumbled, still jotting down translations. He looked through the writings he had already done before pausing on one in particular. "Yes. Here it is. The last few pages seem to describe 'the failure of the Nightingales', although it doesn't go into great detail." Enthir finished writing the translation. "Gallus also repeatedly mentions his strong belief that Mercer desecrated something known as the Twilight Sepulcher."

"Shadows preserve us…" muttered Karliah. "So it's true."

"I'm not familiar with the Twilight Sepulcher," said Enthir. His tone quickly shifted from casual and slightly concerned to extremely worried. "What is it? What's Mercer Frey done?!"

"I'm sorry Enthir, I can't say," replied Karliah. "All that matters is we deliver your translation to the Guild immediately. Farewell, Enthir," Karliah began to tear up. "Words… can't express…"

"It's alright, Karliah. You don't have to say a word," said Enthir.

Karliah began pacing, planning the next move. Enthir walked around his desk, up to Parax and Rellik.

"Listen, all I want is the truth to be revealed to the guild," Enthir requested. "They respected Karliah, and she deserves better. Do whatever you can, and I'd consider it a personal favor."

"Thank you, Enthir," said Parax. He acknowledged that Enthir would be of great use to him—he would effectively serve as a contact and Guild ally in Winterhold. If things went according to plan, the building blocks towards boosting his influence in the north of Skyrim would be in place.

"If trying to rid yourself of stolen goods becomes a burden, and you find yourself in Winterhold, meet me at the College," said Enthir. "I've been known to handle items of questionable interest from time to time, and I'll see what I can do."

Parax held out his hand and took Enthir's, shaking it firmly. He held his wound with his free hand as well, letting out a muffled cough as he backed away from Enthir.

"Here, I can help you with that," the Bosmer said, turning towards a chest underneath the table. He pulled out two clear vials containing a pinkish liquid. "It should speed up the healing and dull the pain, but try not to get hit there until it gets better." Parax and Rellik each took a vial and drank the contents. Rellik nodded in satisfaction and shook Enthir's hand.

"Are you ready?" Parax asked, turning his head immediately towards Karliah.

"We must hasten to Riften before Mercer can do any more damage to the Guild," Karliah replied.

"I don't know—I don't exactly like jumping into things I understand nothing about. What's this 'Twilight Sepulcher' again?" said Parax.

"You've come this far, so I see no harm in concealing it any longer," said Karliah. "The Twilight Sepulcher is the temple to Nocturnal. It's what the Nightingales are sworn to protect with their lives. Everything that represents Nocturnal's influence is contained within the walls of the Sepulcher. Now it seems Mercer has broken his oath with Nocturnal and defiled the very thing he swore to protect."

"I didn't expect thieves to be hanging around in temples, even to Daedra," Parax commented.

"I felt the same way when Gallus first revealed these things to me," replied Karliah. "I think, given time, you'll understand what I mean."

"I don't know about you, but I think, given a little transparency, we'll understand enough," said Rellik.

"As a Nightingale, I've been sworn to secrecy regarding the Sepulcher," Karliah retorted. "I know the Guild doesn't do much to foster faith, but I'm going to have to ask that you continue to trust me."

"We do it your way, for now," Parax sighed.

"I'll make for Riften and scout the city; see if I can discover what Mercer's up to," said Karliah. "When you're ready, meet me at the Ragged Flagon." Karliah unsheathed a dark-silver sword strapped to her back and held it out to Parax. "In the meantime, I wanted you to have this. It belonged to Gallus, but given the circumstances, I think he'd approve.

"I appreciate the gesture," Parax said, examining the weapon. The guard, handle, and leaf-shaped pommel were jet black in color, with silver trimmings lining it in spirals, leaf-like designs, and other intricacies. The guard was carved to resemble a bird of sorts with its wings spread and curving upwards, connecting to the dark-silver blade like a circle. The sword had a slight red aura about it, and felt light in Parax's hands, like he could swing and maneuver it with the same ease as his bound sword. In his eyes, it was like his ghostly weapon, but more stylish. He pricked his finger on the edge; though the sword seemed to have not been sharped in a long time, it still cut him without difficulty. As blood trickled out of the wound, he felt the blade absorb the liquid. Immediately afterwards, the wound closed up and the pain went away. He recognized the enchantment as one that would drain the life force of his victims and boost his own, though using it on himself only caused the effects to cancel out and heal him by default. "I will put this blade to good use."

"If the Guild isn't willing to listen to reason, you might have to."

Karliah walked out of the basement and exited the Frozen Hearth. Parax and Rellik followed, and the three agreed to split up to reduce suspicion. Karliah headed straight for Riften, while Parax and Rellik remained in Winterhold for a few hours to plan further. They wanted to be prepared this time for when they ran into Mercer again, as well as what they were going to say to the Guild. They'd have to make a strong case if they wanted to prove what their traitorous Guildmaster had done, or they would be forfeit an ally that could prove to be quite powerful in time.


9:50 AM, 14th of Hearthfire. Parax, Rellik, and the Sentinel arrived at the Ragged Flagon; inside, Parax felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around to see Karliah, who was hiding in the darkness.

"I'm glad you're here," said Karliah. "I think some of these people are beginning to suspect who I am. Are you ready to face the Guild?"

"What if Mercer is in there?" Parax asked.

"Then we show them Gallus's journal and hope for the best," replied Karliah. "Remember, we have proof and all he's got is his word."

And two potential scapegoats.

"So be it. Let's see what we can do."

"Keep your eyes open. I'm not sure what to expect when we enter the cistern."

Karliah walked around the pool of water in the middle of the room, followed closely by Parax, Rellik, and the Sentinel. They could feel many pairs of eyes burning into the backs and sides of their heads, under the hoods of the Guild members. The group kept their heads down as they made their way towards the hallway leading to the cistern when a deep voice rang out. Two loud footsteps could be heard from behind.

"Hey, you don't belong here!" Dirge called out as he quickly stomped over to the group. They did not respond, so he continued to speak, "Are you deaf, mute, or some kind of stupid? Members only!" The man went for the shortest two people—specifically, Karliah and Parax—grabbing the backs of their heads and turning them around to face him. "Mercer said you were dead! What are you-traitors!"

As Dirge shouted, Parax, Karliah, and Rellik collectively grabbed the man's arms and pried them off their heads. Parax was the first to respond, "We're ghosts, actually—come to haunt the man who killed us." He leaned forward and shouted, "Boo!" By now, the other Guild members in the room had made their way to where the commotion was. Swords and daggers had been drawn and were gleaming in the dark from the torches mounted on the walls. "I'm kidding, sort of. Mercer did try to kill me and our mutual friend Rellik. Our business is with him‐we'd like to sit down and have a chat."

"If you're threatening the Guildmaster, you've come to the wrong place," Dirge growled. "We're not supposed to let that happen."

"We're not that stupid so as to threaten him in the middle of his base of operations," said Parax.

I kid, of course.

"We just want to talk," Rellik clarified.

"You're not talking to anyone with that traitor nearby, especially when you're all armed," Dirge declared, taking notice of the blade Karliah gave Parax. "Hand over all your weapons, and let me keep that shiny sword of yours. Maybe then I'll let you in there, so I can dunk you into the cistern in front of Mercer."

None of those things are going to happen, Parax thought. He looked over to the side at Karliah, and the two gave each other an understanding nod.

"If it's the only way we can talk to the Guild without bloodshed, then so be it," Karliah intervened, removing her bow and daggers and holding them out. Dirge stepped forward as Parax held out his daggers and new sword in one hand. Rellik reluctantly began to take his weapons off as well. As several thieves put their weapons away to confiscate the group's, Parax used his free hand to summon his bound sword straight into Dirge's side. The scruffy-looking Nord grunted in pain and shock as the ghostly blade cut through him and his belt, dropping his own sword to the floor. Karliah quickly picked it up and threw it into the pool in the center of the room.

"Don't worry, he's completely harmless!" Parax said as he cast a frenzy spell on Dirge. He and the others backed away as fast as they could into the hallway leading to the cistern. Rellik shut the door and knocked several barrels down in between it and the opposite wall to barricade it, and the group ran down the hallway as the Ragged Flagon became filled with the sounds of the Guild members trying to tackle Dirge.

Inside of the cistern, they were met by Brynjolf, Delvin, and Vex; the three thieves had their knives out and pointed at the group. Parax, Rellik, and Karliah did not draw their weapons, though Rellik kept his hand on his sword's handle.

"You better have a damn good reason to be here with that murderer," Brynjolf demanded, taking a few steps forward.

"Don't we usually have a good reason for what we do?" Parax asked, feigning a look of heartbreak.

"Please, lower your weapons so we can speak," Karliah pleaded. "I have proof that you've all been misled!"

"No tricks, Karliah or I'll cut you down where you stand," growled Brynjolf. He nodded to Delvin and Vex, who each stood by the group with their daggers to their throats. "Now what's this so-called 'proof' you speak of?"

"I have Gallus's journal," Karliah answered, holding out the book. "I think you'll find its contents disturbing."

Brynjolf took the journal from Karliah and read through it. His expression of anger towards Karliah suddenly changed to a look of shock.

"No, it... can't be. This can't be true," muttered Brynjolf. "I've known Mercer too long..."

"It's true, Brynjolf. Every word," said Karliah. "Mercer's been stealing from the Guild for years, right under your noses."

"There's only one way to find out if what the lass says is true." Brynjolf turned around and sprinted over to the vault door in the back of the room. "Delvin, I'll need you to open the vault."

"Wait jus' a blessed moment, Bryn. Wot's in that book?" Delvin asked, following Brynjolf. "Wot did it say?"

"It says Mercer's been stealing from our vault for years," replied Brynjolf. "Gallus was looking into it before he was murdered."

"How can Mercer open up a vault that needs two keys? It's impossible," said Delvin. After a moment of silently making his way to the vault door, he spoke up again. "Could 'e pick his way in?"

"That door has the best puzzle locks money can buy," said Vex. "There's no way it can be picked open."

Parax, Karliah, and the others joined the thieves at the vault door, no longer held back by the knives that were aimed at them moments ago.

"On the other hand, I do recall seeing Mercer… opening doors without their keys," Parax noted. "Even the ancient Nordic puzzle doors."

"He didn't need to pick the lock," growled Karliah.

"Wot is she on about?" Delvin asked.

"Use your key on the vault, Delvin," ordered Brynjolf. "We'll open it up and find out the truth."

"I've used my key, but the vault's still locked up tighter than a drum," replied Delvin. "Now use yours."

Brynjolf inserted his key into the vault door and turned it; the door unlocked, allowing entry to the thieves. Brynjolf looked around the room, his worried expression changing to utter horror. The entire vault had been depleted of its riches! All that was left were several sacks and chests left scattered around the vault. The chests were wide open and emptied to their bottoms, their only remaining contents being particles of dust.

"By the Eight!" Brynjolf exclaimed. "It's gone! Everything's gone! Get in here, all of you!"

"The gold, the jewels…" Delvin mumbled, dropping to his knees. "It's all gone."

"You know we didn't do it. We've been dead for a week," Parax commented.

"That son of a bitch! I'll kill him!" yelled Vex, unsheathing her dagger again. and storming through the cistern, kicking a dropped bottle of Black-Briar Reserve to the side angrily.

"Vex! Put it away... right now," instructed Brynjolf. "We can't afford to lose our heads... we need to calm down and focus."

"Do wot he says, Vex," said Delvin. "This isn't helpin' right now."

"Fine. We do it your way. For now."

"Delvin, Vex... watch the Flagon," ordered Brynjolf. "If you see Mercer, come tell me right away."

Everyone left the vault except Parax and Brynjolf, who stopped the former in his tracks. Delvin began sifting through papers while Vex dug through the chests in the cistern, checking their contents. A few other Guild members who had been sleeping got up to see what was going on.

"Look, before I have you help track Mercer down, I need to know what you learned from Karliah," said Brynjolf. "I mean everything."

"Well, for starters, Mercer was the one who killed Gallus," Parax explained.

"Aye, I feared that was the case," replied Brynjolf. "From that last entry in Gallus's diary, it looks like he was getting close to exposing Mercer to the Guild. Anything else?"

"Karliah was behind Goldenglow and Honningbrew," Parax continued.

"Trying to make Mercer look bad in front of Maven, eh? Clever lass. Was there anything else she told you?" Brynjolf continued to dig.

"…Gallus, Mercer, and Karliah were… Nightingales," Parax said reluctantly.

"What? Nightingales? I always assumed they were just a tale… a way to keep the young footpads in line. Is that really all?"

"Yes, that's everything."

"Then I have an important task for you."

"Hmm?"

"I want you to break into Mercer's home," said Brynjolf.

"No surprise there," Rellik commented.

"We need to get whatever information we can find and figure out what Mercer's next move is," the Nord continued.

"He has a house in Riften?" Parax inquired.

"Aye," Brynjolf confirmed. "A gift from the Black-Briars after they kicked the previous family out… place called Riftweald Manor."

"Can we expect to find him in there?"

"He never stays there, just pays for the upkeep on it," replied Brynjolf. "Hired some lout by the name of Vald to guard the place."

'We'll take care of it," said Parax, looking over at Rellik.

"Be careful, lads," warned Brynjolf. "This is the last place in Skyrim I'd ever want to send you. Just find a way in, get the information, and leave. And you have permission to kill anyone who stands in your way."

"What's the best way in?" asked Parax. "I have a feeling someone like Mercer isn't going to make the front door easily accessible."

"Good question. I've only set foot inside a few times myself and that was in Mercer's company. If you can get past his trained watchdog, I think your best bet might be the ramp to the second floor balcony in his backyard."

"And knowing Mercer, I don't think that's easy to access either."

"No, it's some sort of crazy contraption Mercer commissioned for quick escapes. I'd wager a well-placed shot at the ramp's mechanism would lower it in a hurry."

Brynjolf went on to explain a little bit of Vald's history and the items missing from the vault. With his new objective clear, Parax spoke to Rellik about the plan to get into Mercer's house, then confronted Karliah about how Mercer got into the vault. She was very vague, only saying that Mercer had "abused his power as a Nightingale", and could say no more on the matter. The two prepared to leave the Ragged Flagon, with the Sentinel electing to stay behind. However, they were delayed as Rellik began looking through the chest by his bed.

"Where the hell's my armor?" Rellik muttered in frustration.

"Funny story about that," Brynjolf chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "When Mercer came back and said you lot were dead, he may have... ehhh, sold your armor."

"That set was a gift from the Jarl of Whiterun!" the Orc exclaimed, his eyes widening and his teeth clenching immediately.

"You were dead and business is business," said Brynjolf. "There's not much we can really do for you right now, especially in the condition the Guild's in now."

"Peace, Rellik," said Parax. "I'll get you a better set—trust me, I have a few ideas for you." Before he and Rellik departed via the secret passage, he paused and turned around to address the Guild members. "Do be cautious in the other room, by the way. A certain, brutish, otherwise-would-be-looter is wrestling with... well, everyone else you left in there. He should be fine in a couple more minutes."

Outside and in the streets of Riften, Parax and Rellik searched for Riftweald Manor, taking the path that Brynjolf described; the house was next to the Temple of Mara, and held off-limits by a gate. Parax pointed at the escape ramp, which was right above the gate. Rellik, readying his bow, fired an arrow near the bottom of the ramp, releasing it and causing it to tip over. The sound of the ramp landing alerted Vald, who immediately ran over to the gate and unlocked it. Seeing Parax and Rellik as would-be intruders, Vald unsheathed his blade and ran at the two.

"This is Mercer Frey's place and he don't like visitors," said the man, holding his sword out at the intruders. "But I take it you're not visitors, are you?"

"What was your first guess?" Rellik asked sarcastically.

"There's no need for violence," Parax said calmly, holding his hands up. "We just want to go inside and have a quiet look around. Nobody will ever know you let it happen."

"I'm afraid it don't work that way," replied Vald. "Mercer doesn't want anyone here, and I'm not taking any chances. You wanna get through me? You're gonna have to settle that with Mav-"

He died talking. Rellik had quickly nocked another arrow and released it into the Nord's chest. He let out a puff of air and gasped mid-sentence as he tried to grab the gate beside him, sliding down onto the ground. The duo promptly, as if on cue, approached the body and carried him inside, confiscating his key to the estate and covering up any traces that they were here.

Now in the second floor of the house, Parax and Rellik found themselves in a large storage room filled with piles of crates and bags. Slowly and silently advancing through the room, the two began to hear men singing; when they exited the room, they found the next to be guarded by two thugs. Readying their bows, Parax and Rellik each fired an arrow at the thugs, pinning their bodies to the wall. With the guards dead, the two searched the room, taking any valuables they could find. They then took a staircase down to the first floor; all the doors leading outside were bolted shut, and more thugs could be heard singing from the dining room. The duo quietly made their way across the room, snatching up several golden goblets and a Dibella statue on the way. After executing the guards with well-placed arrows, the duo searched the house for plans, but they could find nothing.

"Perhaps it's in a hidden room somewhere…" Parax suggested, opening all the cabinets and wardrobes. "This wouldn't be the first building we've been in with something like that."

Parax and Rellik felt around inside the wardrobes; finally, Rellik managed to slide the back of one of them to the side, revealing a staircase leading down into a dusty room. Inside the room was yet another tunnel… which led into the sewers. The two advanced, only to find that the next room was trap-filled; tubes could be seen in the floor, as well as their associated pressure plates. Parax and Rellik carefully avoided the pressure plates, exited the room via the tunnel on the other side, and made their way into a long, wide hallway. As they walked forward, however, their fears came to life: more traps. Blades were swinging across the hallway, leaving only about a second to get past them, and a battering ram was swinging from one side of the hallway to the next. And after the ram? More swinging blades.

"I'm going to burn this place down someday," Rellik moaned.

Parax observed the traps, carefully memorizing the intervals at which they went off. Quickly lunging forward, Parax avoided the first set of blades with no problem. The battering ram swung forward, narrowly missing Parax, who ducked.

"Wuld!" the Argonian shouted. He immediately rocketed forward, dodging the last set of blades in the process, and pulled a chain on the wall, deactivating the traps.

"…No comment," said Rellik, walking over to Parax.

The two went down another tunnel, stopping at a door on the other end. Parax examined the area to see three pipes above the door, pointing down at them. Rellik noticed them too; he kicked the door open and quickly jumped away with Parax. Darts came flying out of the pipes, sticking in the floor. The two waited for the pipes to stop shooting before entering the next room. There, they found themselves in an office of sorts. It contained a desk with various coins, a bowl filled with gems and necklaces, a shelf with various goblets and types of food, and a display case containing a glass sword. This sword was much different from the rest of its kind; the blade was a light shade of blue instead of green, and a very quiet crackling sound could be heard coming from it. Parax instructed Rellik to pick the lock and get the sword, while the former took the valuables from the desk. He had also found two books, a letter thanking Mercer for assistance with a delivery of sorts, a bust of a member of the Thieves Guild, and a piece of parchment; taking the items and examining the parchment, Parax found Mercer's plans of where to go next, and quickly fled the room with Rellik, who was admiring his new sword.

Advancing further into the sewers, the two found themselves in the Ratway Vaults, which they knew to be connected to the Ragged Flagon; they were close. As they explored the area for the path to their headquarters, they found the Vaults to be populated by several vagrants. Unfortunately, the residents attempted to rob the duo, despite Parax and Rellik meaning no harm. During their exploration of the Vaults, the two found themselves in a room filled with chests and gold, but guarded by two more of the hostile inhabitants. The vagrants were more than likely intoxicated, as hinted by their clumsy behavior, intelligible rambling, and poor aim with their bows. Rellik stabbed one of the attackers, while the second went up to the second floor of the room to shoot arrows at them.

"Oh, leave them be, Rellik," Parax said, calmly ignoring the vagrant's poorly-aimed arrows. He began opening the chests throughout the room and taking the gold off the table.

"Die, damn you, die!" shouted the bandit, finally landing a shot in Parax's abdomen. The Argonian sighed as he removed the arrow and leaned against the table. He readied a healing spell and pressed his hand against the wound to close it, while Rellik stepped up and decapitated the man.

"Much better," said Parax. "Let's be off now, shall we?"


The Ragged Flagon. Parax and Rellik approached Brynjolf, who was at Mercer's desk, studying the former Guildmaster's notes. He looked up at the two when they approached.

"We've scoured the town and I've spoken to every contact we have left," sighed Brynjolf. "No sign of Mercer. Any luck on your end?"

"We couldn't find him, but we may have an idea of where he's going," replied Parax, handing Brynjolf the parchment he took from the manor earlier; the paper showed a statue of sorts. A gem was drawn on the paper and had arrows pointing to the statue's eyes. A small map was sketched onto the top of the parchment, containing a drawn path. Brynjolf examined it closely.

"Shor's beard!" exclaimed Brynjolf. "He's going after the Eyes of the Falmer? That was Gallus's pet project."

"What's so important about these 'Eyes of the Falmer'?" Parax asked.

"If he gets his hands on them, you can be certain he'll be gone for good and set up for life," Brynjolf explained.

"Then we can't let that happen," suggested Parax.

"Agreed," said Brynjolf. "He's taken everything the Guild has left, and to go after one of the last greatest heists is just an insult."

"What's our next move?" Rellik asked.

"I've spoken to Karliah, and made amends for how the Guild has treated her," Brynjolf continued. "Now she wishes to speak with all of us."

The Nightingales Edit

Karliah was waiting on the walkway above the cistern. Parax, Rellik, and Brynjolf approached her, ready to discuss their plans. She appeared to feel awkward around the rest of the Guild, not bothering to converse with the others; any attempts to make amends with her were met with a simple nod and an affirmative, "Mmm," each time. As such, she simply stood around, waiting anxiously for Parax, Rellik, and Brynjolf, at which point she seemed ready to have a direct conversation.

"I promise you, all your questions will be answered," Karliah said to Parax. "You just have to trust me."

"So what's all this about?" Rellik asked. "What happens next?"

"Brynjolf, the time has come to decide Mercer's fate," Karliah declared, more or less answering Rellik's question. "Until a new Guildmaster is chosen, the decision falls to you."

"Aye, lass... I've come to a decision," replied Brynjolf. "Mercer Frey tried to kill the three of you, he betrayed the Guild, murdered Gallus and made us question our future. He needs to die."

"We have to be very careful, Brynjolf," warned Karliah. "Mercer is a Nightingale, an Agent of Nocturnal."

"Then it's all true... everything I heard in the stories," muttered Brynjolf. "The Nightingales, their allegiance to Nocturnal and the Twilight Sepulcher."

"Yes. That's why we need to prepare ourselves an meet Mercer on equal footing," Karliah continued. "Just outside of Riften, beyond the southeast gate is a small path cut up the mountainside. At the end of that path is a clearing and an old standing stone. I'd ask that you lot meet me there."

"Not going to wait until, say, night, or dawn?" asked Parax. "It sounds like it would be a lot more symbolic."

"Time is of the essence, unfortunately," Karliah replied. "We mustn't waste a second."

"So be it," said Parax. "If I ever keep a journal, I'm writing that we did it at the crack of dawn. We'll be there—just allow us to get rid of some… excess items." As he said this, he reached into a satchel he took from Mercer's house and held up the bust from the basement. Rellik was also sifting through his pockets for anything he took from the estate as well, most notably silver and gold-rimmed goblets containing a few stolen gems.

"Go show that to Delvin," said Brynjolf. "He's been hunting for all kinds of oddities for the past few years, that included. Don't worry, the tavern's safe after Dirge's little rampage you mentioned." The Nord raised an eyebrow at Parax, slowly making a cross between a smirk and a glare.

Nodding, Parax did a sort of half-bow as he backed towards the door to the tavern section of the Ragged Flagon, turning after a few steps and passing through the door. Rellik quickly followed, and the two were once again looking upon the dock that overlooked the pool of water. Any crates that had been damaged during the frenzy Parax inflicted upon Dirge had been cleaned up by now. Fortunately, said damage was minimal, as the Guild members had all been forced to pin Dirge down to stop him from creating too much mayhem. Their guards were up, as evidenced by their complete, undivided attention towards the duo as they noticed them enter. Dirge was sitting on a crate somewhere, resentfully glaring at Parax from the shadows.

Delvin was in his usual spot at one of the circular tables, writing letters addressed to what were likely contacts from across Skyrim, and possibly smaller areas of Tamriel. He was also counting several small pouches of gold and inspecting their contents. Everything was being carefully taken into account, with Delvin writing down everything that the Guild had left. Vex, Tonilia, and a few other Guild members were looking through crates, barrels, and other containers in the area and calling out what they found to Delvin, who immediately jotted down notes.

"Here, add these to the list," said Parax, presenting the bust and placing it gently on the table in front of Delvin.

"Wot the-that's the Bust o' the Gray Fox!" the Breton exclaimed after about five seconds' hesitation. His eyes widened as he stared it down.

"Brynjolf said you've been hunting for it," Parax commented, smirking comfortably. "Mercer had it stashed away somewhere."

"Well, ain'cha provin' to be the thieves of the century," said Delvin. He slid the bust over to his end of the table and examined it cautiously. "Course, this century only just begun, so you'll really have ta keep up the good work."

"There's more," Rellik spoke up, placing the goblets one-by-one on the table. Delvin began looking over the jewels inside and writing down notes.

"Save a couple as trophies," said Parax. He picked up two of the cups—one adorned with silver and the other with gold—and poured the gems out of them for Delvin to inspect. "Drinks on me when we kill Mercer."

Rellik held his hands out expectantly and caught the silver-rimmed goblet as Parax lightly tossed it to him. He seemed a tad surprised by it, and looked at it closely as he held it right in front of his face. "Is it gonna burn me when I drink from it?"

"We're not even in our bloody werewolf forms—should be fine," Parax replied as he put the golden goblet back in his satchel. "Besides, these colors suit us better."

Just a little insurance.

"I take it we'll be paid adequately?" Parax continued, turning his attention toward Delvin.

"W-oh, yeah, of course," Delvin confirmed. "After everything you two did for the Guild, it's only fair. Jus' let me get things back in order—I'll have the jewels sold and put the bust on display somewhere."

"There is more where that came from, by the way," Parax continued, presenting a few other items he had picked up and stashed away—the puzzle cube from Calcelmo's laboratory. "You'll get this when the bust has been paid for."

"Mercer's home is clear, by the way," said Rellik. "Of guards, that is. Plenty of valuables we couldn't carry with us."

"Excellent. I'll write out a few contracts so the others bring everything back," Delvin said, nodding in approval. "Here, lemme put down a few notes for you guys so I don't forget."


12:03 PM. Karliah and Brynjolf waited by the sides of the mountains overlooking the southeastern portion of the Rift. They'd often stare down the pathway leading back towards the city of Riften, not speaking that much. Occasionally, Brynjolf would try to question her about the Nightingales to no avail, as she would carefully brush off the attempts and move onto another subject. In the meantime, they waited for Parax and Rellik to arrive, and soon enough they did. The two were on horseback, though they were weary from the traveling they endured for the past few days and had their eyes closed. They each had an arm tied to their respective horse's saddle, and Parax's free hand was sleepily stroking his horse's mane. Rellik appeared to be especially averse to the brightness, as his eyes were clenched and a fur blanket was on him. Karliah quickly approached them and halted the horses.

"Thank you for coming here," the Dunmer thief said in a hushed tone, pulling the blanket off Rellik.

"Why are we here again?" Parax mumbled. His eyes slowly opening, he kept looking over at the area where Brynjolf was before climbing off his horse.

"This is the headquarters of the Nightingales, cut into the mountainside by the first of our kind," Karliah answered. "We've come to seek the edge we need to defeat Mercer Frey."

"What kind of an edge?"

"If you'll follow me, I'll try to explain on the way."

Karliah walked over to the mountainside near the standing stone and entered a tunnel, followed by Parax, Rellik, and Brynjolf. Another presence was there, though nobody seemed to have taken notice of it. Instead, Karliah busied herself with explained the purpose of the Nightingales.

"So this is Nightingale Hall," said Brynjolf, looking around the cavernous area. "i heard about this place when I joined the Guild, but I never believed it existed."

"The assumption that the Nightingales were just a myth was seeded within the Guild on purpose," Karliah explained. "It helped avert attention from our true nature. What's wrong, Brynjolf? I can almost hear your brow furrowing."

"I'm trying to understand why I'm here, lass," replied Brynjolf. "I'm no priest, and I'm certainly not religious. Why pick me?"

"This isn't about religion, Brynjolf... it's business," Karliah corrected Brynjolf. The group advanced deeper into the cave, eventually entering a large, stone room divided by a flowing stream. A bridge went across the stream and led into another room. "This is Nightingale Hall. You're the first of the uninitiated to set foot inside in over a century. Now, if you'll both proceed to the armory to don your Nightingale Armor, we can begin the Oath."

The group walked across the bridge and entered the room on the other side; several banners bearing the same insignia as the one on the sword Karliah gave Parax hung down from the wall, and three podiums stood on the opposite side of the room. Karliah touched one of the podiums; the shadows in the room seemed to converge towards where she was in the room, enveloping her in darkness and slowly scattering to present a female figure, though different from the one who stood there moments ago. Karliah now donned some type of black, leather armor with the insignia from the sword and banners; the ragged Thieves Guild uniform the others were used to seeing her in was now lying beside her. A black cape materialized itself on her shoulders and extended down to her knees, as well as a hood and mask, appeared on Karliah. Brynjolf and Rellik slowly approached the two other podiums and did the same, and the black armor formed on them as well. Parax remained reluctant to do so, but slowly made his way over to the podiums.

"Nightingale armor, I take it," Parax deduced, then held up the dark, silver-gleaming sword. He tapped his fingers on the handle with one hand as he gripped the podium, feeling his armor fall to the floor in a heap and the intricate, black leather armor of the Nightingales wrap around his body. His sword was now practically weightless, and the tiredness he was experiencing went away. He felt more flexible and agile, like he could sprint across the rooftops of every city in Skyrim whilst dueling twenty of Hammerfell's greatest swordsmen without an ounce of difficulty. He was more ready than ever to face Mercer. "That would make this the Nightingale Blade, then." He immediately knelt down to take what was dropped, quickly realizing that it was only really his previous armor that he lost. All of his money was still on him, as were his daggers and anything else that didn't qualify as clothing. "I could get used to this... and it has a cape!"

"Feels a little hot," Rellik commented as he and Parax pulled their hoods up. A faceguard formed inside each hood—even Parax, to whom's snout it adapted to. "Definitely doesn't suit you." His voice wasn't even muffled by the faceguard in front of his mouth.

"Nor you," Parax retorted, rubbing his free hand along the insignia embedded in the middle of the chestpiece. "Don't think birds suit me."

"Definitely a nice piece of armor though," said Rellik. "Took me right out of nap-mode." As he made this comment, he stepped out of the shadows and into the light; he somewhat staggered from this, slumping his back slightly as if he was tired again. "Shit."

"Okay, lass. We've got these getups on... now what?" Brynjolf asked, trying to get back on topic.

"Beyond this gate is the first step in becoming a Nightingale," replied Karliah, pointing to a tunnel in the room.

"Whoa there, lass," said Brynjolf. "I appreciate the armor, but becoming a Nightingale? That was never discussed."

"To hold any hope of defeating Mercer, we must have Nocturnal at our backs," Karliah explained. "If she's to accept you as one of her own, an arrangement must be struck."

"What sort of arrangement?" asked Brynjolf. "I need to know the terms."

"The terms are quite simple, Brynjolf," answered Karliah. "Nocturnal will allow you to become a Nightingale and use your abilities for whatever you wish. And in return, both in life and in death, you must serve as a guardian of the Twilight Sepulcher."

"Aye, there's always a catch. But at this point, I suppose there isn't much to lose. If it means the end of Mercer Frey, you can count me in."

"What about you?" Karliah asked, turning to Rellik. "Are you ready to transact the Oath with Nocturnal?"

Parax quietly slipped out of everyone's view.

"Just explain the terms again, one last time," Rellik requested.

"By transacting the Oath with Nocturnal, you're entering into a business deal," Karliah explained. "You'll be provided all of the power and knowledge befitting a Nightingale. You're free to use those powers as you see fit to further your own goals or the goals of the Thieves Guild."

"I heard that. But in return?"

"In return, you'll be required to defend the Twilight Sepulcher and everything within when the need arises," continued Karliah. "More importantly, upon your death, your spirit will be bound to the Twilight Sepulcher as one of its guardians."

"And there's no going back?"

"Once the Oath has been struck, the terms are binding. Knowing this, are you ready to undergo the ceremony?"

"…Yes."

"Good. After I open the gate, please stand on the western circle."

Karliah led the others down the tunnel. Decorating the walls were several flags with the eagle symbol, and at the end of the tunnel was a gate. Parax stealthily tapped Karliah on the side as the group walked together, though she didn't seem to notice until he kept doing it over and over. Karliah pulled a chain on the wall to open the gate, allowing everyone else in. They could detect the smell of fresh water as they found themselves in a large, stone room comprised of mainly a platform surrounded by shallow water, which was constantly being poured into by several water vents and releasing its contents into a drain that ran along the edges of the platform. At the end of each of the three walkways branching from the center was another circular platform, albeit small, each bearing the Nightingale symbol on it.

"Stand on any of the platforms and we shall begin the ceremony in a moment," Karliah commanded, motioning for Brynjolf and Rellik to continue on into the darkened chamber. Their eyes slowly adjusted as they walked, and they began making their way to a platform of their choice. Karliah paused and looked over to Parax, swatting his hand away as he continued tapping her. "What is it?"

"I'm keeping this private because I don't want the others to start panicking—I'm sure you have an explanation after all," Parax began, his tone inquisitive and inducing a sense of uneasiness. "If I recall, you and-or Gallus's journal may or may not have mentioned somewhere that Nocturnal can't really exert her power in the mortal plane, courtesy of Mercer... so how exactly is it that this will help us kill him?"

There was a brief moment of silence. Parax began leaning against a wall and feigned a more extreme version of his current drowsiness. Karliah played along and acted as if she was supporting him. Brynjolf and Rellik watched, each with an eyebrow raised.

"Seems the trip here took a lot out of him," Brynjolf commented. "He didn't seem the type who even sleeps in the first place."

"Thought so too," said Rellik. "He's done a lot of running around these days, and without much rest."

"So we're not consulting Nocturnal for an edge over Mercer," Parax deduced, saying it loud enough only for Karliah to hear. "You're using us to fix your own problems again, just like at Snow Veil Sanctum. I take it Nocturnal's not very happy that you failed to stop Mercer decades ago."

"It's not like that—with the things Mercer Frey can do, they would begin to doubt themselves and think twice about confronting him," replied Karliah.

"With the added bonus of you solving whatever issue Nocturnal has with you, of course," said Parax.

Sounds like a placebo effect nonetheless. If they think a Daedric Prince is going to give them the ability to stop Mercer, perhaps it's for the better.

"Will there be any benefit Nocturnal plans on bestowing after all this? You know, besides giving thieves their good luck streak back," Parax continued, looking Karliah intently in the eye. He noticed her hands beginning to tremble slightly as they both acknowledged that he had dirt on her.

"If Nocturnal names the lot of you Nightingales, you'll be granted special abilities that will enhance your performance," the Dunmer explained, her typically sing-song-esque voice sounding rushed and panicked. Parax sensed that she was telling the truth; he was not the kind of person she wanted to deceive, and if she did try anything, he would bring her world down upon her, by any means he could find. As this went on, she "helped" him balance himself, and the two resumed their walk into the water-filled chamber.

"I expect this to be more beneficial than simply going about things my own way," Parax whispered. "I shall play your game for now, but I will not bind myself to Nocturnal."

"So be it," Karliah sighed, taking her arm off Parax's shoulder and stepping onto the platform that was unoccupied—the middle one. Having no place of his own, Parax simply stood by the entrance.

"Not enough room for me, by the looks of it," said Parax, shrugging.

"I call upon you Lady Nocturnal, Queen of Murk and Empress of Shadow... hear my voice!" Karliah suddenly exclaimed, arms spread. And with that, a faint blowing of air could be felt; it became stronger, blowing into each of the four thieves as the room became too dark for them to see, even after their eyes had apparently adjusted to the place. The wind continued to blow forcefully, converging into the platform in the center of the room and soon becoming visible in the form of a swirling, bluish-purple orb, which suddenly began to glow and light up the room again. Bits and pieces of the orb appeared to be "breaking" and falling off of it, and the orb seemed unstable in general.

"Ah, Karliah. I was wondering when I'd hear from you again," a deep, feminine voice with a hint of smugness uttered from the orb. "Lose something, did we?"

I wonder what that could be.

"My Lady, I've come before you to throw myself upon your mercy and to accept responsibility for my failure."

"You're already mine, Karliah. Your terms were struck long ago. What could you possibly offer me now?"

"I have two others that wish to transact the Oath; to serve you both in life and in death."

"You surprise me, Karliah. This offer is definitely weighted in my favor."

"My appetite for Mercer's demise exceeds my craving for wealth, Your Grace."

"Revenge? How interesting... very well, the conditions are acceptable. You may proceed."

"Lady Nocturnal, we accept your terms. We dedicate ourselves to you as both your avengers and your sentinels. We will honor our agreement in this life and the next until your conditions have been met."

"Very well. I name your initiates Nightingale and I restore your status to the same, Karliah. And in the future, I'd suggest you refrain from disappointing me again." The last sentence from the voice sounded more or less agitated—with this particular Daedric Prince, it was a bit hard to tell. Alas, things went well, and the glowing orb faded out of existence. Karliah walked off her platform and returned to the center of the chamber; Rellik and Brynjolf followed suit as soon as they noticed.

"Now that you've transacted the Oath, it's time to reveal the final piece of the puzzle to you; Mercer's true crime," announced Karliah.

"He's done more? How could he possibly do any more damage?!" Rellik asked.

"Mercer was able to unlock the Guild's vault without two keys because of what he stole from the Twilight Sepulcher... the Skeleton Key," Karliah explained. "By doing this, he's compromised our ties to Nocturnal and in essence, caused our luck to run dry."

"Skeleton Key?" Rellik echoed.

"Things are making a lot more sense now," said Brynjolf. "Does this key happen to unlock any door or chest from High Rock to Black Marsh?"

"Well, yes. But the Key isn't only restricted to physical barriers," continued Karliah. "All of us possess untapped abilities; the potential to wield great power, securely sealed within our minds. Once you realize the Key can access these traits, the potential becomes limitless."

That sounds helpful. Makes things awfully easy, though. If she gets in the way, I may have to take it anyways. For now though... perhaps it's better off back where it came from.

"Given the nature of mortals, that sounds like no one should possess it," said Parax. He raised an eyebrow at Karliah, reminding her that he found what he needed to keep her in line.

"Good, then you understand why this is about more than just Mercer's lust for power," Karliah responded. "If the Key isn't returned to its lock in the Twilight Sepulcher, things will never be the same for the Guild. As time passed, our luck would diminish to the point of non-existence. And whether you know it or not, our uncanny luck defines our trade."

"First time this business has been out to return something…" Rellik commented, a slight grin forming from the irony.

"Very true. In our line of work, it's quite rare we set out to return a stolen item to its rightful owner."

"Well, let's get going, then," said Rellik. "We have what we need to stop Mercer before it's too late."

"Before we depart, Brynjolf has some business to discuss," replied Karliah. "I suggest you listen to him."

Karliah continued on, exiting the chamber while Brynjolf lowered his hood and spawned a proud smile.

"Listen, lads," started Brynjolf, "there's one last piece of business we need to settle before we go after Mercer… the leadership of the Guild."

Finally.

"Oh?" was Parax's input.

"Karliah and I had a long discussion before you lads arrived here," replied Brynjolf. "Thanks to your efforts, Mercer's treachery has been exposed. After we deal with him, all that remains is restoring the Guild to its full strength. As a result… we both feel that you have the potential of replacing Mercer as the leaders of the Thieves Guild."

"I'm not exactly the right material for that kind of job. What about you?" Rellik asked.

He is humble, I'll give him that. But there is far more to him than he allows us and even himself to believe.

"I've been at this game a long time, my friend," said Brynjolf. "A long time. I've stolen trinkets from nobles and framed priests for murder. I'm good at what I do, maybe even one of the best. But it's all I know. I've never been one to lead. Never desired it, never cared for it. Don't want it."

Then for now, I don't have any competition.

"Hmmph. For once, I actually have no idea what to say…" Parax said.

"Well, we have a bit of an errand to run before your coronation anyways, so don't get sentimental on me now," chuckled Brynjolf.

"Well, either way, I accept," replied Parax. He nudged Rellik with his elbow.

"As do I," said Rellik.

"Then it's decided," continued Brynjolf. "When it's all over and Delvin's contacts assure me that we've regained our footing in Skyrim, we'll handle the details. Until then, we have quite the task ahead. I've been pouring over the plans you brought us, and I'm convinced the Eyes of the Falmer are in the dwarven ruins at Irkngthand. Karliah and I will meet you there. Prepare yourselves—this will be a fight to remember!"

Parax, Rellik, and Brynjolf exited the room and walked over to Karliah, who was waiting by the door for them.

"I don't feel any different," said Rellik.

"Perhaps we'll see when we go up against Mercer," Parax responded, seeking to stomp out any self-doubt the others had. "On another note, I sensed a certain tone in Nocturnal's voice—the kind of feeling you get when an angry mother bear is lurking outside your door. Is she displeased in some way?"

"If Nocturnal was truly displeased with me... with any of us, she wouldn't have answered my call. I have no doubt that we still hold her favor and I believe it gives us enough of an edge to defeat Mercer Frey."

The group exited Nightingale Hall and dispersed, taking their own routes to Irkngthand. A strange presence that seemed to have been following them quickly presented itself; the Sentinel had returned and, being the quickest, went to Whiterun to fetch supplies and drop off any unneeded items at the trio's current headquarters in Breezehome.


12:15 AM, 15th of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik had been on horseback for many, many hours, making their way towards the ruins of Irkngthand. They were now traveling under cover of night, occasionally looking up to admire the beautiful Aurora Borealis that glowed in Skyrim's night sky. Crickets could be heard chirping loudly in the background over the galloping of the duo's horses.

At this point, the both of them appeared to be omens of death, their bodies enveloped in shadowy armor and their faces obscured by their shrouded hoods. Their black capes hung off their horses, occasionally blowing a little when a gust of air came passing by, or flapping wildly behind them when their horses had the energy to sprint down the roads (or across the fields of Skyrim, if they were a straight enough shot to the next road or Irkngthand itself). Had their horses looked a little less common, then perhaps they would indeed appear more fearsome. Not that they had to worry about scaring anyone away; it was past midnight, and so few would bother with them. If anyone did, and posed a problem, the two could certainly handle themselves.

Rellik carefully felt the pouches attached to his saddle, intently searching for some food. Their supplies were starting to run short, as they had little room and didn't want to slow themselves too much. Time was of the essence, and Mercer Frey had to die. More importantly, he had to be stopped before he made off with the Eyes of the Falmer.

"You got any food on you?" the Orc asked, turning his head in Parax's direction. Both of their horses were going slow enough so as to not make it difficult to communicate.

"You asked just in time," the other retorted, producing a couple slices of bread from one of his horse's pouches. Smirking, he tossed them at Rellik. "Heads-up!"

As if effortlessly, Rellik extended both of his arms to catch the slices, maintaining his balance on his horse thanks to its slow galloping. Without another word, he began folding the bread up and taking bites, consuming all of it in under a minute. Meanwhile, Parax had taken to wrapping himself up with his cape—though the Nightingale Armor itself did a nice job of keeping him warm, even it could not fully protect him from the harsh coldness of Skyrim, especially in this region. They had crossed into the northern section of the country, a bit southwest of Winterhold, and directly west of Windhelm, where the landscape and trees were covered in layers of snow.

The journey continued on in silence for several more minutes before the dirt path they were on revealed what they were looking for; branching off in two more directions, one of them led on into a reasonably-intact dwarven fortress, no doubt the ruins of Irkngthand. At least, it had come to resemble a fortress at this point, as people had come to take up residence in the place. A few tents were set up here and there, and there were quite a few people occupying the ruins. Obviously there was far more than what they could see, but whatever else had been set up by the new residents was well-hidden behind many gates and stone walls.

"What do you think of them, Rellik?" asked Parax, looking on into the camp.

"Those people?" Rellik retorted with a question of his own. "It's a bit hard to see from this far."

"Do you imagine they'll let us leave our horses here for some time?" Parax clarified.

"You wanna talk to them?"

"Well, I don't exactly want to leave our rides standing out here."

There was a short moment of silence. Rellik sighed loudly, climbing down from his horse and connecting its saddle to Parax's with a rope. "I guess there's only one way to find out. You do the talking—I'll get into position in case they try something."

"I'll stretch if I need someone killed," said Parax. He had been meaning to test Rellik's own initiative when it came to giving out orders or just generally forming a plan of his own; after all, with what he had in mind for the Orc, he needed to make sure he was ready. "They haven't noticed us yet."

"Seems Karliah's making up for the hell she put us through," Rellik commented as he slipped away into the night. "I'd say she's halfway there."

Parax gave Rellik a minute or two's head start and rode towards the fallen city, counting the number of people present. Though he couldn't exactly see their faces from afar in the darkness, all that mattered was that he knew how many, and where they were.

"Stay right where you are!" a man's voice exclaimed; Parax immediately took notice of two figures aiming bows at him from atop the gate. "Don't move, or I'll put an arrow in your eye!"

"Relax, I have no hostile intentions," said the Argonian, obeying the orders not to move. "Do you happen to have someone more important—a leader, perhaps?"

"The boss doesn't care what you're doing here," the man retorted.

"Are you running low on supplies?" Parax asked. "I just so happened to have noticed that this place is out in the middle of nowhere, in the frozen parts of Skyrim-"

"We're doing just fine," replied the man, pulling his bowstring back a bit more.

"You live in the frozen ruins of a long-dead people, where traders and merchants rarely, if ever, travel," said Parax. He turned his head to slightly face a campfire near the gateway to the ruins, where a gaunt-looking Nord stirred some kind of stew. Their eyes met. "Your campfire is dim and you have very little spare firewood. You look like you've barely eaten. What, have you been feeding on the moisture of the walls indoors?" Once again, he faced the men with bows; at this point, he didn't care whether he reasoned with them or just ended up stalling them long enough for Rellik to put an arrow in their throats. These people were bandits—vermin, filth, hiding in the dirt and preying on travelers. Not only that, but they were the worst kind of bandits: desperate.

"Alright, what's going on here?" another Nord man demanded as he approached the gate from the other side. He stared through the bars at Parax, who didn't even bother giving him any attention.

"And yet, it seems as though you've lived here for some time—you and your friends seem relaxed and as though you feel safe and at home," Parax continued. "I can only conclude that you survive off of raiding, but the few bits of destroyed caravans and dead horses on the way here seem to be a week or so... expired. You must be running low on supplies."

"Guess it's a good thing you showed up with two fine horses with all kinds of supplies, then," the archer once again responded. He released the bowstring, launching an arrow at Parax. The Argonian had already anticipated this from the first words of the man's response, however, as he had flung himself off his horse and pulled the reins back, causing it to rear up and take the arrow in the side. Whinnying in pain and terror, it turned around and prepared to sprint off away from Irkngthand and into the night, but two more bandits had already grappled onto it in an attempt to stop it from escaping. Though one of them managed to hang on, the second was quickly flung off and trampled. The man lied on his stomach, groaning and struggling to get back to his feet.

On the other hand, the bandit who held on couldn't control the horse well enough as it charged into the darkness of the night, tugging the other along with it. The both of them disappeared, the bandit's shouting echoing for some time.

Shit.

"Idiot," the man behind the gate groaned, pulling a lever to release the bars and stepping through. "You're one of the smartest people here, Netler. How does this conform with last week's resolution?! I expected more from you." The Nord was about twenty feet from Parax now, his right hand firmly gripping the Orcish greatsword on his back and the other grasping a torch. "I expect more from my men! I thought we were on the same page with this!"

"We're not going to survive much longer without supplies, Throhelm," the archer muttered. The light of the torch revealed him to be a Dunmer with frizzy hair and fur armor. Three daggers and a steel sword were sheathed on his belt.

"Nor if we keep trying to kill everything that moves, especially if they're trying to make an offer," the Nord countered. "That's what you were trying to do, mmm?"

"I had planned on making a business proposition—a trade," said Parax, clasping his hands behind his back and raising an eyebrow at Netler. "Unfortunately, I am now in very much the same situation as you lot—without a horse and supplies."

"Then there's no point in keepin' him alive," said a Nord woman as she drew a sword. Her free hand clenched, making the brass knuckles she wore more pronounced. "Might as well take what we can off his corpse."

"He doesn't even look like a trader, or businessman, or whatever he's claiming to be," Netler pointed out the dark, enigmatic armor that Parax wore. "I think he's fucking with us."

"My colleagues do make a strong case," Throhelm sighed as he slightly unsheathed his sword. The woman beside him smirked. "Why are you really here?"

As they said this, the bandits looked over Parax's shoulder as the sound of hooves clopping along the ground could be heard behind him. The two horses had returned, though the bandit who had been trying to get onto them had three black arrows sticking out of the same exact spot on his chest. His legs were pinned to the saddle to keep him from falling, as his limp torso drooped over the side and left a trail of blood drops.

Nice.

The Argonian smirked under his hood. He raised both his hands next to his head, palms facing forward. "You got me. This isn't exactly the kind of offer you think, but it may be slightly more valuable."

"He's got a friend with him... That's why he had two horses!" said Netler.

"No shit," growled Throhelm. "What exactly are you proposing?"

"My... friend, and I—we require passage through Irkngthand. That's the name of your base of operations, by the way," Parax replied, a hint of condescension and matter-of-factness in his voice. "We wish to rest our horses here for the time being. In exchange, we shall deliver supplies to your camp."

"That implies that you are able to acquire those supplies," the Nord woman commented. "Which means you have coin."

"Which means we could, theoretically, just buy those supplies ourselves," Throhelm concurred. "How can we expect you to honor your end of the bargain? What if you just leave us to die afterwards?"

"We don't have much time, anyways," said Netler. "We can't just wait around on this guy's time—we can go get what we need right now."

"Easily accounted for," Parax replied, leading the horses over to the cooking fire. He healed the arrow wound his horse sustained, then unpinned the dead bandit and let him flop over onto the ground. "Enjoy."

"...You want us to eat one of our own?" Throhelm asked, making a disgusted face.

"He does sort of smell, I'll admit," said Parax. You all do, come to think of it. "Alas, it's the best you'll be able to do; there's nothing on the horses, except, well... the horses. Unfortunately, eating them would just send you straight back to square one in a couple of weeks."

"Then we use them ourselves and ride over to Windhelm with whatever gold you have on you," Netler urged, tugging his bowstring a bit.

"Likewise, accounted for," the Argonian retorted, smirking again. "We didn't bring any money because we didn't need it for this trip. You're welcome to search my pockets if it makes you feel more comfortable. Or, less, in this case."

"Eiruny, go check him," said Throhelm, nodding at the Nord woman. Still holding her sword out, she approached Parax and began sifting through his pockets, her expression becoming more and more frustrated until she stopped, grunted, and started to feel the hilt on his sword. Parax stretched and made a yawning noise; several seconds later, an arrow came soaring out of the darkness from above and struck Eiruny in the thigh. She fell forward and stuck her sword in the ground for balance, but that was all she could do. When Netler began aiming his bow around the area in hopes of finding the attacker, another arrow came out of the darkness, though from a different direction, piercing his shoulder and toppling him off the gate.

Aaaaand there's Karliah.

"He's still breathing," said Parax, looking down at the wounded Dunmer. Taking glimpses of the arrows that had been fired—both into the bandit who tried to steal the horses, and now Netler—he noticed that the arrows in both were black, and the feathers looked ashen and torn. Nonetheless, the shots were pulled off very well.

He proceeded to remove the arrow from the first raider's corpse, noticing that the arrowhead was not comprised of one point, but rather two long, narrow, curved ones. A slight red glow was being given off on the arrowheads.

Neither Karliah nor Rellik use Daedric arrows.

"I have more than just one friend here, as you can see," Parax continued. "However, one of them and myself would very much like to make use of your base. In exchange, you will be given supplies in the near future, and perhaps we'll be able to establish a partnership of sorts." There was a long pause as Throhelm contemplated his situation. Meanwhile, Parax knelt down beside Netler and readied a healing spell in his left hand. "And please don't say, 'And if I say no?' I've put up with enough idiots asking that when it's pretty damn clear what will happen."

"Fine—you can explore Irkthud to your hearts' content," Throhelm muttered. "But if you take too long, we will just have to see if someone else with a less... fragile deal in mind comes along soon."

"I'm a man of my word," replied Parax, pulling the arrow out of Netler and holding his hand above the wound. The orange-yellow orb in his palm lit up brightly as the bleeding ceased and the hole sealed itself. Netler's eyes opened slightly and closed again as he rested himself. "Your cooperation is greatly appreciated."

And with that, the gate to Irkngthand opened. Parax passed through, leading his and Rellik's horses with him. He and Throhelm walked along a path in the snow for about a minute or two before scaling a ruined stone staircase, feeling the eyes of many other bandits. He could sense their anticipation all around him—a deep-seeded urge to rob him, kill him, and leave him by the side of the road. Throhelm's presence was the only reason they weren't trying to, and even that was shaky. Their desperation would override reason, and if he and Rellik didn't want to lose their horses, they'd have to hurry up and kill Mercer.

Parax and Throhelm passed by another campfire, ignoring the glaring eyes of the other bandits as they went up several more walkways of stone. Parax didn't slow his pace to gaze upon the Dwemer ruins this time—he knew time was of the essence, and that he couldn't tarry. Soon enough, Rellik showed himself, springing from the rooftop of one of the many towers erected throughout the ruins and landing—with difficulty—beside the two. It took him a moment to regain his balance and avoid slipping on the ice, but he otherwise managed. Throhelm led them both through a gold-bronze-colored double door near the top of the Dwemer city, though what he and his guests saw was unexpected.

Blood was spattered across the walls and floor. Some were still in their sleeping bags and crowded around a small campfire in the center of the room when their throats were slashed. One had half of his body stuffed into a nearby chest, its lid appearing to have been slammed down onto him repeatedly. The rest of the dead were simply slumped up against a wall or staircase, their blood running down and pooling into the center of the room. They appeared to have been dead for several hours by this point.

Parax and Rellik heard Throhelm's sword unsheathe behind them. They quickly turned around, though at Parax's urging, did not draw their weapons in response.

"This what your friends did, lizard?" the Nord demanded.

Old wounds imply Mercer. Mercer doesn't use a bow.

"Those wounds are several hours old," Rellik retorted before Parax could.

"He's correct," Parax agreed. "The organization we represent is... chasing a man. We were led here; I suspect that he is responsible for this."

Speaking of which, how does he plan on getting out of here with minimal supplies?

"...Fine," Throhelm growled. "Just remember, we have your horses now. When you find this guy, bring me his head."

"Of course," said Parax, bowing his head slightly. When Throhelm sheathed his blade, the two took it as their cue to continue on through the ruins, leaving the bandit chief behind. "If the others start getting unruly, remind them that our organization doesn't take kindly to being crossed."

The time was coming. Mercer was in their grasp, along with the Skeleton Key and the Eyes of the Falmer. They didn't have to worry about their horses for the time being; they were under the protection of the bandits in Irkngthand, and Throhelm—at least for now—would be able to keep them in line long enough for the duo to take care of business and get out. Perhaps in the future, the raiders could be put to good use, despite Parax's immense hatred for their kind. Alas, he needed to form a web of his own if he wanted to carry through with his plans; exploiting the desperation of Throhelm and his little bandit clan was a good start. Now he just needed to take control of the Thieves Guild and gain all of their connections.

"Rellik, did you see anybody else up there?" Parax asked, keeping his hand on his Nightingale Blade.

"No, but I noticed someone else shot one of the bandits. Brought the horses back too," the Orc retorted. At first, he kept himself facing the path ahead, but his pace changed as the question piqued his curiosity.

The two passed through a stone corridor, their paths lit up by the glowing gems fused into the walls. Parax briefly glanced over his shoulder before slowly drawing his sword. They were led into an open room with multiple floors extending from wall-to-wall, all of them connected by a series of stone steps bordered by tall golden fences. As they descended to the lower section of the room, a rattling sound began to echo from one of the walls. The two immediately turned their heads in its direction as Rellik wrapped his fingers around the handle of his sword. The rattling continued for several more seconds before what looked like a gold-bronze metal sphincter in the wall opened up; a similarly-colored ball of sorts—roughly waist-high in height and the same in width, the both of them knew from the moment it came into their sight what it was.

A thin, skeletal body of metal bars folded out of the sphere, revealing a series of wheels and gears as it scooted along the floor. Two arms unlocked from a self-embrace as a head sporting a long, armored "skull". What appeared to be a small crossbow unfolded on the left arm while a long, gold-bronze blade extended from the right with a resounding ssshing. Two dead, statuesque eyes stared the duo down, and the dwarven sphere charged. The sides of the sphere rolled forward as if they were wheels, carting the machine across the stone floor and down the staircase as it closed in. By now, Rellik had his ebony sword out, swinging it downwards as he drew it to block the blade as it was thrust at his chest. The other arm aimed its crossbow at Parax, who barely managed to swerve his head out of the path of the bolt. He swung his sword upward and jammed it into the gears working the construction's arm; the blade pushed the arm away as a new bolt was automatically loaded into the crossbow from a compartment somewhere. Meanwhile, Rellik managed to slide the blade of his sword into its sphere section and jumped forward, toppling the both of them onto the floor as the Orc tore through its head and pulled out the soul gem powering it. It ceased to move and Rellik climbed back to his feet, and the self-proclaimed thieves carried on.

"Why did you ask?" Rellik inquired.

"I don't think Karliah was helping us out there," Parax answered. "They were using arrows that I didn't see in her quiver."

"As if you'd really pay attention to that," said Rellik.

"Noticing things is my blessing and curse," retorted Parax. "From the arrows someone uses, to the type of wood it came from. I see the minor tics in a person's face when they've just killed someone, or the smudged lip-marks and sleep-deprived wrinkles on an unfaithful spouse, or the suppressed twitch of pain on an abused child, or the look of shame and embarrassment on someone who has been taken against their will. I can see when a person has been scarred for life, or miserably married and hiding it all away with a simple smile. I see all kinds of things in you, Rellik—that is why I am the way I am. I don't live in blissful ignorance, or dismal ignorance for that matter, because I see everything."

Soon, the two of them made their way into another hallway; it was darker than the others, as the light gems had apparently been removed. Two figures were by a door on the opposite end, both of them wearing the same garb as Parax and Rellik. They recognized the voices of Brynjolf and Karliah conversing as the more feminine of the figures was hunched over in front of the door, fiddling with the lock. They both stopped talking to each other when they noticed the duo approaching.

"Mercer's been here, I hope we aren't too late," said Karliah.

Locking the doors behind him will only stall us.

"I'm assuming those dead bandits…?"

"Brynjolf and I found them like that. Mercer's doing," Karliah answered. A click was heard from the door. "We have to catch up to him before it's too late."

"Very well, let's go," said Parax.

"We should tread carefully," warned Karliah. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's left behind a few surprises for us."

"Apparently there's someone following us as well," said Rellik.

"That so?" asked Brynjolf.

"Somebody helped us... persuade the bandits outside to let us be," Parax explained. "They were using Daedric arrows—something I don't recall any of you using."

"Let us hope they're on our side then," Karliah muttered, still looking away as she jiggled the door a little. "The last thing we need is Mercer Frey having the right distraction to escape."

Parax opened the door, releasing a trap set by Mercer earlier; a large, spiked ball attached to a chain came swinging down, narrowly missing the group. A sealed bottle of Black-Briar Reserve was balanced on the floor in front of them with a couple coins stacked on top. Parax picked it up and tipped the coins off of it into Rellik's hand as the group continued on. Advancing through the next hallway, they found themselves on a platform overlooking a large, misty, stone chamber. The platform was surrounded by thick bars, preventing the group from jumping down; they had to find another way around. Countless pale creatures in a strange type of armor were wandering around the room. It didn't even resemble armor—more like chunks of a very dark blue chitin stuck together. Their wearers had the typical ears of an elf, long slits for noses and sharpened claws. A light pink tissue covered each of their eyes. The creatures were barking at each other in some guttural tongue that nobody understood.

"Those are Falmer," Rellik whispered to Parax. The tone of voice implied that the Falmer-related contract the Companions gave the Orc did not carry pleasant memories. "See the pink skin where their eyes should be? They're blind, but every other sense has… tuned up to the point that you wouldn't even know."

"Wait a moment... what's that?" Karliah said, pointing through the bars. "It's Mercer! Look... down there!"

The group looked where Karliah was pointing; a figure could be faintly seen in the mist. The figure was quietly moving past all the blind Falmer. They could neither smell nor hear the thief sneaking about the dilapidated ruins; they were at his mercy.

"I'm on it, lass," said Brynjolf, looking for a way to the room. "Damn it! There's no way through."

Parax suppressed the urge to tap a Dwemer-themed door hidden away in the shadows—the risk of alerting other Falmer was too great if their senses were as attuned as Rellik suggested. Just then, Mercer stabbed one of the Falmer guards and pushed it off a ledge. The other Falmer came rushing to the sound to investigate. Mercer turned his head to face the group from afar before darting back into the thick mist without making a sound.

"He's toying with us," mumbled Karliah. "He wants us to follow."

"Aye, lass... and we'll be ready for him," replied Brynjolf. "Lets keep moving."

The group turned around, entering a corridor behind them. Descending a ramp at the end of the corridor, they found themselves in another large room. Pieces of the millennia-old ruins were scattered, and Falmer were wandering the room. Across the room was a closed door, and two ramps on each side had a lever near the top; seemed simple enough, though when Parax pulled the lever on the group's side of the area, it forced its way back to its original positioning after a few seconds. Perhaps it required careful timing.

"Look at the size of this place," Brynjolf remarked. "Have you ever seen anything like it in your life, lass?"

"Can't say that I have. Imagine the riches hidden within these walls."

Parax pointed Rellik over to one of the levers; the Orc quickly ran over to it, bypassing the Falmer. Parax walked over to the other and nodded. Both pulled their respective lever—opening the large gate—and advanced through the ruins. They heard a loud crash shortly afterward, but were too concerned with sneaking past the Falmer to worry about it. In the next room, they came across the remains of several Dwemer structures scattered around, even forming a bridge upwards; by the looks of them, they had been in this condition for a long time.

"Looks like we can take the low road, or the high road across this chamber," said Brynjolf. "Your choice."

Parax and Rellik promptly climbed onto the ruins of the buildings, followed by Brynjolf and Karliah. With that, the group carefully crept through the ruins as quietly as they could, stealthily killing off any Falmer that got too curious; Parax and Brynjolf made use of their dexterity and skill in stealth to creep around with their blades out, while Karliah utilized her bow. Rellik, being a bit less sneaky than them, also used his bow, again demonstrating his skill as an archer as he and Karliah shot down their enemies. Eventually, the group approached a spiral ramp. There, they saw the remains of a tower blocking the way to the room in which the first saw Mercer; it had collapsed very recently, as suggested by the dead Falmer lying underneath the rubble. The dust was also still settling, and could be made out even in the mist.

"So this is what we heard," said Brynjolf. "The entire tower collapsed!"

"The only reason to do that would be to block pursuit," explained Karliah. "It must be Mercer. We'll have to find another way around."

"Mercer was able to knock this thing down? Gods..."

"It's the Key, Brynjolf. In his hands, there's no telling what he's capable of."

Traveling up one of the spiral ramps, the group located an alternate pathway, finding themselves in yet another massive room filled with Falmer. This one was different from the other sections of Irkngthand's ruins, however; most of the Dwemer craftsmanship had been stripped away, with the stone-tiled floors replaced with dirt and the artfully-designed walls resembling little more than simple stone. What looked like tents composed of the same chitinous material that made up the Falmer's armor were scattered about the place. A pen containing several skeevers was off to the side—the large rodents hissed and squeaked viciously. Something else Parax had never seen before was standing in place in the room, attached to several pipes. It was some sort of large, mechanical guardian that the Dwemer had constructed. One arm wielded a massive hammer, while the other contained the same retractable blade mechanism as the dwarven spheres. The head was like a statue, being little more than a stoic, unchanging face of a bearded man.

"Shor's bones!" exclaimed Brynjolf. "Look at that monstrosity."

"It's a dwarven Centurion," said Karliah. "Very tough and very deadly."

"We can take the beast on or sneak around," mumbled Brynjolf, turning to Parax and Rellik. "It's your call. We're right behind you."

"Implying there's even a reason to take it on in the first place," Parax muttered. He approached it anyways and slid his hand up into the construct's torso, casting a lightning spell immediately afterwards. The machine twitched as if it had been activated, only for something to suddenly pop out of the top of the body and roll down onto the dirt ground. Several nearby Falmer seemed to have heard the noise and had their heads turned in Parax's direction. He quickly picked up the device—a series of gold-bronze rings intersecting with a central sphere embedded with glowing red gems—and flung a chunk of scrap metal in another direction. As the Falmer moved towards the noise to investigate, the others joined Parax; they could hear angry hissing and screeching as the pale, elven monstrosities realized the trick and picked up on their scent.


2:57 AM. Parax, Rellik, Karliah, and Brynjolf had fought through hordes of dwarven constructs and Falmer, but now they were close, according to the plans they stole from Mercer's estate. The occasional dead Falmer could be found lying around in a pool of its own, dark-red blood. Often, its brethren were gathered around, trying to track the killer but unsuccessful.

Now the group of thieves were in what resembled an ancient torture chamber of sorts; stone tables with the edges lined with a golden-bronze metal were all around the room. Each table contained vials of all sizes; when Parax walked by one, he immediately picked up on various smells, including the pungent, vinegar-like odor of a frostbite spider. There was a more foreign odor as well—he wasn't quite sure what it was, just that it burned his nostrils and sizzled loudly when he dropped a man's severed toe into it. Speaking of toes, there were many body parts strewn about the chamber, either laid out on tables and fitted into different areas of bloodied skeletons, or lying around rotting by the two torture racks nearby. The naked, mutilated corpse of a man was stretched out on one of the racks, his face forever twisted into an expression of agony and horror. Just looking at the man's body created mental pain and a strong, numb feeling; among many other injuries, several of his ribs had been removed—expertly broken or cut out of the exposed chest cavity. Bugs flew and crawled all around the lifeless body, and a slip of parchment could be found lying underneath the rack. Parax picked the note up and looked at the scribbled, desperate last words of a man who knew he was about to die.


"Nobody thought they were real, but I've seen them.

The Eyes of the Snow Elves!

The Dwarves thought they took them from the Falmer, but they themselves were fooled. A statue, built in secret by the slaves, the eyes burn into you, and I see them even now. S'raffa escaped through the collapsing tunnel, but he'll never escape what we've seen. Men will never believe him, and he'll be driven mad by the knowledge that he'll never see them again. But I may yet see them again before I die."


The sounds of wet, dirty, bare feet clomped around on the stone tiles as a door creaked open and shut nearby. In came a Falmer in loose, torn rags that swayed about and clung to its wearer's emaciated form. The creature began to sniff the air frantically, as if it had picked up on a foreign smell, then ran over to the vial Parax was messing with earlier. Its ears twitched as it flung the vial to the side and sprayed its foul-smelling contents everywhere, then it grabbed off one of the tables a sword constructed from chitin. The Falmer was quieter now, carefully walking around the room while sniffing and listening for the trespassers. Parax suddenly noticed that there were several holes in the floor—not simple gaps formed by damage, but methodically drilled every few tiles or so. Each hole had a cylinder of metal integrated onto it. It had to be another trap the dwarves left behind.

Before he could do anything about it, a rod retracted from each of the holes, followed by two blade-like attachments retracting from each rod. Parax's eyes widened.

"Fus Ro Dah!" the Argonian shouted as he sprung away from the rods; Brynjolf and Karliah were knocked off their feet as the blades began to spin at a rapid pace. Rellik, however, was nowhere to be seen. The Falmer, on the other hand, was immediately eviscerated by the blades, making a gurgling, ear-piercing screech as it was slashed apart. The blades ceased moving and the devices retracted; the sound of metal being tapped on was heard. Parax, Karliah, and Brynjolf looked over to the source of the sound, seeing Rellik standing over in one of the corners with his hand on a metal lever. Parax smirked at the Orc as the group reconvened.

"Even the Falmer don't deserve the pain these implements must have inflicted," Karliah commented, looking around the room in horror. "The dwarves were a cruel race."

Proceeding through the ruins, everything slowly began to resemble Dwemer architecture less and less; practically all of the metal and stonework was gone now, replaced by simple, dark catacombs that were only slightly lit up by an abundance of fungi growing all about. More of the alien, chitinous tents were present, its Falmer residents going about the place and attending to their day-to-day activities, from messily feasting on meat to maintaining the chitinous structures. Some were gathering what the group recognized as spider eggs, and eventually eggs that were just as unusual as the Falmer; they were covered in light blue, luminous bumps that made them look more like the compound eyes of an insect. Where those eggs were found, a distinct, rapid clicking sound echoed throughout the dark tunnels. Parax could've sworn he saw the walls themselves moving.

"Hear that?" Karliah whispered as the party snuck out of one of the Falmer encampments. "Chaurus."

"I've only heard of those things in books," Parax responded. "What are they?"

"Stick around long enough and you'll see," the Dunmer answered as she motioned her head towards the tents; several Falmer seemed to be investigating the area now, and they were heading in the direction of the group. A large, dark shape appeared to skid and slither around behind them, and the clicking became even more apparent.

Fascinating.

This process of sneaking around continued for nearly half an hour before the group reached what looked like the final few steps Gallus's plans hinted at. They stopped abruptly at a pair of large, metal doors; the plans indicated that the room behind these doors contained the Eyes of the Falmer, which also meant they contained Mercer Frey.

"He's close, I'm certain of it," said Karliah. "We must prepare ourselves."

"Then this is it," replied Brynjolf. "We do this for Gallus and the Guild."

Parax and Rellik pushed one of the heavy doors open. There it was, the resting place of the Eyes of the Falmer. They found themselves gazing upon a giant, metal statue in a sitting position, which occupied much of the area they were in, to the point that a staircase ran up each arm to the shoulders. It bore a likeness to anything of elven descent; whatever it was representing wore loose robes and held a closed book in its left hand. The right was off to the side, grasping a torch that burned brightly—not that it was necessary, what with all the luminescent mushrooms growing out of the walls. According to Karliah, the statue was the only known physical representation of the snow elves. Mercer was on the statue, pulling two large gems—the Eyes of the Falmer—one-by-one from the statue's head. The bodies of several Falmer were scattered about the room, their blood dripping down and pooling in the center.

"He's here and he hasn't seen us yet," muttered Karliah, readying her bow. "Brynjolf, watch the door."

"Aye, lass. Nothing's getting by me-"

As Brynjolf said this, the sounds of clicking echoed loudly from right outside the door, now coming from multiple sources. Parax recognized the acidic odor from the torture chamber as he grabbed the handle of his sword with one hand and readied his flames spell in the other. Brynjolf frantically shut the door, grabbed a sword from one of the dead Falmer, and stuck the weapon into the door handles to keep it closed.

"Climb down that ledge and see if you can-" Karliah could not finish her sentence; Mercer had turned around, laying the Eyes of the Falmer next to him on the statue.

"Karliah, when will you learn you can't get the drop on me?" said Mercer. He waved the mysterious item from Snow Veil Sanctum—the Skeleton Key&around, and the deafening sound of rock cracking echoed about the room. The door behind the group could be heard locking. Large rocks fell from the ceiling, shattering the tiles of the floor. The metal pipes in the ceiling creaked as pressurized water pumped out of the sides—Mercer had damaged them, and what started out as leaking now reduced much of the lower parts of the chamber to a muddy puddle.

Part of the ledge the group was on broke as another rock came crashing down, dropping Parax and Rellik into the room. Mercer climbed down from the statue's torso and onto the book it held. He unsheathed his sword, the blade taking on a reddish hue as he did so.

"When Brynjolf brought you before me I could feel a sudden shift in the wind," muttered Mercer. "And at that moment, I knew it would end with one of us at the end of a blade."

"You, in this case. Hand over the key, Mercer," Parax ordered. Rellik readied his bow, aiming it at the former Guildmaster.

"What's Karliah been filling your head with? Tales of thieves with honor? Oaths rife with falsehoods and broken promises?" Mercer asked mockingly. "Nocturnal doesn't care about you, the Key or anything having to do with the Guild."

The water was rushing out of the pipes even faster now. Parax felt coldness as it touched his feet, reflexively looking down for just a moment before resuming eye contact with Mercer.

"More or less," said Parax, taking a step forward. "Alas, none of us are here for honor. Karliah, perhaps, but not the rest of us. We're here for the Key and the Eyes of the Falmer. And your head, of course—you've been a pain in my arse, after all."

Rellik released his arrow, but Mercer had already anticipated the move; he leapt to the side as the projectile harmlessly bounced off the statue, then opened his left hand—the one holding the Skeleton Key moments ago—and clenched his fist. Before Rellik could nock another arrow, Mercer had vanished into thin air.

"Revenge is it? Have you learned nothing from your time with us? When will you open your eyes and realize how little my actions differ from yours?" Mercer's voice sounded throughout the room, coming from one side of it and then another. A slight distortion could be heard in the man's voice—a deep, demonic echo. "Both of us lie, cheat and steal to further our own end."

"No shit," Parax replied. "The difference is that all you care about are these... short-term things. Money, wine, women—whatever. The momentary, instant gratifications in your short, insignificant life. I do what I do because I see the bigger picture, but all you see is a mansion, jewels, and money, money, money." Unsheathing his Nightingale Blade, he let out a sigh of disappointment. "How ordinary. How... boring."

"Hey lad, this may just be me, but the room is kind of flooding right now!" Brynjolf interjected. "Can you save the monologues for later?"

Looking one thing and doing another is my specialty.

"If you sneak up on a man and stab him in the head, they just die," said Parax. Mercer suddenly appeared behind him and slashed Rellik on the stomach with a dagger, throwing his sword-arm over Parax's shoulder and attempting to press his sword up against his throat. The Argonian had been listening to his footprints this whole time; the hand containing his flames spell was already up to his neck and grabbed onto the blade, which slowly began to cut through his gauntlets. He pulled the blade away, tugging Mercer with it and twirling him around in front of him. He attempted to slash him in hopes of both wounding him and allowing him to track his blood trail, but the thief once again vanished.

"Let's just kill him already," Rellik growled as he readied another arrow.

"And so the die is cast. Once again my blade will taste Nightingale blood!"

Mercer appeared out of thin air another time, throwing a knife at Rellik; it hit him in the shoulder, causing the Orc to misfire his next arrow. Mercer raised his hand towards Brynjolf and clenched his fist as his face twisted into a malicious grin.

"Karliah, I'll deal with you after I rid myself of your irksome companions," said Mercer. "In the meantime, perhaps you and Brynjolf should get better acquainted—it's been years, after all."

"What's... what's happening…" mumbled Brynjolf. "I can't stop myself."

"Fight it, Brynjolf! He's taken control of you!" Karliah exclaimed.

"I'm sorry lass, I... I can't…" Brynjolf replied, grabbing Karliah by the throat and raising his knife.

"Damn you, Mercer!" Karliah shouted. She quickly unsheathed two daggers and crossed them in front of Brynjolf, catching his blade. Kicking the Nord into the wall behind him, Karliah tried pinning him down to buy Parax and Rellik time. Brynjolf threw her off and ran at her again, blades ready. As this went on, the screeching and clicking behind the door grew even louder as something continually threw itself against the barricade.

Meanwhile, Mercer was nowhere to be seen once again. He suddenly appeared in front of Parax and Rellik, slashing at the two with his dwarven sword. Rellik quickly countered the attack, while Parax kicked him off the ledge he was on, knocking him into the water. Parax jumped into the shallow water, landing in front of Mercer and swinging his sword at him, kicking the dirty water in his face in the process. Though Mercer managed to roll to the side just in time to keep himself from being cleaved through the gut, the blade scratched him on the back; blood leaked out of the wound and into the water as he cut Parax on the foot. The Argonian felt a brief dizzying sensation as he felt like his very essence was being sucked out of him through the wound.

Rellik fired another arrow from the platform, striking Mercer in the thigh as the thief flickered out of reality again. Parax heard a soft chuckle behind him, followed by a sharp pain as a small dagger was stuck into his side, and then a cut across the other as a long sword slid along it. Again, he felt dizzy, and as he looked behind him, it seemed that Mercer was only getting stronger. It did not dissuade him though, as he wheeled around and slashed the Breton across what little remained of the arrow wound on his thigh; crimson blood sprayed out, some of it landing on Parax's face, and with the strike came a feeling of relief as he felt his own wounds shrink. Though he staggered a bit, he barely reached out and grabbed the side of Mercer's face, a hint of satisfaction felt when Mercer's face turned to one of pain; flames erupted out of Parax's palm and scorched his enemy's cheek.

No longer able to get a clear shot on Mercer, Rellik sprinted forward, leaping off the broken platform and ramming into Mercer. He clearly wasn't expecting this, as he offered very little resistance and was pinned up against the statue's book, dropping his dagger in the process. The Orc pressed his bow up against the man's neck in an attempt to choke him, then tried to headbutt him. However, Mercer managed to catch him by the forehead and push him away, though that was all he could really do; Rellik had his sword-arm trapped in his tight grip.

"Ah, the brute," Mercer grunted, finding the air to make another remark despite Rellik's bow being up against his neck. "I've killed legions like you!"

A mixture of red and black clouds flickered between the two, and the next thing Rellik experienced was quite similar to what Parax had felt. He was suddenly dizzy, releasing Mercer and stumbling a few steps back. The former Guildmaster did not disappear into thin air this time, however—instead, he slinked into the shadow of the statue, seemingly "melting" into it without a single trace left. Parax peeked around Rellik to see where he may have gone, but the thief was nowhere to be seen.

"He's not going anywhere without the Eyes," Parax commented, briefly glancing at Brynjolf and Karliah; he had tackled her onto the broken platform now, but saving her was not his primary concern. What mattered now was finding Mercer, or at least waiting him out, and Parax knew just what to do. Not wanting to risk running into a waiting Mercer on the stairs, the Argonian quickly climbed up onto the giant snow elf statue's book, then started making his way up the arm. "Rellik, keep your guard up!"

Rellik put his bow on his back and reached for his Skyforge steel sword, hoping to be quicker with his attacks. He looked around the room and kept himself alert for anything out of the ordinary—perhaps a distortion in the air where Mercer could be. Alas, he saw nothing of the sort, but what he did notice was that the dagger Mercer had dropped was gone again. By the time he realized this, he felt a sharp sting as a knife went through his cape and sank into his right shoulder. The Orc turned around to locate the thrower, but again saw nothing. Another feeling of nausea overcame him, and he fell to his knees in the water.

Parax grasped onto the shoulder of the statue, the jeweled Eyes of the Falmer lying on the collar of its robes. This had to be where Mercer was; he was probably going to try to make a quick getaway while the place flooded. While escaping through the door wasn't going to work, Mercer was not one to do something without a backup plan in mind. Perhaps Irkngthand had an emergency exit of sorts, like the Nordic ruins.

He was now atop the statue of the snow elf, surveying the area and listening for footsteps. Or a bladed weapon being drawn, or something. Anything that would help him find Mercer and put an end to this. He was used to tough opponents—even ones worse than Mercer's caliber—but now he was wounded and bleeding. His enemy was as much of an opportunist in combat as he was as Guildmaster; he only took the risk if it was worth it, and that would include the few seconds it'd take to ready a healing spell for himself. All he could do now was remain vigilant.

And with that, the chance presented itself; the sound of someone sprinting past him in the direction of the jewels. Parax quickly unsheathed his sword and swung it in the direction of the sound, feeling the blade make contact with something soft. Mercer's form faded back into reality, his hand clutching a wide, bloody cut in his lower back. He yelled out in pain and swung around just in time, countering a second strike from Parax and twisting the sword out of the Argonian's hand. The weapon was flung off the platform, landing in the water with a kerplunk. As Rellik took notice and began running up the stairs, Parax attempted to conjure up his bound sword in an attempt to block Mercer's incoming hit. The Breton lunged forward with his sword at the ready, the blade sinking into Parax's abdomen as the latter tried to swerve out of the way. His vision blurred as his head became numb as he found himself peering into Mercer Frey's dark, glaring eyes, getting a distorted glimpse of the man smirking. Then everything started to turn red and darken. His head hurt. He could feel himself slipping out of consciousness. He could feel himself falling to the side, and in one last, desperate move, he wrapped his arms around the figure in front of him and flung them both over the edge.

Splash. Parax's vision returned to see the surprised face of Mercer Frey looking back at him—everything else was just muddied water. He was still lightheaded, barely able to even move, moreso swing his sword at Mercer. Fire wasn't going to work, considering they were both underwater. There was no telling when Rellik was going to catch up; by then, it was very possible that the man in front of him would have done... whatever the hell he was doing. Whatever it was that allowed him to feed on Parax's own essence. He'd just do the same to Rellik that he had been doing to Parax—slowly whittle him down, then finish the job.

That wasn't going to happen.

Parax clenched a fist for Mercer to see, then opened it to reveal the next spell in his arsenal: lightning. The bolts flickered between Parax's fingers, harmlessly waiting for him to command them. Mercer's eyes grew wide as a smirk creeped across Parax's face, and as Mercer began to frantically swim away in his desperation to get out of the water, the Argonian mouthed some obscenity before releasing the spell.

Rellik's footsteps skidded to a halt as part of the water lit up with a bright purplish-blue, which accompanied the sound of what could only be described as a muffled explosion. "Parax!" was the first thing to come from his mouth as he looked on in shock. Seconds later, two bodies floated to the surface—one boasting a limp, dark-blue tail with black patches, and the other a dark-haired man in black Thieves Guild attire. The latter slowly and quietly floated over to Rellik's feet. The Orc looked over to Karliah and Brynjolf; the two of them were still fighting, this time with the latter trying to force the former's head under the water, which had now submerged the statue's book.

The all-too-familiar numbing feeling came back to Rellik as his vision failed him. He staggered, Brynjolf and Karliah's shouting echoing in his ears. A loud ringing sound drowned everything else out. The figure of a man could be seen slowly rising out of the water. Rellik's first instinct was to throw his fist forward, but he had no energy; the punch was weak and completely missed its target. He could hear a voice muttering to him—one laced in annoyance and bitterness, and none other than Mercer Frey's.

"He bled like a stuck pig," was what Rellik could make out at first. His hearing was fuzzy and the voice sounded muffled. "And he fried himself in his desperation to take me with him."

Rellik looked up at the blurry image, his eyes meeting the blurry image of two shimmering, green orbs—eyes that belonged to Mercer Frey. They returned the gaze as a faint smile cracked across the man's face. A blade rested on Rellik's shoulder. He tried to mutter something at the figure, but everything was numb; whatever he said probably came out in the form of gibberish.

"Don't bother—I'll save you the trouble of having to hear me rave," Mercer continued as Rellik's senses came back to him. The Orc grabbed a dagger off his belt and tried to lift his arm up to stab the man, but a searing pain in his shoulder—the same one where Mercer had hit him with a dagger of his own—caused him to drop it with a groan. His eyes trailed down to it in shock; he always considered himself to be more resistant to pain than others, having built up a tolerance over the years. Alas, there it was—his arm lying limp against the stairs as the water rose up to his waist. Meanwhile, Mercer stuck the tip of his sword into Rellik's armor and began cutting through it. Rellik was leaning against the staircase now, too exhausted and wounded to fight back.

"As I was saying, before you rudely walked away," a voice with an Altmer accent hissed. Rellik's eyes adjusted as a golden-orange light shined, and a soothing feeling came over him; Parax was behind Mercer now—half-conscious but still there—his Nightingale Blade pressing into Mercer's Thieves Guild attire and into his skin. The blood leaking out of the Argonian's wounds were flowing back in now, and Mercer himself seemed too tired to resist now. Instead, he grunted as the water around him began crackling and hardening—the work of an ice spell. "You don't just kill a man without at least letting him know why he's going to die. I suppose you've been here long enough to know already, though."

Rellik had managed to climb back onto his feet by this point. Wrestling the Skeleton Key from Mercer's rapidly-stiffening hand and his sword from the other, he simply sighed and smiled with relief before going to retrieve his weapons and both the Eyes of the Falmer. Once the jewels were secured, he carried them down the stairs and gazed upon the flooding room. Brynjolf and Karliah had stopped fighting. Parax had taken the time to put his sword away—it was no longer required now that Mercer was tired and half-frozen—and instead had the welcoming, golden-orange light of a healing spell in his hand. Maintaining his other spell's concentration on Mercer, he held his hand out to Rellik and channeled his willpower; strands of bright light enveloped Rellik, and he felt the rest of his wounds healing. He experienced a sensation of warmness and basked in the light, which reminded him quite a bit of the sun. It had been so long since he saw the sun...

"He sold the armor Balgruuf gave you—I suppose he's yours now," said Parax, picking through Mercer's pockets and claiming several jewels and coins. He then stepped away as Mercer's tired eyes made their way up to meet with Rellik's. He didn't react to the giant Orc towering over him, instead seeming to have a look of resignation and acceptance on his face. He winced slightly as Parax ran his bound sword along his arm, then slowly shifted to an expression of horror as Rellik unsheathed his own sword and handed the Eyes of the Falmer to Parax. Then Rellik brought his weapon down thrusting it through Mercer's torso and splitting him into many parts that scattered and fell into the water. Parax's smirk was known only to himself as he watched a blackish, dark purple gem begin to glow dimly and become surrounded by a faint, black aura. He put it in a specific, unoccupied pocket as Brynjolf and Karliah approached.

"This place is coming down!" Karliah exclaimed, and with that, the celebratory mood died as everyone once again became aware of how fast the room was flooding. "We need to get out of here!"

"No luck there, lass," muttered Brynjolf. "The beasts are piling up behind the door now; we open that, we're doomed."

"We have to find another way out of here before the place fills with water!" said Karliah.

The group looked around for a way out, but they could find nothing. Though not necessarily afraid for himself—given the natural ability of an Argonian to breathe underwater—Parax understood the threat of eventual starvation, and the drowning of his comrades. His eyes rapidly darted about as he stood in place, hurriedly looking for an alternate way out. The door's blocked off. The pipes? No, too ridiculous. Too much water coming out anyways. The door's blocked off. Secret passageway in or behind the statue? None to be found. The door's blocked off.

Then he began to notice a bit of light coming from the ceiling. Not the bluish kind of light that the fungi and gems had been giving off—which had, in fact, now ceased and left them all in darkness—but the silvery light of the moon itself. He could make it out where rock had fallen from earlier. It was all coming from behind the head of the statue, whose neck was starting to crack by now, but how was there light? They had to still be pretty deep underground. Only one way to find out.

"The head!" Parax announced. "It's coming loose and I think that's our way out!" Ironically enough, he was also now holding Mercer's severed head—proof to Throhelm and the other bandits.

"I see it!" said Rellik, rushing forward and grabbing one of the Eyes of the Falmer from Parax to lighten the load. He stood on the shoulders of the statue and waited, with Karliah and Brynjolf quickly following suit. They watched as the neck continued to crack and the head slowly slid to the side, but it didn't budge any further after that. "Shit."

"The Skeleton Key!" Karliah shouted, her eyes lighting up. Realizing this at the same time, Rellik held up the Skeleton Key and waved it around dramatically in hopes of making something happen. Within seconds, they found the head itself splitting into many pieces, allowing the light of the moon to shine through. The four frantically climbed through the newly-revealed hole to safety, grasping at dirt, stones, and dead vines as they crawled out of the flooded room. Parax and Rellik let themselves fall to the ground and set the Eyes of the Falmer beside themselves, laughing in relief. Brynjolf leaned against a wall to catch his breath, but he didn't say much. Karliah got on her knees and wept softly.

"I can't believe it's over. Twenty-five years in exile and just like that, it's done," Karliah whispered, looking down and breathing heavily. "All that remains is to ensure the safe return of the Skeleton Key."

"Objective noted," Parax muttered. "We'll go wherever the thing needs to go and put it back."

Let me guess, that's going to be a complex task too.

"I'm afraid it's not that simple," replied Karliah. "When the Skeleton Key was stolen from the Twilight Sepulcher, our access to the inner sanctum was removed. The only way to bring it back will be through the Pilgrim's Path."

"…I'm hoping you've taken it," Rellik groaned with a loud sigh as he looked through the hole in the ceiling of the cave they were in. The moon shimmered brightly through, and cool, fresh air filled their lungs. At this point, they were just glad to be alive.

"It wasn't created for the Nightingales. It was created to test those who wished to serve Nocturnal in other ways," Karliah explained, still on her knees as she looked down, her head turning back and forth between Parax and Rellik. "As a consequence, I have no knowledge of what you'll be facing."

"By your tone, I'm assuming you don't want to go," said Parax. He was tired and was very much happy to have gotten out of Irkngthand, but he shot Karliah a look.

"Brynjolf is needed back at the Thieves Guild to keep order while you're away. And I... I can't bear to face Nocturnal after my failure to protect the Key. I'm afraid you'll have to face the end of your journey alone."

Parax sighed in annoyance. Again, she was letting her emotions get the best of her. She was the one person who may remotely have something useful for this, and she was opting out because of what he perceived as self-pity. He wasn't in the mood to force the issue; whatever awaited him and Rellik, they'd overcome it. They got this far, after all. "So be it."

"Take this with you. I'm not certain if it will help within the walls of the Sepulcher, but I certainly don't need it as much as you." Karliah pulled her bow off her back and placed it between the two. "I've had this bow almost my entire life, and it's never let me down. I hope it brings you the same luck."

"I'm sure Rellik will find a good use for it," said Parax, staring blankly into the sky. "I don't suppose you can tell us something about the Sepulcher."

"Even though Nocturnal doesn't desire worship in the traditional sense, the Twilight Sepulcher propagated a small group of priests," said Karliah. "Of course, they'd never come into direct contact with Nocturnal but they insisted they had her favor. As part of their 'duties', the priests created all sorts of baseless rituals and ceremonies all on Nocturnal's behalf."

"They didn't interfere with the Nightingales?"

"These priests weren't a threat to the Skeleton Key or the conduit to Nocturnal's realm, so they were tolerated," Karliah answered. "One of their ceremonies involved the Pilgrim's Path, a so called 'test of worthiness'. If a pilgrim was able to complete the path, it was said that they would become one with the shadows. What that means is anyone's guess."

"Well, off we go, then," Parax sighed, sitting up straight and looking down at the great gems beside him. He hadn't exactly looked at them as closely as he was now, but at this point he had the time to truly admire their beauty. What he gazed upon were two large, white, egg-shaped jewels that were about two and a half times the size of his head. They were intricately carved with many ornate patterns and shapes that stretched across their entire surface, and a red glow could be seen emanating from it, akin to an enchantment like the one on Mercer's sword. They were surprisingly light for their size, as any one of the four could carry both around with little difficulty. Now it made a lot more sense why Mercer planned on doing just that.

Both Parax and Rellik got to their feet, each holding one of the massive gems before promptly handing them over to Brynjolf and Karliah. "You're going to Riften, so they're your responsibility now. We will also need to know where to find the Twilight Sepulcher."

"Of course," said Karliah, taking one of the Eyes as Brynjolf took the other. She pricked her finger with one of her daggers and put a small dab of her blood on each of the two's maps, directing them to a section in the Falkreath hold. It was located directly west of the town of Falkreath itself, somewhere by the mountainous southern border of Skyrim and rather close to the former hideout of the Glenmoril Coven. Before they headed out, however, Parax still had some business to take care of before the group was to split.

"Brynjolf, I'd like you to send some food to the bandits inhabiting this place," said Parax. "Not too much—just enough to keep, say, a dozen people alive for a couple weeks."

"You sure that's a good idea, lad?" Brynjolf asked, furrowing his brow. "They're not exactly... worth anything."

"I found a use for them when we arrived," Parax replied. He handed him two sapphires he claimed from Mercer. "As long as you see to it that they remember not to cross us, it will play out as expected. Have the food sent to them, and I shall take care of the rest."

"If you say so," Brynjolf said with a hint of suspicion and confusion in his voice. "You're gonna be our boss pretty soon, so I'll trust your instincts for now. I should expect you to know what you're doing at this point."

They took off on their separate ways upon emerging from the cave, with Brynjolf and Karliah beginning the journey back to Riften. Parax and Rellik, on the other hand, still had to return to Irkngthand and retrieve their horses. Upon exiting the cave, they found themselves by the side of a lake just a little west of Windhelm. Many pipes of dwarven architecture were running out of the lake and directly into the cave itself, pumping water for whatever purpose the Dwemer had intended long ago.

"How did you pull that off, anyways?" Rellik asked to pass the time during the long trudge through the snow of the northeastern Pale hold. "The thing with the lightning and—you know—not dying."

"Honestly, I didn't even expect it either," Parax replied. "I've had yet to find the time to experiment, but my guess is that, at least in this case, my own magic simply couldn't harm me. Other than that, I honestly don't know."

They ventured south, following the notes and marks on their maps to locate Irkngthand, where they reclaimed their horses from the local bandit clan and presented Mercer's head to Throhelm as a token of good faith. To keep them alive long enough before Parax could make good on his promise, he also bestowed upon them meat that he had taken from the Falmer and their domesticated skeevers. They didn't care what it was from—they were starving, and they needed food, and so they took the meat with little more than a look of suspicion. As expected, they had also taken to cooking the bandit who had been killed and ravenously feasting on him. They all looked like a bunch of savages, without an ounce of humanity left in them and motivated only by the hope of Parax saving them from certain starvation. They would just have to find out. To keep them dependent on him, Parax had taken to leaving all items of particular value (Mercer's sword, the valuables on his corpse, and so on) with Karliah and Brynjolf, so as to prevent his new "friends" from just robbing him and cashing in for food of their own. They were his now.

Restoring the GuildEdit

1:08 AM, 16th of Heartfire. Parax and Rellik finally reached the Twilight Sepulcher as marked on their maps by Karliah. They were in a snowy forest somewhere west of the town of Falkreath. With no time left to lose, the two walked through the entrance to the Sepulcher—a hidden metal door at the bottom of a cliff. Behind the door, the duo found themselves inside of a gargantuan, stone, cavernous room. Pillars lined the sides of the well-lit room, and large, stone arcs stretched across it. A ghostly figure was standing in front of a staircase on the other side of the room. He was wearing a spectral set of armor resembling that of the Nightingale's. Both parties approached each other.

"I don't recognize you, but I sense that you're one of us," said the ghost, facing Rellik. "Who are you?"

"I'd ask the same question of you," replied Rellik.

"The last of the Nightingale Sentinels, I'm afraid," answered the spirit. "I've defended the Sepulcher alone for what seems like an eternity."

"The last? What happened to the rest?" asked Rellik.

"We were betrayed by one of our own kind. In fact, I'm to blame for what's happened here."

"How are you to blame?"

"I was blinded. Blinded by dark treachery masquerading as friendship," explained the ghost. "Perhaps if I had been more vigilant, then Mercer Frey wouldn't have lured me to my fate and stolen the Skeleton Key."

"Wait a moment... You're Gallus!" said Parax.

"I haven't heard that name in a long time," muttered the spirit of Gallus. "How do you know of me?"

"We have the Key," replied Parax.

"The Key! You have the Skeleton Key!" exclaimed Gallus. "I never thought I'd see it again. And Mercer Frey?"

"His ashes lie at the bottom of Irkngthand," Parax answered.

"Then... it's over and my death wasn't in vain," sighed Gallus, turning back to Rellik. "I owe you a great deal, Nightingale."

"We did it for the Guild," said Rellik.

"You've done the Guild a great deed," Gallus assured the two. "And although they may not show it, I'm certain they appreciate your sacrifices… My only regret is that you had to undertake this task alone."

"Actually, we received quite a good deal of help from Karliah," replied Parax. "And of course, Enthir."

"Karliah... she's still alive?" asked Gallus, relieved. "I feared she'd befallen the same fate, ending up a victim of Mercer's betrayal."

"Then take the Key and fix this," said Rellik.

"Nothing would bring me more pride than to return the Key, but I'm afraid it's impossible," replied Gallus. "From the moment I arrived here, I've felt myself... well... dying."

"…Dying. How does a spirit die?" asked Parax, confused.

"The Sepulcher isn't merely a temple or a vault to house the Key. Within these walls is the Ebonmere... a conduit to Nocturnal's realm of Evergloam," Gallus explained. "When Mercer stole the Key, that conduit closed, severely limiting our ties to her."

"So we will have to do this alone," muttered Rellik.

"I'm afraid so. I'm weakening, and I can feel myself slipping away," said Gallus. "The years without restoration of my power have taken their toll. Whatever damage has been caused can only be corrected by following the Pilgrim's Path to the Ebonmere and replacing the Key."

"Is there anything you can help us with?" asked Rellik.

"I wish I could help you, but I've been a prisoner in this very chamber for the last quarter century," replied Gallus. "The only possible help I've come across are the remains of some poor fellow who was trying to follow in your footsteps. Perhaps his journal can help?"

Gallus pointed towards a corpse on the east side of the chamber. Parax examined it, taking a journal and enchanted ebony sword from the remains. He approached Rellik and Gallus, still having more questions.

"What's wrong with the other Nightingale Sentinels?" Parax asked, reading through the journal.

"With the Ebonmere closed, and their sudden severance from the realm of Evergloam, I fear they've undergone a drastic change," answered Gallus. "They're shadows of their former selves. They no longer remember their true purpose or original identities."

"So why aren't you like them?" asked Rellik.

"My spirit didn't manifest itself in the Sepulcher immediately, so fortunately I wasn't present when the Ebonmere was sealed," explained Gallus. "However, ever since that day, I've felt my power waning… slowly draining away."

Gallus proceeded to explain things further, such as Nocturnal's influence on the Guild's luck, and how her disconnection to them has caused it to run dry. Fully prepared and dedicated to returning the Key, Parax and Rellik advanced up the staircase and entered a circular door. The two found themselves in the remains of the Sepulcher, which was now worn down and falling apart; time was of the essence, and they had to move quickly. Advancing through the ruins, Parax and Rellik came across a large, well-lit room. two dark, ghostly figures in Nightingale Armor were wandering around the room. The duo leapt from their hiding spot, ambushing the spirits and swiftly defeating them before proceeding onward.

Down the next hallway, the two stealthily took care of another corrupted Nightingale Sentinel patrolling the area. Entering the next room through the door she was guarding, Parax and Rellik found themselves in the second trial. They were in a large, dark room with several orbs of light scattered around. Parax opened the journal and quietly read it to Rellik.

"Above all they stand, vigilance everlasting. Beholden to the murk yet contentious of the glow."

Examining the room, the two took note of the countless charred corpses in the lit areas. Knowing the light to be obviously dangerous, the duo stuck to the darkness, disabling or avoiding an occasional trap along the way.

In the next room was a statue of Nocturnal. A dead traveler was lying in front of it with a tray filled with gold and gems.

"Offer what She desires most, but reject the material. For her greatest want is that which cannot be seen, felt or carried."

Clever. Cannot be seen. Parax and Rellik looked around the room, finding two pull chains hidden to the sides of the statue. When they pulled the chains, the candles throughout the room died out. A door behind the statue opened, allowing the duo to continue onward. Advancing down another corridor, the two reached the fourth test. An old trap that they recognized from the Nordic ruins: pendulum blades.

"Direct and yet indirect. The path to salvation a route of cunning with fortune betraying the foolish."

It was Rellik's turn to show off. Using Whirlwind Sprint, he bolted through the hallway, evading all the blades. Parax did the same, and the two successfully passed the fourth test—or so they thought. Upon opening the door on the other side of the corridor, a battering ram came swinging down from the other side.

"Hit the dirt!" Parax exclaimed, leaping to the floor.

Rellik did the same, narrowly avoiding the ram. They waited for it to stop swinging before continuing forward. Proceeding down a long hallway, the two entered a room with a large, empty well.

"The journey is complete, the Empress's embrace awaits the fallen. Hesitate not if you wish to gift her your eternal devotion."

"Wonderful," Rellik sighed sarcastically.

Parax wordlessly leapt into the well, Rellik following behind him. At the bottom was a skeleton carrying a note. Patiently waiting for something to happen, Parax began reading the note; apparently, the corpse in the well had killed the pilgrim back in the Sepulcher's main chamber. The two were accomplices, only for one of them—mentioned as Anders in the journal—to betray Nystrom, the other traveler. The last moments of Anders were described in the note, which suggested a slow, grim death of starvation.

After several minutes of thinking, Parax held the Skeleton Key out to Rellik.

"You know what to do," said Parax.

Rellik took the Key and waved it around. Suddenly, the floor collapsed, dropping the two into a circular room. Decorating the room were several pillars lining the wall, and three closed doors surrounded the two. Examining the room, the two could not find anything of interest. Suddenly noticing something, Parax looked down on the floor; a shiny, glassy circle was in the middle. What appeared to be a lock was in the center.

"Hey Rellik. Look," said Parax, kneeling over and pointing towards the lock.

Rellik immediately understood. The Orc inserted the Skeleton Key into the lock and turned it. The floor suddenly rose up, throwing the two backwards. Three stones came out of the newly-created platform, which filled up with a dark liquid of sorts. A woman in dark clothing rose up out of the fountain.

"My, my. What do we have here?" said the woman. She had the same voice as the figure from Nightingale Hall, leading the two to conclude that this was Nocturnal. "It's been a number of years since I've set foot on your world. Or perhaps it's been moments. One tends to lose track. So... once again the Key has been stolen and a 'champion' returns it to the Sepulcher. Now that Ebonmere has been restored, you stand before me awaiting your accolades; a pat on your head... a kiss on your cheek."

Parax wandered around the fountain, waiting for Nocturnal to finish monologuing.

"What you fail to realize is your actions were expected and represent nothing more than the fulfillment of your agreement," continued Nocturnal. "Don't mistake my tone for displeasure, after all, you've obediently performed your duties to the letter. But we both know this has little to do with honor and oaths and loyalty. It's about the reward; the prize."

On the bright side, at least the Guild will be returning to its original strength. Just another step closer to the unification of Skyirm.

"Fear not. You'll have your trinkets, your desire for power, your hunger for wealth," chuckled Nocturnal, her eyes closely following Rellik. "I bid you to drink deeply from the Ebonmere, mortal. For this is where the Agent of Nocturnal is born. The Oath has been struck, the die has been cast and your fate awaits you in the Evergloam. Farewell, Nightingale. See to it the Key stays this time, won't you?" With that, Nocturnal descended back into the fountain.

Something caught Parax's eye. He looked to the side to see Karliah entering the room.

"I'm glad you were able to bring the Key back safely," said Karliah. "Nocturnal seemed quite pleased with your efforts."

"She didn't seem very pleased," muttered Rellik.

"I wouldn't take that to heart. It's her way," Karliah explained. "Think of her as a scolding mother continually pushing you harder to be successful; outwardly sounding angry but silently content. I assure you, had she been displeased with you, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"…So what is this talk of Agents of Nocturnal?" asked Parax.

"The circles at the base of the Ebonmere imbue you with powers befitting a Nightingale Agent," replied Karliah. "The crescent moon represents the Agent of Shadow, the half moon for the Agent of Subterfuge and the full moon for the Agent of Strife."

"Do explain each of them," Parax requested.

"The Agent of Stealth is the master of remaining unseen," said Karliah. She pointed to one of the three doors—specifically, the one with a crescent moon symbol on the floor in front of it. "They are able to manipulate the darkness and use it to their advantage. On moonlit nights or in darkened rooms, this agent literally becomes invisible."

"So Shadow. What about Subterfuge?"

"The Agent of Subterfuge utilizes shadow to cloud the judgement of those around him." Karliah pointed at the door with the half moon symbol. "By weaving the darkness to their will, this agent can manipulate others into fighting for the Nightingale for a limited time."

"Strife?"

"This Agent of Strife can send forth a tendril of pure darkness into the heart of another, causing great injury to them." Karliah pointed to the full moon symbol. "At the same time, this tether will bolster the agent's own life force, making him stronger.""

"Interesting. So, what now?" Rellik asked.

"Now, your life as a Nightingale begins," replied Karliah. "Should the need arise, you'll be summoned to the Sepulcher in order to defend it."

"What about you?"

"The Guild has welcomed me back with open arms," said Karliah, smiling. "I feel like a void in my life has finally been filled. I only hope that this isn't an ending to things, but actually the beginning."

"The beginning of what?" asked Parax.

"Why, perhaps the greatest crime spree Skyrim's ever known," Karliah explained. "There are pockets brimming with coin and coffers overflowing with riches ripe for the picking. We may be Nightingales, but in our hearts we're still thieves and we're damn good at what we do."

"Well go on, Rellik," said Parax. "Choose."

Rellik wandered around the room for a moment, deciding which power he was to take. Soon, he made his choice, and entered the door with the full moon. He came back out of it to see Karliah and the spirit of Gallus conversing, with Parax observing in the background.

"Karliah?" asked the ghost.

"Gallus! I feared I would never see you again," exclaimed Karliah, hugging the spirit. "I was afraid you'd become like the others."

"If it were not for the actions of these two, your fears would have come true," replied Gallus, facing Parax and Rellik briefly. "They honor us all."

"What will you do now, my love?"

"Nocturnal calls me to the Evergloam. My contract has been fulfilled."

"Will I ever see you again?"

"When your debt to Nocturnal has been paid, we'll embrace once again."

"Farewell, Gallus. Eyes open... walk with the shadows."

"Goodbye, Karliah."

With that, Gallus approached the fountain and vanished. Karliah stared at it for a moment before turning to face Parax and Rellik.

"Gallus's Oath has been paid. His actions have satisfied the terms," mumbled Karliah. "Now his spirit becomes one with the Evergloam... the realm of perpetual twilight and the cradle of shadow."

"Meaning, he's gone?" asked Rellik.

"No, not gone... he's become one with the shadows," Karliah explained. "This is the greatest honor a Nightingale can possibly achieve. In death, he's become a part of that which we use to live."

"…So, they're part of the darkness around us," said Parax.

"Absolutely. When we say 'walk with the shadows', we are asking those Nightingales who have passed on to protect us," replied Karliah. "It's believed that they are literally what guides our uncanny luck... by placing their hands in ours. That's why the Ebonmere needed to be reopened. Without it, there's no way Nocturnal was able to allow them through."

Such a strange world, this is. No matter, the Guild will be restored in time. All it takes is a little bit of patience. With the Key returned, Parax left the chamber through one of the portals, followed closely by Karliah and Rellik.

"What do we do now?" Rellik asked.

"Until we get our invitation to the Thalmor party, we'll be restoring the Guild to its full strength," answered Parax. "The wealth that will come with it will allow us to fund large projects or otherwise strengthen our influence."


6:58 AM, 17th of Heartfire. The two were once again in Riften, ready to continue their business. They quickly headed to the Ragged Flagon to tell Brynjolf the good news. He was wearing a new set of armor similar to what Mercer was wearing.

"It's good to see you two in one piece!" exclaimed Brynjolf. "I just wanted to give you a proper thank you for everything you've done. The Guild is back on its feet again and on its way to a prosperous future. What's become of the Skeleton Key?"

"We've returned it to the Sepulcher," replied Parax. "Our luck should be returning."

"That's it then. After all of those years of helplessly watching the Guild decline," chuckled Brynjolf. "But enough of that... I'm confident that with you in charge, we'll soon have more gold than we could possibly spend."

"And you?" Rellik asked.

"I'll be down here, trying to coordinate everything with Delvin and Vex; to make sure the coin keeps flowing... and no one skims!" Brynjolf declared. "If you still feel like doing some jobs, I'm sure Delvin and Vex have more than their fair share to give out. Either way, it's been a pleasure, my friend. Here's to the future of the Guild. May it last another thousand years!"

With a lot of work ahead of them, the duo sought out Delvin and Vex, ready to restore the Guild.

Esbern Edit

12:39 AM, 21st of Heartfire. Not too long ago, the duo received a letter from Delphine informing them of the party. It was to occur around noon on this very day, prompting Parax and Rellik to get to Solitude to prepare. As instructed by Delphine, the two entered the Winking Skeever tavern. Looking around, they found the one person to fit Delphine's description of Malborn—an orange-haired Bosmer with his hair sticking up, sitting in the corner. The two approached him.

"What is it that you need?" the Bosmer asked.

"Our mutual friend sent us," replied Parax.

"Really? You're who she picked? I hope she knows what she's doing," muttered Malborn, clearly skeptical about the infiltration. "Here's the deal. I can smuggle some equipment into the Embassy for you. Don't plan on bringing anything else in with you. The Thalmor take security very seriously. I'm ready to go. Give me what you can't live without, and I'll make sure to get it into the Embassy. The rest is up to you."

With that said, Malborn led the two into another room in the tavern; inside were several chests. As instructed, Parax and Rellik began planning out what they'll be using. They then placed everything they had on them in separate chests, leaving them in only their underwear. Malborn handed them casual clothing and assured them that he would have the items smuggled into the Thalmor Embassy. After the chests were secured, Parax and Rellik exited the tavern and waited a few hours before heading towards the stables. There, they were greeted by Delphine, who had arranged a carriage for them.

"Have you given Malborn the gear you want to smuggle into the embassy?" Delphine asked.

"Yes, we are all set," replied Rellik.

"Good, I have your invitations to the party," said Delphine, holding out invitations to the two. "But the only way you're going to get past the guards is if they really believe you're an invited guest… which means you need to look the part and not armed to the teeth."

"I'm quite certain we look glorious," chuckled Parax, showing off his casual clothing.

"Here, put these on," replied Delphine, handing a set of fancy clothing to each of them.

"Hmmph," grunted Parax, putting the fancy clothes on. "Looks like someone does not appreciate true art…"

"Are you sure Malborn can be trusted?" asked Rellik.

"Don't worry about Malborn," answered Delphine. "He's not a dangerous character like you, but he hates the Thalmor at least as much as I do. He's a wood elf; the Thalmor wiped out his family back in Valenwood during one of their purges that we never hear about. Luckily they don't know who he really is, or he wouldn't be serving drinks at the ambassador's parties."

All set and ready to go, the two climbed into the carriage, which began its course for the embassy above Solitude.


12:05 PM. Parax and Rellik hopped out of the carriage, which was now parked outside the embassy. As they approached, a guard stopped them.

"Welcome to the Thalmor Embassy," said the guard. "Your invitations, please."

"Here you are," replied Parax, showing his invitation. Rellik did the same.

"Thank you, sir. Go right in," said the guard somewhat cheerfully.

Parax and Rellik walked past the guard and entered the embassy. Inside, the room was well-lit and decorated with tapestries, fine colorful rugs, and tables spread out and covered with plates of food. Various people the two recognized were talking to each other in the party—specifically, the various Jarls that were on the Empire's side of the civil war. As the two made their way towards the crowd, they were stopped by a female Altmer with light hair.

"Welcome. I don't believe we've met," said the Altmer, clearly suspicious of the two. "I am Elenwen, the Thalmor Ambassador to Skyrim. And you are...?"

"I am Parax, and this is Rellik. Pleased to meet you."

"Ah yes. I remember your name from the guest list," replied Elenwen cheerfully. "Please, tell me more about yourself. What brings you to this... to Skyrim?"

"Madame Ambassador, I'm so sorry to interrupt…" said Malborn, leaning over a counter next to the group.

"What is it, Malborn?" asked Elenwen, irritated.

"It's just that we've run out of the Alto wine," replied Malborn. "Do I have your permission to uncork the Arenthia red-"

"Of course. I've told you before not to bother me with such trifles," ordered Elenwen, glaring at Malborn.

"…Yes, Madame Ambassador."

"My apologies, we'll have to get better acquainted later," said Elenwen, turning back to the duo. "Please, enjoy yourselves."

Elenwen walked back towards the crowd, while Parax slipped over to Malborn.

"What can I get for you?" asked the Bosmer.

"I'll have some of that fine wine over there," replied Parax, pointing at a bottle.

"Of course, here you go, sir."

Malborn handed the bottle over to Parax, who immediately walked into the crowd of guests. Rellik waited by, watching his accomplice's plans unfold. After about a half hour, he began to grow impatient, grabbing Parax's arm as he walked by.

"What the hell are you doing?" Rellik asked.

"Enjoying myself, brah," replied Parax jokingly. "Come on, have some fun!"

Rellik sighed and leaned against the wall while Parax walked back over to the tables and took a cooked steak. Munching on the tender meat, Parax began studying the other guests, figuring out which one could cause a distraction. As he observed the guests, he became distracted by one of them—Thane Erikur of Solitude—who was gawking at a Bosmer woman serving drinks.

"Now there's a likely-looking filly," sighed Erikur. "Even if she is an elf."

Parax watched as Erikur approached the woman, chuckling to himself.

"You there! Serving girl, what's your name, dear?" asked Erikur.

"Uh, Brelas, sir," replied the Bosmer. "Did you need a drink? Something to eat?"

"No, no. That's not what I'm interested in right now," said Erikur, leaning against the wall. "I just wanted to get a better look of you. I like what I see, my dear."

Brelas looked around the room uncomfortably. Parax resisted the urge to laugh.

"And believe me, I don't say that to everyone," continued Erikur, grinning deviously. "I'm very discriminating when it comes to the female form."

"Um… Thank you, sir. Was there anything else I can do for you?"

"Oh… not at the moment. Maybe later. Don't go far."

Erikur walked past Brelas, feeling her shoulder. Parax slipped out of everyone's sight to let his laughter out before returning to studying the guests. By now, Elenwen's suspicions were gone, and she had assumed Parax to simply be another guest looking to enjoy himself. Knowing Elenwen to be done watching him, Parax silently made his way over to one of the guests—Razelan—whom he had determined to be an asset after observing the other guests.

"What can a man do to get a drink around here?" muttered Razelan.

"Oh, no worries, I got you one," replied Parax, holding out the bottle of wine.

"You did, did you? Ahhh, the one generous soul amongst a gathering of pinch-pennies and lickspittles!" announced Razelan. "If there's anything I can ever do for you, do not hesitate to call upon me!"

"You could cause a scene," suggested Parax.

Razelan informed Parax that it is his specialty to cause scenes before springing from his seat and walking into the center of the room.

"Attention everyone! Could I have your attention, please?" asked Razelan drunkenly.

Everyone turned to face Razelan.

"I have an announcement to make, continued Razelan, holding the bottle of wine out. "I propose a toast to Elenwen, our mistress! I speak figuratively of course, nothing could be more unlikely than that someone would actually want her in their bed!"

The guards in the room quickly left their posts and headed for Razelan, weapons out.

"Although, most of you are already in bed with her!" exclaimed Razelan, laughing to himself. "But again, I speak figuratively, of course!"

Parax quietly slipped out of the crowd and headed for Malborn, pulling Rellik with him. Malborn understood the distraction Razelan was making and silently ran to the door behind him, unlocking it and leading the duo through.

"Fine, fine! Get your hands off me!" said Razelan, trying to break free of the guards' grips. "I'll be a good boy now! Wouldn't wanna offend our Thalmor overlords, would we?"

Malborn shut the door behind himself, Parax, and Rellik.

"So far so good. Let's hope nobody saw us slip out," said Malborn, heading to the door opposite of the three. "We need to pass through the kitchen. Your gear is hidden in the larder. Just stay close and let me do any talking, got it? Follow me."

Malborn led the two through the door and into the embassy's kitchen. A female Khajiit was hard at work.

"Who comes, Malborn?" asked the cook, turning around. "You know I don't like strange smells in my kitchen."

"A guest, feeling ill," replied Malborn. "Leave the poor wretch be."

"A guest? In the kitchens?" asked the cook, growling. "You know this is against the rules…"

"Rules, is it, Tsavani? I didn't realize that eating moon sugar was permitted," said Malborn, grinning. "Perhaps I should ask the ambassador…"

"Tss! Get out of here, I saw nothing," muttered Tsvani.

Malborn led the two through the kitchen and into another room. He pointed at the two chests from earlier.

"Your gear is in those chests. I'll lock the door behind you," said Malborn, nodding. "Don't screw this up. I need to lock the door behind you or the patrols might notice something's wrong."

Parax and Rellik took their items out of their respective chests and put their armor on. When everything was in order, the two disappeared through the door next to them and heard it lock behind them. As they walked down the long, green-carpeted hallway, they could hear two guards conversing.

"Did you see those robes march in this morning?" asked one of the guards. "Who're they with? More of the Emissary's treaty enforcers?"

"No. They're high mages, just in from Alinor. I guess Herself is finally getting worried about all the dragon attacks."

"Ah, good. I've been wondering how we were supposed to defend this place from a dragon."

"If a dragon does show up, maybe we'll get lucky and it will eat the mages first. Might give us enough time to kill it."

"Ha. I'd like to see those arrogant bastards taken down a notch. Always looking down their noses at us lowly footsloggers."

The guards laughed briefly before returning to their posts. Parax summoned his bound sword, listening to the footsteps; as one of the guards approached the doorway next to the two, Parax leapt through, lodging his blade in his throat. Rellik threw a knife across the room; the second guard could only watch and wait as the knife stuck in his forehead. Entering the room the guards were in, Parax and Rellik looted it of the various potions and valuables, though Parax was more concerned with stealing the books. After a bit more searching and interrogation of a Thalmor wizard in the building, the two exited into the courtyard. From there, they readied their bows and stealthily took out two of the Thalmor guards; the third attempted to flee, only to find himself mortally wounded and pinned to a wall by two more arrows. Parax and Rellik dragged the bodies into the bushes and made their way across the snowy courtyard, entering another building on the other side.

Inside the building was a single Thalmor guard and a wizard. The guard was patrolling the building's staircase, while the wizard was arguing with a Nord in the next room.

"But, I need that money! I earned it!" exclaimed the Nord. "I have my own expenses you know..."

"Silence! Do not presume, Gissur," ordered the Thalmor wizard. "You are most useful, but do not presume. We have other informants who are less... offensive."

"But no one else has brought you such valuable information, have they? Etienne, he's talked, hasn't he? He knows where that old man is you're looking for, he told me himself."

Parax swiftly and silently cut the guard's throat and threw him over the counter next to him. Rellik caught the corpse and dragged it into a closet.

"You'll get the rest of your money when we confirm his story," growled the wizard. "As agreed."

"So he has talked!" exclaimed Gissur. "I knew it!"

"Everyone talks, in the end. Now, I have work to do. Leave me to it, if you ever want to see the rest of your payment."

The duo raided the closet of its various potions before heading up the staircase. Upstairs, they entered Elenwen's room and started investigating.

"Can I... I could help you," Gissur attempted to assure the wizard. "He'd talk to me. He trusts me."

"You'd like to come downstairs with me, is that it, Gissur?" asked the wizard. "Shall we loose his bonds and put you in a cell together? You can ask him anything you like, and see how he answers."

"No, no. I'll... I'll wait outside."

"That would probably be best. Now get out!"

Gissur begrudgingly walked outside while the Thalmor wizard left the room via a staircase. Meanwhile, Parax and Rellik had emptied Elenwen's room of her books, particularly the dossiers she had kept of Ulfric Stormcloak and Delphine.

"Hmmph, so I guess the Thalmor did have some involvement in our escape," Parax noted. "Just not with the dragons, as far as we know…"

The two went back downstairs and looted the room Gissur and the Thalmor wizard were in earlier before taking the same staircase he descended. Downstairs, they found themselves in the embassy's torture room—or at least, a platform overlooking it. Two cells lined one side of the room. One of them had a prisoner—supposedly the "Etienne" the Thalmor were speaking of earlier; a Thalmor soldier was beating him. The wizard from earlier was seated in front of a desk, watching the beating through the bars.

"Stop... Please. I don't know anything else," mumbled Etienne. "Don't you think I'd have told you already?"

"Silence. You know the rules," said the soldier. "Do not speak unless spoken to. Master Rulindil will ask the questions."

"Let's begin again," ordered the wizard, Rulindil.

"No... for pity's sake…" cried Etienne. "I've already told you everything..."

"You know the rules," growled Rulindil.

The soldier began punching Etienne.

"Noooooo!" exclaimed Etienne, coughing up blood.

"Start at the beginning, as usual," ordered Rulindil. "If you persist in this stubbornness I'll have..."

"No, wait! I was just... catching my breath…" sighed Etienne. "Why wouldn't I tell you again? I don't even know anything…"

The soldier punched Etienne again.

"There's an old man. He lives in Riften," said Etienne. "He could be this Esbern you're looking for, but I don't know. He's old and seemed kind of crazy. That's all I know."

"And his name is…?" asked Rulindil.

Parax and Rellik quietly made their way down from the platform.

"I don't know his name. Like I've told already a hundred- Ahhhh!"

Another punch.

"You know the rules. Just answer the questions," said Rulindil. "And where can we find this nameless old man?"

"Like I said, I don't know!" exclaimed Etienne. "I've seen him down in the Ratway. Maybe he lives down there, but I don't know for sure."

"That will be all for now," said Rulindil, writing several notes in the journal in front of him. "I must say I continue to be disappointed in your lack of cooperation. I hope next time you will do better."

"What else do you want from me?! I've already told you everything!" Etienne shouted. "Listen, if you let me go I can take you to Riften, show you where- Gaaaaah!!!"

"Silence, prisoner!" ordered the soldier, punching Etienne again.

Just then, Parax pressed his bound sword against Rulindil's throat from behind and pulled back, slitting it. The soldier looked through the bars in shock and ran out of the cell, raising her sword. Before she could land a hit, however, Rellik had already impaled her and threw her against a wall. Parax sat down at Rulindil's desk and looked through the bars.

"And who is this 'Esbern' you speak of?" Parax asked. His accent—being similar to that of the Altmer—was convincing enough to Etienne that he was in for another round.

"I told you, I-there may be a man named Esbern in Riften!"

"Where can we find him?"

"I don't know!"

"Do not lie, prisoner! Answer, or I'll cut off your genitals!"

"No-no-no! I said-"

"Relax," said Parax, getting out of the chair. "I'm just screwing with you. We'll be with you in a second."

Rellik picked up the dossier Rulindil was writing in while Parax searched a nearby chest. In it, he found a dossier labeled for Esbern. After reading it for a moment, he and Rellik entered Etienne's cell and released the prisoner. Suddenly, they could hear the door back up on the platform open. Two Thalmor soldiers walked out with Malborn in their grips.

"Listen up, spy! You're trapped in here, and we have your accomplice," declared one of the soldiers. "Surrender immediately or you both die."

"Never mind, I'm dead already-" Malborn tried to intervene, but was cut off.

"Silence, traitor!" ordered the soldier. "Move. Slowly."

Parax peered out through the bars, watching the soldiers escort Malborn downstairs towards the group. When they got close, Parax leapt from the cell, sword summoned. The surprised Thalmor soldiers let go of Malborn so they could draw their weapons; they narrowly blocked Parax's attacks, but it was no use. Rellik and Malborn had joined in, and so did Etienne—albeit understandably weakly. In the end, the Thalmor soldiers were swiftly beaten and cut down, allowing the group to begin conversation.

"Now the Thalmor will be hunting me for the rest of my life," sobbed Malborn. "I hope it was worth it."

"Enough of that," Parax ordered. "Let's focus on finding a way out of here. Etienne, you've been here longer, do you have any ideas?"

"The trapdoor over there," replied Etienne, pointing at a trapdoor near the cells. "That's where they dispose of the prisoners after… you know."

"Then that's our best bet," said Parax. "Let's go."

Etienne and Malborn helped themselves to the Thalmor guards' weapons before following Parax and Rellik into the trapdoor. The four found themselves in a cave of sorts; it reeked strongly of blood and decay. Silently advancing through the cave, they encountered the Thalmor's way of disposing of their victims—a frost troll. Despite its brute strength, the troll posed little threat to the group, and was easily pinned down and stabbed to death. The four then wandered the cave for a way out, finally finding an exit before going their separate ways. Etienne and Malborn headed southeast, while Parax and Rellik began the long walk to Riverwood.


3:58 AM, 22nd of Heartfire. The two had finally reached Riverwood. Ready to continue their adventures, they entered the Sleeping Giant Inn and went downstairs.

"You made it out alive, at least," said Delphine. "Did you learn anything useful?"

"Where are my glorious clothes?" Parax demanded.

"They're safe in my room, as promised," replied Delphine, pointing to one of the chests.

"The Thalmor know nothing of the dragon attacks," Parax said, sifting through the chest for his noble clothes.

"Really? That seems hard to believe," mumbled Delphine. "You're sure about that?"

"If you're not going to believe what we tell you, you really shouldn't be trusting us with these operations," replied Parax, pulling his noble clothes out of the chest. "However, the Thalmor are looking for a man named Esbern. They think he knows about it."

"Esbern? He's alive?! I thought the Thalmor must have got him years ago," Delphine sighed with relief. "That crazy old man... Figures the Thalmor would be on his trail, though, if they were trying to find out what's going on with the dragons."

"Funny enough that they think you're responsible for this… and vice versa," chuckled Parax.

"Ironic, right? The old enemies assume that every calamity must be a plot by the other side…" said Delphine, having an equally good laugh. "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?"

"According to Rulindil, he's somewhere in Riften," replied Parax, examining a black soul gem. It had "RULINDIL" carved onto it.

"Riften, eh? Probably down in the Ratway, then," Delphine suggested. "It's where I'd go. You'd better get to Riften. Ask around the Ragged Flagon, in the Ratway. It's at least a good starting point. Oh, and when you find Esbern... if you think I'm paranoid... you may have some trouble getting him to trust you. Just ask him where he was on the 30th of Frostfall. He'll know what it means."

Parax and Rellik understood their objective and made their way to Riften, knowing time to be of the essence.


3:20 PM. The duo reached Riften, ready to begin their search for Esbern. As suggested by Delphine, they first searched through the Ratway, but could find nobody. As such, they went to the Ragged Flagon; there, they began asking around. There was one thing that seemed out of place, however; an unrecognized man was sitting at one of the tables. He was keeping his face in the dark, making it hard to figure out who he was. Parax kept this man in the back of his mind while talking to Vekel, the bartender at the Ragged Flagon.

"Any idea where we could find an old man named Esbern?" Parax asked. "We're looking for him, and it's important."

"Lot of people looking for him," replied Vekel. "Don't know his name, but he's paid good money for nobody to know he's down here. Crazy old coot, from what I heard. For that to stand out down here, he must really be off his nut. He's holed up in the Ratway Warrens. Be careful. You're not the only one looking for him."

"Who else is?" Rellik asked.

"Dangerous-looking elves who didn't give their names," answered Vekel. "Draw your own conclusions."

"Thalmor," muttered Parax.

"That one right there, walking out the door," Vekel whispered, pointing across the tavern. The mysterious man from earlier had left his seat and exited through the door to the Ratway. "He was one of them asking where the old man was."

Son of a bitch, the spy was listening. Parax quickly darted from the counter and followed the man. Before he could open the door, however, it was blasted open; two Thalmor soldiers and a Thalmor wizard rushed inside. The spy walked in as well with a knife in his hand. Parax could see his face now; it was Gissur, the man from the embassy.

"There's the agents! Kill them!" exclaimed one of the soldiers, drawing her sword.

Rellik fired an arrow that pierced one of the soldiers' throat. Leaping across the pool in the middle of the tavern, the Orc unsheathed his sword and swung at the other soldier, who quickly countered the blade with his own. Parax summoned his bound sword and swiftly slashed the Thalmor wizard's arm in half. The agent fell to his knees in pain and was decapitated by the Argonian. Gissur, on the other hand, dropped his knife, raised his hands, and knelt in front of the duo, which had just finished killing the other Thalmor soldier.

"Have mercy," Gissur begged. "Please, how else could have I made a living?"

"There is no mercy," muttered Parax, electrocuting the Nord onto his back. "Anything is better than working for those elven supremacists."

Parax unleashed another barrage of lightning on Gissur, charring his skin. The Thalmor spy pleaded to be spared; his cries were ignored and he was electrocuted for several more minutes, finally dying and leaving only his face recognizable—albeit barely. Parax searched the corpse, finding a slip of paper—a note of sorts—in the pockets. As expected, the Thalmor considered Parax and Rellik to be major threats.

"Someone string these guys up out in the woods," Parax said, walking towards the tavern's back door and into the Ratway Vaults.

It didn't take long for the duo to find the Ratway Warrens; they just had to follow the trail of Thalmor agents stationed throughout the Vaults. The agents were all taken down swiftly and silently; no survivor was to be left. The two investigated the Warrens for Esbern, eventually coming across a metal door. Parax knocked on it.

"Go away!" shouted an old man peeking through the door.

"Esbern, open the door. We're friends," said Rellik.

"What? No, that's not me," replied the old man. "I'm not Esbern. I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's okay, Delphine sent us," Parax said, trying to assure Esbern.

"Delphine? How do you…" Esbern mumbled. "So you've finally found her, and she's led you to me. And here I am, caught like a rat in a trap."

"Delphine said to remember the 30th of Frostfall," said Rellik, hoping to convince the old man.

"Ah, indeed, indeed… I do remember," said Esbern. "Delphine really is alive, then? You'd better come in then and tell me how you found me and what you want."

Esbern closed the slit he was using to see through the door. Several unlocking sounds could be heard.

"This will only take a second," the old man mumbled. "This one always sticks… there we go."

A few more sounds of unlocking and door chains sliding, and the door opened.

"Come in, come in! Make yourself at home!" Esbern exclaimed excitedly.

Parax and Rellik walked through the door and entered Esbern's home; a few bookshelves and tables were scattered around the room, as well as a bed and desk. The room was awfully dirty, and smelled of—as Parax described—rotting feet.

"So Delphine keeps up the fight, after all these years," mumbled Esbern. "I thought she'd have realized it's hopeless by now. I tried to tell her, years ago…"

"Hopeless? What do you mean?" asked Rellik.

"Haven't you figured it out yet? What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what's going on?" said Esbern. "Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said! The dragon from the dawn of time, who devours the souls of the dead!"

"Hey, that rhymed," chuckled Parax, trying to lighten up the mood.

"No one can escape his hunger, here or in the afterlife!" continued Esbern. "Alduin will devour all things and the world will end. 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… the dragon who's been raising the others?" Rellik asked.

"YES! Yes! You see, you know but you refuse to understand!" shouted Esbern. "It's all been foretold. The end has begun. Alduin has returned. Only a Dragonborn can stop him, but no Dragonborn has been known for centuries."

"Well-" Rellik tried to reply.

"It seems that the gods have grown tired of us," continued Esbern. "They've left us to our fate, as the plaything of Alduin the World-Eater."

"It's not hopeless, Esbern," said Rellik. "I am Dragonborn."

"What? Y-You're…" stammered Esbern. "Can it really be true… Dragonborn? Then there is hope! The gods have not abandoned us! We must… we must… We must go. Quickly. Now! Take me to Delphine, we have much to discuss."

Esbern hurried around the room, grabbing random items off the floor or from several chests. After assuring the two he was ready, he left his home with them. The two silently crept around the Ratway Vaults, knowing that there was going to be more resistance from the Thalmor. Several agents were investigating the bodies of their fallen comrades; the trio easily took them down with ice spikes and arrows. Having easily wiped out their Aldmeri enemies, the three were able to safely exit the Vaults and leave Riften, now beginning the long walk back to Riverwood.

First LessonsEdit

7:30 AM, 23rd of Heartfire. The three reached Riverwood at last. Parax and Rellik led Esbern into the Sleeping Giant Inn, where Delphine was waiting.

"Delphine! I... it's good to see you," said Esbern, smiling. "It's been... a long time."

"It's good to see you, too, Esbern," replied Delphine. "It's been too long, old friend. Too long. Well, then. You made it, safe and sound. Good. Come on, I have a place we can talk." She turned to Orgnar, her assistant. "Orgnar, hold down the bar for a minute, will you?"

"Yeah, sure," mumbled the assistant.

Delphine led the three into her room and closed the door. She opened the fake wardrobe on the far side of the room and led the trio downstairs. The Sentinel was waiting in the room, experimenting with the alchemy and enchanting tables.

"Now then," started Delphine. "I assume you know about…"

"Oh yes! Dragonborn! Indeed, yes," replied Esbern, excitedly. "This changes everything, of course. There's no time to lose. We must locate... let me show you." Esbern began sifting through his bags. "I know I had it here, somewhere... Give me... just a moment…"

"Esbern, what…?" Delphine asked, confused.

"Ah! Here it is," said Esbern, pulling a large book and setting it on the table in the middle of the room. "Come, let me show you. You see, right here. Sky Haven Temple, constructed around one of the main Akaviri military camps in the Reach, during their conquest of Skyrim."

"Do you know what he's talking about?" Delphine whispered to Parax and Rellik; the two shrugged.

"Shh! This is where they built Alduin's Wall, to set down in stone all their accumulated dragonlore," Esbern continued. "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. What are you getting at?" Delphine asked.

"You mean... you don't mean to say you haven't heard of Alduin's Wall?" said Esbern, widening his eyes. "Either of you?"

"Let's pretend we haven't," Delphine suggested. "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."

"Sky Haven Temple it is, then. I knew you'd have something for us, Esbern."

Parax walked over to the Sentinel to see what he was making. Delphine examined Esbern's book for a moment and approached Rellik.

"I know the area of the Reach that Esbern's talking about," said Delphine. "Near what's now known as Karthspire, in the Karth River canyon. We can meet you there, or all travel together, your call."

"We have some business to attend to," Parax replied. He resumed teaching the Sentinel some of his knowledge of alchemy.

"What kind of 'business'?" Delphine asked.

"Nothing you'll need to worry about," answered Parax. "You two are the experts; get to Alduin's Wall and figure something out. We'll meet up with you when we're ready."

"This isn't a time for games," growled Delphine.

"We are the weapons, not the wielders," said Parax. "You won't need us for interpreting Dragonborn lore."

"We'll meet you at Karthspire," Rellik said, agreeing with Parax.

"Your call," Delphine sighed. "Might be safer to travel separately—attract less attention that way." Don't worry, I'll get Esbern there in one piece. We'll wait for you. Good luck."

Delphine and Esbern went back upstairs; Rellik followed, though Parax was stopped by the Sentinel. It presented to him some sort of black armor it called the Ebony Mail, explaining that it killed some Daedra-worshipping cultist for it. According to the Sentinel, the armor would allow Parax to blend in with the shadows, and could even poison nearby enemies on the wearer's will. It looked a bit like a set of ebony armor (ebony being a smooth metal of Nirn as opposed to a type of wood), but had light, black chainmail integrated into it and lacked the heavy pauldrons of ebony armor. In addition, there were some dark shades of blue in the neck and shoulder area. Parax accepted the armor and put it on before heading upstairs. Delphine was talking to Orgnar.

"Orgnar, this is it. The inn is yours. I'm probably never coming back here."

"Well, now. That's something to think about," muttered Orgnar.

"Take care of yourself, Orgnar. Goodbye."

"Yeah... sure. You, too, Delphine. You be safe."

Delphine and Esbern headed northwest, towards Karthspire. Parax and Rellik, on the other hand, headed to Whiterun to plan out their next move before beginning the long journey to Winterhold. Though Rellik was confused as to why this was necessary, Parax repeatedly insisted that he wished to enhance Rellik's power. Not only that, but the College of Winterhold would ensure access to all sorts of knowledge—magical or otherwise—that could be used against the dragons and other threats to the world.


3:54 AM, 25th of Heartfire. For the past day and a half, Parax had been teaching Rellik how to better use magic—after all, they were going to the College of Winterhold, and they would both need to be prepared in order to gain entry. Rellik demonstrated himself to be a quick learner, swiftly mastering the spells Parax thought would be needed most. Though he originally planned the lessons to take at least a week, Rellik's impressive learning speed led the Argonian to declare him ready after 25 hours total. They had been living with Enthir in the Frozen Hearth for the time; the Bosmer aided Rellik's studies by bringing him books from the College of Winterhold's library, as well as an occasional demonstration.

"Come now, Rellik, if you can bend reality just by screaming, you should be able to do this," said Parax, pacing behind the Orc.

"With Shouts, I just sort of... know how to do it," replied Rellik. "I don't know how, it just happens. Magic's not like that."

"Read those last few lines one more time and try again," Parax commanded. "The sooner we get this done, the better—we have a world to save, after all."

"If the world was as important as you say, you'd just let me use Shouts," said Rellik. "I'm sure they'd be willing to let me in then."

"I don't doubt that," the Argonian concurred, "but word has yet to spread of the Dragonborn's presence in Winterhold. I think it's best that we keep it that way for the time being-"

Parax was interrupted when a blast of fire flew past him and slammed into the wall, exploding into flames that slowly began to grow alongside the surfaces of the room. Rellik launched another blast of water and exclaimed,

"Fus Ro Dah!"

The flames went out.

"Alright, good enough," Parax sighed. "Let's just get this over with."

Now ready to begin their next adventure, the two left the inn and approached the College. It was a large, stone, castle-like building, possessing three towers; one large tower, and two smaller ones on each side of the College's courtyard, connected to the middle one by a large ring of stone that stretched around the area. A long, damaged bridge extended from the building, connecting it to the town of Winterhold. A female Altmer was standing at the entrance to the bridge, keeping watch.

"Cross the bridge at your own peril!" exclaimed the high elf. "The way is dangerous, and the gate will not open. You shall not gain entry!"

"…Calm down, we just wanted to see what this place was," said Parax in a relaxing tone; he could tell by her speech and rumors from various Nords that she thought the two had bad intentions.

"Oh, forgive me," responded the Altmer, embarrassed. Parax's tone seemed to have subdued her. "Most who arrive here do so because they have heard of the College beforehand. I am Faralda, and I am with the College of Winterhold, a safe haven for mages in Skyrim. A place of wisdom and arcane knowledge."

"May we enter?" Parax asked.

"Perhaps," replied the Altmer, "but what is it you expect to find within?"

"Oh, not much. Just wanted to see what the place looked like," answered Parax, jokingly.

"Ha! Humor is often in short supply here," chuckled Faralda. "But I sense that perhaps you're after more than just that. It would seem that the College is what you seek. The question now is what you can offer the College."

"What do you mean?" Parax asked.

"Not just anyone is allowed inside," she explained. "Those wishing to enter must show some degree of skill with magic… a small test, if you will."

"Very well, what shall we do?"

Faralda instructed Parax to cast a healing spell on her, and Rellik to cast a firebolt at the eye symbol on the floor behind her; both of the so-called mages complied. Faralda congratulated the two and led them across the bridge. She unlocked the gate to the College, and led the duo into the courtyard. They were then directed to the Master Wizard—Mirabelle Ervine—whom they saw arguing with a Thalmor representative; the elf was demanding special treatment, which was denied. After a polite greeting, Mirabelle led the two around the College, showing them various important rooms and their bedrooms. After their little tour, Mirabelle sent them to their first class in the Hall of Elements, a large room decorated with huge windows and pillars. A fountain was in the center of the room, a blue beam coming out of it exiting the room through a hole in the ceiling. Across the fountain were three other students—a Dunmer, a Khajiit, and a Nord—and a single, elderly man, clearly one of the more experienced and authoritative staff members.

"Welcome, welcome!" greeted the teacher, Tolfdir. "We were just beginning. Please, stay and listen. So, as I was saying," continued the elderly mage, "the first thing to understand is that magic is, by its very nature, volatile and dangerous. Unless you can control it, it can and will destroy you."

"Sir, I think we all understand that fairly well," said one of the students. She was a young Dunmer in apprentice robes. "We wouldn't be here if we couldn't control magic!"

"Of course, my dear. Of course. You all certainly possess some inherent natural ability," Tolfdir said assuringly. "That much is not being questioned. What I'm talking about is true control, mastery of magic. It takes years, if not decades, of practice and study."

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's get started!" exclaimed the Khajiit.

"Please, please! This is exactly what I'm talking about," Tolfdir pleaded, trying to reason with the students. "Eagerness must be tempered with caution, or else disaster is inevitable."

"But we've only just arrived here—you've no idea what any of us are capable of," explained the Nord. "Why not give us a chance to show you what we can do?"

"You two have been quiet so far," said Tolfdir, turning in Parax and Rellik's direction. "What do you think we should do?"

"Perhaps something more practical would do," replied Parax. "Nothing too daring, of course. But one of the steps in making a good mage is tempering one's skills."

"Aye, let's try something besides lectures about the dangers of magic," agreed Rellik.

"Is that so?" Tolfdir asked.

"See? They agree with us too!" said the Dunmer. "Why don't you actually show us something?"

"Alright, let's settle down," sighed Tolfdir. "I guess we could try something practical. In continuing with our theme of safety, we'll start with wards. Wards are protective spells that block magic."

"This is your turn to shine," Parax whispered in Rellik's ear.

"I'll teach you all a ward, and we'll see if you can successfully use it to block spells, alright?" Tolfdir asked. He turned to Rellik, whom Parax had lightly shoved to the front of the group. "Would you mind helping me with the demonstration? Are you at all familiar with ward spells?"

"Yes," replied Rellik.

"If you'll just stand over there," instructed Tolfdir, pointing at a spot on the floor, "I'll cast a spell at you, and you block it with the ward."

Rellik stepped forward and stood where Tolfdir pointed. Parax and the other students backed up to avoid getting in the way. Rellik cast a warding spell as instructed; a flat, white-blue field of energy appeared in front of him. Tolftir launched a fireball at Rellik; it collided with the ward, which absorbed the impact.

"Well, I think this is an excellent start," said Tolfdir. "I'd like you all to continue practicing with wards, please. I think perhaps we're ready to explore some of the various application of magic throughout history. The College has undertaken a fascinating excavation in the ruins of Saarthal nearby. It's an excellent learning opportunity."

Something seemed to be distracting Rellik, but Parax quickly snapped him out of it before Tolfdir could notice.

"I suggest we meet there in a few hours, and see what awaits us inside," Tolfdir continued. "That is all for now. Thank you."

Tolfdir exited the room through the main door, while the students began to converse with each other. Parax and Rellik joined in, planning to solidify their relationships with their classmates. Rellik spoke to the Dunmer student, while Parax joined a conversation with Onmund—the Nord—and J'zargo—the Khajiit.

"Before you even ask, yes I have an ancestry steeped in magic, and no I don't want to talk about it," said the Dunmer, Brelyna Maryon. "Yes, I know Winterhold used to be full of my kind, and no I don't care that they're all gone now."

"I don't think we've been properly introduced," replied Rellik.

"No, I suppose we haven't. Brelyna Maryon, of House Telvanni," said the Dunmer. "First of my family to leave Morrowind in a long time. Now I'm here to study Conjuration. That's what's important."

"Other mages may claim to be as good as magic as J'zargo, but they cannot be as charming as he," J'zargo said to Parax. "Thus, J'zargo always comes out on top."

"You seem quite sure of yourself," replied Parax.

"There is much for J'zargo to be sure of. There is skill in magic, there is charm, and there is a strong will," explained the Khajiit. "J'zargo will be successful, of this there is no doubt."

After some more general conversation with the students, the students returned to the Hall of Attainment, where their bedrooms were located. There, they conversed and studied, though Parax took the time to sell some items he and Rellik came across to Enthir. After several hours, the group met up with Tolfdir and paid a carriage to take them to the Nordic ruins of Saarthal.


8:56 AM. The mages reached Saarthal at last. The elderly teacher led the students down a safe path into the ruins, explaining the place's importance.

"Can you believe we're here?" Brelyna said excitedly. "Saarthal, of all places."

"I'm surprised that the College is allowed to excavate here," muttered Onmund, clearly unhappy about the excavation.

"I bet your family would be amazed, right?" asked a cheerful Brelyna.

"Amazed isn't the right word," Onmund replied. "They might find this... offensive."

"Are you excited to see what's in there?" asked a confused J'zargo. "This is important to you Nords, isn't it?"

"Not excited, no," answered Onmund. "Some very bad things happened here."

"Oh, right... That whole thing with the elves," mumbled J'zargo. His tone became positive again. "Well, it all worked out in the end, didn't it?"

"I think, given the state of Skyrim, some might disagree," said Onmund.

"Personally, I find this to be an exciting opportunity," replied Rellik.

"No. There's no chance anyone in authority approved this," said Onmund, angrily. "Our ancestors should be allowed to rest in peace."

"We wouldn't be here for no reason, Onmund," Parax noted. "Perhaps there's something important here."

"Hopefully we can learn something from the experience," Onmund sighed. "How the ancient Nords used magic, maybe even what happened to this place."

The group got to the bottom of the pathway and began walking towards the entrance to the ruins.

"What do you think we'll find in there?" asked J'zargo.

"It's thousands of years old," said Brelyna. "Who knows what we might find?"

"I'm betting bodies. Lots and lots of bodies," replied J'zargo. His expression of curiosity suddenly changed to that of mischief. "And maybe some valuables..."

"Don't get any ideas," said Brelyna, glaring. "We're here on official business, remember?"

The class entered the door to Saarthal; Parax and Rellik's classmates—save Onmund—were clearly enthusiastic.

"This is exciting, isn't it?" Brelyna asked to Rellik. "Much better than sitting around talking about magic, don't you think?"

"It seems pretty interesting," replied Rellik, looking around the room the group was in. "Anything you know about this place?"

"Not really," said Brelyna. "Just that it's very, very old. It was one of the first cities of men in Tamriel, I think."

"As some of you may know was one of the earliest Nord settlements in Skyrim," Tolfdir announced, leading the class deeper into the ruins. "It was also the largest."

The group walked through a corridor in the ruins, with Tolfdir explaining Saarthal's history and importance. They eventually found themselves on a walkway in a giant room. Members of the College had earlier replaced the broken stone bridges in the room with walkways.

"Sacked by the elves in the infamous 'Night of Tears', not much is known about what happened to Saarthal," Tolfdir continued.

"I find it hard to believe this excavation was approved," Onmund blurted out.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us," said Tolfdir, ignoring Onmund's comment. "To be able to study such an early civilization, and the magics they used…"

Onmund sighed angrily. Brelyna and Rellik tried to cheer the Nord up, but to no avail.

"Brelyna, my dear, why don't you search for warding magics," Tolfdir instructed. "Anything designed to keep people out. Don't interact with them, just identify them. Onmund, please search that area over there. See if you notice any... residual energies. Alive or undead."

Brelyna and Onmund walked in separate directions to begin their research. J'zargo slipped away and began searching the urns scattered throughout the room. Parax and Rellik didn't know what to do, so they simply wandered around the area for something of importance.

"Find anything?" Parax asked his classmates.

"I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this isn't it," replied Brelyna, disappointed.

"There's no gold, nothing shiny at all," muttered J'zargo. He picked up one of the urns, turned it upside down, and shook it; only dust poured out.

"Don't sound so disappointed," said Brelyna. "You wouldn't be allowed to take it even if there was."

"Like anyone would even notice, in all this mess," chuckled the Khajiit.

"This is a little creepy," Brelyna admitted.

"That doesn't begin to describe it," replied Onmund, carefully walking over to the students.

"You seem uncomfortable being here," said Brelyna.

"I just don't know that it's right for us to be in here like this, picking through the ruins," Onmund sighed.

"Cheer up," said Rellik.

"Is there anything else you want us to do?" Parax asked Tolfdir from across the room.

"Ah, yes! Why don't you see if you can assist Arniel Gane?" Tolfdir suggested. "He's one of our scholars, here working on cataloguing our finds. I expect he'd appreciate some help in locating any additional magical artifacts here in the ruins."

Tolfdir directed Parax to a nearby corridor, explaining that any enchanted item will suffice in the search. Parax went down the corridor and found himself in a coffin-filled room. A table was laid out near one of the coffins, with a Breton mage leaning over it and reading a book.

"Well, certainly none of this will benefit my research…" the Breton muttered.

"Arniel Gane?" Parax asked.

"Hmm? Oh, err, hello," said the Breton, not taking his eyes off the book. "I'll be amazed if we find anything useful here."

"Tolfdir told me to help you out with whatever you're doing."

"You must be one of the new apprentices, then? Fine, fine. Just... just don't make a mess of my work, all right? I've only looked through a portion of this section. You, uh, you can look around in the chambers just north of here. Try and be careful, all right? We don't want to damage anything."

Arniel pointed another corridor to Parax's right. The Argonian followed the Breton's instructions, finding various necklaces lying around. They had a slight aura to them, an obvious sign that they were enchanted. Parax collected the necklaces, but Arniel explained that they weren't going to be of use. After a few more minutes of searching, Parax found one that caught his eye; It had a piece of gold dangling from the front, as well as several small bones decorating the chain. The piece of gold had an odd symbol on it—an eye of sorts with curved lines decorating the sides. Parax took the necklace from the pedestal it was on; a gate suddenly shot up behind him, trapping him in the necklace's chamber.

New discoveriesEdit

"What in the world was that racket? Is everything alright?" Tolfdir asked, rushing over to the gate.

"Took one of the necklaces, and well… here I am," replied Parax.

"Really? Perhaps the amulet is important, somehow," Tolfdir suggested. "Is there some way you can use it?"

Parax quickly put the amulet around his neck and looked around the room. A red aura covered the wall where the amulet was.

"Do you see that?" Tolfdir asked. "Some kind of resonance… you and the wall. It must be connected to you and the amulet! I wonder… what affect might your-"

Parax blasted the wall with a fireball, blowing it apart. The gate behind him opened up, allowing Tolfdir to enter.

"Well, would you look at that!" Tolfdir remarked, astonished. "this appears to lead somewhere. Let's see where it goes."

Tolfdir and Parax entered a long, barely-lit tunnel through the hole in the wall. At the end of the tunnel was a doorway, opening up into a mossy, well-lit stone room. One coffin was on each side of the room, as well as a single one on the wall opposite the doorway. A table covered in linen wrap was in the center of the room.

"Why in the world would this be sealed off?" Tolfdir wondered. "What is this place?"

Parax had just noticed something.

"I'm not sure what to expect here. Be on your guard," warned Tolfdir.

In every Nordic ruin that Parax had visited, there was always some sort of threat. Guardians. Draugr. Why in the world-

Parax's vision changed; it appeared ethereal, spectral. Tolfdir stopped moving. The flames on the candles stopped moving. Light blue particles were flying around the room. Someone in a yellow hooded robe stood on the other side of the table.

"Hold, mage, and listen well…" the monk instructed. "Know that you have set in motion a chain of events that cannot be stopped. Judgment has not been passed, as you had no way of knowing."

"…What?"

"Judgment will be passed on your actions to come, and how you deal with the dangers ahead of you. This warning is passed to you because the Psijic Order believes in you. You, mage, and you alone, have the potential to prevent disaster. Take great care, and know that the Order is watching."

The monk disappeared, the flames began moving again, Parax's vision returned to normal, and Tolfdir could move again. Time had been frozen.

"I… I swear," mumbled Tolfdir. "I felt something strange just then. What happened?"

"A ghost of sorts just appeared. It spoke to me," Parax replied.

"I'm afraid I didn't see anything… Can you tell me more about what you saw?"

"The ghost said something about danger ahead… and something called the Psijic Order?"

"The Psijic Order? Are you quite sure about that? That's very odd. And danger ahead? Why that doesn't make any sense at all. The Psijics have no connection to these ruins. And no one's seen any of their order in a long time."

Tolfdir walked over to one of the coffins and examined it, suggesting that the two should take a look inside them. Parax's suspicions were confirmed; the coffins opened up, releasing draugr into the room. Parax was able to decapitate one of them by surprise, while Tolfdir set a second on fire. The third draugr was wearing thick ancient Nord armor. It was wielding a war axe in one hand, and cast a frost spell with the other. Tolfdir lunged at the draugr, grabbing its arm and pointing it away from the two, causing it to misfire. Parax cut off the draugr's other arm with his bound sword and forced it against the wall before electrocuting it to death. Looking around the room, they saw that the coffin opposite of the doorway led into a wide corridor.

The floor was littered with open coffins and draugr corpses. It reeked heavily of death and decay. Parax pulled a lever on the other side of the corridor, opening a nearby gate. Behind the gate, the two found themselves in a large, circular room. A pool of water was in the center, candles surrounding it. A stone bridge went over the water. On the other side of the room was a large door, which was blocked by a gate. The walls of the room were lined with coffins, which opened up as the two mages entered. Parax and Tolfdir quickly disposed of the attacking draugr.

"I've never seen anything like this in Nordic ruins before," remarked Tolfdir, looking around the room. "Why, just look at all these coffins!"

"Wouldn't be the first time for me," mumbled Parax, pulling a release chain for the gate, then walking over to the other.

"This bears closer inspection," said Tolfdir. "I'd like to stay a while and examine this. You, however, should press on. See if you can find whatever this vision of yours mentioned. But, if it is truly dangerous, be careful."

Tolfdir resumed inspecting the room, while Parax walked through the door. Unexpectedly, Rellik arrived, having followed the pair's path. The duo found themselves in a large corridor; resting draugr lined the walls of the room. As the two advanced, the undead monsters woke up.


11:06 AM. Parax and Rellik had spent the past half hour fighting through waves of draugr and solving puzzles. Originally thought to be just another fruitless Nordic ruins raid, the duo's luck suddenly got better. As Tolfdir came up behind the two, they found themselves in a large, stone room. The three were on a walkway, which branched off in two directions and each led to a ramp leading to the lower floor of the room. On the lower floor was a table covered in candles, urns, and bags of coins. A single draugr in golden, spiked armor was resting in a throne of sorts in front of the table. But something else had caught the trio's eyes; between several pillars on the opposite side of the room was a giant orb pulsating with green-blue energy of sorts. A magic barrier of sorts surrounded the orb, a form of defense meant to keep others from getting to it.

"Well now... would you look at that," said Tolfdir. His mouth was gaping at the orb. "I never imagined we'd find something like this. Why is this buried so far within Saarthal?"

The three walked down to the first floor to investigate the orb further. As they approached it, the draugr in the throne leapt out of its seat, war axe drawn. Parax jumped out of the way, narrowly evading the draugr's attempt to embed its war axe in him. Rellik unleashed a new Shout he had learned sometime prior to the duo's arrival to Winterhold; Fire Breath. The draugr absorbed the flames and lunged at Rellik, cutting him on the cheek and throwing him backwards. . "Keep it busy, I'll try to drain some of its power!" Tolfdir yelled. He ran over to the orb and cast a lightning-like spell at it.

The draugr was suddenly engulfed in dark purple fire.

"There! Now attack it!" exclaimed Tolfdir, keeping his spell focused on the orb.

Parax released a blast of fire at the draugr; the undead monstrosity was thrown backwards, screeching. Rellik froze it solid with an ice spell before tackling it to the ground. The draugr immediately broke free of the ice and slashed at Parax, who quickly parried the attack. Rellik amputated the draugr's arm with his sword, while Parax decapitated it. The two began searching the body, finding the fragment of an amulet of sorts and a note that identified the draugr as "Jyrik Gauldurson". Parax collected a staff from the table, as well as the bags of coins. The two then walked over to Tolfdir, who was examining the orb; its barrier had disappeared with Jyrik's death.

"What is this?" Parax asked.

"I have no idea! This is amazing. Absolutely amazing!" exclaimed Tolfdir excitedly. "The Arch-Mage needs to be informed immediately. He needs to see this for himself. I don't dare leave this unattended. Can you return to the College and inform Savos Aren of this discovery? Please, hurry."

Parax and Rellik noticed a door behind the orb; knowing the ancient Nords' habit of putting shortcuts in places like this, the two went through the door. Following the path, the two found a large chest with valuables in it, as well as a Word Wall that taught Rellik a new Shout—Ice Form. Continuing onward, Parax and Rellik found themselves in the ruins with the other students; the others excitedly asked the two what they had found, but the only answer was that they didn't know. Parax and Rellik hurried out of the ruins and took the route to Winterhold, which was actually very close.


1:14 PM. The two were in the College of Winterhold again. As directed by other members of the College, they went upstairs to the very top floor of the main building. The circular room had a unique appearance, possessing a magenta tree in the middle of a small garden in the center. Two small orbs of light floated around the tree, sustaining it and the other plants growing there. A curved wall behind the tree split the room in half, with two large doorways on either side of the room leading off to a dresser and some chests—at least, that was all Parax could see. On their left was an alchemy station, complete with many shelves of just about every ingredient Parax could think of off the top of his head—besides Daedra hearts. To their right was the Arch-Mage—Savos Aren—who sat at an enchanting table, writing down notes. He was an aged Dunmer with a dark, greying beard, and wore an equally dark grey set of hooded robes with what seemed to be a poncho to match it.

"Arch-Mage, we have news for you," said Parax. "Very important."

"Please don't tell me that another one of the apprentices has been incinerated," sighed Savos. "I have enough to deal with right now."

"Another?" Rellik repeated. He raised his eyebrows and took his hand off the tree he was leaning on.

"No," replied Parax. "We found an orb of sorts under Saarthal. Pulsates energy, has strange carvings on it. Tolfdir figured your attention would be needed."

"Very well, I trust that you wouldn't be here were it not significant. Thank you for bringing this to my attention," said Savos. "Tolfdir normally looks after your little group, yes? Since he's apparently occupied, and I will need to see this discovery for myself, I think perhaps you should begin researching the subject." Savos placed a soul gem on the enchanting table; a staff that he had placed on it began to glow. "Speak with Urag in the Arcanaeum. See if he is aware of anything that matches your discovery. And... good work. The next time you find yourself exploring Nordic ruins, perhaps this will be helpful."

Savos handed Parax the staff, explaining its ability to light up any area.

"I have some questions," said Parax, "questions whose answers may be able to… help with our goals here. For starters, have you ever met with the Psijic Order?"

"Personally? No, not I," explained Savos. "One of their number used to advise the Arch-Mage when I was but an Apprentice here. But that was a great many years ago, before all the members of the order were called back to the Isle of Artaeum, and it disappeared entirely."

"I am aware that there are restrictions here," Parax continued. "Is dangerous research a problem?"

"Not often, no. Some risks must be taken, to be sure," replied Savos. "I am simply trying to avoid untimely deaths. We also must make an effort to avoid worsening what Skyrim thinks of us."

"What's Skyrim's problem with us?" Parax asked.

"The Great Collapse, as it has come to be known. An unfortunate natural disaster that ravaged the area," said Savos, sighing. "The College fared far better than the city of Winterhold, but it was not left untouched. No one is sure of the cause. Some believed the eruption of Red Mountain had far-reaching consequences that were only felt years later." Savos walked away from the enchanting table and headed for the staircase. Parax and Rellik followed. "I know there are some who have blamed the College, said that we were responsible. I assure you this is not the case."

Savos continued downstairs to the first floor, now on his way to Saarthal. Parax and Rellik, on the other hand, stopped at the Arcanaeum—the College's library—on the second floor. This was their first visit to the large, circular room; it had several arches stretching across the sides and two tables in the center. On the sides of the room were two large bookshelves each, as well as several more tables. Across the room was a large desk, behind which an aged Orc was sitting.

"You are now in the Arcanaeum, of which I am in charge," the librarian—Urag gro-Shub—declared. "It might as well be my own little plane of Oblivion. Disrupt my Arcanaeum, and I will have you torn apart by angry Atronachs. Now, do you require assistance?"

"…We require a source of information on an… artifact," said Parax. "Something we found in Saarthal. A glowing orb of sorts."

"I know what you want. Word travels fast around here," replied Urag. "Discovered some big mystery, huh? Well you don't even need to ask. No, I don't have anything for you. Not anymore, anyway."

"Anymore?" asked Rellik.

"Orthorn stole a number of books when he ran off to Fellgow Keep to join those Summoners," explained Urag. "Some kind of peace offering. I think one of those volumes may have had some relevant information. If you want them, you'll have to talk to Orthorn."

"Who is Orthorn?" Parax asked.

"He was an Apprentice here at the College," said Urag. "Not very skilled, but got involved with a group of mages who took a liking to him. When they left, he took off after them. Stole supplies and books from the College, I suppose as a way to ingratiate himself."

"Why would they leave?"

"Let's just call it a difference of opinion with the College. They were interested in research that goes outside the bounds of what the College allows, so they were... persuaded to leave."

"And nobody cares about what they did?"

"Not enough to bother with it. Arch-Mage Aren's approach to these things is to just let them sort themselves out. Although now it looks like you'll be doing the sorting. Good luck with that."

The duo knew they had no time to lose. They turned around to leave, but were stopped by the Thalmor representative they saw upon entry to the College.

"You there. I have questions for you," said the Altmer, Ancano. "You were in Saarthal, yes? It has come to my attention that something was found there."

"Maybe…" replied Parax, clearly trying to irritate the elf.

"I know full well that you have. Please do not insult my intelligence," growled Ancano. "Tolfdir is still there now, is he? I shall expect a full report when he returns."

"How would you even know?" Parax asked.

"It is my job to know these things," said Ancano. "My role as advisor to the Arch-Mage is aided by knowing everything that transpires here."

"And why would you be interested in this at all?" asked Rellik.

"Something was discovered in Saarthal that was significant enough that Tolfdir sent a new member of the College, alone, to deliver word," Ancano explained. "That sounds precisely like the sort of thing that should matter to everyone. Especially me. Thank you for your help. You may go now."

The two walked past Ancano, Rellik bumping his shoulder to annoy him further.

"Advisor, my ass," muttered Rellik.

The two headed out into the courtyard and quietly discussed their plans for retrieving the stolen books. As they headed for the gate, they met up with the other students, who had just gotten back from Saarthal.

"There you are!" exclaimed Onmund. "You two must have found something really interesting to get the Arch-Mage involved."

"Correct," Parax confirmed, trying to bypass the group of students. "We're just about to get some information on it right now."

"What do you think of that Ancano guy?" Rellik asked.

"I know I don't like the way he looks at me," replied Brelyna. "I can't tell if he expects me to blow myself up, or to try and murder him. But he clearly doesn't trust any of us."

"I know he's from the Thalmor, and that he claims to be here simply as an advisor," said Onmund. "I also know that no one really believes that. I've been trying to avoid him, honestly."

"Let's go, googly-eyes," mumbled Parax, tugging Rellik through the crowd. The two headed south of Winterhold, towards the location marked on their maps by Urag.


5:18 PM. The duo finally reached Fellglow Keep, the ruins of an old fort. Two mages were camped outside; one of them was practicing conjuration with a Flame Atronach, while the second was sitting in front of a fire, anxiously waiting for the skeever hanging above it to cook. Parax and Rellik silently crept over to the camp, cutting the mages' throats before they could react. Parax headed towards one of the fort's doors, only to find it locked. The two searched the corpses of the dead mages, but found nothing.

"Dammit. Now what?" Rellik asked.

"Only one other way to go," said Parax, looking around the area. He saw a gap in some of the ruins nearby; they led downstairs and towards a door. "Down."

Parax and Rellik found themselves in the dungeons of Fellglow Keep. It was a rather murky place, with the entire area flooded. Pieces of the ceiling were scattered around the water, and a staircase across the room led onto a ledge guarded by a mage. He was practicing alchemy and stroking several pet frostbite spiders. The two entered the room, but were unable to keep the mage from hearing the splashing of the water.

"Ah, another test subject!" announced the mage. "Go my pets! Attack!"

The frostbite spiders crawled down the staircase towards the duo, but were quickly dealt with when Parax launched a wave of flames. The mage launched several ice spikes at the two, only to receive one to the throat as retaliation. Parax began looting the mage's station for valuables, books, alchemy ingredients, and other objects of importance to him, while Rellik searched the mage's body for a key to Fellglow Keep's main building. Unable to locate the the key, the two headed into a nearby door on the right. They found themselves in a jail-like room, with several mages casting various spells on several imprisoned women. Rellik silently ran up to the mages and cut the throats of two of them with his daggers. Parax launched a storm of ice, freezing the mages in place. He and Rellik then finished them off while they were vulnerable. Parax then investigated the prisoners. He noticed that they were unusually pale and possessed slight facial distortions, as well as a slight red-orange glow in their eyes. Vampires.

"Is there… something we can do?" asked one of the vampires in a seductive voice.

"We could use your assistance here," said Parax. "You agree to aid us, and in exchange we free you. No neck-biting."

With no other option, the vampires agreed to Parax's terms. The duo released them and led them through a nearby door. In the next room, three mages were practicing their spells. One was in a corner to the left, experimenting on a bloodied corpse. Parax snuck up behind the mage in front of the corpse and cut his throat with his bound sword, while Rellik and the vampires ambushed the others. Advancing into another room, the group found themselves in yet another area for holding prisoners. Three jail cells were to the right; one held an Altmer mage, while another contained wolves. Another mage was on the far side of the room, writing notes at a desk. Hearing the group, he turned around to investigate, only to receive an arrow to the head. The Altmer mage in the cell explained himself to be Orthorn before begging to be released, offering information on where the books were in exchange.

"Thank you so much!" exclaimed Orthorn. "Who knows what they'd have done to me if you hadn't come along. I promise I'll help if you get me out of here."

"We do not need your help," replied Parax. "Now, where are the books?"

"The books? Oh… I see," sighed Orthorn. "I thought perhaps… Well, I thought that you'd come for me. But yes, the books. The Caller will have them. She was most interested in one of the volumes… Although not interested enough to keep me from being locked up."

"I'd assume the Caller is up in the keep," Parax thought aloud. He then turned to Orthorn. "You, get out of here. And if you steal from us again, I'll burn you alive. Are we clear?"

"…Perfectly clear," gulped Orthorn. He turned back the way Parax and the others came and left.


6:05 PM. Parax and Rellik were finally near the top of Fellglow Keep. Every mage in the fort was killed—except for the Caller, who resided in the top floor. Feeling they no longer needed help, the two had dismissed their vampire allies, allowing them to roam free. Readying their weapons, the two entered the Caller's lair. They found themselves in a large, circular room lined with two chambers on each side. Each chamber had a pedestal in it, all of them having books on them. In the center of the room was a pedestal as well, likewise having a book on it. Across the room was a door, which an Altmer mage walked out of.

"So, you're the ones who barged into my home and laid waste to my projects," said the Caller, oddly politely. "How nice to meet you."

"…Greetings," said Parax, putting away his bound sword. "My name is Parax, this is Rellik. And you are?"

"Names no longer matter. You may refer to me as the Caller," replied the Altmer. "Now, do you have a reason for making such a mess?"

"We are here because we seek the books Orthorn stole," Parax explained. "We would've happily negotiated, had we been given the chance."

"So you're just one of Aren's lackeys? That's disappointing," sighed the Caller. "You show real promise. You come here, kill my assistants, disrupt my work... You've annoyed me, so I don't think I'll be giving you anything."

"That's unfortunate," said Parax, walking past the Caller and picking up the book in the center. "Just for the record, you don't exactly get a say in it. We won't be leaving without the books."

"Then I'm afraid you won't be leaving here at all," replied the Caller, summoning two Flame Atronachs.

Parax pointed to the Flame Atronachs, prompting Rellik to lunge towards them. He swiftly decapitated one of the atronachs and began attacking the second. Parax, on the other hand, launched an ice spike at the Caller, impaling her in the hand. While she was distracted by the pain, Parax dashed over to her and kicked her to the floor. Summoning his bound sword, Parax attempted to stab the renegade mage, who rolled out of the way. Unleashing a storm of fire at Parax, the Caller was able to distract him long enough to get back on her feet. It was too late for her now, though; Rellik blasted her across the room with Unrelenting Force, sending her face-first into a wall. Before she could get out of her stunned trance, Parax decapitated her while she was lying on the floor. The duo then proceeded to take the stolen books, headed into the door the Caller came from, and looted her storage room before exiting through a nearby door. They then began the journey back to the College.


11:35 PM. At last, they reached the College again. Rellik went to the Hall of Attainment for what he called "private matters", while Parax went up to the Arcanaeum to deliver the books. Urag was overjoyed to see the mage entering with them.

"Well, well. And you seem to be in one piece! Thank you. I'll look these over, and inform Mirabelle if I find anything relevant," chuckled Urag, taking the books. "Night of Tears, eh? I remember this one. Well, isn't that interesting. Did you read it yourself? If I recall it correctly, that has some interesting implications. You should mention that to Tolfdir. And... here. I suppose you've earned these."

Urag set the books on his desk and sifted through a drawer underneath it. A few seconds later, he held out a few books to Parax, who accepted the gift. He turned back towards the door, reading the books along the way. As he read them, he could feel his ability to wield magic as a mortal improve. There was something else he had noticed, as well, but he didn't bother to pay his full attention to it until the delivery was complete. He headed back down to the Hall of the Elements; the giant orb from Saarthal was floating around above the pool in the middle of the room. Tolfdir and a few other members of the College were studying it, clearly amazed. Parax approached the mage.

"It's always encouraging to see the younger generations embracing education," said Tolfdir cheerfully.

"Urag suggested that I talk to you about that orb," Parax informed Tolfdir.

"Did he now?" inquired the elder wizard. "Does he have information about our wonderful discovery?"

"Yes, this book," replied Parax, holding up a blue-green book. It had a sun with an eye on the front, bearing a resemblance to the College's logo. "Night of Tears."

"Is that the one about something buried beneath Saarthal?" asked Tolfdir, taking the book and flipping through the pages. "Something that men and mer fought over? I'll have to make a point in re-reading it… I don't recall the details."

Parax looked back at the giant orb. What was this thing?

"I just can't seem to tear myself away," said Tolfdir, understanding Parax's interest in the orb, "Whatever this is, its beauty is like nothing I've ever seen. If you'd allow me to indulge myself for a moment, I thought I might make a few observations."

"Go on," replied Parax, having yet to learn of the various markings on the orb. Tolfdir began walking around it, still amazed.

"I'm sure you've already noticed the markings," noted Tolfdir, examining the glowing symbols. "They're quite unlike anything we've seen before. Ayleid, Dwemer, Daedric… Not even Falmer. None of them are a match. Quite curious, indeed."

Parax looked across the room, towards the entrance to the courtyard. Ancano was making his way to the two.

"Now, I'm not sure that you're quite as attuned as I am, given my extensive years of experience, but can you feel that?" Tolfdir asked.

"Extensive my ass, I'm the oldest thing in here…" Parax muttered, walking over to Tolfdir.

"This marvelous object. It practically radiates magicka," continued Tolfdir. "And yet… it's unlike anything I've felt before. Arch-Mage Aren is already hard at work, and hopefully we'll have more information soon."

"I'm afraid I must intrude," interrupted Ancano. "It is urgent that I speak with your associate immediately."

"This is most inappropriate!" Tolfdir exclaimed. "We are involved in serious research here!"

"Yes, I've no doubt of its gravity," replied Ancano, shifting his eyes to Parax. "This, however, is a matter that cannot wait."

"Well, I'm quite sure I've never been interrupted like this before…" Tolfdir mumbled, turning back to Parax. "The audacity! I suppose we'll continue this at some later time, when we can avoid interruptions."

"I need you to come with me immediately, let's go," Ancano ordered to Parax.

"I'd prefer to understand the situation first," Parax replied stubbornly.

"Really? Well, allow me to clarify the situation," said Ancano, annoyed. "I'd like to know why there's someone claiming to be from the Psijic Order here in the College. More importantly, I'd like to know why he's asking for you specifically. So we're going to have a little chat with him, and find out exactly what he wants."

"You're just an advisor here, how the hell does this concern you?" Parax demanded.

"I'll be the one asking the questions," Ancano replied snidely. "All you need to know is that the Psijic Order is a rogue organization, believing themselves to be above the law. They have clashed with the Aldmeri Dominion before, and I have no intention of allowing that to happen here."

Third floor. Swords, magic, keys to super weapons… Edit

"Now, you are going to speak to this… monk… and find out why he is here, and then he will be removed from College grounds," said Ancano, leading Parax up the staircase to the Arch-Mage's quarters.

Savos Aren was standing near his desk, with the monk walking around the room, waiting for Parax. Ancano led the mage over to the monk, who approached Parax. Before Ancano could say anything, everything ceased to move except Parax and the monk. Everything took on a ghostly appearance. Time has frozen again.

"Please do not be alarmed," said the monk. "I mean you no harm. It is good to meet you in person."

"I take it you've frozen time again?" Parax asked.

"I'd simply like to talk to you," replied the monk. "I've given us a chance to speak privately, but I'm afraid I can't do this for long. We must be quick. The situation here at your College is of dire importance, and attempts to contact you as we have previously have failed. I believe it is due to the very source of our concern."

"Which is?"

"This object… the Eye of Magnus, as your people have taken to calling it. The energy coming from it has prevented us from reaching you with the visions you have already seen. The longer it remains here, the more dangerous the situation becomes. And so I have come here personally to tell you it must be dealt with."

"Why isn't your Order doing something about it?"

"I'm afraid it's not that simple. You must understand… the Psijic Order does not typically… intervene directly in events. My presence here will be seen as an affront to some within the Order, and as soon as we have finished, I will be leaving your College. I'm all too aware that my arrival has aroused suspicion, especially in Ancano, your Thalmor associate. Nevertheless, my Order will not act directly. You must take it upon yourself to do so. As you are aware, the problem is the Eye. The world is not ready for it. If it remains here, it will be misused. Indeed, many in the Order believe it has already… Rather, something will happen soon. Something that cannot be avoided."

"And what am I supposed to do, exactly?"

"We believe that your efforts should be directed towards dealing with the aftermath, but we cannot predict what that will be. I fear I have already overstepped the boundaries of my Order, but I will offer you this: seek out the Augur of Dunlain here in your College. His perception may be more coherent than ours."

"Where would that be?"

"I… I'm unsure. He is somewhere in the College. Surely one of your colleagues must know his location. Now, I am afraid I must leave you. We will continue to watch over you, and guide you as best we can. It is within you to succeed. Never forget that."

The ghostly effect ceased. Everyone began to move again. Savos and Ancano stared at the mage inquisitively.

"I'm sorry, were you about to say something?" Savos asked.

"Well, what is the meaning of this?" inquired Ancano.

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand," replied the monk, pretending to be confused.

"Don't play coy," growled Ancano. "You asked to see a specific member of the College. Here he is. Now what is it that you want?"

"There's been a misunderstanding. Clearly I should not be here," said the monk, looking around before walking away. "I shall simply take my leave."

"What? What trickery is this?!" Ancano exclaimed. "You're not going anywhere until I find out what you're up to!"

"I'm not 'up to' anything," replied the monk. "I apologize if I have offended you in any way."

"We will see about this…" Ancano muttered, walking away. Parax smirked briefly before approaching Savos.

"I'm… I'm not sure what happened," said the Arch-Mage, confused. "A monk from the Psijic Order… here. After all these years… and then he just leaves. I hope we didn't offend him somehow."

"What did the monk want?" Parax asked, playing along with the monk, Quaranir.

"Beyond asking for you, he never said. Very strange indeed," replied Savos.

Parax was tempted to ask Savos about the Augur of Dunlain, but he didn't wish to make him suspicious. Concealing his thoughts, Parax went down to the Arcanaeum. Unfortunately, Urag did not know where the Augur could be found, prompting Parax to search for Tolfdir.

"Well now, there's a name I haven't heard in some time," said Tolfdir. "My goodness, it's been years since I've spoken to him. I suppose he's still down in the Midden, but I haven't checked. Are you going to see him? Do tell him 'hello' for me, won't you?"

"And where is the Midden?" Parax asked.

"Underneath the College," replied Tolfdir cheerfully. "It's not the nicest place, so if you go down there, please do be careful."

"I'll bear it in mind, Tolfdir," said Parax, exiting the Hall of Elements to search for a way downstairs. While looking, he passed by Rellik, who was talking to Brelyna again.

"Let's go, evoldrib, we have work to do," said Parax, pulling Rellik with him.

"What did he call-What?" Rellik asked, confused.

"Summary. You and I found an orb, the College has it, it's causing problems, we need to locate someone called the Augur of Dunlain before shit goes down. Now mush!" Parax answered, finding a wooden trapdoor in the floor near the Hall of Elements. He lifted it open and climbed down, followed by Rellik.

Tolfdir wasn't wrong when he said the Midden wasn't a… "nice" place. It was more like a cave filled with wandering skeletons. Other than that, the only thing of interest the two could find was an odd, circular platform lined with candles. An altar with a handle on it was next to it; the altar had an openable compartment, though the pair did not know what exactly it was for. Keeping it in mind, they advanced further into the Midden. Soon, they came across a locked door.

"Your perseverance will only lead to disappointment," a voice whispered to the two. "Still you persist? Very well, you may enter."

The door unlocked, and the duo entered. They found themselves in a circular, rock room with a pool of glowing water in the middle. A bright orb of light floated above the pool.

"…So you're the Augur of Dunlain?" Parax asked.

""I am that which you have been seeking," the light answered. "Your efforts are in vain. It has already begun. But those who have sent you have not told you what they seek. What you seek."

"And what is that?" asked Parax.

"You seek that which all who wield magic seek. Knowledge," replied the Augur. "You shall find this: Knowledge will corrupt. It will destroy. It will consume. You seek meaning, shelter in Knowledge. You will not find it. The Thalmor sought the same thing, and it shall lead to his end as it has so many others."

"Thalmor?" Rellik inquired. Then he remembered Ancano.

"The one who calls himself Ancano," the Augur explained. "He seeks information about the Eye, but what he will find shall be quite different. His path will cross yours in time, but first you must find that which you need."

"And that is?" asked Parax.

"You, and those aiding you, wish to know more about the Eye of Magnus," said the Augur. "You wish to avoid the disaster of which you are not yet aware. To see through Magnus' Eye without being blinded, you require his staff. Events now spiral quickly towards the inevitable center, so you must act with haste. Take this knowledge to your Arch-Mage."

Parax quickly ran out of the door, knowing time to be of the essence, with Rellik following closely. Exiting the Midden, the two headed into the Hall of Elements, where Savos was observing the other students practice their spells. Rellik joined in to practice—as well as interact with his classmates—while Parax led Savos out of earshot.

"Rellik and I did some research," Parax said. "No time to explain, but I must find the Staff of Magnus."

"…I'm sorry, what?" asked Savos, confused. "I'd certainly love to have such a powerful staff, but I'm not really sure that any of us need it."

"It's connected to the orb, Savos," Parax explained. "The Eye of Magnus. The staff will be needed soon."

"And how do you know this?" inquired the Arch-Mage.

"We spoke to the Augur of Dunlain," replied Parax.

"Did you really?" Savos asked, now more interested in the subject. "And he specifically mentioned the Staff of Magnus?"

"That is correct."

"I… I'm impressed with your initiative. Of course, someone will need to follow up on this."

"Very well, what's my next step?"

"A most impressive attitude. Keep this up, and you'll do quite well for yourself. Something as specific and ancient as the Staff of Magnus… I'm not sure we'd ever find something like that… I seem to recall Mirabelle mentioning the staff somewhat recently. Why don't you see if she can tell you anything?"

"I will do so," said Parax, looking over the Arch-Mage's shoulder at Rellik.

"I'm quite pleased with your progress, you know," Savos continued. "You've certainly proven yourself to be more than a mere apprentice. Well done."

"My ego aside, that is correct," replied Parax, smiling.

"This circlet once proved invaluable to me," said Savos, holding a silver crown out. It was decorated with sapphires and had a blue aura. "I hope it can be of use to you now."

Parax took the circlet and examined it, while Savos returned to his quarters to continue his studies.

"Rellik!" Parax said, looking across the room to his companion.

Rellik turned his head in Parax's direction, awaiting his next objective.

"Bah, I can do this small task on my own," Parax said to himself, "I've rarely seen him socialize with people like this. Never mind, you keep talking to Miss Maryon and Mr.…whatever the hell J'zargo's last name is. I'll be back soon."

Parax exited the room and began searching for Mirabelle, who was relaxing outside in the courtyard. She seemed somewhat annoyed, having recently been conversing with Ancano.

"Miss Ervine, I must speak with you," said Parax, getting Mirabelle's attention. "Assuming I'm not disturbing you... am I? No, don't answer that, I need to speak with you anyways. What do you know about the Staff of Magnus?"

"Well, now that's an odd question," replied Mirabelle. "Why in the world would you be asking?"

"Savos informed me that you mentioned it," Parax answered. "I will need as much information as necessary on this topic."

"I see. Well yes, I suppose I did mention it, though I'm not sure what he expects me to tell you," Mirabelle sighed. "I only brought it to his attention a few months back when the Synod showed up here looking for it. They were apparently under the impression we were keeping it in a closet somewhere."

"It is connected to the Eye of Magnus… the orb," said Parax.

"The 'Eye of Magnus'? I can appreciate that this... thing, this orb... It's very impressive," replied Mirabelle. "Very unique, and definitely worth studying. But let's not jump to any conclusions, or assign it importance beyond what we're certain of."

"The Augur of Dunlain says that they are connected," Parax explained. He almost twitched at what Mirabelle said—Very unique

"Well, it's said to be very powerful. Has the capacity to store an incredible amount of magical power, as the story goes," said Mirabelle, giving in. "But it's more myth than anything at this point. I've no doubt that it actually exists, but no one has seen it in what, decades? Longer? I'm not sure. The only time I've heard it mentioned was when those Synod characters showed up some months ago looking for it."

"…Synod?" asked Parax.

"Mages based out of Cyrodiil. They fancy themselves the Imperial Authority on magic these last few hundred years," explained Mirabelle. "My understanding is that all they really do is make noise in an attempt to curry favor from the Emperor. Lots of politics, little magic. I was quite surprised to find them on our doorstep. They seemed amiable enough, but their line of questioning made me... uneasy. It became clear they're trying to hoard powerful artifacts, looking to consolidate power."

"Does anyone know where the staff is?"

"No one here does. The Synod seemed convinced it was somewhere in Skyrim. They inquired about the ruins of Mzulft, but that's all I remember. It sounded like they were heading there, though they were rather secretive about why. I suppose if you're intent on looking for the staff, there's a chance they might be in Mzulft yet. Just don't expect them to be cooperative."

Parax returned to the Hall of Elements, now having the information he sought. He quickly walked across the room towards Rellik.

"Rellik, I know where we're going next," said Parax. "Are you up for another adventure, or would you prefer conversing with Miss Maryon and company?"

"I'll be back soon," Rellik said to the other apprentices, walking away with Parax.

"Your recent interactions have caught my eye, Rellik," Parax chuckled, exiting the building with the Orc. "I wonder how this little mini-quest of yours will turn out."


2:56 AM, 30th of Heartfire. The two were now outside the Dwemer ruins of Mzulft, somewhere southeast of Windhelm. For the past few hours, they had been telling each other about their recent discoveries, both related and unrelated to the objective at hand. They entered Mzulft, which was surprisingly less worn down than the other Dwemer ruins they had been exploring. There were signs of conflict, however. Recent conflict. Blood was splattered on the walls and floor, and multiple burn markings—caused by magic—decorated the room. A man of Imperial descent in blue mage robes was lying down, leaning against a wall, bleeding heavily. Parax and Rellik walked over to the mage and knelt next to him.

"Crystal... gone.... Find...Paratus...in Oculory…" the mage coughed. He leaned his to the side and closed his eyes, ceasing to move.

Parax searched the body for anything useful, finding a key and journal containing the mage's research on Mzulft. This man was with the Synod.

"See if that key can unlock this door," said Rellik, trying to open a pair of doors leading deeper into the ruins.

Parax inserted the mage's key into the lock, opening the doors. There were greater signs of battle here; the various steam pipes were split or blown open, and the floors and walls were covered in burn marks and arrows. Blood was splattered on the walls. Parax and Rellik readied their weapons and advanced up a stone ramp, leading into a hallway decorated with Dwemer metal. The two were very careful to avoid the pressure plates scattered throughout the floors of the hallway, not wishing to know what kind of traps they would set off. At the end of the hallway was the body of another mage, who was wearing the same robe as the man at the entrance; the only useful thing they could find on her was a pouch of coins. Taking the money and continuing forward, the duo entered another room with damaged pipes, as well as two dead Synod researchers and two Dwarven Spiders—small, metal, soul gem-powered constructs designed to attack any intruder on sight. The two disposed of the machine with little effort, looted the remains for their soul gems, and resumed their adventure.

Advancing further into the ruins, Parax and Rellik entered yet another trap-filled room. For the path they were on, they had to go across a stone walkway on the side of the room, but spring-powered plates were waiting to shoot out and knock them into a pit, which was filled with Dwarven Spiders. Still, the trap was barely a problem to the two, as they simply used Whirlwind Sprint to dash across the walkway and avoid the trap. A Dwarven Sphere—like the constructs encountered back in Cidhna Mine with the Forsworn—was waiting for them, but was quickly dispatched with a bolt of lightning. The duo then entered a nearby door, traveling deeper into the ruins.

In the next room, the remains of several Dwemer constructs were scattered around. The damage the machines suffered implied something other than magic or age, but rather weapons—crude weapons, to say the least. It was then that Parax and Rellik remembered the other horrors that dwelled in the former homes of the Dwemer: the Falmer. The two carefully advanced across the room and into a hallway, where they found two Falmer wandering. The two creatures, while ferocious, were no match for Parax and Rellik, who easily killed them with arrows. As they traveled deeper into Mzulft, they found the ruins appearing more and more damaged, eventually ending up in simple caves and tunnels infested with Falmer. The former snow elves were quickly dealt with, but the same could not be said for their two pets. The two had hoped not to encounter these monsters for a long time, having first encountered them back in Irknthand. These "pets"—known as chaurus—were terrifying, large insect-like creatures domesticated by the Falmer for food, pets, defense, and the creation of their weapons and armor. Their thick exoskeletons made them resistant—though not immune—to attacks, and their agility and jaws made them formidable to any who came across them. Still, the beasts were dispatched, allowing Parax and Rellik to continue.


3:50 AM.

"That should hold them for a while," Parax panted. They had barricaded the door they just came out of, having been chased by the Falmer and chaurus in overwhelming numbers.

"Yes, except we have to go back through them when we get what we came for," Rellik growled, exhausted. "Assuming it's here."

"Oh, peace, Rellik," said Parax. "When we first arrived here, there were more entrances, albeit locked from the inside. Surely we'll find another way out of this hellhole."

"I hope you're right," sighed Rellik.

"In other news, I managed to get this from one of the Falmer," said Parax, holding up a crystal-like object. It was a half-circle in shape, and decorated with Dwemer metal going across the rim. "Perhaps we just found our bargaining chip with the Synod."

Parax and Rellik limped up a ramp towards a door. Falmer bodies were lying everywhere, hinting to the two that the Synod were holed up here. Rellik aimed his hand at the door with a fireball spell ready in his palm.

"Manners, Rellik," Parax said, chuckling and knocking on the door.

"G-Gavros? Is that you?" A frightened voice asked. "I'd almost given up hope. Let me get the door."

"See how easy that was?" Parax rhetorically asked Rellik as the door swung open.

"What the…" the mage mumbled. Immediately, he readied two shock spells. "What are you doing here?! What have you done with Gavros?!"

"Gavros is dead, but not by our hand," Parax answered.

"It was the Falmer, wasn't it?" the mage—most likely the Paratus fellow that Gavros was talking about—sighed. "Curse them! They've ruined everything! If Gavros is gone, there is no hope. He was supposed to return with the crystal… Without that, all our efforts are wasted."

"Well-" Parax started.

"And you. If you're here for treasure, or wisdom, or anything, I'm afraid you've wasted your time," Paratus continued somberly.

"Crystal?" Parax asked.

"It didn't work the first time," said Paratus. "I tried to tell Gavros, but he wouldn't listen. 'No, it won't be too cold' he said. Well, I was right, wasn't I? Focused completely wrong by the time we got here! The cold had warped it!"

"But-"

"Gavros had to cart it back all the way to Cyrodiil. Left the rest of us here to fend off the damnable Falmer."

"What exactly is this crystal for?" asked Rellik.

"It was a brilliant idea, really. Mostly mine, but Gavros took the credit. Secret, though. Official Synod business. Can't talk about it."

"How about you tell me what it's for, and I promise not to shatter this?" Parax responded aggressively, holding out the crystal he acquired earlier.

"You found… how in the world…" Paratus muttered. "That's it! That's it! I don't know who you are, but you may have just saved this little project. In fact, who are you anyways?"

"Just some mages from the College of Winterhold," Parax answered.

"You are, are you…? Savos wouldn't even grant us an audience when we came to you, but now you come here expecting something from me?" Paratus asked.

Parax turned his hand upside down and slowly opened it, ready to drop the crystal in front of his boot. He cocked his head to the side and looked menacingly into Paratus's eyes.

"…But you've saved my skin, so maybe I can overlook the past for now," Paratus continued, his authoritative tone suddenly changing to a more inferior one. "Come on, I'll explain on the way."

Paratus motioned for the two to follow and began walking down the hallway behind him. Parax smirked at Rellik. The two began following the Synod mage.

"No matter what Gavros said, this was my idea first," Paratus ranted. "The Council is going to know that when I get back. I was the one who thought of using this… this Oculory. I don't know what the dwarves called it. Something unpronounceable, I'm sure."

Parax and Rellik quietly picked up the bags of potions lying nearby the Synod mages' blankets, as well as several coin pouches. Paratus was too busy rambling about his "genius idea" to notice.

"From all our research, it seems they were intent on discerning the nature of the divine," Paratus continued. "This machinery, all of it, was designed to collect starlight, and then… I'm not sure. Split it, somehow?"

The three entered a large, circular stone room. Pillars decorated the rim of the room, and a gargantuan metal machine covered in crystals sat in the middle, taking up over three quarters of the whole space. A ramp wrapped around the machine—the Oculory—leading to the top, where a large ring was present. Three circular crystals were connected to yet another ring, which was at the top of the aforementioned one.

"It was my idea to replace one of the key elements with our focusing crystal. Months of enchantments went into it," said Paratus, leading Parax and Rellik up the ramp. "Let's just hope they got it right this time."

Parax and Rellik took note of the ring at the top of the Oculory, as well as several buttons nearby; the latter likely controlled the placing of the ring. A beam of light was connected to the ceiling and the ring. They looked up to see three more rings lining the ceiling, the crystals on them obviously serving to reflect the light once directed into them. At Paratus's urging, Parax placed the focusing crystal the central apparatus, between the three crystals on the ring. The beam of light went into the crystal and reflected off the others, passing into the walls.

"Now, the crystal needs to be focused," said Paratus. "It was created so far away, we knew that some adjustments would have to be made. Heating or cooling the crystal will cause it to expand or contract, which will change how the light passes through it. You'll need to use spells to do that. Being from the College, I assume you know them already. There should be a few basic tomes around here somewhere in case your training is even more sub-standard than I've heard."

Parax fired a burst of his frost spell at the crystal, adjusting the direction of the light reflected. Within seconds, the beams of light were all aligned with the rings on the ceiling. Rellik began pressing the buttons nearby, quickly figuring out which one turned each ring. It didn't take long for the crystals on the ceiling to be properly aligned, reflecting the light into a central, circular crystal in the center of the ceiling. A hologram of Tamriel appeared on a nearby wall.

"…What's this? These results… They're not at all what they should be," Paratus mumbled, his voice trembling. He ran over to the holographic map. "This projection should be lit up like the night sky. Something is creating an incredible amount of interference… Something in Winterhold, it looks like..."

Parax and Rellik looked at each other, knowing exactly what Paratus was talking about.

"What are you playing at?! Is this some attempt to stall my work?!" Paratus demanded. "So what is it?! What have you done?!"

"We-" Parax attempted to answer, only to be interrupted.

"Did you know what we were attempting? Are you here to make sure your plan worked that our efforts have been for nothing?" Paratus asked. His expression changed from confusion to that of despair. "Well?! Explain yourself!"

"Calm down, Paratus," Parax said authoritatively.

"You and your College have ruined years of my work!" The researcher exclaimed. "I've lost colleagues and friends to the Falmer, and you want me to calm down?! How did you do it?!"

"We've done nothing," Parax answered.

"But it must be something you're doing. There's no other explanation…" Paratus mumbled, his tone of voice repeatedly switching from calm to deranged and vice-versa. "You have something at your College, don't you? Something immensely powerful. Beyond anything I'd anticipated. What is it?"

"Possibly," replied Parax, putting his hand behind his back and readying a bound sword spell.

"Well, now. This I hadn't considered," said Paratus, pacing. "If that's taken into account… These results make more sense. I can't explain the details; that would be giving away many secrets the Synod have learned over the years. Also, I doubt you'd be able to comprehend the details. Have you ever seen the Orrery in the Imperial City? It was the inspiration for this idea."

"Go on," said Parax.

"Instead of projecting the sky, we project all of Tamriel, and then harness the latent energies to overlay the positions of…" Paratus explained, still staring at the map. "What's important is that all of this work was designed to reveal to us sources of great magical power… Purely to help safeguard the Empire, of course. And yet, in the end, only two locations have been revealed to us. One is your College. The other… Well, that can only be Labyrinthian…"

"Interesting," Parax noted. He and Rellik grinned victoriously. "That's where the Staff of Magnus is."

"So, mage from Winterhold, despite your intentions I've beaten your little game," Paratus announced triumphantly, pausing at the top of the ramp. "Even if all you've said here is lies, I know you have something in Winterhold the Synod Council will be very interested in. So fine, trudge off to Labyrinthian in search of your staff. I shall return to Cyrodiil and deliver my full report to the Council. This is not over, I assure you."

"Let's agree to disagree, Paratus," replied Parax. "You've been here way too long, and I think it's had an effect on your mental state. You're crazy."

"Am I? Am I?!" Paratus exclaimed, pacing around the Oculory. "I think I've discovered more here than I could've hoped to. Your trickery won't confuse me!"

"…Someone's gone batshit," Rellik mumbled.

"I think we're done here," growled Paratus.

"Agreed," replied Parax, summoning his bound sword. "Goodbye, Paratus, it was nice knowing you. A shame the Synod will never know what happened here."

"Beg pardon?" Paratus asked, turning around.

Parax swung his sword at the Synod mage, who ducked, narrowly avoiding the blade. Paratus readied two shock spells, but it was too late. Parax kicked the mage in the chest, knocking him off the Oculory to his death. Rellik took the focusing crystal out of the machine, deactivating the hologram. With their tracks covered, the duo walked down the ramp and exited the room, heading back into the hallway Paratus led them through earlier. Parax had made note of another path when Paratus was ranting about his "genius idea"; going this way instead, the two approached a door, but Parax paused. He was having another vision with a member of the Psijic order—not Quaranir, but he still had the trademark robe.

"You have done well thus far, but trying times are ahead," said the monk. "It is imperative that you return to your College at once. You will be called on to take swift action. Rise to the challenge, and discover what you are capable of. You are on the right path, and you will prevail."

"Parax," said Rellik, shaking his companion by the shoulders. "What the hell are you doing?!"

"We have to hurry," Parax replied, ignoring the question and running through the door. "Shit's about to go down!"

The Staff of Magnus Edit

5:47 AM. Parax and Rellik burst into the Hall of Elements, exhausted. Mirabelle and Savos were standing in the hallway, in front of the gate leading into the room, which was blocked off by a warding spell.

"…I don't know. It's like a ward, but who's casting it?" Mirabelle asked, confused. She looked closely through the ward and could see Ancano; the Altmer was standing in front of the Eye of Magnus, casting a spell at it, obviously draining its power. "...Ancano? How?!"

"I think shit has gone down," Rellik muttered to Parax.

"I don't care what it is, I want it down now!" Savos exclaimed. For the first time, Parax saw him display frustration. "I want to know what he's doing in there!"

"We know where to get the Staff of Magnus," said Parax. "Perha-"

"Excellent. I'd suggest that we go retrieve it immediately, but right now we have more pressing matters," replied Savos. "Help us get through this, will you? We're throwing everything we have at it."

The four mages unleashed different spells on the ward; eventually, it vanished. Parax had a bad feeling about this. It didn't seem like they had disabled the ward themselves—rather, it seemed like Ancano wanted them to enter.

"Savos, I don't think…" said Parax, but he paused. Savos was not listening. The Dunmer Arch-Mage ran over to Ancano.

"Ancano! Stop this at once! I command you!" Savos ordered.

"Don't go near him!" Mirabelle exclaimed.

"Fooking hell-" yelled Parax. The room lit up brightly, knocking the four off their feet and across the room. Parax was blown through one of the pillars in the room, and all went dark.

Parax woke up and looked around the room. Rellik was slowly climbing to his feet. Mirabelle limped over to Parax.

"Are you alright?" Mirabelle asked. "Can you walk? I need you on your feet. We're in trouble here."

"Never been better," Parax coughed, getting up, albeit with some difficulty.

"Ancano is doing something with that thing... the Eye. We can't stop him!" said Mirabelle. "I haven't seen Savos since the explosion. He must've been blown clear, and he may be injured. I need you to find the Arch-Mage, and I need you to do it quickly. Get moving!"

Parax cast a healing spell on Mirabelle, but the limitations of Skyrim's magic prevented him from fully healing her quickly; time was of the essence, and he knew he couldn't waste it. Parax limped over to Rellik and did the same, partially healing the Orc and himself. The two walked out of the room and back into the hallway, where they found that the door had been blown open. The other mages—students, scholars, and teachers alike—were gathering around a mound of snow, chattering to each other. Parax and Rellik dug into the snow, where they found the body of Savos Aren.

"Are you alright? What happened in there?" Tolfdir asked, walking over to the two.

"Ancano," Parax growled, clenching his fist. "He's done something with the Eye. Bastard's gone power-mad."

"By the Nine…" Tolfdir gasped. "He's responsible for this? The Arch-Mage, dead?! There's more… Something's happened to Winterhold. It must be whatever Ancano did. You need to get out there and make sure it's safe. Quickly, now, quickly! I'll find Mirabelle and see if we can put a stop to this!"

Parax and Rellik limped out of the courtyard, healing each other along the way. Faralda and Arniel were looking from the bridge over at Winterhold, dumbstruck.

"What's going on? What happened in there?" Faralda asked.

"Ancano is using the Eye of Magnus—the orb—to wreak havoc," Parax explained quickly, walking across the bridge. "You can help or you can watch, your choice."

Faralda and Arniel followed the two across the bridge, entering the town of Winterhold. Glowing orbs of energy with tails were floating around the town, harassing the citizens. Parax launched a lightning bolt, disintegrating several of the anomalies and prompting the other mages to do the same. The guards soon joined the fight, cutting down the creatures. Within minutes, the magical anomalies were wiped out. Fully healing themselves by now, Parax and Rellik ran back across the bridge to the College, while Arniel and Faralda kept watch over the town.

Inside the Hall of Elements, Parax and Rellik searched for Mirabelle. She was back to full strength again, having healed herself with the help of Tolfdir.

"Well? Is everything out there all right?" asked Mirabelle.

"Yes, we've taken care of the problem," replied Parax.

"Wish I could say the same for us," Mirabelle remarked. "Tolfdir and I can try and keep this contained. You need to get your hands on the Staff of Magnus. Now."

"Guess we're off to Labyrinthian," said Parax, turning to Rellik.

"What? Are you... Are you sure?" asked Mirabelle. "The Staff is there? That can't be a coincidence."

"Hmm?"

"Savos. Before... before he died. He... He gave me something just a little while ago. He told me it was from Labyrinthian, and that I would know what to do with it when the time came. I think... I think he meant this for you, then. I'm not sure why, but there was something very personal about it for him. Also, I think you should take this amulet. It belonged to Savos, but I think would do you the most good now. Take it, and get out of here. Bring back that staff before Ancano brings the whole College down around us."

Mirabelle presented Parax with an amulet—a silver necklace decorated with sapphires and surrounded by a red aura—as well as a torc of sorts. Apparently, it would be the only way for the duo to enter Labyrinthian. Parax took the items, nodded to Mirabelle, and walked out of the Hall of Elements with Rellik. The students were still outside, shocked by the chaos that was going on. Parax looked at each of them as he and Rellik passed them by, then a thought occurred to him: what if he brought a few along, as a little test of strength? Perhaps if they showed to work well in a group, they could prove to be useful—it would certainly do better than having them sit in this college for years on end, slowly improving their abilities. He could see it in them: they wanted to use magic, not just study it, and they would learn best with what he had in mind. Not to mention the attraction he could detect between Rellik and Brelyna; they'd work wonders together.

"Hold on," said Parax. He stopped abruptly and turned around to face the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not going to honey it up because that's just going to get people killed. Our college is in danger, and with it, the rest of the world."

Everyone in the crowd murmured loudly.

"Real inspiring," Rellik commented.

"Fortunately, I have figured out a way to stop it; you see, that orb Ancano is feeding off of is the Eye of Magnus, and I have discovered the location of its counterpart—the Staff," Parax continued. "Who will stand by me and my colleague so that we may end this madness?"

There was silence and a long pause. After a few moments, several of the mages stepped forward.

"J'zargo will go—he will accomplish many great things, among them finding the Staff of Magnus," the Khajiit announced proudly.

"I will go as well," said Brelyna. Parax detected a slight movement of her eyes—a quick look to Rellik, then away. "I may be young, but I have learned a thing or two in House Telvanni."

"Count me in," said Onmund.

"They're just students, and have only been here for a few weeks!" Tolfdir protested. "Take me in their stead!"

"I need you and the others to stay and keep the place on lockdown," said Parax. "Don't underestimate those three—they're a lot better mages than you give them credit for. It's not a debate; I don't have time for one of those."

"Good to have you along for the ride," Rellik remarked in a friendly tone to the three students, though it was clear who it was meant for.


2:45 PM. At long last, the five finally reached what they concluded to be Labyrinthian. It appeared to be the ruins of an ancient city, with various statues hinting that it was once ruled by the dragon cult that formerly held dominion over the world. Now it was home to several frost trolls, but they were easily dispatched by the duo. In fact, most of them seemed to already be dead, having a few well-placed black arrows in their heads. The bodies were almost completely buried in the snow, but the stains of their blood remained. After searching the remains of the ruined city, the two came across a large staircase, which led them up into the only entrance they could find to Labyrinthian. As they approached the door, the holograms of several mages—including a young Savos Aren—appeared.

"Come on, we're finally here!" exclaimed an excited Savos. "Let's not waste any more time!"

"Are we truly sure this is a good idea?" asked an Argonian mage.

"We'll be back at the College before anyone even knows we're gone," replied another mage, a Redguard.

"You would care about that, since you're the Arch-Mage's favorite!" said another one of the mages, angrily.

"Don't forget, this whole idea was Atmah's to begin with," said Savos, smirking.

"Let's just get inside, see what's in there," sighed one of the students.

The ghostly images disappeared, and the group walked over to the entrance to Labyrinthian. Parax inserted the torc into the door and pounded it several times; within seconds, the door rolled and slid away, opening and allowing the two into Labyrinthian. Inside, they found themselves in a large, very damaged stone room. Statues similar to those found in Nordic ruins decorated two large pillars on the opposite side of the room. Skeletons lined the floor. A huge gap in the ceiling allowed the sunlight to shine in from high above. They spotted a door across the room and approached it; as they got near, the holograms reappeared.

"I can't believe we're doing this," exclaimed one of the excited apprentices.

"Can you imagine the looks on their faces when we come back?" asked Savos, chuckling.

"You keep talking like you're sure we'll find something useful in here," said another student.

"Given the history of this place, it's more than likely there's still some amount of power here," one of the mages noted, assuring his classmate.

"Enchanted weapons, tomes of ancient knowledge, Shalidor's secrets themselves!" said Savos. "Who knows what we could find!"

"And what if... What if there are things guarding this place?" asked the Argonian, nervously.

"Against six College-trained mages? I think we'll be fine," replied the Redguard, grinning.

The ghosts disappeared. Parax picked up a telekinesis spell tome on a nearby table and showed it around to the other four mages; as the knowledge poured into their minds, the book burned up and collapsed to the ground in a pile of ashes. The five continued onward through the door, eventually coming across a gate. Pulling the lever and unlocking it, the five entered a large, circular room. Pillars decorated the area, bones covered the floor, and skeletons wandered about. As the party advanced into the room, they encountered something they hadn't been expecting. The reanimated skeleton of a dragon burst out of the floor and charged the mages. Quickly moving out of the way, Parax and Rellik cut down the human skeletons, occasionally blasting magic at the dragon to slow it down; Onmund, Brelyna, and J'zargo kept their distance, firing a mixture of fire, lightning, and ice at the undead. When the great monstrosity was the only undead thing left standing, Parax froze its arms to the floor, while Rellik unsheathed his sword and jabbed its face when it tried to lunge forward.

"J'zargo has this! Undead do not like fire…"

J'zargo promptly sprinted behind the dragon and started blasting its tail with fire—much to Brelyna's annoyance, as she was trying to help freeze it to the ground. Soon enough, it was immobilized for the most part, with the students concentrating their ice magic on it; Rellik took the opportunity to jump onto its head and begin slashing at the head and neck. The skeletal dragon tried to shake them off to no avail; quickly, Rellik managed to decapitate the ancient horror, dropping its headless body to the floor.

With nothing left in the room to deal with, the five walked through a door on the other side of the room and headed down a ramp. There, the holograms reappeared around a stone tablet, which had a short poem etched onto it. However, there was something different about the group: Girduin, a Bosmer mage, was not present.

"We... we have to go back," cried Elvali, a female Dunmer mage. "We can't leave Girduin…"

"We barely made it out alive, and you want to go back in?" responded Hafnar, the Nord sorcerer in the group.

"It's too late. There isn't enough of him left to go back in after," sighed Atmah, the Redguard.

"Gods, what have we done?" sobbed the Argonian mage, Takes-In-Light.

"We can't go back. Might as well go forward," said Savos. "We can still do this."

"Savos is right," agreed Atmah. "We can make it if we just stay alert."

Again, the holograms vanished. The five advanced further into the maze-like ruins, but were stopped by a voice that whispered to them in the dragon tongue. It sounded like the owner had some difficulty speaking—as if he was gagging while he talked. The group felt a sense of weakness overcoming them; it wasn't the physical kind of weakness one feels when one is tired, but more in the sense that their magicka had suddenly drained.

"Wo mey wah dii vul junaar?" growled the voice.

"What was that?" Brelyna asked nervously, her eyes widened.

J'zargo held his hand out and jerked it violently, trying to cast a spell. Nothing happened; the Khajiit growled in frustration. A blast of fire abruptly shot from his hand and soared across the room, exploding against a wall.

"Looks like this won't be as simple as anticipated," Parax noted.

"Nivahriin muz fen siiv nid aaz het," the voice whispered, clearly insisting on conversation.

"What the hell is that, and what is it saying?" Rellik muttered.

"I don't know, but I'm putting learning it on my list," replied Parax. "Don't let your guard down,"

The five kept in mind what they could potentially be dealing with here and moved deeper into the ruins. It was then that they found themselves in a large, cavernous room, most signs of civilization being broken down. The room was essentially a deep pit, with multiple bridges and platforms connected to each other and leading downwards in a jagged fashion. They managed to get to the bottom, though with some difficulty; the room was crawling with draugr, and they had to rely on close-combat and Rellik's bow instead of their temporarily-drained magic. This, sadly, left Onmund, J'zargo, and Brelyna mostly defenseless. Again, the voice spoke to them.

"You do not answer... must I use this guttural language of yours?" it said. For once, they could understand what it was saying to them.

The five tried to ignore whoever was speaking to them, continuing deeper into the ruins. At the bottom of the pit was a waterway, which led them through another door.

"Have you returned, Aren? My old friend?"

"The Arch-Mage?" Onmund asked. "So that's how…"

"…you guys got the torc," Brelyna deduced. "What happened here?"

"We'll find out soon, by the looks of things," said Parax. "Come, let's go."

On the group went, advancing through the waterway, cutting down the draugr in their path. Just then, a robed skeleton—possibly someone from Savos's group—burst from the shadows, tackling Parax and disarming Rellik. The skeleton unleashed a barrage of frost, freezing Parax to the ground. J'zargo raised his hand to fire magic, but nothing happened.The undead sorcerer proceeded to lunge at Rellik, shoving him through a doorway before attempting to wrap its hands around the Orc's throat. Rellik threw the skeleton to the side and used the sliver of recharged magic to summon his sword from the ground. He then leapt towards his opponent, which swerved out of the way and avoided the apprentice's attack. By now, Parax's magicka had regenerated, allowing him to melt the ice with a flame spell and conjure his bound sword. The mage walked behind the skeleton and impaled it through the torso, ending its existence.

"Do you seek to finish that which you could not?" asked the voice, still mistaking the intruders for Savos.

The group entered another room, again ignoring whoever was speaking to them whilst making sure not to let their guard down. This broken-down section of Labyrinthian was home to a troll, which somehow found its way deep into the maze. Like the other creatures inhabiting the ruins, the troll was little of an issue for the five mages, and was easily cut and blasted down. Their curiosity of what they would find down here grew more and more as the voice continued to harass them.

"You only face failure once more…" gloated the voice, still under the impression that it was speaking to Savos.

By now, Parax and Rellik had an idea of who they were going to face up ahead; the others didn't quite know. Onmund, perhaps, but even that was unlikely. Labyrinthian was obviously a place of dragon worship. Its location—near the center of Skyrim—and size suggested that it may have been the location of a capital in Skyrim. Dragons ruled Skyrim and all of Tamriel once. Whoever lasted this long was powerful enough to defeat the remaining mages of Savos's expedition.

"You...you are not Aren, are you? Has he sent you in his place?"

The Staff of Magnus was here, supposedly. The only non-undead signs of life here were wild animals. That means the being who was antagonizing them would be undead. If it was powerful enough to defeat a team of mages, then it must be a lich of sorts.

"Did he warn you that your own power would be your undoing? That it would only serve to strengthen me?" the voice continued to taunt. The group ignored it and pushed forward.

But again, this was a place of dragon worship. This lich wasn't going to be your ordinary undead sorcerer. There was only one kind of being that Parax could think of with that in mind.

"Just another minute. Please!" exclaimed the hologram of Takes-In-Light, interrupting Parax's thoughts. The mage was heavily wounded.

"Come on, we can't stop now," said Savos. "We have to keep moving!"

"Where's Elvali? She was right behind me," cried Atmah.

"Dead. Something grabbed her from behind," replied Hafnar. "Gone before I could do anything."

"This is insanity," sighed Takes-In-Light. "We never should've come here."

"You're right. This is all my fault," sobbed Atmah. "Should we turn around, head back?"

"I don't think going back is a good idea," replied Hafnar.

"Going back would be the end of all of us," said Savos in agreement. "We keep pushing forward, and we'll make it. We will!"

"Come on, you can make it. Let's go," Atmah said comfortingly to Takes-In-Light. She put the Argonian's arm over her shoulder and helped her walk down a nearby spiraling staircase.

The holograms vanished again.

"Come. Face your end."

By now, the draugr had become less common. The deeper areas of Labyrinthian were inhabited by ghosts, obviously worshippers of the dragons, given their ability to speak Dovah fluently. The two managed to find a Word Wall down here, which granted them the Shout "Slow Time". Of course, Onmund, Brelyna, and J'zargo couldn't understand what they were doing when they acquired the Shout; only Parax and Rellik could hear the chanting and see the glowing of the writing. Other than that, the journey further into the ruins composed mostly of fighting spirits of the deceased residents and a conversation between Savos, Atmah, and Hafnar, the last three survivors.

"We shouldn't have left her there to die!" cried Atmah.

"What else could we do? Stay there and die with her?" responded Savos. "She refused to go on, we didn't have a choice!"

"This is it, you know. Through this door," said Hafnar, changing the subject. "Can you feel it?"

"We're not going to make it, are we?" sighed Atmah.

"We stay together, no matter what," Hafnar declared. "Agreed?"

"I'll be right with you," replied Atmah.

"Agreed," Savos said. "We all stay together."

The holograms disappeared. Once again, Parax began to think about what he, Rellik, and the others were about to deal with. Dragon follower, lich, residing in a possible capital of Skyrim during the dragons' reign. This could mean only one thing.

"Rellik, ready your weapon," Parax ordered. "Stick to long range first, only engage in close combat if it gets too close. Brelyna, J'zargo, and Onmund, you're going to need fire and lightning."

"It?" asked Rellik, opening the door. "You mean-"

Just as he thought. A dragon priest—albeit sealed away, apparently. This dragon priest—suggested by the various inscriptions the two found throughout Labyrinthian to be named "Morokei"—was waiting for them, though he was sealed away. This lich was, obviously, undead, as that was what a lich was. Clothed in torn magenta robes, a blue, unusually glowing mask, and a golden-colored metal of sorts, the dragon priest was truly a terrifying entity. The undead cultist carried a dagger in one hand and a staff in the other. Parax concluded this to be the Staff of Magnus, given the appearance of the staff—most notably the orb on the top bearing resemblance to the Eye of Magnus in the College. Morokei was trapped in a circular barrier, which was being cast from two platforms by two ghost-like mages; obviously Hafnar and Atmah.

"There is something… different about you," Morokei spoke in his guttural voice. "You wield great power, but not like those weak mages at your college. If Aren thought he was being smart with his choosing, he never would've sent you in the first place."

"Morokei, I believe you have something for us," said Parax. "That staff—the Staff of Magnus, no doubt?"

"So, you bear some knowledge of what you seek in here," laughed the lich. "Perhaps you hope to achieve limitless power with this? I doubt you would be able to control a staff this powerful anyways."

"It's certainly worth trying," Rellik replied. "The alternative is far worse."

"Yes, I can sense it already," Morokei said. He would smirk if he had lips. "I smell desperation on you. The Staff speaks to me&mdsah;you have found the Eye of Magnus… and you want the Staff to go with it." He paused for a moment, thinking. "But not for collection. Your mortal world is doomed, and you hope to take my staff in hopes of saving it. Silly mortals—you may just do Lord Alduin's job before he does. I hear he has finally returned, after all these years."

"I'm assuming that means you won't be handing it over—willingly, that is," Parax commented. "Mind you, we'll be getting it either way; I'm just trying to make it easy for you."

"If you want it, you're going to have to let me out first," Morokei retorted. "Aren's friends… trapped here by his doing, doomed to keep me here until time's end or their own. I suppose you'll just have to choose." He gazed up at the spirits that had kept him imprisoned for so long. "Their mortal bodies have faded from existence, but their essence remains. They exist for one purpose now—ensuring that I stay here, but you and I know that you must end that if you want the staff."

"Please tell me there's another way," Brelyna muttered.

"No, sadly," sighed Parax. "Rellik, get one of those ghosts—I'll deal with the other. Everyone else, find a spot and prepare yourselves."

"What makes you think we can defeat him?" asked Onmund. "He took down Arch-Mage Aren and a team of experienced mages!"

"Yes, what makes you think you can defeat me?" Morokei echoed, relishing the moment. "Aren tried to stop me, but in the end, he was too weak, and he abandoned his friends to save himself. In the end, one of you shall do the same… or at least, they'll try. But which one? The Orc? The Argonian? They are not to be trusted; I sense that they both possess untold power—enough to overwhelm all of you."

Brelyna shot a lightning bolt towards the bubble Morokei was in; it ricocheted off and hit the ceiling. "I know Parax and Rellik; they would never do such a thing to their friends."

"Friends? I can see the look in your Orc friend's eyes—he tries to hide a great darkness that has followed him his whole life!" the dragon priest taunted. "And the Argonian… he will sacrifice anything to get his way. Including you. Your loyalty is misplaced; bow down to your true lords and find peace in the end of your world as you know it."

"It's not going to happen," Parax said sternly. "Savos was inexperienced, and as you said, Rellik and I possess great power. Brelyna, Onmund, and J'zargo as well; they may be simple students from a decaying college of magic, but I can see their potential. They will grow to do great things—unlike you. You have sat in your crypt for millennia, worshipping creatures that are little more than an annoyance, yearning for a life of power that will never come. We have come to kill you, and that is exactly what we shall do."

"We'll see how confident you are in yourself as I drain the last remnants of life from your butchered body," growled Morokei.

Without another word, Parax and Rellik split up and snuck behind the spirits, weapons ready, while the three students took their positions around the chamber with fire and lightning spells out. On Parax's signal, Rellik grabbed Hafnar and slashed his throat with his sword, "killing" him. Parax did the same with Atmah, and the barrier was gone. Morokei was free.

"And now, you will die," declared Morokei victoriously. "After all these years, I am free!"

Parax and Rellik lunged from the platforms, landing on either side of Morokei. The dragon priest clubbed Parax in the face with the Staff of Magnus, knocking the Argonian down. At the same time, he slashed Rellik on the chest with his dagger, then raised his staff. Morokei cast a bolt of lightning on the Orc, simultaneously beginning to drain his life and magicka. Brelyna shot a firebolt, followed by J'zargo and Onmund. Anything that didn't hit Morokei was redirected towards him by Parax and Rellik as they swung their weapons at him, but the dragon priest blocked spell and blade with his staff, dagger, and and arsenal of spells.

"Is that all you can do?" the lich taunted. "Cast a few spells fit only for beginners? Swing your swords around at a master of magic? You know nothing of power; allow me to teach you a lesson about it."

With that, Morokei slammed the bottom end of his staff into the ground, sending Parax and Rellik back and knocking the students down. A whirlwind of blue flames swirled about the room as lightning came raining down from dark clouds that covered the ceiling. The mages used the strongest wards they could come up with to block the incoming bolts, but each time a hit was landed, the ward would flicker out and they would feel their magicka drain. Parax and Rellik did the one thing they could think of.

"Wuld!" Parax shouted, launching himself and Rellik forward. They cut through the whirlwind and sank their blades into Morokei's rotted torso with one hand and pressed their free hands into his chest, blasting him point-blank with a fire spell that burned his robes and flesh. Rellik didn't even know what he was saying when he screamed,

"Yol Toor Shul!"

"Ruth!" Morokei cried out in pain as his entire body was covered in bright flames that flashed all sorts of colors. He flinched for a moment and flourished his staff, and the flames dissipated. "So, you are the Dovahkiin of legend. I knew I sensed power in you… and yet, you do not know how to wield it. How disappointing."

This distracted the lich, however; Parax took advantage of the moment to tackle Morokei to the floor. The two wrestled for the Staff of Magnus, while Rellik climbed back to his feet. The Orc stepped on Morokei's arm, causing him to release the staff. As Rellik picked it up, the dragon priest grabbed him by the leg and tripped him before unleashing a wave of energy, knocking Parax off him. Morokei dove towards Rellik with his dagger, violently stabbing at him. The Orc narrowly dodged the blade and kicked Morokei off, knocking him into Parax's arms. Parax had summoned his bound sword by now, and took advantage of the moment to stab Morokei through the back.

It was not enough, however. Morokei threw his head back, headbutting Parax and forcing him to let go. Once more, the dragon priest dove at Rellik, who threw the Staff of Magnus to Parax and growled.

"Fus Ro Dah!"

This echoed throughout the chamber as the lich was knocked backwards, slamming into a wall. He leapt to his feet and proceeded to simultaneously blast Onmund, Brelyna, and J'zargo with several bolts of lightning, knocking the three onto their backs. With Parax and Rellik's support temporarily down, he was free to lunge back into the fight to claim his staff, slashing at the two with his dagger while unleashing whirlwinds of fire and ice. One of the spells was eventually reflected back into the dragon priest, staggering him for a brief moment. Before Morokei could react again, Parax pointed the Staff of Magnus at him and cast a bolt at the attacker, scorching him. With his opponent distracted, Rellik swung his sword, decapitating the undead sorcerer. Parax caught the head as it went flying into him, then stripped it of its mask before examining the staff.

"Let's go kick Ancano's Thalmor ass," said Rellik, grinning.

"You… He said 'Dovakiin'," Onmund muttered, climbing back onto his feet. "You're... Dragonborn?"

Parax and Rellik paused for a moment, then they realized before the Orc answered, "Yes. But Parax and I have important business that must be kept in secret. I must beg you not to tell anyone."

"It's alright, we understand," said Brelyna. "There's more important things going on anyways… like Ancano."

The group split up and searched the room for any possible shortcuts, discovering one near the wall opposite of where Morokei was trapped. They passed through the door and found one last hologram of Savos Aren.

"...I'm sorry, friends. I'm so sorry! I had no choice! It was the only way to make sure that monster never escaped! I promise you, I'll never let this happen again! I'll seal this whole place away…"

The "ghost" vanished, and the five continued through the hallway. Pulling a lever to open a gate, the duo headed for a door leading back into the main room, only to be stopped by a Thalmor agent. He had clearly been waiting for them, though he probably didn't expect to see this many people.

"How's Elenwen holding up?" asked Parax, smirking. "I hear she was furious about that incident at the Embassy."

"So, you made it out of there alive," muttered the Altmer, ignoring the taunt. "Ancano was right... you are dangerous. I'm afraid I'll have to take that staff from you now. Ancano wants it kept safe... oh, and he wants you two dead. Nothing personal."

"Stand aside, you gold-skinned twat," Parax ordered. "I can assure you that you wouldn't be the first Thalmor agent we've killed."

Brelyna, Onmund, and J'zargo looked at Parax and Rellik for a moment and each raised an eyebrow.

"You fool, you don't stand a chance," responded the Altmer, readying two lightning bolt spells.

The agent didn't even have enough time to attack the group; Rellik had already knocked him across the room with Unrelenting Force, while Parax summoned his bound bow. As the Altmer climbed back to his feet, Parax released an arrow into his head, killing him and pinning him to a wall. The group exited Labyrinthian and began the long journey back to Winterhold.


5:32 PM. Parax, Rellik, Brelyna, Onmund, and J'zargo were outside the College and heading across the bridge. The others from the College were all outside, waiting for the five. A barrier—like the one from the Hall of Elements—was surrounding the building. Parax cast a beam from the Staff of Magnus at the barrier, and within only a few seconds, glowing cracks began to cover it; not too long later, it shattered, the fragments vanishing into thin air. Magical anomalies that were gathered behind the barrier flew at the group of mages, but were quickly destroyed by Parax and Rellik. The group of mages marched into the courtyard, wiping out the remaining magical anomalies. In addition, Ancano had positioned several Thalmor agents outside the Hall of Elements, but they were no match. As a demonstration of power—as well as to intimidate Ancano—Parax blew the last agent through the door and in front of Ancano's feet.

"You've come for me, have you?" gloated Ancano.

"Gooooood evening, Ancano!" Parax greeted, stepping into the Hall of Elements whilst loudly pounding the floor with the Staff of Magnus. "Sorry about the interruption, but I am afraid you must die. 'Nothing personal'. Well… maybe a little. You've been a pain in my ass since I first stepped foot in here."

"You think I can't destroy you? The power to unmake the world at my fingertips, and you think you can do anything about it?" Ancano responded.

"Course we do," replied Parax.

"Spells have no effect!" Tolfdir exclaimed, vainly launching a firebolt at Ancano.

"Ha! I am beyond your pathetic attempts at magic," Ancano declared. "You cannot touch me."

Parax cast a beam on the Eye of Magnus, and could feel its power draining into him.

"Enough!" Ancano exclaimed, casting a paralysis spell. Parax dodged the attack, causing it to hit Tolfdir instead. "Still you persist? Very well. Come then. See what I can do now!"

Parax continued to focus the beam on the orb, causing it to split into pieces. The shards moved around an orb of energy, which constantly recharged its magicka. Ancano launched a fireball at Parax, who blocked the attack with a warding spell. Using the Staff of Magnus to give him literally unlimited magicka, Parax fired combined streams of all destruction-type magic at Ancano, who was able to block it all with a simple ward, feeding on and directing the Eye's power towards dominating the Argonian. Ancano launched another fireball, only for it to be blocked yet again. Rellik, who had snuck behind Ancano, slashed the Thalmor agent with his sword, distracting him long enough for Parax to close in on him. He swung his bound sword at Ancano, who ducked out of the way and retaliated with conjured ethereal daggers.

Growing more and more annoyed with Rellik's interference Ancano finally blasted the Orc away, knocking him into the outer ring of the room. Parax seized the opportunity to blast Ancano himself, electrocuting, burning, and freezing the elf at the same time. Though stunned and not necessarily a skilled mage, Ancno was still extremely powerful thanks to the Eye of Magnus, allowing him to quickly recover from the attack. He waved at the Eye with one hand, and its glassy surface quickly split open and enabled the blue energy within to pour into Ancano. Parax used the Staff of Magnus to leech power from the artifact as well, keeping himself at the Altmer's level. The two proceeded to channel every ounce of magic in them into one great beam of blue-green; sparks and bolts of red, blue, and purple spewed out of it, striking random parts of the Hall of Elements and knocking Rellik back down as he slowly climbed to his feet. After some time of Parax and Ancano exerting their willpower over the other, the beam turned black and sucked in all the light from the room, darkening it save a dim, light blue glow from the Eye and Staff of Magnus, the latter of which rapidly closed.

An explosion of light suddenly filled up the room, knocking the mages down. Parax swiftly pointed the staff in Ancano's direction and fired a single bolt to stun him. He climbed to his feet and made a mad dash for the elf, tackling him as he regained his bearings. He attempted to blast Ancano's head in with Unrelenting Force, but the mage was able to throw him off in time to make it strike a nearby window instead. By now, Rellik was up again and had rejoined the conflict, slashing Ancano on the back and allowing Parax to unleash an electrocution spell on him. This continued for some time, with Rellik repeatedly attacking Ancano to distract him and Parax focusing the power of the Staff of Magnus on him to drain his power and life force. Taking advantage of his weakened opponent, Parax clubbed Ancano with the staff repeatedly and knocked him against the shattered window behind him.

"Pathetic," sighed Parax, cutting Ancano's arm with his bound sword and backing away from the elf. As Ancano summoned another bound dagger, Parax launched a bolt of energy from the staff, sending the Thalmor agent out the window to his death. The torches in the room lit up again while Rellik drank a healing potion and Tolfdir began to move again, now free of Ancano's paralysis spell.

"I knew you two could do it!" the old man congratulated.

"What's next?" asked Parax, looking at the Eye. It appeared to be… unstable, with the air around it seeming distorted and an odd, light blue glowing liquid oozing out of it.

"I... I don't know," replied Tolfdir. "Ancano is gone, but whatever he's done to the Eye doesn't seem to have stopped. I have no idea what to do."

As he said that, Quaranir appeared behind Parax and Rellik.

"We knew you would succeed," said Quaranir. "Your victory here justifies our belief in you. You have proven yourself more than worthy to guide the College of Winterhold."

"What about the eye?" asked Rellik.

"The Eye has grown unstable," replied Quaranir. "It cannot remain here, or else it may destroy your College and this world. It must be secured. Ancano's actions prove that the world is not ready for such a thing. We shall safeguard it, for now. You now have the opportunity to maintain your College, and carry on with your lives."

"So be it," said Parax, looking at the Eye of Magnus. Several more Psijic monks appeared near it.

"You have our gratitude, Arch-Mage," thanked Quaranir, looking at Parax.

The monks surrounded the Eye and raised their arms. There was a bright flash, and the Eye was gone with the Psijic mages. Things were looking bright for Parax and Rellik, who now had three of Skyrim's most powerful guilds on their side. Their influence in the west and center of Skyrim was strengthened.

"You've done it! The College is safe again, thanks to your work," said Tolfdir. "I knew you had it in you. I daresay the Psijics are right. There's no one more deserving to be Arch-Mage, in my opinion."

"Thank you," responded Parax. "Rellik, I'll look for you when our next task comes. Feel free to look for Miss Maryon."

"Here, consider these yours," Tolfdir continued, holding out a pair of robes identical to Savos Aren's. Why he was carrying these around, Parax did not know. "And the Arch-Mage's quarters as well. I shall be here for advice, should you need me."

Tolfdir and Rellik left the Hall of Elements, while Parax walked over to the window he knocked Ancano out of. He held up a filled black soul gem and carved "ANCANO" onto it.

The Black Star Edit

2:00 AM, 1st of Frostfall. Since recently taking leadership of the College, Parax got set to transferring his most important possessions from Whiterun to his new quarters. He also began attempting to rebuild the College's relationship with Winterhold's locals, gaining the favor of some of them. On one of his trips, he heard rumors of a shrine to Azura—the Daedric Prince of dawn and dusk.—atop the mountains south of Winterhold. Interested in learning more about the Daedra, Parax left Rellik and Tolfdir in charge before setting off. Carefully following instructions, he scaled the mountains in search of the shrine, eventually coming across what he assumed to be it at the top. Going up a staircase, he found a single, female Dunmer in black robes praying in front of a statue of a woman, who was holding a sun and crescent moon.

"Azura. Who led her children away from the destruction of Vvardenfell," sighed the Dunmer, turning to Parax. "You are the prophet that reveals our true future. Azura has seen your coming, traveler. It was not curiosity, but fate, that has led you here."

"Meaning?" asked Parax.

"Azura has given me the gift of foresight," the Dunmer explained. "I had a vision of you walking up the steps to this altar long before you were born. You have been chosen to be her champion. I know it is unexpected, but do not worry. It will all unfold as she has predicted."

"Before he was born." Either she's delusional, or one old Dunmer.

"…And what exactly does Azura need?" Parax asked.

"You must go to a fortress, endangered by water, yet untouched by it," answered the Dunmer. "Inside, you will find an elven mage who can turn the brightest star as black as night."

"Right, so the College," Parax suggested.

"It is cryptic, I know, but Azura's signs are never wrong," the Dunmer continued. "I believe the fortress may refer to Winterhold. Ask if they know this elven enchanter."

"…Right. Very well, I will be on my way, then," said Parax, turning around and walking away from the shrine.


5:04 AM. Parax was back in the College, searching for the elven enchanter. After asking around, he was directed to the Frozen Hearth, where a former member of the College was living. According to Tolfdir, the elf—known as Nelacar—was removed from the College due to his dangerous and brutal experiments. The elf was confirmed to be an Altmer wearing apprentice mage robes, allowing Parax to seek him out more easily.

"My days at the College are long behind me, but I prefer to stay close by," Nelacar said, explaining why he still lived so close. "I still have research that keeps me busy, and being here in Winterhold ensures I have access to former colleagues."

"I hear you study stars," said Parax. "I believe you can help me with this."

"Who sent you? Was it the College? The Jarl?" Nelacar inquired. "We agreed there would be no more questions."

"A priestess of Azura, apparently," replied Parax.

"Azura? Gods, it's all finally coming back to haunt me," mumbled the elf. "What do you know about soul gems?

"They're used for enchanting," Parax answered. Or driving your most hated enemies insane.

"They are. Except the gem is always consumed," said Nelacar, taking a sip of his wine. "They're frail. Except for one. Azura's Star. A Daedric artifact that allows any number of souls to pass through it. Some of us wanted to find out how. I was working under Malyn Varen, then. If only we knew what he was really planning."

"What was Malyn doing?" asked Parax.

"Malyn wanted to alter the Star. He was dying. Disease. He thought he could store his own soul inside. Become immortal," replied Nelacar, thinking back to his worst memories. "It drove him mad. Students started dying. Eventually, the College exiled him. He took a few loyal disciples to Ilinalta's Deep and vanished. Look, I don't care who asked you to find the Star, but don't take it back to Azura. The Daedra are evil. They're the reason Malyn went insane."

"Go on."

"I mentioned how the Star is a soul gem, only it never gets depleted? There's another rule the artifact follows. You can only store white souls in the Star, belonging to the lesser creatures. Azura's magic won't allow black souls to enter it. Being sentient, Malyn's soul was black, so part of his work was breaking past Azura's rules. He was close before... well, I already told you."

"How was he driven insane?"

"Azura is no ordinary Daedra. She commands an entire realm inside of Oblivion. The more Malyn worked on the Star, the more she was able to damn him. It started slowly at first. Malyn would see things that weren't there. Then he would yell at students over words they hadn't said. Then one day I walked in and Malyn had... killed a student, and in a horrific moment of inspiration, he started using her soul for his work."

"Very well, Nelacar. I will head for Illinalta's Deep and return with the star," said Parax, walking away from the elf. He returned to the College to fetch Rellik before heading out to the fort, which Nelacar marked on his map.


5:11 PM. The two were at Illinalta's Deep, a former Imperial fort in the Falkreath hold. The fort was mostly submerged in Lake Illinalta, believed to have collapsed due to Malyn Varen's experiments. The duo searched for a way in, eventually coming across a trapdoor that led into the keep.

Inside, the fort was flooded, obviously due to most of it being underwater. Several crucified skeletons lined the walls of the keep. Bloody bones were lying around. Decomposed corpses were lying on altars. Ignoring the disturbing results of Malyn's experiments, the two searched the fort. As they looked for Azura's Star, they came to the realization that they were not alone. Reanimated skeletons and several necromancers loyal to Malyn still inhabited the place, though they were barely considered threats to the duo. It only took them a few minutes to clear the area of Malyn's servants, allowing them to continue searching for the Star. Eventually, they found the Daedric artifact at the top floor, which Malyn had converted into a throne room of sorts. His decayed skeleton sat atop a throne surrounded by decomposed bodies and ash, the Star—which resembled a star with crooked "legs"—resting on its lap. Parax picked up the Star and looked at it.

"This is what we came for?" asked Rellik.

"Behold, the ultimate soul gem, Rellik," said Parax, examining the item. "It can be used an infinite amount of times to recharge weapons and enchant. It will never break."

"…Excellent."

Parax and Rellik exited the fort and began their long journey back to Winterhold. Bearing Nelacar's warning in mind, Parax had plans to bring the Star to the elf instead of Azura.


5:36 AM, 2nd of Frostfall. The duo reached Winterhold, ready to have Nelacar explain what else they had to do to make the Star work.

"Stendarr's Mercy. You found it. Azura's Star," Nelacar mumbled to himself, dumbstruck. "Maybe this is my chance to make things right. I can finish Malyn's work, the way we had meant to before his madness. It would mean cutting the Star off from Azura. Only black souls would be able to enter it once we finished."

"We can live with that," replied Parax.

"Give me a minute to examine the Star," said Nelacar, somewhat disturbed at Parax's reply. "I'll see what we need to do."

"Very well."

"These fissures and cracks aren't encouraging," Nelacar sighed, looking at the Star. He got up from his seat and headed for his room. "Malyn obviously was growing more desperate once he left the College."

Parax and Rellik followed the Altmer into his room.

"He did it. He actually managed to trap his own soul inside the Star, but it's falling apart," explained the elf. "It needs more souls to sustain itself."

Nelacar studied the Star for a few more moments before setting it on his desk.

"The Star is being used to sustain Malyn's soul," said the mage. "I can't fix it while that fragment of him is inside."

"Meaning, we need to go in there and do it," replied Parax.

"Why not use it at an enchanting table?" Rellik suggested.

"It's not as simple as enchanting Malyn away. He's put up barriers," Nelacar explained. "Souls are only allowed in, not out. If we were to... somehow... send a soul inside the Star. One that was ready to overpower Malyn from the inside...."

"Killing him and thus disabling the barriers," said Parax, catching on.

"He's already dead," replied Nelacar. "Worse, the enchantment keeping him intact requires black souls... I don't know how many people he must have killed. If we don't do something, the enchantment will eventually fade, and the Star will slip back into Oblivion. Azura will have the last laugh. I could soul trap you. Place you inside the Star without fully killing you. Then bring you back once Malyn has been dealt with."

"…Right," sighed Rellik.

"I understand if you need some time to prepare," said Nelacar. "Let me know when you're ready."

"I'm ready," said Parax. "Rellik?"

"Let's do this," answered the Orc.

"Just one last question. How will this 'special soul trap' save us from Malyn's fate?" Parax asked.

"Malyn's soul is beyond hope because his body is dead," the Altmer explained. "But I'll be keeping you just slightly alive on this end. But be careful. If you die inside the Star, your souls will be disrupted. There's nothing anyone can do for you if that happens. Now please, stand very still. This might sting."

Nelacar held his hand out with a soul trap spell ready in each hand. He walked around the desk to get a clear shot.

"First, I'll need to grab hold of your souls…"

Parax felt a pulling force as Nelacar cast the spell on him and Rellik.

"Now, take a deep breath…"

Parax felt lightheaded and collapsed on the ground.

"Ah, my disciples have sent me some fresh souls," a deep voice croaked. "Good… I was getting… hungry."

Parax and Rellik awoke. They were on top of a walkway of sorts, inside a crystalline room, which had a seemingly bottomless pit lined with crystals. A Dunmer in black robes was on the opposite end of the walkway, sitting in a throne made of crystals. A golden staff was at his feet. He had a maddened, excited expression on his face.

"…Wait. There's something different about you," the Dunmer—Malyn—continued, eyeing the two suspiciously.

"The time has come, Malyn," said Parax, summoning his bound sword. "You cannot escape your fate."

"And who are you to challenge me?!" the Dunmer exclaimed. "I have conquered mortality itself! I've spat in the eyes of the Daedric Lords! This is my realm now! I've sacrificed too much to let you take it from me-"

Rellik fired an arrow. Malyn attempted to dodge, but the arrow found its way into his shoulder. The Dunmer grabbed the staff off the ground and jumped onto another walkway to his right. Two dremoras—weaker types of Daedra—appeared beside the throne. Each one was wearing demonic, horned armor, and carried spined swords. Parax and Rellik lunged at the dremoras, with Rellik kicking one of them off the walkway, where it landed next to Malyn. Parax easily overpowered the other, using magic to tear its heart out before kicking it into the pit.

"These come in handy, Rellik. Try to get as many as you can," said Parax, dematerializing the Daedra heart.

The two jumped onto the walkway Valyn was on, dodging the lightning bolt fired by the sorcerer. Parax hurled a fireball, hitting Valyn and scorching his hand. The Dunmer responded with a shower of ice spikes from his staff, but the duo was able to block them with warding spells. Rellik fired another arrow, which stuck in Malyn's hand, causing him to drop the staff. Malyn summoned three more dremora before fleeing the fight, jumping onto a giant crystal. Parax and Rellik cut down their dremora enemies and claimed their hearts before looking around the room; Malyn had vanished. The Dunmer suddenly dropped from the ceiling and tackled the two with a dagger, kicking Rellik off the walkway and attempting to pin Parax down; Parax allowed Malyn to do so, feigning defeat. As the sorcerer raised a dagger to kill him, Parax utilized another dragon shout he had learned: fire breath. He released a storm of flames, completely obliterating Malyn's upper half.

"Malyn's enchantments are broken," Nelacar's voice echoed throughout the inside of the Star. "Hold on. I'm going to pull your souls out of there. Brace yourselves."

Parax felt dizzy again, and fell over. He and Rellik awoke on the floor of Nelacar's room, the Altmer standing over them.

"Easy there. The numbness will pass. Just don't strain yourself," said Nelacar. "We've done it. The Star has been cut off from Azura, and Malyn's soul finally has some measure of peace, even if it is in non-existence."

"Anything else we need to do?" sighed Parax.

"You can use the Star for what we meant it for. Using black souls for enchanting," replied the Altmer. "The Black Star will never decay, but it can no longer hold the white souls of lesser creatures. You keep it. I'd sooner finally put this chapter of my life behind me."

"No problem," said Parax, getting back on his feet.

"Congratulations. You've changed the fate of a Daedric artifact and lived."

"And we'll put good use to it," replied Parax, giving Nelacar a bag of coins for his troubles and walking out of the room with Rellik.

"A soul gem that never runs out," Rellik said to himself.

"Indeed. Still, I think you're better off with it," Parax declared, giving Rellik the Star. "You use physical weapons a lot more than I do, you're better off using this for them. Of course, I may borrow it from time-to-time for enchanting my own items."

The Butcher of Windhelm Edit

4:06 PM, 4th of Frostfall. Parax was just returning to the College from a trip to Markarth, having helped Calcelmo learn of the fate of the Imperial expedition—which the dead soldier in Nimhe's lair was part of. Rellik had gone to Whiterun to spend the next couple of days managing the Companions. Parax had no other primary objectives at the moment, leading him to become curious of the altar in the Midden. After asking around the College for information, he was directed to Phinis Gestor, an expert conjurer in the Hall of Elements.

"Tell me, Phinis, is there anything more I could learn about conjuration?" Parax asked.

"How quickly you have advanced. Most impressive," Phinis noted, astonished at Parax's accomplishments and knowledge of magic. "There are spells yet to be learned. Powerful spells that can more closely and more permanently bind creatures to your will. But there are risks."

"I'm listening," Parax replied curiously.

"There are always risks," Phinis continued. "You must summon and command an unbound Dremora."

"Right…" sighed Parax.

"These spells are difficult, even for one as skilled as I," said Phinis. "To even begin to inscribe them, I need something very special. A sigil stone from an Oblivion gate."

"I think I understand where the Dremora comes in," said Parax.

"I do not have one in my possession. Nor do you, I'm sure," Phinis mumbled. "So we require a Daedra to retrieve one for us. You will summon a Dremora, and order it to bring a sigil stone to you. I will then inscribe the spells for you."

"And how am I going to do this?" Parax asked.

"Summoning an unbound Dremora is not like other conjuration spells," Phinis continued. "It will not simply do your bidding. You must first prove you are in control."

"But summoning it. How?" inquired the Arch-Mage.

"Here is the spell you need," replied Phinis, holding out a dark purple book. It had the conjuration symbol on it. "Go to the top of the Hall of Attainment; I will prepare a place for you there."

Phinis walked upstairs and entered a door, while Parax read the spellbook Phinis gave him. The book disintegrated as Parax absorbed the knowledge. Ready to unlock yet another secret in magic, he followed Phinis upstairs, going through the same door as he did. The two were outside and heading across the ring-like bridge connecting the towers of the College. When they reached the top of the Hall of Attainment, Phinis cast a spell on the College logo in the center of the floor; several candles surrounded it. Parax readied the spell for summoning the Dremora, while Phinis backed away. Within seconds, a portal appeared for a brief moment, vanishing to reveal a Dremora in Daedric armor in its place. It looked around, confused.

"You dare bring me here?! You will be punished!" the Dremora shouted.

"You serve me now," Parax declared.

"You control nothing, mortal!" replied the Dremora, unsheathing a Daedric sword. "You will meet your end!"

The unbound Dremora charged at Parax, but the Argonian ducked under his slashing and slid behind him. With a single strike, he decapitated the Daedra—a humiliating defeat for the immortal entity. Parax cast the spell on the floor again, summoning the same Dremora.

"I am not your plaything, worm!" the Daedra shouted in frustration.

"Go on, admit it. I'm your master now," Parax chuckled. He was clearly enjoying the moment.

"I'll tear your heart out first!" exclaimed the Dremora, pulling a Daedric mace off his waist.

The Dremora charged once again. Parax sidestepped the mace with little effort.

"Fus Roh Dah!"

The air between Parax and the Dremora became distorted, and a powerful force launched the latter off the tower; the demonic warrior plunged into the icy canyon below. Parax waited a few seconds to confirm its defeat before summoning it again.

"I am not yours to toy with!" the Dremora roared.

"Course you are," replied Parax. "Now, are you ready to listen to me, or must we do this little dance again? Believe me when I say I can do this all day."

"No… that'll be enough of that… I… I submit," sighed the Dremora, panting. "What is your bidding, master?"

"I require a sigil stone. Bring it to me. Now," Parax ordered.

"Yes, my lord," the Dremora groaned. "Summon me again, and I shall have your stone."

The Daedra disappeared. Phinis looked at Parax with an impressed expression. Parax waited a few more seconds and summoned the Dremora one more time. It was holding a circular stone in both hands; the stone had a dark but transparent outer "shell", with something glowing dim shades of red inside of it.

"Your Sigil Stone," the Dremora murmured. "Lord Dagon is... less than pleased at its loss."

Parax renamed the Dremora to "Stanley"—an act made purely to irritate it—and instructed it to keep watch over the College, demoting it to guard duty before heading back into the Hall of Elements. He told Tolfdir that he was heading to Windhelm for personal reasons, and to relay the message to Rellik if he wasn't back by the time the Orc returns. However, before he left, he wanted to try out the altar in the Midden first. Once again speaking with Phinis, he acquired a book on the altar—the "Atronach Forge". He flipped through the pages, learning of the many things that he could acquire from this; spell times, armor, alchemy ingredients, magical staffs, and many more. At the moment, he was most interested in acquiring Daedric armor, but his new Dremora servant was physically bound to his own set. According to the book, he would require a type of ebony armor, a black soul gem, a Daedra heart, and a Centurion dynamo core—the power source of a Dwarven Centurion. Luckily for him, he had acquired those items during his adventures, which meant that he was all prepared. He headed downstairs with the materials and located the Atronach Forge.

Carefully following the instructions in the book Phinis gave him, Parax placed a pair of ebony boots in the box in front of the Atronach Forge. He then inserted an empty black soul gem, one of his dynamo cores, and a Daedra heart from his battle in Azura's Star. The sigil stone was placed on top of the box. He closed the box and activated the switch on top of it; seconds later, a pair of Daedric boots appeared on the altar. Grinning triumphantly, he did the same thing with a pair of ebony gauntlets he had found during his search for the lost expedition.


9:57 PM. Windhelm. The home of the Stormcloak Rebellion. Parax was studying the area and looking for something to do. He then remembered something from his previous visit; the city had a murderer lurking the streets, slaughtering young women and removing various body parts from them. Through these actions, the killer earned the nickname "the Butcher". Once again wishing to put his intellectual prowess to the test, Parax began gathering hints. Soon into his investigation, he could hear screaming, and saw several guards running in its direction: the graveyard. He quickly followed them, where they reached the scene of the crime. The bloodied corpse of a woman—Susanna, a Nord barmaid whom Parax had befriended during one of his visits to Candlehearth Hall, the city's main tavern. Her chest, arms, and legs had been cut open, and several organs—specifically the heart and liver—were missing. Helgird, a priestess who took care of the city's Hall of the Dead, was examining the body. Several city guards were surrounding the murder scene, urging civilians to keep away.

"Hold it there! Keep your distance!" one of the guards ordered, noticing Parax.

"What happened?" Parax asked.

"Another girl killed," the guard replied. "This is Susanna, from Candlehearth Hall. Served me a drink just a few nights ago… but I can't say I knew her."

"Any more information?" inquired Parax.

"Susanna's the third," the guard explained. "It's always the same: young girl, killed at night, body torn up."

"How has the investigation been going?"

"We're stretched thin as it is from the war. Nobody has the time to spend on this. Not pleasant, but it's the truth."

"Perhaps I can help. I have nothing else to do," Parax suggested.

"If you want to help, ask some of these gawkers if they saw anything useful," the guard sighed.

Parax began questioning the civilians gathered around the crime scene, but they were of little help. Helgird and Parax took note of Susanna's intact coin purse; whoever did this was clearly not in it for the money. The organs hinted at the possibility of a trophy… but the possibility of necromancy was not out of the question. After Parax finished his interrogating, he let Helgird and the guards move the body to the Hall of the Dead. Several of the civilians he questioned suggested that he go see Jorleif, the Jarl's steward. Taking their advice, he went to the Palace of the Kings, the residential area for Windhelm's government. Inside was a large, stone room decorated with blue carpeting and many fine chandeliers. A long table extended from the entrance of the palace to the throne on the other end of the room. Blue flags hung from the walls.

"Balgruuf won't give us a straight answer," a scruffy voice said in a nearby room.

"He's a true Nord," replied the deep voice of Ulfric Stormcloak. "He'll come around."

Parax looked around the room, unsure of which person was Jorleif.

"Don't be so sure of that," the rough voice insisted. "We've intercepted couriers from Solitude. The Empire's putting a great deal of pressure on Whiterun."

"And what would you have me do?" asked Ulfric.

Parax peered inside the room in which the conversation was. Ulfric was pacing around a table in the center, with a map on top of it. The owner of the rough voice was a grim-looking Nord in fur clothes and wearing the head of a bear as a hood. A long beard extended from his chin.

"If he's not with us, he's against us," the rough voice urged.

"He knows that," replied Ulfric, leaning over the map. "They all know that."

Parax looked around the dining room again. A Nord in regular clothes and a hat—which Parax had noticed on all stewards he encountered—was sitting at the table, eating a roasted chicken.

"How long are you going to wait?" asked the rough-looking Nord.

"You think I need to send Balgruuf a stronger message," sighed Ulfric.

"If by message you mean shoving a sword through his gullet," grunted the scruffy voice.

Parax approached the possible steward and sat down at the chair across from him. He took a piece of steak and began cutting.

"Taking his city and leaving him in disgrace would make a more powerful statement, don't you think?" Ulfric suggested.

"So we're ready to start this war in earnest then?" the grim Nord asked.

"Soon," Ulfric declared.

"I still say you should take them all out like you did Deadking Torygg," the other Nord said, reminiscing.

Parax slowly ate the steak, patiently waiting for Jorleif to be ready for conversation. In the meantime, he casually listened to Ulfric speaking with the other Nord.

"Torygg was merely a message to the other Jarls," replied Ulfric. "Whoever we replace them with will need the support of our armies."

"We're ready when you are," the Nord declared.

"Things hinge on Whiterun. If we can take the city without bloodshed all the better," said Ulfric. "But if not..."

"The people are behind you."

"Many I fear still need convincing."

"Then let them die with their false kings."

Jorleif looked up from his food at Parax, having not noticed him at first. He appeared startled.

"Oh, don't mind me. Let me know when you're ready to talk," said Parax.

Jorleif eyed Parax suspiciously, then resumed eating.

"We've been soldiers a long time. We know the price of freedom," Ulfric continued. "The people are still weighing things in their hearts."

"What's left of Skyrim to wager?" asked the grim Nord.

"They have families to think of," replied Ulfric.

"How many of their sons and daughters follow your banner?" the Nord asked rhetorically. "We are their families."

"Well put, friend," smiled Ulfric. "Tell me, Galmar, why do you fight for me?"

"I'd follow you into the depths of Oblivion, you know that," replied Galmar, the rough Nord.

Jorleif looked up at Parax again. The Argonian seemed casual and confident, waiting patiently for Jorleif to speak up.

"Yes, but why do you fight?" asked Ulfric. "If not for me, what then?"

"I'll die before elves dictate the fates of men," Galmar growled. "Are we not one in this?"

"I fight for the men I've held in my arms, dying on foreign soil. I fight for their wives and children, whose names I heard whispered in their last breaths," Ulfric declared. "I fight for we few who did come home, only to find our country full of strangers wearing familiar faces. I fight for my people impoverished to pay the debts of an Empire too weak to rule them, yet brands them criminals for wanting to rule themselves!"

Parax looked up at Jorleif and simply smiled, purposely making him feel awkward.

"I fight so that all the fighting I've already done hasn't been for nothing," Ulfric continued. "I fight... because I must."

"Your words give voice to what we all feel, Ulfric. And that's why you will be High King," applauded Galmar. "But the day words are enough, will be the day when soldiers like us are no longer needed."

"I would gladly retire from the world were such a day to dawn," sighed Ulfric.

"Aye. But in the meantime, we have a war to plan."

"Okay, what do you want?" Jorleif asked, finally breaking.

"Perhaps you'd like some help with your resident murderer. The Butcher," replied Parax calmly.

"These are difficult times indeed, when men stalk their brethren like beasts," Jorleif murmured. "My men are stretched thin as it is. If you offer your aid, I gladly accept. The guards will be told to assist you as necessary. I'm happy to lend a hand as much as I can, as well."

Now having official permission, Parax was able to make Helgird and the guards more cooperative. He headed down to the Hall of the Dead, encountering the guard from earlier outside the door.

"Jorleif has granted me permission to investigate," Parax declared.

"Alright then," said the guard, finally opening up. "Helgird's taken the body to the Hall of the Dead to prepare for burial. She's a little crazy, but if she knows anything, it's dead bodies."

Parax thanked the guard for her cooperation before entering the Hall of the Dead. Inside, he began searching for Helgird, trying to ignore the stench of decay that filled the place. He found the priestess shortly into the search; she was leaning over Susanna's body, examining the wounds.

"Large diagonal cut from left shoulder…" Helgird mumbled to herself.

"Anything strange about the body that you have noticed… other than the removed organs?" Parax asked.

"Well, she's dead. But I guess that's not unusual, at least not for somebody in here," replied Helgird jokingly. "I mean, someone who's not me, that is. Sorry, was only joking with you."

"Anything strange at all…?" Parax repeated.

"Not really. The only unusual thing is the shape of the cuts," Helgird said. "They look like they were made with... well, the ancient Nords used these kinds of curved blades when they embalmed their dead. I don't know who in Windhelm would even have something like that. Other than me, of course."

"Interesting. If you find anything else, let me know," said Parax.

"I wouldn't hold out too much hope," sighed Helgird. "Now, I really got to get back to the body. Lot of work to prepare her for the grave."

Parax exited the Hall of the Dead and took a deep breath, relieved to be out of the reeking air of decomposition. He searched around the area again, having some trouble due to the dark of night clouding his vision. But he did notice something: he was able to make out a slight trail of blood, doubtlessly caused by the removed organs and possibly even the Butcher's clothing. Closely examining it, he followed the blood away from the graveyard and into the streets, finally stopping at a door where the trail ended. The door was locked, but that was little of a problem to Parax; he quietly picked the lock and entered.

The Butcher must've been able to drag multiple bodies into the building, as hinted by the strong scent and splatters of blood that decorated the room. He forced open a chest, finding a journal inside. The entries suggested that the person responsible for the murders was a former student at Winterhold. Parax continued searching the building, taking note of the wardrobes. Having learned from his past experiences, Parax opened the wardrobes and attempted to slide the back panel; one of them was a fake. The false wardrobe led Parax into another room, which had an altar with a journal on it and a basked with skulls. Bloody bones littered the floor. There were far more than three corpses in here, hinting that the Butcher has been at this for a long time. Parax had also found an amulet in the room; a necklace with an odd, light-blue skull-shaped skull carved into a stone on it.

With all the information he could find, Parax left the building and returned to Jorleif, who directed him towards Viola Giordano, a woman of Imperial descent. He was forced to wait until the next day, however, as she refused to leave her house at night.

"I've been following him for months now," Viola explained. "Well, not actually following. Trying to find him. The guards won't help. The people won't help. I'm the only one who thinks he can be caught."

"You know, Jorleif tells me that you've been putting up flyers warning the city of the Butcher," said Parax. "I happened to find a few of them in… that building."

Parax led Viola through the streets and pointed at the Butcher's supposed hideout.

"I've been trying to put those up around the city, to warn people. Have them keep their eyes open," sighed Viola. "But someone keeps taking them down. You say you found it in Hjerim? Friga's old place. Let's go have a look around there. I've got a feeling about this one."

Viola led Parax into Hjerim, the building Parax was investigating last night. Like what he did, she carefully searched the room, finding the room filled with corpses.

"That's where I found this," said Parax, showing Viola the second journal, then searching his pockets for something else he found. "Somebody who practices magic. I also happen to have found this… amulet."

"Wuunferth. There have been rumors swirling about him for years. As long as I can remember," Viola growled. "But he's a dangerous man. It's why they call him 'the Unliving'. I wouldn't approach him directly. This information needs to go straight to the steward. He'll listen to you."

"What about the amulet? Do you know something important about it?" Parax asked.

"Nothing anybody I know would wear. Maybe ask one of the Dark Elves, they usually have some kind of rag falling off of them," replied Viola. "The one who sells things, what's his name. Oh, yes! Revyn Sadri. Maybe he'd know something."


8:35 AM, 5th of Frostfall. Unfortunately, Revyn knew nothing of the amulet, leading Parax to ask Jorleif about it instead. The steward directed him to Calixto Corrium, a man in charge of a curiosity shop that he had opened with his late sister. He took a tour of the place, paying a fee of 500 simply to do so. There, he discovered evidence that pointed towards Calixto now: embalming tools. Parax was now faced with a choice: take this up with Jorleif, or confront Wuunferth.

Parax understood that Wuunferth would be little of a challenge if confronted directly, and so he decided to do so. The court wizard was, as expected, unhappy about Parax's suspicions.

"I beg your pardon? Necromancy? I am a member of the College of Winterhold, in good standing!" replied Wuunferth. "They haven't allowed necromancy for hundreds of years!"

"These journals were in Hjerim, Wuunferth," said Parax, holding out the entries he found. "And so was this amulet. Start talking, or I'll turn these in to Jorleif right now."

"I've never kept a journal, I can assure you," Wuunferth insisted. "What exactly did this amulet look like?"

Parax held out the amulet he found in Hjerim. Wuunferth examined it closely.

"I know it well. Or at least, I've heard of it. I would wager that carving once depicted a skull," Wuunferth noted, examining it. "That is the Necromancer's Amulet, of legend. It appears you were at least half-right. There is necromancy at the heart of this."

"Calixto said that it was called the 'Wheelstone'," said Parax.

"Eehh.. Calixto and his books are often confused about such matters," Wuunferth explained. "It happens to the best of us."

"Do you know anything else?" asked Parax.

"I've been noting a pattern to when the killings happen. Now that we know they're tied in to some sort of necromantic ritual, I think I know when the next might occur," said Wuunferth. He sat down at his desk, deep in thought. "Let's see. From a Loredas of Last Seed until a Middas of Heartfire... it will happen soon. Very soon. Keep watch in the Stone Quarter tomorrow night. That's almost certainly where the killer will strike next."


8:38 PM, 6th of Last Seed. Parax was directed to the Stone Quarter section of the city by the guards, who were relieved to finally have a chance at catching the killer. He waited over an hour before the Butcher struck. Parax, using the Ebony Mail to stay concealed, watched from the shadows as a young Nord woman carefully walked through the streets, clearly fearful of the city's serial killer. It was then that the Butcher attacked; he was wearing a wooden mask of sorts to cover his face, work boots, and regular commoner clothes. The attacker carried an iron dagger, with which he was able to wound the young woman. However, he was unable to kill her; Parax burst from the darkness and pushed him away from his would-be victim before drawing his bound sword. Knowing he was outmatched, the Butcher grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in Parax's eyes to blind him, then took off running down the streets.

Parax chased the killer through the winding streets of Windhelm, alerting several guards in the process. The group managed to corner the Butcher outside of Hjerim, the place where it all begin.

"Ah, the Butcher!" said Parax, dematerializing his bound sword and calmly pacing. "I'm a big fan of your work. Just… stab-stab-stab-stab-stab-stab-stab! And the ability to hide it so well… very impressive. Oh, and the part where you almost got Wuunferth thrown in prison for it."

The Butcher cocked his head to the side, confused at Parax's sudden change in behavior.

"Sadly, though, it all must come to an end," Parax continued. "Take your mask off."

The Butcher simply readied his knife, ready for a fight. One of the guards lunged at the killer, who quickly dodged him and embedded the knife in the back of his head. Parax told the other guard to keep his distance, knowing that he would be better off with a witness of the true killer. Parax summoned his boundsword again and lunged. The Butcher evaded Parax's attack and attempted to stab him, albeit unsuccessfully. The Argonian had predicted his move, ducking at the last second and allowing him to seize the murderer's arm. The Butcher quickly threw himself against the unlocked door to Hjerim, bursting through it with Parax, who swiftly leapt to his feet. His opponent kicked him onto his back and readies his knife again, climbing on top of Parax and attempting to stab him in the head. Parax took advantage of the distraction to headbutt the Butcher, stunning him and knocking him off. Climbing back to his feet, Parax kicked the knife away from the Butcher and held his bound sword to his throat.

"The mask, please," said Parax.

Reluctantly, the Butcher removed his mask and dropped it.

"Calixto."

The commotion had spread to the Palace of the Kings, apparently, as Jorleif arrived at the scene with several guards. With assurance from Parax and the other surviving guard, Jorleif was relieved that the killer was finally caught. In a last, desperate act to survive, Calixto kicked Parax in the chest and jumped back to his feet. He picked his knife back up and tried using Parax as a meatshield, but was ultimately unsuccessful; Parax countered Calixto's attempt to grab him and slashed his hand off, casting a soul trap on the murderer in the process. Calixto lunged again, only to be impaled on Parax's bound sword. The Butcher fell to the floor, dead. Order was restored.

"Ysmir's beard! The man was always a bit odd, but I wouldn't have expected…" Jorleif mumbled. "You've done this city a mighty service, friend. I believe you'll find the guards to be a bit more cordial with you in the future."

"Thank you, Jorleif," replied Parax. "Could you perhaps have this place cleaned up a bit? I have plans."

"Of course," Jorleif answered. "You know, you never told me your name."

"Parax," the Argonian said.

"I'll see to it that your name is never forgotten," said Jorleif. He compensated Parax for his troubles with several thousand coins and left.

Before the guards could take Calixto's corpse away, Parax searched it, hoping to learn of the Butcher's motives; the guards allowed him to take the key to Calixto's shop as a way of thanking him for his efforts. Using the key, Parax was able to enter the shop and search for any other hints, where he located a journal in the late Butcher's room.

The Wolf QueenEdit

12:04 AM, 8th of Frostfall. Rellik had recently dealt with a former Thalmor spy in Whiterun. A Redguard named Saadia was being hunted by the Allik'r, a group of Redguard warriors wishing to bring her back to Hammerfell for her crimes. Just as the Allik'r paid the Orc and parted ways with him, Parax made a brief stop at Whiterun. Explaining their next objective, Parax brought him to Solitude to spread their influence; Parax also acquired several missions from the Thieves Guild to steal items in the city, planning to continue his side-objective of restoring the faction. The two rented their own rooms at the Winking Skeever to stay for however long their mission demanded. For the past few hours, they were getting used to the city and befriending the residents before heading to the Blue Palace, home of the Jarl. Either by coincidence or destiny, they entered to find the residents of the palace and some townsfolk in the middle of a fear-fueled conversation.

"I swear to you, unnatural magics are coming from that cave!" urged one man. He was a bald Imperial, and his clothes hinted at the lifestyle of a farmer. "There are strange noises and lights! We need someone to investigate!"

"Then we will immediately send out a legion to scour the cave and secure the town. Haafingar's people will always be safe under my rule," replied the city's Jarl, Elisif I. She was a very young Imperial, having taken over the throne in place of her late husband, the former High King. His untimely demise many months prior left a very grave expression on her face.

"Th...thank you, my Jarl. Thank you," said the farmer, Varnius Junius.

"Your eminence, my scrying has suggested nothing in the area," insisted a female Breton. Her blue robes suggested she was the court wizard. "Dragon Bridge is under Imperial control. This is likely superstitious nonsense."

"Perhaps a more... tempered reaction... might be called for?" suggested a Nord in fancy clothing. He was more than likely the steward.

"Oh. Yes, of course you are right," said Elisif. "Falk, tell Captain Aldis I said to assign a few extra soldiers to Dragon Bridge."

"Thank you, Jarl Elisif. But about the cave…" mumbled Varnius, still uncertain.

"I will have someone take care of the cave as well Varnius, you can rest easy," replied the steward. "You're dismissed."

Varnius's expression of fear changed to that of relief. The farmer turned around and took his leave, heading down the staircase to the exit. Parax and Rellik could tell that nobody really believed Varnius.

"Perhaps you could use some assistance," said Parax, stepping forward. "To be honest, I think we're the only two in here who plan to do anything about this… cave problem."

"You mean the Dragon Bridge issue? I'll be honest with you, I was planning to let that go. Varnius is a bit jumpy at the best of times," replied the steward, Falk Firebeard. "There have been reports of weird happenings near Wolfskull Cave. Travelers disappearing, odd lights. I suspect wild animals or perhaps bandits. I don't think it's worth our time with the war going on, but if you want to clear out the cave, I'll make sure you're repaid for your work."

"Wolfskull Cave… how did it earn its name?" asked Rellik.

"The cave has a bad history. Long ago, Potema the Wolf Queen used it for necromantic rituals. That's where it got the name," Falk explained. "That was over 500 years ago. Nothing much down there now—but everyone's always convinced the cave is haunted."

"Would you so kindly mark the location on our maps?" Parax requested. Falk obliged; it was west of the city and somewhere north of the Statue to Meridia, a shrine dedicated to one of the few benevolent Daedra.


7:35 AM. The two carefully followed their maps, eventually coming across what they concluded to be Wolfskull Cave. A few veins of unmined ore were on the walls to the entrance, and several skeletons and piles of glowing ash were lying around.

Inside the cave were charred bones and veins of ore. A thick mist filled the area, making it difficult to see. several chains hung from the ceiling, with hooks at the ends impaling the skulls of previous travelers. A wagon filled with skeletons was pressed against one of the walls. Parax and Rellik quietly advanced through the cave, finding very few signs of life. A few minutes into the expedition, however, they did indeed realize that there was a form of necromancy occurring in the cave; a lone draugr was patrolling the tunnels, wielding a large sword and covered head-to-toe in armor. Still, the millennia of decomposing had an effect on the armor, making it little of a problem for Rellik's arrows, which found their way into the draugr's head.

A pair of necromancers were cooking food at a fire nearby, however. The draugr was able to let out a grunt before it died, alerting the necromancers to the duo's presence. No matter, however; Parax and Rellik riddled them with steel and bound arrows when they came to investigate. The second draugr guarding them was quickly dealt with as well, allowing Parax and Rellik to continue deeper into the cave.

The farmer's fears were confirmed. The two found themselves in a giant, cavernous room lined with stone altars and towers. The floor could be seen, albeit very far down. Blue beams were spearing across the room, converging at the top of a tower in the center. Countless mages and draugr were gathered on the other altars and towers.

"Wolf Queen. Hear our call and awaken. We summon Potema!" exclaimed one of the conjurers. She was an elderly woman, and obviously the leader of the ritual.

"We summon Potema!" repeated the others.

"Long have you slept the dreamless sleep of death, Potema," continued the ritual master. "No longer. Hear us Wolf Queen! We summon sou!"

"We summon Potema!" cried the other necromancers.

Parax remembered Potema from his hours of research, and knew that her return would ruin his plans. Parax and Rellik quietly climbed down the closest tower, having spotted a system of stairs and platforms that led to the other conjurers. At the bottom, they silently crept behind two patrolling draugr and snapped their necks before heading over to the first staircase. Meanwhile, Potema's summoners repeated their chants. When they were near the top, they could hear Potema herself speaking.

"Yes! Yes! Return me to this realm!" exclaimed the voice of the Wolf Queen.

"As our voices summon you the blood of the innocent binds you Wolf Queen!" cried the ritual leader.

"Summoned with words. Bound by blood," said the necromancers.

A Dunmer mage had taken notice of Parax and Rellik at the bottom of the room. She quietly drew away from the crowd, not wishing to distract the ritual, and headed down the stairs.

"What! What are you doing?! You fools!" shouted Potema. "You cannot bind me to your wills!"

"Summoned with words. Bound by blood," repeated the necromancers.

The Dunmer necromancer was but a trifle, and was impaled to the wall by the duo's barrage of ice spikes.

"You ants don't have the power to bind me!" Potema declared.

A patrolling draugr witnessed the two killing the necromancer, quickly descending the stairs to deal with the intruders. Like the Dunmer, it was no match for the duo, and was launched into the pit by Rellik's Unrelenting Force.

"Something is wrong. There is an intruder," said the ritual leader, looking down into the pit.

"Intruders, to be exact," replied Parax, coming up a staircase. He was holding firmly onto one of the necromancers, using him as a human shield.

"Get them!" exclaimed the leader.

Parax held the necromancer out, using him to block the leader's ice spikes. He and Rellik sprinted across one of the bridges connecting the staircase to the main tower, which the other summoners were standing on. A Breton conjurer came out of the tower with a dagger drawn, but was quickly disarmed by Rellik and thrown off the bridge to her death. The two scaled the spiral staircase inside of the tower with their weapons and magic ready, slaughtering the necromancers and draugr that got in the way. By the time they were at the top, only seven of the mages were standing. They were stuck, however; their magic clashing with that of the spirit of Potema forced both parties into a deadlock, trying to overcome the other's concentration.

But Parax and Rellik did notice that the necromancers were also conduits for Potema's presence. Taking advantage of everyone's concentration, they walked around the summoners, cutting each one down. By the time the last one was dead, Potema's spirit had vanished.


9:47 AM.

"You've returned. Good. What did you find at Wolfskull Cave?"

"Varnius's fears were correct," said Parax, walking up the staircase. "There was suspicious activity in the cave, and as it turns out, they were trying to summon Potema."

"Potema herself?" mumbled Falk, shocked. "Please tell me you stopped them."

"We did."

"You've done a larger service to the realm than you could possibly know," sighed Falk, relieved. He began putting gold coins into a bag. "A resurrected Potema... I shudder at the thought."

"We'll be here for a while, Falk," said Parax, smiling. "If you need us, we're staying at the Winking Skeever."

"Anyone with a stout heart like yours is welcome here," replied Falk, bowing politely to the duo.


12:06 PM, 10th of Frostfall. Looking for another adventure, the duo went to the nearby town of Morthal, south of Solitude. There, they had learned of an unfortunate accident, in which a man's family was killed. It did not take long for the two to figure out that the owner of the house had done it himself under the influence a vampire, who seduced him. Parax and Rellik, after solving the mystery, later discovered that this female vampire was one of many in the town; a master vampire known as "Movarth" was living under it, plotting against the residents. Being ever-so-crafty, the duo quickly put down the undead mastermind and went about their business. However, a letter sent to them by Falk contained disturbing news regarding Potema, and called for their return to Solitude. Knowing time to be of the essence, they had a carriage in Morthal take them to the city.

"Yes, old friends, I'm afraid it's not good news. When you broke up the binding Potema escaped. We've encountered some of her minions," said Falk, with a grave expression on his face. "Styrr says she's still in spirit form or we'd all be dead already. You've already done us a service in stopping the binding, but I need you to go talk to him, to see if Styrr can tell us what to do next."

"Styrr… refresh my memory, who and where is Styrr?" Parax asked, holding out his map.

"He's Solitude's priest of Arkay," replied Falk, pointing to a location on the map. "He's the one who figured out Potema was still around. He'll help as much as he can."

"Is there a particular reason we were chosen for this… other than ending the ritual?" asked Parax.

"I'm not really sure. Styrr thinks you two have some sort of link to Potema," Falk explained. "I trust his judgment on this. As a priest of Arkay he's had to deal with necromancy before. Nothing as dangerous as Potema though."

"Very well, we'll deal with the issue," said Parax, turning to the stairs. Rellik followed.

"I wish you well, friends. Be careful," sighed Falk.

Parax and Rellik exited the Blue Palace and headed northwest of the building, coming across a graveyard. They entered the Hall of the Dead outside of the site; a priest—obviously Styrr—was inside, pacing. Like many priests the duo encountered, Styrr wore long, orange-yellow hooded monk robes.

"You must be the ones Falk spoke so highly of," said Styrr, smiling. "Welcome."

"That is correct," replied Rellik.

"We hear Potema has returned," said Parax gravely.

"Ah, Potema. Former queen of Solitude and one of the most dangerous necromancers in recorded history," sighed Styrr. "She was responsible for the Empire's near collapse almost five hundred years ago. I believe I have a book about her..."

"How has she returned to the living?" asked Rellik.

"Summoned in spirit form is not raised from the dead. She'll need help before she can return to the living," said Styrr. "For the moment, the Wolf Queen has retreated to a place filled with dead eager to serve her. She has gone to her old catacombs. A few days ago, one of her servants busted through a wall into the Temple of Divines. We'll need you to go into the Catacombs themselves."

"We will deal with Potema," said Parax, preparing to leave.

"Yes. I had Falk call you back because you were at the summoning; you have a connection to Potema now. You must deal with her." Styrr continued, readying a spell tome. "I can provide you with help for her minions though. This should help you deal with the Catacombs themselves."

Rellik took the book and shared the information with Parax; they now had a spell that could turn the undead onto their side.

"As to Potema herself, find what's left of her body, likely a skeleton," said Styrr. "Remove it from the Catacombs and bring it back to be sanctified by Arkay."

"Anything else you can tell us about her?" asked Rellik.

"A curious figure. Unrepentantly evil and nasty, of course, but also astonishingly brilliant, and obviously quite a necromancer at her end. She was always so close to being Empress, but despite her machinations, it was never to be hers," the priest explained. "Ironically, if she were alive today, she'd be the only living member of the Septim bloodline. By all rights, she would now be Empress."

"Yet another reason for killing her," said Parax, sighing. He turned around and walked out the door with Rellik.

"Taking on Potema won't be easy. But you are the ones to do it," said Styrr, hopeful of the duo's success.

Parax and Rellik entered the Temple of Divines and headed downstairs, unlocking a gate with a key Styrr gave them. The hallway to the Catacombs was long-abandoned; old drinks and crates were lying around; thick cobwebs covered the area; some bags of coins were lying around for the taking. The wall at the end of the hallway had a large, gaping hole in it, allowing the duo entry to Potema's Catacombs. While dusty and covered in webs, the Catacombs were surprisingly well-preserved and lit. The two readied their weapons and headed down a staircase, ready to face what was waiting. Unfortunately, their journey was halted by a closed gate, which refused to open and was impervious to their abilities.

"You've arrived at last. The heroes who prevented me from being bound return to my fold," said a triumphant, feminine voice, undoubtably that of Potema. "I have much to thank you for, little ones. When you die, I will raise you and you can take your place by my side."

The gate opened, allowing the duo to continue. They knew they were walking into a trap, but what choice did they have? Let her live on and conquer Tamriel?

"You'll serve me soon enough," said Potema as the two walked through the doorway.

Parax and Rellik went down another staircase, where they found a mage pacing a room with two draugr. As soon as they took notice of the duo, it was too late; Parax and Rellik's arrows found themselves in the draugrs' heads, while the mage was scorched by Rellik's Fire Breath Shout. The two advanced through a series of corridors, which surprisingly contained very few draugr. There was, however, something that they did not expect: a family of vampires claiming to be of a "Volkihar Clan". The vampires appeared to be more threatening than most vampires the two fought in the past, and were dispatched with more effort. Most notably, they had faster reflexes than other vampires—who already had incredibly fast reflexes—and the duo's weapons never inflicted any serious injuries unless the vampires were decapitated, bisected, or weakened through bludgeoning with a silver ingot Parax happened to have on his person. Those methods weren't needed for slaying the vampires, but they certainly made the job easier than slashing and stabbing a great many times.

The deeper areas of the Catacombs were more interesting, however. Going through a door, the two found themselves in a large room with candles and thrones lining the walls. Two of the thrones had draugr in them, sitting across from each other. The center of the room was composed of a large, grated trapdoor; a male vampire was sitting in the middle of it.

"You've come far, mortals. No doubt you seek to enter Potema's Sanctum," said the vampire, getting up and smirking. "I can see to that. We'll need plenty of fresh corpses to rebuild her army, you see."

The two draugr rose from their thrones; their black, spined armor identified them as Draugr Deathlords, high-ranking members of the draugr. They both carried ebony weapons—one with a greatsword, the other with two war axes. Rellik readied his own ebony sword and lunged at the former, while Parax went for the latter and the vampire. The vampire was but a trifle compared to the others faced earlier, being cut down within seconds and launched across the room by Parax's telekinesis, knocking him into Rellik's draugr. Parax proceeded to dedicate his full mortal strength to the draugr with axes, countering the undead monster's slashes. About a minute into the fight, Parax successfully cut off the draugr's left hand—however, being undead, it felt no pain, and simply swung its other axe at its foe. Parax narrowly ducked under the attack and kicked the draugr backwards onto the trapdoor, while Rellik did the same to his opponent. The Orc dove at a lever on the wall and pulled it as the draugr climbed to their feet, sending them into the deep pit below.

"The door's locked," sighed Parax, trying to force open another door. "See if the vampire has a key on him."

Rellik searched the vampire's remains—which had imploded and collapsed into a pile of red, gooey blood and bones that slowly dissolved—finding a key among them. He threw it to Parax, who unlocked the door to Potema's Sanctum.

The room they found themselves in carried the horrible stench of decay. The corpses of countless draugr and a single vampire's remains lined the floors. The two quickly ran across the corpses and headed through the door on the opposite side of the room in their hurry to get away from the odor. They headed through a hallway, still trying to avoid the smell of decomposition, but were stopped by a locked gate.

"Not much further," echoed Potema's voice. "Come, little things. Serve me in death."

Two of the draugr slumped up against the gate leapt to their feet, weapons drawn. Parax and Rellik were already annoyed by the large amounts of draugr in the Catacombs, hastily cutting the monsters down. They cast several rune spells on the other end of the hallway, where the room of corpses was; if Potema was to revive the bodies, they would not make it very far, as the rune spells would destroy them quickly. With no other option, Potema unlocked the gate, eager to use the duo's abilities for her undead army.

At last, they were in Potema's chamber. It was a gargantuan, stone room, with candles and coffins lining the walls. Several large chests were next to a door on the opposite side of the room, with gold pouring out of them. Streams of light were flowing from the walls, converging into an orb in an area above the center of the room. The ethereal shape of a woman was inside of the orb.

"You've come far, mortals, but can you stand against my inner council? Let's see!" exclaimed Potema.

Two of the coffins burst open, their upper halves flying across the room. Armored draugr walked out of them, carrying ebony weapons of all kinds. The undead thralls charged at the duo, but were quickly disintegrated by Parax and Rellik's Shouts.

"Don't applaud yourself too soon, worms!" growled Potema.

The rest of the coffins opened up, releasing the draugr inside. Deathlords. Two Frost Atronachs appeared as well, just as eager to serve the Wolf Queen.

"Looks like we may want some help," sighed Rellik, going back-to-back with Parax.

"Well, fortunately, that's exactly what we have," replied Parax, cutting down one of the charging draugr.

"And that is?" asked the Orc, dodging one of the Frost Atronachs. He dove under the giant's legs and snapped off a draugr's arm. He then picked up its greatsword and embedded it in the Frost Atronach's back.

"Remind me to thank Phinis," said Parax, decapitating two more draugr. He got on his knees, readying the spell Phinis taught him days ago. "A little cover, please?"

Rellik threw two knives at a pair of draugr charging Parax, keeping them from distracting his spell. One of the Deathlords swung its sword at the Orc, who ducked under the blade and lunged at the draugr, breaking its neck with a powerful punch.

"Rip the eyes from their heads!" yelled Potema, frustrated.

The draugr were surrounding the duo, closing in rapidly despite Rellik's abilities. By now, however, it was too late; Parax finished the spell, summoning Stanley. The Dremora looked around, wondering what Parax had gotten himself into.

"Stanley… take them out," ordered Parax, smirking.

The Dremora drew two Daedric swords, cutting down half a dozen draugr in a matter of seconds. Parax summoned his bound sword and rejoined the battle, fighting alongside his allies. Within minutes, the rest of the draugr were dead. Potema's spirit flew down from the ceiling, launching lightning bolts around the room, almost hitting the trio; the allies managed to avoid an untimely death by using the coffins as cover. Potema drifted through the door near the chests, disappearing from view. Within seconds, the door blew open, and a skeletal ghost walked out. The skull looked corporeal, suggesting that it was all that remained of the Wolf Queen.

"Now, you'll pay," snarled the twitching ghost of Potema.

The spirit summoned a Storm Atronach and drew an ethereal blade. Stanley threw one of his swords at the atronach, sawing off the upper half of its body. The trio then split up, surrounding an exasperated Potema. She quickly launched a bolt of lightning at Rellik; Parax took advantage of the opportunity to lunge at the ghost, slashing at the body with his sword. But this ghost was different from the others he had fought; the sword simply passed through Potema. Growling, the Wolf Queen punched Parax, sending him flying several feet. Stanley identified the skull as Potema's weakness, swiftly rushing at the ghost to stab it with his sword; she teleported out of the way and telekinetically picked the Dremora up, bringing him closer to her with her sword drawn. As she raised the weapon, Parax fired a bound arrow at the ghost, landing a shot in the back of her head. Potema fell to her knees in pain, clutching the wound; Stanley walked over to her and grasped her skull, crushing one side of it.

"I don't think it's too soon to applaud ourselves now," chuckled Parax, getting to his feet. He dissipated his bound bow and began clapping loudly.

"Don't destroy it, we need to destroy her completely," said Rellik, walking over. The Dremora backed away from Potema, while Rellik tore the skull away from the ghost, banishing the ghost.

"Alright, let's get this to Styrr before she shows up again," said Parax, looking around the room for a quicker way out. "Could somebody get that gold to the College? I'll deal with it later."

Stanley sighed, knowing that Parax was referring to him. He unsheathed his blades and walked over to the chests, moving them together and carefully placing all the spare gold back in them. He leaned against the chests, awaiting Parax's eventual summons. Parax and Rellik went into the room Potema emerged from and tried moving the throne in it, revealing a shortcut.


3:55 PM. The two were exhausted from their episode in the Catacombs. They headed over to the Hall of the Dead to meet up with Styrr, who was waiting anxiously. Rellik slowly walked over to the priest and set the skull in his hands.

"Excellent! These things do have a way of working out when people take action," said Styrr, triumphantly. "I'll sanctify the remains. In case Falk doesn't make it clear—Solitude owes you a debt of gratitude."

"You've done a great thing, today. It doesn't matter who you support in the war; Potema would have been a blight on the land for both sides," thanked Falk, relaxing against a wall and placing coins into a bag. "Without you two this would have been a disaster. I should have paid more heed to Varnius's warnings. I won't make that mistake again."

"You're welcome," said Parax.

"Take this payment—the Jarl would thank you but she very much wants to keep Potema's return quiet," Falk continued, giving the two the bag of coins—larger than the previous. "Make no mistake we consider you protectors of Solitude."

"It was a… pleasure," replied Rellik, remembering the stench of decay.

"Rellik, I think we've kept your so-called 'servants' waiting long enough," said Parax, walking back towards the stairs with Rellik.

"I won't forget what you've done for Solitude," Falk thanked again, still amazed. Two strangers just randomly come to Solitude, and they're already considered the city's heroes.

PaarthurnaxEdit

5:34 PM, 11th of Frostfall. Parax had made a quick trip to the College, where he summoned Stanley again; the Dremora appeared with all of the chests, ready to be unloaded. Parax told his Daedric servant to watch the chests carefully until they were all transported to his quarters before leaving Tolfdir in charge. Now, he was in the Reach, heading to the area Delphine marked on his map nearly a month before. The area was littered with the corpses of Forsworn and a dragon; most of them were decomposed, suggesting that Delphine and Esbern killed them, while the rest were fresh and the dragon was a skeleton, suggesting that Rellik made it safely. Parax followed the trail of bodies, discovering the entrance to a cave; undoubtedly the path to Karthspire. Advancing through the cave, Parax came across a few solved puzzles and ancient carvings on the walls, taking them into account before continuing onward. Finally, he came across a long staircase that led into a temple-like structure. The doorway—a large, stone face of a man—was open, though recently, having required Rellik's Dragonborn blood. He could hear Rellik, Esbern, and Delphine conversing.

"Look, here is Alduin! This panel goes back to the beginning of time, when Alduin and the Dragon Cult ruled over Skyrim," Esbern described. "Here, the humans rebel against their dragon overlords—the legendary Dragon War. Alduin's defeat is the centerpiece of the Wall. You see, here he is falling from the sky. The Nord Tongues—masters of the Voice—are arrayed against him."

Parax was now inside the temple. It was rather dark, being lit by the moonlight shining through holes in the ceiling. The walls were all decorated with various carvings, mainly depicting men fighting against dragons. A long, stone table was in the center of the room. Rellik and the Blades were standing on the right side of the room, observing one of the carvings.

"So, does it show how they defeated him?" asked Delphine. "Isn't that why we're here?"

"Patience, my dear. The Akaviri were not a straightforward people. Everything is couched in allegory and mythic symbolism," replied Esbern. "Yes, yes. This here, coming from the mouths of the Nord heroes—this is the Akaviri symbol for 'Shout.' But... there's no way to know what Shout is meant."

"…My dear," repeated Parax, shuddering. Rellik and the Blades turned around to look at him for a moment, then resumed interpreting the carving.

"You mean they used a Shout to defeat Alduin? You're sure?" inquired Delphine.

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Presumably something rather specific to dragons, or even Alduin himself," Esbern explained. "Remember, this is where they recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return."

"So we're looking for a Shout, then," Delphine sighed in frustration before turning to Rellik. "Damn it. Have you ever heard of such a thing? A Shout that can knock a dragon out of the sky?"

"No," replied Rellik. "Perhaps the Greybeards will know."

"You're probably right," Delphine agreed. "I was hoping to avoid having to involve them in this, but it seems we have no choice."

No surprise there. The Greybeards are peaceful, the Blades are warlike. The Greybeards want to guide the Dragonborn, the Blades want to manipulate.

"If they had their way, you'd do nothing but sit up on their mountain with them and talk to the sky, or whatever it is they do. The Greybeards are so afraid of power that they won't use it," replied Delphine. "Think about it. Have they tried to stop the civil war, or done anything about Alduin? No. And they're afraid of you, of your power. Trust me, there's no need to be afraid. Think of Tiber Septim. Do you think he'd have founded the Empire if he'd listened to the Greybeards?"

Told you, me.

"Power is dangerous," said Parax, intervening. "It-"

"Only if you don't know how to use it. All the great heroes have had to learn to use their power," retorted Delphine. "Those that shrank from their destiny... well, you've never heard of them, have you? And there are the villains—those that misused their power. There's always a choice, and there's always a risk. But if you live in fear of what might go wrong, you'll end up doing nothing. Like the Greybeards up on their mountain."

"Just because the Greybeards aren't belligerent, it doesn't mean they're afraid of their power. It's simple: they're being guided. They're taking action, albeit less directly," said Parax. "Speaking about people not knowing how to use their abilities… look where the Blades are now."

"I'm not afraid of my power," Rellik insisted, trying to prevent things from escalating.

"Good. The Greybeards can teach you a lot, but don't let them turn you away from your destiny," said Delphine, relaxing her fist. "You're Dragonborn, and you're the only one who can stop Alduin. Don't forget it."

"Well, looks like it's time for me to see Argneir," said Rellik. He turned to walk down the stairs.

Parax looked at Delphine, reading her behavior and the glares she shot him in his curiosity. He was looking forward to annoying her more.

6:05 AM, 12th of Frostfall. The two were once again at High Hrothgar, ready to learn about the Shout used to defeat Alduin. The Greybeards were nowhere to be seen, likely wandering their temple and following their daily routine. Parax and Rellik searched the halls, finally locating Arngeir sitting at a wooden table, eating bread.

"Sky above. Voice within," said Arngeir, bowing his head to Rellik.

"There's a Shout that was used to defeat Alduin long ago," said Rellik. "I need to know it."

"Where did you learn of that?" asked Arngeir, eyeing the two suspiciously. "Who have you been talking to?"

"Does it matter?" Rellik inquired.

"Yes. For matters of such gravity, we need to know where you stand," replied Arngeir. "Or who you stand with…"

"The Blades helped us learn of it," Rellik explained. "You have a history with them, I presume."

"The Blades… Of course. They specialize in meddling in matters they barely understand," growled Arngeir. "Their reckless arrogance knows no bounds."

"So we are aware," said Parax.

"They have always sought to turn the Dragonborn from the path of wisdom," Arngeir continued. "Have you learned nothing from us? Would you simply be a tool in the hands of the Blades, to be used for their own purposes?"

"I am not their puppet, Arngeir," replied Rellik. "They are mine. They are helping me defeat Alduin… that is what you want, correct?"

"What I want is irrelevant," said Arngeir. "This Shout was used once before, was it not? And here we are again. Have you considered that Alduin was not meant to be defeated?"

"Possibly," said Parax.

"Those who overthrew him in ancient times only postponed the day of reckoning," Arngeir continued. "They did not stop it. If the world is meant to end, so be it. Let it end and be reborn."

"So you're not going to help me," Rellik sighed.

"No, not now. Not until you return to the path of wisdom," replied Arngeir.

"We need your aid!" exclaimed Parax. "You wish to let the world end simply because we're aligned with your rivals?"

"Arngeir. Rok los Dovahkiin, Strundu'ul," urged Einarth, entering the room. The only thing Parax could understand was "Dovahkiin". "Rok fen tinvaak Paarthurnax."

"...Dragonborn, forgive me," said Arngeir, turning back to the duo. "I was… intemperate. I allowed my emotions to cloud my judgement. Master Einarth reminded me of my duty."

"Wonnnnnnderful," sighed Parax, sarcastically.

"The decision whether or not to help you is not mine to make," Arngeir continued.

"And you'll teach me the shout?" asked Rellik.

"No. I cannot teach you because I do not know it," Arngeir replied sadly. "It is called 'Dragonrend' but its Words of Power are unknown to us."

Parax began pacing around the room.

"We do not regret this loss," Arngeir continued. "Dragonrend holds no place within the Way of the Voice."

If these people don't know it, perhaps its creators do. But they're long dead… There has to be someone who knows this Shout.

"So how can I defeat Alduin if the Shout is lost?" asked Rellik.

"Only Paarthurnax, the master of our order, can answer that question, if he so chooses," answered Arngeir.

Of course, their leader that Arngeir spoke of months ago. Parax was already deducing.

"And how are we going to get to the top of the mountain?" asked Parax.

"Only those whose Voice is strong can find the path," replied Arngeir. "Come, we will teach you a Shout to open the way to Paarthurnax."

Arngeir and Einarth exited the room, followed by Parax and Rellik. The rest of the Greybeards accompanied them to the courtyard; Arngeir pointed at an archway blocked by a raging snowstorm on the opposite side of the area. The six converged around a fire for warmth. Arngeir stepped forward, away from the group, and looked at the ground.

"Lok."

A letter in the dragon language burned into the rock and glowed.

"Vah."

Another Dovah letter.

"Koor."

Rellik stepped onto the letters, which immediately vanished. Streams of light surrounded the Dragonborn and flowed into him; a new Shout was learned. Parax put his hand on the Orc's shoulder and copied the knowledge.

"This is your final gift from us, Dragonborn," said Arngeir. "Use it well. Clear Skies will blow away the mist, but only for a time. The path to Paarthurnax is perilous, not to be embarked upon lightly."

"We'll keep it in mind," replied Rellik, approaching the archway.

"Keep moving. Stay focused on your goal, and you will reach the summit," said Arngeir, watching the two.

"Lok… Vah Koor!" Rellik exclaimed.

The wave of distorted air flew from Rellik's mouth, going through the archway and colliding with part of the snowstorm, clearing part of the path. The duo walked through and went across the rocky path along the side of the mountain. Parax performed the Shout, clearing more of the storm out and allowing them to progress. This continued for another half hour; in time, they made it to the summit. It appeared to be desolate, save for a Word Wall near the edge. The place felt somewhat peaceful, being unaffected by the snowstorm. The heavy winds that the two were dealing with earlier could not be heard here.

"…Paarthurax!" Rellik called out. No response.

No home that an ordinary person would require. Apparently knows the secrets of Dragonrend, a Shout lost in history thousands of years ago. Supposed to be skilled in the Voice. Even his name sounded like a Shout. Parax realized what Paarthurnax was.

"Do you hear that?" asked Rellik. He could hear the flapping of large wings.

A thundering crash was heard behind Parax and Rellik, who slowly turned around; a dragon was hunched over in front of them. His scales were a greyish-green color, his wings were tattered, and some of his horns were broken. The dragon's facial appearance and scale color suggested that he was very old… except dragons don't age.

"Drem Yol Lok. Greetings, wunduniik. I am Paarthurnax," said the dragon in a deep, scratchy voice. "Who are you? What brings you to my strunmah... my mountain?"

"A dragon? You're the master of the Greybeards?" asked Rellik, baffled.

"They see me as master," replied Paarthurnax. "Wuth. Onik. Old and wise. It is true I am old… Tell me. Why do you come here, volaan? Why do you intrude on my meditation?"

"I am told that you can help me," said Rellik. "The Dragonrend Shout… can you teach me it?"

"Drem. Patience," said Paarthurnax. "There are formalities that must be observed, at the first meeting of two of the dov. By long tradition, the elder speaks first."

Paarthurnax looked over at the Word Wall.

"Hear my Thu'um! Feel it in your bones," Paarthurnax continued. "Match it, if you are Dovahkiin! Yol!"

Parax and Rellik watched as the dragon spewed a stream of fire at the Word Wall.

"…Toor Shul!"

Letters in the dragon language lit up on the structure. Rellik approached it and absorbed the knowledge of another Shout. Parax copied the information; his Fire Breath Shout felt… stronger.

"Understand fire as the dov do," said Paarthurnax. "Now, show me what you can do. Greet me not as mortal, but as dovah!"

Rellik looked at Paarthurnax and Shouted.

"Yol!"

A burst of fire launched from Rellik's mouth, exploding right in front of Paarthurnax. The snow around them melted and the ground was charred.

"Aah… yes! Sossedov los mul! The dragonblood runs strong in you," exclaimed Paarthurnax, impressed. "It is long since I had the pleasure of speech with one of my own kind! Aaaah… I have expected you. Prodah. You would not come all this way for tinvaak with an old dovah. No, you seek your weapon against Alduin..."

"Are you able to teach me it?" asked Rellik.

"I do not know the Thu'um you seek," sighed Paarthurnax. "Krosis… It cannot be known to me."

"Why is that?" the Orc inquired.

"Your kind—joore—mortals… created it as a weapon against the dov… the dragons," said Paarthurnax. "Our hadrimme, our minds cannot even… comprehend its concept."

"So how will I be able to learn it?" asked Rellik.

"Drem. All in good time," replied Paarthurnax. "First, a question for you. Why do you want to learn this Thu'um?"

"I need to stop Alduin," said Rellik.

"Yes… Alduin. Zeymah. The elder brother. Gifted, grasping, and troublesome as is so often the case with the firstborn," Paarthurnax pondered.

Parax chuckled quietly to himself.

"But why? Why must you stop Alduin?" asked Paarthurnax.

"I like this world. I don't want it to end," replied Rellik.

"Pruzah. As good an answer as any! There are many who feel as you do, although not all," said Paarthurnax, smiling. "Some would say that all things must end, so that the next can come to pass. Perhaps this world is simply the egg of the next kalpa? Lein vokiin? Would you stop the next world from being born?"

"That's their problem," said Rellik. "The next world will just have to take care of itself."

"Paaz. A fair answer," Paarthurnax remarked. "Ro fuz… maybe you only balance the forces that work to quicken the end of this world. Even we who ride the currents of Time cannot see past Time's end. Wuldsetiid los tahrodiis."

"Go on," said Rellik.

"Those who try to hasten the end may delay it," Paarthurnax continued. "Those who try to delay the end… may bring it closer. But you have indulged my weakness for speech long enough. Krosis. Now I will answer your questions."

Parax and Rellik looked at each other briefly.

"Do you know why I live here, at the peak of the Monahven? What you name Throat of the World?" asked Paarthurnax.

"Dragons like mountains?" Rellik replied jokingly.

"Mmm, true," said Paarthurnax, chuckling slightly. "But few now remember that this was the very spot where Alduin was defeated by the Ancient Tongues. Vahrukt unslaad… perhaps none but me now remember how he was defeated."

"With Dragonrend?" Rellik suggested.

"Yes and no. Viik nuz ni kron. Alduin was not truly defeated either," Paarthurnax explained. "If he was, you would not be here today, seeking to… defeat him."

"Talk about ironic," said Rellik, grinning.

"We wouldn't be anywhere," sighed Parax, thinking back to Helgen.

"The Nords of those days used the Dragonrend Shout to cripple Alduin," Paarthurnax continued. "But this was not enough. Ok mulaag unslaad. It was the Kel—the Elder Scroll. They used it to… cast him adrift on the currents of Time."

"An Elder Scroll?" asked Rellik.

"Hmm… how to explain in your tongue?" sighed Paarthurnax. "The dov have words for such things that joorre do not. It is… an artifact from outside time. It does not exist, but it has always existed. Rah wahlaan. They are… hmm… fragments of creation. The Kelle—Elder Scrolls as you name them—they have often been used for prophecy. Yes… your prophecy comes from an Elder Scroll."

Parax was listening more intently now. Something older than time itself; that itself is interesting enough.

"But this is only a small part of their power. Zofraas suleyk," Paarthurnax continued.

"…So the ancient Nords sent Alduin forward in time," Rellik concluded.

"Not intentionally," replied Paarthurnax. "Some hoped he would be gone forever, forever lost. Meyye. I knew better. Tiid bo amatiiv. Time flows ever onward; one day he would surface. Which is why I have lived here. For thousands of mortal years I have waited. I knew he would emerge… but not when."

"How does this help?" asked Rellik.

"Tiid kren. Time was… shattered here… because of what the ancient Nords did to Alduin," Paarthurnax explained. "If you brought that Kel, that Elder Scroll back here… to the Tiid-Ahraan… the Time-Wound… With the Elder Scroll that was used to break Time, you may be able to… cast yourself back. To the other end of the break. You could learn Dragonrend from those who created it…"

"And where will we find an Elder Scroll?" Parax inquired.

"Krosis… No, I know little of what has passed below in the long years I have lived here," replied Paarthurnax. "You are likely better informed than I."

"Perhaps Esbern or Arngeir know," Rellik suggested.

"Trust your instincts, Dovahkiin," said Paarthurnax. "Your blood will show you the way."

An Elder ScrollEdit

"Such blasphemies are the calling of mages, not followers of the Way," said Arngeir, upon being asked about the Elder Scroll.

"Paarthurnax himself suggested that we seek it out," replied Rellik.

"Not to mention, he doesn't have to follow the Way of the Voice," said Parax.

"...Take your question to the College of Winterhold," sighed Arngeir. "They may be able to help you."

"Urag, then," Parax suggested, exiting High Hrothgar with Rellik.

"Agreed," replied Rellik, shivering from the cold.

"Just one thing, Rellik," said Parax, "The time is drawing near for another step in my plans."

"And that is?" asked the Orc.

"I would like you to go down to Whiterun. Take a few days off. Help out the Companions," replied Parax. "Meet me in the College on the 20th of Frostfall, and we will seek out your Elder Scroll."

"What about the world?" Rellik inquired.

"No point saving it from Alduin if it's just going to fall apart after," said Parax. "Trust me, it's worked so far."

5:57 PM, 20th of Frostfall. Parax had recently finished up several new adventures; he aided a woman named Anska in an assault on an old dragon cult temple, where he defeated a dragon priest and took his mask. He also studied an ancient legend of sorts of the three Gauldurson brothers, who murdered their father in order to steal his power and obtain powerful artifacts of his. Parax was already in possession of two of the artifacts by the time he became more interested in the legend (the first being from Folgunthur, and the second being from the draugr guarding the Eye of Magnus); the third was acquired in Geirmund's Hall, where Parax had to slay one of the undead brothers to obtain a fragment of the amulet. After studying the amulet—which increased his endurance, magical prowess, and stamina immensely—he concluded that it would be fit for eventual merging with his planned "god armor". He also assisted J'zargo in an experiment with flame cloak scrolls, which were designed specifically for combating undead. While effective, the scrolls almost killed Parax, and thus required attention.

Rellik, on the other hand, had cured Vilkas of his lycanthropy and hunted down the totems of Hircine for the Companions, as well as making thousands of gold off of bounties. He also managed to track down several new Shouts over the past few days. With the deadline near, Rellik headed to the College of Winterhold; together, he and Parax tracked down Urag in the Arcanaeum.

"An Elder Scroll is an instrument of immense knowledge and power," Urag warned gravely. "To read an Elder Scroll, a person must have the most rigorously trained mind, or else risk madness. Even so, the Divines usually take the reader's sight as a price."

"Tell us more," said Parax, taking a seat.

"The simplest way to put it is 'knowledge', but there's nothing simple about an Elder Scroll. It's a reflection of all possible futures and all possible pasts," Urag explained. "Each reader sees different reflections through different lenses, and may come away with a very different reading. But at the same time, all of it is true. Even the falsehoods. Especially the falsehoods."

"Do you happen to have one that I can use?" asked Rellik.

Urag simply chuckled sarcastically and shook his head. "Even if I did, I couldn't simply give it to you. Too much power for one person."

"What about the Dragonborn?" asked Parax, smirking.

"What about... wait. Are you?" Urag asked, his eyes widening. "Were you the one the Greybeards were calling?"

"My associate is the person you speak of," replied Parax.

"I'll bring you everything we have on them, but it's not much. So don't get your hopes up," said Urag, getting out of his chair and heading over to the left side of the room. "It's mostly lies, leavened with rumor and conjecture."

Parax and Rellik waited as Urag searched the bookshelves. Eventually, he came back with two books: Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls and Effects of the Elder Scrolls.

"Here you go," said Urag. "Try not to spill anything on them."

"This writing is incomprehensible," sighed Parax, flipping through the first book.

"Aye, that's the work of Septimus Signus," replied Urag. "He's the world's master of the nature of Elder Scrolls, but... well. He's been gone for a long while. Too long."

"Dead?" asked Rellik.

"Oh no. I hope not. But even I haven't seen him in years, and we were close. Became obsessed with the Dwemer," said Urag. "Took off north saying he had found some old artifact. Haven't seen him since. Somewhere in the ice fields, if you want to try and find him."

"Very well, thanks for the help," said Parax, exiting the Arcanaeum with Rellik. The two looked north of the College; it was all just water, chunks of ice, and frozen islands. Septimus had to be on one of them.

"Right… looks like we have to get down there first," sighed Rellik, looking over a ledge. The canyon hundreds of feet below the College was connected to the frozen sea.

"We are about to do something very stupid, but you're going to love it," said Parax. "Shout 'Felm' for me, please. You remember this one, don't you?"

Rellik looked at Parax, confused. Parax pushed the Orc over the ledge, prompting him to follow his suggestion.

''Felm!"

Rellik felt overwhelmingly peaceful as his physical form phased into a ghostly appearance. Parax jumped after him and Shouted as well, taking on the ethereal form. The two collided with the ground, remarkably unscathed. Seconds later, they became corporeal again.

"How's that for a landing?" asked Parax, chuckling as he climbed back to his feet. Rellik stared blankly into the air for a few moments before getting up.

"Never. Do that. Again," Rellik growled, walking north with Parax.

7:05 PM. After over an hour of intense searching, the two finally located the entrance to an outpost of sorts on one of the island. The two took the time to mark the location on their maps before heading inside. The outpost was mainly ice, with a few shelves of books and food on the side. A large cube of Dewmer origin was embedded in the wall. An old man was shifting around the inside of the frozen room, muttering to himself.

"Dig, Dwemer, in the beyond," sighed the old man. "I'll know your lost unknown and rise to your depths."

"…Septimus?" asked Rellik, tapping the man on the shoulder. "What are you-"

"The ice entombs the heart. The bane of Kagrenac and Dagoth Ur. To harness it is to know. The fundaments," mumbled Septimus. "The Dwemer lockbox hides it from me. The Elder Scroll gives insight deeper than the deep ones, though. To bring about the opening."

"Snap out of it," said Rellik, shaking Septimus. "Do you have an Elder Scroll with you?"

"I've seen enough to know their fabric," replied Septimus cheerfully. "The warp of air, the weft of time. But no, it is not in my possession."

"Can you tell us where it is?" asked Parax.

"Elder Scrolls. Indeed. The Empire. They absconded with them. Or so they think. The ones they saw. The ones they thought they saw," Septimus chattered. "I know of one. Forgotten. Sequestered. But I cannot go to it, not poor Septimus, for I... I have arisen beyond its grasp."

"Wheeerrre?" Parax repeated.

"Here. Well, here as in this plane. Mundus. Tamriel," replied Septimus. "Nearby, relatively speaking. On the cosmological scale, it's all nearby."

"But where in Tamriel?" asked Parax. "Skyrim? Hammerfell?"

"One block lifts the other," said Septimus. "Septimus will give what you want, but you must bring him something in return."

"And that is?" Rellik inquired.

"You see this masterwork of the Dwemer. Deep inside their greatest knowings," replied Septimus, pointing to the giant Dwemer box. "Septimus is clever among men, but he is but an idiot child compared to the dullest of the Dwemer. Lucky then they left behind their own way of reading the Elder Scrolls. In the depths of Blackreach one yet lies. Have you heard of Blackreach? 'Cast upon where Dwemer cities slept, the yearning spire hidden learnings kept.'"

"Where is Blackreach?"

"Under deep. Below the dark. The hidden keep. Tower Mzark. Alftand. The point of puncture, of first entry, of the tapping. Delve to its limits, and Blackreach lies just beyond. But not all can enter there. Only Septimus knows the hidden key to loose the lock to jump beneath the deathly rock."

"How do we get in?" asked Parax.

"Two things I have for you. Two shapes. One edged, one round. The round one, for tuning," laughed Septimus, digging through a chest. "Dwemer music is soft and subtle, and needed to open their cleverest gates. The edged lexicon, for inscribing. To us, a hunk of metal. To the Dwemer, a full library of knowings. But... empty. Find Mzark and its sky-dome. The machinations there will read the Scroll and lay the lore upon the cube. Trust Septimus. He knows you can know."

"…Okay. We'll deal with this when we can," said Parax, turning around and walking out of the outpost, followed by Rellik.

"So we're going to have to do… whatever it is he wants us to do," said Rellik.

"Not just yet," replied Parax. "There are some other pressing matters in our way."

"What would those be?" asked Rellik.

"Well, surely you are aware of the civil war going on," said Parax.

"Yes…" said Rellik.

"As part of my little plan, I think it would be wise for us to get the war out of the way," Parax suggested. "Less obstacles."

"Alright… what do you propose?" asked the Orc.

"Come, come, I'll explain on the way," said Parax, leading Rellik back to the College.

2:50 PM, 25th of Frostfall. For the past few days, the two used Enthir's profession as a black market trader to acquire Daedra hearts and black soul gems, which Parax was running low on. It took them another three days to find someone with Centurion dynamo cores. With their materials assembled, Parax led Rellik down into the Midden.

"What is this about?" asked Rellik.

"I believe you remember our last trip down here," said Parax.

"Yes, what's the importance?"

"Perhaps you will take notice of the Daedric gauntlets and boots."

The two arrived at the Atronach Forge. Parax placed the sigil stone on the altar and opened up the box. He placed several Centurion dynamo cores, black soul gems, and Daedra hearts inside.

"Take off your armor and place it in this box, please," said Parax. "Don't worry, I won't look."

"…How will I fit this," asked Rellik, pointing to the torso part of his ebony armor, "into this?!"

"It will fit, just watch," Parax insisted.

Rellik reluctantly took off all of his armor and shield, leaving him in his undergarments. He placed the pieces in the box, which miraculously absorbed them despite their size. He then closed the box.

"Now, pull the lever on it," Parax instructed, still looking away.

Rellik did as he was told; several seconds later, a full set of Daedric armor—minus a helmet, as Rellik never took to wearing them—appeared on the circular platform.

"The f-What?!" Rellik exclaimed, surprised.

"The Atronach Forge, my friend," chuckled Parax. "With the proper ingredients, your armor and shield have been converted from ebony… to Daedric. I brought one more of each ingredient; try your sword next."

Rellik put his ebony sword in the box