Quest 2: Robot Boy
Disclaimer: I do not own Skyrim. It belongs to Bethesda Game Studios. Though character personalities and the world I’ve made are mine.
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Seven-Thousand Years Later…
It is now the Fourth Era, Twenty-Two Years after the Oblivion Crisis. The Empire struggles with no Ruler on the Ruby Throne. Eastern and Southern Regions of the Continent grapple with Discord as the Aldmeri Dominion resurges. Many Fear the End of Days is Nigh.
The sky above the inn was the colour of aged parchment, greyish beige. Nebulous wrinkles streaked through the firmament, an odd fuzzy feeling of snow on skin. Krest found himself yawning as a snowflake came to rest on his tongue, dissolving into saliva. From where he sat, he saw two bipedal lambs, clothed in furs hillwalking through the frosted trunks of saplings and baby trees, discussing with a large frog in half-hushed whispers. Krest’s expression crumbled hollowly when he peered into his cup of cold coffee, half full of grounds. He took another bite of his half-eaten spinach and chicken sandwich as the echoes and whispers of ice spirits flew in the wind down the gelid passageways of the peaks. He littered the remainder of his food, idly watching as the white snow flushed deep black from the caffeine and stood from the outdoor table, meandering up the hill.
Krest scratched at his temple, staring the bleak cobbled path down for a minute, silencing the data stream of information crowding his head. -- The rolled-cigarette of a nearby loiterer flicked to the ground, stamped out by the heel of her worn boot, the charred bits being buried under the white frost that painted the Pale Pass up the mountain. Krest inserted the microchip his Forerunner, Dea had given him into the USB-port in his neck; a direct order from the representative of the Elder Council for a prisoner transport, happening over in Skyrim, the frozen north, chalk full of monsters and gods only knew what else. Relentless and unforgiving cold, merciless to the touch. He could see a few hapless beggars toiling away towards the lower edges of the knoll, digging for scraps of food in dump-piles. A glimpse of lantern-light, rising under the trees, way in the distance.
"I told him it would be tomorrow. Useless," the woman who’d been smoking said to a man near her. The latter was lurking in the shade of the canopy. The surrounding shrubs hung over them like the dreary curtains of some gothic Sancre Tor church. Dancing in the bitter wind that cut right into one’s skin. "Can't get him off my case."
Krest flitted his gaze ahead, tickling the area beneath his nose, feeling something warm and sticky. Blood. He moved into the frayed stables on the outermost attachment of the inn, slumping against the wall and wiping up the ichor. The smoke from the chimney above descended and warmed him slightly, waxing and waning as flakes of snow like dust on a bookshelf wafted past, settling on the area ahead. Krest looked back at the sky, the blood in his nose curdling back inside his nostrils, the touch of snow frosty against his palm.
He involuntarily cracked his neck to the side, schlepping away hair that got entwined between freezing fingers. He hissed at the uncomfortable cold, dialing away from the chattering mercenaries near him. Removing and resecuring his left gauntlet, he took the time to study the green veins and black wires that ran throughout his forearm, linking up to the outlet-cable infused in his left hand. He forced himself up, coughing and batting the neural-link in his neck and making his way to the front of the inn where the two mercenaries from earlier were mercilessly gossiping about whatever pointless garbage it was that people discussed these days. Krest winced as his head dizzied and he had to grab ahold the old stone wall to steady himself.
System error, the neural-chip implanted in every Praetorian-Courier read against his vision. The Praetorians, of which he was a member, were an organisation of women and men who were muted and castrated at a young age, implanted with various cyberware, maybe some weapons and gadgets in order to serve the Empire. Taught and trained since birth to be tools of the Empire, a cut above slaves if anything. Muted, in order to not divulge knowledge if caught by enemies. Castrated to not lose sight of their duty to the childish pining of romance that so many did. They were largely what their name implied though; fancy delivery people.
Krest ached, clutching his forehead as the wave of nausea passed overhead.
The lonely road the tavern sat on was situated between tall pines and clouds that choked out any moonlight trying to break through. Krest could barely piece together the blurry outlines of the armoured border-gate that led to Skyrim off in the void under the barrier of thick mist.
Why couldn’t they send Pierre. He would love to come out here.
"What do you think, Vexius?" The nordic guerrilla who had been chewing on a fat cigar when Krest arrived said.
The other merc, Vexius shook his head. Upon closer examination, Vexius actually wasn’t a punk, just an off-duty Imperial officer from the looks of his furred-armor and poorly razored cheeks.
"You know that thing that shot out of the sun last week?" The woman questioned, a small smile rippling up her face. "They’re saying it was a man. He's being holed up in Old Fort."
The prisoner they hired me to move. Maybe 'hired' wasn't the right word.
"So what?" Vexius grumbled through his teeth. "Not like I'm steppin' foot in that forsaken province. Ain't nothing in there but snow, monsters, and worse." The brute warmed his hands together. "Lest you lookin' to get flatlined, perfect place then."
My kinda scene then, Krest grimly thought. Maybe something will finally kill me.
"Whys that? Plenty of my kinsfolk get by just fine up there, don't they?"
"There're only five cities, 'member? Monsters everywhere outside the walls." The Colovian scratched his stubble. "And don't be forgetting the Dark Lord, Aela."
"The Evil One, you mean? Wasn't that thing something from the mythic times?" Aela pinched her lower lip with two thin fingers, peeling off some of the cracked, dry skin there.
"The Evil One, Konahrik, was a harbinger of death; killed thousands of Lorkhan’s Aldafathir in mythic times," Vexius went on until he caught sight of Krest. "Damn son, some advanced chrome you're packing there. Hmm, Nibenese am I right? What you doin’ so far from home?" The legionnaire studied him with pale blue-eyes. "You some sorta ronin or street samurai like Aela here?”
The two towered over him a fair bit, all muscle but no brass. Though, even without cybernetic enhancement they could still flatline him if they wanted. The woman, Aela belonged to the Nords. The other, Vexius was an Imperial, like Krest. His pulse rose in his chest, but he squashed it down. Krest side-glanced and pushed aside the door, entering Snowstone Rest.
“On your way to hell then,” sneered Vexius’ dying voice.
Krest released a breath. I guess.
Linen curtains and jugs of milk or water stood like monuments on circular wooden tables, circumferenced around poles. Light emanating from the low chandelier draped with a pink shawl directly above. Thankfully, it wasn't too overcrowded. Krest wore a dead demeanor, shouldering his way through the small clique of men and women to the back of the hub, long strands of hair framing either side of his view. A holographic girl danced for the diners on his far-right side. The interface glowed in a myriad of neon lights, ranging from pink to lime-green. Krest hit a button, grabbing a prepackaged bowl, and putting his hand to the sensor to pay for a room. Once it accepted his fingerprints, the collective Praetorians’ bank-account synced, marking the transaction complete. Krest stepped away towards the stairs.
"Hello, my friending," he heard the rare Rimmen snicker to a few shady looking personalities around a table. Opposite a rich old woman with several gigolos surrounding her. “Do you have some minutes for me, please? I make worth your time, I promise.”
Are these noodles or rice? Krest glimpsed down at the food.
He felt a cluster of veins knot in his skull as he rose the marbled step. Krest passed gold-lined walls as he ascended, some with mahogany wallpaper doted with portraits, curving up a set of spiraling grandiose staircases. The second floor was a lot narrower, with doors for rooms on the right side.
A trio of prostitutes flanked him before he could make it to his suite. "Hey there, little boy," a Breton one beckoned in her foreign accent.
"Don't." Her Nordic friend grabbed her wrist. "He's one of the empire’s pet crackheads."
"Broke, mute, dick that doesn’t work," the northerner warned. “Should I continue?”
Krest flicked a grain of rice teetering on the edge as he peeled the plastic film off, inhaling the warmness of his carton of sustenance. He circled around as he found the door to his room. -- Once inside, he made sure the thing was locked tight. He set his gear aside, tossing off his fur armor and using the cool water in the basin to splash his face with, gathering the liquid with his fingers to the rim of the sink to clean up the residue of ice. It had been an exhausting trek from Bruma to the border-gate. The train from the Imperial City to Bruma helped a lot though. He exhaled, untied his bedsheets before drifting into the washroom, attached to the far left-side of the chambers. He tossed off his shirt and loincloth and allowed the warm water of the dwemer-piped bath to rinse over him.
He put both hands against the wall as liquid encircled everything. Krest just stood there for a good while, blinking and unblinking slowly, watching traces of water race down the wall of the shower to the brass faucet pumping out fumes of sauna steam, clinging to the sides of his neck, billowing more shower-tears down his chest and legs, gathering on the floor, and emptying out through the sinkhole. More and more showering rain passed as the world stilled to a halt. Eyelashes trickling interlinked droplets onto his cheekbones and jowls. The bathtub reminded him of dunes of pure white sand beaches near the Niben. His straight wet hair flowed like a waterfall over his collarbones and down his chest, tickling his neck.
Eventually he stepped out and changed into some night-attire, drying his hands and body with a towel beforehand. He stuffed his mouth with the fried rice he’d bought now that it had cooled a bit, and downed two glasses of water, censoring the lights and candles and pulling the duvet over his shoulders. He was fairly certain there wouldn’t be any monsters to surprise him from under the bed or in the closet.
The morning that followed saw him with his legs over the covers, hunched in, watching an undetermined point on the floor.
Recent memories of the Elder Councilor Susanne down south flashed through the lattices of data ingrained in his brain, "report to Old Fort and find the man who was banished from Aetherius. Deliver him to Nordenbjörg. There should be apt assistance there if needed but we need the Empire’s personally-plucked eyes and ears on this as well.”
Krest shoved dangling hair from his view. The lines in his palm curved away into the embroidery of the red curtains bannered like decorative drapes, which twisted into frothy seams in a fresh cup of coffee at an isolated stall in the corner.
He mindlessly read through a romance book detailing the fictional love tale between a Bosmer boy and a Nord woman who had adopted him, pictures of wide-eyed Akaviri art weaved within the pages. -- The sun was rising over the limestone, diorite, and granite architecture, lighting up the stone walls of Fort Pale Pass, which he could thinly visually construct in the distance through the opaque windows. The forest basked in its surrounding countryside. Large colourful trees and the hail-ridden hillocks of northern Cyrodill. The coffee was warm in his throat, the scent of it intoxicating, and it woke him up too. The redolence of added coconut oil mixed with his nose.
"Go to an Imperial Food-Ground where you belong," a resident of the housing unit caucused at Vexius and a group of soldiers.
“So, we can eat dried rations of stale crackers?” Vexius gesticulated to himself and his men. “We haven’t deigned to any of your accusations, Exus, we’re merely here to eat and rest before our next rounds.”
Krest’s brows and mouth relaxed into a thin line as he scoured the surface for any remainder of food. He spotted some sliced turkey cleverly tucked away behind a pitcher of juice an arm-length's away. But some idiot grabbed it before he could. His eyes roamed and poured out into the central apparatus. A great chandelier hung over the hollow oval-ringed table that had a somewhat crude fire pit at the center of it. Servants, soldiers, and off-duty guards resided by the ornately neon walls, filled with more exquisite art pieces watching over the denizens. The ceiling was made of huge tiles of a royal red, bronze partitions to separate the shingles.
The barkeep drew two fingers over his short-black goatee and nodded, his eyes downcast. Krest realised what he meant and slumped into the low spot. He glanced down at his folio and proceeded to read, sipping the coffee. Romance books weren’t really a substitute for actual affection, but Praetorian-Couriers were not allowed that sort of thing so the poorly-written leaflets is all they received for some semblance of comfort. Since birth, the Praetorians were like robots, designed and calibrated to be cyborg-delivery men or disposers of dirty work. Neurons and brain-circuits drained, rewired, and programmed to remove things like self-esteem and need for company. It didn't always work though.
Krest switched the tattered tome as a chef stewed a soup in the background. Some Nords including Aela and a Priest of Talos were talking amongst themselves with children as they ate their breakfast.
“Mighty Talos was born in Atmora. A true, hearty, and honourable Nord warrior. Strong as they come, upholding unmatched moral value. When he was just four, the spirit of Shor visited him and split his chest open and removed his heart. Shor’s spirit, a fox, removed a tiny blackened sliver in Talos’ heart and said, ‘this is how the Devil, Konahrik Iblis influences you. You are freed completely from the Evil One’s influence unlike everyone else.’ For you see, every baby cries at birth because it is when Konahrik implants his evil in their hearts, so he can speak to them and tempt them away from Lorkhan’s heroism! Elves have more taint, humans, especially true Nords have less. But Talos was the truest Nord of us all. The spirit of Shor then cleansed Talos’ heart in the holy waters of Zamzam in a gold bowl. Then Shor’s ghost placed the purified heart back in Talos’ chest and stitched his breast back up. When Talos was a teenager, he defeated the remaining giants in Atmora all by his lonesome and traveled to Skyrim where he learned war tactics and teamed up with King Cuhlecain Sifr to take over the Colovian Estates of Northern Cyrodill and those ugly witchmen of High Rock while promoting King Wulfharth’s cleansing of the Alessian Heresy.”
“It was then our dear saviour, Talos learned he was Dragonborn and had the ability to shout! He traveled to the Greybeards who told him he was destined to unite Tamriel by the Divines themselves! General Talos conquered Cyrodill and soon his dear friend, Cuhlecain was crowned Emperor. Though most unfortunately a Breton ne’er-do-well attacked and killed Cuhlecain and slit our greatest hero Talos’ throat, also burning down the tower in the process. Nevertheless, Talos was crowned the new Emperor under the name, Tiber Septim. He captured all of the provinces in quick succession, and all bent their knee to his unrivaled greatness. He beat back those bloody evil elves with righteous awesomeness. He rid the jungle that choked Cyrod and beautified the land, bringing about an age of peace and protection from Oblivion, Alduin, elves and Konahrik, and brought upon great technological advancement. Creating the greatest Empire that ever existed,” the priest pompously proclaimed, “the Third Era began under his rule and peace unlike ever before harkened upon Tamriel. Emperor Septim lived until one-hundred and eight, the longest living man in recorded history, longer than any Breton. On the day he died, the entire world wept, and the gods who loved him more than any man before him, raised him to the highest place in Aetherius, beating even mighty, heroic Shor in valor! Talos was also quite the ladies man I may add. So much so that it's rumored Dibella herself visited his bed chambers once.” Winked the Nord. “His dragon-bloodline continued until Martin Septim sacrificed himself and the Amulet of Kings was destroyed. Now, the Thalmor wish to ban worship of our beloved hero! I say, never! For as long as there are Nords in Skyrim, Talos lives in us all! Every real man should strive to be exactly like Talos, for not doing so is surely a grave sin. Otherwise, you risk being like these effeminate elves, Imperials, and Bretons.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard that much propaganda, wish fulfillment, and utter bullshit in my entire life. Krest suppressed the urge to burst out laughing.
“Thank you, Vulwulf. Hear that, Ultio.” Aela stroked her little son’s head. “One day you can grow up to be big and strong just like Talos.”
Ultio clenched his fist and brought it down with his elbow. “Yeah! I’ll become an awesome Hero just like Talos and beat that evil Devil, Konahrik!” After that the group of them made their way out of the tavern.
Krest shifted his attention and saw some teenager and his dad arguing about politics or something across the cheap hotel. The contingent of Imperial soldiers from the fort who had come over for breakfast exited soon after, quieting the chat up a bit. He gulped, walking over to the window, and looking out of it. A few children, playing with wooden swords and light bows, the smell of the early morning condensation rising from the small gardens below.
“Get the hell out of here, damn whores.” Exus was yelling at the prostitute trio occupying the hallway. The women hurried out of the inn, shutting the thatched door behind them. Krest paid for his coffee and walked over to Exus, biting down on a tooth as his veins lit up. “Huh? Whaddya want?”
Krest uppercut the Colovian onto the floor and left. The road ahead was icy and blue, sparkling vividly in the early morning sun. Flakes of snow shimmering off each surface, rock, and tree like glistening gemstones. A few crows frolicked above the treetops. The clatter of silver-armoured knights marshalling through the blacktop rung in his ears. He wove his way through the banks of piled-up snow, past striped tents of homeless, betwixt two monumental boulders. A few rosebushes lit up the road forward.
A few Thalmor justiciars were striding down the lane. Krest waved at them a little. The foremost one nodded. “Akatosh and Konahrik protect ye.”
Krest sneezed. The icy air clamped down around him, causing his skin to tighten. Here among the mountains and claustrophobic forestry he felt less alone than he did with people. Trees swaying as if in conversation with each other. Krest wondered what they might be saying. He put his hands in his pockets as the sight of the gate rose over the peaks. The banded, red galeas of Imperial soldiers sticking out against the encroaching whiteness. A few of them raised their visors. Two older men, one a troop, the other a priest were discussing in low-tones just outside the entrance. Vexius and Vulwulf again. The Nord pastor was an imposing sight, tall and built like a troll. Krest felt a child in comparison. Imperials such as him and the Breton-folk of High Rock were among the weaker-framed races of men, not dissimilar to elves in stature.
“Talos bless us, Vexius. I fear the end of days is only around the corner. His strength will imbue us till that day. The spirit of Shor lives through him," the priest intoned between his grey-beard in his dense twang.
"If only he'd return here," Vexius groaned. “It isn’t the end of the world yet, but you can see it from here.”
"Hehehehehehe!" Cackled a laugh above the stronghold.
Krest saw a witch with a pointed hat flying away on a broomstick outside a window, shrieking insanely, holding a scroll. A pot of orange gruel cooking in an off-side courtyard next to a circular house. Stone-tiled with towering structures.
"Damn!" Vexius’ brown brows mingled with his hairline. "How'd she-- ugh, never mind, we won't catch her now."
"Talos will," the clergyman reassured. "His deeds are heroism embodied. He is the definition of a true warrior."
Krest face palmed. Gods, we get it already.
The soldier, Vexius crumpled his fingers. “Doesn’t a god lose their power if they receive no worship? I read somewhere that they can even become mortal if not enough praise comes their way or if the other gods agree to banish them. Though according to the elves, Akatosh is exempt from this, since he's the so-called Father."
That explains why the elves are trying to ban Talos worship
"Praise does equate to power for them." Vulwulf readjusted his gloves.
"So, theoretically, Talos could lose his power if the elves forced everyone to stop worship of him or the other Divines excised him?"
Krest stood there, hoping they'd hurry up before another snowstorm blockaded the way. The ivory-faced gate fitted into the mountainside, as if constructed by Kynareth. Dark inserts traced runic carvings, delving into memories from a few weeks back. -- The silhouette of what looked to be a golden dragon was flying out of the sun, it hovered in the sky and shot something out of its mouth. Whatever the thing inside its mouth was shot away, glowing a deathly crimson for a few seconds before cooling and shooting north towards Skyrim.
“HI LOS FUSTIR!” Shouted Akatosh from the sky. The ground shook at its speech and it vibrated through each and every one of Krest's bones when it had occurred.
It had been the dragon-god of time, Akatosh also known as Auriel. There was no doubt among the holy-men and theologians alike. His appearance matched the statue in the Temple of the One. The article he had banished was incarcerated in Old Fort and being studied according to the Councilors Dubois and Motierre. Krest was selected to transport the prisoner due to his well-handling of similar instances in the past, though he'd never had to travel this far before.
Who did Akatosh banish from the heavens? And why?
The whisperings of the two brought him back to present day, the memory fading away. "What could it mean though? Who was it? The one who fell from the stars? The fallen angel?”
"I don't know. I got a look at him though. He's a Nord, won't say a word though," the priest offered. “He wears the armor of a divine hero.”
It was then they noticed Krest.
"What is it, kid? Shouldn't you be at home with your parents." Vexius combed a few fingers through his bushel of brunette curls.
I'm twenty-two, Krest wanted to say.
Vulwulf however was analyzing Krest with narrowed eyelids. He articulated something silently, turning back to Vexius. "Listen, old boy, I'd best head out. They need me in Bruma for the ceremony of Emperor Martin. Best of luck to you." With that, the man was off in a swish of robes.
Krest stepped up to the outlet in Vexius’ arm and plugged his hand-cable into it, confirming his identity.
"Oh, you’re that kid from yesterday. So, you're who they sent. I hope they know what they're doing." He unplugged them both. "Alright, in you go, Praetorian.”
Krest eye-rolled and strolled into the central fort-yard.
He dawdled through the small mount-hamlet, rotten shrubbery and a disregarded pumpkin patch, old circular-abodes in disrepair on the sloped community. Gabled rooves, shadows concealed the walls and soldiers lined the perimeter. -- A Nord woman, Aela, caught his eyes. She kissed her son on the forehead. Krest felt a spike of envy and longing.
Aela side-longed a glance. Her smile slipped into a frown. “General’s out. Over here.” Krest followed her. She held a book called A Stormcrown Story by Lord Dacus Sourelius in her hand. Krest reached inside his pack and handed her the pertinent documents. Once she’d sorted them through, she gave it back. "Release the seal." Aela spun her fingers around in an upward-spherical motion.
Krest stood in front as the flap hissed, steam releasing and the gate to the frozen, monster-infested north gave way. He took a deep breath of the icy, fresh air and passed through.
Aela gave him a piece of advice as the gate closed behind him...
"Don't die on your way to hell.”
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A/N: Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your thoughts, critiques, and guesses for where the story is headed! I guess you could say this little subgenre here is what I like to call ‘Cyberfantasy’.
Next Episode: Baguette-Stick