Quest 4: Two Sides Of The Same Septim
Loading Screen… The city of Old Fort is built entirely inside a mountain, with a wall fortification on the perimeter. Safe from the harms of the region of Dwemeria, where rogue Dwemer machines roam around the yellow brick road…
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“Read the tag then wake him up. I’m too tired to deal with this bullshit.”
“Could be worse. You could be reading the insane, idiotic ramblings of Mikhael Karkuxor,” said the distinctive voice of Ancano.
Krest felt a breeze and shivered, curling into himself, sandwiching his hands between his thighs. The wind chittered in hollow tones, whispering nihilistic nothings.
“Krest, do you have any contacts? Other Praetorians?” Rikke was shaking him. “If he can’t take the prisoner, we’ll need someone else too.”
Nah, it’s only me, the memory became lucid. Fuck the rest of them. They all betrayed me.
He felt a presence crouch down upon him. "Wake up, sleeping beauty. We’re on a timer.” Krest got up, pushing fingers through his hair, yawning. “Why’d you faint?” Ancano lend a hand and yanked him up. The Thalmor’s friendliness was not expected, and Krest stared at him awhile.
The chamber they were currently resting outside of was full of pale crates, roped barrels, battered wooden boxes and a few benches. It had a high ceiling and was rather spacious. Metallic bars cemented to the front of the expanse, nordic guards patrolling the hallway him, Rikke, and Ancano were in. Krest reconnoitered at the assembly loaded of several bandits, viking raiders, and other criminals.
He rubbed his aching skull.
Ancano leaned against the bars of fine metallurgy. “Our man is tucked in the corner.”
"An exhibitionist,” drawled Rikke with a smirk. “We’ve deemed him the fallen angel for now, since he fell from the sky. Though he looks more like a brute and less an angel.”
Ancano pinched the bridge of his nose. "Get him to Nordenbjorg. I’ll inform my superiors after that.”
Krest tapped the Nord legate’s shoulder, indicating the cell lock. She held her hand to the scanner, unlocking it for him.
“Wait.” Ancano stood up, shutting the gate. “I need to inform you of Skyrim a bit more before I send you off by yourself into the wilderness.” The elf steepled his fingers. “We’re in Old Fort, a massive indoor city in the Jerall Mountains above Dwemeria. Dwemeria is one of Skyrim's five holds.”
"This is the southernmost kingdom, bordering Cyrodill, to the south. It is called Dwemeria due to the high influence of Dwemer ruins here, not to mention the fact that their automatons scour over this hold, making it unsafe to leave the walls of Old Fort." Rikke crossed her arms in agreement. “Also, beware the hostile Orc and Trolloc tribes that scour the land in Malacath’s name. They have Goblins, Rieklings, and Wargs as companions.”
"Skyrim is divided between five holdings, each with only one massive walled or otherwise enclosed city to prevent monsters from getting in. People who stray outside the walls usually die and so there are no minor settlements you’ll find. Old Fort is the city of Dwemeria, the southern holding which also ties into the west. The Hearthlands are in the center, with Hrothgar, the city on the Throat of the World. Haafinheim, the crystal kingdom, which lies to the north-northwest and its capital is Nordenbjörg. The Old-Hold, a giant iceberg kingdom attached to the land is the north-easternmost and its crowning jewel is Ocearan, the underwater city. To the southeast we have the giant golden forest called New Mereth, the capital city there is a colossal tree imported from Valenwood as a seedling, thousands of years ago called Jattewood," Ancano finally finished. “You’ll have to be careful in Nordenbjorg, it’s not part of the Empire. An informant will meet you outside the main gates, you can trust her.”
What a geography lesson. Krest shoved his hands in his pockets. His dark insets glowed blue as he resorbed inward to access datafiles pertinent to the province. He found one, logged by another Praetorian who died out in the snow wastes years ago. An Altmer called Bretagne Verashesher.
Frozen and cold, monsters roaming the land on the hunt for anyone outside the walls of the five cities. Bandits, thieves, vermin, vikings and worse lurking around, and corrupt politicians, priests, and jarls inside the walls. Not to mention home to arguably the biggest prison in the world where they only send the worst of the worst, Old Fort. And now they are saying they have spotted a few dragons resurfacing on the horizon. There's a reason it has the lowest population in all of the tamrielic provinces. Around one million.
“So, who do the Thalmor think the prisoner is?” Rikke’s eyes arched towards Ancano.
Ancano shuddered as if death itself had just touched him. "The Devil himself.”
Krest scowled, confused.
Rikke drowsed audibly, "perhaps it’s a Divine. They’re weaker on Nirn. Without worship they're powerless, and metaphorically nonexistent, forgotten. Maybe the other Divines banished him. Which begs the question why are they called gods then?" She rubbed her chin. “If they’re flawed and vulnerable. More like heightened beings.”
"Want my theory?" A line furrowed down Ancano's haut cheekbones.
No. Krest was leveling a flat stare at the pair until they noticed.
Rikke caught his glance and quickly reverted the subject, “oh, sorry. — Patrolman, get the prisoner.” She snapped her fingers.
A muscly Nord outfitted in chainmail and pelts opened the cell flap and traced his way to the back. “You there, I want you by the bars, you're being moved. Any funny business and I’ll gut you like a fish.”
Ancano's trapezius rose and fell, a line drawing itself upward upon his handsome visage. “He’s quite the interesting looking fellow.” The solidus curved into a full-fledged grin.
Krest swallowed the thick stream of saliva entangled in his throat. A shady figure took a few cautious steps towards the barred doorway, making sure to sidestep along the mist to avoid the glares of the other prisoners. — From here Krest could discern there were more than just the average mountain native, but also some Naga bandits and Ohmes criminals, surprisingly enough. Krest saw it then, the dual pair of snake-stripped violet. A Nord man, he wore some adornment of Imperial-Dragon Armor without the helmet. He had a short Septim-style undercut like Jarl Tullius and a dark goatee that blended with the rest of his face. He was a few inches taller and more muscular than Krest. He seemed a stereotypical hero from the songbooks of old. The type that courted many women, slain many men and monsters, and downed much mead. Very masculine and powerful.
“You sure he won’t gut you like a fish?” Ancano jested at the guard.
“Shut your mouth, elf.”
Good thing he’s a prisoner then, Krest rolled his eyes, noting the chain-links around the man’s wrists. If I’m not careful this man might overpower me.
Rikke took hold of the prisoner’s arm and led him down the passage to their right, into more shadows and out of sight from the congregation. Ancano and Krest lazily followed her.
“Still think you can handle him?” Ancano questioned in a jibe. “Maybe you two will get along, since you’re both mute.”
The powerfully built northerner seemed to fall in line with Rikke’s instructions. There wasn’t any hint of unknown power he was withholding. Krest itched at his temple. They padded past different oubliettes than he’d originally seen, much junkier and unclean.
“A majority of Skyrim’s prisoners are sent here,” added Ancano as they lingered.
Ascending stairs, carving their way through the landing. At last, they made it to the shabby old wooden door to the Warden's Office.
"Wait out here.” Rikke smacked aside the worn, old door. “I’ll be a while.” She took the exile of paradise with her.
“There aren’t any trains running to Nordenbjorg unfortunately, so you’ll have to walk,” Ancano pointed out dutifully when Krest eyed the crowd of people at the lower level waiting for a steam engine.
Krest ignored him and walked down the stone steps, sitting down on a bench, and observing the workings of Skyrim’s underground railroad. A group of mostly blond-haired Nords loitered around, waiting on the trains to Bruma and Kreath; the northernmost cities of Cyrodiil. The tunneled area formed of many cubits across had a grey make with Nordic inscriptions etched on the walls.
“Man, it’s so cold,” a Nord mentioned to his associate who looked plainly disinterested.
A Dwarven sphere rolled past, holding up its arm to accept people’s tickets before the arrival of the locomotive.
An echoing rumbled down the parapeted tunnel. The passengers stood back as their chariot neared though one young woman stood precariously close to the edge. Krest had the urge to stand up and pull her back. She’ll be fine, don’t try and be a hero. You’ll just make a fool of yourself, and she’ll just think you’re an idiot.
The train shot into the station and in the span of a single second, blood and guts flew into the air as the marvel of machinery slowed to a halt. Screams bouncing off the domed train station. The girl who’d been teetering near the corner gone. Krest wiped a speck of blood from his cheek, staring fixed on the point the woman had jumped.
“Khudkhushi,” a Redguard mourned, his Anu’s apple bobbing noticeably.
“By Talos, not this again. These train suicides are becoming a shority.” One man threw his hands in the air as the others around him appeared disgruntled.
Krest ogled the droplet of the lady’s blood on his finger, lost in the desperate redness of it. What he didn’t understand most wasn’t why she did it, but rather why he was envious of her?
A few minutes later he slumped back up to where Ancano was waiting as a crew of mechanics and Dwarven robots hustled past him to clean up the remains.
“They’re apathetic because of how common it is,” Ancano answered his unspoken question.
Krest heard some voices and the shuffling of papers in Rikke’s chambers, the scanning of beepers inside the lodging. She stepped out soon enough and handed the burly prisoner back to him, an electrical collar was on the man’s throat. She gave Krest a switch which he pocketed.
“I’m going to go confirm something with Elenwen.” Ancano exited out back into the hallway as Krest took a right into the train station and Rikke retreated to her quarters.
Krest and his quarry made their descent, cracking open the vaulted door and pouring out into a sea of blizzards…
Blue frosted hillsides with a glowing mountain lake full of glittering crescents and fire water. Hail and winds strong enough to knock him over assaulted the whitened peaks of southern Skyrim. The grey sky split with the orange-pinkish seams that shone over them, providing a singular ray of heat.
Krest’s teeth chattered as he rubbed his arms against his fur armor. The inmate didn’t so much as twitch. So, this is the guy who Akatosh banished from heaven. Krest thought of being back in the Niben under the scorching heat of the sun, tightening his cloak around his shoulders.
A clanking noise and grating metal sounded behind them. They spun around and saw the door to Old Fort crack open, Ancano slithering out. “On second thought, I’ve been given orders to join you. Can’t take any risks now!”
Krest’s heartbeat cooled a bit as he backed away. He stole a glance at the massive structure of the mountain-lodged fortress of Old Fort, eyelids widening the more he tried to frame it in one shot. -- Old Fort appeared to be ancient, however it still stood strong with thick towering walls that reached to the grey skies and challenged the sierras in girth. It seemed to be constructed from irregular though enormous porphyry blocks fitted together without seam or mortar. It was impregnable. The whole thing was fitted into the mountain behind it, proving that the interior of the purely indoor metropolitan was guarded by Mother Nature, Kynareth herself.
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour,” recited Ancano. “Kairos.”
It looks too unreal to be made by men. He kept gazing up its scarlet rises until he keeled over into the powdery snow.
Ancano pulled him up by the collar. Krest shook him off. "We need to leave before we freeze,” the High Elf clicked, trudging his way through the snow, picking up his feet and stomping them in as he went. Krest pushed the prisoner ahead of him, keeping a wary eye fixed on the convict.
He could make out the image of Falmer tribes leagues away descending the mountainside in haste, thrashing sleet everywhere. Melts of snow falling like tsunamis. No Orcs or Dwarven machinery though, so that’s good – I guess.
"Think we’ll run into a dragon?” Ancano chuckled but the sun prisoner’s head perked up at that joke.
Krest sloshed through the ice sheets to catch up to him, shoving the muscly Nord to not dawdle. Bustling down the snowy hills into the frosted crags and frozen, winding fjords resembling cracks in the net beneath them. Krest shuddered in the open snowed-in countryside. Gelid icicles hung likened to bats off pink-leaved trees that danced in the unforgiving hell, ill rooted shrubbery from an antediluvian age taunted him as it whipped in the steamy, foggy wind. He spotted a river that was completely frozen. It’s only Last Seed and everything here is already looking like it's the middle of winter. They kept peddling down the rock outlined path, canvassed betwixt a ravine in which the icy river was trapped. Frozen corpses sitting on ridges under nature made arches of the pink trees. I’ve never seen leaves this colour.
The mountains ahead shrunk, morphing into snowy hillocks and then into a frosty pine woodland with gold and brass structures gleaming in the snowfall, dotting the landscape amongst a yellow brick road that trailed through the forest that smiled at them wickedly.
"If we don't stop, we can make it prior to nightfall.” The bulbous end of the elf’s nose was red before his expression shifted. "Wait a moment... we'll ski there!"
Krest pursed his lips, sharing a look with the Fallen Angel. The man’s violet eyes with viper pupils unnerved him still.
“These Nords, they fashion wood into flat sticks and use them to ride down mountainous slopes. I've learnt how to as well when I visited Bruma."
Krest pointedly glanced around the fields of paleness, curious if Ancano had been smoking the good stuff back in the prisons.
Ancano sat down into the gelidity, demonstrating his robes' snow-proof abilities. “I’ll summon them. We’re not too far.”
Krest forced the prisoner to sit, standing aside him.
"How about being mute, you two? Describe in detail what that’s like?” The Thalmor grinned.
Krest stared into a ravine which reminded him of the train tracks and the woman who’d jumped.
They waited there for a few minutes, Krest wished he were back inside the warm citadel. He continued to waste away there, feeling the icy chill take away chunks of him as his teeth chittered nonstop, even the fur cape could do so much in this wintery climate. He glimpsed at Ancano, who sat there with his arms hugging his chest, looking every bit as unhappy and uncomfortable as Krest felt. The prisoner seemed unaffected; a weird aura resonating off him. Something weird about this guy, I just don’t know what. Then he snagged something in the corner of his eye -- a snowman. An icy figure, three large balls of snow stacked on one another with sticks for arms and a carrot nose and scarf. It was smiling a crude smile.
Krest carefully approached the monument of the mountain. How’d this get out here?
He squinted through the falling flakes. Something thrusted him to the slushy floor. A few scrawny digits grabbed his throat. The snowman was alive.
It began choking him with all its might and he attempted to punch it, but his weakly-formed fist just went into the snowman and made a dent that did nothing. Then it caught ablaze. Panic marred its features as it melted into a glop of ivory sludge, soaking Krest.
He shrieked as the coolness drenched him like a thousand knives.
Ancano jerked him up by the hem of his robes. "Don't make me babysit you; I am not your mother."
Krest coughed, shaking the snowflakes off him. The prisoner was sending high, piercing shrieks of laughter in the background. It clawed at Krest’s gut; the mused wails of a mute were always nerve-ending.
The noble-faced mer cast a warming charm upon him to block out the water. "A possessed snowman. Some Daedra whose souls are lost wind-up enchanting them and thus, you get these twisted deformities of Phynaster." Ancano spared a glare at the old carrot of the deceased ice-demon that came curdling over to them.
Krest rubbed his throat, still vividly recalling the way the Daedra squeezed his neck with its talons. Had it been Lady Aela’s strong, calloused hands around his throat, choking him to a pulp, he wouldn’t have minded at all. Krest bit down on his lip to suppress a grin at that.
The Fallen Hero pointed at a figure in the distance, up the slope. A guard on a pair of skis was shooting towards them, carrying an elongated casing.
“Aah, thank you, kind sir.” Ancano took the bracket of four skis from him. The Nord in his chainmail and T-shaped helmet scowled in return and hiked back up. Ancano inclined his head and bent down to drag the pair of skis from under the patrol officer's metal-coupling. He used the strap to fasten his shoes on. "Hand me the poles and get the prisoner behind me, you follow us.”
Krest jerked the muscular Nord detainee behind Ancano before glomming the poles down from the metal encasement, handing them over to the elf. He placed each of his feet on one of the skis directly behind Ancano, wrapping his fists onto his spikes. -- Then they were off, coursing down the iced-up terrain. The sun prisoner holding onto Ancano ahead of him. He skid closely behind them.
After about half an hour, the hills digressed into low mounds. The flow of rising and falling frozen panoramas was hypnotizing. He couldn’t help but daydream.
He imagined the sounds of a trumpet and viola. Sloth and vigor mixed. — Some sort of melodic orchestral, playing a gordian but somewhat out of tune, it was high, the median instruments lifting the multi-story notes, holding it secure, and then low. The quiet chapters were on their own, progressing savagely. Not as one though. They were floating all around. The orchestral dropped and became slow, allowing him to sway back and forth. The end of rose-scented ringlets, tightening his chest. It was the music that Nibenese and Redguard-gypsy bands played in the industrial town squares of Chorrol. Tall, dark buildings very different to the shipping cranes and sunny import-ladened docks of the Imperial Isles.
He flipped in the air, toppling over in the blankets of judecca.
Krest lay barefaced in the vapor. Just let me die. The freezing snow burned against his cheeks.
A pair of frosty, metal hooks grabbed him and launched him towards the far reaches of the encroaching pines. Krest hit the ground, his body aching painfully. He hazed up, nose bleeding and blood spiked through his temples. It trickled down his mouth and chin, staining the pure white snow. The same cold hook grasped him by the neck, he felt himself be lifted up off the neige. The sound of steamrolling then his back being pinned against a nearby pine tree. The scythe clasped his throat harder, but he couldn't feel anymore. A Dwarven sphere was holding him. It pulled back a metal fist with its free hand and pummeled it into him. He tried to lift his hand, but the automation just smacked it away, its ugly, metallic likeness peering into him.
The live piece of dwarven artillery snatched its hand back into its socket, a gleaming brass blade replacing it.
Krest glanced down with one eye and saw he was still clasping the ski-tilt. In one second the blade ripped through it, saving his abdomen. Krest’s forearm split open, and a dwarven knife-edge stabbed into the neck of the bronze robot. His left hook clattered its remains beneath the ice, ripping the skin clean off his knuckles. The snow was dyed black with the automaton’s oil.
Something rammed into him. Crashing him into the oil spill. Krest’s body scarring the snow below him.
The pages of destiny spiraled open a little and he caught glimpses of one more thing; irony, this one awry. He was going to die.
Krest coughed and crawled, his head ringing. Something was moving ahead. He pushed his hair away from his line of sight. The locks fell back over his face anyway. Ysgramor’s Timberland was eerily silent, hollow, and appearing empty, like an abandoned house.
Krest saw the violet-eyed prisoner, eyeing him with a twisted, creepy grin. Its catlike pupils dilating. He was holding Ancano’s head. The collar and cuffs restraining him gone.
Krest’s scowl threatened to split his face as he wrenched himself onto his legs, swaying unsteadily, and leaping into the tree like Dagon. The prisoner sped up and broke it, forcing him to land. Krest back kicked and missed. A fist slammed him straight down.
He made a split-second decision as he fell.
Krest’s legs wrapped hard around his enemy’s skull and he brought him down with him, screaming simultaneously.
Fists pounded on either side of Krest’s head. His boot broke straight up the Nord’s nose. A hand choked Krest’s throat ironclad as he shrieked and screeched, birds erupting from trees while he convulsed wildly.
His sword-arm stabbed straight through the Nord’s forearm, and he retched free.
I was born into this world looking for a fight. Krest clenched his fists so tight that his nails dug into his palms. And I haven’t lost one yet. The Nord cocked back a punch and it collided with Krest’s raised elbows, ripping off some of Krest’s skin. Krest grabbed the man’s collar and brought him down to meet his other fist, sending the man motioning upwards. Before he knew it, Krest’s other fist was shattering his teeth as the Nord crashed into the dirt he whence came. Krest foamed at the mouth like a rabid dog as the prisoner spat blood to his side and shakily stood back up.
The prisoner grabbed Krest by both his elbows, rendering him immobile. Krest saw a serpent swimming in his adversary’s purple gaze as the inmate headbutted him hard. Krest backstepped, trying to reorient himself as the dizziness pervaded him.
I refuse. I won’t die by you, you stupid nordic animal.
Krest swung around as the Nord ran at him like a bull. He saw multiples of the sun man as his eyesight dizzied.
DIE, SWINE! He cackled.
Krest cocked back his mantis-blade, ready to drive it into the Nord’s skull. His adversary twisted. A cold fist shot into Krest’s face, sending him.
The air left his lungs as he broke through ice into a freezing pond. He sank below the chest-crushing depths, blackness blotting out his vision. He’d lost the fight. So quickly he barely registered it.
Krest clawed out of the water, half-standing on the dark bank. The Fallen Angel was nowhere to be seen, vanished. He must’ve sent him twenty feet or more. Too bad that didn’t kill me. A weird midget turtle-man chomped onto his elbow. Krest shook as more of them jumped onto him, throwing them off him as his wrists bled. Kappas. He shivered onto the landscape, sprinting deeper and deeper into the sparsely wooded groves transitioning to thicker clusters of frozen forestry. He could swear he saw a few pair of eyes glistening behind the trunks and twisty roots, enlisting him to draw his cloak tighter over himself. They occasionally dipped into a winding chasm or hidden valley, a few vales with alien flora along with gold and mithril deposits. Still bleeding, he knew that night would soon fall upon the woods. A bright sliver of light startled him. Krest looked up to see the golden rays of refrigerated sun consuming the overhead of trees. Glimpsing downcast and dove deeper into the dark forest. A warm stitching of sinew healed his wrists and aches.
He walked around a trove of wildflowers rooted in the snowy soil, thinking hard, adrenaline pumping. What do I tell them now? And what about the monsters? Maybe rubbing some herbs like frankincense or lavender might repel them. Myrrh too.
He spotted a centaur and bolgan having a brawl an hour later as he came out of the first section of woodland. Lake Ilinalta lay here under the canopy of the Bleak Falls Mountain, the coastline lined with thick, pink trees that had dark trunks and logs. Lamias, kitsunes, and scrawny, lanky rat-men discussed in hushed corners as a large frog-man fished, dipping his webbed-flippers into the cool blue lake. The frozen and primeval city of Altanium sat in the center of the lake on a small island. Once a bastion for the Snow Elves before the Ancient Nords froze it, rendering it inaccessible. Krest could still see the remains of Snow Elves captured in ice as he trekked along the coast. The old settlement was quite literally just a massive block of ice in the middle of the loch now.
Those savages of Ysgramor or Harrald must’ve used some sort of Thu’um to freeze those elves alive.
“The Stillborn Divine rises, and the Eight Cowards tremble,” whiskered a rat man as he nibbled on a piece of cheese. “I saw him here earlier. He has returned to his home. To Skyrim.”
“The elves called this place Mereth once. Was it not their home also?” A Lilmothit countered.
“The ancestral spirits of wandering ehlnofey were born here.”
The fox folk cupped his snout. “Debatable, Nishu-Eru Addak. Elves were old elhnofey. You could argue this whole world belongs to them. Besides, their chief deity, Akatosh is honorable and caring. Can your Stillborn Divine say the same?”
“Akatosh is for the weak, meek, and feeble. Lorkhan is for real men who conquer and take what they want,” the rat snickered. “How does a fox such as yourself refuse to understand this, Olessandr? Shor favors foxes.”
“I respect no man who fears the Evil One, Konahrik,” the Kitsune named Olessandr continued, “Akatosh fears no such drake, for he is the Father of drakes as Lorkhan is the father of snakes.” He glanced at the lamias twirling about.
Krest leveled a death stare at the rodent. How was that prisoner so strong? He must be a god. There’s no other explanation. He pulled out the buzzer Rikke had given him to use on the escaped prisoner and tossed it into the inland sea.
“It is the meek who shall inherit the earth. Not the tyrants such as Lorkhan and Pelinal,” the Lilmothit added as a Tsaesci and Avian slithered and flew by respectively.
Krest entered another fray of woods, these ones greener, and arrived upon a glade halfway in that had a dwarven structure, a brass head of a centurion on top of a grey platform with a broken lever.
“Hym hym hymmm, hym hymm, Hym hym hymmm, hm hmm hym hm,” Krest hummed as he skipped a bit into the nature made park.
He was somewhere in the northern reaches of the jarldom of Dwemeria now, having strayed far from the gold road. Dark shadows scoured the great forest basin and highlands with stranded glaciers interspersed. A few frozen-over lakes embedded into the ground as well. He was able to see the peaks of the Dragon's Teeth Mountain still, though the crowding trees covered the rest. Some squirrels climbed the trees, cheeks stuffed with acorns as he laid down into a field of multicolored flowers, some wilted, some blooming. His exhaustion draining him to sleep.
The feelings and memories boiled over the surface. The unrequited turnings and stripped away goals and desires. A past he wouldn’t care to recall now. One that never cared.
An apathetic, cruel, and callous one that should go die. He situated himself comfortably amongst the swaying blossoms.
A few tears slid down his nose and jowl onto the yellow chrysanthemum nearest him.
~ § ó § ò § ~
A/N: If you're reading on Iphone, try reader mode. It'll make it easier to read! Also, the scene with the animals talking; I was a little high when I wrote that part o_o
Next Episode: The Crystal Kingdom