I burst through the door of the herbalist’s shop in Evermore, my eyes darting through the shelves searching for Marie. I’d come as quickly as I could from the palace; between the whirlwind cloak I had summoned and the run across town, I must have looked a mess. An elderly Khajiit stuck her head out from one of the isles, looking down her spectacles at me.
“How can this one help you? A cure for madness, yes? You certainly look afflicted,” she said with a light chuckle, wiping her paws on her apron.
I shot her a withering glare. “I’m looking for a Redguard girl, Marie? She should have been here just now.”
Movement caught my eye at the back of the store, and I dropped into a fighting stance as I reached once more for my blade binding spell. I soon realised it was Marie, carrying a bundle of herbs and reagents. Her hands were almost as stained as the herbalist’s apron.
Her look quickly shifted from surprise to confusion as she looked me up and down. “What happened?” she asked, placing her bundle on a nearby bench and approaching. “Is something wrong?”
I looked her dead in the eyes. “We need to leave. Go find Teldryn, take my pack to the stables and prepare the horses.”
She glanced at her reagents and back to me.
Calindil and I almost knocked each other over as I rushed up the stairs to the College of Whispers chapter house.
“Calindil!” I gasped, regaining my footing. I quickly brushed down my robes, hoping to avoid the same reaction I’d received at the herbalist’s shop. “I was hoping to find you here. We need to leave town as soon as possible. I’ve already sent Marie and Teldryn to the stables.”
He narrowed his gaze towards me, furrowing his brow. “Strange,” he said. “I was going to suggest the same thing.”
I looked away, lost in thought for a brief moment. What could Calindil have learned in the College?
“Come on, we’ve no time to lose,” I replied, gesturing for him to follow.
He lengthened his stride to catch up with me as I quickly descended the stairs.
“Agreed. It’s not safe here; I think the Thalmor are up to something,” he replied in hushed tones. Him and me both.
We soon passed through the western gates, where the others had prepared our horses for us. Teldryn and Marie were already mounted and ready to go; I quickly checked the saddlebags on my dappled grey and followed suit.
As we headed for the Hall of the Lamp, I spotted a lone figure leaning by the stables, watching the road. I almost thought I caught a glimpse of a smirk under the hood of their Thalmor robes.
It was dusk by the time we reached the Hall. The horses were spent; we practically had to pull them into the stable after dismounting. I locked and barred the gates, adding a warding spell for good measure. Glowing magickal runes criss-crossed the bars, casting the road in a foreboding light.
The Hall of the Lamp was located in a small compound, high in the hills above eastern Stormhaven. The low stone walls that ringed the main buildings were crumbling and covered in ivy, and parts of the gardens had become overgrown. The Hall itself was situated in the center, a sturdy two-story wooden complex built around an old mage’s tower that reached yet further skyward. The mage who had built the structure had modeled it after the Adamantine Tower, albeit on a smaller scale. Much of the compound had fallen into disuse and disrepair with so few of us remaining, but it was home nonetheless.
I grabbed my pack and addressed Teldryn and Marie. “Go keep watch on the road. Make sure nobody followed us.” They looked at each other in bewilderment. Between the galloping of our horses and the rushing of air, I hadn’t had the chance to discuss my findings. But they could tell this wasn’t the time for questions.
Calindil joined me as I hefted the pack over my shoulder and headed down to the vault. We passed through the main hall and into the tower proper, descending the spiral staircase that extended its full height and depth. Just like its full-size counterpart on Balfiera, it extended far underground. It seemed almost fitting that Volnaro and his Adamant Order had their headquarters at a place just like this.
The staircase soon curved inward to a large, reinforced door. Calindil retrieved an ornate key from his coat, pricked his finger with the tip and placed into the door’s keyhole. It swung open of its own accord; Calindil was the only person outside my family whose blood could open the vault’s lock. All that was left was the magickal barrier warding the archway that lead into the vault.
The barrier took the form of an opaque cloud of mist, occasionally lit by ripples of energy flowing along its surface. Calindil and I extended our favoured spellcasting hands - my left and his right - and forced open the barrier. The mist writhed and shifted around our spell, snapping shut with a low “woosh” as soon as we had passed through. I breathed a sigh of relief and exertion; opening the barrier was taxing at the best of times, even with two casters. At least inside the vault we were safe from any prying, or scrying, eyes.
The contents vault stretched out before us, rows of old tables and shelves housing dozens, if not hundreds of dangerous magickal items and oddities. From lost artifacts of the Daedric Princes, to tomes of forbidden knowledge and enchanted weapons of terrible power, each piece was contained within its own warded and sealed case. The walls, floor and ceiling all flickered with the energy of the vault’s protective barrier, casting occasional shadows over the rough stone surfaces.
I placed my pack on a nearby workbench and turned around to face Calindil.
“We’re screwed,” I lamented.
“Hmph.” Calindil crossed his arms, ready to analyse the situation. “I take it your meeting at the palace didn’t go too well?”
“Do you remember Jean Estard?” I asked. Calindil’s face told me all I needed to know; recognition and then disgust. He always thought Jean was too focused on status seeking to see the bigger picture. Now I knew he was right. “Turns out he’s a Vicereeve in the New Hegemony now. King Direnni married Kinlady Carwen off to him. I’m telling you, she almost looked like the Revivalists’ Queen.”
Calindil stroked his chin for a moment. “That certainly makes sense with what my friend Lassina told me.” I tilted my head; I didn’t remember her. “She’s a researcher at the College of Whispers. Used to be based in the Imperial City, so she’s very well connected. Apparently, the Crown of Nenalata is supposed to be in the Royal Treasury in Alinor.”
“So someone well-connected with the royal family could have taken it? Like the Direnni?” I inquired.
“That’s not all,” I resumed. “Estard got a bit greedy while he was fishing for information, and asked me about the Crystal. I’m quite certain that only us and the Revivalists should’ve known about it.”
“So either he’s got excellent spies-”
“-or the Direnni are involved.” Damn.
“Well, the Crystal and Crown are both safe down here now,” Calindil concluded.
I turned around, taking in the contents of the vault. All the power contained within its walls. “I’m not so sure. There’s a Battlemage from Alinor building a new order of knights just like us on Balfiera Isle. The Adamant Order.”
“Estard wanted me to turn over our collection to him for safekeeping. If Volnaro has an army of mage-killers at his beck and call, I don’t think he’s going to ask twice.”
“Did you say Volnaro?” Calindil asked. His voice was almost trembling.
“I thought he sounded familiar as well,” I said. “You know him?”
“He was an acolyte in the College of Sapiarchs back before the Oblivion Crisis. Assistant to the Sapiarch of Tower-Lore. He was… shall we say a ‘person of interest’ during my time with the Beautiful. I was tasked with destroying the Crystal Tower, after all.”
I knew that Calindil was involved with the Beautiful back in his youth, in the final years of the Third Era. Supposedly at the time they were viewed as terrorists, destroying historical monuments and murdering conservative leaders, several of them precursors to the Thalmor of today. I imagine nowadays their work would be viewed quite differently in many parts of Tamriel.
But the part about the Tower was definitely new.
“Truth be told, it’s a miracle the Daedra destroyed the Crystal Tower when they did. I shudder to think what Volnaro would have done with the Crystal Tower’s stone,” Calindil continued.
“But now the Thalmor have given him control of the Adamantine Tower,” I interjected. “And if I remember anything about my Towers, that’s much worse.”
“I still don’t understand what he wanted with the Crystal. Why go to all that effort for an oversized Welkynd Stone?”
Calindil grabbed the Crystal from my pack, casting the entire vault in its radiant glow. He winced as his left arm stiffened briefly, and handed it to me. “Listen.”
I could feel the near-boundless energy in my hands. The Crystal pulsed with magick, almost like it was ready to burst. But there was something else. I recoiled as a thousand voices and a million memories flashed through my head in an instant.
I placed the Crystal back on the workbench and took a step back, stunned. “It’s a memory crystal.”
“And a very carefully constructed one at that,” Calindil deduced. “Purified meteoric glass. Extraordinarily rare. Only the master artisans on Alinor know how to work that material.”
“So the Thalmor - or someone else in Alinor - has given Volnaro run of the Adamantine Tower, and the means to learn how to control it from the ancient Mer. Akatosh preserve us.”
“I fear Akatosh won’t be able to save us this time,” Calindil muttered. “Only one question remains, Palatinus. What will the last Knights of the Lamp do to stop Volnaro before it is too late?”
I froze. Hundreds of possibilities and scenarios overtook my thoughts. An evil wizard in an ancient tower sought ultimate power, and only a fellowship of four brave knights could stop him. It sounded like something out of a bard’s tale.
“I don’t know.”
I returned from securing the vault to find that Calindil had taken over watch from Teldryn and Marie, who were now sparring in the yard with practice weapons. The sharp cracks of wood on wood echoed through the compound as they attempted to recreate and dissect a number of clashes with the Aurorans and the Revivalists’ Queen the previous night. Teldryn boasted when I first hired him that he was the best swordsman in all Morrowind, and sometimes I even believed him. Marie might have had some degree of natural talent, but she still had much to learn before she could hope to match him in a proper fight.
Marie hooked Teldryn’s practice sword on the crossguard of her own, wrenching it from his grasp and sending it flying as I approached the yard. Reaching out with my magick, I pulled the weapon towards me before it hit the ground, grabbing it by the hilt.
“It’s getting late,” I interrupted. “Mind fetching us some dinner, Teldryn?”
“Gladly, sera,” he responded. Teldryn was a surprisingly good cook; I suppose living between places for so long he would’ve been inclined to learn how to make something at least edible. Marie gave him a playful poke with her practice sword, sending him stumbling past me as I entered the yard.
I raised my weapon above my right shoulder, spellcasting hand extended forward, while Marie stood side on with her blade held high, extended downwards. One of the Altmeri stances that Calindil had taught her.
We circled each other around the well-trodden yard, and I lunged forward with a false attack, sending Marie recoiling backwards.
“This isn’t archery, Marie. Watch your opponent’s weapon!”
I made another feint followed up with a quick strike, which she barely managed to parry in time. She retaliated with a quick series of cuts as I pivoted out of the way. As usual, she was more focused on trying to keep me at a distance rather than actually trying to hit me.
“Again! Press your opponent!”
She opened once more with a flurry of blows, intending to push me back and throw off my balance. I caught the last blow and attempted to riposte with a diagonal cut, but Marie just slipped to the side in time. Frustrated, I attacked out of rhythm on my backswing, and quickly paid the price for my mistake. Marie landed a nasty blow on my wrist; had it been a real blade, I likely would have lost my hand too. I grunted in pain as I dropped my sword and reached for a healing spell.
Marie rushed over to examine the wound, protective as always. I pushed her away.
“It’s fine,” I said through gritted teeth. “I’m just distracted.”
Marie leant her sword against the fence of the training yard. “Yeah. You and Calindil were down there for a while.”
I looked away from her, trying to focus on the spell. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll work something out.” I had to.
“I’m here if you want to talk about it,” she replied. Her tone soothed my fraying nerves. “But I know you’ll try and do the right thing. You always do.”
It would’ve been almost midnight as I made my way up to the top of the mage’s tower. I was surprised to find Calindil already up there in a simple tunic, seeing as his was supposed to be the last watch of the night. He rested a half-empty bottle of wine on the wall as he gazed to the east. The moons were bright tonight, and even the faint gleam of the Adamantine Tower was visible beyond the dim lights of Wayrest.
I walked up beside him, grabbed the bottle and took a swig. “It’s not like you to be up like this. Something wrong?”
“Can’t sleep either, hmm?” he replied, hanging his head. “Ever since the ritual I haven’t been able to clear my head. Sleeping and waking nightmares. To tell you the truth, that’s one of the reasons I went to see Lassina at the College. She taught me a spell to suppress them, but it isn’t helping much. And neither is the arm.”
Looking over, I noticed the enchanted bandages normally wrapped around Calindil’s left arm were absent. A green flame pulsated and writhed within, turning his golden skin translucent. A souvenir from the Night of Green Fire, it had never healed.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” I asked. “All the exposure to magick the last few days… I’m sorry.”
Calindil’s tone grew distant. “I won’t let a few magickal embers kill me while we have Volnaro to deal with. After that, you won’t have to worry about me.”
“Don’t talk that way, Cal.” I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Whatever we do, we’ll do it together. Even if it kills us.” I couldn’t admit to him that all my plans so far would. I imagine he was in the same boat.
I passed the bottle back to Calindil, and he took another drink. I think I almost spotted a hint of a grim smile. “I feel like I’ve died a thousand times already. The Crystal, the Crown. All the souls in them are dead, and their memories are haunting me. The Alessian Rebellion. The Battle of Glenumbra Moors. The Revivalist Queen’s last days.”
As much as I was trying to comfort Calindil, that last point flicked a switch in my head. “You can see the Queen’s memories?” I asked, trying to contain my curiosity.
“Only fragments, but-”
“I’ve got an idea.”
We shared a brief glance; I think it had just clicked for Calindil as well.
Calindil and I spent the remainder of our watches together, formulating and refining our strategy. By the time Marie arrived to relieve us, we were well and truly ready to retire. At the very least, we now had a plan that would only result in almost certain death.
I returned to the vault the following morning, and enacted the first part of the plan. From inside, I disabled the barrier once and for all, and extinguished the magelight lanterns. As I left, the vault was devoid of the harsh whites of the lanterns and soft glows of the enchanted items emanating from the sealed cases. I was all that remained, with the Crown of Nenalata in one hand, and a sizeable tome bearing an embossed image of the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora under the other arm. The Revivalists’ Crystal, suspended inside one of the magelight lanterns, hung from my belt, casting my path in an ethereal radiance.
I emerged into the daylight to find Calindil, Teldryn and Marie waiting for me by the stables.
“Palatinus.” Calindil’s usual haughty bearing was instead one of pride. “We’re ready.”
I addressed my companions. The last remaining Lamp Knights.
“By now, Calindil has told you what we’re up against. Battlemage Volnaro, the Thalmor, and the Adamant Order. They already have the Adamantine Tower, but they still need a key to unlock it. The Crystal.”
I could feel the memories trapped within at the corners of my mind, but Lassina’s suppression spell was holding.
“As long as we have the Crystal, we hold the advantage. That’s why we’re going to meet Volnaro face to face before he or his henchmen can take it from us. It’s the only way we can get close enough to end this before it truly begins. If Volnaro and the Thalmor can truly take control of the Tower, it’ll be the end of Mundus as we know it.”
“I’m not counting on returning from Balfiera; for some of us, this may well be a one-way trip. It’s our duty as Lamp Knights to protect Tamriel from threats just like this, no matter how great they might seem. But if you’re having second thoughts, now is the time.”
Marie was the first to step forward. “I’m with you, Palatinus. You’ve laid down your life for me more times than I can count. Returning the favour is the least I can do.”
Teldryn followed, one hand on his pommel and the other holding his helmet. “My time in the Order may have been short,” he jested, “but it sure hasn’t been boring. Even if this is our last ride, I’ll gladly go out by your side.”
Calindil simply nodded as I handed him the Crown of Nenalata.
We mounted up and rode out of the compound, the Adamantine Tower silhouetted against the red sunrise. I took a moment to look back at the Hall. In a way, it reminded me of us. It might have been a shadow of its former glory, but it was still standing, and more importantly, it was home.
And that was the last time I ever saw it.
If you've got this far, thank you for reading along! I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments before the final chapter.
Thanks again go to Kendrix for proofreading this one for me as well!