It was late morning by the time we entered the gates of Wayrest. If the guards were looking for us, they didn’t notice our group amongst the many travelers, merchants and adventurers coming and going from the city. The streets were flushed with colour; Wayrest’s people were clad in the latest fashions of the nobility, or at the very least imitations thereof. Especially here, in the capital of High Rock, the influence of the New Hegemony made itself felt through the red-and-gold banners adorning both the outside and inside of the city walls, and the Hegemony soldiers patrolling the ramparts of the castle.
Weaving our way south through the city’s labyrinthine alleyways and side streets, we soon reached the College of Whispers campus. It was a keep unto itself, the stone towers rising almost as high as the castle walls. A stained glass window depicting a robed mage, wreathed in prismatic fire, adorned the front of the building. The sounds and smells of the docks drifted up towards us on a cool sea breeze.
It seemed Lassina was already waiting for us as we entered the College. She was an Imperial in her middle years, her graying hair tied back in an ornate braid. Her soft Nibenese features were touched with age, and she wore the dark purple robes of the College of Whispers. She shared a brief embrace with Calindil; it seemed they were close friends, at the very least.
“I received your message, Cal. I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon, much less in person. Though you of all people should know it isn’t decent to send your projection to harass decent women in the small hours of the morning,” teased Lassina.
Lassina’s joke did little to lighten the dour mood amongst my companions. Though it seemed that even after all these years, there was still much I didn’t know about Calindil.
Lassina stepped towards me and extended her arm in greeting. “And you must be the Palatinus I’ve heard so much about,” she said as we shook hands. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet in person.”
“The pleasure is mine, Lassina.” I gave Calindil a sideways glance. “I can’t say I’ve heard much about you, but Calindil trusts you, so I do as well. I apologise for calling you from Evermore on such short notice, but we had nobody else to turn to.”
Calindil gestured further inside. “Perhaps it would be best if we spoke further in private?” he hinted.
“Very well,” replied Lassina. She led us downstairs into a secluded laboratory beneath the College. Shelves and workbenches filled the space, lined with all manner of components for magical experiments. An area had been cleared in the center for what appeared to be a ritual circle. A damp heaviness pervaded the air, and the magelight lanterns did little to help the atmosphere.
Lassina closed and locked the door behind us as we filed into the lab.
“Well, this is certainly all very clandestine. What’s all this about?” Lassina asked. “When Calindil contacted me it sounded like the whole province was at stake.”
“I’m afraid it is,” I answered. “Calindil mentioned that you’re a conjurer and portal guide of some skill. We need you to deliver some things for us. Discreetly, if possible.”
It looked like she was about to faint for a moment. I suppose I should have expected such a reaction; she was a researcher after all, not a battlemage.
“Alright, alright,” she muttered, regaining her composure. “What do you need me to do?”
I retrieved the Daedric tome I had taken from the vault from my satchel, placing it on a workbench. One of Hermaeus Mora’s Black Books. Not only did it contain all sorts of forbidden knowledge, it also served as a portal into Mora’s realm, Apocrypha. Where I had hidden away the contents of the vault.
At least the items would be safer there than in the hands of the Thalmor.
Lassina’s eyes widened. “Do you have any idea what this is? My associates in Cyrodiil would kill to get their hands on-”
Teldryn stepped forward, interrupting her mid sentence. “I need you to send it to an… associate of mine. Master Neloth of House Telvanni. It needs to reach him as quickly and securely as possible.”
Teldryn had mentioned that this Master Neloth was experienced in dealing with the Daedra. I was certain a wizard of his stature - and one of the Telvanni no less - wouldn’t decline some additions to their collection.
“Well, I’m sure that can be arranged.” Lassina seemed almost relieved as she turned back to me. “What else?”
“I need you to open a portal to Balfiera.”
“That’s insane!” she whispered, clearly not a fan of the prospect. “They’ve turned that whole place into a fortress. You’re going to get yourselves killed!”
Calindil stepped up to my side. “Battlemage Volnaro has been given control of the Adamantine Tower, and is harvesting the memories of the Ayleids to learn how to control it. If we do nothing, the Thalmor may well be able to manipulate or destroy creation as they see fit.”
“Surely the Direnni should deal with Volnaro-”
“They’re working together,” I interrupted.
“Oh.” Lassina looked downcast. “I suppose I can’t dissuade you now, can I?”
“No,” replied Calindil. “This is something that we need to do. That I need to do.”
Without another word, Lassina approached the ritual circle in the center of the lab, and it sprung to life, glowing with purple energy. Her hands blazed with white light as she wrenched open the fabric of the Aurbis, creating a circular window in time and space. A splash of saltwater hit me as I peered through the portal to see a darkened sea cave.
“This is as close as I can get you,” she said, straining. “Go.”
I gave her a nod of respect.
“I’ll keep it open for as long as I can. Julianos guide all your steps.”
We stepped through the portal, taking in our surroundings. Waves crashed against the cliffs just outside the cave’s entrance, coating the rough stone with a layer of sea spray. A ribbon of sunlight penetrated the mouth of the chamber from above. It must have been almost noon.
“We made it,” said Teldryn, making a move towards the cave mouth. “Now, what’s our plan?”
He turned around just as Calindil placed the Crown on Nenalata upon his head. He shut his eyes for a few moments, no doubt focusing on the memories stored within the Crown.
“We enter the Adamantine Tower. Volnaro’s lab is in the Foundation Vault at the base of the Tower’s spire, far beneath the surface.”
“But how are we going to get inside, let alone all the way down to the Vault?” questioned Marie. “Isn’t the whole island crawling with the Adamant Order, not to mention the Hegemony -”
She was cut off by Calindil.
“Quiet, you wretch!” The harsh words pierced her like a knife through the heart. “You’d do well to remain silent in the presence of your betters.” Much like the Revivalists’ Queen not two nights before, his voice sounded as if all the past bearers of the Crown were speaking alongside him.
“Calindil, that’s enough!” I declared, placing myself between them. “Focus. Remember who you are.”
Teldryn and Marie swapped worried glances as Calindil regained his composure.
“One thing at a time,” I answered, turning back to Marie. “Come on. Let’s get to the Tower first.”
I led the group through the cave mouth and onto the rocky cliffs of Balfiera. Scanning the horizon for the landmarks and settlements along the shores of Iliac Bay, I figured we were on the western side of the island. The Tower soared into the clouds above us, but we still had a long way to go.
Balfiera was an island of steep, rocky crags and lush coves. Unlike the rest of High Rock, the climate here was almost tropical. Palm trees swayed in the ocean breeze from the tops of the cliffs, while seabirds circled the shore, nesting amongst the escarpment. A handful of plantations dotted the island, although many of them seemed abandoned in various states disrepair. It took us several hours to pick our way to the northern side of the island, avoiding the small settlements and outposts along the way, until finally the entrance to the Adamantine Tower came into view.
Not content with the nigh-impenetrable Tower upon an unassailable island, the New Hegemony had constructed a citadel around the base of the structure. A stories-tall crimson Direnni banner hung above the Tower gate, flanked by the black and gold of the Thalmor and white and silver of the Adamant Order. As Calindil had predicted, the portcullis leading into the citadel was open. It seemed like they weren’t expecting any unwanted visitors on the island.
“Marie,” I whispered, holding out a hand. We were hidden on a hillside overlooking the road leading towards the Tower. “Your invisibility potions, please.”
She smirked as she put the pieces together for herself.
“We’re just going to walk straight inside?” she puzzled, retrieving four cloudy white vials from her satchel and passing them to the three of us.
“Sometimes the simplest solution is the best,” I remarked. “Though the doors to the Tower aren’t so lightly guarded, unfortunately.”
Calindil ran his hands along the horns of the Crown, ensuring it was sitting just right. “Leave them to me,” he said with certainty.
“I hope you two know what you’re doing,” Teldryn remarked as he downed the vial, vanishing from sight in a burst or red and purple smoke. The rest of us followed suit.
We made our way through the gates, moving single file mere feet from the pair of New Hegemony soldiers guarding the portcullis. Careful to avoid any moves that could reveal our presence, we hurried into the shadow of the walls as the invisibility potions wore off. We breathed a collective sigh of relief; it seemed that we hadn’t been noticed yet. That was about to change.
“Follow my lead,” instructed Calindil. He focused for a few more moments, absorbing more memories from the Crown. “Let’s get this over with.”
Calindil led us out into the citadel courtyard, striding confidently towards the Tower. Several of the buildings in the courtyard were draped in the same red, black or white banners which adorned the Tower; an all-too-present reminder of just who we were up against. Workers, soldiers and more crossed our path, but few seemed to pay us any mind, much less recognise any of us. Fortunately, most of the activity seemed to be occurring in the buildings themselves or towards the docks at the opposite end of the compound, where a ship bearing the red sails of the Direnni had just arrived. Nonetheless, it seemed like an eternity before we reached the top of the Tower steps.
Six armoured figures blocked our path. Their silvery armour shone with a green luster, and they bore enchanted weapons by their sides. White gambesons and tabards marked them as members of the Adamant Order. Aside from their captain, a Breton man, they all wore full helmets.
“The Tower is sealed, by order of the Grand Master.”
Even from behind, I could sense Calindil sneering at him. “The Grand Master?” he remarked, incredulous. “This is ridiculous. Let me through.”
The Breton knight stood his ground. “Grand Master Volnaro of the Adamant Order, Battlemage to King Direnni.”
“This is an outrage!” Calindil shouted. “A servant, locking a man from his own home. Do you have any idea who I am?”
“My orders are clear,” stated the knight. Calindil simply talked over him.
“I am Tancano of House Direnni, and I’ve traveled all the way from Alinor to be here, you simpleton. Tell me, ‘sir knight’, is this the Volnaro Tower, or the Direnni Tower?”
The knight was taken aback. “I-I’m sorry, my lord. I didn’t know -”
“Let me in, you imbecile!” spat Calindil. The knights recoiled away, and their captain directed them to open the doors. Four of them held up runed spheres to the doors, and they swung open with an exhale of magickal energy. I think we all wondered if this was the Crown talking, or if Calindil always had this in him.
The captain almost looked like he was going to protest as Marie, Teldryn and myself followed Calindil inside. A knowing look was all I needed to put that idea out of his mind.
As soon as we passed through the doors, they closed with a heavy crash that echoed throughout the Tower. I faced the rest of the group.
“We’re almost there,” I said, addressing my companions. Marie’s expression was one of firm determination; Teldryn was ever unreadable underneath his chitin mask.
“Almost there,” repeated Calindil with a desolate smile. I knew I could count on him to see this through to the end, but I wondered what would be left of him when we returned. If we returned. It was clear he was resigned to the same reality.
The entrance hall of the Adamantine Tower served as a landing in a spiral staircase which ran the full height of the structure. From a balcony before us, we could see the entire core of the Tower; a flawless pillar of adamantine, stretching far above and below us. Facing the core were hundreds upon hundreds of individual rooms, no doubt connected to the staircase. It was said that the upper floors served as a palace for the Hegemony, while the lower levels were a prison. No doubt the Adamant Order and Thalmor occupied several floors themselves.
Calindil spoke a single word in the Ayleid language, and a circular rune on the floor flared into existence. A teleportation circle. He stepped inside, and waited for us to do the same.
In the blink of an eye, we appeared at the lowest level of the Tower. The central adamantine core terminated inside a domed structure before us, made from the all-too-familiar alabaster stone favoured by the Ayleids.
“This is the Foundation Vault?” I asked. “I don’t see a way inside.”
“We must pass the Seal of Stars to enter. A test, devised by the Ayleids, to prevent the unworthy ingress to the Vault,” Calindil answered.
As if in response, a small arched passage opened in the dome.
“Or not?” questioned Marie.
“It seems we’re expected,” commented Teldryn. “I say we gut this Volnaro bastard and leave before the whole island comes down on our heads.”
Four abreast, we entered the passage; mechanical rumbling and the singing of metal on metal accompanied us as we passed into the Foundation Vault. Thirteen metal tracks ringed the walls of the Vault, holding metallic plates glowing with pinpricks of starlight. A ragged obelisk of white stone, emitting a soft inner glow, rose from the floor to where it was pierced by the Tower’s adamantine core. Streams of liquid metal ran inside it, refracting the light within in strange patterns. I could sense the power radiating from it; there was no question that this was the Zero Stone, perhaps the oldest object in all Tamriel. An ornate iron staircase, suspended from the ceiling, spiraled around the Stone to the top of the dome, where it met a small doorway embedded into the Tower’s central spire.
The rest of the Vault had been turned into a laboratory. To our right, Knights of the Adamant Order, still clad in their distinctive adamantine armour, pored over a library of esoteric tomes; others worked to examine the Stone itself, armed with a variety of magical tools. I was hardly surprised to see the Revivalists on the other side, surrounded by shelves upon shelves of glowing memory crystals. It appeared as though they were transcribing the echoes with. A number of them looked up from their work in awe at Calindil and the Crown of Nenalata.
Before the Zero Stone stood a small dais, atop which was a circular desk. Volnaro’s desk. He stood and opened his arms in welcome as we approached. Volnaro’s features were concealed beneath a hooded black robe, threaded with red and gold silks, though a finely trimmed white beard and the glint of his golden Altmeri eyes were nonetheless visible. His mouth twitched into a cunning grin as he began to speak.
“Ah, the renowned Order of the Lamp!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “I’ve been waiting all day for all four of you to show up. My knights tell me that your Hall was completely abandoned, artifacts and all. Now,” he said, pacing around the dais. “I believe you have something of mine; why don’t you hand it over, and I’ll let you leave in peace? I’m pleased you had the good sense to finish my little ritual for me.”
“You mean your precious Crystal?” I asked, raising the shutter on the lamp fastened to my belt. The nearby knights shielded their eyes from the Crystal’s brilliance. I now had the full attention of both the Adamant Knights and the Revivalists, and most certainly Volnaro. “If we’re the ones who completed the ritual, I think we’ll keep it.”
Volnaro motioned for four of his knights to step forward, forming a barrier before us. There was something strange about them; they radiated a hidden power I couldn’t quite place. The one in the center towered over the others, a heavy mace and shield at the ready. The knight to their left wore an ornate bandolier of wickedly curved daggers and dark vials, while the man on the right was completely unarmed. Behind them paced the fourth knight, bearing a dark crystalline staff. Throughout the Vault, the other Adamant Order members turned towards us, hands on their weapons.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” said Volnaro, almost giddy with excitement. He telekinetically pushed the door mechanism, sealing the passage behind us. “You see, I’ve been working on a number of projects recently.” He gestured to the rings running around the surface of the dome. “The Ayleids first built this place as an observatory to understand the secret of the Adamantine Tower’s Argent Aperture and its lock of thirteen rotating rings. Thirteen rings for thirteen Celestial constellations. This Vault, this whole Tower, radiates with their energy. And I’ve infused that Celestial power into some of my chosen Knights. I’ve been very much looking forward to seeing them in action.”
I closed the shutter on the lamp. “A few enchanted soldiers aren’t going to slow us down, Volnaro. I’m going to give you one chance to surrender.”
“Me? Surrender!” laughed Volnaro. “I’m on the cusp of the greatest discovery since the beginning of time itself. With the magic of the Zero Stone I will become a living god, a thousand times more powerful than the Tribunal ever were! The Direnni, the Thalmor, the Empire, the Daedra and the Divines will all kneel before me!” His laughter crescendoed into a manic cackle.
“And I will dispose of everyone that stands in my way,” he continued. “Starting with you.”
“Not if I kill you first.” I reached for my magic, sending my axe flying into my hand. My companions followed suit, preparing to unleash weapons and spells of their own.
The tension in the Foundation Vault was palpable in the silence before Volnaro gave the order to attack. He relished the moment for a little too long, as the suspense was pierced by a sharp cry from Calindil in a voice that was not entirely his own. “Ayleidi, veyn! Sou Aran!”
At the command of their king - Calindil, bearing the Crown of Nenalata - the Revivalists rose to defend their monarch, drawing weapons to face the Adamant Order. Calindil and I shared a satisfied glance as we saw the payoff from our plans. If the Foundation Vault was to be our battlefield, we were now evenly matched.
Volnaro looked around in horror as the advantage rapidly shifted away from him. “Slay them all!” he screamed. “And bring me that crystal, no matter the cost!”
Battlecries of both the Revivalists and Adamant Order echoed throughout the Vault as dozens of armoured men and women charged across the floor and engaged in a brutal melee. My companions and I had more immediate problems to deal with however. With an almost effortless gesture, Volnaro covered his dais in a magical ward as his Knights, infused with Celestial power, bore down upon us.
We were immediately set on edge as the one bearing the brace of daggers simply vanished from sight; a sure indication of the Shadow’s power. Before we had a chance to react, the staff-wielding knight launched a blast of elemental power, sending the four of us flying and scattering us across the floor, prone. Volnaro watched on with a satisfied bearing as we struggled to recover our footing. I caught a glimpse of the sign of the Apprentice flickering to life in glowing runes across the knight’s breastplate.
I was cut off from the rest of the group as the hulking, mace-wielding knight towered over me. Rolling to the side as I armoured myself, I barely avoided a mighty overhand blow that landed on the floor with a resounding crash, sending shards of stone flying in all directions. I quickly regained my footing and studied my opponent. They moved faster than I expected for someone weighed down by their undoubtedly enchanted heavy arms and armour, so they were clearly well trained. I was going to have a hard time getting through their guard and dealing any sort of damage against that armour with weapons alone.
I leapt back as they dashed in for another wide swing, launching a salvo of lightning bolts as they advanced once more. The impact flowed harmlessly off of their shield; that was to be my next target. A few moments was all it took to devise a plan of attack.
The knight continued to cover themselves as they advanced, and barely took notice as I threw my axe, embedding it in the shield. I heard a low, metallic chuckle from inside their helmet as they lowered their guard for another attack and saw me completely unarmed. As they charged in for a lethal uppercut, I pressed on their weapon with a telekinesis spell, forcing the swing wide and putting the knight off balance.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, I rushed in and used my axe to hold the shield in place as I channeled a disintegration spell into the metal. The knight roared in frustration as they sent the mace crashing back down, landing square on my right shoulder. I lost my grip on the axe, falling to the floor with a wail of agony. A boot to the gut sent me sliding across the floor, struggling to channel a healing spell. Their shield, no doubt forged of adamantine, was sturdier than I had expected.
I grit my teeth as I reforged my broken collarbone with a burst of magic. Without my protective spell, the blow would have certainly killed me. At least this way I was merely in for a week of pain - if I lived that long.
I glanced around the area as I battled to stand. The Revivalists and Adamant Order were engaged in bloody battle; neither side had gained an advantage as spells and blades clashed throughout the Vault. The previously unarmed knight, armour now blazing with the sign of the Warrior, was locked in a deadly dance with Teldryn. He wielded an ethereal blade with deadly speed and precision, sending an unnerving echoing chime each time it met Teldryn’s enchanted katana. Calindil held off the Apprentice Knight, deflecting barrages of deadly spells and cutting down summoned Daedra. Neither Marie nor the Shadow Knight were anywhere to be seen.
The stone floor beneath my feet trembled as my opponent approached again. Relinquishing my weapon against such an unfamiliar opponent had been a mistake, but I still had some tricks up my sleeve. Instead of trying to evade their next blow, I barreled towards the knight, conjuring a shield in my left hand. Angling the shield to deflect the attack to my side, I followed up with a swift bash to the head, sending them reeling. Finally, I dismissed my own shield and instead focused my magic on further weakening theirs. I pulled my weapon free and used the momentum to continue into a thundering two-handed blow, showering the knight with a thousand adamantine fragments of their broken bulwark.
White-green energy crackled along my left arm as I prepared to finish the knight for good, but my triumph was cut short as a whirling dagger streaked by as if from nowhere. I barely felt it nick my arm until a stream of blood burst from my left wrist and the magicka I had gathered, not to mention my protective spells, vanished in an instant. Poison, and a well-made one at that.
I followed the trajectory of the blade as it circled around to meet the Shadow Knight, holding writhing streams of black poison and a ring of floating daggers around them with a finely-controlled telekinesis spell. With a flick of their wrist, another poisoned blade launched towards me. Clutching my bleeding wound to my chest, I just managed to deflect the dagger away with my own weapon before it embedded itself in my unprotected torso.
An intricate hand gesture sent two more daggers spiraling through the Shadow Knight’s streams of suspended poison as I heard the heavy footfalls of my previous opponent behind me. Without my spells, I was quickly running out of options.
A ghostly arrow caught my eye from left field, striking the Shadow Knight in the side and breaking their concentration. Seething in agony, their poisons were dashed against the floor; they barely had time to grab their weapons and drop under the Shadow’s veil before another arrow sailed by. A third deflected off the now-shieldless knight’s helmet as they hefted their heavy mace in a two-handed grip. As they spun to face Marie, I fell upon them from behind, sending the full force of my swing into the back of their knee, where their armour was weakest. A terrible roar of pain reverberated inside their helmet as they fell, and Marie lined up another shot. I tore open the knight’s visor to reveal an Orc, eyes wide with fury. All that rage drained away in an instant as a final ethereal arrow landed between them, silencing the Orc for good.
Marie dismissed her conjured weapon and rushed over, hands in her satchel, searching for the right potion. Still clutching my wound, I traded Marie my weapon for an unstoppered vial or iridescent blue liquid, swimming with motes of white light. A magicka potion, and a powerful one at that. Just what I needed.
I felt my magicka return almost immediately as I drank, and healed the injury on my wrist as if by reflex. Tossing the empty vial aside, I reached back for my axe.
“You saved me,” I said, taking a moment to catch my breath. “Thank you.”
Even at a time like this, the pride emanating from Marie was palpable. “I guess we’re even now, Palatinus.”
“Looks like the others are up to their necks,” I observed. Volnaro was merely watching on from behind his ward as the other Celestial Knights wore down our comrades. I conjured a sword in my left hand. “Let’s go give them a hand.”
Marie simply summoned a blade of her own in response.
No fewer than six angry atronachs and almost as many Dremora surrounded Calindil, the bound sword in his left hand whirling as he fought back the oncoming horde. With a ward in his other hand, he absorbed bolts of fire and lightning alike, but the Apprentice Knight was summoning the Daedra faster than Calindil could defeat them. He wouldn’t last much longer.
Marie and I fell upon them at once, our own bound weapons cleaving through the Daedra like scythes through wheat, banishing them back to Oblivion with a single blow each. With a chance to drop his ward at last, Calindil began to press the attack. He launched a stream of lightning at the Apprentice Knight, forcing them onto the defensive with a ward of their own.
Carrying the momentum of our onslaught through, I charged down the Apprentice Knight, axe held high and magic at the ready. They redoubled the strength of their ward, hoping to stave off both Calindil’s destructive spells and my weapon. The runic inscriptions on my axe blazed with power as its enchantment instantly shattered the ward, sending the Knight reeling back, raising their staff in a final attempt to defend themselves.
Instead of a second swing from my weapon, I channeled my power to coalesce and orb of white-green energy in my left hand, thrusting it through the Knight’s guard and into their breastplate. Arcs of paralytic magic writhed over them, locking their joints completely, if only for a few moments. It was all Calindil needed to finish them off with a thunderous blast of electricity, disintegrating them completely. He and Volnaro locked eyes as the remnants of his second Celestial Knight drifted between them.
The Warrior, celestial blade in hand, effortlessly parried and evaded attacks from both Marie and Teldryn. Each of his swings echoed as it left crackling waves of electricity in its wake. I could see Teldryn had a series of long cuts along his torso, blackened and scorched by the magic of the Warrior’s blade. The Warrior still had his own share of injuries to show for their bout; blood ran down the side of their breastplate and stained one of their gauntlets.
A series of quick cuts and thrusts from Marie offered Teldryn a momentary reprieve from the battle. He doubled over, on the brink of exhaustion; even potions or magic would do little to help him at this point. He took a moment to recenter himself, renewing his flame cloak and stepping back into the fray, katana held in a high guard. The Warrior whirled around to meet Teldryn immediately, their blades crashing together as flames licked at the Warrior’s armour. A swift headbutt forced the pair apart, smashing the lenses of Teldryn’s chitin helmet in the process. Without looking, the Warrior reversed their blade and thrust backwards, towards Marie.
She attempted to push the blade aside, but the spell dissipated just when she needed it most. The Warrior’s blade plunged into her stomach, shortly followed by a blast of lightning, sending convulsions through her body.
Teldryn roared in despair as he swung with renewed strength, his weapon cleaving through the Warrior’s left arm, sending it flying from their body in a stream of blood and embers. The Warrior staggered to the side as their concentration faltered, blade flickering in and out of reality. Teldryn wound back to drive the point of his katana through the Warrior’s helmet. The Warrior’s blade came back into focus just in time; it met Teldryn’s katana mere inches from impact, shattering both weapons in an cacophonous explosion of light and magic. At last he collapsed as the blood loss set in, well and truly defeated.
Teldryn, Calindil and I rushed to Marie’s side. Blood welled inside her deep wound despite her best efforts to hold it closed. Teldryn watched on in horror as she tried to speak, sputtering through coughs of blood. It wasn’t looking good.
“Quiet now, Marie. You’ve protected all of us. Now you need rest.” I did my best to soothe her as I channeled healing power into her wound. Calindil and I might have known a few Restoration spells, but we weren’t true healers. “She needs to get to a proper healer. A temple. Something!” I frantically searched for a plan. I couldn’t let her die. Not like this.
Teldryn was hardly in a condition to continue either, despite his brave face. “Teldryn,” I asked. “Take Marie and go. Find Lassina. She’ll help you.”
“No,” I could see the fire in his eyes as he looked to Marie and back to me. “Let me fight. I can still help!”
I gave him a hard look as Calindil stepped in. “The Palatinus gave you an order. We can finish this. There’s no need for you and Marie to die too.”
Teldryn looked down at his broken blade, casting the weapon aside, and nodded. “I’ll do my best, sera. Nerevar guide your steps.”
He took Marie into his arms and headed to the Vault’s exit. Calindil and I turned back to Volnaro, prepared to finish what we started.
“Very touching,” Volnaro commented. “I’m surprised you’ve persisted this long.”
“Enough of your games, Volnaro!” replied Calindil, furious. “Come out here and finish this!”
“I’ve seen what you Lamp Knights have to offer,” he taunted. “And I’m not impressed. Have you faced a Battlemage of the Aldmeri Dominion before?”
“There’s a first time for everything, Volnaro,” I replied, adjusting my grip on my axe. “You’ve seen to it that we have nothing left to lose. Can you say the same?”
He lowered the barrier surrounding the dais, launching a bolt of lightning towards us the instant it dissipated. I raised my ward to absorb the attack, but it arced straight over Calindil and I, towards Teldryn and Marie as the passage closed behind them. Teldryn tried to shield Marie with his own body as the destructive energy spiraled towards them, but it was to no avail. The energy passed through him and into Marie, the spell’s power disintegrating her wounded body. The last thing I saw before the passage sealed was Teldryn crying out in anguish as the ashes of our former comrade drifted from his arms.
“You’re a monster,” I spat at Volnaro, trembling. “I’ll make you wish you’d never left Alinor!”
He responded with a self-satisfied grin. “It’s only fair, Palatinus. You’ve set my Revivalists and the Adamant Order against each other, not to mention murdering two of my Celestial Knights.”
The mace-wielding knight rose behind us, breastplate shining with the sign of the Ritual. Wisps of necromantic power radiated from their armour as they raised their mace against Calindil. Before I could warn him, a spinning dagger sliced along the back of my knee before coming back for my throat. I tried to cry out, but the silencing poison had rendered me mute; Calindil took the full force of the blow, sending him flying. He crumpled against the Zero Stone as I fell to my knees, unable to stand.
“I think my Knights perform admirably, don’t you?” remarked Volnaro. The Ritual Knight wrenched my weapon away and dragged me to the Zero Stone alongside Calindil. The sounds of the battle between the Revivalists and Adamant Order had died as well; the remainder of Volnaro’s knights, bloodstained and wounded, moved in to surround us.
“Now I think that’s quite enough of the pleasantries.” Volnaro reached out telekinetically, tugging the Revivalists’ Crystal from my belt. Cut off from my own magic, I was powerless to stop him. Volnaro cackled as I feebly reached out for the Crystal
“All this death and bloodshed over such a little thing,” he mused. “And now it’s all mine. Thousands of years of knowledge. The final key to the Adamantine Tower.”
Calindil reached out with his own magic, the Crystal locked in mid-air between the two Altmer. His voice, defiant, echoed with those of the Crown’s past bearers. “And you’ll never get to use it.”
Calindil’s eyes went wide as he absorbed the memories of the Crystal, flowing into him in a stream of brilliant energy. The Adamant Order Knights looked in bewilderment between him and Volnaro, unsure of how to act. Volnaro himself watched in terror as Calindil placed his left hand upon the Zero Stone, and it sprang to life; the entire vault shook with a thrumming crescendo of light and sound as Calindil tapped the immeasurable power of the Stone. The energy resonated inside his body as Calindil struggled to contain it, finally releasing it from his left arm in a massive jet of green fire. I turned, sheltering against the Stone as the coruscating flame tore through the Foundation Vault, consuming all in its path. The roar of the flames was joined by the screams of the Adamant Order and wouned Revivalists, along with the horrid stench of burning flesh. For a few moments I was that young novice again in Hallin’s Stand, dismayed by the sight before me.
The cascade of power ceased as Calindil fell unconscious, the green flames he had held for so long finally consuming his body. The only one who remained standing amongst the charred corpses and adamantine slag was Volnaro himself, seeming unscathed by the blast. His hood had been thrown back to reveal the sign of the Atronach inscribed upon his forehead.
“You fools!” he cried, triumphant. “All you’ve demonstrated that the Zero Stone can be tapped, and that you hold the means! But it seems even the strongest magic can’t overcome the Atronach’s protection.” Volnaro began to gather power, his arms radiating arcs of shock energy. “This is the end for you, Palatinus. The forgotten leader of a dead Order. It’s time to snuff out the Lamp for good.”
With the Shadow Knight’s poison having finally worn off, I hurriedly mended the worst of my injuries and leapt in front of Calindil, taking the brunt of the lightning storm Volnaro launched towards us. Channeling the potential of my Breton blood, I absorbed the spell into my own magicka reserves. With my newfound strength, I reached out, retrieved my axe and rose to my feet.
“Defiant to the end!” cackled Volnaro, drawing yet more energy and firing a continuous beam of destructive power towards me. The spell was far too powerful to deflect with a ward; I felt every arc of lightning across my body as I pushed through the beam, repurposing the absorbed magicka into my mightiest healing spells. It seemed like minutes before I finally reached Volnaro on his dais, his eyes wide with shock as I raised my weapon, embedding it firmly in his neck.
Exhausted, I released my grip on the weapon. Volnaro crumpled to the floor, blood spurting from the open wound. The Vault fell silent. It was over.
I staggered back to the Zero Stone, where Calindil had barely regained consciousness. I reached out with a healing spell, but he pushed my arm aside. His body glowed with green fire, as it destroyed him from the inside out. Deep down, we both knew it was already far too late for him.
“You did it, my friend.” His tone was pained but sincere. “Your father was right about you. He always said you’d make a fine Palatinus one day.”
“No, Cal,” I said, tears in my eyes. “We did it. And you and Marie paid the price.”
“All of us knew this was a one-way trip, but we came here because it was the right thing to do. There’s nothing to be sorry about.” He smiled. “Besides, the power of the Zero Stone… it’s quite something.”
A chuckle turned into a wracking cough, green embers falling from his mouth.
“Just… stay with me. There’s so many memories in my head; when I pass, I still want to remember who Calindil is.”
I stayed with the dying Mer for what felt like hours. I barely noticed the squad of Direnni guards enter the Vault to take me prisoner. There was no need to resist.
Writing this story over the last couple of months has been a real journey for me, and I'm ecstatic with how it turned and the great reception I've had from all of you!
The story continues in the short Epilogue chapter linked below, which ties the story of the Lamp Descendant into the events of Skyrim and my upcoming build.
Thank you all for reading this far. All the authors in the Story Corner have been truly inspiring for me and I'm honoured to finally join your company with something I'm proud of.
And of course, a special thank you to Kendrix for her constant support and assistance!