Straag Rod, Book 1: Fate Goes Ever as it Must, Part 1
Chapter 11: The Legend
433 3E, Great Anguish, Battle for Crystal-Like-Law
Äelberon sniffed, his nose wrinkling from the acrid odor of magical afterburn, his eyes watering from the perpetual smolder of Dagon’s fires. A volley of unholy magic spat forth from the Daedric hordes, flame, death, and chaos. Only to meet a shimmer of crystal blue rippling from the Tower mages at the edge of the battlements. The dark magicks sputtered from the ward’s great strength, and died.
Bellows and shrieks of wrath from the vast hordes, the sharp clang of metal as they beat their breasts ringing in his ears. They were growing impatient.
Another volley of darkness, this time launched from their many siege machines of heavy black metal and rotating gears. Äelberon followed the trajectory of the flung rocks and debris, the very rocks and tree stumps from their beloved homeland. With a low boom and a shudder they slammed into the wall of magicka. The resulting wavelets spread and danced, absorbing the entire magnitude of the impact. The debris fell with a wet thud upon the ground that was blood-soaked with their kin.
The wards still held.
More shrieks and roars from the hordes beyond the Battlements.
“If they are reduced to throwing our own land upon us, then we shall know triumph!” Encouraged Lilandtar from his position in the battlements, the magicka coursing through his body. Lively cheers filled the ranks of soldiers and the bellows of their armored trolls competed heartily with those of the many Daedric creatures.
Thus, the Daedric siege of Crystal-Like-Law carried on for nigh two days and Äelberon was now keenly restless, his bow arm aching to draw, aching to spill Daedric blood. He had charged forward, ready to fight, challenging Bet with a single arrow from his golden bow and a Dusken battle cry from his lips. Only to be promptly reminded that that was not how Crystal-Like-Law fought its battles. The pinnacle of magical might in Tamriel could do far more than merely shoot arrows into the enemy ranks. He then watched the Tower mages assume their positions around the battlements, watched the ward wall rise from their skilled hands, surrounding Lawful Crystals’s marble surface, all the way to the pulsating luminous red of its faceted roof where Transparant Law rested. Like a wall of transpicuous water, the ward seemed to him. And initially, he too made to join the mages, for his warding magicks were very secure, and he was counted among the Wise, only for Rynandor to stop him again, a gnarled hand falling upon his forearm.
“Save your magicks, Aurielian…” the old Mer had whispered, his eyes clouded as they often were when visions assailed him. It stayed the angry protests that Äelberon felt forming on his lips. The frustration at not being allowed to fight his way, at being caged, but something in the old Mer’s tone stopped him cold, something in the word he chose. Aurielian. Rynandor had never called him that before. A much older name for a member of his Order. A name usually used by the dark creatures of Nirn. So Äelberon waited with the other soldiers, his weapons ready. If the Tower’s magicks failed, they would be the last resort. Rynandor the Bold had already outsmarted the Daedra once with his careful planning, he had steered Äelberon through the course of his life at Crystal-Like-Law. Their beloved Seer mage would not fail them now.
“The Tower will never fail…” Master Lilandtar’s words echoed in Äelberon’s ears as he left the Archmagister’s side to take his own position at the battlements.
It would never fail.
Äelberon suddenly trembled, not out of fear, but out of something different, of something more primal and angry. And again, his vision became edged with light and his cheeks grew hot, feeling Auri-El’s blessing engulf him.
“Easy son, save it…” Rynandor chided gently, barely drawing a sweat from his efforts on his portion of the warding magicks that kept all of them safe. His indigo robes blew with the force of his ward, the fabric molding against his thin frame. That so much power could come from something that based on outward appearance would be classified as weak or even frail by the standards of his People impressed the young Mer. A massive flare of Daedric flame then died against his ward, absorbed by the steadfast wall of blue magicks. The Archmagister did not flinch. Instead he glowed, the magicka reentering his system. Renewed and strengthened.
Äelberon took his eyes away from the wards and glanced downwards, toward his sword arm. The Archmagister was correct, he was glowing. Aedric magicks pumped through him, casting him in an aura of Magnus’ light. And he hoped with every fibre of his being that Bet saw it. The beacon of what was coming for the dark Prince of Coldharbour.
I wait for you, coward, his nostrils flared with pride, his jaw clenched in defiance. His light was dawn’s light. Bright and hot. Like the sun just peeking over a ridge, a stern pale line over the dark horizon. He was the promise it represented.
“I want him to see it.” Äelberon uttered through clenched teeth.
“He will.” Rynandor promised, a large tree stump shattering into a thousand pieces against his ward. The Archmagister barely moved.
Äelberon blinked, the last word in his mind strange to him, and then he squinted, surveying beyond the battlements, through the blur of the warding magicks, honing in. And there it was, the dead glow of Coldharbour’s malice.
Bet’s dim, vapid light, answering, calling to him. Taunting him. Äelberon snorted in response, feeling a sudden blast of sulfuric smoke escape through his nostrils.
“Nikriin.” He heard something from deep within him growl.
“What did you say?” Rynandor asked, giving him an odd look, the great brows furrowed.
The smoke dissipated like sand smothers a campfire. He did not even know what he said and his own brow lowered. Nonsense, like the many words he would make up as a little boy. Spurred on by two days of no sleep, no food, and no release. “I only wish to do his work.” Äelberon responded.
A chuckle from the Archmagister, though it was laced with an uncharacteristic uneasiness, a streak of sweat now flowing down the old Mer’s temple. “You will, boy, you will.”
‘Boy’ was Rynandor’s way of telling him to cool down, to remain focused and calm, but Äelberon could only think of delivering retribution for those who had fallen to Dagon’s evil, for the blood of his kin that now soaked the ground beneath them. To be Auri-El’s instrument of justice. To preserve, defend....
Wah zahnir, bild…
Servant, but never slave. Because it is my choice.
“Yes, Master.” He nodded and then turned his head skyward, his keen eyes catching faint silhouettes against the churning inferno to the Southeast. In the distance, clusters of black dots moving towards Lawful Crystal. Äelberon narrowed his eyes in scrutiny. Flying in formation. Others also took notice and a building excitement began to slowly spread through the battlements. The silhouettes were in formation, steadily coming towards them and faintly, just faintly, he could make out the beating of wings.
It could not be.
“The Welkynar! They come! They come!” A sudden cry sounded from one of their many lookouts atop their Lawful Crystal. Puzzled glances were followed by a commotion from among the mages. Cheers from the battlements. The raising of their golden weapons in triumph. The waving of banners in utter Hevla.
“Indoth!” Was the cry of the Altmer masses. Victory.
There had been no news from Cloudrest for months. The Thalmor did not come, no banners of black and gold appeared, but as they faced final defeat, did the Thalmor perhaps send the Welkynar in their stead? A great gift so that something precious to Summerset might yet live? Äelberon’s jaw dropped and he dared not hope. Was it really them? The legends of his people in the flesh?
Their quickening approach revealed the truth. Gryphons. Great winged beasts, lion and eagle as one, and upon them... Äelberon shaded his eyes with his hand against the glare of Dagon’s skies to get a better look.
The Welkynar. The Gryphon Knights of Eton Nir, who dedicated their lives to protecting the Summerset Isles, just as his own Order did. Who came when the call for aid was loudest, when times were most dire. Who did not fall into Oblivion even when they had been enslaved by the evil Sea Sload sorceress Z’Maja. They were freed, through the efforts of the Vestige, to serve Summerset again with eternal devotion and gratitude, the two Orders often working together over their long histories.
Once he had visited Cloudrest with Vingalmo, before the Tower finally called them both, the Welkynar, seeing their talents, had invited them to join their ranks. One of them even took him upon his sacred bonded Gryphon and he flew. He flew! Felt the wind in his hair, felt the sun upon his skin. There was something magical about that moment, like an ecstasy one only feels when one is close to the heavens, when one can truly touch the sky, and he almost said ‘yes’. Almost left his Order to be counted among these greatest of knights. Almost. But a sudden voice, deep within him, told him not to. Mournful, full of profound melancholy and anger, regret and even a tiny, terrible envy. It was so painful to him, the agony, the torment of that voice, that he said ‘no’ to the Welkynar and did not take to the skies. Vingalmo, who loved him like a brother, did as he did and so also remained upon the earth.
“Master?” Äelberon gasped, his eyes shifting to the Archmagister. “They are here. We are saved?” Rynandor’s mouth was a thin line and his eyes were fixed hard upon the ward wall, unwavering. He did not share in their joy.
Äelberon’s awe turned to horror when he saw the Daedric mages begin to spew their filth upon the coming force. Deftly, the Welkynar managed to avoid the dark magicks, the gleam of their deep pewter gryphon armor faintly catching in Dagon’s skies, the glistening metal wings on the backs of their cuirasses creating the image of terrible double-winged creatures fast approaching. The harsh cries of their gryphon mounts punctured through the cacophony of the fighting.
“Lower the ward!” He heard someone cry.
“The ward!” Another voice.
“We will lose them!”
“They will die!”
They heard Bet’s cruel laughter from beyond the battlements and the demon encouraged his armies to continue their assault, though Äelberon noticed that the magic flung at them was curiously weaker than what was used against the ward.
“We must lower the ward.” Another tower mage spoke up. There were acknowledgements and agreements amid the turmoil of the continued siege, clamors of voices as more rocks and debris struck the ward. Only Rynandor did not waver his ward. He did not answer their cries. He only doubled the magicka from his ward, fortifying the wall.
“We must let them pass through!”
“Lower the ward!”
More magic flowed through the Archmagister, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
“Dammit, Rynandor, NOW!”
Rynandor the Bold gritted his teeth. A Welkynar was suddenly seized by a blaze of light red light. A terrible scream came from the poor soul and he leapt from his mount, plummeting to his death. Äelberon looked away in horror. He had taken his own life!
“They are dying!” Snarled Lilandtar. “Drop the ward!”
Rynandor grunted, his great brow lowering in concentration before his ward, as if he was trying to keep the entire ward up on his own. A gryphon halted mid air, engulfed in the green light of powerful magicks. It also dropped to the ground with his rider. Äelberon felt the tears sting his eyes. The great knights were falling, falling to the magicks of the Daedra.
“Gods! Save them!” Lilandtar roared. “Now!”
Äelberon watched as another gryphon hit the ground, paralized by the same spell and he watched its body break, its wings snap, the rider thrown hard to the side upon the blood-drenched field. Rynandor groaned with effort and Äelberon felt the magicks surge through the Archmagister, as if the Archmagister was attempting to channel all of Aetherius to his aid.
Around the Tower the wards started to falter, but Äelberon’s eyes were drawn to the Welkynar who fell last. The dred became instantaneous understanding when he saw the Gryphon Knight rise from his prone position on the ground, reorient his many broken bones, and begin to trudge towards the battlements, weapon drawn, magicks charged. Red magicks that Äelberon knew all too well.
His eyes widened, fear for his family and friends gripping him while Rynandor cried out, pressing on. “No! No!” He kept saying, understanding finally where the magicks had come from.
It was Rynandor who had cast the spells that were bringing down the Welkynar.
To protect them from this new trickery. It was Rynandor who was trying to keep the wards up, to keep the danger away, but one mage cannot protect an entire tower!
He had known!
Äelberon bolted towards a weakening portion of the ward, “No” still upon his lips, comprehending the terrible truth when the fallen Welkynar finally took his position.
Beside a laughing Bet. The lifeless eyes of the former Gryphon Knight now glowing with the dullness of Coldharbour.
They had fallen to Bet long before they fell from the skies.
With tears streaking his face, Äelberon cast his own ward to help the Archmagister.
“No, boy, save your magicks! Let it go!” Rynandor cried out, but it was too late. A Welkynar sacrificed himself for his dark Master and crashed into the ward, throwing the Altmer mages back with the tremendous force of its impact. Rynandor collided with Äelberon and both were left stunned and scrambling to get up. While he groped for the collar of Rynandor’s robe, hoisting the older Altmer to his feet, he looked up, squinting into the burning sky. The ward was no more and the screeches of the corrupted Gryphons in the air was deafening as the Welkynar streaked towards the Crystal-Like-Law, pelting the battlements with balls of fire and lightning.
The first blast that struck the battlements threw Vingalmo almost clear across a parapet. It was only through Lilandtar’s rapid use of Telekinesis that he wasn’t crushed against the wall like a bug. He landed with a clumsy plop - Telekinesis was not Lilandtar’s speciality - and righted himself immediately, giving his Tower mage a nod. It could have been much worse. The nod morphed into a dodge to avoid a swooping gryphon and the lightning bolts of its attacking Welkynar. There was no time for disbelief or to mourn the fall of such greatness. There was only chaos and the throws of a battle that the Tower had not really expected to fight. Two of his fellow Tower Knights were not so lucky. One was immediately electrocuted, sizzling within her golden armor. The other was grabbed by the gryphon’s taloned feet, brought high into the air and then dropped. The Knight’s screams were silenced with a spatter of blood and the crunch of bone. Another explosion, this time behind the battlements. They would not last long.
The last resort was now a reality.
More Welkynar dove towards the Altmeri army, bodies flying in their wake, and it was clear that the Welkynar were specifically targeting the Tower Mages before they could attempt another ward. The Tower Knights were scrambling to protect them, but great damage was being done, and lives were lost at an alarming rate. Strike at the Tower’s magical heart. Had this been Bet’s plan from the beginning?
“Vingalmo!” Lilandtar called, bringing down a Welkynar and his mount with a flurry of fire magicks. “They’re undead! Where is Steel Plate?! We need him, NOW!”
Vingalmo scanned the battlements, searching for Äelberon amid the screaming, full throttle of battle. He saw Rynandor easily and Fal, Äelberon’s armored troll, but no Äelberon.
Where is your troll?
“Archmagister?” Lilandtar called. “Where is your Tower Knight?”
“The source, he must reach the source.” Rynandor answered. “Or they will not be stopped.”
The Archmagister’s ambiguous answer confused Vingalmo, but there was no time to even think. Continuous fighting brought him to the edge of the battlements and his sword ran through a Clanfear. Hearing a rustle, he abruptly turned around and with one swing and a cry, he decapitated a scamp.
“I do not see him!” He cried, quickly stooping to avoid another diving Gryphon. Three more Tower Knights met their end to the bonded beast and rider, shock magicks frying their joints, the heat fusing them into their own armor. He almost gagged at the stench, but then a troll’s arm abruptly fell hard at his feet, making him jump backwards. Vingalmo glanced up and his jaw dropped.
You found your troll.
“Xarxes’ fucking arse…” Gryphons were plucking their armored trolls from the ground and tearing them to pieces! He turned at the sound of a swinging blade. It would have been his death, but he rolled to the side and thrust, his knees deeply bent, the gasp of the dremora and the sudden warmth of blood upon his face telling him that his strike was true. He wiped his cheek with the back of his gauntlet and renewed his search for Ronnie. Something struck his face and he blinked, hearing a crack, his eyes filling with tears. His perfect nose not so perfect anymore. He rolled his eyes. At this rate, you will be uglier than Ronnie by battle’s end. Oghma’s tits, stop with the vanity, this is serious. This is it. You need to find Ronnie.
Äelberon had challenged Bet. He had challenged the Demon of Coldharbour with a placed arrow. The Beast that left only death in its wake. The Beast that was now making everyone else flee, that was now destroying all around them. Vingalmo closed his watering eyes and blinked to clear his vision, coughing to clear his throat in the scorched air. His nose hurt like Oblivion and he could feel it fill with congestion and blood, but he could handle the pain. A flash of silver suddenly caught his eye.
“No Ronnie, no…” His eyes widened.
Äelberon was charging towards the Daedric hordes at full speed. Alone. A tempest of silver armor and golden arrows. His face flushed with anger, his body glowing like pure Dawn. He found weaknesses in their armor where none existed. Vingalmo saw that his fellow soldiers, the grunts who did not have Tower mages to protect, soon followed his example and rushed at the Daedric army, their faces contorted in rage. Golden armor clashed with the black armor of the Daedric forces. And the Daedra began to fall by the hundreds. The last resort had risen to the insurmountable challenge. Defend Crystal-Like-Law. At all costs. Until their last breath. But Vingalmo noticed that Äelberon was blazing through the Daedra, shooting and cutting through them to form a pathway.
A path to where his arrow had fallen. The path to Bet.
And Vingalmo could see the pale, grey-lavender light of Coldharbour’s Son withdraw into the black sea that was Dagon’s army. Drawing Äelberon closer to the center of the vast horde. A silver light shining in the burning darkness. The golden bodies of their people tried to rush into the path the Priest of Auri-El was forging towards Bet, but they only gained ground slowly, like salmon struggling upstream. Äelberon was moving too fast and was quickly being surrounded by Daedra while Bet continued further into the center. Vingalmo threw himself into the frey, and with Lilandtar’s help, they began to make their own path towards Äelberon, joined soon after by Fal and the Archmagister.
“He’s going towards Bet.” Vingalmo said between slaying Daedra.
“A mistake!” Lilandtar hissed.
“The source, he must strike the source.” Urged Rynandor.
“What?” Vingalmo turned to the Archmagister only to dive to the earth to avoid another gryphon.
Äelberon cleaved a Clanfear’s head right off with one strike from his Lenya’s sword. The Daedric blood coating the shining silver alloy. “By Auri-El, if I cannot go through, I will go over!” He boomed in the direction of Bet.
Vingalmo blinked in surprise when Äelberon sprinted towards a winged Deadroth and with the sure-footedness of a Khajiit, he climbed the reptilian demon’s tail and back, balancing upon its broad shoulders before shooting an arrow through its skull. As the Deadroth fell, he leapt from it and landed lightly upon a Dremora’s shoulders, pausing just long enough to shoot it behind the neck where there was a gap in the armor, before leaping to his next victim. All the while inching closer to Bet. The Daedra tried to catch him, but he moved too swiftly; dodging their fire and frost attacks, his grey cloak and great war braids following the momentum of his movements. Movements that were filled with both the grace of his People and the power of something else. Those that did not fall to his bow, fell when they hit each other in their attempts to smite him down with blade and magicks. Vingalmo grinned at Ronnie’s success and soon followed suit, to the shock of Master Lilandtar and the dark approval of the Archmagister.
He leapt upon a Daedra and aimed fire magicks at a Dremora captain, leaping deftly onto another pair of shoulders before an ice spike could hit him, killing the daedra he was on top of instead. He saw Äelberon in the distance, his quiver nearly empty. Cannot have the best bowmer in the Isles run out of arrows! Vingalmo thought quickly as he slashed the throat of another Daedra with his blade. He retrieved a full quiver from a fallen archer and again found his friend.
Äelberon caught the quiver without missing a step. He nodded quickly to Vingalmo, and after slinging the quiver upon his side, resumed his shooting.
Bet was farther away, amidst what seemed like an ocean of Daedra to Vingalmo. The Beast had a struggling Elf in his grasp and bit down hard on the Elf’s neck, tearing her throat open. Both Tower Knights watched as Bet drained the Elf dry and then tossed her away like a broken toy. She landed heavily upon the blood-drenched, brittle grass next to a growing pile of their dead kinsfolk, their throats also slashed open. Bet then turned to the pile and leered, a sinister purple magic emanating from his armored hands.
“Rise. RISE, and fight for Dagon in the name of my Father.”
The Son of Molag Bal brought his hands down and Vingalmo’s young eyes then witnessed something he would never forget. The rawness of dark necromantic power on full display. Multitudes of their dead kinsfolk began to rise, taking up arms for the Daedric hordes as vampire fiends. Fast and furious, snarling and spitting their pestilence upon the living, their bloodlust knowing no bounds, the creatures bolted wildly towards them, ignoring their own broken limbs in their desire to reach living blood.
Vingalmo trembled and felt his knees weaken at the horrendous sight. Elves that were once his close comrades now turned against him, their eyes black, their faces pale. Lifeless. Soulless. An army of the undead from which there was no escape.
I cannot end like this, he shuddered, feeling fear. But he also felt his grip tighten upon his sword, and felt a fire charge in his spellhand. He set his jaw and squared his shoulders. Fear or not, Vingalmo would fight. I will die, but I will never become one of them, he vowed.
He then felt a strong presence behind him, to his left, and a bear paw of a hand pat his shoulder before letting go and stepping slightly forward.
It was Ronnie.
“I am the light in dark places, Auri-El Adonai Ali…”
The Tower Knight knew what was coming next.
Vingalmo watched Äelberon raise both hands to the air, glowing with a bright, white light. The light gathered to him, becoming a tiny speck, making all around them go dim, and then with great power, Äelberon clasped his hands together above his head and the glory of Tam-alata itself suddenly erupted upon the battlefield. A mere sword’s length away from Vingalmo, the undead vaporized into ash, coating his armor in the grey of spent soot.
Being a priest has its advantages, Vingalmo thought with a tired smile, only to erupt into a sputtering cough to remove the ash from his mouth and tongue. He turned to Ronnie, whose face was the color of Eton Nir snow, the normally bright eyes glazed from the great effort. The older Mer blinked and wiped his nose of the faint trickle of red blood that appeared from a nostril.
“Xarxes' arse, you look like shit, my dear Ronnie.”
“You too, Galmo.” Spoken with a voice that sounded far older than forty-two.
It was the first time they could really breathe in the midst of the battle. Their armor was covered in blood, dirt, and now undead dust. Both their faces were cut and bruised and long from the fatigue of extended fighting. Äelberon had a nasty gash over his right eye and Vingalmo could feel the blood drying from his nose, his mouth forced open so he could breathe properly.
I am going to need a face sculptor badly if I survive this.
“You’ve been practicing.” He managed to joke.
Äelberon nodded slowly, a very slight smile playing on his lips. “Restoration, it would seem, is a perfectly valid school of magic.”
“Will you please fix my nose when this is done?” Vingalmo pouted, sniffing again.
Äelberon frowned, but Vingalmo could see the corners of the Mer’s mouth twitch to suppress a laugh. “What do ya mean fix yer nose? It’s bloody perfect.” He wrinkled his own eagle’s beak in pride, “looks just like mine now.”
Vingalmo shook his head and gave the Mer a playful shove. “Does not. ‘Twould take at least two more breaks to reach your level of ugly.”
“Can arrange that, Caemal.”
“I’ll just knock you flat on your fat, white arse again, like I always do.”
Even now, in the terrible mess they were in, the prospect of death very real, they could still find the means to laugh with each other.
Vingalmo grinned, ignoring the pain, and slapped his friend’s back hard as they watched Lilandtar and Rynandor bathe soulless minions in fire; while Fal tore the heads off others. There was still an awful chaos, death and fighting everywhere he looked, but Vingalmo somehow felt renewed at Ronnie’s magical display. He felt hope even as his eyes fell upon the elusive Bet, sheltered among his protective horde.
“He’s so far away, Ronnie. How will we reach him?”
Ronnie’s expression grew sober and gone were the easy laugh lines. “I must kill it at its source.” He said quietly, almost a whisper. The same words Rynandor had spoken. “I cannot lose you too, my brother. We have lost too much alrea--””
A shadow suddenly moved over them, followed by the dreaded swoosh of beating wings. Vingalmo ducked, avoiding the gryphon. He looked to his left for Ronnie.
Äelberon’s golden bow was on the ground.
“No, no, no!” Vingalmo cried, but it was too late. The gryphon screamed and turned upwards, making for the burning sky, taking Äelberon up with them. Vingalmo saw Äelberon twist his body, struggling in the beast’s grasp until he was able to kick the gryphon’s leg with his plated boot, drawing blood. That freed him from the animal’s hold. Äelberon then tried to climb the beast, only to be seized in the arm by the surprised Welkynar, while the Mer’s other hand latched on to the saddle’s straps to prevent a fall. He quickly wound a free leg around the gryphon’s stirrup, determined to not be dislodged and they bore him higher, far past the point of safely jumping down. Where was Rynandor? Vingalmo madly tried to find Rynandor, tried to call for help, but all that would come out was a garbled croak. Confounded ash! They have him!
Vingalmo took his friend’s bow and could only watch in fright as Living Mer and undead Mer fought viciously for control of the mount. The fighting had moved beyond their practiced rites of steel and moonstone, the choreographed grace of pompous ceremony before Kings and Queens. It had moved beyond the friendly spars where Vingalmo would knock Ronnie flat on his arse and they would laugh like fools. This was hard and dirty. This was real. A reality they were too young for.
Ronnie fought hard, punching, kicking, scratching. He fought for his life, fought for the lives of his Lenya and little Hedwige. Eagle’s sharp talons against Gryphon’s frenzied claws. It ended when Äelberon lurched forward, clasping the head of the Welkynar. Streams of sunlight poured from his fingertips into the face of the undead while the gryphon still flew. The Welkynar spasmed before its head imploded from the light. Äelberon tossed the body off the gryphon and moved to grab the reins of the wildly bucking animal. More magic left his hand, this time the lilac-yellow that betrayed a powerful turn spell. And the undead gryphon was now under Äelberon’s control, too afraid to challenge the Priest of Auri-El’s dominance over it.
“BET!” Äelberon roared. Vingalmo saw Bet’s dim death-fire stop in its tracks, drawn to the outburst. The Beast had heard and issued from his maw a response that made Mer and Daedra stagger in its wake. The Priest of Auri-El steadied his undead mount and steered the gryphon towards Bet. He used one hand to control the reins of the corruption of the symbol of their people, while the other began to rain righteous Templar magicks upon the hordes of Daedra. Golden spear after golden spear flew from that sure hand, finding their targets, his magicka seemingly endless. It was as if Äelberon was possessed by Auri-El himself, driven mad by the demanding god to do his will and cleanse Summerset of all darkness. Or he was Trinimac reborn, Auri-El’s greatest Knight.
Only Äelberon was no god, he was just an Elf, the blood he shed proved it, the sore muscles, the curses that escaped his lips when spells began to fail as much as they worked. Vingalmo panicked as Äelberon rapidly approached the Demon of Coldharbour, the remaining Welkynar closing in for the kill. No one had ever survived the Beast. The Thalmor had not. The Welkynar had not. Ronnie certainly wouldn’t. He couldn’t even beat Vingalmo in a spar. Only the one fucking time, the day they both were called to serve the Tower. He never won again.
He is going to die! Vingalmo snapped to attention, found his legs and rushed to Rynandor and Lilandtar, his face contorted with worry. The mages were just watching, awestruck, doing nothing.
“Masters! It is suicide! You can’t let him!” He yelled, grabbing the Archmagister’s thin shoulder while he pointed at Äelberon.
The look Archmagister Rynandor the Bold gave Vingalmo caused a terrible knotted feeling in the pit of the young Mer’s stomach and his words were far worse. “He must go for the source. Or all will be lost.”
“And if he dies?” Vingalmo argued.
“Then he dies. Such is the will of Auri-El--”
“WHAT?” Worry boiled over into anger, causing Vingalmo to shove the Archmagister hard, knocking him to the ground. “He dies, that is it? After everything he has sacrificed for yo--”
“You dare strike the Archmagister of Crystal-Like-Law!” Lilandtar interrupted, his hands glowing with lightning, ready to fry Vingalmo into his very armor, but the young Altmer was not afraid and drew his weapon against his own Tower Mage. Ready to defy everything he held dear to save the first Mer who had ever shown him a measure of sincere kindness in his life. To save the Mer he loved. Vingalmo lowered his brow in realization. Aye, I love you, Ronnie.
“Stop this nonsense, Lilandtar, and stand down.” Rynandor stood up, far faster than Vingalmo expected from a mage in his eighth century. The battle continued to rage about them; moonstone crashing against Daedric steel, the screams and cries of Daedra and Altmer, the stench of their blood, the piles of bodies. But amidst the havoc of total war, the prospect of total annihilation, of potential of mass extinction, Archmagister Rynandor the Bold, Seer-Mage of Crystal-Like-Law’s face radiated the purest calm. There was even a small smile and Vingalmo felt the old Mer’s hand on his shoulder. “No Lilandtar. This boy is far too brave to let go of so flippantly. I am not injured.”
“Äelberon…” Vingalmo could only whisper, feeling the tears building in his eyes.
“I know, son. It is a hard thing to trust, isn’t it?”
“I don’t understand, Master.” Vingalmo shook his head.
“It will hold.”
“What? What will hold?”
Lilandtar crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to the side. “Aye, what are you blathering on about, old Mer?”
Rynandor only smiled. “Trust. He will come.”
“Thousands of years old. Locked in his cage of dreams. But I unlocked the door, Lilandtar Silver-Tongue, making a spell of the ancient power that is his name. And he will come.” Rynandor nodded to himself. “And it will hold.”
“Rynandor, what the Oblivion have you done?” Lilandtar frowned, his apple green eyes narrowing.
Lilandtar’s pointed question made the hairs on Vingalmo’s neck stand at end.
I unlocked the door, Rynandor repeated in his mind..
Well, at least he hoped so. The creature seemed exceedingly uncooperative when Rynandor finally summoned the courage to try his experimental spell and speak its given name two days ago as the boy slept. The smoke from the boy’s nostrils, the strange words, all were potential signs that the spell had worked, but Rynandor was not sure. And it was impossible to tell what was really happening with Äelberon in the air. What the boy did was foolhardy and stupid, not traits the Knight-Paladin was known for, but were they not like that? Rynandor did not know for certain. He only knew that they were incredibly brave, incredibly intelligent, incredibly arrogant, and that Auri-El himself had used them to fight his battles for the better part of an era, well before they became the overlords of men.
So why would the Archmagister of Crystal-Like-Law be any different? Use all the potential tools at your disposal, Rynandor, and the boy possessed a tool within him the likes of which had not been known since the days of Tiber Septim. Only this one was very different from the opportunistic and greedy Nafaalilargus. Instead, this one was wise and proud, possessing craft and skill, pathos and longing.
Rynandor, Lilandtar, Vingalmo, and Fal tracked the path of Äelberon’s gryphon, crushing, slicing and blasting their way through the hordes of Daedra on their own course to Bet. The boy began a dive towards the Son of Coldharbour, his backward glances letting Rynandor know that he was very much aware of the group of Welkynar at his heels. A golden javelin pierced the gryphon closest to the young Mer, and it crashed to the earth.
“He cannot sustain fear in that creature for much longer, Rynandor.” Lilandtar noted, his voice hurried.
It was true. Äelberon was no Illusionist, never showing any sort of aptitude for the school except to be uncannily resilient to their spells. Instead, he was relying on his dominance over a creature under the influence of a potent and modified turn spell. Using his skill as a Mystic to manipulate the magical pattern of the base spell into something that suited the situation a little better. The creature was essentially fleeing from him, back to its dark Master, and Äelberon was clever enough to take advantage of the situation. But he had to keep recasting the spell to maintain the creature's drive to seek refuge with Bet and fatigue was causing the spells to fail on occasion, resulting in the gryphon jostling the boy in the air. If Äelberon lost total control, the gryphon would regain its courage and throw him. The boy, as of yet, could not make heads nor tails of the feather spells so readily available to Rynandor to ensure his safety should he fall.
“I know.” Rynandor quickened his pace, imbuing his old legs with increased speed, making them rush over the uneven terrain of dead bodies and broken weapons. By now Vingalmo was sprinting just to keep up and Lilandtar was levitating. Poor Fal was steadily losing ground.
Äelberon continued his descent, drawing nearer to Bet with two Welkynar flanking him close by. Rynandor pushed more magicka into his legs until he too was off the ground, gliding just above with Lilandtar. Vingalmo was panting, his golden face flushed with heat, but Rynandor gave the young kinsmer credit, Lilandtar’s teachings were being put to good use. The Seer-mage could feel the young Mer’s body coursing with magicka to keep his body going.
One of the flanking gryphons suddenly slammed into Äelberon’s mount, the Welkynar slashing at Äelberon with his sword. The boy dodged, narrowly missing the blade, but he miscalculated.
Vingalmo’s pained cry when Äelberon fell from the gryphon almost made Rynandor break his concentration and drop to the ground. The Tower Knight was much younger, less able to focus, so he stumbled, tripping and landing hard upon the earth with a moan. He was up quickly, but dazed, forcing Lilandtar to stop to help.
“Rynandor!” Lilandtar warned, pointing at Äelberon, and the Seer-Mage extended his hands to cast. The light of Telekinesis escaped his fingertips. Stabilize the boy, prevent too much damage. He would be able to heal him later. But Äelberon was also at work. Rynandor felt the magical patterns all around them being manipulated yet again, a fortification spell being concentrated on the boy’s right side, bracing for impact, while the young Mer extended his hand downwards and used Telekinesis against the ground to slow his descent. He still fell to the earth with a thud that made Rynandor wince, but within seconds, he was back on his feet, sword and shield already raised.
The Beast was hard at work, creating more undead for his army. Rynandor the Bold saw Äelberon run a Daedra through with his sword and press forward, while other weaker Daedra began to shrink away. Their brethren’s blood on the Mer’s armor, his drawn sword, his blazing eyes sent a clear message. There was no stopping him.
Undaunted, Bet lifted an Altmer soldier and was about to bite his neck, the soldier’s eyes wide with terror.
“Drop him.” Äelberon commanded, his lips twisted in an uncharacteristic sneer. The sheer arrogance of the order made Rynandor blink.
The soldier fell to the earth and began to crawl slowly away through the mud. Bet growled, poisoned drool oozing from his snarling mouth. He tightened his grip on his axe and spit upon the ground.
“A better prize has arrived. Welcome, Aurielian.” The demon chuckled, giving the Priest of Auri-El a mocking bow.
Äelberon did not acknowledge the taunt, only readied his long sword. His lenya’s blade. A glorious, shining weapon of silver alloy, with a carved blade, and a golden hilt formed by conjoined eagle’s wings, the beloved animal of their God-King. Borne upon his left arm was his great gilded shield, also bearing the motif of the Eagle.
“No magicks? Is Steel Plate mad?” Lilandtar’s voice sounded behind him. “The Beast is undead.”
“It will hold.” Rynandor said quietly. “He will come.”
“You keep saying that. Who?”
Rynandor ignored Lilandtar as they continued to fight their way closer to Äelberon, but the Daedric forces gathered to protect Molag Bal’s issue, making reaching the boy far more difficult. Close enough to bear witness, but too far to lend any aid. Both Vingalmo and Lilandtar voiced their frustrations, but Rynandor could only watch as he fought.
The two circled each other. Äelberon’s silver armor contrasting against Bet’s blackness. Eagle’s wings against goat horns.
“Auri-El is the light of the world,” the boy began, “the Soul of Anui-El, who is the soul of Anu, the Everything…” Rynandor heard Bet’s roar in response to the Tenets being spoken. “The path has been laid.” Äelberon continued. “I will bring you to Auri-El’s light!”
Bet suddenly threw back his head in laughter. “Is that all? You do not even know yourself?!” The laughter continued and the Demon advanced, swinging his axe, making Äelberon retreat to avoid the blows.
“Auri-El is the light of the world…” The young priest began again, this time threatening with magicks. “I am His Eagle. You will yiel--”
“YOU ARE NOTHING, BOY!” Bet bellowed, quickly lunging forward. Äelberon took another step back and tripped, falling backwards to the ground, whatever spell he was going to use, sputtering in failure. The tussle with the gryphon cost him.
Rynandor doubled his efforts, but the Daedra knew and began to close in upon the fallen Mer. It was happening just as he had witnessed in his visions. He would come and they would live. Or, He would not come and they would all die. He could hear Vingalmo’s loud battle cries as the boy vainly tried to slice a path to Äelberon, desperate to save him.
Bet loomed over a defeated Äelberon, axe poised to deal the death blow. No one had ever survived. Everyone had died. Rynandor dodged a sudden strike from a dremora, forcing him to turn to use his magicks to defend himself, briefly losing sight of the boy.
“You will be my father’s slave!” The Demon screamed.
He tried to see, but there were only fleeting glimpses between the vast ocean of fighting bodies. A flash of gold and perhaps a glimpse of blood-stained silver. But the noise. Gods, the noise! The noise when axe struck shield nearly split his ears, it was so deafening. He covered them, keenly aware of the blood that slowly oozed from the right one. Rynandor imagined that the sound echoed throughout the battlements and deep within the bowels of Crystal-Like-Law, where the people of Summerset crouched in fear, lowest and highest echelons alike, waiting. He imagined they hung their heads in sorrow, for no one could withstand such a blow. No one had survived. He imagined that they believed themselves totally lost.
Only for a cry to issue forth that was so strong that Rynandor felt like the sky itself would open up and swallow him whole. It was pure thunder.
“Zu'u los nid AAR!” Zu'u los WUTH TU.”
The cry came from Äelberon of Dusk. His voice and yet, not entirely his voice.
Rynandor’s hairs on the back of his head stood when he heard the ancient tongue and his eyes grew wide. It had worked, his research proving sound, though he had to work around the fact that his method of magic was not based on speech as it had been with the Ancient Nords. He had to speak the given name in his mind and then manipulate it, force it through the limits of Magicka and logic until shouted name became spell.
Zahnir bild aar. Three words. Words of Power.
In their hour of deepest need, He had come. The Old Hammer, a creature of forgotten legend. Auri-El’s Forgemaster.
It was the name Rynandor gave the creature before he learned of his given name because in his visions and dreams, the creature had been grey. The color of spent charcoal. The kind that is extremely dangerous because it looks spent, looks harmless, but is still very hot to the touch. And in Rynandor’s mind, the name stuck. Besides, the other names were too much of Men.
Long necked, huge and winged with a peculiarly scarred whip-like tail that seemed to have a life of its own. Covered with the scutes and spikes of his brothers, but also adorned with many self-made rings of ornately carved ebony upon his horned head and even one upon his nose that shook merrily when laughter seized him. And a distinctly cracked tooth, capped with more ebony. The songs Umbr’Aka roared during Rynandor’s visions and dreams were lusty and loud. Filled with battle, boldness, freedom, and truth.
He was here.
Just as he journeyed with his many winged brothers across the vast ocean to heed Father Auri-El’s call to war with the first Mortals. And again, just as he had set his forge hammer down and answered the pleas of Shor’s Widow when she begged for the lives of her sky children. He came when called. Preserve, Defend, Serve. His name. Power.
There was no form, Rynandor mused, wondering why, but it ultimately didn’t matter, the soul lived on and gave the boy the strength he needed to survive his encounter with Bet. A valuable tool, the old mage nodded, harbored in the deep recesses of the young Mer’s subconscious, needing his manipulative magicks to dredge it to the surface. At whatever the cost.
The reaction to the thundered voice was immediate. For the first time in his life of cruel destruction, it was the Beast of Coldharbour’s turn to know fear. Umbr’Aka bubbled to the surface of existence like molten metal, harnessed the young body, and in a move that mirrored the Whitestrake’s move against the Unfeathered, blocked the axe’s blow with his mighty shield arm. Bet brought his axe down a second time, only for it to meet gilded metal instead of the flesh it craved. Again, the Demon struck, but the shield arm was too strong, the stance steadfast. Nine times, Bet tried to break Umbr’Aka and nine times the Dragon stubbornly refused to break, the noise of each blow like the tolls of a great bell, or a hammer upon anvil. Nine strikes. On the tenth swing, Umbr’Aka had had enough of the child of Rape’s games and instead of just blocking the blow, he thrust his shield arm forward with a mighty roar and pushed the war axe aside, knocking the weapon from Bet’s grasp, splintering it into dust.
Umbr’Aka then raised his sword, and as he swung, he uttered speech like an avalanche. His eyes blazed like the forges of Lawful Crystal and his face was dark with righteous rage. He seemed to glow with the very light of the morning.
“Ahrk Zu'u lost krein kotin dii heim gut muliik truk wey hi!”
With those awesome words, the Beast of Coldharbour, Bet, the Bringer of Destruction, Son of the King of Rape, let out a piercing scream of agony and fell hard to his knees. In response, Umbr’Aka brought his sword down with a heavy swing and smote Bet’s ruin, severing head from body.
It was over.
The Beast fell dead to the blood-soaked ground. And with his death, all that was his undeath died with him, the Welkynar’s tragic final act reduced to a silent shower of falling ash from the churning skies. Passed forever into myth.
Old legends may die, but new legends are born.
The Slayer of Bet dropped his weapon and sank to his knees, exhausted as Umbr’Aka’s energy fled his body. “Lig, Fahliil lahzey. Nid zos...Nid zos vaarnufaaz. Lif zey wah dii hahnu.” The creature moaned pitifully as it faded back into the abyss of the boy’s being, retreating, a mantle of broken wings in his wake. “Dii hahnu…” it gasped, breathing heavily. “Die hahnu…”
Aye, return to your deep dreams, Old Hammer. Return to your beloved Ana. You have earned it, with my infinite gratitude, Rynandor offered, the tears now flowing freely from his lined eyes. I will honor your fate and torment you no more. He acknowledged that it was torment because the visions, while manipulating the creature, revealed such a horrendous betrayal that Rynandor almost could not bear its knowing. The cruelty, the malice, the hurt, the anguish. Ambition had left him trapped forever, damned, recycled endlessly and yet dumb to it, with no hope in sight. No freedom.
With the fall of Bet, Rynandor the Bold could hear the Altmer begin to rejoice, for in their eyes the battle was over. The Tower was saved. Rynandor felt Lilandtar pat him on the shoulder as his dearest friend laughed.
“You were right! It did hold. What an arm!” He smiled warmly, squeezing Rynandor’s thin shoulders, “Good old Steel Plate. Showed that Demon not to mess with a Dusken, eh? The Tower is safe. Let us finish with the rest of these hordes.” He then broke from Rynandor and hugged Vingalmo, knocking the boy’s helmeted head gently with his hand. “All is forgiven, boy. I promise I will not melt you into your armor.”
The two made merry with the other troops, but Rynandor was not joyful. He had to stop himself from beginning to calculate the repercussions of his deed. What cruelty he had done to the poor dumb creature with his magicks aside, what had happened today would not go unnoticed. Rynandor the Bold was certain many had observed from the multitudes of ledges that dotted Crystal-Like-Law. And while many grand magical things had happened today, this was different from Elven magicks. The creature that emerged today was not of their Five. Aye, there were early ties to Auri-El, of course, but it was a fiercely independent and powerful entity, part of a vastly older way. When children could be shards of time and one could vanquish with only a spoken word. In addition, the creature was now tied to the deeds and fates of Men. Bound to the beliefs of the Nine. A terrible heresy. That it lurked within the boy, however deeply suppressed, was a potential cause for great alarm.
Rynandor focused his attention on Äelberon, who was kneeling near the body of the Beast, his back turned, his shoulders still heaving from his great effort. He walked to the boy and knelt next to him, ignoring the blood that now seeped into his robes. Äelberon was scanning the horizon, his eyes yet blazing, but it was the boy’s face that took Rynandor aback. He touched Äelberon’s shoulder and turned the Mer slowly towards him.
It was no longer a young Mer’s face that faced his own, but the face of one who had gone through many years. Years of pain. The face was lined, grim, and scarred. Under the great silver-white beard, upon one weathered cheek was a swirling mark that glowed a deep black green when Rynandor gazed upon it. A mark of secret knowledge. And the eyes, under a hooded brow, had shadows under them that were darker than he had ever seen in any creature, but the fire in them was like burning coals, like jeweled fire in their beauty.
They were Umbr’Aka’s very eyes, boring into his own. Knowing exactly what had been done to him today.
“You cannot escape your fate, Elf Wizard.” Umbr’Aka rumbled, the sound very far away, yet so close to Rynandor’s own soul. “And neither can I...”
Rynandor closed his eyes to the vision, shaking his head. He was relieved when opening his eyes again revealed the Mer’s young face, the scars still fresh. The damage still able to be repaired. Furthermore, Rynandor now understood the reason behind Äelberon’s most peculiar eyes. They were always Umbr’Aka’s. Burning windows into its very soul. Would Ronnie know what was done? Would he remember? Rynandor hoped not, nor could he think on that now. He would ponder it later, when there was time to breathe.
The Seer-mage, in a gesture of tenderness, took the boy’s gauntleted hand and squeezed.
“You did well today, my boy. I am proud.”
Äelberon looked drained of everything and Rynandor could not help the pang of bitter guilt for what he had put him through.
Forgive me, son, but my duty is to Crystal-Like-Law first.
“Ronnie? Are you alright?” Rynandor whispered, leaning in closer. The boy blinked from his stupor and turned away from the Archmagister to face the Horizon again. His expression utterly lost. “What is it, son? What do you see?”
“I see only Death.” He answered.
Rynandor turned to the direction of Äelberon’s gaze and saw them along the horizon. Closing in. Vast hordes, infinite hordes as far as the eye could see, bearing trebuchets and other cruel war machines. The first battle had been but a mere skirmish to the Daedra. The horrible Bet, but a toy sent to distract them until the real force could arrive. He understood now that he himself had been outsmarted. He scanned the battlements quickly, counting in his mind. So few were left.
And the dragon would not come a second time.
The gears in his mind worked carefully, thinking of all possible scenarios. Rynandor then paused. It was still upstairs, a puzzle box in the Aldmeri tombs. Yes, there is still that, still something you can do. It will be difficult, but not beyond you, old Mer. Rynandor’s eyes gave the approaching Daedric hordes a final look before settling his gaze upon Äelberon. He swallowed.
The Tower is always first.
Rynandor the Bold took a deep breath, giving the boy’s hand another quick squeeze before he made to stand with some effort. He rolled his shoulders to ease the tension in them and then regarded his Tower Knight.
“Come on, son. Stand. We’ve work to do yet.”
Äelberon nodded and rose to his feet. Rynandor honored the quick compliance with a sound pat to the warrior’s armored shoulder. The young bounce back so fast, he marveled. The clarity quickly returned to the boy’s eyes and he nodded again, this time far more sure of himself.
“Aye, I am ready, Master.”
May Auri-El have mercy upon my soul...
Chapter 10 * ToC * Chapter 12
Notes: I use the legacy translator from thu'um.org because I want my dragons to not sound like they're five. In addition, I use the Welkynar from ESO, whose fate is left ambiguous after their questline. I assume the happier ending in which they survive being enslaved by the Sload. And finally, yes, I take a lot of liberties with ES magic, borrowing a lot from Morrowind, Oblivion, ESO, and lore.
Nikriin - Coward
Zahnir - preserve
Bild - defend
Aar - both servant and slave, though it's pretty clear what context is preferred by our Umbr'Aka.
“Zu'u los nid AAR!” Zu'u los WUTH TU.” - I am no slave. I am the Old Hammer.
“Ahrk Zu'u lost krein kotin dii heim gut muliik truk wey hi!” - And I have sung into my forge far stronger things than you!
"Lig, Fahliil lahzey. Nid zos...Nid zos vaarnufaaz. Lif zey wah dii hahnu." - Please, Elf wizard. No more... no more torment. Leave me to my dreams
Umbr’Aka - The Grey Dragon
Indoth - Victory
Hevla - Joy
We've talked about how difficult it is to write battle scenes, but you did a fantastic job here. The first part gives the reader a good idea of the larger scope, and has its own arc with the ill-fated gryphon riders. The second provides an up-close view of the actual fighting, so you capture the whole scope.
It also shows just how hopeless the Oblivion Crisis would have been for the Altmer. Their best weapons are rendered useless, or used up in what are actually mild skirmishes. I wonder what in the world Rynandor has planned for the next phase.