Light & Shadow

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    The Headache

     

    He was reluctant to part with the Gauldur amulet. But Ossien had enjoyed its benefits for long enough. Though his home directly outside of Whiterun’s capital could accommodate even the most zealous of hoarders, Ossien knew when to keep something—so it could appreciate—and when to let it go.

     

    “Any thoughts, Inigo?” He asked his companion, able to see the stonework of Dragon Bridge’s namesake at the end of the winding path ahead.

     

    “Mrmphh mph.”

     

    Inigo was wrestling with his knapsack, a piece of bread between his pointed teeth as he struggled to close the fastenings. Artax, Inigo’s dappled horse, continued on steadily.

     

    Ossien chuckled, dodging an offending spray of breadcrumbs. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

     

    Inigo finally got the knapsack closed. “I said, my mind is a sky without birds. This talking stone is making me crazy!”

     

    An apprehensive look was thrown to one of Artax’s saddlebags.

     

    “Ah.” Ossien’s lips met in an untroubled smile. “Sorry, friend. I’m afraid we can’t just hurl it into the River Karth, tempting as that is. I have an interested individual in Solitude who can easily find a buyer. After that, it’ll be out of our hands for good.”

     

    Inigo shook his head. “And not a moment too soon. The voice is getting more and more persistent. I’m hearing it every morning at the crack of dawn.” The blue-furred Khajiit put on a high-pitched voice, feminine with a thick demanding tone. ‘You WILL cleanse my temple! Hear me and obey!’

     

    Ossien laughed. His sleep had been untroubled since they’d recovered that relic. Inigo’s skooma-filled past, Ossien reasoned, had more than likely made him susceptible to bad dreams and impatience.

     

    “Tell Meridia that I do not take orders from Daedra. Maybe her new owner will be more inclined to humor her.”

     

    Expecting an agreeing word or relieved laugh, Ossien looked at Inigo - and found the cat sitting utterly rigid, as if turned to stone in the golden rays of dawn.

     

    Slowly, Inigo’s head turned, revealing stark-white eyes that recognized nothing and no one. Ossien held his jaw together firmly, listening and watching.

     

    “You DARE to peddle my beacon like some common trinket? The arrogance of mortals! Listen closely, fool, for I grow tired of repeating myself!”

     

    Meridia’s voice poured from Inigo’s mouth, and the low ringing in his ears confirmed he wasn’t dreaming. The Daedric prince really was speaking to them - and loudly.

     

    “You WILL cleanse my temple of darkness, and you WILL destroy the defiler within. My artifact lies deep in the belly of Mount Kilkreath, obey and that shall be your reward.”

     

    “I understand your orders,” Ossien began slowly, a hand on his sword though he knew it useless. The prince’s words of “an artifact” pricked his curiosity - but a friend was a friend, and Ossien did not take kindly to Daedric possession. “However, you’ve proven yourself untrustworthy and menacing. I will not be your pawn, Meridia. Your mistake was harming Inigo. Release him.”

     

    “And YOUR mistake was speaking as though we are equals! You cannot bargain or refuse, mortal! Your ‘friend’ will not survive!”

     

    Pain struck Ossien’s eyes as a piercing white light burst from Inigo’s, rendering them both blind. Meridia’s voice filled his ears, the sound enclosing them like a cave-in.

     

    “Go to Mount Kilkreath. Guide my light through the temple to reclaim what is mine.”

     

    The Daedra’s voice made his teeth rattle, and he felt the pulsation of power ripple through his bones. No sword would help him now.

     

    “If you do not, I will break your companion, as I have bent the rays of Magnus, and reshape him into a champion worthy of my cause.”

     

    Ossien looked at Inigo, and saw that the Khajiit trembled, whimpering with his arms around his head. Never in their travels together had he seen Inigo cower in such a way.

     

    “Alright.” Ossien glared. “Release my friend and I will cleanse your temple. You have my word, Meridia.”

     

    The light flared once more and then retreated. Their ears no longer buzzed and their teeth no longer rattled - but Inigo still whimpered, and slipped sideways from his saddle.

     

    “Inigo!”

     

    Ossien made to catch him, but Artax shied away. He had dismounted even as the Khajiit hit the dirt.

     

    Ossien yanked free one black glove, casting a healing spell on the twitching cat, his knees planting in the grass. “Can you hear me?”

     

    “Ahh! My mind - it feels like it’s on fire!” Inigo writhed.

     

    Ossien winced, and shook off the second glove.

     

    Dual-casting restoration spells did nothing; the headache lessened of its own accord. Inigo gripped tightly onto Ossien’s arms, and he felt the cat’s nails dig into his sleeve as he feebly pulled himself upright.

     

    “I-I… cleanse beacon… return temple… darkness…”

     

    More worrying than the headache was the babbling. Disjointed thoughts implied lasting damage. Ossien, white-lipped, heaved Inigo out of the dirt. “I’ll take care of it. We’re going to Dragon Bridge until I can sort this mess.”

     

    He pushed Inigo into Artax’s saddle, fastening him in. Stay strong, friend. Ossien took the beacon from Artax’s saddlebags, and with a burning distaste for the Glister Witch, climbed onto his own horse. He tucked the beacon under arm, and spurred both horses towards Dragon Bridge.

     

     

    The Twins


    If anyone asked, they were hunters from Falkreath. She easily looked the part, with her plain leather-and-cloth armor (offset by the beautiful carved bow from Hammerfell). Shandar easily looked the part of someone who wasn’t questioned too much or walked too close to.

     

    Zahde said it was the white skull painted across his chest like a death omen. Shandar firmly believed it was the smile he wore - never trust a smiling bandit. That was one of those universal truths that had traveled with them to Skyrim.

     

    Shandar kept an eye on the road, while Zahde leaned over a map spiderwebbed with colorful lines of string, each strand charting the routes of the caravans and a few miscellaneous targets. Zahde traced the path of a light blue string past Lake Inalta, and up through the Reach until she crossed into Haafingar Hold - their current location - before the string stopped at the town of Dragon Bridge.

     

    She looked up.
    “You’re certain no one’s slipped past you?”

     

    Shandar, who didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fret’, chuckled, his massive shoulders turned towards the main road like bridge supports. “No one we’re after. Farmers, merchants, I even saw a thief trying to set up shop in those trees over there.”

     

    Zahde half-straightened, one hand still on the map. “And where is the thief now?”

     

    “Bottom of a bear’s stomach.”

     

    “And the bear?”

     

    “Shitting him out right now.” Shandar laughed. “Of all your titles, Zahde, ‘worrier’, fits you best.”

     

    Zahde scoffed, rolling up the map and placing it carefully back in its case, which was a sword sheath that had been converted for exactly this purpose. She strapped the case over her back. “He’s in Dragon Bridge. Or should be.”

     

    Shandar hefted his sword from a nearby stump, and kicked dirt over the smoldering remains of a cooking fire.

    “Then let’s go see if your predictions are correct.”

     

    As they left their position on Dragon Ridge Overlook, Zahde recounted all the information they had about their target. He fought like a spellsword; a beautiful weapon in one hand, a destruction spell in the other, though she did not know whether it was shock, fire or frost magic at his disposal. The ability to use magic by itself would have made him formidable - coupled with his natural Altmer affinity for spell-slinging - but supposedly he was an excellent swordsmer as well.

     

    Ossien of Sunhold. We’re coming for you.

     

    Their weeks of keeping an ear to the ground, charting his movements, catching any piece of information about him that they could, were finally going to pay off.

     

    The path to Solitude was well-traveled, and well guarded. But they were able to find themselves a suitable place to keep watch on the mountainous, forested slopes of Haafinger leading towards the capital.

     

    “That him?”

     

    Zahde opened her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping. She’d been going over the information again. Determined never to be forced into a situation she couldn’t handle ever again. The ragged scars on the right side of her face didn’t need any more company.

     

    Zahde peered out of the treeline at a lone figure walking up the path. They were dressed eerily similar to the Thalmor, with only a crown of raven hair in place of a hood.

     

    She almost corrected Shandar - Ossien of Sunhold did not travel alone these days - until she saw the blue light of Skycutter on the traveler’s hip. It was a very distinctive blade. Beautifully fashioned with a hilt-and-crossguard design that flared outward like a star.

     

    “That’s him. Be on your guard, Shandar. I don’t see that cat, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there.”

     

    Zahde drew her bow, nocked an arrow, and waited for Shandar to move into position.

     

    The relic-hunter cut a noble bearing, more like a lord on his way to visit a jarl than a glorified crypt-robber with some fame to his name.

     

    Zahde’s eyes narrowed, noticing the peculiar sphere tucked under the Altmer’s arm. A new relic? She couldn’t begin to claim any kind of knowledge as to what it was, but if the relic-hunter carried it, then they wanted it.

     

     

    Mount Kilkreath


    Confusion passed between siblings like wildfire. The relic-hunter had stepped off the road, leaving behind the cobbled path to make for the crags and evergreens.

     

    Zahde made a noise in her throat like a sabre-cat. “Where does he think he’s going?”

     

    The relic-hunter had deviated from the path to Solitude, taking some smaller road that led to Haafingar’s coast. If he didn’t intend to sell his finds, where was he going?

     

    In perplexed silence, Zahde and Shandar followed, no clarity given with each stone step they took as the path wound ever upward. Tall stone archways, squarish and thick in the obvious Nordic style, told them this was no ordinary path. The archways littered the mountainside like the backbone of a colossus, and the Redguard twins found Ossien standing at the base of its skull - a wide stone temple with a heavily draped figure as the focal point, carven hands upraised to behold the dawn.

     

    It was beautiful, if a Daedric shrine could ever be called that.

     

    A deep sense of foreboding spidered down Zahde’s back. She startled as Shandar appeared beside her. If he saw, he didn’t say anything.

     

    “That sphere and that temple are connected somehow.” Shandar watched the Altmer climb the steps to the temple’s top. Even the lofty high elf seemed to shrink before the Daedric statue scraping the blue-orange sky.

     

    Which one is this? Azura? Boethiah? If it was the former, then this could turn out to be lucrative. If it was the latter - then this relic-hunter was going to get himself killed. Violently. Only the very stupid looted from the wrongful god of murder and deception.

     

    The sun was setting. The Altmer was moving in to place the sphere on a thin pedestal at the statue’s feet.

     

    At last, it clicked. “That thing is a key.”

     

    Zahde braced herself, but even that didn’t help against the onslaught of light and sound that burst before her eyes.

     

    As though a wayward star recalled to the heavens, the relic-hunter was encased in white light and pulled upwards, hundreds of feet above the temple.

     

    Shandar and Zahde watched, openmouthed.

     

    It was impossible to read the Altmer’s face from their position, but Zahde had to wonder if he at all felt calm — lifted into the air like a ragdoll by some dark power — or if even now he was wondering how best to get out of this alive.

     

    After what felt like the longest minute of their lives, the relic-hunter was lowered back to the ground. She could see now that he looked less certain of himself - irritated, almost. He turned and went back down the steps.

     

    Shandar and Zahde hid behind the wide trunks of evergreens, listening. There came the hollow groan of ancient doors cleaving in, and then silence.

     

    What is going on? Altmer hovering in the sky, Daedric temples, and light too painful to look at. Could it be that Ossien of Sunhold was the pawn of a Daedric Prince? It would explain his successful looting of the Gauldur Amulet fragments. She knew the stories of the Gauldursons’ powers. That one elf and a blue khajiit had defeated all three without loss of life or limb was too much for her to believe.

     

    “Hmmm.” Shandar stood beside her, letting that low, inquisitive note draw out. “So much for your calculations, Zahde.”

     

    Zahde folded her arms, fingers drumming an agitated staccato on her bicep.

     

    “We’re not finished yet.” And waste all that effort? She had promised herself prosperity and comfort, even if she had to pry it out of the hands of people she might otherwise have worked with.

     

    No more sweeping out bandit hovels. I’m done. She was tired of coin purses and the occasional gemstone. She was tired of picking corpses clean.

     

    “We’re taking Skycutter and that amulet from him. Together, they’ll be worth enough coin to buy a ship back to Hammerfell.”

     

    The circumstances were strange. So much Daedric influence made Zahde uneasy - but without risk, there was no reward.

     

    As evening descended into night, the last vestiges of red and orange splashed violently across the skull on Shandar’s chest. He grinned. “Then let’s get started.”

     


    The Ambush


    Zahde walked the perimeter of the temple, making certain that the Altmer was going to take the doorway leading onto a stone bridge capped every few feet with beacons like the one he had brought.There was a chance he would double back and leave the same way he’d come in - but Zahde had a hunch. Oftentimes, it was easier to go forward in an unfamiliar crypt than try doubling back and losing one’s bearings.

     

    As they waited in the dark, the blinding light of Meridia struck beacon after beacon, chaining the light across the bridge and mapping the Altmer’s progress through the temple.

     

    The doors to the bridge opened. The relic-hunter stepped through, saw Shandar waiting at the other end - and found Zahde’s sword at his throat.

     

    “Ossien of Sunhold.” Zahde crooned, content as a cat with a mouse under its claws. “The amulet and your sword.”

     

    The Altmer’s eyes, deep as emeralds, showed no signs of fear. Though winded from his excursion, he sounded - and acted - harassed.

     

    “Can we do this later?”

     

    “Excuse me?”

     

    Somewhere across the bridge, Shandar snorted.

     

    “I’m in a hurry. It’s a matter of life and death.” Ossien’s gaze hardened, and he yanked the amulet from his neck, tossing it onto the stonework in front of Zahde. “Take it. But the sword stays with me.”

     

    “I’m not bargaining.” Quick as lightning, Zahde cut the leather holster cradling Skycutter. She was met with the Altmer’s raised palm - charged lightning inches from her face.

     

    “Learn.”

     

    Her nostrils flared. She never liked magic. It had a smell to it that pricked her senses, less a sense and more of a gut feeling - an instinctive response that she was out of her depth.

     

    Zahde usually compensated by sticking a sword through the mage’s ribs - and Ossien was no different, the tip of her blade digging into his coat even as he charged the spell.

     

    Shandar advanced towards them, shield up, sword drawn. Ossien raised his other hand, prepared to take them out with a lightning bolt each.

     

    All three stood very, very still.

     

    “You’re fortune hunters.” He said after a while, staring into Zahde’s eyes without flinching. “As in, you hunt anyone with a fortune.”

     

    “And you’re a filthy tomb robber.” She replied. “We steal what’s already been stolen.”

     

    The elf made a cold chuckle in the back of his throat.

     

    “As much as I’d love to argue about my profession, I do not have the time. Either listen to my offer, or we’ll add more corpses to the necromancer’s army.”

     

    Shandar glanced at Zahde. She didn’t take her eyes off the relic-hunter, but she knew what her brother was thinking. Who said anything about necromancers? They were dark, twisted creatures. If there was a necromancer involved…

     

    Maybe there was more at stake here than just a sword and an amulet.

     

    “We’ll hear it.” Zahde glared over the static, crackling sphere of magic. “As soon as you get that out of my face.”

     

    Ossien hesitated, then, slowly, he let the spell extinguish.
    “Your turn.”

     

    Zahde took two steps back, close enough to cut his hands off if he tried that again, but no longer a sneeze away from eviscerating him.

     

    Ossien exhaled, his eyes lively though he grimaced, and rubbed his throat before speaking.

     

    “You two help me clear Meridia’s temple, I will give you Dawnbreaker and the amulet.”

     

    Meridia. Of all the Daedra to work for, he found the one least likely to torment mortals for their own sick machinations. Maybe he wasn’t such a fool after all.

     

    “What is Dawnbreaker?”

     

    “A sword. An artifact belonging to Meridia. She promised me the sword if I purged her temple of Malkoran’s foulness.”

     

    “And kill the necromancer,” Zahde began slowly. “Is a sword worth that?”

     

    Ossien spread his hands akimbo.
    “How many Daedric artifacts do you think there are in Tamriel? It’s worth three times as much as Skycutter - that should appeal to you vultures.”

     

    She bristled at vultures but he was right. Dawnbreaker, if it was as rare as he claimed, would be worth a small fortune to the right buyer. If the blade was beautiful and harbored no ill effects, Zahde may be tempted to keep it for herself - just until the right rich collector made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

     

    “What’s the catch?”

     

    “Presuming we all survive, there isn’t one. I cannot kill Malkoran by myself, neither can I allow you to take Skycutter from me. I have no interest in Dawnbreaker; after tonight, I’ve had my fill of Daedric plans.” Ossien picked up Skycutter, and the already sky-blue glow of the sword seemed to deepen, sweeping back the shadows of the trees, adding its light to the array of beacons all around.

     

    Shandar had crossed the bridge, and his voice rumbled a foot above Zahde’s ear.
    “What do you think?”

     

    “I think he’s a fool. And desperate. And I don’t trust him.” Zahde frowned. She hated to admit it, but… “This isn’t something we can pass up. Necromancer or not.”

     

    Shandar nodded, and thrust out his hand. “Then we have a deal, Ossien of Sunhold.”

     

    Ossien responded in kind. “And you are…?”

     

    “Shandar, and the mean one’s Sherazahde.”

     

    The mean one snorted. “Just Zahde, and let’s get this over with.”

     

    “Wonderful. The rest of the temple is across this bridge. Shall we?”

     

    With care, the relic-hunter took the lead, Shandar and Zahde following a few paces behind.

     

    Just my luck, thought the relic-hunter. Here I am, leading a pack of wolves into a lion’s den at a Daedric Prince’s bidding.

     

    With no small amount of magicka potions, quick-thinking and even quicker reflexes, he may just survive the encounter.

     

     

    False Life

    Her temple looked identical to any other Nordic crypt or tomb Ossien had ever been in. The Redguards were quiet, but he saw them watching the shadows, listening for the malignant breath of draugr. Not their first dungeon.

     

    There wouldn’t be draugr here. He didn’t expect something so common; animated corpses of the newly deceased, perhaps. Or skeletons armed and creaking in the halls like guards around a Jarl’s longhouse.

     

    The shadows seemed thicker here. Like a miasma. Casting a candlelight spell at the ground, Ossien illuminated the stonework above and below, gray as the faces of the death, with vaporous black smoke curling and wafting through the air with no obvious origin. If it was poisonous, then it was too late for them to start covering their mouths.

     

    “Over here.” Zahde had taken a torch from the wall sconce and now held it over a corpse that looked at least a hundred years old - no, wait. With a thrill of surprise, Ossien crouched, examining the familiar legionnaire’s armor and the mud still caked on their boots. The corpse inside had been blackened and shriveled, as if burned from the inside out - or its essence removed, in whatever spiritual or literal sense fit best.

     

    The doors slammed shut with a slap of cold air; Zahde jumped, and Shandar threw his shoulder against the wrought iron, the veins in his arms pronounced even in the haunted light of flickering sconces. Ossien looked skyward, picturing all too clearly the Daedric Prince hovering above her temple, as impatient as a spoiled child.

     

    “It won’t open,” said Shandar, stepping back.

     

    Giving us no choice, then.

     

    Zahde hissed something in a Hammerfell dialect he couldn’t fully make out - but felt he had heard the accent before.


    “Gilane? Taneth?” He ventured, earning a startled look in response, her surprise subdued by the swath of yellow warpaint across her face.

     

    “Taneth.”

     

    “So you know of Hammerfell,” said Shandar. Wariness crept into the air like something venomous and quick. “Dominion?”

     

    Ossien was quick to cast aside their accusing looks. He had enough of that in every major hold he set foot in. (It was the black cloak and hood).

     

    “My parents are rolling in their graves at the suggestion. No, never a Thalmor, and never a supporter of their ideology -- just a mer that’s traveled far and seen much.”

     

    The brief conversation became even briefer as a noise - something between a whisper and a sigh slithered around the columns.

     

    Shandar raised his scimitar, and Ossien was transported 50 years ago, when he and his parents had stayed in Taneth at the behest of a family friend. While there, they had gotten to know some of the nobleman’s guards - and they were, still to this day, the finest warriors he had ever seen. The Bretons thought they knew swordsmanship; the Redguards turned it into a way of life that went far beyond court balls and knightly duels.

     

    An arrow clipped the air, jarring him out of the past, and he turned in time to throw a hasty bolt of lightning at a swift-moving shadowy figure.

     

    It crumpled like a marionette whose strings had been cut, screaming as it disintegrated into a sprawling pile of black remains.

     

    Zahde readied another arrow, flipping a strand of hair out of her eyes that had escaped the tightly bound ponytail.

     

    “If you’re withholding information from us, I’ll make sure you die slowly. What the hell are those?”

     

    Ossien sifted through the remains with the tip of Skycutter, disliking the unearthly aura permeating the substance.
    “I don’t know. Meridia wasn’t exaggerating when she called it a ‘foul darkness’.” He straightened, trying not to think about who this pile of blackness might have been before the necromancer’s vile hands had found them.

     

    “We have to guide Meridia’s light through the temple, and kill Malkoran. You two know as much as I do.”

     

    He didn’t wait for them to make up their minds on whether or not he spoke the truth. Though the circumstances were dark and his pride stung by the Daedra strongarming him into glorified janitorial services, Ossien still felt that old thrill of discovery that had guided him throughout much of his life.

     

    The Beacons

     

    In the center of the first chamber, stood a pedestal with a beacon nestled on its top like an egg nearly too large for its nest. Meridia’s light struck the beacon, throwing away all but the deepest shadows in the vacant corners of the temple. Ossien approached with slow, measured steps. The risk of wielding a blade such as Skycutter was that he would always be easy to identify - but Ossien preferred this to skulking around like some common thief.

     

    Zahde & Shandar had fanned out, communicating with nonverbal cues that he paid little attention to.

     

    He knew without Shandar throwing his weight against them that the doors at the top of the steps beyond were sealed tight. A second beacon, as dull as a blindman’s eyes, was fixed above the doors like a keyhole. Ossien looked at the pedestal. Can it really be that easy?

     

    Ossien touched the beacon - and shouted as a powerful surge of pain struck every nerve in his hand, even through the thick black gloves protecting it. Shaking the feeling back into his fingers, his prominent brow beetled with offense as the beacon shook, then with the grinding of unseen gears, slid up a few inches until he could see nearly the full circumference.

     

    Ossien had done the right thing. The beacon sent out it’s light to the one above the doors, a powerful beam threaded between them like spider’s silk. The doors swung open.

     

    With a glance at the others, the three treasure-seekers advanced into the next chamber.

     

    In every room thereafter, there was at least one shade and at least one beacon. No time to argue, and more often than not, no time to get more than two or three words in edgewise.

     

    They were efficient, even when the placements of the beacons grew more difficult to reach - Zahde showed her skill in climbing several times - but this was little comfort to them. The deeper they trekked, the closer they came to the black, pulsing heart of the temple.

     

    Lichen-encrusted rock fell away beneath Shandar's boots as he jumped the gap in the archway to the other side. It was Ossien's turn next, and he leaped over the void. With a detached assessment of the situation, the relic-hunter realized at the last second that he had underestimated his own fatigue, and misjudged the distance. A stupid mistake.

     

    The arches of his heels collided painfully with the edge of the platform, and he teetered, arms pinwheeling in an undignified lurch to keep himself upright. His grip on Skycutter loosened, and the sword nearly slipped from his hands as he fought gravity.

     

    The Redguard woman’s arm twitched out towards him as though to snatch him from the edge —but Ossien had managed to fall forwards, righting himself with a tensed breath.

     

    Zahde’s arm relaxed back down to her side, as if nothing had happened at all. Shandar was at the next beacon already, unawares of Ossien’s near-fatal fall.

     

    In the midst of this, Ossien’s deep green eyes had been poised on Zahde; was she trying to save me or rob me?

     

    He chose to believe the former. What being was so corrupt they would snatch the sword from his hands as he plummeted to certain injury - or death?

     

    Ossien did not waste precious seconds deliberating on what made Zahde this way, nor did he ask. An unconscious reflex or not, these Redguards surely had a long tale to tell.

     

    Already, this hallway felt different than the others. The darkness was thickest here.

     

    The time had come to face the necromancer.

     


    The Necromancer

     

    In the corpse-strewn great hall of Kilkreath's catacombs, malevolence had his back turned. Ossien, Zahde and Shandar made not a sound - not even to charge a spell - neither one daring to breathe. Zahde felt a cold bead of sweat trickle down the back of her ear, and her thoughts flickered through her memories, borne away by the tension to recall battles past.

     

    She had fallen so far, so fast. The exalted vanguard of a Crown prince, to a cunning fortune hunter with more arrows in her quiver than honor to her name. This is who I am. Zahde's grip tightened. What's done is done.

     

    "Two Redguards and an Altmer." The necromancer's voice was cold and hoarse, as if in pain. But his face - the color of long-dead cinders, with slanted crimson eyes burning beneath a prominent brow - was strangely immobile. "You will make excellent shades," he crooned, stepping over the limp husk of an Imperial soldier. "Redguards are notoriously strong-willed and violent."

     

    A fission of lightning struck the necromancer square in the chest, faltering him slightly, and forcing his face into a muted expression of cold menace. Zahde and Shandar made a pincer movement around the columns, letting the high elf distract their foe with magic.

     

    The Altmer was skilled, but he was wearied after so many shades. Even now they were not spared Malkoran's army of the damned; black wraiths of smoke and nightmare converged upon them wherever they stood.

     

    Malkoran's laughter traveled like arrowshot, piercing every corner of the room as he watched them struggle. A ward kept Ossien's shock magic at bay.

     

    Zahde cleaved the head of one shade clean off, stepping over the sooty remains to meet another - and another - and another. Soon, her teeth were clenching as an arrow-head grazed her cheekbone, a rivulet of blood flowing down the sweep of her jaw.

     

    Shandar's war cry accompanied the heavy clang of shield and scimitar against helmets and bracers. Flecks of blood dirtied the skull paint on his chest, but he paid it no mind, using his beastial strength to draw in most of the shades.

     

    The floor was strewn with bodies, and Zahde cursed, stumbling over the twisted corpse of a Stormcloak officer, only to right herself at the last moment and impale the pursuing shade.

     

    The shock attacks stopped, and a flicker of movement in the corner of Zahde's eyes revealed Ossien braced against a pillar, his expression grim.

     

    Is that elf out of magicka?

     

    She nearly asked him as much, when Malkoran stepped away from the winged pedestal supporting the final beacon.

     

    "My turn."

     

    The air grew heavy with the stench and weight of magicka, and the temperature dropped substantially as the nexus of a powerful spell gathered between the necromancer's hands.

     

    Zahde lugged the Stormcloak officer's corpse up just in time, kneeling to shield herself from the onslaught of ice, strength-sapping wind and skin-stripping frost that blasted over like dragon's breath. Zahde gasped, her lungs burning, black spots dancing before her eyes as the coldness surrounded her. The pillar behind her head had been coated with ice, sparkling with a morbid beauty in the fragile beacon-light.

     

    She pried frozen fingers from the Stormcloak's armor, and left pieces of herself behind where the skin had frozen to the metal.

     

    Malkoran threw a smaller spell - a spear of ice, pointed on both ends and thicker than a man's arm - at Shandar, only to see it skewered on the Redguard's shield.

     

    Zahde lost track of them then, her thoughts sluggish and her blood slow. Was there any point in fighting anymore? They were losing.

     

    Dying and becoming a shade was a pitiful way to end her family line. She thanked Tall Papa that their parents could not see them now - driven by greed of wealth and paying dearly for it.

     

    With the last dregs of her flagging strength, she hid herself behind an empty iron sarcophagus. A potion rolled at her feet, and Zahde numbly scooped it up, looking to it's sender.

     

    Ossien, sporting a cut above his brow and a cheek blackened by frost or fist, gave a single nod of encouragement and threw himself back into the fray.

     

    Wordless, Zahde uncorked the potion and drained it in three quick gulps.

     

    The effects were immediate. Though her wounds did not heal, the damaging power of the spell began to subside. Her head cleared. The cold no longer robbed her of her strength of will.

     

    In the clash, Malkoran had strayed from the final beacon. Seized by an impulse to active it, Zahde took a step towards the platform - at the same time that Shandar stuck the necromancer in the heart.

     

    “You’re finished,” he panted, shield in tatters on the floor beside him.

     

    The Dunmer’s lifeless face stretched into a cold, toothy smile. “Am I?”

     

    Zahde’s heart thrust its way into her throat.

     

    “Shandar get back!”

     

    The fleshy husk of Malkoran fell to the floor, shed like snakeskin, and in its place had formed a malevolent spectre of greater power than any shade they had fought before.

     

    Shandar’s face went rigid, and he made to pull his sword back, but a black-boned fist closed around his wrist, stopping him cold.

     

    In the other bony hand was a spell of frost.

     

    Zahde nocked an arrow and fired, striking the necromancer’s hand - but not before the spell was cast. The bolt of ice struck Shandar in the side, missing most of his internal organs, but it was still powerful enough to knock him - her mountain of a brother - off his feet like a straw doll.

     

    Zahde’s lips trembled, hatred searing in her eyes as if to brand the necromancer. She took aim for his face.

     

     

    The Choice


    His magicka reserves were nearly gone. The exhaled relief at seeing Shandar finish off the necromancer had transformed into morbid astonishment. Gods, I should have guessed. What a fool he was, for not realizing the depth of Malkoran’s corruption. If it was power the Dunmer had wanted, then transcending death was one way to achieve that - but no man or mer was truly ‘immortal’.

     

    If he couldn’t prove it, they were as good as dead.

     

    Ossien edged his way out from behind a pillar, slinging a weak bolt of lightning at Malkoran - more to get his attention than cause him any harm. He wanted to give Zahde time to reach her brother, and say goodbye, if need be.

     

    The shade turned upon him and glided forward with inhuman speed. As the wraith beared down on him, Ossien cynically questioned the point of Meridia's temple. She claimed to abhor the undead - and yet a necromancer could wander her halls without consequence. Killing and reaping souls as his twisted heart pleased.

     

    Realization dawned. The beacons.

     

    "Zahde! The beacon!" He lept to the side as a frost bolt took a chunk out of the column.

     

    Malkoran turned, wicked eyes targeting Zahde as she ran for the pedestal.

     

    Ossien swung Skycutter, trying to shear through the cloaking miasma and strike at whatever Malkoran had for a heart. The shade whirled upon him.

     

    Bracing himself for either death or triumph, Ossien's sword nicked at the necromancer's bones as he wove a complicated dance around his foe. Magicka and strength stretched to their limits, he cried out, teeth meeting together in a painful snap as the necromancer backhanded him.

     

    Despite himself, he backed away, terror - either an illusion spell or his own making - flashed before his eyes.

     

    Zahde's hand found the beacon. The holy light of the Glister Witch connected with the pedestal, the last link upon a chain of cleansing force that dazzled them.

     

    Momentarily blinded, Ossien's ears rang as Malkoran screamed, and lunged for Zahde, hands out-stretched to choke the life from her.

     

    Ossien forced his burning muscles to move, staggering after the necromancer - but his efforts to save her were unneeded.

     

    In Zahde's hands was no longer her bow, or the scimitar she had kept on her hip. It was Dawnbreaker, ripped from its pedestal and brandished, the holy relic a sight to behold in the hands of one who could wield it without fear. The shade hesitated, and it was in that perilous second that Zahde swung the Daedric artifact, cleaving Malkoran from shoulder to hip in a burst of white-and-orange flame.

     

    No sooner had Malkoran's blackened remains crumbled to the floor, then Zahde had cast the blade aside and returned to her brother.

     

    Ossien leaned against a column, both to regain his strength and comprehend their sudden victory.

     

    It’s over. Malkoran’s finished. But at a cost.

     

    The burly Redguard was on the floor where he had fallen, trembling from the internal cold, his breath hoarse and cloudy on every exhale. Zahde's hands moved like lightning; ripping the necromancer's robes into long strips, she barked orders at Shandar to sit up - more frightened of her brother's death than any black-magic user - and helped when it proved he could not.

     

    Ossien looked to where Dawnbreaker had fallen, the sword cast aside like a broken walking stick. He had fulfilled his quest for Meridia; the temple was cleansed. Dawnbreaker was, by right, his. As he caught his breath, he pictured himself taking up the Daedric sword and leaving the way they had come in - abandoning the twins who had tried to rob him a mere hour or two beforehand.

     

    They were thieves.

     

    But they had helped him, and his conscience could not bear the weight of so dispicable an action, of abandoning them in their gravest hour.

     

    Mind made up, Ossien gripped his gloves in his teeth, and pulled his hands free.Uncorking his last magicka bottle, Ossien quickly drained the contents, then knelt beside the twins.

     

    "I won't be able to heal him fully," he breathed deeply, letting out a slow, steadying breath. "But I can give him a fighting chance."

     

    Zahde's expression was unreadable, but she had gone rigid, her eyes boring holes into him as he held his hands over Shandar's wound.

     

    Pulling from the shallow pool of magicka he had left, Ossien concentrated, willing bones to mend and flesh to meld back together, staunching blood flow and restoring vitality to the warrior. Before the wound could fully close up, the golden glow of restoration magic faded from Ossien's tawny hands, and he lowered them, fatigued more than ever.

     

    "That's the best I can do."

     

    Shandar's breathing had grown easier, and with an expression made tight by pain, he was able to sit up.

     

    "Definitely not Thalmor," he half grimaced, half grinned. Ossien's laugh was faint. Tired, but warm.

     

    "You fought well. I could not have defeated Malkoran without either one of you."

     

    Zahde looked over her brother, the tension in her body not easing until he spared a grin.

     

    "I'm not dead yet, Zahde. Stop checking for grave-dirt."

     

    Ossien smiled, and slowly stepped away. It was time to go. Shandar's condition had only reminded him further of Inigo's troubles - not that he had truly forgotten - and it was time he returned to Dragon Bridge.

     

    "Hey!"

     

    He turned in time to see Zahde draw the Gauldur Amulet out of her pocket. She placed the heavy pendent in his hand, and met his gaze evenly.

     

    This was as close to a thank you as Zahde was going to give. It was enough. Retying the amulet around his neck, Ossien accepted it graciously.

     

    "Are you two going to be alright?"

     

    Shandar was now sitting on the lip of a sarcophagus, gathering his strength.

     

    "Yes." Said Zahde. "Go."

     

    Ossien raised his hand in farewell, and made for the last set of doors leading to the outside.
    It’s finished, Meridia.

     

    As he’d expected, the doors swung open, the light of a new morning spilling in and chasing the last of the shadows out.

     


    The Break of Dawn


    With her brother's arm across her shoulders, Zahde hobbled out into the brilliant dawn, her eyes scrunched and watering against the light. Their progress was slow, and Ossien was long gone by the time they finally crossed the stone bridge and returned to the first temple.

     

    They stopped to rest on the steps, the statue of Meridia looming. Zahde looked at the sword in her hand. It was Dawnbreaker; the Altmer hadn't taken it with him, and she'd felt compelled to take it with her - not by right, but by... something inexplicable.

     

    While Shandar complained about not having any wine to wash some of the pain away, Zahde looked to Meridia's statue, staring into the cold, stone face of the Daedric Prince.

     

    Before her mind could be made up, Zahde's feet left the ground; she faintly heard Shandar call her name as she was lifted high, high above the temple and towards the sun. The view was spectacular; the dips and rises of Skyrim were touched by the rosy fingers of dawn, the light stroking the treetops and glinting off the waves down at the coast.

     

    A sphere of light, somehow brighter than the sun yet still bearable, appeared before her.

     

    "Malkoran is vanquished. Skyrim's dead shall remain at rest. This is as it should be. This is because of you. A new day is dawning. And you shall be its herald."

     

    The hairs along Zahde's arms were raised. A new day is dawning...

     

    "Take the mighty Dawnbreaker and with it purge corruption from the dark corners of the world. Wield it in my name, that my influence may grow. You will be my new champion, mortal. Do you accept?"

     

    Zahde closed her eyes. There was danger in aligning herself with Meridia, but at the same time, no more danger than she and Shandar usually got themselves into trying to rob adventurers. This was a chance to become something more than a fallen warrior; in their culture, to slay the dead - even the unholy kind - was a taboo that was almost irredeemable.

     

    Only the lowest among them dared perform such an unclean task.

     

    But this wasn't Hammerfell. And she was so tired of the path she was walking. She had been living a false life for so long, she had forgotten what it felt like to fight with honor again.

     

    Zahde opened her eyes.

     

    "I accept."

     

    Meridia's light brightened, and some of her own shadows were hurled back into the darkness where they belonged.

     

     

     

     

    This story was originally for AMOSS, but I got unexpectedly busy and ended up finishing it sometime in late February or early March. Then I forgot about it. Whoops ^^;

     

    I hope you enjoyed it!

     

    Curious about any of the protagonists? Zahde doesn't have a profile up yet, but hopefully this year.
    Instead, here's Ossien's~ Ossien of Sunhold

    And a few relevant mod links.

    Shandar, Standalone Redguard Follower (Permission granted by Oaristys to use Shandar in fanworks)
    Skycutter

    Inigo, Custom Khajiit Follower (Permission granted by SmartBlueCat to use Inigo in fanworks)

     

Comments

6 Comments   |   Paws and 3 others like this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 29
    I was under a rock to have not seen this posted! Fun story, Fawn. Nice to see Ossien and the Meridia quest. 
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  September 29
    Finally got it. I find Ossien quite interesting. In another life he could have been a distant cousin of another Old Mary, hehehe :D Thoroughly enjoyed the spin on Merid's quest, Fawn. Good job :)
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Finally got it. I find Ossien quite interesting. In another life he could have been a distant cousin of another Old Mary, hehehe :D Thoroughly enjoyed the spin on Merid's quest, Fawn. Good job :)
        ·  September 29
      Thanks Karvs! This one was a lot of fun to write, and I got to try out a new format. Hopefully more Ossien tales in the future. :)
      • The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        Thanks Karvs! This one was a lot of fun to write, and I got to try out a new format. Hopefully more Ossien tales in the future. :)
          ·  September 29
        It's always good to try something different, write something else. It's fun, it's refreshing. Keep fighting the good fight. :)
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 26
    It's all gone Merid! I like Ossy of Sunny, he's cool. Zahde and Shandor are new to me, I think. But I like them too! 
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      It's all gone Merid! I like Ossy of Sunny, he's cool. Zahde and Shandor are new to me, I think. But I like them too! 
        ·  September 26
      Thanks for reading it! This was Zahde & Shandar's introduction of sorts. :)