Walk with the Shadows Ch 14

  • Walk with the Shadows

    Chapter Fourteen:The Pilgrim’s Path


        In the murky entrance to the Twilight Sepulcher, Lucina stands before the spirit of her father. A chance that a scant few have ever had or ever will. Lucian stands at the top of the staircase leading into the Temple of Nocturnal, keeping watch for rogue Sentinels. He sees one pass through the halls from time to time, but they seem to be uninterested in what’s happening at the entrance. Lucina goes over the story of her life with the shade before her. Gallus hangs on every word. Gallus says, “Your life has not been an easy one. I hope you can forgive me for not being there.” Lucina stands proudly, “I had my trials, but they made me stronger. Smarter. Better.” Gallus chuckles to himself, “So they did.” he pauses a moment before asking, “But… I don’t understand… When I died, the journal was supposed to go to you then. You’re saying you only got it a few months ago?” “Yes,” Lucina responds, “I have been a thief for most of my life. It’s what I’m good at. Too good apparently. The couriers that your contacts hired to deliver your journal to me, couldn’t find me until… Until Mom died… They knew where I’d be then.” A somber moment is shared between the Nightingales.


       Lucian notes more activity in the halls. “Sorry to break d’is up, Cher, but d’e other Sentinels are becoming restless. I t’ink d’ey know you have d’e Key”. Gallus turns sharply, “THE KEY! You have the Skeleton Key?” Lucina pulls out the Key from the pouch on her back. Gallus looks upon it, “I never thought I’d see it again… And Mercer Frey?” Lucina looks up at him, “Dead… By my hand. Your journal told us all we needed to expose him to the Guild.” Gallus looks down in contemplation, “Then… It’s over. My death wasn’t in vain… I owe you more than I can say, Lucina.” Lucina smiles, “I did this for you… and the Guild.” Gallus steps back and takes her measure, “You’ve done a great deed. And while the others may not show it, I am certain they appreciate your sacrifices. I’m just sorry you had to undertake this trial alone.” Lucian looks back, “Eh?” Lucina smiles, “I wasn’t alone. I had help. Brynjolf, Karliah, and apparently Lucian as well.” Gallus stiffens and says, “Karliah! She’s still alive? I feared she’d befallen the same fate, ended up a victim of Mercer’s betrayal.” Maintaining his vigil, Lucian says, “If she had, she would’ve been here wit’ you, wouldn’t she. I don’t figure it’ll be too long before Mercer pops up in here somewhere… he still has a debt to pay.”


        Lucina holds the key up to Gallus, “Here. Take the Key. Make things right.” Gallus just stares at the Key, “I would be proud to return the Key to its rightful place, but… I’m afraid it’s not that simple. From the moment I arrived here, I’ve felt myself… well… Dying.” Lucian quips, “Now d’at d’ere would be a trick…” Lucina looks back at him with annoyance, “Lucian. Please?” She turns back to Gallus, “What do you mean? How can a spirit die?” Gallus looks up towards the temple entrance, “The Sepulcher isn’t merely a temple or a vault to house the Key. Within these walls is the Ebonmere… a conduit to Noctrunal’s realm of Evergloam. When Mercer stole the Key, that conduit closed, severely limiting our ties to her. I’m weakened. I can feel myself slipping away. The years without restoration of my power has taken its toll.” Lucina looks at the Key, “Then Lucian and I will do it.” Lucian walks down the steps, “Afraid not, Cher. I’m good, better d’an good, but I can’t hide from a goddess. Where you’re going, only a Nightingale is meant to be. And d’at ain’t me… Besides, the Ol’ Man and I got somet’ings to discuss.” Sensing the truth of his words, Lucina does not argue. “So…” she says, “Alone then…” Gallus places his hand on her shoulder, “I’m afraid so. Whatever damage has been caused can only be corrected by following the Pilgrim’s Path to the Ebonmere and replacing the Key.”


       Lucina tries to ready herself for this trial, “What will I face on the Path?” Gallus replies grievously, “I wish I could help you, but I’ve been a prisoner in this very chamber for the last quarter century. I have no idea what you’ll face beyond those stairs.” Lucian chimes in, “I do… More folk like him. Nightingales of ages past. Probably gone mad and killin’ any livin’ t’ing in sight. Can’t you smell it?” Lucina has noticed the air is saturated with the smell of decay and rot. Lucian shakes his head, “Ain’t you wondered why, despite bein’ a temple to a Daedric Lord… no priests… no worshipers… Just ghosts wanderin’ d’e halls.” He looks back to the stairs, “D’ey killed ‘em all.” He turns back to Lucina, “And you gotta get past ‘em. And d’ey ain’t gonna like d’at one bit” Gallus recalls a body he found, “The only possible help I’ve come across are the remains of some poor fellow who was trying to follow in your footsteps. He had a journal on him. Perhaps that can help?” Lucina puts the key back in her pouch and sighs, “Alright…” Gallus looks her over, “Good luck... Nightingale.”


       Lucina walks over to the body, Gallus mentioned. She finds a set of bones, a ragged pack, and a glowing Dwemer War-Axe. In the sack is a few gold pieces, lock picks, and a leather bound book titled “Nystorm’s journal”. In its pages are riddles and clues hinting at how to traverse the Pilgrim’s Path. She tucks it in her belt and returns to the stairs where she is stopped by Lucian, “Hold on… Take d’is…” He hands her his satchel, “It’s got healin’ potions, stamina draughts, and d’at big one d’ere is an invisibility potion. Very powerful. Keep you hid for a good long while.” She takes the satchel and puts it over her shoulder. Lucian touches her cheek, “I be here when you get back, yeah?” Gallus looks at them suspiciously. She smiles at him, “When this is over, you’re going to have to tell me how you know the things you know. That spell that paralysed everyone in the chamber we found Mercer in, where to have Iona waiting for us with a campfire and food, how you knew where this place even was. I want to know how you knew...” Lucian just grins, “I’m just d’at good, Cher.” Lucina rolls her eyes and he says, “Alright… You come back to me and ask me again… I might even tell ya.” She says, “Yes… you will.” Then she heads up the stairs.


       Lucian watches her go and suddenly feels Gallus behind him. Gallus asks, “Lucian… Did something transpire between you and my Lucina?” Lucian rubs the back of his head as he turns around, “Yeah…. D’ats one of d’em t’ings we gotta talk ‘bout.” Gallus responds quickly and coldly, “No… We don’t.” Lucian tilts his head, “Yeah we kinda do…” Gallus is again cold in his response, “No… Because if we do, I am certain I am going to kill you.” Lucian takes a dry gulp and says, “Alright d’en… We just talk about somethin’ else…See, you d’e type of man d’at would have known where all sorts of priceless items would be. Even items you would never want to steal. Things like… d’e Ebony Blade. I’m bettin’ you know right where it is.” Gallus scowls, “Why would you even want that damned thing?” Lucian smiles, “So you do know where it is.” Gallus says, “Yes… and I’m not telling you.” Lucian loses his smile, “You need to tell me, Ol’ Man.” Gallus folds his arms, “Tell me why.” Lucian groans as he sits down on the steps and hangs his head, “Alright, fine!… When I first got to Skyrim, I wandered about for a while. Came across a big Manor in Falkreath off by itself. Had a bunch of well armed Khajiits walkin’ d’e grounds. Got closer and saw some hiddin’ up in d’e trees. Awful lot of guards… d’ey had to be protectin’ somethin’ pretty special. So I snuck in d’ere and…” Gallus interrupts, “Shepard!... You damn fool. You stole from a Vampire?” Lucian shrugged, “No… I did try to though… Had my pockets full of gems and gold when one of her cats caught me. Her guards were gonna tear me apart… or worse. Only reason I’m still alive is cause the Lady of d’e house stopped ‘em. Offered me a deal. She lets me live if I collect a few items for her. Shepard is a seer of a sort. When Lucina left me to go after Mercer, I… contacted Shepard and asked her if Lucina was going to need any help… D’at’s where I got the spell and d’e locations. In exchange, I am to retrieve d’e Ebony Blade. If I don’t bring it back, she will lock me up in her pen of slaves where she and her cats will feed on me ‘til d’e day I die.” Lucian stands up, “Now… I’m beggin’ ya, Ol’ Man. Where is it?” Gallus shakes his head, “You’re a damned fool… Perhaps you should tell me about you and Lucina.”

        The first chamber Lucina comes to has a large staircase leading down to another level. There are candles lining the steps. At the top is a study on one side and a set of bookcases on the other side. There are several Nightingale Shades wandering the area. They seem aimless and confused. She considers drinking the invisibility potion, but there are plenty of shadows to conceal her movements. At the bottom of the staircase is a podium. Looking back, the stairs could also serve as seats, perhaps this was where sermons would be held? She wonders before pressing on. She moves through the passages and finds there to be several sets of bones in alcoves along the walls, “So this is what happened to the priests.” she thinks to herself. At the end of the passage is a black door leading to a chamber where darkness seems to blanket the area. Despite there being large braziers, the light is contained to a small radius. There are multiple raised platforms blocking her way. “A maze, then? Shouldn’t be too AH!” her shoulder briefly enters the light of one of the Braziers. It fills her with a burning sensation and she jumps back into the darkness. She drinks a healing option, “Right… the journal said ‘we love the murk, but have contempt for the glow’… So… stay out of the light. ” She rubs her shoulder and continues to move through the chamber past several traps hidden in the shadows.


       Lucina comes to a well lit room that dead ends with a statue of Nocturnal. She closes her eyes and cautiously sticks her hand into the light. She peeks when there is no sense of burning and breathes a sigh of relief. She stands in front of the statue and looks around. No noticeable way out. There is, however, a dead bandit on the floor and a few offerings on the statue’s base. She pulls out the journal and says, “Offer what she desires most, but reject the material. For what her greatest want is that which cannot be seen, felt, or carried…. Riddles… why is it always riddles…” Gold and jewels have been left. One fool seems to have offered his life… or someone offered it for him. She walks around the room until she sees a small chain hanging from one of the Braziers close to the statue. Another chain is found on the brazier opposite. She looks around for any kind of trap that may spring before pulling each chain. The braziers go out and shadow covers the statue. A slab of the stone wall behind the statue grinds as it slides down. “Mistress of Murk” she utters before moving on.


       Lucina comes to a corridor that is lined with pressure plates and near the end several large swinging blades blocking her path. She spots holes in the walls for poison darts and who knows what else. Again she pulls out the journal, “Okay… murk… offerings… here we go. Direct and yet indirect. The path of salvation, a route of cunning with fortune betraying the foolish… Well… that’s not helpful at all.” She prepares herself to simply run for it, but out of the corner of her eye, she spots the edge of a door hidden behind some rubble. Upon inspection, the door is locked. Nothing for a master thief… or so one would think. She breaks off several picks in the attempt to open the door. Then she remembers, “Oh for shits sakes, Girl… you have the blasted Skeleton Key… Glad I’m here alone now.” Using the Key, the lock opens with ease. On the other side there is a large room filled with tomes, ruined books, alchemical ingredients, and a small assortment of trinkets… and a number of Shades guarding them. She drinks the invisibility potion then creeps down a ledge and pockets a few valuables, before climbing back up and pressing on. The halls lead her around the death traps that blocked her way previously and she continues on the Pilgrim’s Path.

       Met with a doorway leading only to a pit with no visible way back up, Lucina just stares down. “What?” She asks, “This is it?” She pulls out the journal again, “blah blah blah…. The journey is complete. The Empress' embrace awaits the fallen…” She flips through the pages a few times and looks to see if something was torn out. She looks into the pit again, “I’m supposed to just jump down there?… I can see the bones of the last idiot that did that!” She backtracks and looks for anything she could possibly form a rope or build a ladder, but finds nothing that could close the gap between the doorway and the bottom of the pit. She returns to the doorway and eases down to hang from the bottom ledge. “Lucina,” she says, “This is a really bad idea!” then lets herself drop several feet to the dark pit’s floor. She lands hard and falls to her back. She groans a moment, “Yep… bad idea…ow… ow…” and drinks another healing potion.


       After taking a moment to recover from the fall, she searches the walls and floor for something to press or move or climb. Smooth cold stone is all she finds. She tries to dig her daggers into the wall and climb out, but the blades cannot even scratch the stone. She calls out in desperation, “LUCIAN!!” All for naught. She stands at the center of the pit looking up, “Unbelievable… All this… and I’m going to starve to death in a giant hole in the ground…” She pulls out the Skeleton Key and asks, “Are you even good for anything?” She grows still at the sight of the symbols on the handle starting to move. The key itself begins to vibrate in her palm. Below her, she feels the earth shift and loosen. “Oh shit…” she says as the floor collapses into a lower chamber.


       She wakes up on the floor of the new chamber. Strange symbols litter the ground and walls. There is a mound on the stone floor at the center of the room with an otherworldly round crest in the middle. She spots a small hole in its peak. She feels of the etchings and says “This must be the Ebonmere, then…” She holds the key over the hole. She feels a pulsing of some kind emanating from the Key’s handle. As odd as it seems, she got the distinct feeling that the Key WANTED to be inside the Ebonmere. Lucina places the Key in the lock and turns until she feels something catch. The mound she is on begins to tremble and rise. She dives off to the side as a pair of spikes spring up along the raised stone. The crest itself sinks and vanishes into a pool of black liquid. A swarm of ravens burst up from the liquid followed by one of the most powerful creatures to ever exist. The Daedric Lord Nocturnal.


       She floats in mid air and looks down on her Nightingale. The immortal wears only a hooded, but otherwise revealing, black robe with dark gold trim and embroidered with pale swirls that flatter a form that can only be called divinely voluptuous. The vast array of things this entity is capable of doing to her, Lucina can only focus on how beautiful and elegant she is. All she can think to do is bow and say, “Your Grace…” Nocturnal says, “My my… What have we here?... It’s been a number of  years since I last set foot on your world. Or perhaps it’s been only moments. One tends to lose track.” Lucina wisely remains humbly silent. Nocturnal eyes her for a moment before speaking, “So… Once again the Key has been stolen and a ‘champion’ returns it to Sepulcher. Now that the Ebonmere has been restored, you stand before me awaiting your accolades; a pat on your head… a kiss on your cheek… What you fail to realize is that your actions were expected and represent nothing more than the fulfillment of your agreement.” Lucina’s mind begins to race. The Goddess’ tone is not one of satisfaction nor approval. Did she do something wrong? Did she not do something? Should she say something? Should she stay silent? As if Nocturnal was reading Lucina’s thoughts, she puts her mind at ease saying, “Don’t take my tone as displeasure, after all, you obediently performed your duties to the letter. But we both know this has nothing to do with honor and oaths and loyalty. It’s about the reward… the prize… Fear not. You’ll have your trinkets, your desire for power, your hunger for wealth.” With a raven perched on each shoulder, Nocturnal raises her arms, “I bid you to drink deeply from the Ebonmere, Mortal. For this is where the agent of Nocturnal is born… The Oath has been struck, the die has been cast, and your fate awaits you in the Evergloam.” Swirls of unlight dance about the room as Nocturnal begins to descend back down into the Ebonmere, “Farewell, Nightingale. See to it that the Key stays this time, won’t you?”


       With the Goddess gone, Lucina stands and marvels at the fact she has survived an encounter with a Daedric Lord. So much so that she barely notices that Karliah is standing just off to her left, “Karliah? How did you...” looking behind her fellow Nightingale, she sees parts of the walls have transformed into glowing mystical portals and new symbols of the moons dot around the Ebonmere. Karliah says, “I’m glad you were able to bring the Key back safely. Nocturnal seemed quite pleased with your efforts.” Lucina scoffs, “Pleased?... She sounded indifferent at best.” Karliah makes a slight chuckle, “I wouldn’t take that to heart. It’s her way. Think of her as a scolding mother constantly pushing you harder to be successful; outwardly sounding angry, but silently content. I assure you, if she were displeased with you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Lucina looks back to the Ebonmere, “Well… it’s done… Nocturnal said something about the ‘Agent of Nocturnal’ being born here… What’s that about?” Karliah points to the symbols on the ground, “The circles at the base of the Ebonmere can imbue you with powers befitting a Nightingale agent. The crescent moon marks the agent of shadow. With it, you will completely vanish from sight for a time. The half moon represents the agent of subterfuge. It allows you to cloud the mind of a target and turn them against their allies. The full moon represents the agent of strife. You can call on dark tendrils to reach out and steal life energy from an enemy, grievously injuring them in the process.” Lucina looks at the symbols, “Can I not take all three?” “No.’” Karliah says, “Only one can be chosen per day… it’s Nocturnals way of maintaining balance.”


       Lucina sighs, “Well… What now?” Karliah replies, “Now your life as a Nightingale begins. Should the need ever arise, you will be summoned back to the Sepulcher in order to defend it.” Lucina nods, “And what about you? You’ve been running for so long.” Karliah thinks a moment, “The Guild has welcomed me back with open arms. I feel like a void in my life has finally been filled. I only hope that this isn’t an end to things, but actually a beginning.” Curious, Lucina asks, “The beginning of what?” Karliah laughs, “Why…perhaps the greatest crime spree Skyrim has ever known! There are pockets brimming with coin and coffers overflowing with riches ripe for the picking. We may be Nightingales, but in our hearts we’re still thieves and we’re damn good at what we do. As for you… choose a stone. Take your place as a Nightingale.” Lucina looks around weighing the power on offer. She stands on the Crescent Moon and then feels a cool gentle wave pass through her. Just then the Shade of Gallus steps through one of the portals, “Karliah?” Karliah looks over, “Gallus!... I feared I would never see you again. I was afraid you had become… like the others.” Gallus looks to Lucina, “If not for the actions of my… this Nightingale, your fears would have come true. She honors us all.” Lucina hides a tiny smile of pride. Karliah asks, “What will you do know, my love?” Gallus looks back to Karliah, “Nocturnal calls me to the Evergloam. My contract is fulfilled.” Lucina’s heart stops for an instant, “What? You can’t just…” Gallus holds up his hand, “It’s alright. You’re stronger than I ever was. You’ll be fine.” Karliah asks, “Will I ever see you again?” He looks between the two of them, “When you’re debt to Nocturnal has been paid, we will embrace once again.” Lucina can barely contain herself. Karliah just looks at him, “Farewell Gallus. Eyes open… Walk with the Shadows.” Gallus respond simply with, “Goodbye… both of you.”


       Gallus stands before the Ebnomere a moment and then... he is gone. Lucina and Karliah are silent for a moment. Lucina asks, “Where… where did he go?” Karliah somberly answers, “Gallus’ Oath has been paid. His actions satisfied the terms of the agreement. Now his spirit becomes one with the Evergloam. The realm of perpetual twilight and the cradle of shadow. “ Lucina has had more than her fill of riddles, “So he’s gone?” “No, not gone.” Karliah says, “He’s become one with the shadows. This is the greatest honor a Nightingale can possibly receive. In death, we become part of that which we use to live.” Lucina looks around, “You're saying he’s part of the darkness around us?” Karliah nods, “Absolutely. When we say ‘walk with the shadows’ we are asking those Nightingales who have passed on to protect us. It’s believed that they are what guides our uncanny luck. By placing their hands in ours. That’s why the Ebonmere needed to be reopened. Without it, there was no way for Nocturnal to let them through.”


       From a large blue portal at the entry hall, Lucina steps out and finds Lucian sitting on the steps. “Still here?” She asks. Lucian looks back, “Took your sweet time. I ain’t one to wait around forever, Cher.”  He stands and looks up at her as she walks down. He asks, “You find what you was lookin’ for?” She pauses a moment, “I think so… I’d like to go back to Riften now.” Lucian smiles, “Okay… But we need to make a stop in Whiterun, first… Promises to keep.”



    The story so far:

    Walk with the Shadows Ch 1 Walk with the Shadows Ch 2 Walk with the Shadows Ch 3 Walk with the Shadows Ch 4 Walk with the Shadows Ch 5 Walk with the Shadows Ch 6 Walk with the Shadows Ch 7 Walk with the Shadows Ch 8 Walk with the Shadows Ch 9 Walk with the Shadows Ch 10 Walk with the Shadows Ch 11 Walk with the Shadows Ch 12 Walk with the Shadows Ch 13 Walk with the Shadows Ch 14 Walk with the Shadows Ch 15


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