A.D.W.D. Chapter 11: Tales by Fire Light


    Tyranus set his mug down and looked across the fire lit faces of Karthwasten’s folk.


    “Hmmm, where to begin, not the beginning that much I know… and definitely not my first encounter with the deadra…”


    “What type a’ story skips the beginning?” a Nord called out, taking an extra effort to fight the mead from slurring his t’s.


    “My beginnings were not my proudest moments; I couldn’t taint such good folks’ ears with tales of those.”


    “Hah, good folk.” The Nord elbowed the miner next him. “Now we have to know! What dirty secrets hide under those robes?”


    “Sorry, not those type.” Tyranus smiled and then sighed. “Fine… It all started in a small farm secluded in the Heartlands of Cyrodiil. It was a pleasant village, the Great War never reached us and we had plenty of food to last a long winter, but I wasn’t content with a simple life. In my hotheaded youth, I believed I was destined for fame and glory, that the farm was holding back my potential. So, after a particularly heated fight with my folks, I packed up what little I had and left without ever looking back.” He checked on Belchimac and saw that he had the lad’s full attention.


    “I went straight to the grand Imperial City to find my fortune. Now, mind you, I had never gone more than a day’s travel from my home before. I walked all through the night in unknown lands and arrived with the morning rush passing through the grand gates of the capital. I waited for the crowds to die down atop a rock overshadow by city walls, walls that scraped the very heavens and were built with a craftsmanship not seen in ages. If you looked closely, you could see that the stones fit so smoothly together that there was nary a gap wider than a blade.


    Then when the sun had nearly reached its zenith, I realized that the stream of people wasn’t the morning rush, but the norm. So, I steeled myself and went to bump elbows with the mob. Once inside my senses were bombarded. The narrow streets were a melting pot of accents, languages, and smells from all across Tamriel. I stumbled and bumped my way through the maze of stalls and stores in a daze, not even noticing the snide comments about another country bumpkin in the city.


    I sought out the Fighters’ Guild first, but they looked me over in a glance and turned me away. The Great War had just ended and nearly every veteran was vying for position amongst the guild; a nameless, inexperienced farmer stood no chance. The Legion graciously offered to let me go to the border skirmishes provided I could supply my own weapons and training, while both the Synod and College of Whispers asked for my references and whatever a Curriculum Vitae was, and the different orders of knights only recruited from renowned families. Even work as a tradesman or craftsman required a recommendation and guild dues.


    I ended up finding sporadic work as a courier and alternating between the churches for a place to sleep. While the churches were generous, they could not support all the homeless from the post-war depression and had to shut their doors when full. It was those nights I truly prayed to the gods, for the streets were filled with terrors after dark. Gangs roamed the alleys, collectors rounded up anyone they found for fodder in the Arena, and many simply disappeared. Most of the vanished were never seen again, but sometimes a bloodless corpse or half eaten remains would be found hidden in a nook or stuffed in a barrel.”


    Tyranus paused to look across his audience’s suspense stricken faces and noticed Trebonde’s pleasantly smiling mask had broken. The priest could see that a raw memory was eating at the man.




    Trebonde was once again trapped in the waterfront slums of the “Grand” Imperial City as a young boy, a place where demons and men were often indistinguishable. He was holding an empty bottle of a stolen poison of fatigue, the first step to getting himself and his mother out this hellhole. He’d been watching from the shadows as his old man stumbled from the tavern; he’d been watching when the man collapsed on the street, unable to fight the drink and poison all the way home this one night; he’d been watching when then collectors came; and he’d been cheering with the mob when the beasts of the arena tore the bastard to pieces. If only the rest of the plan had gone so smoothly.




    So, you are from the city and not the good side either, Tyranus thought analyzing Trebonde’s expression, then continued:


    “Nobody slept alone on the streets, one would keep watch while the other slept; not that it provided any real protection. For one night on the streets, I woke alone. Nothing but a single drop of blood betrayed that my watcher had ever been there at all. The feeling of terror and helplessness that a monster could take the life of someone I’d been leaning on while I slept was more than I could bear, but at the same time I was too stubborn to crawl back home.


    It was that day I came upon a priest kneeling beneath the shadow of the grand statue of a The Dragon God of Time. The wings blotted out the sun and the stone so detailed it seemed the god might awaken at any moment. The place was now known as the Monument of the One in honor of the legendary battle that banished The Destroyer from our lands, but history was not on my mind then, escape, food, that fat coin purse dangling from the priest’s belt was.”


    Tyranus hated telling this part of his life, it still shamed him so, but he could tell he was getting through to Amari. Understanding was reflected in her eyes, she understood all too well the terror Daedra could instill. His pride meant nothing in the name of saving a border child. She needed hope, to see that others had faced their fear to fight.


    “In a moment of weakness, I snuck behind him while he was deep in prayer and went to take, no I should call it what it was, steal his purse. Without breaking his prayer, he shot a hand out gripping mine in a viselike grip. I struggled and kicked, but only succeeded in breaking a toe against his flesh. In the end, I was forced to kneel next to him and listen as he finished his service.


    When he finished, an endeavor that took some time, he asked me just one simple question, ‘Why?’


    He stopped my impulse response, an excuse really, with a glare and forced me to reflect on the true reason. After some time I responded with an equally simple answer, ‘Fear.’


    He nodded, understanding, and then rose, a tower of hardened flesh hidden beneath simple robes. He looked over his shoulder at and spoke, ‘Come with me and it will be the demons that fear you.’


    And that, my friends, is how I came to join the Vigilants of Stendarr under the hard fisted tutelage of Master Jorn ‘Stonewall’.”


    Tyranus stopped and gazed into the fire. The audience was in a somber silence. The story had taken a much darker turn than expected and they reflected on their own sins, most of them at least. 


    Belichmac raised his voice, “That it? Did you ever get what ate your friend? Where’s the action? How’d your partner die?”


    Tyranus choked at the last question. Tellevi moved behind Belchimac and smacked the back of his head. “Show some decency to the mourning, twit!”


    “No, no, it is fine Tellevi,” Tyranus responded after regaining his voice, “I fear this is why no one invites me to parties. We slew countless vampires and daedra in those alleys, but I will never know for certain if the one I first brushed with was among them. I shall not speak of her death tonight.” The very thought filled him with a rage he was unsure he could control. “I shall instead speak of her most glorious moment, when we defeated a Markynaz.”


    He closely watched Amari’s and Trebonde’s faces as he said the last word. Surprise and recognition flashed across both their faces. Had he blinked, he would have missed the brief lapse in the man’s mask, but Amari took a few moments longer to match her face to the confusion on the villagers’. He frowned disapprovingly; she was rapidly acquiring that snake’s traits. He hadn’t known what he’d find, but he was surprised that both would know of the less common Daedric classes.     


    Another villager was asking what a ‘Mar cane ass’ was, so he continued, “The Dremora are a clan based race of usually red skinned and horned demonic savages. A Markynaz is a part of their Council of Lords and is among the most powerful of Mehrunes Dagon’s army.”


    Many of the villagers covered their ears at the Daedric Prince’s name.


    “Do not fear a name!” Tyranus commanded. “Fear is the tool the Daedra use to separate us! Know that the Divines are present in us all, always. Keep your faith and know should your mortal life perish, your immortal soul will be reborn, graced by the Divines.”


    He cleared his throat and continued with the story, “Cults spring up like weeds, although most are harmless imitations, occasionally one will attract the real thing. At first we thought this one was a joke. They were yet another trying to revive the Mythic Dawn and called themselves ‘The Second Coming,’ but when the Imperial Guard showed us that their dossier on the Thieves Guild kept leading back to that name, we had to take them seriously.


    The cult had been collecting artifacts of power that seemed random at first, but after one of our Elders studied the dossier, he revealed the items could lead to the creation of an Oblivion Gate! On top of that, there was no way a mortal would have knowledge of all the sought after items; this cult had found help from beyond.


    The Guard had been trying to predict what the remaining ingredients were, but had only decisively found Mehrunes Dagger to be a consistent requirement. After the Oblivion Crisis, the Hero of Kvatch had brought the dagger to the Cyrodiilic Hall of Vigilance. Our order shattered it and spread the pieces across Tamriel to ensure it would never be fully formed again. The Hall had kept one of the blade shards and in a bold move we put it for sale on the black market to attract the cult.


    It wasn’t long before a thief came to our shill’s house, but what they didn’t know was one of our gifted enchanters had placed a tracking spell on the blade.”




     It was him this whole time! Trebonde thought furiously. He remembered stealing that blade shard and it was indeed the real thing. He couldn’t resist testing it and had set the shard atop a suit of steel plate armor in the shill’s home. Just the weight of the blade sliced through the armor as if it was air and it fell all the way through the armor, stopping at the floor only because it had rotated onto its side as it fell. 




    Trebonde maintained his mask this time and Tyranus continued oblivious, “The thief took the bait hook, line, and sinker. A unit of the Imperial’s Royal Guard and seven vigilants followed the blade’s signature knee deep into the sewers beneath the city. It was only supposed to be six of Stendarr’s Hammers, three masters each with their most senior journeyman, but my apprentice Viana met us in the sewers unannounced.


    Far into the uncharted passages the meeting took place and the shard traded hands.  The royal guard tracked the thief to the guild’s den, leading to the largest criminal underworld arrest in the history of Cyrodiil, while we followed the blade to the very infernos of Oblivion.


    Eventually our tracking led us to a wooden door, no different than the hundreds past already. Behind this simple door was a secret that threatened all of Tamriel. We pushed our livers to the limit in preparation: we downed potions of fortify health, fortify magicka, resist fire, resist lighting, and had potions of healing on the ready. Then we cast our stone flesh,” Tyranus raised his burnt hands and clenched them into fists glowing with violet power. The intact skin transformed into stone while he grimaced in pain as the energy flickered as flames over the burnt flesh.


    He quickly released the spell, but the impact was made. The Bretons awed over the display while a few of the Nords muttered about witchcraft.


    “Jorn Stonewall, my master, lead the charge. ‘FOR STENDARR’ he bellowed and with a single kick he ripped the door clean off its hinges and sent it careening into the gathered cultists. Master Arius, Rona, and I followed with wards raised, then spread out to either side of Master Jorn to form a defensive wall. Master Raelyn, Ocando, and Viana rained fire down upon the cultist from behind the safety of our wards. Half the cultists were immediately incinerated in the cacophony of exploding fireballs echoing throughout the enclosed dungeon cell. The remaining nine cultists brought their own wards up in time and charged, desperate to be free of the barrage.


    We, the frontline, dropped our wards and met them with maces raised and lighting arcing. They were pathetic would have been crushed easily beneath our steel, but the Dremora they had summoned beckoned them. It stood proud in dark robes, easily over six feet tall with skin like dried blood and the horns of a ram. It watched its minions fall, unfazed despite the flames splashing across its summoning circle. 


    ‘Free me!’ It snarled in a voice like grinding metal, ‘Unbind me and your foes will fall before me!’


    A young cultist in smoldering robes broke from combat to heed his master’s bidding.


    ‘No!’ The cultist I was bearing down on shouted through his burning beard with fear thick in his voice, but it was too late. The other knelt and spoke the words of release. The Markynaz was free to roam our world. It laughed in a horrendous voice filled with malice, ‘Foolish mortal! Oblivion will take you all!’


    It thrust out its hands and a wave of dark energy passed across us all, vigilants and cultists alike. It felt as if a fire or a hooked chain softly, but unrelentingly, tore at my very soul, guiding me into the demon’s embrace. Master Raelynn cried out, warning us it had trapped all of our souls, but did not yet own them. For a moment neither side move, then the demon began to channel its energy.


    ‘Turtle!’ I remember Stonewall yelling. I grabbed Viana by the collar and threw her into the center of our circle; she was too young for this maneuver. The six senior members closed the circle and we linked our wards, forming a protective dome. The cultists were not so lucky, the Dremora unleashed a firestorm that encased the entire dungeon. The stone walls glowed red and cracked, moisture from the sewers exploded into steam, and the surviving cultists turned to ash in the inferno. The room had become Oblivion. Our dome protected us from the flames, but even so the steam and superheated floor would have boiled the skin from our bones if not for our stone flesh. As it was, each breath was like drinking boiling water. 


    While the cultists’ ashes scattered in the torrent’s flames, their souls knew no such freedom. As one they were sucked towards the Markynaz who was waiting with his robe held open, revealing row upon row of black soulgems hanging from the fabric. Never before had I seen so many of the infernal crystals, soulgems designed to rape man and mer of all their life essence and then sentence them to an eternity of Purgatory. The fight took new meaning from that point on; any vigilant that fell during this battle would join the ranks of the cultists as fuel for the daedra.


     As the inferno died out, the Dremora reached behind it and withdrew a black staff as twisted as what passed for its soul, it placed one of the now glowing soulgems on the corrupt wood and the weapon greedily drained the gem of the soul trapped within. The demon leapt to the side to get an angle on Ocando, a rare Altmer that had joined the Order, and let loose a concentrated beam of Oblivion’s fires. The dome couldn’t ward against such a focused attack and the poor Mer lit up like a stack of dry kindling.


    Master Arius and I charged the demons left flank while Master Jorn and Viana charged his right. Rona and Raelynn supported with bolts of lighting and by strengthening us with restoration spells. The Dremora whipped the beam in an arc across us as it shrugged off the lightning bolts. The resistances that creature must have had! The mere passing of that staff’s fire was enough to shatter our wards. In two attacks the Markynaz had spent an entire man’s soul and it discarded the staff as easily as it discarded life. It then drew its other weapon, a demonic claymore forged from the volcanic metals of Oblivion and enchanted with daedric runes. It caught Ocando’s soul in another black soulgem and smashed it against the blade. The demonic sword burst into flames as blinding as the sun as it devoured our brother’s soul.”


    Tyranus paused in remembrance. Altmer rarely felt the calling to protect races of man, but Ocando had been one of the rare few that donned the Robes of the Vigilant. He snorted, that crazy elf was so passionate that even the Keepers felt they had to be in top form around him. To know he died protecting Man and that what remained of his soul was repaid only with eternal servitude to the Ideal Masters was a tragedy he still prayed on.


    He shook himself and continued with the story, “In movements honed by centuries of combat, the Dremora swept the blazing claymore towards Master Arius first in a one handed grip to extend his reach. He raised his mace to block, but he was still recovering from the backlash of the ward shattering. He only managed to lean his head back in effort to dodge the blade. It caught him on the corner of the jaw, merely cleaving half of it off. We were all healers, so he would have survived that alone, but the flames of the cursed blade had a life of their own. They leapt from the tip of the blade and burrowed through the wound, charring his skull from the inside. The blades arc passed a hand’s span from my face as well and the heat alone was enough to crack the stone flesh of my face.


    Centuries of experience or no, it still takes time to recover from a one handed swing with a great weapon and Master Jorn took advantage with a savage swing. The demon grinned as if expecting the attack and moved inside Jorn’s attack with its offhand outstreched. On contact an explosion of fire that shattered the stone flesh upon Jorn ‘Stonewall’s chest erupted from the demon’s palm, but instead of being flung back, Stonewall proved his name and stood his ground, finishing the strike to the Markynaz’s surprise. The mace cracked ribs on impact and it was the Vigilant that forced the Dremora back.


    Viana and I flanked the beast, looking for an opening and cutting off its escape routes while Master Jorn continued his assault. Master Raelynn’s magic was already knitting new flesh over Jorn’s shattered wound while he fought. Flames flashed each time their weapons clashed and Master Jorn’s mace glowed a brighter red with each swing. Once the Dremora back peddled into the far wall it would have nowhere run and then the three of us would finish it, or so we thought.


    At five paces from the far wall Jorn’s mace was glowing orange and the leather grip had caught fire. The demon grinned and brought the claymore down in a two handed chop. Jorn easily blocked it, but the weakened mace was split in two and the cursed blade cleaved his arm clean off at the collar bone. The flames spread from the sword and he collapsed in a choked off cry, engulfed in fire.


    The wail Viana and I released shook the very walls as we both struck, her low, me high. The Markynaz leaned its head into my strike and sacrificed one of its spiraled horns to the blow, but Viana’s strike landed true and drove it to its knees. It retaliated with an upwards swing at me, but a lightning bolt shot from across the room and scorched it square in the face and Viana released another one hitting it in the arm.  The two shocks were enough to lock its muscles in place and I disarmed it with a hand shattering blow, then Viana finished the Dremora by caving in its skull with a two handed blow of her mace.


    A few hours later an Imperial scout found us, kneeling in a circle around Master Jorn, our skin bare, for our robes had been burned off in the inferno, and seeping blood from a lattice work of cracked flesh from the heat. Somehow Stonewall had survived and we used the last of our energy to stabilize him. He eventually recovered in the following months, but had permanently lost the use of one lung in addition to losing his mace-arm and was forced to retire early. 


    We were exhausted, but one task still remained. We convened again, clothed by the imperials, at the Monument of the One. Though all the Divines were present now, Akatosh still took center. Over the years the broken pillars surrounding the great statue had been carved in the likeness of each of the Divines.”


    “Even Talos?” A Nord Spoke up.


    “Sadly that pillar was toppled, but it is said that hidden under the paving stones are the shards of his face where people still pray,” he answered before continuing.


    “Raelynn led us to the statue of Arkay and set the luminescent black soulgems at the Mortal’s God’s feet, twenty trapped souls in all: six cultists, Arius, and thirteen victims from the past. She knelt and prayed:


    O Lord of the Wheel of Life whom is tasked with protection of the souls of all mortals, both bound and unbound.


    We beseech thee to bestow thy blessing upon the cursed souls we offer before you.


    To grant Eternal rest unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.


    So be it.




    She then opened her eyes with a serene smile on upon her face and said Arkay wanted the one who struck the final blow. I swelled pride as I looked upon Viana’s speechless face. Master Jorn was speechless as well, but that could have just been from his wounds.


    When Viana approached the trapped souls, the stars seemed to shine their light upon her and later she said she could feel Arkay guiding her actions. One by one she smashed the gems in a flash of light with her mace, while Arkay greeted each of the souls as it was freed, guiding them into the Dream Sleeve.”


    Tyranus lowered his head from the sky and muttered a final pray to the fallen. For a long moment the village was silent, absorbing the tale, then the Orc, Lash, stood. She slowly clapped her meaty hands together. “I see your scars from fighting today, I see the scars you still hold for your fallen, I see only honor in calling you Clan Friend.”


    “You would offer such a great honor to a Vigilant? You know our stance on Daedra, including Malacath.”


    “Ha! The Spurned One would crush their weak skulls himself. When your order exhausts all other foes, then we shall meet on the fields of battle, until then…” She shrugged.


    Tyranus laughed. “True, just Mehrunes, Molag, and Hircine will keep us busy for some time. I’m moved, I don’t know what to say.”


    “Quit your milk drinking, now is time for mead!”


    The villagers cheered and the mead began to flow again. Amid the voices he found Belchimac animatedly recanting the Daedric fight with the other miners. The fire had been lit in that one, it wouldn’t be long before Carcetta was chewing him out for setting that boy after her, he thought with a smirk. Amari though, was still sitting on the bench with a furrowed brow. Conflicting emotions were at war across her face, periodically calling truce to glance at one of the trees by the mine. What held her interest among those branches? No matter, hope and determination seemed to be winning her battle. He excused himself from the crowd and went to a bluff overlooking the river far below and waited.





14 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  August 23, 2017
    One of my favorite chapters in this story so far. Tyranus has a way with words, and the fight with the Daedra was brutal, visceral and easy to picture. Great job managing to reveal two back-stories through one speaker! That was a great technique. Enjoying this!
    • Exuro
      One of my favorite chapters in this story so far. Tyranus has a way with words, and the fight with the Daedra was brutal, visceral and easy to picture. Great job managing to reveal two back-stories through one speaker! That was a great technique. Enjoying this!
        ·  August 24, 2017
      Thanks! Glad you're still reading. Finding engaging ways to show exposition and character its always a trick isn't it?
  • ShyGuyWolf
    ShyGuyWolf   ·  February 9, 2016
    He was a great man and a good solider.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  February 9, 2016
    Thanks! I do through random bits of trivia in sometimes. Stonewall Jackson even lost his arm, amputated after a friendly fire incident, not a Daedra, but he ended up dying during recovery.
  • ShyGuyWolf
    ShyGuyWolf   ·  February 9, 2016
    dude, this is a great piece. I keep thinking on "StoneWall" Jackson from History in my mind.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 11, 2016
    That said I do want to bring Master Jorn back as a cameo (yes he's still alive, restlessly trying to deal with retirement and disability), just not sure where/when yet.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 11, 2016
    You never trust any of my characters! (for good reason)
    Not all exposition type stuff is directly related to Amari's story. Sometimes I use it in a way to (or try to) broaden the scope of the world; other people and factions have their own purposes ...  more
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  January 10, 2016
    As usual, I love your battle descriptions. I love the details you put in, things that I wouldn't think of. You seem to give it a lot of thought. 
    Even better to be able to do that in a chapter that is largely exposition: scene-setting for a big stor...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  November 24, 2015
    Thank you, this was actually one of the hardest chapters for me to write. I actually finished chapters 10,12, and 13 before I could finish this one.
  • LokaCola
    LokaCola   ·  November 24, 2015
    Campfire stories are always fun, especially when they are as good as the one that was being told.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  November 23, 2015
    Yeah, I mash them too.