A.D.W.D. Chapter 24: Ipseity


    “Nope! You’re stuck with it now,” Amari stated smugly against Trebonde’s protests.

    “I’m not going to run around Skyrim with a dick joke for a name, Kaera!” The name felt foreign on her ears; she still felt like an Amari.

    “Too bad, Valus. It’s set in stone now. Hard, rigid stone.”

    Thundering hooves drowned out his rebuttal and the foot-traffic scattered like a parting sea before the rider. With great heaving blasts of breath and a spray of sweat raining from its coat, a black stallion of magnificent breed barreled by. The rider clutched precariously to the saddle and the Ram head sigil of Markarth trailed behind him upon his cloak, but this one was no mere courier this time. He was donned in the fine black and green plate of the Jarl’s personal guard. Drops of blood from a half-score of Forsworn bone arrows peppering both his backside and the horse’s mingled the mud of the road.

    Only a few hundred yards from the Solitude's gates, the rider slipped from the saddle. He hit the ground hard and was still. A few good souls ran to the messenger’s aid, but soon gave up at the sight of the stallion. The moment the beast felt its master’s weight lift, it reared up with a neigh closer to a roar stamped in a circle around the fallen rider. The horse reared and charged at anyone who came too close with eyes white with frenzy while the master it protected bled out.

    “I think I can calm the horse,” Amari stated.

    “Kaera wait! That’s a war horse!” Trebonde grasped to stop her, but she was already gone. “And we’re trying to be discrete here…”

    Amari calmed her mind as she stepped towards the stamping horse and prepared herself to cast again. A touch spell should go unnoticed, but the agony of pushing Magicka across her burnt nerves was still raw in her memory.

    It is only pain; it will not kill you.

    She approached calm and steady, and the horse stopped its pacing to face her. Amari could sense the creature’s pain, the chaos clouding its mind. The stallion snorted and pawed at the ground, but its breathing slowed as she drew near. She reached out with a hand charged with soothing magic and the stallion lowered its head to her level. Amari grinned and went to stroke the horse’s muzzle when the beast suddenly dashed forward and head-butt her. The strike knocked Amari off her feet and the war horse reared up with another deafening neigh.

    She barely had time to recover from the shock before the stallion’s great hooves came crashing down. She rolled and scrambled across the muddy road as steel plated hooves gouged craters around her. Somehow she made it to the sheer mountain wall west of the path and scaled the rocks more nimbly than a mountain goat in her panic. The stallion rammed into the stone and sent a mini avalanche cascading, then reared once more to attack the rocks as if it believed it could tear down the whole mountain to reach her.

    The beast’s ears twitched and it whipped its head around to see Trebonde kneeling by its master. Horse lowered its head and charged, chasing Trebonde up a tree. It tried to knock the tree down a few times, then returned to pacing around its master during the rider’s final moments.

    It took Trebonde some time to coax Amari from the rocks and when he finally succeeded, all she had to say was: “I hate horses.”

    “But they have such charming personalities!” Trebonde replied, then reached under his cloaked and pulled out a blood stained scroll and a pouch of Septims. “At least your idiotic efforts were not in vain.”

    “You stole from a dying person!”

    “Meh, the dead have no need for coin. It was his dying wish to have this delivered, duty-bound to the very end.”

    “Those were Forsworn arrows in his back, do you think—“

    “They invaded Markarth? Makes sense to strike while the city is divided.”

    Amari hesitated before speaking again. “Molag Bal owns that clan now.”

    “What?!” This was news to him.

    She nodded. “The Nameless One… broke their leader, a hag raven, and made her pledge to the Prince.”

    Trebonde studied her closely, so she had also seen her own horrors while he faced, no endured, his own within the House. “So their feud has spilled onto our Plane. Boethiah’s rebels against Molag Bal’s Forsworn. Looks like we will need to meet the Jarl, but not like this.”

    “Like what? Why not?”

    “Well, you filthy for one.”

    Amari looked down and realized her clothes were covered in mud from her scramble with the stallion. Futilely she tried to brush the wet mud off as they approached looming fortifications. Mountains blocked the western approach, steep cliffs dropped into a ship filled bay covered the east, and a pair of gate towers stood sentinel before the narrow path they ascended.

    Guardsmen scanned the flowing masses far below from slits cut into the stone like many narrowed eyes. Amari and Trebonde were just one of the many swarming into the city. A scene of chaos from such height, but each moved with their own purpose. Trebonde’s lead them immediately to the left towards a bush between the city walls and the first building, a tavern inn by the looks.

    As they waited for a gap in the crowd, Amari noticed how the people relaxed once within the city walls. As if the barrier provided some unbreachable security. Markarth had similar walls. The flow of people broke for a moment and when no eyes were watching them, Trebonde pulled Amari back and they melded through the urine-scented bush to an alley behind it.

    “I planted that bush when I first came here, and this ground cover,” he proclaimed and then pointed at the small flowers carpeting the ground.

    “So you were planning on using that claw you had for gardening?”

    He rolled his eyes. He did miss the attachment from Karthwasten; he missed the one from Jolene even more, but neither compared to the limb he lost. He shook his head to clear the building rage and flashed a grin. “No. ‘Out of sight; out of mind.’ That’s why the bush conceals this gap and-”

    He wedged himself up the alley with his back on one wall and his feet on the other side, then began shimmying down the alley. “These fragile flowers will warn of the lightest step. No one has been here for at least a few weeks, unless they’re also clever…”  

     The end of the alley opened into a small clearing wedged between the mountains and the back of the tavern.

    “What is this place?” Amari asked, giddy with being included in a secret.

    Trebonde knelt near the corner of the tavern and removed a loose stone and took out a clinking bag. “Emergency stash, Kaera.”

    She opened the bag and was dismayed to only see a few handfuls of low denomination septims and silver jewelry. “This won’t get us far…”

    “That’s just a shill bag.” He reached in further and removed a false bottom and tossed out another bag. Handfuls of gold jeweled necklaces, high denomination septims, and a few rolled letters spilled out this time.

    “Also.” He let out a resigned sigh. “Practice calling me Valus. We can’t have the wrong name slip out there.”

    Amari grinned devilishly. “Of course Valus. We’ll make sure that only the Valus slips out.”

    The Valus palmed his face, then beseeched the sky, “What have I done to be cursed so?!”

    “Should I answer that…?”


    Trebonde sighed again before speaking. “Anyway… to the next step: changing our appearance. New hair style, clothes, and societal role should be enough.”

    He drew a dagger and took it to the waves of his hair only to be hindered by his missing hand once more. Amari protested at first, but after watching him struggle one-handed for a while, helped him hold the hair taunt so he could cut it into the close-cropped Imperial infantry style. He then shaved his rough beard into a trim outline and presented himself with a flourish. Amari didn’t think the new look suited him at all; he looked clean-cut and… professional.

    “Alright Kaera, your turn,” He said, brandishing the dagger.

    She hid her hair protectively with her arms. “No! You’ll butcher it! …Valus.”

    “Come on,” He coaxed with a very unprofessional grin, “I’ll only take a foot or two off.”

     She backpedaled into the tavern wall, furiously thinking while one hand fidgeted around Scuttle’s bag of bones. A memory of how she originally wove her familiar’s bindings flashed back.

    “I’ll braid it! Hah! Now you can’t attack it!”

    Trebonde paused. “Damn it; that will work. Are you sure? Not even a trim?”

    “No! Nowhere near my hair!”

    “Fine…” he conceded.

    Amari set to braiding her hair while eyeing the rogue suspiciously. She debated using the Daggerfall style she loved as a child, but ended up using the more practical side braid common in Wayrest.

    The rogue blithely ignored her gaze and set to work carefully hiding every last strand of hair trimmings, then he withdrew the Mace from his cloak and Amari’s fingers stopped mid-motion. His back was to her, but she saw him trace one the spikes with something akin to a caress before shaking his head and practically hurling the artifact into the stash. Amari slumped in relief and returned to braiding her hair before he turned around.

    Trebonde removed enough spoils from the emergency stash to get them through the next few weeks and returned the rest. He cast a final glance at the location, now just another brick in the wall, before turning to Amari.

    “Names, hair, and money; check. Now for clothes.”

    They left the way they came, shuffling between the alley walls above the ground flowers and slipped back into the stream of citizens. Amari hadn’t had the opportunity to see Markarth during normal day hours, but she was sure it wouldn’t have compared to the scope of Solitude. This was closer to what she remembered of Daggerfall or imagined the Imperial City to be like.

    Throngs of people milled between brightly colored shops that were at a stark contrast to grey, nearly black, perimeter walls. A monolith of a fort, aptly named Fort Dour, loomed over the city from the north like a stone guardian while to the east the tiled domes of the Blue Palace could be seen like sapphires sparkling in the skies.

    Amari gawked at the sites like a tourist while Trebonde led them through the crowds to a shop called The Radiant Raiment. Trebonde pushed the door open and Amari noticed his posturing had changed. His steps once gliding with a fluid ease had turned bold and square, like a soldier.

    Rolls of fine fabrics and mannequins showcasing tailored outfits lined the walls. Behind the counter two Altmer, obviously sisters from their resemblance and bickering, greeted them.

    “Why, hello! Here to buy…?” The first Altmer’s greeting trailed off as she gave their attire a once over.

    “I believe you are in the wrong place. The feed troughs are that way,” the second Altmer said, pointing her finger towards the stables outside the city.

    Despite elves’ taller height, Trebonde looked down his nose at them and dropped the bag of septims on the counter with a heavy thud.

    “We’re here to buy.”

    The demeanor of the Mer instantly changed.

    “Well, then you have come to the best place in Skyrim!”

    “We will get you outfitted into something proper in no time! What would be the occasion?”

    “Our attendance is required before the Jarl,” Trebonde replied

    “You will be at the Blue Palace? With Elisif the Fair!?” the sisters exclaimed in unison.

    He nodded and the slightly nicer Mer lead her sister to the far end of the store. They started hissing back and forth, but neither traveler could make out what they were saying. Ameri wasn’t sure they were even speaking the Common Tongue. The hissing abruptly stopped and the rude sister gave Amari a once over.

    “She should do; they all look the same anyway,” the rude one stated, then disappeared into one of the back rooms, leaving Amari and Trebonde thoroughly confused.

    The other one approached them with a warm smile. “My apologies, but we have not properly introduced ourselves. I am Taarie and my charming sister back there is Endarie. Together we run the Radiant Raiment. We handcraft all the outfits here and nothing but the finest leaves our store!”

    “I see that,” Trebonde said, noting the seam work. “I am called-“

    “Valus!” Amari supplied overly helpful.

    “Yes… and that little imp is Kaera.”

    “You’re really going to the Blue Palace?” Taarie asked again skeptically and Trebonde nodded again with exaggerated patience.

    Endarie returned with a fine emerald and crimson dress of a silken material. Taarie helped hold it aloft and spoke to Amari:

    “That presents an opportunity. We have an upcoming line for the new season, so if you were willing to wear one of the Radiant Raiment outfits as you speak with the Jarl, I would not only pay you, but let you keep the outfit.”

    At the last part, Taarie cast a warning glare at Endarie. Endarie in turn bit her lip. She was obviously against such charity, but remained silent.  Amari lit up; that dress was probably worth the entire content of their coin purse, if not more!

    “We can hardly refuse such generosity. It would be a pleasure. Should the Jarl be pleased, which I have no doubt about, we’ll ensure the court knows your name.” Trebonde accepted.

     Taarie beamed at her sister, who in turn begrudgingly admitted the merit of her sister’s strategy. Amari reached out to feel the fine fabric, but was swatted away by Endarie.

    “Get your filthy mitts away! Take a bath before you ruin all our hard work!”

    “What a superb idea my sweet sister!” Taarie interrupted with a saccharine smile. “Would you mind leading dear Kaera to our baths?”

    “Why of course! Should I lend her your Lillandrillian towels?” Endarie replied with equal sweetness.

    Taarie stiffened. “I believe the ones hanging outside should suffice.”

    “Of course; what was I thinking,” Endarie said with a smirk, then led Amarie into another backroom.

    As they left, Taarie switched her focus to Trebonde. “Now to fix you right up!”

    “I must apologize; I’ll be needing a more militaristic outfit. Does the smith outside the fort still sell armor?”

    Trebonde saw she was disappointed and continued, “Besides, a veteran announcing your line will give it more weight in this city.”

    “True.” Taarie brightened at that prospect. “It’s refreshing to see another in these lands who understands the game. Just try not to track any of Bierand’s soot in here; or on the dress!”

    Amari called out from the back of the shop, “I want armor!”

    “Really?” the other three all asked in unison.

    “Yes! And a sword!”

    Trebonde laughed and called back, “Alright, we can get you outfitted tomorrow!”

    Amari yipped in excitement and the two Altmer curled their lips in disapproval.

    By time Trebonde returned, Amari was freshly bathed and the tailors were finishing the lasts adjustments while muttering between themselves.

    “Her hair doesn’t match the dress.”

    “But it’s perfect for Elisif. Hmm. Ah, wrap that copper scarf through it.”

    “Perfect, now if only she had blue eyes”

    “Do we have time to replace them?”

    Do what to my eyes?! Amari thought, jolting back to attention. Thankfully, Trebonde interrupted them and after some brief courtesies, she was free with both eyes still intact.

    Back on the streets, her heart skipped a beat as she took in Trebonde’s new look. He had also bathed and was outfitted in the leathers of the Imperial light armor uniform, except for his left arm. That was encased in steel plate from pauldron to gauntlet, concealing his missing hand. Last, a silver sword was strapped to his hip. Between the hair, his new posture, and the uniform, he had achieved a gallant look.

    He bowed in a precise movement, then offered his elbow. “Milady.”

    She curtsied to hide her blush and took the armored arm. They walked down the streets and for once no one was trying to kill, arrest, or flee from them. People either nodded in mutual respect or moved by indifferently. Many of the women complimented her dress in passing and she noticed some men turning their heads, but they didn’t have the hungering violence the bandits’ gazes had had. It was like walking through a dream.

    She found herself smiling at nothing in particular and squeezed the gallant soldier’s arm tighter. He smiled down at her, catching a whiff of her scent.

    “You smell lovely; I didn’t get scented water!”

    I don’t think flowers would suit you.” She giggled embarrassedly, then leaned in closer to him as they walked.

    She felt him tense uncomfortably and was starkly reminded of their boundaries. Thankfully, the awkward tension didn’t last long. Their arrival at the Blue Palace soon took all her attention. She broke away from Trebonde and ran through the courtyard’s hanging gardens and fountains. After completing a circuit, she met up with Trebonde again at the Palace doors, breathless and exhilarated.

    “It’s so beautiful!” She exclaimed.

    Trebonde grinned, caught up in her enthusiasm, but they were still on a mission. “Sorry to be a wet blanket, but we have some bad news to deliver. We also need a new background; can’t go saying you’re from Solitude now that you’re in Solitude.”

    She looked at him blankly.

    “You forgot our story… I was a Talos Necklace smuggling merchant from Cyrodiil and you were my niece orphaned in Solitude.” He sighed again as she still stared blankly at him. “Whatever, we need a new story anyway: I was an Imperial archer stationed at Helga and your family lived there. I lost my hand in the fighting and was forced to retire from the Legion. We met up in the stream of refugees and have been traveling the holds since, earning what we could. Sound good?”

    She nodded. “Except, I saved you from the certain doom of the dragon’s maw!”

    He laughed. “That’s not far from the truth. Try not to forget this time.”

    She stuck he tongue out at him in a very ladylike manner, then they approached the palace guard with the bloodstained message in hand.

    “State your business,” the helmed guard drawled.

    “Urgent news from Markarth. It requires the Jarl’s immediate attention.”

    “Markarth? Again?” He examined the seal on the letter before asking. “And the original courier?”

    “Died of his wounds; we’re fulfilling his final wish.”

    “May his mead never run dry, up there in Sovngarde. Very well; make haste.” The guard opened the door, then looked Trebonde over again. “Legion?”

    “Forced retirement.”

    “I feel you brother.” The guard removed his helm and revealed a horrible scar splitting his face in two and blinding an eye. Trebonde popped off his gauntlet and the two shared a mutual nod.

    Inside the palace, Amari’s breath was taken away again. Yes, she’d seen the parade grounds of Daggerfall Castle during a festival long ago, but had never been inside. Light from iron chandeliers blended with rays of sunlight from high windows to showcase a grand hall lined with marble statues and exotic plants. The carpet leading to the throne room was so ornate Amari wasn’t sure if they were allowed to walk on it. At the far end, two marble staircases wound to meet before the throne room.

    A finely dressed guard stopped them at the top, but led them past a line of envoys waiting for an audience once he saw the letter.

    “The court is meeting about this very topic now.” He informed them and paused while they waited for the Jarl to notice them.

    A Redguard wearing the traditional robes and turban that they cut in line cursed something in his native tongue, Yoku.

    Amari turned to him said one of the few lines she’d picked up sailing down Hammerfell’s coast: “Go Mangia,” a greeting that meant good life.

    The foreign envoy looked like he swallowed his tongue. “Have you been to my homeland before?”

    His accent was thick and rolled off the tongue. The sound brought with it a vision of hot sands sweeping across endless dunes.

    “Once. Sentinel was beautiful!”

    “Oh, a Forbearer supporter. I have nothing more to say to you.”

    The foreign envoy turned a cold shoulder to a thoroughly confused Amari. She shrugged and turned her attention to the Court’s heated discussion.

    “Well we have to do something!” Elisif the Fair was exclaiming. She was still beautiful: slender, fire-haired, and with piercing blue eyes, but her face was lined with the stress of leading a country through years of war.

    “We already are,” another Nord with a red beard and fine clothing assured. “Troops are gathered and only await your word to make for Markarth.”

    “None from the guard are going, Falk!” a beast of a Nord in full Nordic plate challenged.

    “Bolgeir.” Falk sighed with an exacerbation that can only come from ages repeating the same argument. “If the supply lines from Markarth stop, General Tulius won’t be able to hold his siege on Windhelm.”

    “And if there are no guards left to protect Elisif, it won’t matter! What’s to stop the Stormcloaks from cutting the Empire’s head in Skyrim off? We’re already running on a skeleton watch as it is; we can’t spare anymore men!”

    Elisif addressed the newcomers with an exhausted sigh, “Please tell me you bear good news.”

    Trebonde bowed and held out the sealed scroll. “Jarl Elisif the Fair, I apologize for our news is only of tragedy.”

    Falk Firebeard took the scroll and broke the seal. As he read his face grew pale; he silently handed the scroll to Elisif. Her face lost its color as well, but as she finished reading, her face sparked into a cunning grin.

    “You bear terrible news indeed, but I think it may be the key to our salvation.”

    “How could anything in that possibly aid us?” Falk exclaimed.

    “What? What did the letter say?!”  Bolgeir demanded.

    Falk filled in the house carl, “The Forsworn used the rebellion to their advantage and attacked en mass. It was a three pronged assault: sleeper agents opened the gates and assassinated key members; one host stormed the city streets; and another host wove through the Dwemer ruins and attacked from below. They killed Nimhe! When the letter was written: the Jarl was secure within Understone Keep; the doors were holding against assaults from both ends; and the rebels were fighting the Forsworn in the streets.”

    “Nimhe is dead?” Bolgeir asked shocked.

    “Yes, who is this Nimhe. I have not heard of him,” Elisif asked.

    “Not who; what,” a female voice answered from behind the Jarl. Two cloaked figures were standing behind her throne and the one on the Jarl’s right side stepped forward. “Nimhe is, was, a rare frost spider. Legend has it she resided beneath Understone Keep long before man took residence. She lurked, she fed, she grew. When man finally did arrive, it was said she was large enough to swallow a cow whole. She was too deadly and cunning to defeat, so instead they barred the doors and left her in the depths. Until this day she fed on the fallen creatures still lingering in the ancient Dwemer ruins. Her role shifted to that of a gatekeeper, protecting Markarth from what lurked beneath.”

    An involuntary shudder ran through the audience.

    “Thank you Sybille; your knowledge as court wizard is always welcome,” Elisif said. That Breton always made her uncomfortable; more so than most wizards. There were the rumors about her experiments…

    “Of course it is,” Sybille acknowledged, then stepped back to her position.

    Something about the court wizard didn’t sit well with Amari either. She opened her sight; it still was difficult and painful to use magic, but was slowly becoming easier to wield again. Her aura matched the others in the room, though after pushing deeper, Amari found it: that same hollowness that surrounded the Nameless One. Like an illusion of life. Amari took in a sharp breath and pulled her senses back. She averted her gaze, but not fast enough; she could feel the alerted wizard’s gaze boring into her like a bird of prey. After what felt like an eternity, Sybille relented with a non-committal grunt. It took all of Amari’s self-control to not sigh in relief right there.

    The court continued without noticing the exchange and Elisif the Fair was saying, “You are forgetting one crucial line my Falk, ‘…and vampires strike with terror and sow confusion from the shadows.’

    “How does that help?!” Bolgeir exploded, “Do you know the length I go to protect you from Ulfric’s men! Adding those vile creatures to the mix…”

    Amari risked a glance at Sybille, but the ‘vile creature’ belayed no signs of being offended. Was she really one of them? How could a vampire possibly stand at the head of Skyrim and not be discovered? Had Molag Bal spoken to her? Did she know who they were? Did she know they had the Mace?

    Falk stroked his beard with a plotting grin. “If vampires are involved, this is no longer a purely mortal affair. Elisif, the war was cruel to steal your husband from you, but I am truly proud to witness you become the leader you are today.”

    She raised the back of her hand to stop a tear from falling. Six years had passed since Ulfric had used the Voice - the same Voice the Dragonborn used - to murder High King Torygg. She knew she would have to move on for the unity of Skyrim, but she still mourned; every report on the war a reminder of her loss.

    “You are too kind Firebead; I would never have made it without my advisors’ help. If we can prove the Deadra are involved… You two; what are your names?” Elisif directed the last at Amari and Trebonde.

    “Jarl Elisif the Fair, I am called Valus and this one Kaera.”

    “Were you at Markarth? Do you know anything of Daedra attacks?”

    Too much, Amari thought, but let Trebonde do the talking.

    “Jarl, we came from Whiterun,” he lied. “We happened open this courier purely by chance along the road.”

    Elisif looked down disappointed. Trebonde spoke up again, “But the Nord did mention he had never seen such rage before. It was like both the people and Forsworn were possessed by demons.”

    The Jarl lit up. “We still don’t have much, but I think I can persuade him. Windcaller Jorunn!”

    The second robed figure behind Elisif stepped forward. “Yes, Jarl?”

    The young Nord’s voice was barely a whisper, but rumbled with the power of thunder.

    “Are you sure?” Falk asked.

    “This will be the first Call since the dragons appeared.” Bolgeir added.

    “This is why the Greybeards started training the Windcallers again, is it not?” Elisif scorned them.


    “Jorunn, summon the Dragonborn.”







15 Comments   |   Felkros likes this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  June 12, 2016
    Haha, it's been awhile since he's made an entrance.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 12, 2016
    Yes,please! Bring the Dragonborn bastard! :D
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 4, 2016
    It was my pleasure as always, Exuro. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  May 3, 2016
    Nah, wasn't you, was me being a moron. I forgot they were near the area in the last chapter. Nice to see them dressed up too and Sybille. I am very curious as to how my Paladin will handle her. A vampie in a prominent court. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  May 3, 2016
    @Lisette: Ha, I didn't use the word Solitude until almost halfway through the chapter. Added it near the beginning to be safe. And yeah, I went there. Those Mer don't even have the excuse of being Thalmor! Maybe Allie and the stallion should be introduced...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 3, 2016
    Also... why is your TOC button linking to chapter 21? I've gone back through the last four chapters (as well as the recap) and the button is just consistently leading to chapter 21.
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 3, 2016
    Damn it, just one more and I'm done. 
    This was closer to what she remembered of Daggerfall or imagined the Imperial city to be like.
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 3, 2016
    @Sotek, 'jeweled' is actually the American English spelling. 
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 3, 2016
    I beg your pardon, I missed an error in that last edit.
    “Jarl, we came from Whiterun,” he lied, “we happened open this courier purely by chance along the road.”
    Edited to: “Jarl, we came from Whiterun,” he lied. “We happened upon this courier p...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 3, 2016
    Hey, thanks for teaching me a new word - 'ipseity'.  Damn is Valus crafty, though. The way he can change everything about himself - even posture and gait - is nothing short of impressive. I absolutely love the vibe of magnitude I get when reading about ci...  more