Chapter 17 Killer Instinct
Last Seed 31
I lay my belongings out on the table before me. I had brought little with me to the Gateway Inn in Sadrith Mora. Merely my weapons, my pack, and a good book. I was reading about the adaptive responses of quaternary variations in oblivion streams. It was fascinating.
It explained in detail how the holes in oblivion shone down light to our world, and carried energy with them. The magicka would infuse into the bodies of all living things. Those, like myself, who could open their minds to the energy could then channel it as magicka into the physical world. It was all very interesting, but I didn’t let it distract me from the task at hand.
The previous night I had discussed our plans with Xighden at the Ald’ruhn Mages Guild. We were planning on meeting at the Gateway Inn on the third day of Hearthfire. We had lost the track of Simon Belmont, and we couldn’t simply wander about Vvardenfell looking for him. We needed to find the Telvanni wizard Lemnos. He was one of the last few names on the Imperial list of names. In three more days, we would unite and begin searching for him. I didn’t know how the others had planned on spending their time, but I had guild business to attend to.
I began by making my way to the Mages Guild at the Imperial Wolverine Hall. As I walked through the streets of Sadrith Mora, under the grey, overcast sky, I couldn’t help but stare at the obtrusive buildings that the Telvanni called homes. The wizard city used strange mushroom spores to grow their houses from the ground. It was bizarre to me.
I soon arrived at the Mages Guild, where I met Skink-in-Tree’s-Shade. He was a wizard himself, who handled some of the Sadrith Mora guild business. We left the Mages Guild to have a private conversation. “I’m glad you had time to meet me here, Magnus,” Skink said to me.
“It wasn’t a problem,” I replied. When Prophiter, Snorri, Xighden and I had passed through Ald’ruhn before our encounter with Doth Berossus, I had met with Edwinna Elbert. She informed me that Skink-in-Tree’s-Shade had important matters to discuss with me, but wasn’t fully aware of what they were. I was anxious to hear of what Skink wanted from me. “Edwinna was very vague with me. She said that you could fill in the details.”
“I must tell you…” Skink began. “..that there have been problems in the guild recently.”
“Problems? Aside from the usual you mean?” I responded.
We, as well as most guild members, knew that Trebonius Artorius, the Archmage of Vvardenfell, lacked any leadership qualities. Or even common sense for that matter. It wasn’t that the Mages Guild needed a personal leadership, like the legions or Great Houses. It was simply that the flow of money and the importance of secretive matters were in poor hands with Trebonius. That was not to mention the fact that Imperial Guilds were in foreign territory in Morrowind, and having such a fool in a diplomatic position made the guild look irresponsible and reckless.
Skink then elaborated. “Necromancers are practicing without fear. Guild dues are being overlooked. The flow of information is not being respected. What I believe is the most dangerous though, is that the Telvanni have been obtaining secrets from us. I believe there is a spy among our ranks.” The news was distressing. When I began my apprenticeship in the Mages Guild, there was little or no treachery or politics. It was merely a place of higher learning. And to hear that the Telvanni were suspected to have infiltrated us was unsettling.
“Why do you believe this?” I asked him. He looked down the halls of the Wolverine Hall, to double check for any eavesdroppers.
“Recently, the guild’s purchases have been out of order with its balance. For every supplier purchase that we make, Trebonius needs to view and sign the papers. After digging up the records, I found several inaccuracies. Money has been siphoned off under a fictitious title, the Imperial reagent tax. Obviously Trebonius is too blind to understand that he is responsible for uncovering these frauds. When I confronted him about this, he said that he would address the problem. I am yet to see any effort from him to fix the situation, though.”
“And how do you know that the Telvanni are responsible?” I asked. Skink then sighed one of his deep, Argonian sighs.
“I looked into the Imperial reagent tax to find where it came from. It has only been on the records for the last few weeks. After tracing the flow of septims through the Imperials here in Sadrith Mora, I found that the money was being laundered through Telvanni middlemen. To where the money goes, is still a mystery.”
“Skink, this Telvanni agent. Do you have any suspicions as to who it may be?” I asked.
“Only a few members of the Mages Guild have the influence and knowledge to locate and corrupt paperwork. It would most likely be someone who is in a higher rank and most likely a Dunmer.”
I leaned back against the stone wall of the Wolverine Hall and tried to list off all of the members who could possibly be corrupt. Ranis Athrys, Marayn Dren, Folms Mirel, Medula Indalen, Uleni Heleran. Those were just Dark Elves though. The spy could be, in fact, of any race.
I found myself with a strange feeling as I talked to Skink on that dark, cloudy day. Normally, I would not be one to take on such a mission. Yet, I then felt that I could not stop until the matter was resolved. It was how I had been immersed in the unpredictability of the last week. It had kept me eagerly awaiting the next turn in the road. And in this unpredictability, I began to find a certain appeal.
“I will find the Telvanni agent,” I said to Skink. He seemed slightly hesitant about my enthusiasm for the case.
“Yes, well, I can send word to Ocato. We can have someone come in from the mainland, Magnus.”
“No, I must find the spy,” I said aloud to Skink, and to myself. The Telvanni agent’s presence could be no less a factor in the conspiracy then my meeting Xighden, Prophiter, or Umbra. The series of events had lead me to that conversation with Skink and the next logical step, could not be avoided.
I then winced for a second, and realized that I had just used the notion of logic to rationalize my current situation. There was nothing logical about it, and I knew that. It seemed fitting though, as the assumed path of destiny had turned its hand untoward the Mages Guild. I could not ignore it. The Guild, which stood as a home for my passion and my reason, had made a contrasting impact with danger and destiny.
“Skink, I know it may sound irrational, but there is a reason that I need to do this. Just wait a few days. I’ll perform my own investigation. If I can find nothing, then you can contact the mainland guilds for support.” Skink eyed me curiously, but did not argue.
“Yes, Magnus. If that is what you wish, then I will not intervene. Take caution, though. I have experience dealing with the House Telvanni. When they set out to achieve their goals, their methods can be…malicious.”
Skink had agreed to my request. He then filled me in on the details of the suspect. By looking at the paperwork, the spy had been penetrating the guild’s finances for at least one month. He, or she, would most likely be a Dunmer, and a member of high standing within the guild. That allowed my search to begin, by eliminating at least half of the possible suspects.
I began by questioning only those whom I trusted the most. Edwinna in Ald’ruhn, Procyon in Sadrith Mora, and Estirdalin in Balmora. I asked them about Trebonius and if he had any outside counsel. They all gave me similar responses. Trebonius was a social character, and met with many individuals on a regular basis. I needed to cross more names off my list. After some investigation, I managed to do so. Some because of the little time they had spent in Vvardenfell, some simply because of their lack of influence within the guild. It wasn’t long before I had narrowed my suspects down to five people. The final stage of my search was underway.
By then it was the day after I had spoken with Skink in Sadrith Mora. The sun had set and I was preparing to leave for a drink at the nearest cornerclub. As I made my leave, however, I was approached by a Dunmer. It was Tiram Gadar, a prominent member of the Mages Guild. “Magnus the Greymind,” He said to me.
He stood quite tall for a Dunmer, nearly the same height as I was. His fire red eyes stared into my oak brown ones. Tiram was the highest ranking member of the Vvardenfell Mages Guild, with the exception of Trebonius. I knew that he was a powerful sorcerer, although he often stayed clear of guild politics.
“Tiram,” I said back to him in response. He took another step towards me, out from the open hallway and closed the door behind him.
“Magnus, I heard that you have been asking questions about certain activities within the guild recently. Is this true?” I was actually somewhat startled from his abrupt appearance, and it took me a moment to realize what he was talking about.
“Oh…yes. Yes I have…why do you ask?” I said back to him. He seemed very much poised and collected, which lessened my surprise of what he had to say next.
“Magnus, I believe I may be able to spark your interest on that topic, if you’re willing to talk about it. I have some information for you,” he said, keeping his gaze fixed upon me. I agreed to speak with him, in private. The two of us then left the guild and found a secluded location at the east end of the lower level of the Foreign Quarter. We stood outside in the dim light of nearby lanterns.
“I need to tell you Magnus, you are not the only one aware of the corruption in the guild,” Tiram began. “I have been searching for a connection to outside sources for some time now. I was wondering if you had been successful in your investigation.”
“I wouldn’t say successful, Tiram. I’ve found few leads amongst all the people I’ve asked,” I replied to Tiram.
“Hmmm. Well then Magnus, what leads have you found?” I was not confident that I could trust Tiram, but I was too interested in what he had to say not to keep the conversation going. Just as when I was speaking to Skink, I found myself urged towards uncovering the truth. I let my curiosity sedate my concern, as I maintained the unbefitting notion of what’s the worst that could happen? As the two of us stood out, facing the waters that surrounded Vivec, I tried not to give him too much information. “I spoke to a great number of Mages Guild members over the last twenty four hours. Only a small few mentioned anything of importance. Possible suspects and motives.” Tiram had, by that point, begun to take a definite interest in what I had to say.
“Interesting. And who was able to give you this information?” he asked. I stalled my answer.
“Well, you must know as well as I do, Tiram,” I responded, trying to divert the conversation from requiring me to name names. Tiram continued though, with as much insistence as before.
“No. No, actually I do not know. Your position in the guild may access you to certain opinions that I am not used to hearing. Please, indulge me.”
“Well, I don’t really see the point. Our search is for the suspects, not the people aware of those suspects.” Tiram Gadar turned his head to look me at me, and persisted with a growing eagerness.
“Magnus, you’re stalling. I understand that you may be shaken up by the recent events, but you need to trust in the guild. Now, tell me whom you’ve spoken to about this, please.”
“Why? You said that you have been investigating yourself. Why is it that you haven’t already found out about this?”
“Listen! I need…” Tiram’s voice then trailed off in the middle of his sentence. He turned his gaze back out towards the waters. “Hmmm, doesn’t matter anyway,” he murmured. I noticed a strange smile cross his face. The sight caused me to cautiously take a step back. He then turned his whole body to face me, but he had an odd look about him. He smiled at me, with an apparent intent, but of an unapparent nature. The deep crimson gaze that stared at me was difficult to read. Damn these Dark Elves and their sinister, red eyes I thought, as Tiram kept his eerie gaze upon me. “Well Magnus. You’ve proven just as useless as the rest of you humans are.” Perplexion.
“What? Confused? Well, don’t be.” Then, very suddenly and with unnatural speed, he pulled out a silver blade from the pocket of his robe. I couldn’t avoid his movement as he plunged the blade into my abdomen. The immediate sensation was, of course, incredible pain. But what I found more unnerving was the numbing that overtook my body. I realized that Tiram had struck me with a jinxblade. A blade enchanted with the magicka of paralysis. My body became frozen. The only movement came from my blood streaming out to the floor. Tiram then slowed himself, being in no immediate danger. “Magnus, you foolish Nord. Let me answer the questions that surely rack your feeble, human mind. Yes, I am behind the guild corruption. Yes, Trebonius is a puppet leader. And most importantly, yes, you are about to die.” Tiram maliciously twisted the blade in my body and then pulled it out. The pain was brutal, and I felt that his plans for my apparent demise were not as restrictive as a stabbing. I struggled to free myself from the magicka as he summoned forth a clanfear.
Clanfear were ferocious, reptilian daedra from the far reaches of Oblivion. Tiram then grabbed on to an amulet that hung from his neck and vanished. He had apparently activated some enchantment of recall, leaving me to meet my end at the claws of the savage daedric beast.
The clanfear charged at me, with its claws and beak aimed for the blood that still leaked out my torso. In what could be described as a transcendence of pain, it ripped away my robes and gashed into my body. From my condition, I managed to yell out in agony. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the fact that I could move my jaw enough to do so was a good sign. The paralysis was wearing off. I began to move my neck, my shoulders, and soon my arms, as the daedra continued to inflict an animalistic torture upon me. It was only moments later that I gained the strength to reach down and grab the clanfear by its elongated, skull plate and wrench the beast away from me. I fell back, and quickly spoke the words of a burden spell. The clanfear was slowed immensely by my magicka, giving me the time to save myself. I found that I could do little though. The pain, let alone the feeling of lying in a pool of my own blood, was debilitating. I could barely pull myself up and conjure a lesser being to assist me. “Exanimus Adsecula Ambulo!” I shouted, bringing forth a skeletal minion to my assistance. “Kill It!” I desperately commanded.
My skeletal servant was no match for the clanfear, and I knew that. Its only purpose was to stall the creature long enough until I could escape. The undead warrior rushed at the beast, with as much speed as a skeleton could muster, and swung its axe down at the clanfear’s left shoulder. There was a viscous screech as the axe made a direct hit. Responding from the precise cut into its body, the daedra slashed back with two fistfuls of claws. As the unearthly creatures were engaged in a brawl of chops and slashes, I attempted to make my escape with a spell of Divine Intervention. “Divinus Resecleus!” I said, trying to focus all of my will into making the spell work. My magicka fizzled, though, and I remained in danger. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself, attempting it again. “Divinus Resecleus,” I said, more slowly and controlled. Still, nothing happened.
The school of Mysticism was not my favoured field of study. My specialties were Conjuration, Destruction, and more specifically, Alteration. Mysticism was not my strongest ally. It was the most perplexing of all seven schools, and required a strong command of will. Not something that I was devoid of, but, given my physical situation at the time, had a hard time controlling. I soon realized, as the clanfear destroyed the skeletal minion, that I had no access to any form of teleportation. By magical means, there was no way out. And as the savage predator bore down on me, I realized that immediate escape was not an option. I had to fight and kill this creature. And so I did.
From the rough, stone tiles the daedra leapt to land down right above me. I instinctively reached out my palm and conjured a blast of flame to engulf the beast’s face. It was hit, but not defeated. The flames singed the tough, green scales, but could not do any significant harm. Before I was gored again, I managed to raise a strong barrier to defend myself. “Obmolior Sextus Magicka!” The field of energy swelled up around me, creating a bubble of protection that fended off the claw and beak attacks. The clanfear tried to gash away at me, but its strikes were brought to cessation by my shield. As quickly as I could, I lunged up off the ground and swung my Nordic broadsword. It easily moved through the barrier and made contact with the clanfear’s head. I was momentarily enlivened, but that momentum was immediately destroyed by a shocking realization.
My broadsword was made of the finest northern steel, but it was not silver. Silver: the only metal that could harm a daedra. Steel and iron were useless against the ethereal bodies of daedra beasts. I gasped for air, but it seemed that only desperation filled my lungs. I had tried escape, magical attack and defense, and even brute strength, but none were effective. My magicka reserves were nearly depleted and only a few more seconds remained until my barrier would dissipate. My heart sank as it appeared that my final moments were near.
As I lay, slumped over on my knees with a ferocious foe eagerly awaiting my demise, my mind became blurred, most likely from the blood loss. I almost blacked out, but instead received flashes of memory that bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness. I thought of the recent events involving Tiram Gadar and Skink-in-Tree’s-Shade. Then I focused on Xighden, Prophiter, Snorri, and our destiny: to fulfill this damned prophecy. With everything that I had endured as of late: the Comonna Tong, Berossus’ bandits, Umbra, I then realized that there was no way that I would be brought to death by an animal, albeit a mystical, demonic one. From the downed position of defeat, I drew forth every shred of Nordic strength within me.
With sheer force of will and through the blood of the north, I grasped onto every ounce of barbarian might that my father had bestowed upon me at birth, and pounced up to my feet. As the mystical barrier faded from existence, I charged towards the devilish creature. Unchangeable law of the ethereal world, or not, I was determined to beat the clanfear into submission with my blade. Knowing that my sharp edge could not penetrate the daedra’s skin, I instead hammered down a series of brutal swings with the blunt side of my sword. In a state of untamed ferocity, I continued this assault until the beast’s shoulders became slumped over. My strikes were proving effective, as the creature was forced to draw back. Its head had sunk down and the forelegs gripped onto the ground for stability. My volition was unstoppable, even when I threw my blade down at the back of the clanfear’s skull. “Coangusto Sica!” I roared, to conjure a daedric dagger in my hands. All that was left was to bring the daedra to its end upon the mundus, and send it back to the depths of Oblivion. Through its scaly skin and into the clanfear’s spine, I shoved my mystical blade. It howled, as if in slow motion to me, as my thrusts then became as persistent as they were deadly.
Soon I was beating the figurative, dead horse as I stabbed the literal, demonic corpse. Its body then swirled into mist and vanished, to be sent back to where it came from. I dropped my dagger, which also vanished to follow the clanfear back to Oblivion. A summoned, daedric dagger: my saving grace. I gasped intensely as the emotional, warrior state began to exit from my body. As I stood, I could barely recognize what had just happened as reality, for it was too surreal. All that was left for me was to collapse; I eventually summoned the will to heal myself. I had survived and learned the consequences of illogical actions. Whatever appeal I had found along the path of unpredictable danger was gone. There was no more appeal, instead, only the brutal truth. I was destined to fulfill this prophecy, and I would not be stopped until my task was complete, logic or no.