Chapter 20 Tel Vos
I had decided to come with Xighden in return for saving my life from that damnable Orc in Suran. I also wanted action. And over the last eight days, I couldn’t complain about how much I’d received. We’d killed bandits, met with Redoran Lords, become the targets of some mad Imperial plan, and picked up a few others along the way. It was more excitement than I would’ve gotten from Daric and Helvienne in Suran.
I marched along with Magnus, a Nordic mage, Xighden, a Khajiit warrior, Valiant, an Imperial mercenary, and Prophiter, an elf scoundrel. We crossed a small portion of the Grazelands towards Tel Vos, a Telvanni capital and the home of a Telvanni wizard, Aryon. I’d never met a wizard I liked, aside from Magnus. He was a Nord, and a warrior, so I accepted him as a brother of the north. The Telvanni, though, I didn’t like. I could tell that any scheme that an old Telvanni cooked up would be truly evil.
“There it is now,” Magnus said. We all pulled up our heads and gazed upon Tel Vos, the Telvanni stronghold where Aryon made his home. It was a bizarre structure that mixed the skeleton of an Imperial fort with the skin of the Telvanni mushroom pods. Two tall towers were the majority of the buildings, with walls and spires nearby. Everything else though, like the halls, stairwells, bridges, and a lookout tower, were made up of the living, fungus architecture that the wizards used. It looked twisted and unnatural, something surely of Telvanni creation. We were about a half mile away and there was no break in our pace.
“So Magnus. This wizard, Aryon. He’s powerful?” I asked.
“Heh. Powerful? He’s likely the most powerful wizard in all of Vvardenfell,” Magnus replied without hesitation.
When we came upon the gates of Tel Vos, I had expected an unfriendly welcome from the guards. We were trying to contact one of the oldest wizards in Morrowind. There was no unfriendly welcome, though, and not even a guard in sight. The whole stronghold looked abandoned. As we passed the open gate and entered the area, we noticed bodies laying on the ground and the smell of death in the air. I could tell they had not been killed recently. There were smatterings of elven blood on the walls and occasional body parts ripped from their owners. It was easy to see that not one of them had died quickly.
“What’s that? Up there?” Vailant asked, pointing high up to an object in the sky. It was so high, I barely even noticed it. A dark shadowy object was all that I could identify. No one responded at first, probably to wanting to open their mouths to further taste the putrid air. Eventually though, Magnus spoke.
“There’s only one way to find out,” he said. Pointing up to the tallest tower, he continued, “That is where Aryon will be, if he’s still alive. Let us go.”
It was only a few more minutes until we were climbing the spiraled staircase to reach the heights of the stronghold. There were several more bodies along the way. Each one was heavily scarred or dismembered. The stains of blood had dried on to the stone stairs. Insects were everywhere, drawn to the carrion. “Damn…Snorri, have you ever seen anything like this before?” Vailant asked me.
"Aye,” I responded. I had seen such things in my travels across Skyrim, my homeland. “I’ve felt this before. When so many men die, all at once, it creates something. More than a smell; it’s a space, a void, where life only echoes.” No one spoke after that, but Xighden gave an exclamation of approval. He was a warrior, so he knew of what I spoke. It wasn’t until we had cleared the first tower and advanced to the highest level of the stronghold that we were relieved of the stench.
We stepped into a long hall the lead both to the left and the right. “We should spread out and search these rooms,” Magnus began. “Xighden, you and Snorri take one hall, we’ll take the other.”
“Hmm, yes. Be careful though, there still could be danger here,” Xighden added. Vailant, Prophiter, and Magnus took the left hall and Xighden and I headed in the opposite direction.
There were numerous doors on both sides of the hall, each one leading to a new room, filled with Telvanni devices and Telvanni corpses. It wasn’t long until we found something of interest though: a clanfear. Xighden had just stepped into a room when I saw it rustling around at the end of the hall, prodding at one of the dead bodies with its claws. The green, scaled demon pulled up its head and looked back at me. It began to walk towards me on all fours.
“Xigh-” was all I could say before it burst into a sprint. I managed to pull my axe out and club it away as it leaped though the air at me. Xighden turned in response to the commotion, in time to see the clanfear jump back on top of me. I had dealt with such creatures before, but this one surprised me with its ferocity. Its claws locked onto my shoulders and it bit at my face with its sharp beak. I closed my eyes so that it couldn’t gouge them out, as the beasts were known to do, and used the base of my steel axe to knock it off me. Its persistent attack was met with an awkward thrust of my axe blade into its abdomen. It was knocked back enough for Xighden to rush in with his own axe. The Khajiit warrior rained down his steel blade upon the clanfear. It wouldn’t go down that easily though, and grabbed on to Xighden’s axe, pausing his motion. It then pulled his arm in and bit down on his wrist. Xighden growled in pain as the sharp beak gnashed at his forearm. He dropped his weapon entirely and swiped at the daedra with his free hand. His khajiit claws sunk into the clanfear’s eyes. It screeched in agony. I didn’t let it suffer long though. As Xighden held its head in place, I took a short charge at the beast and swung my axe clean through it bony neck. The red eyes open wide upon decapitation. The body fell to the ground, but the head stayed attached to Xighden’s arm, its beak still clinging on.
“Get…off me!” Xighden shouted as he managed to pull the creature’s head from his arm. I laughed as it rolled down the hall, spewing its dark brownish blood across the floor.
“It almost had me!” I admitted in jest. “Almost tore my eye out.” Xighden, seeing my laughter, lightened up as well, ignoring the obvious damage to his arm. I began to pull out bandages from my pack. “Ah, that’s the problem with Magnus. Doesn’t know how to appreciate a good kill.” I handed the bandage to Xighden and he began to apply it to his forearm. “Oh well, that’s a wizard for you. Or mage, or whatever.”
“Heh, yes. I agree. Although Magnus has been more…eager…as of late,” Xighden responded.
“Eager?” I asked, not sure of his meaning.
“Yes. Snorri must have noticed. Ever since we met in Sadrith Mora Magnus has been very persistent to find Lemnos. The mage has been showing less caution.” Xighden seemed suspicious of Magnus’ apparent change. I hadn’t noticed. After he made me aware of that though, I tried to think back to when I first met Magnus in Suran and when we had rejoined in Sadrith Mora. It then occurred to me that he was different. Him being a mage, I had been slow to accept him. After we met in the Telvanni capital though, I had forgotten all about my previous feelings.
“Maybe you’re right, but that’s not a problem with me. He needed to loosen up anyway,” I replied.
“Hmm, it’s more than that. I feel different as well. The closer we get to these ruins, the more anxiety builds up inside me. At first I noticed Magnus acting differently and I thought the Nord was just nervous. But then I started to feel a change as well. Even Prophiter is different. The Elf is very somber. Not like when we first met. I think that the ruins are affecting everyone, in some way or another.”
I was confused by his words. I wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t said anything, but after he did it made me wonder, somewhat. “Bah!” I said to him. “Damn magicks and wizards. Forget your apprehension and let’s search the rest of these rooms,” I said to him. We continued on, stepping over the clanfear’s headless body.
Only a few more minutes had passed as we searched through the last few rooms. I rummaged in a chest, finding mostly scrolls and potions. “Telvanni witchcraft,” I said as I slammed the chest shut. Xighden had found a book written in Imperial. He read the title aloud.
“Theories of the Mundus and Beyond. Hmm.”
“Mundus?” I asked.
"It means, the world we live in, I think. Theories of life and the afterlife.”
“Telvanni nonsense,” I insisted. “I’m sure they know nothing of what happens to Skyrim warriors after death,” I said to him. There was a pause, but the question I expected, followed. I was glad he had asked.
"Skyrim warriors?” Xighden said.
“Oh, yes. There is a grand journey for Skyrim warriors after they die in battle. Let me tell you,” I continued, rising to my feet. “When a Nord falls in battle, and dies the death worthy of a true warrior, they earn the notice of Kyne, the Goddess of the Storm. She is the matron god of warriors, who blessed Nords with the stormvoice. She is known as the Kiss at the End, for the rewards she brings to true warriors. Ah, yes, the Kiss at the End. It’s what’s left for those who have nothing left but death.” Xighden seemed interested by my native religion.
"This is Snorri’s belief?” he asked.
“Not belief. Truth,” I insisted.
“Hmm. And what about others who die a warriors death. Not Nords…or humans. What does a warrior’s death bring them?” the Khajiit asked. I did not respond immediately, realizing that he was referring to himself. I didn’t want to lie to him, for I knew the purity of Kyne couldn’t be tainted by allowing even an Imperial in, let alone a beast man. I tried to reconsider, with an understanding of Xighden’s warrior heart. I had to be honest, though.
“Kyne accepts only true Nords,” I said, with less emphasis in my voice than before. “Surely though…” I began, stepping forward and putting my hand on his shoulder, “…somewhere either in this life or beyond you will find a place that praises the warrior in you.”
“Hmm, perhaps.” Xighden put down the book, and sighed heavily. “I’ve spent so much of my life traveling, fighting, and…searching. Battle is all I’ve ever been comfortable with. Everything else is just in comparison to that…moment. The moment when I realize that either the enemy is going to die or I am. That moment where nothing else matters. That feeling is the only thing I’ve ever had that’s secure. But that feeling is…” Xighden suddenly seemed quite humbled after the topic of the afterlife. It was obviously something that he had put much thought into.
“The last thing before death,” I said, understanding his position.
“Yes. I’m not young anymore. I’ve traveled around so much of Tamriel and seen so many things. None of it has ever been able to satisfy me. I’ve always been looking for something more. The only thing I know I can rely upon is that feeling in battle. And I’ve always compared everything else to it. But...that moment, the single thing in this life that has made me truly happy, only comes out when I’m near death. Only when someone wants me dead do I ever feel content. And if I were to lose and be killed…then...that’s all my life will have ever been: being on the edge of death.”
I didn’t know what to tell him. I understood the feeling of which he spoke. I had felt it many times; when an opponent looks into your eyes with a deadly intent. There is no need for words, because you both are in the same state of mind. To kill or be killed: an exhilarating feeling. Without anything else anchoring you to the world though, one could never maintain a normal life. I understood his concern, but did not have a solution. Another thought did occur to me though.
“And that is why you held the Orc, Umbra, in such high regard,” I commented. Xighden turned to me, looking surprised that I had figured that out. I could tell though, by the way he mentioned Umbra’s sword. I knew how much he wanted that sword. Not because of the weapon, but because it was chosen by Umbra, and Xighden had respected Umbra.
“Yes. Umbra. The Orc was…mad. Evil, perhaps. But Umbra was the truest and finest example of a warrior I’ve ever seen. And how the Orc spoke of his past…it was so close to my own life. Nothing to satisfy but death, either of others or my own.”
“Well…you’ll find something, Xighden,” I said, trying to lighten him up. He still seemed very serious though. “Yes, you’ll find you’re place in the world. Where the wine flows freely and elven wenches are plentiful.” He gave what I said a moment of thought, and then began to smile.
“Elven wenches, eh?” he replied, with a laugh.
“Oh, yes. Elven wenches all around, with those tight asses. They don’t age you know. They stay young, almost forever. Ha!” We both laughed. In my experience, nothing brought up the spirits like the option of wine and wenches.
“All right, we should check back with the others,” Xighden said.
“Aye,” I agreed. We began to leave the room. Xighden stepped through the doorway.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t find any-“ Xighden’s voice trailed off. His head turned back towards me and his ears perked up. “Wait,” he then whispered. We stopped and stepped back into the room. Xighden had apparently heard something, but as to what it was I had no idea. Xighden’s ears remained perked as he walked along the wall’s edge.
“Here.” he said. Xighden reached out his hand to touch the stone wall. His claws passed right through, and his arm followed. “There’s someone in here,” he continued. He soon had disappeared behind what seemed to be an illusion. I followed in his footsteps, pausing before passing through the wall’s void.
“Telvanni sorcery,” I said, stepping through the wall.
Beyond the illusion was a short hall that turned to the right. Around the corner, I found Xighden standing in front of a cowering Dark Elf. He wore fancy blue robes that were stained with an impressive spray of red blood. He was huddled in the corner, mumbling frantically and shaking.
“No. Stay away. S-stay away. I don’t know anything. Go, j-just go,” the elf whimpered to the two of us.
“Slow down, Elf. We’re not your enemy. Tell me what happened,” Xighden said to him.
“I…I just-no, not my soul! He took their souls!” the Elf continued, pathetically. He was obviously in a state of shock. I tried to get though to him myself.
“Stop your stammering, man! Come to your senses!” I yelled, grabbing on to his shoulders. “Snap out of it.!” I smacked him across the face a few times. It appeared to work.
“Stop, stop! All right, just stop! I…I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t kill me.” He sniveled.
“Blast, man! We’re not here to kill you! We just want to know what happened. Who did all this?” I demanded from him. He paused, but answered.
“It was…Lemnos, Aryon’s apprentice. He did this. He’s gone mad. He…summoned daedra and then…” the elf trailed off. Xighden and I looked each other in the eyes, both aware of the mention of Lemnos.
“Hmm, a powerful wizard, indeed. Where is Lemnos now?” I asked.
“G-gone,” he replied.
"And Aryon, where is he?” Xighden asked.
“Aryon? Yes, Aryon, we need him. He’s the only one powerful enough to stop him,” the Telvanni mumbled.
“Yes, all right, but where is he!?” Xighden persisted.
“Aryon is…in his chambers, at the opposite end of the hall, in the high tower. You, you have to make him help. Or else…” The elf trailed off again, whimpering and crying in his blood stained robes. As I took a closer look at him, it appeared that he had no wounds on him. His robes were heavily doused in blood though, so I imagined that he must’ve been an up-close witness to something very bloody. His shock was warranted, him being a weak-willed Elf and all.
“Snorri, we’ve got to go find Aryon, and the others. Then we can form some kind of plan to stop him,” Xighden said.
“Aye. Let’s go,” I agreed.
We left the sobbing Telvanni in his hidden room and made our way to the other end of the hall. We were walking with intent, so it didn’t take long to find the stairwell that lead to Aryon’s chambers. We rounded a curved staircase that lead up into the highest tower. As we neared the top of the stairwell, we found Vailant, standing with his arms crossed and a sour look on his face.
“What’re you so put off about?” I asked. He swallowed, but did not respond. Instead, he nodded further up the stairs, telling us to continue. We took a few more steps and cleared another half-level of stairs. We then saw Prophiter, sitting with his head down, leaning over a puddle of vomit.
“What’s wrong with…oh, never mind!” I said, remembering his foolish silence. Xighden and I continued up the stairs, more curious than ever. Shortly, we made our way to the top. Magnus stood next to a door that swung ajar. He as well, seemed affected by something. Instead of speaking, he pushed open the door and stepped back, allowing us a view of what lay beyond.
Xighden and I stepped to the edge of the door, which was disconnected from the Aryon’s chambers. Through the portal was open space, high above the ground outside. And outside, a few meters past the tower’s highest peak, was what we had seen earlier on. It was what Vailant had spotted when we first entered the Tel Vos grounds. It was Aryon.
Floating in dead space, through some form of Telvanni magicka, was the corpse of the most powerful wizard in Vvardenfell. He was dead in ways that I had never even imagined. His body was nude, revealing his coal-black skin. There was little skin to see though, for from his throat down to his groin there was a vertical incision made. His chest and abdomen had been opened up like a cabinet, with all his entrails hanging out in the open air. All the intestines and vital organs were floating out in front of us. His elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles had been severed from his body, but remained in place, with only small gaps separating them from their original positions. His face had stiffened in a horrific position, eyes as wide as they could go and a face that appeared to be screaming. His body had long since been bled dry, as it looked gaunt and emaciated. Flies festered around him and ate away ate his eyes. Hanging in the air by some foul form of magicka, it was a truly horrific sight to behold.
Once again, I looked Xighden in the eyes as we both said the name, “Lemnos.” Magnus, Xighden and I stood at the edge of the doorway, collecting ourselves from having just seen what we had seen. We discussed what Magnus had found in Aryon’s chambers, and we discussed our conversation with the lone Telvanni. We also mentioned how he’d spoken of the stealing of souls. It was decided that we needed to make our way to the ruins in the north and stop Lemnos, as soon as possible. He was powerful and he had become a force to be reckoned with. We were decided, and we began our descent of the stairs. As my foot reached the first step though, with Xighden ahead of me and Magnus behind me, I heard something. We all did, and we all turned around to see what it was.
“Magnus,” A voice said. It was a chilling moment, as the three of us paused.
“Magnus,” The voice repeated in a raspy whisper. The Nord mage stepped back to the door, which we had closed. He breathed in heavily and began to turn the handle. I grew tense and braced myself. The door slowly opened.
“Hello, Magnus. We meet again.” Aryon’s corpse said aloud. It glowed with a purple light and it seemed to be re-animated in some disgusting way. He remained dissected, but his eyes were fixed on us. The jaw even moved when he spoke.
“A…Aryon?” Magnus asked, in disbelief. The corpse laughed.
“No, human. The voice you hear is not Aryon’s, but I am the one who did this to him.” The cruel laughter continued.
“Lemnos,” Magnus then said, with a cold realization. The High Elf wizard was controlling the corpse from afar, and most likely watching us with his Telvanni witchcraft.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m waiting for you. You know where I am, but you haven’t arrived yet. I grow tired of waiting. Come.” The voice then paused for a moment. “Oh, and Magnus, I’ve arranged a gift for you. Enjoy.” Aryon’s body said. It then began to laugh again. Not subtly, but maniacally. So much so that it caused pieces of his corpse to break away from what held it in place, falling to the ground piece by piece. Again, Lemnos had succeeded in disgusting me. I was not easily disturbed, but I had my limits.
“Gift?” Xighden asked. We were quiet for a few moments, trying to understand what that meant. Magnus soon pulled his head up, out of thought and into action.
“We have to leave. Now,” he exclaimed. There was no time for either of us to question him. “Now!” he shouted. We began to run down the stairs. We rushed down the stairwell, almost tripping over Prophiter. Xighden, who was in the lead, grabbed him by the collar and almost threw him down in front of Vailant.
“Run!” Xighden shouted. We all rushed down the curving path. It was soon that I realized why. The whole tower began to shake, and what Magnus had predicted, begun.
We charged out of the stairwell and into the main hall, as what seemed like an earthquake began to tear the Tel Vos apart. Walls were breaking down and parts pf the floor began to crumble. The five of us moved as fast as we could out through the last stairwell and through the lower halls. Everything was coming down and Lemnos was making it happen. As a wall of stones nearly fell upon me, I developed a new understanding of the wizard’s power. We were running for the exit, dodging falling walls left and right. Xighden and Prophiter needed to use their agility to keep them alive. Vailant was almost caught underneath a toppling pillar. I grabbed onto him and pulled out of the way, before it could crash into the floor nearby us. Just before the entire castle could collapse, we bolted though the main entrance.
Outside walls were falling around us and guard towers crumbled. Past the gates we ran until we had cleared Tel Vos entirely. Standing out in the grassy fields, gasping, we all turned around to see the utter destruction that was happening in front of us. Tel Vos became nothing more than a huge pile of stone, wood, and dead bodies. Lemnos had fully forced his will upon the castle, and nearly killed us in the attempt.
We all breathed heavily, taking in some of the dust that blew towards us from the rubble. “And what a gift,” I said, attempting to gather some fresh air in the dust clouds.
“Uh, mates, I don’t think it’s over,” Vailant said. We all raised our heads and looked through the clouds of filth. Large figures were appearing. They appeared all around us. When I saw what they where, I didn’t know if I should be excited or afraid. They were Ogrim Titans: huge daedra that were at least eight feet tall and several hundred pounds. They stomped towards us. We stood back to back, being fully surrounded. Our weapons were unsheathed, and we prepared for a fight. 'Lemnos…' I thought, as the Ogrims began to roar. '…Your death is going to taste so sweet after this.' The five of us charged into battle.