Chapter 26 The End of Innocence
Xighden, Magnus, and I stood before the Telvanni wizard, Lemnos. We stood in the huge main hall of Ald Daedroth, awaiting what would surely be the climax of our journey. I kept my hand at my side, ready to grab either my bow or my blade. I eyed the two people standing nearby Lemnos. One was a man, presumably an Orc, fully covered in Orcish armor. The other was a Bosmer. She stood, with an emotionless face that was always aimed on either Magnus, Xighden, or myself. Our eyes met at one moment, as Lemnos was speaking. Her stare was absolutely cold and unfeeling. Most Bosmer women had black eyes, but hers were more than just dark in colour. They were steely and icy, the unfeeling eyes of a killer.
As Lemnos’ voice rose, my attention turned back to him. “The Father, Sheogorath, will have his plan fulfilled, with me as his general! You have played right into our scheme! Through his will you have been drawn here and I…I will finish you. You cannot fathom the power he has given me! Our armies will march across this and wipe out everyone. The Nerevarine, Dagoth Ur: they are nothing compared to the glory of Sheogorath!” he shouted at us.
The wizard finally stopped his fanatical rambling and took action. He raised one hand into the air and conjured a mass of electricity in his fist. From the purple ball of lightning, three bolts emerged and struck Xighden, Magnus, and I. The effects were painful and neutralizing. I fell down on the ground, shaking from the shock. After a few seconds of incoherence, I turned myself over to see that Lemnos had not stopped with a single spell. After a few words in a language that I didn’t understand, the ground began to shake. I was almost up to my feet when the stone floor itself completely cracked. A huge chasm formed between the three of us and Lemnos. More gaps broke open to separate Magnus, Xighden, and myself. I stumbled down the failing stone floor as it broke apart and opened up a void beneath me. I tried to use all the agility that I had not to fall down into the darkness below, but I couldn’t fight against the pull of gravity.
While the others remained fighting above, I tumbled down into the newly formed pit. Out of desperation, I managed to collect my bearings in mid-fall and grab onto a rocky edge. It was a success, and my momentum stopped. I hung there for only a few seconds, catching my breath, until I hopped down onto another ledge. I made my way down to the stone floor below. Looking up, it was probably about twenty meters from where I had been standing.
Looking back down and around, I was standing at a dead end in a long and very dark tunnel. It was too dark to see the end of it, but as I stepped forward and felt the walls, I could tell that it was more than just an underground cavern. The rough, stone walls became flat and tiled. As I walked down further, keeping me hands against the walls to guide me through the darkness, I found a source of light. It was a faint torch light, around a corner. I made my way closer to it, and was eventually relieved of the pitch black darkness.
I appeared to be in the lower levels of Ald Daedroth. They were crafted as well as the upper levels, although a little dustier. The walls were etched with daedric scriptures, all of which I couldn’t understand. Continuing on, though, I found large round chambers, each one littered with skeletal corpses and burned out candles and torches. I had to pull out one of the torches that was still lit to guide me further.
After searching a few more of the large, round rooms, I realized that I was getting no closer to finding my way out. I also realized that I was not alone. I stood in the biggest of all the circular rooms, with my back to the only entrance or exit. There was one stone basin that provided an adequate pitfire. It cast my shadow out behind me, to where I heard footsteps. They were not the steps of an animal, and they were too soft and purposeful to be the Orc or Lemnos, himself. I knew that it was the Bosmer woman that I had seen earlier. I stood still for one more moment, deciding what action to take. I didn’t want to make an aggressive move, but I knew that she wouldn’t have friendly intentions on her mind. Another moment passed before I heard the slightest scuff of the sole of her shoe. She was about to charge me.
“You gave yourself away,” I said, calmly, turning my head over my right shoulder. Her advance stopped and she looked me in the eye. There was no emotion on her face, no surprise or anger, just a cold, black-eyed stare. I turned around fully, and faced her. She had two short swords drawn, and she wore light netch armor. I could tell she was ready to kill me. Before either one of us engaged one another, I tried to reason with her. “Stop. Listen, I don’t want to fight you. Whatever your reasons for being here and serving Lemnos, well…they’re your own and I won’t question them. But you don’t need to resort to this. No one needs to die here.” She was unaffected by my words, and began to circle me, readying for a strike. I sighed, but pulled out my own shortsword. There was a moment of silence, where we both shifted out stances slightly and neither of us breathed. That moment soon ended and she charged.
Both her blades were raised into the air when she drew near me. The swords were precisely thrust downwards toward my abdomen. I pulled my left side back and hooked my right arm, deflected both weapons with a perpendicular block. I easily dodged her attack and gave her a swift elbow to the chin in response. She drew back, once again cold and emotionless. From her first attack, I could tell that I was a better swordsman. She rushed, and she left her side guard open.
Her feet crossed back and forth to the side, as she began to circle me again, preparing for another attack. She found her timing and ran for me. It was too easy to notice when she was going to move, though, and I acted upon that. I leapt forward, stomping my feet down directly in her path. It forced her to stop, and I used that as my opening to charge.
She was off balance when I rushed, swinging my blade in a figure-eight motion like the unarmored bladesmen of northern Valenwood. I threw swings at her that were less than deadly, expecting her to block them. She did, and kept up her guard long enough to outlast my attack. I stopped, standing still in front of her, meeting her eyes with my own. I didn’t want to keep the fight going. I knew that I was better than her, but I didn’t want to kill her. I wanted to show her up, in hopes that she might surrender and leave Ald Daedroth. Her face was so empty, though, it didn’t seem like there was anything that ran through her mind other than the desire to kill me.
“You can’t beat me,” I said to her. “I’m faster than you.” She gave no response, and instead charged, striking with both blades in a flurry. I managed to block or dodge all her strikes, but she was definitely not letting up. We remained face to face, our swords clashing together, for almost a minute before I found an opening to knock her away. I delivered a snapping kick to her stomach, which seemed to wind her. “I told you, you’re not fast enough,” I reiterated. “Just give this up and begone!” I wanted to scare her away, but she wouldn’t budge. The only thing that was developing in her face was determination, not anger, frustration, and definitely not fear.
“'Damn you, woman! Say something! Stop giving me that icy stare!' I thought.
'I don’t want to kill you. No more killing!”
She rose up and began another assault. I forced myself to embrace her attack, once again. Her strategy was unwavering. She performed the same moves over and over again, as if she couldn’t adapt. She swung low, and I jumped high. She thrust forward, and I spun to the side. I knew that I didn’t want to kill, ever again, but I couldn’t keep it up. Although I had her outmatched with the sword, I was tiring, and her stamina didn’t seem to be affected in the least. I couldn’t continue forever. Either I would have to finish her, or I would slip up, and she would finish me. At that moment of realization, she was behind me, pulling one sword in to stab me in the lower back. I turned, but not quite fast enough to avoid the strike. Her blade penetrated my newtscale armor, just enough to sink in and draw blood. I shouted in pain, and knocked her arm away from me, which drew the blade out. I actually seethed in anger, for the first time since my fight with Xighden, and focused my intention of killing her. I had to. It was either her or me. That damn “killer instinct” that Snorri and Xighden talked about came into effect, and I rushed at her.
She pulled up her swords and swung at me with both, simultaneously. I saw it coming though, and hopped up over her attack. With one foot planted on the bridge she formed with her arms, I threw my body weight into an attack and strongly kneed her in the face. She stumbled back and I kept moving forward. I landed and took a few more steps towards her, with full momentum. After a quick weapon transfer, from my right hand to my left, I sliced at her knee, opening up a solid gash. I then stopped in my tracks and dropped my body down, impaling her leg with a reverse strike. She fell down as I pulled my sword out of her leg. I calmed myself, and took a few steps back.
The feeling had returned to me. It was exactly the same as in Valenwood, during the wars. It was the same rush and the same anxiety. Hearing my sword sink in through her left leg was accompanied with a necessary satisfaction and the unavoidable disgust. At that moment, I had won. I struck first, and I stayed alive a moment longer. That was what I was trained to experience. Ever since I was twelve I had been taught to live for that feeling.
“It’s called killer instinct, my boy. You’ll need it if you’re to survive through these times. Every move you make will turn out to be a failure or a victory. Each failure could only be small, or it could be the end of your life. That’s why you have to treat every opponent like they’re your worst enemy. Every move has to be treated like it’s your last. That is how you’ll survive, son.”
“I understand. Thank you father.”
That was what he had told me. And he was right. It did keep me alive. It kept me alive, so long as I never gave it up. 'Thank you, father.' I thought. 'Thank you and damn you for making me into what I am.' I didn’t want to prove my father’s point. I didn’t want to actualize the fact that the only way to sustain my life was to put an end to someone else’s.
I looked at her. She lay on the ground, bleeding profusely out of her left thigh. There was a large cut the stretched across the outside of her knee. Her leg was ruined, at least for the rest of that fight. It made me think that I might’ve put a stop to her attacks. I thought that she would give up, and just leave Ald Daedroth. There was nothing like that though. There were no screams coming from her. There were no tears, or even any show of concern for her injured leg. She didn’t say a word. All that she did was pull a small knife from an ankle brace and throw it directly for my throat.
The knife sailed with speed and accuracy, and I was so surprised by her strike that I barely managed to get my guard up in time to block it. I pulled up my weapon, but her throw was too fast, causing me to instinctively pull my forearm in for protection. The knife pierced my arm and sunk in deeply. I shouted in pain and dropped my sword. It was only moments later that another knife had found its way from her hands into the air. I was filled with adrenaline at that point, and I managed to dodge the next knife. From the searing, bloody pain came more anger and frustration, which fueled me in charging towards her, still downed from my blow. With full speed and force and ran up and kicked her square in the face. I knelt down over top of her body, which lay flat on the ground. I then painfully pulled her knife out from my forearm and stabbed her in the shoulder with it. Once again, there was blood, but no screams. Not even a word from her. My frustration grew. I was trying not to kill her, but her absolute lack of emotion was making it hard. It dehumanized her, making her suffering seem insignificant. It made me want to just finish her off, and I couldn’t stand it.
“Damn you!” I yelled at her. “Do you not feel pain?! Say something! Anything!” My demands went unnoticed, as her cold, black eyes remained still, staring into my soul. I began to pant, unable to understand how someone could be so blank, as if there was nothing inside. No personality of feelings. I clenched my fist and readied to punch her right in the face. I began swung my arm down on her, with full force. My blow never made contact, though.
A huge booming noise shook the room that we were in and caused my fist to pound into the ground, instead. I rolled off of her and rose to my feet. The sound had come from above, and with such a large, powerful noise, I suspected that magicka was involved. It was either Magnus or Lemnos that had caused it, I knew.
Looking back at the elf, I noticed her begin took reach out for her shortsword, still making an attempt to kill me, even as injured as she was. I shook my head and made my final decision. I was going to kill her. Her resolve was too great; she had to die. It felt an awful taste in my mouth after I finalized the feeling in my mind. I spat to try and get it out, but it was, of course, futile. The decision to end the life of another was not something to easily engage, and I knew that I was making that decision in spite of what I truly believed in. I did it anyway, though. I knelt back over her with my sword in hand, ready to kill her, and I accepted any consequences that were to come my way because of it. With my shortsword raised high, I looked into her eyes. The icy, blackness of her eyes was as calm as ever. Her face hadn’t changed, but something had. I didn’t notice at first, but as I leaned over her, with one hand around her throat, I saw that she was gasping. She breathed heavily and a small exclamation came out from her mouth.
“Do it,” she said, in a weakened voice. I was immediately stunned, and my confusion grew as I saw the black of her eyes flash with a white light.
“What?” I said aloud, stopping my attack. I froze, and actually heard her voice for the first time.
“Just get it over with…I…what am I saying?” she asked, with a sudden rush of fear and confusion. I immediately backed off of her, and allowed her to speak. That was all I had wanted from her. Some shred of humanity, to stop me from doing what I was about to do. She pulled herself up to a sitting position and grabbed her head. She spoke again.
“I…stop, please! Lemnos? Damn it!” she said, making little sense. “Listen, I don’t want to fight you. I’m not who you think I am! Lemnos, that damn wizard, Lemnos! He used some spell to take over my mind! I wasn’t…how can I explain?” She spoke frantically, trying to explain herself. I simply stood and listened, still in shock. “He took over my mind. That wasn’t me fighting you; I was under his control! You have to believe me!” she shouted, with desperation.
'Took over my mind?' I knew that that wounded familiar to me. Whether it was for her sake, or just for my own, I racked my brain trying to form an explanation for her situation, anything to stop us from fighting. The Telvanni in Tel Vos had said that Lemnos stole the souls of others. I knew little about the workings of magicka, but that would explain her emotionless demeanor. Thinking back to our encounter with Doth Berossus, the Redoran noble had mentioned an encounter with an elf and an orc, that were devoid of souls. I was skeptical for a moment, but it did make sense.
"You were under Lemnos’ control?” I asked, still with an unbelieving tone.
“Yes! Yes. I didn’t want to fight you. It was him controlling me. I know that’s hard to believe: someone not being themselves,” she said. 'You’d be surprised what I know about not being myself.' I thought.
“No…no I believe you. But…I tried to kill you,” I said, with a humbled realization. I had made the decision to end her life, out of frustration and anger. I felt the bad taste resurface in my mouth.
“That doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting out of here. I…can you help me?” she asked. Her expression had definitely changed. From her initial desperation, she had become warmer, with a sweeter tone in her voice.
“I…yes, I’ll help you.” I said, apologetically, helping her up.
"What’s your name?” she asked.
“Prophiter.” I replied. “And you?”
Arwaen showed me a hidden path out of the dim tunnels that lead to an alternate exit of Ald Daedroth. The whole way through she had limped severely because of the injuries that I inflicted upon her. Eventually though, we had made it to an opening in the tunnels, where we smelled the fresh air and saw the twilight of the morning. There was only a short distance to one of the nearby islands, where Arwaen assured me that she had some Almsivi intervention scrolls stashed.
“I kept a pack there, because I knew that Lemnos was dangerous. I planted a few scrolls and healing supplies just in case he pulled something on me. I never would’ve guessed it would be anything like this. If we can just get to that island, we’ll be fine.” She spoke confidently, and I could tell she was eager to leave Ald Daedroth forever. I didn’t blame her.
“I can take you there, but I need to go back for my friends. I don’t know what happened to them,” I told her.
“I…all right, sure. But, can you just get me there first. I’m…really in need of healing. My leg…” she said, softly. I was quick to oblige her.
“Right, right. We’ll get you there first. But don’t you want to bring your friend with you. The orc?” I asked, in reference to the armored orc that had traveled with her.
“Oh, Draco. Well, I never really knew him. Lemnos had taken over his mind before I had ever met him. He never even said a word to me. I feel bad for him, but…really, I can’t go back. Let’s just go.” Arwaen was very eager to leave for the island. I understood, and didn’t blame her for abandoning her former partner. 'She is afraid, after all.' I said to myself.
We started walking out along the rocky edge of Ald Daedroth’s island. I held her up with her arm over my shoulder for support. It was only a short walk, but I tried to make conversation to get her mind off her injuries.
“How long were you under his control?” I asked, sympathetically.
“Oh, it seemed like an eternity. It was right after I started working for him…” Her voice then trailed off. She cleared her throat with a cough. I was curious, though. We continued walking, while I wondered what it was that she was hired to do for Lemnos. A few more seconds passed before I asked her. I didn’t feel like it was of real importance, but I felt the urge to know. As well as where she had picked up such impressive skills with blades and throwing knives.
“So, why were you working for Lemnos?” I asked, with a less sympathetic, more inquisitive tone in my voice.
“Why? Well I…I performed tasks for him. Nothing important really,” she said. Her voice had changed as well. She was assertive in quickly ending the subject. “It’s a beautiful twilight, isn’t it?” she said, hastily. I wasn’t distracted from the point though. I stopped walking, and stood in place, looking into her eyes.
“Nothing important? Then why are you so proficient with those weapons of yours?” Her pace had stopped as well. After I asked her that question, she looked straight down at her feet and paused. Her head then rose, and her face met mine. I was no longer as receptive of her charm.
“Why?” she said, with a confident smile. “Because I’m an assassin.” I froze after she said that. I stood, with her arm over my shoulder, our bodies huddled together in the cold morning air. I was momentarily puzzled, trying to put pieces together in my mind.
“What-“ was all I could get out before she intervened. She threw her other arm around me and planted her lips on mine, welcoming me in a kiss. I was surprised, but I didn’t resist. The curiosity of what I had asked her about subsided, as memories of long ago came back to me. I was at peace, for one final time.
The kiss was long, and before it had ended, I realized what her true intentions were. I realized so much in such a short time, that I was almost proud of myself. As her warm embrace continued, I remembered that everyone in Tamriel was born under a different constellation. A different arrangement of the stars and the moons, which gave each and every person different natural abilities. She, as I came to understand, was born under the sign of the Lover. Anyone born under the Lover’s sign had an inborn ability called the “Lover’s Kiss”. It paralyzed its victims for at least a minute. I could feel the magicka of her body taking affect on me, and I could soon barely move.
Instantly after that, I realized something that many people don’t get a chance to acknowledge. I realized that I was about to die. She was an assassin. The story of Lemnos controlling her actions was true, but before that had ever happened, she was a killer. As soon as the kiss ended, she would finish me.
Then, quite shortly after that understanding, I questioned what I felt about my own death. I had lived for so long. And after my recent re-awakening, I was racked with the guilt of my actions in war. “Is it good that I am to die? Do I deserve this? I asked myself. I then realized that it was. It wasn’t good, or meaningful, but it was deserved. It was a consequence. When I made the decision to kill Arwaen back in the tunnels, I knew that there would be consequences. There always are. And I was about to receive mine.
Finally, her kiss came to an end, and she drew away from me. I stood, unmoving. I was paralyzed. She smiled a malicious smile and unsheathed the sword out from my belt. Her face then changed from a smile to a look of hatred, and she stabbed.
“This is for my knee,” she muttered, inches away from my face. She wasn’t finished there, though.
“And this is for my leg, you son of a bitch!” She thrust the sword into me again, making two clean, guttural punctures in my abdomen. She then placed my own sword against my throat and readied herself it slit it wide open. I remained in my frozen state, just looking into the black of her eyes. She pulled the sword along my neck, slicing me open. With a cocky smirk, she regained her sadistic expression.
“And that was for that punch you almost threw. Don’t you know how to treat a lady?” she asked with twisted sarcasm. After that, she gave me a gentle pat of the cheek and hobbled away, leaving me standing upright, still paralyzed, and gushing blood from my throat.
I couldn’t move at all. At the least, though, I couldn’t feel any pain. I had to hand it to her; she really played her part well. I should’ve been angry over such a betrayal, especially one with such attitude, but I wasn’t. I just stood there and accepted my fate.
I thought back to what Snorri had mentioned about nords who die noble deaths. 'The Kiss at the End, was it?' I wondered how my kiss at the end compared. And that was really all I could think of, trivial things. There was no regret or remorse. I wondered how Magnus and Xighden would prevail against Lemnos, but I didn’t worry too much. I wondered how if Dagoth Ur would succeed in his plans to destroy the Nerevarine and conquer Morrowind, but I didn’t let it get to me. There were few worries for me, as the feeling began to return to my body. I realized that I had committed sins in my life, like I did when I convinced myself to kill Arwaen. But, just like what was happening on that rocky shore, outside of Ald Daedroth on the morning of Hearthfire the fifth, I had always paid my price. There were always consequences in life, and I had paid mine every step of the way. As my body began to be relieved of its frigid position and I tumbled to the ground, the screams of Khajiit faded away. Adults in combat and children in their burning homes; their angry cries left my memory. As did the shouts of the comrades that I left to die in Elsweyr. They paid their price, like I did, mine. I was getting light-headed and dizzy. Down to my hands and knees at that point, my blood was forming a crimson pool beneath me.
I had just enough energy to turn my head and see Arwaen in the distance, enacting a scroll of intervention and disappearing with a flash. 'Good for her.' I thought. With everything falling so perfectly into place in the world, and all responsibility and burden suddenly tossed off my shoulders, I fell, face first into a puddle of my own blood. The feeling returned to my whole body, but all I did was smirk. It was the light-heated smirk that I had used in response to all of life’s little problems during my return to innocence. It helped my brush off the small things and keep a skip in my merry step. And I did just that, lying on the bloody stones of a small island that housed Ald Daedroth. I made peace with my actions and I smiled and I died. 'Oh well, what the hell.'