Two dead gods in the room. Well... I suppose I should really stop calling them 'gods'. They were just elves who stole a great power, and were eventually driven to insanity by it. Everything I had done for Almalexia had been a waste... but at least she no longer posed a threat to her own city - or to Sirilonwe and I.
There was nothing left for us in the Clockwork City. We had tried to teleport home, but for some reason our recall spells refused to work - and so did the Wolfen ring
. Were we too far away? I crouched down and gingerly removed Barilzar's Mazed Band from Almalexia's blackened finger. She had said that she used the ring to travel to and from the Clockwork City; and I could only hope that we could do the same.
This time, the enchantment on the ring was obvious; and the thing seemed to actually be yearning
to return somewhere - the place Almalexia had teleported from, presumably. I had Sirilonwe wrap her arms around me, and I concentrated on the power in the Mazed Band; willing it to release its pent-up energy.
Fortunately, it worked - and we found ourselves standing in the centre of Almalexia's chapel, back in Mournhold. I had only one thing on my mind: one last thing to do in the holy city. Helseth. Only he remained.
Outside the temple, the skies were free of the ashstorms that had plagued the city for the last several days, and were lightening in the hour before dawn. We hurried over to the Royal Palace, not even stopping to wash up on the way. Our bloody and battle-worn appearance drew even stranger looks than we usually received in the palace. Helseth was already awake when we arrived, and in conversation with an advisor. The Imperial man was dismissed as soon as the king noticed Sirilonwe and I standing there, however. I told him everything that had happened in the Clockwork City.
"O-ho!" Helseth exclaimed. "Definitely not the Temple's man now
, are we Frost? Almalexia and
Sotha Sil dead! I must say, you deserve my warmest thanks and congratulations, Sera Frost - and Sirilonwe. This is a magnificent service you have done for us."
The king actually seemed sincere... but I suppose it was little secret that he had sincerely disliked Almalexia.
"Listen, Frost;" Helseth continued; "I was due to have dinner alone tonight - which seems somewhat depressing, really. You should both join me. We have much to discuss."
It was exactly
what I had been waiting for all that time; ever since returning to Mournhold after Dagoth Ur's defeat at Red Mountain. I accepted gladly.
"This is exactly
the opportunity we've been waiting for." Chief Steward Fedris Hler said.
After Helseth's invitation, we had proceeded directly to the Mournhold temple. I told Hler nothing about what had happened at the Clockwork City; even if he believed me, it would have been little help to the situation (to put it mildly). I was actually a little surprised that he did not ask me anything about it; but then it occurred to me that he probably did not even know that Almalexia had sent us to Sotha Sil's home. Considering what she had intended, she would most likely have kept it a secret.
"It's unfortunate that Almalexia isn't here to guide us in this," the Steward said, giving me a start, "but... she has other engagements, and no-one is sure when she will return. Still, I will help you myself; to the best of my ability. It is Her wish that Helseth be 'removed' from the throne, after all. This is what I shall do..."
Our plan went as follows: Hler and several other priests would use their magics to create a barrier around the room I inhabited at the time of my dinner with the king: the 9th hour past midday. A small pendant he had me carry would act a focal point for their spells, and allow them to know - from a distance - exactly where I was. The barrier would prevent anyone from seeing or hearing anything that took place inside the room, and cause anyone who tried to enter to forget that they wished to do so. Indeed, anyone near the room would forget everything that had taken place that evening (up until the conclusion of the spell) - including, hopefully, the fact that I had been in the palace.
The Temple would not acknowledge their part in things if I was discovered, of course.
"Siri..." I began, once we were back at the castle, making ready for the night to come - "if this doesn't work, it will be the end of the life we have. At best, we would have to go into hiding - virtually forever, probably."
I looked at her. She obviously knew what I was about to say, and spoke before I could do so:
"No, I do
have to go with you, Edward: as I have said before, we are safer together." She took my hand. "We will be together until the end."
"The end?" I frowned.
"The end. Until the death of the world, or the death of us."
The evening came all too quickly, and saw us arriving at the Royal Palace in full armour - save for our helmets. Helseth had never seen us out of our armour though, so he should not have suspected anything. The king made no mention of our dress as he ushered us into a well-appointed banquet chamber, just off the throne room; so I guessed that my assumption had been correct. We were the only ones in the room, but I noticed before the door was closed that Captain Delitian and the giant Redguard Karrod were both standing at attention just outside.
We sat down across from Helseth, in front of plates and bowls of rich-looking food. The table was extravagantly laden with all manner of delicacies; plus a good deal of alcohol. I noticed a goblet of strong brandy had already been poured out for each of us. The king raised his own goblet, and made a toast:
"To powerful friends!" He said, and took a sip.
Neither Sirilonwe or I made any move to follow his example.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but I only drink blood now."
Helseth studied me for a moment, and then asked, with surprising candour:
"Do you suspect me of trying to... poison you?"
"Yes." I said simply.
We stared at each other for a moment; but his face was not frozen into the awkward, confused mask I might have expected after such an accusation.
"I know that it was you who sent the Dark Brotherhood after me." I continued.
Helseth sighed, and set his goblet down.
"Of course you do. I'm not a fool. But Frost; I thought we had reached past that! 'If you can't beat them, join them' may be the motto of many, but it is not mine. I believe that if you cannot beat someone down, you should have them serve under you instead. That is the place of a king. You have taken up the place of a right-hand man to the king. I do not regret having you work for me; not one bit." He spoke with conviction, but I could see the falsehood in his eyes.
"I have only one thing to ask you, Helseth." I said, standing slowly and placing my hand on the hilt of my Daedric katana. "Why? Why kill me
? I was a half-starved ex-convict just off the prison boat. I was imprisoned for stealing silverware. Why me
"For the same reason you were released into Morrowind." Helseth replied, also rising to his feet. "A trusted mystic told a powerful man of the vision he had received; regarding a Breton named Edward Frost. In my case, my trusted advisor told me that one day, you would come to my palace, meaning to kill me. And just look: it seems he was right."
I flew at him, vaulting across the laden table. But he was no longer there: he had snatched out a massive Daedric daikatana from its hiding place beneath the grand table, and leapt up onto its crowded surface. I joined him on the heavy wooden table. It was to be a straight duel of blades: a swordfight. I sensed it then, as I sensed it before: Helseth wore something that granted him exceptional protection against magic. It was my blade, or nothing.
With a great sweep of his blade, Helseth cleared the half of the table closest to him of the expensive crockery, cutlery and food that crowded it. I did the same with my own Daedric katana (I was not using Trueflame - I was more accustomed to the balance of the katana). I met his first heavy swing with my shield, and raked my blade across his chest; however this did nothing but reveal the armour hidden beneath his now torn robes. He was certainly not a fool. He knew how to keep me at a distance with the superior length of his blade, too.
He was fast - very fast; his movements fortified by magic, I am sure. There is no way he could have kept up with a vampire, otherwise. We traded blow after blow, thundering back and forth on the large table - neither of us gaining an advantage over the other. The few remaining items on the table were sent flying by our feet, causing Sirilonwe to have to jump out of the way numerous times. She was hanging back; ready to help if needed, but otherwise leaving it to me. She understood what the fight meant to me, I think.
"You are a fool, Frost!" Helseth panted, in between swings. "A fool who doesn't know his place! There's a reason vampires cower in their holes, out in the barren wild-lands. There's no place for you among mortals. You want to fraternise with mortals as if you don't secretly lust after their life's blood - but it is impossible! And then -" he barked with short, harsh laughter - "and then I gave you that chance: to have power, to be untouchable! You could have frolicked with mortals all day and night, and no-one would dare touch you, because you were the king's guard dog! But you threw it all
away, because you were so... damned... BLOODY MINDED!"
He should not have wasted his breath. Swinging around something as large and heavy as a Daedric daikatana was exhausting at the best of times, and his diatribe was weakening his stance. I saw my opening.
In an instant I was behind him, with my fangs deep in his neck. I was much too close for him to use his daikatana effectively; or at all, really. His rich, hot blood swelled in my mouth, intoxicating my senses. I did not notice the small - but terrifically hard and sharp - Daedric tanto until it was wedged up under my armour plates, deep in my gut.
Helseth shoved me off his back, and I fell awkwardly down from the table, onto the floor; against the wall. The short blade was still buried in my abdomen. The king turned, sneering, and pressing his free hand against the wound on his neck.
"Such a fool." He spat. "Delitian! I need some help in here!" He roared, in the direction of the throne room.
But nothing happened, of course. Steward Hler's spell was in full effect, and no-one outside the banquet room could hear a whisper of what was going on inside. I began to laugh: long and hard.
"I am immortal, Helseth." I yanked the blade from my gut, and grinned in satisfaction as the king's fresh blood in my veins served to heal the wound
instantly. "You cannot stop me."
I launched myself up at him, driving his own Daedric tanto directly into his heart. The force of my movement carried us both up into the air; and then I came crashing down on top of him, pinning him to the table with the blade. His eyes closed and did not open again.
I located straight away the source of the king's virtual immunity to magic: it was his signet ring. It was nothing less than the most potent magical item I had ever seen: I was certain that with it - and in combination with my other enchanted items - I would have been completely impervious - to magical attack, at least. However, as much as it pained me to do so, I had to leave it behind. A magic ring would not save me if anyone discovered that it had been I who had murdered the king of Morrowind; and being in possession of Helseth's signet ring would have made for some pretty damning evidence.
"It's over then?" Sirilonwe said. "We can go home?"
"Yes," I replied, "we can go."
I believed it was finally over. All the dangers that had stalked me since setting foot on Vvardenfell, all gone and vanquished. The everyday threats of that frontier province, the wiles of Imperial spies, the spectre of my own mortality, Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House, insane gods of the Tribunal - and finally the man who had watched it all from the shadows, and tried to kill me when I was at my most vulnerable: King Helseth. All dead, all defeated.
I could finally relax with Sirilonwe, and not spend every night of my existence killing things. For maybe a week we settled into a comfortable routine: Mages Guild business in the day, and at night... we slept. We could actually sleep! Occasionally we would go out for walks in the night air.
On one of these nights, I thought to visit Vivec; to tell him what had happened to his two oldest friends. I was expecting an unpleasant encounter, but before we even made to approach his palace, I learned that Vivec had disappeared several days earlier; saying he would not return. The day he had vanished was the day I killed Almalexia.
No - those few days and nights passed uneventfully... until one evening, when Falorn the groundskeeper came hammering frantically on my chamber door, waking Sirilonwe and I from a peaceful rest. He was shaking.
"M-master Frost - it's... it's the Legion!" He gulped forcibly. "The Imperial Legion! They've surrounded the castle - they're telling us to surrender!"
My heart lurched painfully. So I had not escaped unscathed after all. I dashed over to my strongbox, and began hauling out my Shadow Lord
"Do as they say, Falorn." I told him, as Sirilonwe and I began to help each other with our armour. "And tell everyone - including the guards
- to do the same. Just make sure they can see that your hands are empty, and you should be alright."
The Bosmer took off down the stairs, leaving Sirilonwe and I to strap on our weapons.
"By the gods;" I cursed softly; "this won't end well."
Shortly afterwards, we were following Falorn down the stairs to the great hall - but I had no intention of surrendering. Before we left the keep, Sirilonwe took my face in her hands, kissed me, and said:
"Until the end."
We stepped out into the castle yard, hand in hand.
The breathing of many men - perhaps hundreds - met my ears. They were all out of sight, behind the castle walls; but my vampiric hearing revealed their presence. Standing alone up on the ramparts was a familiar figure: Apelles Matius. He held an unrolled, very official-looking scroll - and read from it aloud, shouting out over the castle yard:
"To the vampire, Edward Frost! In co-operation with the Royal Army of King Helseth, we have come to deliver justice upon you."
Co-operation! Perhaps that was why Captain Delitian and Helseth had not simply had their men attack me for being a vampire: the king had been making some deal with the Imperial Legion and the Empire! Apelles Matius had wanted Wolfen castle for the Imperial Legion ever since I had first taken possession of it, and it seemed obvious to me that Helseth's government had made some kind of arrangement to provide him with aid in this endeavour. Matius went on:
"For your vicious attack on his Royal Majesty of Morrowind, King Helseth, we have been ordered to carry out your destruction."
There were ulterior motives. I was certain. If Matius could justify killing me, he could justify taking the castle for the Legion.
"Really though, Frost; did you sincerely expect to get away with it?" Matius called out, as he rolled up the official-looking scroll. "All those people you've killed... And using my men garrisoned at Ebonheart as your own personal 'cattle' - that's the word you use, isn't it? When you steal someone's blood? But the king
! To actually go after the king
!" Matius shook his head, a nasty grin spreading across his face. "I thought that you were smarter than that, at least. Too bad."
The Imperial motioned to someone behind him - out of view behind the castle walls - before turning back to me, and shouting:
"All is lost, Mister Frost... Heh."
Matius disappeared behind the walls, and a horn sounded. The thunder of hundreds of feet broke out, as the Imperial Legion moved in to attack.
I had no mind for military jargon. I could not describe how many soldiers came for us. A Battalion? A Division? The only descriptor that seemed appropriate was Legion
. They truly were legion... The armoured men poured over the walls like ants; bowmen taking up stations on the ramparts, and the swordsmen streaming across the castle yard to where Sirilonwe and I stood. My spirits fell, but there was nothing else I could do.
I muttered a quiet prayer to any gods that may have been listening, and let go of Sirilonwe's hand. We drew our weapons.
Soon we were engaged in a deadly dance: ducking, sidestepping and jumping to avoid the whistling arrows, while using both hands to send out the most destructive magic we could muster. Scores of men fell to the explosions of fire, ice and acid from our spells - but such powerful magic was draining, and the Legionnaires continued to swarm over the walls; an unstoppable tide.
After a few moments of frenzied fighting, I motioned to Sirilonwe to follow me. We had to get out of the castle yard: the focal point of the surrounding forces. With my Touch the Clouds spell, I took a great running jump - intending to clear the walls and land out to sea somewhere; but when I passed over the walls I caught a glimpse of a massive flotilla of boats, arranged in an unbroken ring around the island Wolfen castle sat upon. There was even a boat anchored underneath the tall bridge that connected the island to the mainland of Vvardenfell.
I saw Royal Guardsmen of Mournhold and Imperial Cult priests standing on every one of the boats - holding hands and chanting something I failed to catch - and then I collided with something in mid-air. Sparks danced before my eyes, and a shimmering radiance rippled through the great, near-invisible field that now completely surrounded the castle. We were trapped. The men on those boats were keeping us from leaving the island.
The force of the collision with the magical field threw me back down into the castle yard - and Sirilonwe too. She landed at a distance from me, and in a short moment we were separated by the swarming soldiers of the Legion. I gestured again to Sirilonwe: this time that we should teleport away - but it was just like in the Clockwork City; our spells failed. Not even the Wolfen ring worked.
I had always felt that there was something more to Wolfen castle than met the eye; an air of mysticism. There was the fearsome castle Guardian, of course; and the strange fog that had obscured the castle from the world up until the death of the late Master Wolfen. There were also the unchangeable remains of the Master in the secret tomb - and the ethereal blade that lay next to them. I suddenly remembered what had been said in Wolfen's journal and last will: whosoever took up the Wolfen ring - and thus ownership of the castle - was free to do so as long as they left his remains in peace
I had not done this. The vampire hunter Sirilonwe and I had made our cattle was imprisoned there, in the secret tomb... Maybe the efforts of the Imperial Cult on the flotilla outside kept me from teleporting away. Or maybe the spirit of Master Wolfen was watching over the carnage, and had chosen to forsake me in my most dire hour.
The swordsmen were all around us, and soon I was whirling around and around, trading blows with as many Legionnaires as could squeeze in around me. It was all I could do to keep them off: they pressed in on all sides, obscuring my vision. Suddenly the horn sounded again, and every last swordsman threw himself flat to the ground. I looked up... and saw every single bowman on the ramparts release his arrow at once.
I was pierced all over by enchanted arrows: they passed through my armour as if through gauze. The pain was near blinding, and I could barely move - the arrow shafts were lodged deep in my arms, my legs and my chest; in places they had passed almost all the way through. My arms were literally pinned to my sides; the forest of arrow shafts preventing my limbs from swinging. A feeling of abject terror and horror swept over me when I saw that the same thing had happened to Sirilonwe.
She was staggering; barely staying on her feet. Our eyes met for an instant across the bloody castle yard. Hers were full of tears... red, bloody tears - and mine were too. I made to call out to her, but then the Legion swordsmen rose up around her, obscuring her from sight.
"NO! Leave her!" I cried. "Don't you touch her! DON'T YOU TOUCH-"
But the reddened blades rose and fell, and the blood ran out between their feet... and when the Legionnaires broke apart, Sirilonwe was gone - dust.
I screamed - and screamed and screamed, in horrible, disconsolate rage; yanking out the arrows that bristled from my body. It was no good, though: the swordsmen rose up around me, and I was pinned to the ground by their blades - again pierced through; stuck fast to the ground.
And then the fire came, borne by a score of the Legion - to burn me away, and make me disappear.