”And so the dead shall bury the dead.”
- Ethrain, lich and necromancer of the 2nd Era
5th Midyear - Late Afternoon
Somewhere by the docks
It was a quiet and typically balmy evening down by the docks of Gilane, the scent of the ocean hung around the air as three sharply dressed mercenaries sat around a table - each with an ale in hand and a smile on their face, and the fourth member of their party was jumping around in a show of bravado for his comrades.
“Gilane is the place to be, and our enemies don’t want to cross us, I’ll slash their guts out and wear them as a necklace...” Grinned the small looking Imperial youth, with his humble looking shortsword in hand.
“Sit your arse down, Jon - before you have your own eye out with that needle! You’ll be slashing at air and nothing but,” chuckled a dashing looking Breton, whose appearance alone commanded attention. The way he spoke oozed charisma and his eyes twinkled - the obvious leader of the group.
“Ahhh, shut up Laf. I’m just excited to be here - be off that fuckin’ boat at last. Stretch my legs on the warm sands of Gilane-”
“-And I’m ready to stretch myself around Gilane in other ways. Lock up your daughters!” Was the guffaw that erupted from a mountainous looking Nord in plate armour. He had a steel axe slung over his shoulder and his voice was loud and full of an unmistakable arrogance. He raised his tankard to his thin lips to down the rest of his ale.
“Now now, behave yourself Hercules,” spoke Laf, patting the Nord on the back with a content laugh. “We have to be on the job tomorrow, let’s make this a night that we’ll tell stories about forever! We’re just a bunch of ragtags, my friends. Let's be victorious in our endeavours together!” He stood up from his own seat and spoke to his friends, “let us make these red sands redder with blood stains!” Both Jon and Hercules laughed and cheered for him - raising their glasses. The fourth, a Khajiit, remained hunched over his ale - a sombre disposition painted upon his features. Clearly he was displeased by his companions. An impressive looking spear was propped up against the table beside him. He remained silent.
“What say you, Arin?” asked Laf, with a grin, patting his Khajiit companion on the back as he had done so with the others. Arin merely nodded his head and took a set of large gulps from his tankard. “Whatever you say, boss.”
An athletic swordsman, an armoured Nord warrior, a Khajiit lancer, and a Breton mage continued to enjoy their first night in Gilane - little did they know that it would also be their last...
Having crept so close to them that he could already smell their stink on the air, Gregor dashed out from behind one of the many crates that stood uselessly along the dock’s pier and charged into the woefully unprepared and utterly surprised group of mercenaries. The lower half of his face was hidden by a scarf and, combined with the all-black battledress and hooded cloak that was his signature, Gregor looked like a villain from the children’s horror stories of his homeland. Before anyone could properly process and react to what happened, Gregor’s crackling claymore struck Hercules across his shoulder, finding a weak spot in the plate armor, and a spout of blood arced through the air while tendrils of lightning surged over his body, seizing up the big Nord’s muscles. He hoped that the other mercenaries would be so taken aback by the sudden attack that they would back away towards the edge of the pier, where something even worse than him was waiting in the wings.
“What the FUCK?!” Hercules cried out in shock before throwing his tankard down onto the table, grabbing his battleaxe - the weight suddenly more than he had remembered it being. A combination of being smashed in the shoulder and smashed from the ale. He pivoted to face a man in black as his friends all armed themselves too. Jon plucked up his shield and wiped his brow with a smirk. Laf clapped his hands and lit them up with Magicka that was forming there. The Khajiit merely stood, collecting his lance stoically. He did not yet believe this intruder to the party to be a threat. He was outnumbered for a start. “Be careful, Hercules. Don’t be arrogant,” he remarked to the Nord - who was absolutely going to be as arrogant as he could.
“Let’s dance then!” laughed Hercules in the direction of his attacker as he clumsily drove himself forward, waving the axe haphazardly at Gregor. “This one means business I see…” the Nord growled, backed by the Breton who shot at him with golden restorative magic. “Arin, Jon, get back. Let’s see how this plays out for our new friend here,” said Laf as he watched, waiting for the scene play out.
Distracted as they were by Gregor’s sudden appearance, none noticed the pair of scaled hands that grabbed the edge of the pier from underwater. Jaraleet climbed silently, with the soft sound of the dripping water being the only sign of his presence as he made no sound with his footsteps as he approached their foes. It didn’t take too long for the Haj-Eix to pick a target, deciding to take out the Khajiit lancer first; both he and Gregor fought using swords and long ranged weapon like a spear could very easily complicate things for the both of them.
With a target decided, things occured in a split second. Jaraleet wrapped one arm around the Khajiit’s neck and before he or any of his companions had time to react, the Argonian threw himself back into the water along with his fellow betmer. Once they were under water, Jaraleet wasted not a second in pulling his dagger from its sheath - sinking the blade into the Khajiit’s shoulders so as to reduce any possibility of surfacing for air for his foe.
As the Argonian reached for his dagger, so did the nimble Khajiit. Arin pulled it from his side and thrust it backwards - fighting against the grip of the new foe, the water, and the sudden pain. He was in trouble.
Meanwhile, up top, Laf and Jon were left aghast - the situation was getting out of hand; “where in Oblivion are Alexei and Thom?” yelled Laf as he shot a fireball from his right hand towards the cloaked fiend who was closing in on Hercules. “We could use the backup - Jon, go and find them!”
A single fireball was hardly enough to deter the menacing Imperial. He swiftly conjured a ward and Lafayette’s spell detonated harmlessly against its shimmering surface. Gregor did not break his stride, emerging through the roiling cloud of smoke left behind by the fireball’s impotent explosion, and continued to bear down on Hercules, brandishing his claymore with a flourish. He had seen how Jaraleet had already taken the Khajiit down with him into the murky depths below. Their plan was working. Once again, Gregor’s blade arced through the air, seeking Hercules’ flesh, but the Nord was ready for him now and blocked the attack. No matter. Gregor was merely buying time.
Hercules once again hurled his axe forward toward the Imperial, his initial wound closed for now. Who is this man? he thought as he felt an almighty strength behind his blade, and a feeling of absolute dread when his eyes met that of his foes. He had little idea of what was happening behind him, except for the Breton mage, Lafayette’s failed attempt to push the Imperial back had been futile. Sweat formed upon his brow but he tensed his arms, muscles rippling under his armour. “What in the fuck, Lafayette?” he cursed aloud, so sharply that spit flew from his lips. Hercules pushed back against Gregor, letting his size do the talking - he was much larger than this man, he would use it to his advantage.
The Breton mage once again rubbed his palms together, forming up another spell - he waited for the arrival of the last two members of their group.
While the rest of the group continued to fight Gregor, under the waters Jaraleet and Arin continued their struggle under the murky depths of the harbor. Unfortunately for the Khajiit, the long time under the water, coupled with the wounds that the Argonian had inflicted, meant that what energy he had to resist was quickly dissipating the longer his fight against Jaraleet went on.
His attempt at stabbing the Haj-Eix with his dagger had been unsuccessful, as Jaraleet had easily enough dodged the blow from the dagger, with the Argonian only receiving a shallow cut to his side for all of Arin’s efforts. Realizing that he was wasting too much time dealing with the Khajiit, the Argonian sunk his dagger into his foe’s throat, making sure to perforate the jugular to ensure that there would be no chance of survival.
Letting go of the soon to be deceased Khajiit, Jaraleet swam away from Arin but not before turning one last time to face his victim. “There’s no point in struggling. Accept the call of Sithis and return to the Void.” The Haj-Eix mouthed under the water before turning back in the direction of the pier. It didn’t take him too long to swim back to the surface and to climb the dock’s pier, accustomed as he was to swimming with his gear in person.
Back on to dry land, Jaraleet began approaching the Breton mage. With the Khajiit out of the way, the mage presented the biggest threat to the success of their mission so it was imperative for him to be taken out.
With their Khajiit foe taken care of and Jaraleet joining the fray proper, Gregor stopped wasting time. He had fought Nords before; their prodigious strength and size were always a problem but he knew that they rarely possessed finely honed technique. The Imperial stepped in quickly and locked the shaft of Hercules’ battleaxe into the large and complicated crossguard of Gregor’s claymore. He twisted his body, stomped down on Hercules’ foot and ripped the battleaxe right out of the Nord’s hands. This would have been the moment for Lafayette to intervene, Gregor knew, but Jaraleet would take care of that. It was nice to have a partner in combat he could rely on, Gregor thought to himself while swinging his claymore at the now-disarmed Nord, forcing him to either evade the attack or suffer the consequences.
Hercules snarled in the face of Gregor, before jumping back out of his range, taking side by Lafayette who had been busy forming up thunder magicka in both of his palms. The thunder would almost certainly tickle the drenched Argonian who had found his way onto the pier. Hercules panted, to catch back his breath. Without Jon, it was one on one now. But Lafayette knew that their backup was on the way soon, and then their attackers would be outnumbered. Just why they were attacking was a mystery to him. “Bet you long for your old job, Hercules!” he jabbed at his friend by his side, “you know that right now, Lafayette, I’d rather head to Sovngarde standing for something meaningful…” was the hulking, wounded Nord’s reply. “I’m not going to allow it,” smirked the Breton, as he saw off in the distance three figures rushing towards the scene.
On either side of Jon, were two more Nords. One, another man - perhaps larger than Hercules - with a broadsword in his hand, and on the other side, another man with a broadsword - only his was lit with a flame.
The sudden attack from the part of the mage had caught Jaraleet by surprise, the lightning easily coursing through his entire body. It was only thanks to his training that the Haj-Eix merely fell to one knee instead of falling unconscious outright but, still, he knew that it was only a matter of time before he could no longer stand the barrage with which Lafayette was attacking him. Willing his body to move, Jaraleet moved one of his hands to pull one of the bottles of poison that he always carried with him while on missions and, using as much strength as he could muster, threw it towards Lafayette’s face.
The sudden impact disrupted the mage’s concentration, stopping the flow of thunder magicka from the Breton’s hands. Now free of the electricity that had been wracking his body with pain, Jaraleet quickly unsheathed his sword and dagger and closed the gap between him and the Breton, driving his sword through Lafayette’s throat. However, the short respite that the Argonian felt at eliminating the mage was quickly swept aside as he noticed the trio of individuals that were heading in their direction. Shaking his head, Jaraleet moved closer towards Gregor, giving the Imperial man a quick look “Let’s get rid of this brute quickly, we have more company incoming.” The Haj-Eix said before moving to attack Hercules.
Gregor agreed with a solemn nod and moved to catch Hercules in a pincer vice. If Jaraleet was the anvil, Gregor would be the hammer. While the disarmed Nord had to defend himself against the Argonian, Gregor circled around and brought the heavy weight of the claymore down on Hercules repeatedly. With Lafayette dead there was nobody left to save him from the Imperial’s blade and he fell to his knees, blood gushing from the severe lacerations across his shoulders and his torso. Lowering his claymore by his side, Gregor unsheathed his dagger and slashed it across Hercules’ exposed throat; he was done for.
But that did not mean he no longer had a role to play in the fight. Gregor looked at Jaraleet for a few seconds, his brown eyes inscrutable, before pale blue light began to swirl around his palm. Two tendrils of magic shot through the air and connected with the corpses of Lafayette and Hercules and, as if controlled by the invisible wires of a dark puppeteer, the Breton and the Nord rose from the ground, their eyes aglow with the same cerulean magic that animated them. Hercules’ axe returned to his hands and the spark of fire magic reignited in Lafayette’s, and the two zombies set their sights on the approaching trio of enemies.
“Now you know,” Gregor said softly to Jaraleet.
Jaraleet looked on as the corpses of their recently deceased foes stood again. He was no mage but he knew what the cerulean light in the eyes of the reanimated corpses meant: Necromancy. Gregor was a necromancer. “And so the final piece of the puzzle falls in place.” The Argonian said calmly, unperturbed by Gregor’s display of power. “We can speak about this later, for now there are foes to take care of.” The Argonian said, looking at the zombies and then at Gregor as a plan of action formulated in the assassins mind.
“Send them to distract our foes.” He said while reaching for two vials of poison. He handed one to Gregor, looking at the Imperial in the eyes. “Here, for your claymore. Should one of their reinforcements manage to slip away the poison shall take care of them.” The Haj-Eix said in a matter-of-fact tone, pausing briefly for a second as he thought. “You know restoration magic as well, if I remember correctly. If you have enough magicka, it would be wise for us to heal while your puppets distract them.” The Argonian added, falling silent as he opened the vial of poison and began carefully applying it to his blade.
As Jon, Alexei, and Thom approached the two enemies, it was Jon who was first crestfallen at the sight of his friend’s reanimated corpses, filled with an untempered rage, he took an emotional dive at Lafayette, his mentor, his friend. “God’s be damned!” he screamed out - his voice breaking, sobs held back as he swung to clip his blade into the shoulder of the vessel. “I’m so sorry…” he mouthed, eyes welling with tears - it would be his downfall to show such emotion on the field. It had been Lafayette himself who had tried to teach the young Nord to restrain himself and think clearly. Oh how the boy had failed him…
As Alexei rushed forwards, he swung his flaming sword with force - allowing the flame to roll off the blade and hurtle towards Hercules. He had to take down his own friends. Except this was doing him a favour, freeing him from the will of the Necromancer, sending him peacefully to Sovngarde - as he would wish.
With Hercules and Lafayette engaged, it was Thom who dashed towards the puppetmaster himself. The lizard looked worse for wear, which gave him cause to smirk. It was just like the Dwemer to hire such minions with foul tactics. He would put them down with ease like he had so many criminals already.
While Gregor was relieved to see that his intuition about Jaraleet had been correct and the Argonian was indeed the pragmatic operative he had assumed him to be, there was no time to dwell on the fact as one of the two Nords charged directly at him. Gregor preferred being on the defensive; it gave him the opportunity to observe and react instead of having to blindly trust on his own skills. He gripped his claymore tightly with both hands and methodically blocked and parried the ferocious strikes from Thom’s broadsword. Once again, his opponent’s technique was not astounding and Gregor’s superior experience and clarity of mind allowed him to read and dissect Thom’s combat style. After a few exchanges, he caught a wide swing on his claymore and pushed back, crackling arcs of shock magic traveling up the length of the massive blade and onto Thom’s broadsword, stinging the Nord’s arms and forcing him to back off.
Gregor’s eyes flashed dangerously and he went on the offensive.
Meanwhile, Lafayette and Hercules were more resilient in undeath than they had ever been in life and Jon’s sword having cleaved into Lafayette’s shoulder did not seem to stop him. Flames roared to life as the Breton sorcerer raised his good hand and doused Jon in a stream of fire magic, his face slack and devoid of any emotion at all. Hercules had taken Alexei’s firestrike to the chest and, while it was undoubtedly effective against the towering zombie, it was not enough to bring him down and Hercules met Alexei’s sword with his own battleaxe, gurgling something far beyond the speech of the living through his slit throat.
Jon felt the burning take over so quickly, it ran across his clothing and burnt through it effortlessly and met skin. He screamed in pain, it grew louder and sharper, his pain became a ringing sound in the ears of Alexei and Thom, who couldn't do a thing to help. The screaming stopped.
“No!” yelled Alexei as he pushed back against the undead Hercules with a swift kick to his chest he toppled him and rushed to Thom's aid. Everything was futile now, they had no hope of finishing this victorious, his grimaced at the Necromancer, and laid a healing hand against his friend. “We stood for something, Thom, we stood against the Dwemer - remember that…” it was in a low hiss of a voice, the Argonian would have missed it, the Imperial may have caught it over the sound of electricity and static. “Aye, you're right about it…” he replied in a pained groan as he swung his sword around again. He would die in glory, not on his knees. “For liberty!” he shouted out against the sun setting on the horizon behind the Imperial. He would go to it now.
In the heat of the moment, Gregor heard but did not really register what Alexei said and was focused entirely on not letting Thom disembowel him with his final attack. The Nord had seemingly resigned himself to his fate and that made him dangerous. Gregor had to duck low to avoid the whistling edge of the broadsword and actually found himself being forced back for a bit, grimacing as he mustered his full strength to block Thom’s slashes and thrusts. His mind reached out to direct Hercules but he found that his minion had already collapsed into dust and ash. Lafayette, on the other hand, was still intact after having dispatched Jon in the most gruesome of ways, and Gregor willed him to strike Thom with the same thunderbolt that had nearly incapacitated Jaraleet. The loud bang and bright flash of lightning, followed by Thom’s bellows of pain, created all the space Gregor needed to swing his sword high and bring it down across Thom’s neck with all the finality of the grim reaper’s scythe.
The Nord collapsed to the ground, instantly and irrevocably dead. His head rolled off the pier and into the water below.
Alexei, upon witnessing the death of Thom, rushed at Jaraleet, seemingly determined to at least take one of their foes down before he himself was taken down. Perhaps he thought that the Argonian would be the easier target, exhausted as he was after having to endure a direct hit from a thunderbolt, but that would prove to be the final mistake in the Nord’s life.
Jaraleet dodged the blows from the flaming broadsword, albeit he took a couple of glancing blows, and retaliated with strikes of his own. He didn't aim for immediately fatal strikes, going for shallow cuts that'd, instead, spread the poison with which he had coated his blade. The seconds passed by, Alexei continued to attack and Jaraleet continued to dodge the blows of the Nord, and then the poison kicked in. Alexei tried to swing his broadsword one more time but, in the middle of the movement, he suddenly lost his balance and fell to the ground, a cry of pain escaping from his lips as the full effects of the poison manifested themselves in his body.
Jaraleet approached the fallen Nord and knelt in front of him. “Sithis calls you now, landstrider.” The Haj-Eix intoned solemnly in his native tongue, driving his sword cleanly through Alexei’s neck. “[i]And now the river’s currents have carried you to the sea.[i]” The Argonian finished as the life left the Nord’s eyes. Standing up, he turned to look at Gregor and then at the raised corpse of Lafayette. “If it's possible, order him to burn the bodies. We were asked to leave no evidence.” The Argonian said calmly.
“Good idea,” Gregor replied. Hercules had already fallen apart when Alexei defeated him, dissipating the magic that had held him together, and Lafayette would similarly disintegrate, but that still left the rest. Gregor did not even have to look at the Breton zombie to will him into action and Lafayette immolated the corpses with a stream of liquid fire after Gregor and Jaraleet stepped back. Staring into the improvised pyre, Gregor opened his mouth to speak.
“I killed Nblec because I had need of his soul,” he said. He wasn’t sure why he was suddenly being so open and honest with Jaraleet but something, some instinct, told him that it was necessary. “My father’s line is cursed. We all lose our minds when we reach middle age, and then it kills us. There is no cure. I have a younger brother and sister and I need to save them from that fate. And myself, of course. The Ideal Masters of the Soul Cairn are willing to barter the secrets of lichdom in exchange for souls. Eternal life for eternal death. And Dwemer souls… a race that hasn’t been seen for more than a thousand years? I’m sure you can imagine that such a thing is the ultimate prize.” Gregor sighed and turned his head to look Jaraleet in the eye. “Do you understand?”
“I do.” Was Jaraleet’s simple reply, nodding in Gregor’s direction. “Thank you for your honesty.” He said, falling silent for a second as he thought on what to say next. “I will be honest too. As I'm sure you've noticed, I’m more than a mere soldier who deserted the armies of Argonia.” The Argonian said, closing his eyes. “I am Jaraleet of the Haj-Eix.” He intoned, letting out a soft sigh. “We are an order of assassins in the service of the An-Xileel, the rulers of Argonia. We have been trained since childhood to be the assassins and spies that our people would need in order to be safe against threats both from within and from outside.” Jaraleet continued on, opening his eyes and staring at Gregor. “I am part of the first generation of the order, and I was posted in the Imperial City when the Dwemer returned.” The assassin finished, crossing his arms behind his back and turning his gaze back to the pyre. “Do you understand?”
Now it was Gregor’s turn to nod. “That reminds me of something I said to Daro’Vasora at the party: ‘every society needs its own monsters to hunt the ones lurking in the night’. That’s what you are, for the people of Argonia. And it’s what I did for the people of Skyrim, when I hunted down and killed necromancers to take their black secrets for myself -- for a better purpose. I understand very well.” He paused and looked up as Lafayette’s stream of fire ceased and he shattered into dust. The spell had expired. His work was done; the corpses of Jon, Alexei and Thom were naught but ash and soot. “What are your goals now?” Gregor asked, glancing sidelong at Jaraleet.
“Technology.” The Haj-Eix replied as he stared at the pile of ashes and soot that had once been their enemies and that even now the wind was blowing away. “I seek the defeat of the Dwemer and to obtain their technology for my people. Never again shall we be trampled over or enslaved as if we were beasts of burden.”
“Fair enough,” Gregor said and laughed. “After what the Dunmer did to your people, I can’t fault you for that. And then it seems that our common goal of defeating the Dwemer still holds true, aside from our personal quests. Eternal life is not worth it if it has to be lived under the yoke of the butchers of White-Gold tower.”
Jaraleet laughed alongside Gregor, shaking his head slightly. “Indeed, it seems that we still have a common goal my friend. In fact, I believe we might be able to help each other more than we had previously thought now that we are aware of what the other is searching for.” Jaraleet said once his laughter had subsided. “Ah, but I think it'd be best if we left the area for now, wouldn't you agree. It would be rather awkward if we were to be caught here now, to say the least.”
“Yes, let’s.” Gregor sheathed his claymore across his back and pulled his hood firmly over his face. Before they left, he placed his hand on Jaraleet’s shoulder and said, voice earnest: “Thank you, Jaraleet. For understanding.”
“It’s no problem my friend. I should be the one thanking you, I doubt many people would take what I said half as well as you did.” The Argonian replied, smiling at Gregor. “Now, let us be off.” He said, setting off towards Gilane’s backstreets.