Behold Now, Maulakanth
[@all the biffles]Early Morning, 15th of Sun’s Height, 4E208
Trailing the Southern Didgeridoo Mountains, West of Falkreath Hold
In the clearing of the path, Raelynn could not distinguish between what was mist and what was the smoke of rifles. The sound had been so loud and so abrupt, Lady had fussed but had remained with her, turning in circles. The healer hung on to her tightly and coughed suddenly, her heart was racing in her chest - she was eager to move from the treeline, her view completely obscured. There was a searing pain too. Her arm. She glanced to it, seeing a huge tear through the sleeve of her coat, and the flesh underneath was bleeding. She’d only been grazed by a bullet, she knew that much. Had she have been only inches in another direction it would have been worse, no doubt about it.
There was no time, she could make out the shape of Sevari on the ground, she could hear his grizzling breath. The Breton gritted her teeth, and began to slip down Lady’s side, in the opposite direction from which the bullets were spraying in rounds. She surely was Zhaib’s steed, ever stalwart and dedicated to Raelynn’s safety. Unlike Stranger, Lady had been lucky.
Once free from the mare, she slapped the horse on the rear allowing her the permission to bolt from harm's way, and away from the terror. Raelynn dropped to all fours, breathing as calmly as she could, and yet her exhalations were shuddered, her eyes wide and her face suddenly smudged with flecks of dirt as she scrambled across the ground to reach Sevari. “Can you hear me?” she asked, now at his side - golden light glowing in her hands immediately - her expression serious, eyebrows upwards in shock at the sight. She’d dealt with worse, but not while bullets were still flying at her. “You’re not dying, do you hear me?” she commanded, fighting past her own fear to bring the stability and authority that she needed to reach Sevari through his own pain. Raelynn placed a hand behind his head to lift him enough so that he would not choke, her other hand went to his wound and slowly he became bathed in her light.
Another round was fired, and instinctively she dropped flat on top of Sevari - her healing hand remained in its place but her face burrowed pressed to the ground and she shut her eyes tightly - as if that would undo it all, as if it were a nightmare she could wake up from. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, knowing that it may have hurt him.
The only sound Gregor could hear was the ghostly stampede of his steed’s rotten hooves, a phantom out of hell galloping through the river crossing towards the trees, when their hitherto mysterious enemies revealed themselves.
Four Centurions, the new and terrifying machines they had first seen on the streets of Gilane, stepped forth from the forest, armed with massive rifles on one arm and a melee weapon on the other. Gregor saw a sword, a hammer and an axe before his mount carried him upon them and his world was turned upside down as rider and steed both barreled into one of the Centurions. The machine stumbled in place but maintained its footing and the undead horse impaled itself on an outstretched blade, flinging Gregor from the saddle to land on the forest floor in a crumpled heap. He did not lose his claymore, however, iron grip firmly around the hilt, and Gregor rose to his feet armed and ready.
Only one of the Centurions, the one that had snuffed out the spark of his conjured steed, turned to face him. Gregor was alone among them but he would not be for long, and the other three killer animunculi kept their focus on the others in the river crossing, rifles at the ready. Gregor grit his teeth and began to whirl his heavy blade around him in the way that Zaveed had taught him. He would demand the full attention of one of them, at least.
Ignoring the Imperial’s challenge to melee combat, the Centurion raised the rotating, triple-barreled arm-cannon and shot him again.
Gregor swayed in place but remained standing, defiant. The machine cocked its head, an almost human movement, as if to say ’curious,’
and brought its axe to bear at last. Gregor advanced, sword whistling through the air.
What Daro’Vasora was seeing and what her mind was willing to believe weren’t one in the same at that exact moment; Gregor took a shot from the arm cannon of one of the Centurions and remained standing; she would have believed it had missed had she not seen chunks
of the necromancer violently fling out the other end.
A haunting whizzing sound brought the Khajiit back to the moment; a tree trunk cracked violently behind her. The shot had missed her head by less than a meter. The only thing keeping her and Fjolte safe was the speed of the horse; the more analytical part of Daro’Vasora’s mind wondered if it was because the Centurions weren’t capable of leading targets like a man or mer might with a bow. The exact function and design of the alloy monsters was still a mystery. Perhaps Rourken had rushed them into service. After all, it had been only a couple days between first seeing them demonstrated and put out into the streets. Was this simply an early batch of “good enough” prototypes?
She noticed a ring around the Centurion’s waist; the thing wasn’t nearly as large as a typical Centurion, but it was far more agile. Instead of lumbering, it moved gracefully and its torso could rotate independently of its feet. Still, she had an idea.
“Fjolte, Bring us around to the cannon side; I’ll need you to hop off and keep the thing busy. It shouldn’t be able to hit you with its melee weapon if you keep to its gun side.” She shouted. “I’ll try to draw its attention a bit and join you as soon as I can and hit it from behind, I might be able to damage the rotating parts or the leg joints.”
“You got it, chief,” he replied, digging his heels into the horse in the right spot to kick up the speed once more. He clung to the reins with one hand while the other reached over his shoulder, fingers wrapping around the handle of Faithkeeper
on his back. Soon, the weapon was freed and he let the weight of the head drag him to where he needed to be as he charged in. He judged the moment and twisted his wrist, bringing the armour piercing spike of the head to the direction of the Centurion as he closed in.
Fjolte held out his arm, aiming for a weak spot, with one well-timed swing he landed the hammer in its body with a heavy punching sound. He gave the horse another nudge, and held tighter to the handle of his hammer with both hands now. He came down from the steed, and pulled hard on the hammer, making the Centurion wobble with the strength he had behind him before pulling back at Faithkeeper
to peel back a section of the outer-alloy - revealing the vulnerable inside of the gargantuan.
He did not remove the hammer, and instead began his swift movements in front of it. He’d stolen it’s attention; now he needed to keep it. The Nord narrowed his eyes, his usual carefree and happy expression was nowhere to be found, hidden beneath the steeled and readied mask of a hardened warrior. As his feet kept him moving out of the way of the blows, his hands moved behind his back to a pair of gauntlets secured to his belt. He snapped them free and a smirk played upon his lips as he gloved up. He brought his hands into balled fists and tapped his knuckles together, causing the first sparks of lightning to appear and crackle around the leather. “Not on my watch,” he said with confidence, before bringing his first powered swing to the Centurion...
Before long, the group were moving in, and as she came back up to sitting, she saw Fjolte rush in on horseback with… Sora?
As the group moved in, the gunfire changed direction and she was able to focus again. “I need you to breathe, long and slow,” she said, both of her hands on his chest now. She could feel the tear through his body, it had entered him and ripped through his lung, but with her careful application she could feel the flesh of his insides knitting itself back together. This could not be rushed, but she wasn’t exactly free to take all the time she needed either. “You’re going to have to cough it up,” she told him, her eyes looking deep into his, as if she really had to search to find him there. “I’ve got you.”
Anifaire, blocking out the sound and smell of the situation as best she could, rushed towards the fight. Fear was coursing through her strongly, but she trudged forward, lifting the skirt of her dress for more mobility. Determined that there was something
she could do to help, she scanned the area for anything the could use as a weapon - boulder, logs, discarded debris - but instead, her eyes landed on Raelynn, couched over a bloody mess. Unable to make out the situation clearly, she hurried toward it. As she slowly recognized Sevari’s injured form, horror grew within her.
She stumbled over, remembering the ways Sevari had helped her in the past. She dropped the skirt of her dress and kneeled next to the pair, a mixture of mud and blood soaking and staining the fabric of her clothes. “Raelynn,” Anifaire said as forcefully as she could to get the focused healer’s attention. “Raelynn, how can I help?”
Raelynn knew that, of course Anifaire should not rush beyond where they were. Not until the strongest of the group had dealt with much of the threat. She was mostly finished with Sevari, he was barely awake but was going to live. That said, there was the literal dead weight of the horse on top of him. She was not a soft woman when working, and her words may have sounded sharper than intended but they were not aimed at the Altmer, "we have to move the horse. Right now, he's going to live but if we don't free him soon, he'll be crippled." Icy blue eyes broke from Sevari to look at Anifaire, the Breton's grey cloak was soaked through across her chest with crimson, it had smudged across her face, and dyed the ends of her braids red too. She looked almost as frightful as the Ohmes-Raht.
Anifaire nodded, muttering, “move the horse. Right.” She shifted her idle hands to the animal’s corpse, trying not to focus on the scent of blood, or the dead look in its eyes. Touching it daintily, she thought, move the horse, move the horse… lift something heavy
. She could tell the Breton was focused on her work, and wanted desperately not to get in the way. The Altmer pushed her hands more firmly onto the horse, and, squinting, the cast a feather spell on the corpse.
Eyes widening, she felt it work, despite her fear that she would fail in a critical moment. Anifaire spent a split-second startled at her success before jolting herself into reality; the horse still had to be lifted. Lifting it herself would be too difficult, she surmised, after briefly considering its unwieldy size. She tried to slow down her quick breaths, yet didn’t take the time to do so properly, instead throwing all her energy into telekinesis. The precision she and Judena had practiced so carefully in their time paid off as she was able to life the corpse off Sevari without making matters any worse. The body toppled only about two feet away, and Anifaire rocked back onto her knees, tired more from nerves than exertion.
That was the first thing that greeted him. He tried to move. Desperately, he tried to stir himself with the same thoughtless effort of a reflex. What was happening? Where was he? Finally, finally he could feel his fingers scratching at the dirt, his fingernails filling up with it with each twitch of his fingers. He tried to open his eyes as he realized he almost couldn’t breathe. Panic set in but he had no strength to thrash, instead just turning his head to the side as his entire body seemed to tense in one, grand agonizing moment.
He retched once, gagged again, and again until he found himself curled like a sick child on his side. A puddle of black blood surrounded his head as it spewed from his mouth, soaking into his own hair and making it stick wet to the right side of his face. He desperately gurgled at the air like a man drowning and his eyes shot open.
Everything was so loud, it was chaos everywhere. Explosions, guns… guns, he thought. His hand shot to the place he remembered having a hole in. There was none, though his shirt and chest were still sticky from the blood. He looked around himself, all around until his eyes settled on Anifaire, then Raelynn, and finally Stranger. He made to speak but had to turn to his side as he retched up another gob of blood. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, looking at her again with a new ferocity to him, “Where’s the fucker that shot my horse?”
“Where are you, Sleet,” Gaius hissed quietly, almost mournfully, as he ran full-tilt towards the sounds of combat. He hadn’t seen his horse since the Imperial City had been sacked, and it seemed more than likely that she was quite dead by now. And so he continued running, the somewhat ill-fitting armor clanking around him. He kicked himself mentally for being so far away from the group. Hard. Some soldier of the Legion you are,
came the silent admonishment as he sprinted, desperately hoping nobody had died yet. The gunsmoke floating by was a stark reminder of the lethality of the Dwemer weapons, and by the colossal noise these made, they must have been remarkably powerful ones. He emerged into the clearing. And as soon as he saw what they were fighting, for one absurd moment, he wished desperately that he could’ve not
emerged into that clearing.
He’d seen Centurions before, during the fall of the City. Granted, he’d never seen them up close, but they’d seemed formidable but ungainly; immobile powerhouses, yes, but something immobile was easy to exploit. These smaller versions were anything but. The small roundshield on his arm, one that he’d managed to trade some service for back in the Alik’r, suddenly felt very small and ineffective. Almost comical, really, compared to what he was used to carrying into battle, and the strange curved Hammerfell scimitar felt unfamiliar in his grip as he tore it from its sheath on his belt. As ineffective as it would be against the Dwemer metal of the Centurions, it was comforting to have a weapon in his hands.
His eyes darted over to where Raelynn was kneeling over Sevari’s prone form, and inside of his half-helm, his mouth tightened into a hard line. Breath heaving and legs beginning to feel leaden from running in armor, he nonetheless dashed straight for one of the Animunculi as it broke away from the others and began to move in the direction of the defenseless Breton and Khajiit, bellowing at the top of his voice.
Gregor’s sword and the Centurion’s axe clashed, sending sparks and arcs of shock magic flying. It was faster than Gregor had expected and it did not fear the strength behind his blade, easily able to match it with its own hydraulic power. After a few strikes back and forth, lich and machine parrying and deflecting each other’s attacks, both went for a powerful strike at the same time, Gregor’s overhead strike meeting the Centurion’s axe halfway. The edges of their weapons sang with the impact and a contest of strength followed, both determined to overpower the other. Gregor grit his teeth as he fought to resist the inexorable machine. His arms held but the force it exerted was too strong and his knees buckled under the weight, leaving the Centurion free to swat his claymore aside. It immediately followed up with a slash that dug deep into Gregor’s shoulder with a sickening crunch. His arm went limp and he dropped the claymore.
Satisfied, the killing machine pulled its axe free and prepared to turn and face a new enemy. It stopped mid-turn when Gregor refused to fall over and instead rose to his feet, claymore in one hand, and stabbed the Centurion in a weak spot in the joints of its shoulders. The steel blade’s enchantment fired on all cylinders and lightning coursed through the brass Animunculus, disabling its servos momentarily. The lich pulled his blade free, swung it high and brought it down on the paralyzed Centurion with all the might his one good arm could manage, denting the plating on its chest, sending more crackling electricity up and down the Dwemer contraption. Behind Gregor’s helmet, his face was a mask of death.
Not a moment later, a large one-handed Nord sword was slammed into the knee joint of the Centurion's leg. Sirine let out a grunt as she yanked her sword back to her, panting a little as she did. The sudden attack had winded her, and she had barely managed to duck under a barrage of bullets. Seeing Sevari down and out for the count had been sobering to witness, and there was no way she wanted to end up in that position if she had a choice in the matter. Her usual orcish dagger had been replaced for the time being- she didn't see it surviving attacks against these metallic sons of bitches, and though sentimentality was amiss in such a situation, she figured the sword she had swiped in the desert would do her better right now.
Self preservation had always been at the top of her bucket list, and the former pirate knew better than to charge at full speed against an enemy she had no idea about. This wasn't a merchant ship or pirates on an enemy vessel where she could simply slice and dice; these dwemer built monstrosities were something she'd never thought she'd see even in dreams. And so given the choice, Sirine had made a split second decision and raced after Gregor, figuring with his undead state he would probably be the easiest to aid.
Sword now returned to her, Sirine didn't waste time in slamming her blade into the other leg's joint, unwilling to take a break lest the Centurion began its attack again.
A faint whistling began piercing through the air. At first, it sounded little more than one of the centurians releasing a blast of steam, but as it quickly became louder, it brought back memories of ships trading volley after volley of kindlepitch ballista bolts. However, there was no such machinery here except for the deadly weapons of the dwemer automatons. Sirine instinctually ducked down, expecting to dodge a brass colored bolt, but instead a bolt of fire as hot and red as the Deadlands of Oblivion itself screamed past in the blink of an eye and collided with the exposed abdomen of the centurion. A sudden explosion filled every nook and cranny of the machine with roaring fire and sprayed the air with shrapnel, scraping across Gregor’s armor as he held his ground, the force of the hot air blowing his helmet off and causing his hair to whip back and smolder from his close proximity to the blast. Golden drops of molten dwemer alloy dripped beside Sirine’s feet.
A spooked whinny rang out in the direction from which the fire was thrown, and atop the rearing white stallion, was an agitated Aries resisting the urge to tug on the reins, but all the same, trying to keep her seat in the saddle. As soon as the horse became reacquainted with the ground, she gripped the reigns and turned the horse away from the centurion. She glowered toward the plume of smoke, expecting the machine to be reduced to scrap metal. Her eyes spared a momentary glance toward Gregor, who had gaping holes in his torn-up armor, and yet he remained standing all the same. Her stomach churned with disgust. Too bad she couldn’t catch him in the blast. An amusing thought entered her head, ‘Hmph, I missed.’
As the smoke cleared, it revealed that the centurion was still standing -- albeit barely -- and what’s more, it was raising it’s gun toward the source of the destruction magic. Aries growled in a fit of frustration and shouted, “Hyah!” as she spurred her horse into a gallop with her reins. The slow hail of dwemer artillery kicked up dust where Aries and her horse were just moments ago. She was loathe to participate in these battles, but it was between this or letting her entourage perish. The most she could do now it provide the heavy artillery and keep her distance from these killing machines… but why were they here? Had they really been tracked down so quickly? So easily? It gave cause for concern. Where was Zaveed?
The fiery explosion that Aries had conjured and brought to bear against the Centurion burned with enough heat that Gregor, after his initial resilience in the face of the shockwave, realized that he could feel it.
The opportunity to relish in the sensation was stolen away by another realization that hit him a split second later; it hurt terribly. He stepped away from the smoldering Centurion and shielded his face with his gauntleted hand, hissing in pain. The machine’s axe had cleaved him with naught more than a dull ache, a mere acknowledgement of the hole in his shoulder, but the heat of Aries’ flames cut straight through him. Gregor immediately knew why. He was undead. It made perfect sense, and yet it wasn’t something that had occurred to him until then.
Smoke wafted from the Centurion’s hull and obscured its form. Gregor narrowed his eyes as he advanced once more, the heat fortunately diminishing as the spell dissipated, and raised his claymore high, ready to strike at the interior exposed by Aries’ spell while the Centurion was busy training its cannon on the rider-mage.
Taking Gregor entirely by surprise, the Centurion’s torso whirled around and the haft of its axe caught the lich on his chin. His neck snapped with the force of the blow and he dropped like a marionette with its strings abruptly cut, glowing eyes staring uselessly into space, face slack and limbs limp.
Daro’Vasora rode Tullius around the perimeter of the clearing, her heart was racing in her chest to the point that she could not distinguish it from the beating hooves on the ground. Concern was painted over her features and her ears pulled back, the amount of noise was deafening, a riot was happening. Sevari and Raelynn had found better cover at least. Her eyes furiously scanned for him, where was Finnen? Where was he?
Alas, little time to think too much about it when her steed was weaving through the bronzed form of the automatons, her companions racing in now too.
At least one of the monsters had been brought almost to its end, and she made out the shape of the last of their horses on hind legs - red haired woman sat astride, scowling, “Aries,” muttered the Cathay under her breath. Her own eyes narrowed after having been stung by the blistering wave of heat that licked at the air following the timely incineration. She had to make it back to Fjolte, and with any luck the Nord was commanding enough of it’s attention with whatever it was he was doing. She clicked her tongue, prompting the horse to move again. She’d had an idea. This is fucking ludicrous…
she thought, chastising herself —but there was that tiny, almost child-like voice inside that was so commanding in its acknoweledgement of such a ludicrous idea... The doubt was silenced under that almost playful whisper as Tullius came closer to Fjolte. Any other noise in her mind was drowned out as it approached— Now!
. Her moment came. Fjolte had successfully danced his way towards the treeline, drawing the Centurion’s gaze with him and away from the group, but the cannon still fired sporadically in between the swings it was taking, and the sword was slashing in the direction of the incredibly nimble monk, who was reflexively dodging them all with agile changes of focus, and countering with his own vicious attacks.
Fjolte’s hands were balled into heavy fists with the leather tugged taught over his knuckles. He was wielding the power of storms as deftly as any practiced mage might; and with every hit he landed, the alloys of the Dwemer rang out like a loud gong. The striking lightning that caught to the plating was little-by-little slowing the beast down, the release of steam had been halted as the spike of Faithkeeper
remained lodged in the chest, a cavity that had been torn back like a floorboard revealing the precise mechanisations that powered it. There was something in the way that Fjolte fought against it that suggested he was holding back, that he was deliberately targeting the spots closest to that cavity so that his thunder was absorbed. The Centurion shuddered and blared out, the jammed steam release caused the cannon arm to lock in place...
She moved as swiftly as she could, placing her hands square against Tullius’ neck, pushing herself up with one quick movement until she was standing, soft footed, on his back. Balancing on a horse as it cantered was not an easy feat, but she held herself with enough of a level poise until she was just
close enough to— Yes
. She bent her knees and jumped. Daro’Vasora was like a well-coiled spring that had been pressed and released, and the height she attained was more than enough to land her clear and gracefully upon the Centurion’s shoulders.
“Competing for best entrance are we?” Fjolte remarked, catching her gaze to give her a grin— his voice underpinned with admiration.
“Not the time!” Daro’Vasora shouted back, exasperated as she clutched onto whatever she could do to make purchase, squinting and flinching under a gust of steam as she struggled to access the power core, jamming the handle of her mace in a basket, not unlike she had done so many weeks ago outside of Skingrad..
Fjolte clapped against the Centurion again, harder now that he had to provoke its attention again, now that Sora was on top of it, her legs wrapping around the neck to steady herself. It bellowed out in an angry response, swivelling the torso to shake the Khajiit loose, but she could not be moved. Sora brought down her mace to crack it atop the head, hoping to mess with its optics or whatever sensors it had buried in the face like visage it bore. It’s face resembled man or mer, but this thing was not a human in any way. These were elaborate suits of metal and their sole purpose was to terrify— they were nightmares made real. Built and designed to intimidate and squeeze the last drops of resistance out of anyone who stood in their way. By the Gods, she was going to stand in their way today.
With a defiant shout, she brought down her mace against the basket she had loosened earlier and it began to budge.
This was going to work.
The sleepy conjuration mage could see very real, imposing Centurions quickly closing the space between themselves and their targets. Rubbing at the grit on her chin (dust accumulated there from free falling drool she had from her unscheduled nap earlier) gripping the elderly argonian at the reigns of their horse, Maj choosing to ride with someone else as opposed to attempting to ride on her own. Judena kept tight hold upon her reigns, steering away, her beard inflated as the danger escalated while others engaged.
Judena spared a look to the mage sitting behind her, mind whirring through multitude of ideas to help, she felt a distinct pat on her shoulder. Maj began lifting herself up from her seat in the saddle.
“Sit down! Do not get thrown off!” Judena warned.
“This is about as steady as the bow of a ship dipping down to ride a wave in the middle of a storm.” Maj responded with a crooked grin, really there was no reason why she had to stand, she could confidently complete the spell from where she sat. Later she would justify standing with needing a better view to take aim. As if conjuring an atronach from the depths of Oblivion wasn’t already challenging while moving. Steadying herself against Judena’s shoulder with one hand, a boot in the saddle and the other against the rim - taking aim with a conjuration spell, deep cloudy pools of indigo swirling in her hand, magika calling to open a portal to Oblivion. “Keep moving, don’t let those big bastards get a shot on us!”
Judena nodded with a frown, turning her focus back to the horse.
Taking time with a spell of her own, Judena’s mage armour shimmered to life around her.
They would need legitimate firepower to topple the machines, crack them open and reveal the soul gems powering them. Maj wanted to put something between them and her own, eyes narrowing at the one wielding a hammer, keeping an eye on it’s feet, planted - ready to swing at the closest target. Next to its right foot Maj threw her spell with a hand whipped across her body releasing the spell - it sailed through the air landing a few steps shy of her intended spot. The inky pool swirled like a whirlpool expanding out revealing the rocky, asymmetrical face of Furgur Blitzcloud her aptly named Storm Atronach. Its misshapen arms lifting the foot of the hammer wielding Centurion, lightning dancing across it’s armour, dark clouds swirling around the base of the atronach.
A menacing entrance to anyone on the ground.
With the deadly cannon arm jammed at an awkward angle, and Sora sat around the neck of the Centurion, Fjolte knew that he couldn’t take any more swipes at it’s centre. It was too big of a risk of hurting the Khajiit, but the arm… Oh the arm
. That was a challenge. The Nord moved again, backflipping out of the way of a slow swing of the sword arm, his tightened his fists and felt the energy of the lightning hum as if it was charging. He moved hastily once more to the automaton, his right hand pointed towards the shoulder joint of his enemy.
The first hit wasn’t strong enough, the angle had been all wrong, and he hadn’t gained enough height on the beast to inflict the damage required. Try again
he told himself, tapping his fists together again as he came back down, casting a quick glance up to Sora to check she was still busied and as safe as she could be, at least for sitting astride a live Dwemer centurion. Fjolte’s lips curled into an impressed smirk, and this time as the Centurion swung its sword - he held his ground, and held it, and held it, and held it
until he was inches from being impaled. Then
he moved. With great dexterity he leapt up and the sword kept moving until the blade had buried itself in the ground, causing the Centurion to jolt and shudder violently. Whatever it was that Sora was doing had slowed the thing down exponentially, and it was in trouble.
“Fjolte!” The Khajiit screamed in alarm, seeing the Nord hold back the massive blade brought back painful aches to her own palms as she recalled her encounter with the Falmer in the Jerall Mountains and how she had held back her own gruesome demise much the same way Fjolte was doing. With a relieved sigh, she saw him turn the blade until it sunk harmlessly into the dirt beside him.
The Centurion couldn’t move for a few moments, it couldn’t buck her off. It was now or never.
With both hands on her mace and legs wrapped tightly around whatever she could grip onto, Daro’Vasora smashed the basket with all of her might, causing the alloy to buckle and give way under her unrelenting blows. Soon, a familiar red glow of the dynamo was seeping through the damage and she began to pry at the basket, exposing the dynamo even further. Ramming the end of her mace into it like a large gear shifter, she began to force it out of alignment and from completing its rotations; the machine jerked and spasmed in turn, struggling to act as it was designed to but being limited by the molestations occuring to its very core.
Fjolte then landed on the elbow joint of the stuck arm, yet his feet did not remain there for long as he sprung forwards again, his fist once again charged with the full power of his enchantment. He brought down a solid and heavy blow onto the Centurions shoulder, the lightning circled around and around the joint until it began to smoke. Back on the ground and with the creature doubled over, he slammed two more precise hits under the arm. With a resounding crunch, the cannon arm fell limp and the Centurion once again screeched out, but this time it was feeble and discordant.
The Monk flipped back again, grabbing a hold of the hand of the broken arm. Still stuck in the ground, the Centurion was held in place and using his full might Fjolte pulled on the cannon arm until it was torn free from the socket -- leaving but a hole spitting sparks and steam in its place. He threw it behind him, steam and smoke blowing from the valves of the dismembered limb. It landed with a crash by Raelynn and Sevari, turning in circles with the forceful blasts of steam, the alloy caging locked around it increasing the pressure.
“C-come to me, Akatosh,” spoke Calen, the bard’s voice shaking, “for without you, my resolution falters, and my pen is still and dry, though all the seas were full of ink, and the sky my parchment of dawn... Come to me, Talos, for without you, my Lord and Emperor springs from rootless dust, and the Empire is scattered before the winds of war and ignorance... Come to me, Julianos, for without you, my wit is weak to sort the wheat from the chaff, and my eyes should neither know the true from the false, nor sense from folly, nor justice from prejudice and interest. Come to me Kynareth, for--”
A shot splintered across the bark of the tree trunk that he and Danish hid behind, causing him to recoil and whimper, shrinking down to make himself a smaller target. Yet, he couldn’t help but to turn around and witness the carnage playing out before him. Sevari had already been taken down, and the others -- all the others -- they were out there fighting. Mages and warriors, frightening conjured monsters, and even the steeds. Even those he did not think were fighters, those he knew
were not fighters, and yet they fought all the same. Sora, Raellyn, even Aries and even Anifaire, they ran towards danger because they knew it was the right thing to do. Even Gregor. Even after all he’s done, he was still doing more to save the party than Calen was. He clutched the throbbing memory of pain in his torso from the last time he took one of the dwemer’s bullets.
When the smoke from Aries’ fiery spell cleared, Calen’s eyes had gone wide when the still-standing centurion spun around and struck the side of Gregor’s head and, like a ragdoll, he was thrown to the ground where he lay lifeless and still. Suddenly Calen wasn’t remembering him as the man who betrayed everyone’s trust, but the friend he used to know. At least the friend he thought he used to know, but that was enough. He still felt his heart skip a beat and his throat clenched, and no longer did he feel frozen in place -- he was restraining himself in a brief moment of doubt as adrenaline rushes through his body and commanded his legs to take off sprinting in his direction. It was as though he heard Talos’ voice in his head, encouraging him to run… but he needed a plan. A half-baked one, at least, even if it was reckless and stupid. Everyone else could fight in some way. Calen had to use his brain.
Sora. She was able to ride in on horseback and jump, but Calen was arguably the best equestrian here. ‘I can do that,’
he thought. As she worked with Fjolte to tear the centurion apart, the faint red glow in its chest sparked a memory from long ago; just before his world was turned upside down by the dwemer. "Oh? You know ayleid?" Asked the girl in the back of his carriage with feigned awe.
"Oh yeah.” Calen insisted, continuing his tall tale. “It especially came in handy when I went delving into this deep dwemer ruin and had to decipher the ancient texts to procure a centurion... dynamic core."
"You don't say?" She replied. "You wouldn't happen to have it with you, would you?"
"Oh Gods, no. Something that valuable is safe and sound back home!" Calen proclaimed.
"Well, if you happen to go back and decide to bring it with you, you know where to find me in case you'd like to prove it. The name's Freya."
He immediately jumped onto Danish and clicked his tongue a few times, kicking his heels into his sides, and the pony immediately followed Calen’s lead. Though the noise ahead was normally too much for the spooky pony, it was perhaps giving the pony too little credit to be calling him spooky now after all that he’s been through with Calen. After coming out healthy and intact every single time, their trust in each other was pretty well deserved for what it’s worth.
The way the bard rode in and pushed himself up onto the saddle almost seemed to emulate Sora, but he looked like a natural in the saddle. For a boy that grew up raising and riding horses, a known equestrian among the party, that wasn’t what was so surprising. It was the fact that Calen
, of all people, was running towards danger. The man who wouldn’t hurt a soul. Unfortunately for the centurions, his code of pacifism didn’t really apply to lifeless automations and his desire to protect his friends was stronger than his survival instincts. His heart pounded against his chest, but he kept repeating the words in his head: “nothing ventured, nothing gained. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
As he rode closer and closer to the centurion, who was occupied with its damage, the now incapacitated Gregor, and the more immediate threat of Sirine, Calen focused his eyes at the center of the damage: the dynamo core in its chest was coughing smoke and spitting sparks. As soon as Danish rode past, the bard pushed himself off the saddle in thus-so-far never-before-seen acrobatics with a massive leap aimed toward the center of the centurion. His clumsy landing, scrambling to grab hold against the now blistering hot metal chassis of the centurion, didn’t end his efforts in vain as his fingers finally found purchase along one of the rings turning weakly around the dynamo core. The heat immediately caused his hand to hiss and blister, prompting the bard to squeeze his eyes shut and grind his teeth in pain, but he fought against the urge to let go. He planted his boots against the lower part of the machine’s abdomen and pushed away while tugging at the dynamo core with all his might. He was trying to rip the centurion’s power source free from its cavity.
“Sirine!” Calen bellowed out, reaching his free hand out for her to grab. “Give me a hand! Quick!”
“You stay here, take this,” commanded Raelynn as she sat Sevari upright against a boulder, away from the line of fire in cover. His wounds were closed, and he was free of the weight of Stranger thanks to Anifaire, but he would surely be in pain. She handed him the golden vial - forcing it into his hand. She squeezed so that as her fingers folded into a fist, his did too. “I have to check the party, you’ll be alright,” she added reassuringly, taking another look into his eyes - there was a light there, and that’s all that mattered - that would be enough. “I promise,” she added with finality, squeezing on his hand again. She knew that she couldn’t stray too far from his side.
As she peered over and out across the landscape for the first time, she could see that the Centurions were busy with her comrades, one was burning, the other was moving to Gaius, and Sora and Fjolte were dismantling another - there was a fourth taking shots as and when it could. There was a sound close to her, a hissing and clanking of metal, and her eyes tracked it to the broken machine arm twitching just beyond her point of cover on the ground. It was releasing both steam and smoke and looked dangerously close to firing another round off towards those fighting
“Damnit,” she growled under her breath, she could make out on the arm that there were a series of valves attaching the alloy frame to the cannon-rifle sat in the centre. She could recall from reading and observing sketches of Centurions, that the arms were different, but the Breton recalled Daro’Vasora’s explanation that these were a different breed and creation entirely. Everyone else was busy. Everyone else had their hands full… Quickly, her eyes narrowed as Aries’ words came to mind, “you don’t have to be the victim.”
Empowering words spoken by an empowered woman. If Raelynn could find a way to unlatch the cannon from the frame, it could be useful to the party - it could be useful right now
... There was no harm in trying.
She moved briskly to it, dropping down to her knees and removing a lockpick from her satchel. She’d picked locks aplenty, but… using such a tool for a different purpose was a different story entirely, wasn’t it? She stared nervously at it, wafting away the clouds of smoke with her hand while she rolled the lockpick between her thumb and forefinger. This is a dumb idea,
she told herself, and yet as she turned to look at her friends fighting - it seemed they were all caught up in the execution of an emalgamation of atrociously dumb ideas. Calen was leaping from a horse, Sora was straddling one of the Centurions and bashing it with her mace, Aries was moving around on horseback firing spells. They were all in this together, and as she gazed back at the arm she realised it was no different to anything her father had asked her to tinker with. It was no different to an artifact she’d cleaned up and appraised - apart from the fact that, it was filled with live ammunition and may well fire at any of her companions at any moment. Suddenly, her jaw clenched in defiance of her own doubt, and in another growl she spoke her affirmation; “I’m a fucking
Raelynn’s hands got to work in disarming the device. Divines damn it, damn it, damn it all!
Gaius wasn’t quite to the Centurion before it lifted its cannon-arm, levelling it at Raelynn as she...what was she doing, tinkering with one of the Centurion’s cannons? On the battlefield? A strangled growl ripped out of his throat at her apparent complete lack of awareness of her surroundings. Digging deep into himself, he let his mind go blank as he pushed out the last bit of speed that he needed to interpose himself, and violently flung himself into the path of the weapon. There was a bang-clang-thud
as the weapon fired, punching a neat hole through his shield only inches above his arm and leaving a sizable dent in his cuirass. He grunted as he felt the impact on his collarbone, though between the shield, the plate, and the gambeson, it was thankfully unbroken. He positioned himself solidly between the machine and the Breton, chest tight against his armor as he hyperventilated madly.
Another shot fired in rapid time, leaving another gaping hole in his all-too-fragile shield before tearing off into the trees, and then a third, which smashed into the direct center of the shield. If you listened closely enough, you could hear the crunching sound as it shattered Gaius’ arm. He screwed up his face, letting out a bellowing scream that was part pain and part fury.
Finally, after a few wasted efforts, Raelynn managed to prize the cannon free from the caging. She’d had to force several of the screws but it came loose eventually. There was no time for celebration over it, as the Centurion that had been busied with Gaius had charged once more, firing at the Imperial as he stood watch over her and Sevari; “damn,” she cursed, releasing her grip from the weapon - chiding herself for having been in a vulnerable spot. That hadn’t been clever, and now the Imperial was paying for it - a hole was blown through his shield. There was little time to waste.
Raelynn rose to a standing position, bringing her hands together, a ball of light materialised and grew in her palms. With a graceful movement of her hands she propelled the ball in his direction, and as it landed arrived upon his head, it burst, releasing a fast stream of shimmering magicka that coated him from head to toe. The ward cast would hold back the attack for the moment. The mage needed to reach him, but it was impossible and unwise to do so with the machine in full motion-- but then it wasn’t. It had stepped to continue its launch but it was stopped with a violent jolt - as if hooked from behind...
Fjolte was there, the piercing end of Faithkeeper
was wedged into the Centurions back and the Nord dug his heels to the ground as hands gripped tight around the wrapped handle of the warhammer. “Strike the centre, brother!” he called out to Gaius, voice strained from the work of holding the thing back as it struggled.
That was the only in she needed. Raelynn sprung to Gaius’ side and grasped at his arm, in her hands, just enough restoration magicka had coalesced and worked its way to the break at his elbow. “It’ll hurt until it doesn’t,” she said, her tone was assured, and the severe look etched on her features was more so. The Breton was entirely focussed on her task at hand, that she hadn’t realised or responded to whatever piece of debris it was that had sliced part of her left cheek, cutting her from below the eye to her ear in a clean curve, the blood that fell from that wound simply combined with the smudges already on her face. As she glanced upwards, she noted that it was unlikely that Gaius was going to be able to take on the Centurion alone, even if Fjolte was there too - they needed something more, Fjolte was not going to be able to hold it forever.
As Gaius’ arm began to knit itself back together, he took one look at the bent, warped, ruined shield on his arm and shucked it off, swearing profusely. Then, taking the sword in a two-handed grip, he lunged at the Centurion, hammering it with blows over where he thought the dynamo core would be. Useless blows. The graceful curve of the scimitar was appealing, yes, and very
effective at cutting through people. Dwemer metal, though, was a bit tougher than meat, and so whacking at it accomplished nothing but blunting the steel. So he tossed the sword to the side and, sucking in a heavy breath, belted out a ”Let it go, Fjolte!”
before sprinting at the machine and lunging at it, tackling it to the ground. He strained against the pain in his mending arm and the Centurion’s struggling as he began to pull
with his armored fingers, doing his damndest to pry the thick piece of metal that covered its chest away from the rest of its flailing body and hoping that, if nothing else, he would at least give Fjolte time to strike. “Rrrrrr…”
It was all that the Nord needed, as the Legionnaire charged into the beast, Fjolte tore back - using yet another chunk of stamina to do so. Each muscle in his arm rippled and glistened with sweat, his jaw was as tense as it could be and his eyes were steeled and for a fleeting moment rage passed over his irises like clouds blocking out the sun and his features fell dark. A growl rumbled from the depths of him and he swung his hammer, using the weight of the steel, the handle, the momentum and the power that had built up within his entire being. The deathly weight of complete impatience, fury, and desire to inflict pain.
The battle had been waging for too long, the sight of Sevari over by the rock bleeding black - Raelynn covered in crimson from the neck down, Gaius fighting with every breath despite his injuries. He had even witnessed Gregor fall a bag of bones… It was just…Too much.
“This ends!” He called out at the end of his rumble, bringing down the hammer onto the alloyed face of the grounded Centurion. With an ugly, piercing screech the flat end of Faithkeeper
plummeted into the mask, and with just one movement he felt it crunch through the mask to the hard ground beneath where it remained as he let go of it. The creature twitched and moved, blasting steam from it’s shoulders as the Imperial worked at pulling free the casing to reveal the core. The arms still swung around…
Fjolte’s lip twitched and he cracked his knuckles from within the leather of his gauntlets, his two hands began to glow blue as lightning danced over his fingers, the familiar crackle was almost comforting as he brought his fists closer to his face, emitting light from the magicka hit his eyes and turned them to a terrifying electric blue and he chuckled slowly. The Nord channeled the magicka through his fists before charging down and slamming them against the shoulders of the Centurion as if they were pressure points. He remained there, letting the power of storms course through their enemy in a singular direction. The chest was about to blow off…
Within a singular sound, Gaius’ animalistic growl of exertion, pain and rage fled through triumph, surprise, and even more pain as, with his coaxing, the Centurion’s chest exploded
off. Still grabbing onto it almost unconsciously through suddenly-scalded fingers, he was launched backwards by the blast of steam and lightning. After a few whistling moments of flight, there was a stomach-juddering smack as he collided with a rock that cropped out of the ground. With a zwisshhhhh
, the last of the ward that Raelynn had given him shivered away, and he hacked a surprised, painful cough, eyes wide with shock, as the pain hit. He dropped to the ground, only barely managing to support himself with his mostly-uninjured arm. It took a moment for him to find his breath again, and when he did, it was through a heavy cough and a mouthful of blood where he’d bitten down on his cheek upon impact.
“You bloody madman!” he roared at Fjolte, red spittle flying from his mouth, “Divines damn it all! It worked, but [i]fuck[i/], that hurt!” Another hacking cough, and through the cough, another, more unexpected sound: laughter. Loud, near-hysterical laughter, as the Legionnaire managed to pry himself off of the bloody grass, leaning against the rock and watching as the obliterated Centurion finally stopped twitching. He couldn’t see Fjolte through the rising cloud of steam; he could only hope that the Stormcloak had made it through unharmed. He laughed harder. “Nicely fucking-well done!”
The crashing centurion was a welcome sight to Aries’ eyes, who ran a perimeter around the battlefield while atop her horse (it wasn’t exactly her’s, but digression aside). Most of the other centurions were already engaged with footsoldiers and weren’t in good positions for her to cast any more of her destruction spells without the risk of collateral damage. She had to admit that she felt impressed by what a few men were able to accomplish with just their own blood and steel against the might of these dwemer contraptions; a sense of pride even, especially in regards to Gaius who represented the Imperial legion, but it was short lived as her eyes found her next target engaged with Maj’s storm atronach. Watching the two behemoths was like witnessing a clash of the titans as their rumbling shook the earth, their blows scraping off bits and pieces of metal and rock respectively. The faster they took these things down, the better.
So she leaned forward and spurred her horse on in a gallop, sprinting past Fjolte and Gaius as she shouted, “On your feet, men! There are plenty more where that came from!”
As she finished her last word, she took her left hand off the reins and a blazing fire erupted from her palm before she hurled it towards the centurion engaged with the atronach, creating an incinerating explosion that caused shockwaves of heat to ripple through the air. A robotic arm went flying across the battlefield and even caused Furgr Blitzcloud to recoil, but the atronach caught its balance on its hind foot. Still focused on its target the atronach reared back and swung wide against the damaged centurion, and with its mighty, rocky fist, slammed the centurion into the ground, sending a spray of nuts, bolts, and gears to scatter across the dirt.
”Sirine! Give me a hand! Quick!”
Gregor’s eyes moved in their sockets, searching for the source of the voice. That was Calen. It had to be Calen. What was he doing? He wasn’t a warrior, he had almost died the last time they had been in a scrap together. A powerful pang of fear and regret jolted through Gregor’s heart as he remembered the face of the Nord just before he had retreated from the trial -- it was the last time the two of them had looked each other in the eye. Gregor couldn’t let the boy die now, with so much left unsaid. He tried to draw breath to call out and warn Calen not to do something reckless, but his lungs were ripped apart. He tried to clench his jaw and force himself to get up, but his jaw was broken and his body wasn’t responding. He was useless. Up, damnit.
Magic surged through him, conjured through sheer willpower, without the use of his hands. It wasn’t any particular spell, or even any particular school of magic. It was the will to continue given form in a raw expression of magicka, nothing more than fuel for the eldritch spell that animated his undead body, and Gregor’s lips split in a shattered rictus grin with the effort. He would not be defeated by these machines.
He was better than that. He was the Pale Reaper. Up!
With a horrifying and sickening crunching sound followed by a loud pop
, Gregor’s vertebrae slipped into place and he regained control over his body. Using the claymore for support, the blade digging deep into the earth so that it could hold his weight, Gregor clambered to his feet. His armor was ripped and torn from the wounds he had received -- wounds that would have laid low any mortal man thrice over, and his jaw was set into his face at a lopsided angle. His eyes, however, were afire with a wrath that had crossed time and space. What they saw astonished him. Calen, astride the Centurion, ripping at the molten alloy with his bare hands. Gregor froze for a moment and marveled at the sight. Such bravery!
He locked eyes with Sirine and nodded. Together, they could take down this metal abomination. Together, they were stronger than its powerful hydraulics. He motioned for her to take Calen’s hand and then offered her his own.
It took a moment for Sirine to ground herself once more, the sudden explosion having caused her a bit of disorientation. She stumbled backwards, not wishing to get burnt by the seeping molten metals, though her head jerked upward when she heard her name being called. Her forehead creased, unable to recognize the voice with all the ruckus, but that was only a split second's concern as she looked back at the centurion and saw the golden haired bard getting his hand burnt.
"Shit." Her gaze swerved and she saw Gregor look her way. It would seem the higher beings truly had a warped sense of humour, pitting a lich, a pirate and a bard against a centurion. However, if they were to live, they had to work together. Without another word, Sirine grabbed onto Calen's hand first and then Gregor's tightly, as if her very life depended on it. The three formed a chain of men and wom[a]n, Gregor using all of his supernatural might to keep them grounded and Sirine what she could to help Calen pull the dynamo-core free from the centurion’s chest. The machine itself was flailing wildly, trying to get Calen off of its chassis, who was screaming and snarling in pain as hot metal and steam burned his hand, the smell of cooking fleshing invading his lungs, but used all of his resolve to keep holding on. He tugged at it with all the strength he had left. He could feel the connections inside weakening and pulling free with each jerking motion of the centurion…
Until finally, pop!
Between the strength of Gregor and Sirine, Calen was promptly yanked out and crashed against the rocky forest floor of the Reach with the core in hand. The centurion, hammering arm still raised in the air, poised to once crush Calen against its own frame, stood frozen, the steam being jettisoned from its body now slowly dissipating. The bard threw the core aside, hissing and groaning in pain as he clutched his severely burned hand and in too much pain to realize that the crash landing had possibly fractured his shoulder. Still, he was able to open his eyes just enough to see the red glow of the dynamo-core and smile just a bit at his accomplishment before the next wave of unbearable pain kicked in.
Sirine hastily let go of Gregor's hand, not from disgust or discomfort, rather concern for the young Nord who had done more than his fair share in destroying the Centurion. "You're sure an idiot," she muttered under her breath, steadying herself before pulling Calen away from the still imposing dwemer creation. "Come on, we need to find you some healing." Bravery wasn't to be followed by stupidity after all, and it would be rather regrettable if he ended up with irreparable injuries due to delays that could have been abated. Though she herself was still a little shaky, Sirine attempted to help him to a stand. "Let's find Raelynn."
Gregor had been thrown prone as well by the sudden eruption of kinetic energy when the dynamo core came loose, and he was too slow to get back up on his feet to offer to take a look at Calen’s hand himself before Sirine had already taken charge. Then again, Gregor still couldn’t speak, so he merely resigned himself to gently feeling at his jaw with his fingers. The way it popped back into the hinge of his skull sent a shiver down his spine. He frowned and looked around the torn and smoky battlefield for his helmet. As he stumbled between the ripped and shattered corpses of the Centurions, he looked like a dead soldier doomed to haunt the battlegrounds where he had fallen, searching forever for something he would never find.
Then it was all over. As quickly as it had started, all that remained was smoke and the winding down sounds of the centurions dying down, and the atmosphere of terror drifted away as quickly as it had bolted through with the cannon fire. Immediate threat over, and yet nobody could relax. People had been hurt, and in some kind of panicked daze, Raelynn turned slowly in circles, her eyes skimming the scene - she began to count those that she could see through the plumes of smoke.
The Breton’s cloak felt heavy and uncomfortable as it clung to her undergarments from the slick wet blood of Sevari’s harrowing injuries. The crisp, dry ends of her hair blew away from her face and finally the cut across her face stung. She brought her fingers to it, feeling the blood that was clotting and closing the wound. Her throat was dry, so much so that when she spoke out, no sound left her lips; “Gregor?” she mouthed uselessly, her eyebrows pinched together as she made out some shapes off in the distance beyond the water… She brought her hand to her forehead to block back the bright and blinding rays of sunlight so that she could focus beyond the scene she was in — to something else entirely. She swallowed hard.
Mazrah flew through the forest at breakneck speed. More sharp cracks had followed the first and echoed between the trees; the unmistakable report of those damnable ranged Dwemer weapons. Finnen was right behind her, for while her legs were longer than his, he was light and quick on his feet. They were getting close to the convoy now and Mazrah craned her neck in her desperation to peer past the leaves and see what was going on. Just a few more--
The world came to a sudden and abrupt halt. Something dark and mottled, like the thick branch of a tree, had swung into view and knocked her to the ground. She gasped for breath and blinked fiercely, trying to dispel the spinning of her head, but whatever it was gave her no respite and Mazrah was forced to roll backwards to avoid the downwards strike of something -- something.
What the hell was it? “Finnen! Help!” she called out, panic threatening to strangle her voice, and she scrambled to her feet, her spear in her hands in a flash.
She had just one second to look at her attacker. Her heart stopped in her throat. A hulking, monstrous Orsimer, so large his shoulders brushed the tree branches above her head, with tusks the size of daggers and braided black hair down his bare back and chest. Everything about him was enormous, hands like shovels and legs like pillars, except his eyes; two deep-seated, beady little things, that managed to exude an aura of menace wildly out of proportion with their size. They were gold.