Magnus’s Jewel, Sea of Ghosts 3 miles from the port of Windhelm 12 Frostfall, 4E208 Valfioren Grey water, grey skies. Seaspray washing over like cold chills, no land in sight. Valfioren looked all around him and all around him were clouds and water. Windhelm was still a few miles away but Alinor and the city of Eton Nir was even farther beyond where the horizon pinched the water and sky together in the distance. He felt the weight of his family’s absence in the pit of his stomach but he’d grown used to it, being a man of his station. The only reason he’d been given as to why he was to walk Windhelm’s streets to be looked at by the Nords like a bad insult was to offer a sum of gold to the Jarl and the Empire’s military governor as a show of goodwill in their celebration of their victory over the Stormcloaks and the retention of Skyrim as a province of the Empire. He knew politics and though goodwill and gold were always part of politics, he knew a different set of hands guided his own this time. He couldn’t say he knew whose, but he knew they were there. If this was his mission, he would do it, but as his time as Third Emissary of the Thalmor here in Skyrim taught him, everything he did made him the sheath to the knife. The silk hiding the steel. He hated being that. Seven years spent in the Empire’s capital with Tactus Mede, trying to keep the fraying threads holding Tamriel together to avoid the second Great War. He knew his superiors wanted him there for a reason and they wanted him in Skyrim now for a different reason, but all for the same goal. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to lay eyes on their owner. Teralfar, a man he never did care for. Truth be told, as peaceful a man as he tried to be, Teralfar threatened him without ever having to do anything. He knew the man was danger and trouble followed him. Some at the beginning of the Dominion’s conquests in Valenwood before the Great War would remember him, Valfioren was sure. A life of living the lives of all but oneself draped its stench over Teralfar like a cowl. Only when Teralfar’s eyes met his own did he notice that his brows were pinched together and his jaw was clenched. He cleared his throat and collected himself, he was the Third Emissary of the Thalmor, for Auriel’s sake. Teralfar was the only person who could make him lose himself, the only man who could do what mercenary captains, Khajiiti warlords, Kings and Emperors could not. And he hated him for it. “I can only guess why you are here.” Valfioren opened. “It’s easy to know why you are. You were in Cyrodiil with Tactus and Felix before him. I admire what you do, Valfioren and it is easy to see why you hate me for what I do.” Teralfar said. He had an odd way of making everything he said heard and cloaking his words in an air of ambiguity. Lesser men would have Valfioren think they were on the defensive but Teralfar sounded like a father explaining himself to his child. Valfioren frowned and glanced at the mer from the corner of his vision, “I saw the ones you took belowdeck before we departed from Solitude. Two Khajiit?” “You should forget their faces. Loose ends always have to be tied and our Thalmor would surely miss a Third Emissary should he disappear. Your daughters too.” Again, lesser men give threats but Teralfar only gave certainties. Valfioren swallowed, “And war would tear its way across Tamriel and leave its gouges in the dirt, bring down mountains like sand piles and burn us all with it without me. That’s what you would do, as long as Justiciar-Paramount Ferrolia commanded it.” He hardly thought the insult would scathe the granite skin of Teralfar, “I’m requesting transfer back to Cyrodiil after all is done today. Our presence here in Skyrim and the reasons behind it are as transparent as air. I want no part of it.” “Fair enough, but you are doing the Aldmeri Dominion a great service here.” Teralfar said, paying no heed to the obvious insult. He found it surprising how easily he could ruffle the feathers of an Emissary of the Thalmor. “I doubt I am. Be truthful to me,” The two of them shared a look, Teralfar raised a brow and pursed his lips as if to remind Valfioren of who exactly he was asking the truth from, Valfioren continued anyways, “Would you spill the blood of innocents? Not have you, but would you?” “You wear the same robes as I, it’s safe to say you took the same oath as I.” Teralfar said, “For those of the Dominion, I will do anything.” Valfioren only closed his eyes and looked away. Teralfar knew his answer left a sour taste in the young noble’s mouth. He knew because he knew the taste himself, but he took the oath. He turned and walked away, back belowdeck. It was time to muster his assets. The time was nigh. Valfioren opened his eyes and he regretted having his boots on this deck, on this ship. His justification- unbeknownst to him- was similar to Teralfar’s; If not me then whom? ===== Palace of Kings, Windhelm 12 Frostfall, 4E208 Military Governor Caius Bronnus As the saying goes, four years in the Legion changes your body, ten changes your thoughts, but twenty changes your soul. Caius knew what thirty years could do to a man and one seldom reaches his position without a good deal of skill at reading both the battle and the political snakepit that was the upper echelons of the Legion where the line between Imperial Government and Imperial Legion blurs. As far as Caius was concerned, he was very good at it and when he heard that Tullius had stepped down as per the request of those who will remain unnamed, it was no accident that Tullius nominated Caius to be the Military Governor in his stead. Anyone who knew anything worth knowing knew in the snakepit that was the upper echelons of government, nothing was coincidence. The banquet hall of the Palace of Kings was abuzz with the business of handmaids and servants, all dressed in the different colors of their Holds. There was the yellow of Whiterun, the purple of Riften, the dull teal of Winterhold and the red of Solitude among others. From the aristocracy of the Old Clans of Shatter-Shield, Battle-Born, Cruel Sea and the countless others to the Jarls, all were in attendance. Caius eyed the Legionaries standing guard at the doors make way for a robed figure. His hawk’s eyes didn’t struggle to see who it was but it didn’t take a hawk to notice the gold-skinned knife-ears walking in from the cold. He took a gulp from his wine goblet and watched the Third Emissary of the Thalmor make his way to him and Brunwulf. He ran a finger along the amulet of Talos when the Thalmor Emissary made it to them and stood at the foot of the dais. Caius’s brow furrowed and he narrowed his eyes, he knew this elf from the Imperial court. “Jarl Brunwulf Free-Winter, Military Governor Caius Bronnus, on behalf of the Aldmeri Dominion, I come bearing gifts. I am Third Emissary Valfioren of the Thalmor, but please, you may call me simply Valfioren.” The mer introduced himself and neither Caius nor Brunwulf made a move to address themselves. At least for a bit. “Surely, you remember the gifts outlined in the letter sent preceding my attendance?” “I and my people here in Windhelm and Eastmarch accept these gifts, thank you, Valfioren. Any help that I get is welcome.” Brunwulf spoke first, hiding the fact he had not read such a letter well. “We appreciate the monetary aid. It will surely make my job easier in making sure the former Stormcloak territories can be reintegrated into Skyrim once more.” Caius reassured. “Indeed. I must express my respect for this land you and your people call home, Jarl Brunwulf. It is beautiful, to say the least.” He smiled sincerely. “It has made my people strong. Living here was a challenge and we accepted it.” Brunwulf said, “We are still here.” “Was there anything else, Valfioren? Brunwulf and I have a meeting with the council to attend soon.” Caius lied. He simply wanted the elf to leave. No member of the Thalmor was trusted, especially not one bearing gifts and a smile. The last time a Thalmor representative walked into a high court with gifts, they turned out to be the heads of loyal Blades. “Of course, I would hate to keep you from addressing any pressing matters.” Valfioren nodded his goodbyes and turned around to leave. Caius and Brunwulf both watched him disappear behind the doors, the Khajiit carrying the chests of gold and the security detail trailing after him. “He didn’t have to deliver it personally.” Caius said, distrust lacing his words. “No. The elves rarely deal with these things personally.” Brunwulf noted. “He may not have recognized me but he’s been to Cyrodiil before. I have to wonder if he’s been sent here to follow me. I can’t be that important.” He smiled, looking away from the grand doors of the hall as the last of the Thalmor security detail left. “Coincidence.” Brunwulf offered. Caius shook his head, No. “I’ll be back.” Caius made his way through the hall and out of the doors, walking with a purpose. He made his way through the streets to the docks and found the ship flying the Dominion’s colors, it wasn’t docked, but anchored some distance away next to the Katariah. A little way down the docks, he found the two longships belonging to the Penitus Oculatus’s security detail for the Emperor. “Where’s your lieutenant?” Caius asked the first man he saw. “Here.” A voice came before the man who owned it stepped up to see who addressed him, he immediately saluted when he realized who he spoke to. Caius returned the gesture but wasted no time in asking his question. “That Thalmor ship, what do you know of it?” “It showed up half an hour ago. It carried some Thalmor official and some Khajiit. Their two boats were tied up over there,” his arm raised to point a finger at the rocking boats at just ten steps from them, “some other Altmer, dressed up nice. He must have been the security commander. He didn’t look like much. We’re not in charge of intelligence, we’re security, Sir.” “Just as well. Return to your duty.” He made his way from the docks back to the Jarl’s hall. He knew there was some reason why the Thalmor wanted a presence here. Was it because of the Emperor? He trusted the men of the Penitus Oculatus but after the incident seven years ago- His body hit another and he turned to look at whose it was and apologize. He opened his mouth but was stopped when he looked at the eyes of the Khajiit. Something was off about them, something dangerous. Blue and harsh, scars in his fur and a hard look all around with him.The Khajiit just turned around and walked towards the tavern, joining with a group that entered together. Anyone who knew anything worth knowing knew nothing was coincidence. Caius frowned and continued on his way. Nothing was coincidence. ===== Candlehearth Hall, Windhelm 12 Frostfall, 4E208 Sevari Sev'ahmet Sevari was many things. He was a Khajiit you could trust to lie, to cheat, to walk out of a knife fight with another person’s blood on his shirt. You could trust him to do what he said he was going to do to you. You could trust him to take another man’s life and you could trust him to go to the skooma before a kill, the moon sugar after and any number of ways to get intoxicated in the meantime. He was also a brother, a good one, but he just made the wrong decisions some time ago and made all their gold forfeit. He would get it back and Teralfar said that he could help. All he had to do was sign on to the Imperial Envoy’s party and await further instructions. That was well and good, he could function with a clear goal outlined for him but he had accomplished it already. He’d sat through the Emperor’s speech, signed up and was now waiting to go with the Envoy a few days from now. A few days where he was left to his own devices, or vices, as it were. As he was sitting in the chair in a corner of his room at the Candlehearth hall, a bottle of alto wine with packets of skooma and moon sugar sat at the bottom, cleverly sealed with the ingenuity only an addict could call upon. He sniffled, his hard eyes even harder when laid on the bottle. Fa’azri had said that he was an addict, a good-for-nothing-but-killing and eating skooma and moon sugar was his only other hobbies. What in Oblivion did that spear-swallower know about him? What right did he have to say that? To say that to the person who did the most work to keep him where he was at? A deep scowl cracked and marred his face as his claws dug into the wood of the chair. He stood up, walked to the bottle of alto wine, grasped the neck in his callused and shaking hands, desperately wanting to steady them, knowing there was only one thing that could. He reared back with the bottle, ready to smash it into the wall, he gritted his teeth and something between regret and yearning wrestled inside his head and- He slammed it on the table. Even if his brothers weren’t there to chastise him, he still felt like the ghosts of their eyes were in the room, or that they somehow knew what he was thinking. He remembered how angry Fa’azri had been. And then he remembered that Fa’azri could get fucked by a water-drake out past Senchal’s port. He looked at the bottle of alto wine and then picked it up again. He turned it over, holding it up to observe it. He didn’t need it. He wanted it though, oh how he wanted it. He remembered everything his brother said, everything that spear-jerker, that sword-swallower, that limp-wristed, scum had said to him before he left. Money was all he wanted, his brothers were just there to get it for him. He knew that’s how he felt and he regretted being the one who looked the most like him. His hands began to shake again. He tipped his head back, drained a good portion of the wine bottle and smashed it against the wall, sure that no one could hear it over the loudness of the tavern. He kicked his door closed again, used his claw to dig through the wax and parchment of a moon sugar dose and tipped the content into his mouth. It tingled on his tongue and soon it spread to the rest of his face and neck, and shoulders, arms, his heart aflutter and body slow. He fell back onto the bed, feeling his legs buckle, and looked up at the ceiling. A feeling of weightlessness overcame him and for a little while, he remembered days in the caravan when everything was simple. He remembered and felt good. His eyes closed as he curled about himself, his hand gliding along the fabric of the bed, reminding him of the bolts of cloth kept in the back of the wagon. He remembered good times when life wasn’t bloody and tried to forget what life had become and moon sugar helped him do that to a tee. At least for this short while, he could pretend it was still fifteen years ago. Ironically pretending it was before he got a taste for the skooma and the sugar. He was happy now, or for now, but he didn’t want to think too far ahead. All that mattered was that it was nice now.