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Chapter Forty-two – Fellglow Keep



The party took on the small coven of vampires that Sybille had aimed them at in Pinemoon Cave. The creatures were strong, fast, and arrogant. The arrogance did not serve them well, and a couple of fireballs took most of them out. Arrows and swords killed the few vampires left, as well as most of their thralls. The few thralls that survived acted as if they were waking from a dream, and Nora felt guilty for the ones they had killed. However, they were standing with the vampires, in some cases between the party and their quarry, and Nora wasn't about to put her people at risk by trying to get around the involuntary servants without hurting them. She gave each of the survivors a valuable gem and sent them on their way to Solitude.


Jordis performed well in the cave, acting like a different woman. She behaved like someone who fully believed in her leader and wanted to please, though she was still a savage in battle. Savage in battle was something that Nora could deal with. The Sword Maiden had gotten a brand-new glass sword enchanted with shock damage and the ability to knock foes down. She had also gotten an Orcish bow of great power, unenchanted at the moment, though Eldawyn would rectify that as soon as they found an enchanting table. They reached Dragonsbridge by one, had hot baths, then were on the road again at three. The Imperial troops who had stopped them the last time were absent, and the Dragonborn wondered if they had been called to battle at another location.


Nora was already planning what she would do when she was finally able to cast teleportation spells. She had done some research on Alteration spells, and found that there was a master level spell that allowed a mage to place five portals that could be used to teleport between them. The same that Master Tolfdir had used to teleport supplies in Saarthal before the orb had interfered. She could work with that. It was reminiscent of the teleporters they had established among the settlements of the Commonwealth. They had needed a platform that was both transmitter and a receiver, though they were not limited to five of them. Still, she could establish one in Whiterun, then others on the four corner capitals of the realm. It would take some funds to buy horses and equipment to place at each location, but it would make getting around Skyrim so much easier.


The group had made one more stop, cleaning out Chillwind Depths once again of Falmer, rescuing some captured merchants and farmers while at it. And taking even more valuable loot. Nora was finding the loot in Skyrim to be somewhat more appealing that what she found in the Commonwealth. Loot there always felt like it had a story of tragedy attached, its original owner dead in the disaster that was the one-day war. Some of the items here might have some tragic backstory, but most were simply things that had been stolen and stashed.


A dragon attacked while they were a day out from Whiterun. It was a strange feathered beast that shot cold from its mouth and brought down attacks of the same type from the sky. A dangerous creature, and one that hurt Elesia and Valdimar before the party killed it. Jordis proved her worth again in attacking the dragon to keep it from snapping up Elesia, her sword striking its neck as she dodged. Nora had another dragon soul, adding to her store of power, and the young Housecarl looked even more impressed.


“I am so sorry for doubting you, my Lady,” said Jordis by way of apology. “Everything they said about you is true.”


Three and a half days after leaving Dragonsbridge Whiterun came into sight. Nora felt like she was coming home, though Winterhold and Solitude were also engendering that feeling. It was about four in the afternoon when they stabled the horses. Nora was determined that they get a good night in the Bannered Mare, along with baths and a hot meal, but first she wanted to see what progress Farengar had made on their project. So she hurried to Dragonreach, first paying a call on the Jarl to inform him of her progress.


“I don't know who owns that castle by the river,” said Balgruuf, shrugging his shoulders. “It just appeared there, overnight, with a full staff and guards. My steward went to talk to them, and they were noncommittal as to who owned it. They paid their taxes though, and Farengar cast a scrying on them and found nothing amiss, so we forgot about them and concentrated on the dragons.”


“When did it appear?” asked Nora, having an idea. It seemed preposterous, but did that word fit anything on this world where magic and dragons existed.


“About the time you did,” said Proventus Avenicci, the Jarl's steward. “The land it appeared on was vacant forest, a piece of property owned by the Gray-Manes. When we contacted them they said they had received a letter and payment that was more than enough for the property. So as far as they were concerned it had been sold.”


Nora made up her mind to check on the castle in the morning, on her way to Fellglow Keep. She then walked into the mage's workshop. To see a small model of the wonderful machine she was hoping the mage would produce in her absence.


“We had to make some changes to your diagram, but it works,” said the mage as he started the soul gem powered boiler on the machine. In minutes it was producing steam, far faster than a machine using wood or coal would have done. The pressure built up quickly, pushing the piston in the cylinder which turned the flywheel. It wasn't accomplishing anything at the moment, but Nora could already imagine that wheel doing real work. Pumping water, moving loads, maybe even propelling vehicles.


“I've worked out some possible uses for it,” said the smiling mage, leading Nora over to a table on which many diagrams sat.


Nora was amazed. The mage had designed pumps, levers, lifts, even a ship engine. Something she was sure no one here would be able to think of, proving once again that there were highly intelligent people on this world.


“Looks good. I think the first production models should go into mine pumps. After all, most of them get flooded at times in this climate, and I'm sure we would get much more productivity out of them when they're dry.”


“I agree,” said the mage. “I'll get on the process of engaging the smiths to make more parts.”


Nora was already imagining factories turning out well made but reasonably priced goods, just like during the industrial revolution on Earth. They might have to make some boilers that used burning materials, though Nora hoped they could avoid widespread air pollution. For the vehicles she was envisioning soul gems might still be the solution, since they could start the process going so much faster than wood or coal.


After a good night's sleep in the Jarl's palace Nora was on the road again. She planned on stopping by the large structure, which Proventius said was called Valkyrja Whiterun Castle. They loaded up the horses and started out. Looking at the map, Nora decided they would have to go through the woods to the north of the castle to get to Fellglow Keep.


“Welcome, my Thane” said a beautiful blond in a set of red leather and chain armor standing at the gate to the castle.


“You know who I am?”


“You are the Dragonborn, and the favorite of Kynareth,” said the warrior, bowing her head. “And are you ready to take up residence?”




“This castle is yours, a gift of the Goddess.”


“Did she make you and all these beautiful young women to go along with it?”


“Oh, no,” said the laughing blond, while a redhead up the steps joined in. “We were contacted by one of Kynareth's priestesses and offered the position. It was an honor none of us expected, but we welcomed it.”


“So you guard the castle?”


“Yes, unless you need warriors to accompany you, in which case we can follow you as well. Would you like a tour of your home.”


The castle was very impressive. A stable with three beautiful horses and room for dozens more. And outdoor workshop. Then, on the lower floor, an armory with all the bells and whistles. Forge, tanning rack, enchanting table and alchemy station. Manikins for displaying armor and plaques for weapons. Next to it was a gorgeous library, mostly empty of books but with room to store any she might find. And finally a museum. There was a multi-level staff and follower quarters, with its own hot tub and pool.


The upper level had a large dining room with attached kitchen. The upper level of the staff quarters contained more beds and its own kitchen. There was a living area with fireplace across the entry hall. A two-story children's quarters with room for six young ones was off the cross hall. Then there was the master's room, with a raised platform holding a double bed and two smaller ones. A huge fireplace took up one wall, with couches and tables arranged close to it. A hot tub sat on a raised platform, and an office opened up on the far wall.


Upstairs and to the rear was a large swimming pool, a bar, and multiple sitting areas. The entire castle was tastefully decorated in royal red, with enough storage space for an army. Nora wouldn't be able to use it right now since she still had to complete her education at the College of Winterhold. And there was still the matter of the magical orb that looked like it might become a problem. But as a base of operations it was perfect.


“Can you watch children?” Nora asked.


“Oh, yes, my Thane. We would be glad to watch any children you bring into the castle.”


“Perfect,” said Nora. There were so many homeless children out there, barely surviving. And she could give at least six of them a warm and comfortable home.


“I have things to do,” she told the guard. “But I will be back in a couple of months. This place is unbelievable.”


It really was. Not quite as big as Dragonsreach, but definitely larger than any residence in the city. She wasn't really sure she deserved this place, but she would make use of it. She said a quick prayer to the Goddess, thanking her, and felt a familiar glow in the back of her mind.


“We can have a lot of fun in that place,” said Eldawyn, looking back at the castle as they rode away. “That armory has everything we need to make you a proficient smith and enchanter.”


Nora smiled. She was thinking more of the living quarters. She could have quite the party in that house. Maybe even an orgy, though she would have to be careful who she invited to that party. She didn't want to offend Balgruuf or the other nobles of Whiterun, but she already had a short guest list in mind.


They wended their way through the woods for a mile before coming to a path leading up to the mountains in this area. Another couple of miles, a turn to the east, and they could see a collection of ruins a half mile away, with one mostly intact tower.


“This has to be the place,” said Elesia, looking over the ruins.


Nora wondered if the woman had an implant that recorded what her eyes saw. That might be valuable to her academy, or would have been if the Recorder hadn't have turned her back on them. But they still might have a way of accessing the recordings.


The Dragonborn put on her Commonwealth helmet and looked over the area, zooming in on spots where she thought an observer might be hiding. She spotted the body heat of someone in one of the ruined towers. She continued to scan for some moments, spotting someone else in a small garden outside the main keep. Both people wore black robes, a sign that they were mages, since warriors had armor and regular citizens wore simple but sturdy clothing.


“Okay. I've spotted two mages. One by the keep, another on watch at the top of that far ruined tower. I'm thinking of using the rifle to take them out from a distance. Any thoughts?”


“I believe we can sneak up on the one in the tower and take him or her out with arrows,” said Annekke. “You aren't getting any more ammo for that thing, and I think you should save it.”


Annekke had a point. But weapons were made to be used, and conserving ammo just to see one of her people go down to a mage would be more than Nora could handle.


“Okay. We'll compromise. Annekke, you sneak up on the one in the garden and take him out with your bow. But wait until you hear my shot as I'm taking out the watcher on the tower. That might even bring the other one to you.”


Nora unpacked her rifle and pulled up the scope, sighting in on the mage on the ruined tower. Checking to see that Annekke was in position, Nora gave the trigger a gentle squeeze. The rifle bucked into her shoulder and the mage's head rocked back, a bloody mist surrounding it. The man in the garden looked up, then started running toward his comrade, yelling something. That cry died as Annekke put an arrow through his chest. The party waited for a moment to see if any other enemies would reveal themselves, then moved toward the keep.


The door wouldn't open. There was a lock on the door, and Nora broke a dozen lock picks before she gave it up as a bad job. Some locks on this world were enchanted, and could only be opened by the proper key. And neither of the bodies had a key, which meant there had to be another way in.


“This kind of lock won't open unless we break it,” said Annekke, testing the handle herself. “We either have to break it down or find another way in.”


Nora didn't like the idea of trying to break down the stout door. If she fired enough rounds from her rifle she might be able to destroy the lock, but if enchanted the door still might not open. So she might just waste a lot of ammunition. It would assuredly make enough noise to wake the dead, and the last thing she wanted to do was lead her people through a door with twenty or more mages, and whatever they had summoned or raised, waiting for them.


“Fan out and see if there's another way in.” Nora cast Clairvoyance, but of course the smoke led to the door.


“I found a hatch leading down over at that second broken tower,” said Elesia, running up.


Broken tower was a misnomer, since only part of one wall was still standing. There was a wooden hatch they pulled open fairly easily. Clairvoyance showed a blue line leading down, another means of reaching the target.


“Okay. Annekke and I lead. Eldawyn and Sofia follow. Elesia and Lydia at the tail. Valdimar. Sorry, but we need to move quietly in what might be tight quarters. Jordis. I have a bad feeling about this one, and I need my regular crew around me. But I promise you that you can accompany me on the next two. Okay.”


Jordis nodded, not looking happy, but knowing enough to not protest. “Come on girl,” said Valdimar, motioning to the horses. “I’ll teach you a game the Thane taught me. Called hearts.”


“Don't get so caught up in the cards,” said Nora, chuckling, “that some skeevers sneak up on you both and bite deep.”


Nora only had the one deck that Mara had brought with her. They had cards here, much different in both size and shape, with different markings, but Nora wanted to get more of the kind she was familiar with made up eventually.


The small cavern they found themselves in was dark as the pit. Calling up the night eye function of the helmets made it less so, but it was still dark. The space ahead was better lit. And filled with water. Nora didn't like that at all. Getting wet in Skyrim could cause problems if they were in cold weather. While it wasn't freezing in the cave, it wasn't warm either. And it was hard to move silently. Nora knew how to do it, as did Annekke, but the rest of her people were an unknown in this situation. The sound of a pair of people talking reached her ears, and she cast Detect Living. The bright figures of the pair appeared through a pillar, letting the Dragonborn know where they were, if not their capabilities.


Nora held up a fist and pumped it in the air, letting her people know they were to stop here. She pointed at Annekke, then made walking motions with her fingers, letting the Ranger know she was to move with Nora. Taking a short step into the water, which was as frigid as she had suspected, she moved forward slowly, making barely a sound. She wanted to take this pair out quietly, so as to not alert the mages further in. Fire spells, especially fireball, made a lot of noise. With that in mind she called up Ice Storm, an area effect spell that sapped the strength of the target while killing it.


Knowing where the mages were from the Detect Life spell, Nora stepped around the pillar and into sight. The mages reacted in shock, raising their hands and starting to call up their spells. Nora said the trigger word to Ice Storm and sent the swirling mass of cold on its way. It hit the mages, interrupting their own casting. One tried to react by calling up healing, while the other staggered and went down to her knees. Annekke sent an arrow into the chest of the casting mage, while a second later Nora sent a shaft into the one on her knees.


Speed was now more important than silence, and the pair hurried up the ramp leading into the water, coming up on the mages. One was obviously dead, eyes staring sightlessly into the air. The other was struggling to draw breath with a shaft sticking from her thorax. Nora swung her knife and almost severed the mage's head from her body.


Nora gave a faint whistle and motioned the rest forward. They took a second around the fire the mages had been using, absorbing as much heat as possible. The party then picked up whatever loot was lying around, including some books, potions, gems and soul gems. They left behind any high weight low value items, common weapons and armor.


They moved in their usual formation down the next tunnel. Traps were everywhere. Push plates, bear traps, even a couple of shock runes. Nora wondered how many of the mages fell to their own traps. Probably not many, or they wouldn't be there, but maybe a few. Whoever was in charge probably saw that as Darwinian selection, though they wouldn't know that term.


They went through another partially flooded room, then came to a closed door. Nora listened for a moment, hearing nothing, and pushing the door open as slowly as possible. The hinge squealed, she cringed, and she pushed the door fully open, realizing that it was time for decisive action.


“Is that you Kara?” asked a male voice, and Nora saw a mage coming down some stairs from a balcony. She sent Ice Storm at him, and received an ice spike back from the mage. It hurt like hell, and weakened her, but didn't penetrate her armor. She fired Chain Lightning at the mage, staggering him, then sent another his way. The mage fell down the stairs, his robes smoking, dead.


The party entered a room full of cages, three of them with live captives, one with a body. The red glowing eyes told Nora all she needed to know. Vampires, and she fried them in place, then picked the locks and let Lydia gather the vampire dust from their bodies, a valuable alchemical ingredient.


The next room was a fight. Four mages, several raised creatures, skeletons, and more rose as they battled. Nora, Eldawyn and Sofia sent shock spells into the room, while the mages retaliated with cold and fire magic. One fireball burst among the party. If not for their enchantments some would have died. Annekke, grimacing in pain, sent an arrow into the mage before he could loose more fire. Nora was more worried about the noise the spell had made. The party took down all of the summoned dead they could reach, and when the last mage went down all of the remaining undead crumbled to the floor.


“Heal yourselves and everyone else,” said Nora, sending healing magic into herself, then moving ahead to scout. “Then follow me.”


There were a couple of whispered protests, but they were too well trained to call out. The Dragonborn cast Detect Life again, letting the spell reveal what was ahead. In some ways it was like using the infrared on her Earth sensors. But where the heat sensors of her helmet and power armor were best in the open, the spell actually saw through thick stone that the infrared detectors couldn't. With the spell she spotted the five mages ahead before coming into the room.


Nora waited for her people to catch up, then started flashing hand signals at them. Five fingers, then pointing to the door, then at herself and Eldawyn. A moment later she cast Summon Flame Atronach, and the slender female form made of pure fire rose out of the floor. The heat coming off the creature was fierce from close up, and the party backed off, except for Eldawyn, used to the creatures as she was. Nora pushed the door open, then sent the creature of flame through with a mental command.


There was yelling, screaming, the sounds of fire bolts hitting. The Flame Atronach attacked by hurling fire spells, closing with it quarry, then...


The room exploded with heat, and there were more calls as the Atronach blew up among them. Nora had learned the Frost Atronach spell as well, a more advanced version of the summons. She preferred the flame version still, since the massive frost version made too much noise and didn't have the explosive finale' of the fire creature.


She and Elda hurried into the room; wards erected in front as they threw lightning at the mages remaining on their feet. A couple of shots each and the three surviving mages no longer were.


They crept slowly into the next room, to find an alert Conjurer with a summoned Frost Atronach stomping around. Shock spells finished the Conjurer before her summoned minion could close and it crumbled into nothing. The room had several cells, two with wolves, and one with a trapped Altmer in College robes, his frightened eyes tracking the party coming toward him.


“Don't leave me here!,” cried the man. “Please! Help me! Please, please let me out of here!”


“Are you Orthorn?” asked Nora.


The man's eyes were locked on Eldawyn, then he noticed that three of the party had frost magic playing around one of their hands. “Yes. Are you from the College? You have to let me out. They're going to do something awful to me!”


“How do we let you out?” asked Nora, seeing no lock on the door, which wouldn't budge when she pulled.


“There's a lever, right there in the center. Hurry, before more of them show up!”


“You are Orthorn right. Then where are the books?”


“Yes, yes! Did Arch-Mage Aren send you? He sent you to rescue me, didn't he?”


“We haven't come for you,” said Nora slowly, enunciating each word as if talking to an idiot. “Where are the books?”


“What? The bo... Oh. Oh dear. I shouldn't have taken them, I know! It was stupid. I was stupid. It won't happen again. Help me get out of here, and I'll help you find them. Please!”


“First tell me where the books are,” demanded Nora with narrowed eyes.


“I don't have them anymore. She took them. The Caller. She's the one who put me in here! Please, let me out of here!”


“Why did your friends throw you in that cell?”


“They threw me in here until they were ready to use me in one of their experiments. This wasn't supposed to happen. I thought they wanted my help, not to use me as a test subject!”


“And how do I let you out of there? Do you know where the key is?”


“No. It's the levers in the center there. Just make sure you don't pull the wrong one. Please, hurry. I don't like being in here!”


Nora nodded to Annekke, who went over and pulled the center lever, and the cell door opened.


“Thank you, thank you! I promise I'll help. And then I'll go back to the College and I'll beg them to let me back in.”


“The books?” Nora wasn't sure what to do with the young mage. She thought he had learned his lesson and didn't deserve to die. She could send him back, but Valdimar and Jordis might kill an unknown mage coming out of the ruined tower without a thought.


“Yes, of course. I said I'd tell you, didn't I? The Caller will have them. She was most interested in one of the volumes. Although not interested enough to keep me from being locked up.”


“Okay. We'll take it from here,” said Nora, motioning for her followers to move out.


“Don't you need my help?” asked the confused young mage.


“Not really, no. I don't know you, Orthorn, and I don't trust you. So you can follow us out, but stay far enough back that you don't give us away.”


“Ah. I see. Well, then I'll just stay behind you a little bit, and follow along quietly.”


You do that, thought Nora, leading the way out of the chamber. She hoped he did make it back to the College, where it would be the Archmage's responsibility to decide his punishment. Either way, he wasn't her responsibility.


The next room had a trio of fire mages across the chamber, two throwing spells at targets while the third watched. The fire spells made noise, covering any the party might have made, and they crept close. Nora, Elda and Sofia threw Ice Storm at them, the three clouds of swirling cold hitting as one mass and snuffing out the lives of the mages in an instant.


The party went up several flights of stairs and came into a room with sarcophagi along both walls, with a pair of Conjurers arguing about something. Their last argument it was to be, as cold spells took their lives. The lids of a dozen sarcophagi burst open and skeletons came out, wielding swords and bows. These had not been tied to the life force of their summoners. Either that, or they had been summoned by someone else in the fort. Arrows and shock spells made short work of them, and the party was through the room and to the door that led into the keep proper.


Nora and company had taken out a dozen mages that would have been a lot of trouble if they had met them as one mass. And no telling how many still awaited. Nora checked her implant. It was just after one, and she was thinking they might spend the night in her new castle, then move on in the morning. But first things first.


The keep was much of the same. Rooms, passages, stairs, mages. Not as many as below. At one point a couple of Fire Mages, at another a Conjurer. They went down easily to the stealthy party. Sofia and Elesia did yeomen's duty looting everything of value. Including some spell tomes to be looked at later and a book that glowed with power, The Doors of Oblivion, as well as another powerful tome called A Hypothetical Treachery. Plenty of gems, both soul and regular, and one particular small jewel that sent Nora's loot sensors on overdrive. She didn't know what it was, but it matched one they had found in Meridia's temple, a gem that no appraiser had been able to identify. And a couple of keys.


Finally they reached the top of the stairs and a locked door. Nora tried one of the keys with no luck. The second turned in the lock and they opened the door to see a large room with several books stands, a summoning circle, and an Altmer woman in mage robes standing directly in the center.


“So, you're the one who barged into my home and laid waste to my projects. How nice to meet you.”


“And just who the hell are you?” asked Nora, letting just a little bit of the Thu'um creep into her tone.


The woman seemed to be taken off guard for a moment, but recovered quickly. “Names no longer matter. You may refer to me as The Caller. Now, do you have a reason for making such a mess?”


“I'm here from the College to collect the books you've stolen.”


“So you're just one of Aren's lackeys? That's disappointing. You show real promise. You come here, kill my assistants, disrupt my work... You've annoyed me, so I don't think I'll be giving you anything.”


“Can we come to an arrangement?” asked Nora, waving fingers behind her back to alert her party to follow her attack.


 “I'm afraid you don't have anything worth trading,” said the sneering woman. “Now, you can go back to your College and leave me be, or I can kill you. Your choice.”


Nora shouted, hitting the woman with Unrelenting Force. The elf flew off her feet, landing on her back, but was then on her feet like a cat. A Frost Atronach appeared, and the Caller vanished before Eldawyn's cold spell could reach her, to reappear on the other side of the room.


“Wuld,” shouted Nora, running into the woman at full speed and knocking her over. Before she could recover this time Nora was on her, swinging Dawnbreaker in to cut her head from her shoulders.


The Dragonborn made sure that the books they were looking for were all present and accounted for. Night of Tears and The Last King of the Ayleids were still on their stands and seemed to be in good shape. Or as good of shape as ancient tomes could be. Fragment: On Artaeum had been knocked from its stand and was laying open on the floor. The cover was scuffed, a page was bent, but otherwise it was in good shape. She hoped that was good enough for Master gro-Shub. If not, she would find something else rare to make it up to him.


They greeted Valdimar and Jordis outside, sitting on some stones and playing with the cards. That both were still alert to their surroundings was shown by how fast they had spotted the assault team coming out of the keep.


“How goes the game?” asked Nora, smiling.


“The damn girl took me for my entire share of this mission,” growled Valdimar, while Jordis beamed a wide smile.


“I've never heard of gambling on Hearts,” said a confused Nora.


“Well, we figured it out, and she won almost every hand. And how went the exploration?”


“We got rid of a bunch of evil mages, found the books, and collected a lot of loot,” said Nora with a laugh. “So Jordis will be really rich after this day. And we found the mage that brought them the books in the dungeon.”


“I want to thank you again,” said Orthorn, coming out of the keep and bowing his head. “I will stay away from the College for a couple of weeks, then go back and ask their forgiveness.”


Nora watched the young Altmer walk away. He had made a grave error and was fortunate to walk away with his life. She hoped he had learned a lesson. She checked the time on her implant and saw that it was only a little past two. They could get on the road and make a hundred miles or so before stopping to camp. Or...


“I think I want to enjoy my new home before we move on,” Nora told her people. “We can eat, drink and relax, and get back on the road tomorrow.”


That brought a round of applause and smiles. Nora was all in with them. She might not be in residence for long, only a night, but she would break in a bed and establish it as her territory. And anyone that wanted to join her in said bed christening was welcome to.


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