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Chapter Seventy-two The Wolf Queen.


BrotherofCats

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“Over the last few days we've had some disturbing information come to light regarding the events at Wolfskull Cave and the summoning and binding ritual you interrupted there,” said Falk Firebeard, standing beside Elisif’s throne. “Given your involvement with that event, I think you are our best option to look into this.”

 

“Not to mention the fact that you are probably the most powerful mage/warrior any of us know,” said Elisif, concern for her people, as well as her friend Nora, showing on her beautiful face. “I really hate to ask this of you, Thane Nora. But I would hate to send my guards to investigate such a fearsome necromancer. And I fear that many of them would lose their lives, if not their very souls.”

 

“No problem, my Jarl.” That’s what Nora was here for, to rid this world of evil, and from what she understood Potema was as great an evil as this world had ever seen. If she came back to life there would be a lot of suffering. Maybe Nora could defeat her nonetheless, but she would prefer to destroy the creature while she was still gaining strength.

 

“I understand that you are a mighty warrior and mage,” said the old man who had met them in the throne room. “Do not take her lightly. You will be walking into her territory, where she is strongest.”

 

Nora looked over the Priest of Arkay, one Styrr. He looked up at the throne and nodded, then put a hand on the Dragonborn’s shoulder. “I would like to talk with you in my house,” said the man, gesturing for Nora to follow him.

 

It was a beautiful day in Solitude. Clear sky, sun shining, the many hawks flying through the sky. The streets were full of people walking about, talking, laughing, unaware that a being that wanted to enslave them all in life and death was gathering strength beneath their feet.

 

“How long have you been a priest of Arkay?” asked Nora as she followed the man. He had a long stride, and she increased her pace to keep up.

 

“You could say that I was born to the position,” said Styrr with a smile. “My parents were the Priest and Priestess of Arkay before me. I grew up in the hall of the dead.”

 

“And did Roggvir get a proper Nord burial?”

 

“Yes. And thank you for taking up his cause with the Imperial authorities.”

 

Nora didn’t know if the man had deserved execution or not, but he hadn’t deserved the possible doom of wandering Nirn as a spirit. Sanctified and interned in the Hall of the Dead he could move on.

 

“I think I was raised into my position to protect Solitude from the Darkness that pervades it,” said the Priest, stopping at the door to his house and opening the lock.

 

“What Darkness? The vampires?”

 

“They are a part of it,” said Styrr, gesturing for Nora to take a seat at the table in the kitchen. “This city has a long history of madness and murder. The Wolf Queen... Pelagius... The death of High King Torygg... And now, public executions. My books tell the stories. Have no doubt - as pretty as its streets are, as jovial as the bards may be... darkness is drawn to Solitude.”

 

“Darkness pervades all of Skyrim as far as I can see,” said Nora, accepting the offered goblet of wine. “All of Nirn I suspect.”

 

“And you have a destiny to bring the light back to this world,” said the old man, bowing his head. “Quite the task, and one I don’t envy you. But I am grateful that you lend your strength to defeating the powers of darkness, large and small.”

 

“Well, Elisif might have thought giving me a title was more of a formality, but part of the deal was to come to the aid of Solitude when it was threatened. This seems like as big a threat as any. Maybe not in the same class as Alduin, but big enough.”

 

“Yes, Potema. Former queen of Solitude and one of the most dangerous necromancers in recorded history. She was responsible for the Empire's near collapse almost five hundred years ago. I believe I have a book about her...”

 

Styrr looked around for a moment before returning to the table with a dusty tome which he placed on the surface.

 

“Summoned in spirit form is not raised from the dead,” said Styrr, opening the book and revealing a drawing of the Wolf Queen herself. “She'll need help before she can return to the living. For the moment, the Wolf Queen has retreated to a place filled with dead eager to serve her. She has gone to her old Catacombs. A few days ago, one of her servants busted through a wall into the Temple of the Divines. We'll need you to go into the Catacombs themselves.”

 

Nora looked over the portrait of Potema in the book. The woman was undeniably gorgeous, her look tempered by the madness in her eyes. A dangerous opponent to be sure.

 

“Well, that’s what I’m here for,” said Nora, looking away from the book.

 

“Good. Being at the summoning created a connection to Potema. You are the one to do this. I can provide you with some minor help for her minions.” The old man handed over an amulet of Arkay that radiated divine power.

 

“Anything you can do will be appreciated.”

 

“I have the key to the gate to her catacombs as well. I understand that you are very good with locks, but this one might be even beyond you.” The old man handed over a curiously constructed key. “As for Potema herself, find what's left of her body, likely a skeleton. Remove it from the Catacombs and bring it back to be sanctified by Arkay. That should put an end to her once and for all.”

 

“Anything else you can tell me about our wonderful Necromancer Queen?”

 

“A curious figure. Unrepentantly evil and nasty, of course, but also astonishingly brilliant, and obviously quite a necromancer at her end. She was always so close to being Empress, but despite her machinations it was never to be hers. Ironically, if she were alive today, she'd be the only living member of the Septim bloodline. By all rights she would now be Empress.”

 

“I’ll gather my people and we’ll go after her. I can’t say how long it will take, but expect us back here with her remains.”

 

“And if you don’t come back?” asked Styrr, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Then get together whatever you can to come after us.” And hope I’m still around to face Alduin.

 

“Falk said we could find you here,” said Eldawyn, coming up to Nora as she exited the priest’s house. Sofia and J’Zargo were in tow, the Nord looking slightly flushed, while J’Zargo was breathing heavily.

 

“Training?” she asked Eldawyn, knowing that the Altmer had taken an interest in increasing the capabilities of the other mages in the party.

 

“I cast some more expert level spells,” said Sofia, beaming with pride.

 

“Sofia is stretching her capabilities,” said J’Zargo, who was becoming a better mage day by day himself. “This cat believes she will become an expert mage in no time.”

 

“So, what’s going on?” asked Eldawyn, obviously ready for some excitement.

 

“Potema is going on,” said Nora, grimacing.

“I thought we had taken care of her,” said Sofia, eyes wide. “Why in the hell can’t these damned demon necromancers just stay dead?”

 

“Well, this time I want to put her down for good. We’re going to recover her remains so the Priest of Arkay can sanctify her and end the threat. Now, you have any idea where the others are.”

 

“I think the Housecarls are all down at the Imperial Fort finding sparing partners,” said Eldawyn. “Quite charming how they keep trying to become better warriors.”

 

“I know they aren’t mages,” said Nora, wanting to make sure her people weren’t being condescending to their warriors. “But they fulfill an important function.”

 

“Hey, I have no problem with them,” said Sofia, who as a spellsword had always depended on her melee skills as much as her magic. “I think I need to get in some sparring time with them as well. And I’m sure the furball here could do with some practice.”

 

“I will practice knocking you onto the ground, jokester,” said the Khajiit. From the way he said it Nora knew it was just good-natured ribbing between the two. Everyone in her party had some skill with weapons, even Eldawyn, the closest thing they had to a pure mage.

 

“What’s up?” asked Elesia, running up with a shrimp wrap in hand, reminding Nora that she should fill up herself before heading into the catacombs.

 

“Potema,” said Sofia, staring at the wrap.

 

“Again. Why can’t things on this world stay dead when we kill them?”

 

“Problem is, she didn’t die last time because she had never come back from the dead,” said Nora, thinking about where they could eat before starting for the lair of the dead necromancer. “We’re going to make sure this time. Be a dear, Elesia, and go tell our heavies to meet us at the Golden Sands.”

 

She was hoping they could get in a good meal at the restaurant that she was part owner of, then repair to Proudspire and armor up. After that they would go to Castle Dour and the temple, making their way into the catacombs and getting rid of the evil queen who obviously wanted to take Solitude. Easy Peasy. Though she had a premonition that it wouldn’t be so cut and dried.

 

“Welcome friends,” said Dra'Zira, the wife of the restaurant owning couple. Ri’Jaro was nowhere in sight and Nora was sure he was in the kitchen making sure that every meal was just so. The restaurant was packed, as usual, the locals coming in for the exotic fair of Elsweyr.

 

“A table for eight?”

 

“Give us a few minutes and it will be done,” said Dra’Zira, who took a few moments to exchange words in Khajiit with J’Zargo before hurrying on.

 

“Friend Nora. This cat didn’t know such a place existed in these climes.”

 

“I should have brought you here sooner,” said Nora, feeling a twinge of guilt at not introducing her Khajiit to this outpost of his culture.

 

A few minutes later Dra’Zira led the party to a table off to the side, away from the general noise of the main room. They passed full tables packed with laughing, smiling people on the way. Mostly Nords, though there was a smattering of Bretons, Redguards and all three varieties of Elf. And a good sized contingent of Khajiit, along with a few Argonians.

 

“I am Mra’zon,” said an attractive young female Khajiit with what Nora had come to think of as Leopard markings. “This cat will be your server. May this one bring you drinks to start you off? Maybe appetizers?”

 

J’Zargo perked up at the sight of the female, his ears rotating to point at her while his eyes dilated.

 

Bingo, thought Nora, smiling.

 

“This cat finds you quite beautiful,” said the mage, his eyes looking shyly away.

 

“You are most gallant. And are you a warrior?”

 

“J’Zargo here is a most accomplished battle mage,” said Eldawyn, picking up on the dynamic. “A valued companion.”

 

“This is true?”

 

Nora thought that true mages were rare among the Khajiit, though most dabbled in minor magics. While not sure if anything would come of this meeting, at least her Khajiit friend would know where to go to get company of his own kind.

 

Elesia came in leading the Housecarls. The three were sweaty, dirty, and Nora could have wished they had cleaned up before coming. That wasn’t the way of Nord warriors. Their leader had asked for their presence so here they were, as fast as their legs could carry them.

 

The food, as always, was delicious. The Golden Sands had a full menu of beef, venison, pork, and all of the abundant seafood for which Solitude was rightly famous. Prepared with the spices of Elsweyr. Nora had a double portion of clams and rice, washed down with Evette San’s spiced wine. While there they talked their tactics for the mission ahead.

 

“I think I will be back here,” said J’Zargo, loud enough for their waitress to pick up on it. The female smiled broadly and Nora could hope that something developed there. Ja’Zarga was the most sexually isolated of her party, and the Dragonborn thought it would do him good to have an outlet of his own race.

 

After arming and armoring the party repaired to the temple at Castle Dour. The Priestess knew they were coming and led them into the basement of the temple, first to a locked gate which Nora unlocked, then to a room filled with boxes and barrels.

 

“We’ll take it from here,” Nora told the Priestess, who bowed and hurried away, more than happy to be distanced from the threat.

 

The party walked through several rooms, Nora and Elesia leading as usual, when they came to a spear barrier across the entrance to another large room. Nora searched for the switch or chain that would lower the spears but nothing was apparent, and she was afraid they were going to have to spend some hours searching for another way in until a chilling voice spoke.

 

“You've arrived at last. The hero who prevented me from being bound returns to my fold. I have much to thank you for, little one. When you die I will raise you and you can take your place by my side. You'll serve me soon enough.”

 

“Not going to happen,” said Nora under her breath, though a feeling of trepidation ran through her body. That would be a nightmare, to be raised to serve the evil she was trying to destroy. She wasn’t sure how much of her would be in that undead body and had no intention of finding out.

 

The spears lowered, the Wolf Queen inviting the party into her lair. Nora waved Elesia up, then went over the barrier side by side in case the undead necromancer tried to trap her away from her people. That didn’t seem to be in the plan though, and the entire party made it into the chamber.

 

The rooms beyond were full of broken furniture and spider webs. Nora shuddered at the thought of the huge arachnids, which still scared the shit out of her. She knew that was an unreasonable fear, since the giant spiders were actually one of the lower threats in such places. Childhood fears were hard to get beyond though. The spiders never showed, for which she was eternally grateful.

The next room had a small canal running down the center and a swarm of Draugr waiting, milling around and grunting out their calls. Nora saw none of their archers, which meant all they had to deal with were melee fighters. She motioned for her people to hang back while she called up a spell she wanted to try out.

 

The glowing globe of Bane of the Undead formed to her front as she made the casting motions with both hands. The Draugr continued to mill about uncertainly. They had to sense the holy magic forming, but their dead minds couldn’t formulate a strategy. Nora released the spell and the glowing ball moved slowly into the room, reaching the center and exploding with holy light. More than half of the undead immediately turned to ash, Those that weren’t instantly destroyed staggered, weakened. Nora immediately called up Dust to Dust, a faster casting Master spell, and sent it into the room, reducing whatever was left to ash.

 

“Well, I guess we aren’t needed,” said Sofia. “You can destroy any undead we face with those spells.”

 

“I think I will always need all of you,” said Nora, forcing her exultation down. “The spells take time to cast, and can be interrupted by all kinds of things. Spells, arrows, even a damned thrown rock. So I’ll keep you all around since I like living.”

 

She knew what she said was true. Casting spells of such power did give her a rush, a feeling of divinity. Almost as if she was an unstoppable force. That was a dangerous way to think. As she had heard in the past, all it took was one misstep for the mightiest mage to go down to the lowliest sneak thief.

 

Nora let the others handle the next couple of rooms, both to give herself a break and to let them get in on the action. Elesia and the Housecarls took out Draugr, while her mages burned down some lower lever vampires. It seemed to improve the morale of all involved. One master vampire attacked further in, and Nora torched him with Meridia’s Wrath.

 

They started running into more vampires, and Nora thought they might severely deplete Solitude’s blood sucker population before they were done here. Most of the vampires were magic users, and they had to deal with attacks by invisible killers as well as flung offensive spells. Nora called up an infravision spell she had learned from the Master of Illusion magic, giving her a heat image of anything under an invisibility spell. With vampires it was a very faint image indeed since they generated no internal body heat. Aura Whisper did show them, though, the blue images of the dead against the background of the stonework.

 

And then the first of the puzzles. Nora cursed as they ran into a triple rotating door, three levers in the center of the room. It really wasn’t much of a puzzle to her, more time consuming than anything, but still a pain in the ass.

 

“Not much further. Come, little thing. Serve me in death.”

 

“Arrogant bitch isn’t she,” said Eldawyn, trying to make her voice convey humor and failing.

 

Yes, she is, thought Nora. Of course, a powerful necromancer on the verge of returning from death might have cause to be arrogant. Nora had no intention of serving the Wolf Queen, but if the undead mistress took her life she might not have any choice.

 

They went through several more rooms and corridors, fighting mostly vampires. Nora had to wonder at the hold Potema had on the powerful undead, who normally had self-preservation foremost in mind. These had no back up in them, and the party slaughtered master vampires as if they were fledglings. White light projected from Nora at intervals, hitting her people, healing them and harming the vampires it struck. Her people advanced without fear despite the terrifying aura the vampires were projecting, while the blood suckers recoiled. Nora wasn’t sure where it was coming from, or what it was. From a God, or from her. Whichever, it was turning the tide.

 

“You've come far, mortal, but can you stand against my inner council? Let's see!”

 

“What the hell is her Inner Council?” yelled Sofia, the signs of the stress they were all going through clear on her face.

 

They had come to a circular room full of bodies. Human bodies without decay, long dead bodies, skeletons, Draugr. Nora really didn’t like the look of this. It was like an army in storage for the Necromancer Queen. As she stepped into the room the bodies started to stir, the dead opening their eyes and climbing to their feet. Nora brought up Bane of the Undead and cast it on herself, becoming the center of a divine explosion of energy that swept out and struck down the creatures around her. Every skeleton and rotting zombie fell into dust, along with most of the Draugr. The intact humans, from their glaring red eyes vampires, and the more powerful Drauger, staggered.

 

The party set about themselves, swinging enchanted weapons into weakened creatures which only thought to flee. Nora took down several with Dawnbreaker, killing creatures in blasts of holy fire that propagated to those nearby.

 

“If that was your Inner Council, I’m not impressed,” said the Dragonborn. She glanced around at her people, seeing no fear in them, only resolve. Whatever force she was projecting was boosting their courage while it healed them. Each strike of the holy flame healed and fortified. Maybe not as much as a Grand Heal spell, but enough to keep them going. Thinking of that, she brought up her most powerful healing spell and cast it several times, bringing everyone up to full health.

 

They came to a closed door that seemed to radiate concentrated evil. Nora didn’t know what was on the other side of it, but whatever it was it was bad news. “Get ready,” she told her people, giving herself a second to make sure her magicka store was as full as it could get.

 

“Don't applaud yourself too soon, worm!”

 

“Here we go,” whispered Nora, pushing the door open. Ahead was a long room, several levels on the sides. Each side held dozens of the sarcophagi that Draugr inhabited. And it the center of the room, flying through the air in a haze of scintillating energy, what had to be the spirit form of Potema. She was an awesome and frightening sight, radiating menace not just to the health of the party but to their very souls.

 

“I’ve seen better,” said Nora loudly, recalling the image of Alduin. If she hadn’t have seen the Dragon God she might have been more overwhelmed by the Wolf Queen. As it was this was not so terrifying a sight. From the cries or her people it was affecting them to a much greater degree, but the jumping holy fire quickly settled their nerves.

 

“Rip the eyes from her head!” shouted the circling spirit.

 

The lids popped from two dozen sarcophagi, disgorging their contents. High powered Draugr, litches, mages, leaders, came out. Many of them shouted, knocking her people back, while Potema circled overhead, out of reach, firing shock spells into the people below.

 

Nora started to call up Bane of the Undead before a bolt of lightning drove it from her mind. She quickly realized that long cast spells were going to be no go in this fight, which meant she was going to have to depend on what she could call up and cast quickly.

 

“Kill them,” shouted Potema. “Kill them all, so I can raise them into my army.”

 

Nora fired lightning into the undead queen. She recoiled a bit, sped up her circling and avoided the next couple of bolts. Nora was sure that, just like the last couple of Dragon Priests she had destroyed that a couple of hits by Dawnbreaker could put paid to the Wolf Queen. She probably realized it as well and was keeping far out of reach.

 

Her people were taking down the Draugr, receiving damage but killing the undead beasts. More sarcophagi popped open, disgorging more warriors into the melee. The energy was cycling through Nora’s body and into her people, healing, soothing, boosting their courage. These had to be some of the other effects of achieving Master’s status she had been told about. Not spells, but combat buffs that occurred without thought.

 

Eldawyn was down on a knee, still sending fire into a Draugr that was stomping forward. Valdimar was flat on his back, Jordis and Lydia standing over him. A flash of healing energy hit the Altmer, who surged back to her feet. The next hit Valdimar, and the man struggled up to defend the other Housecarls as they both collapsed. A bolt hit the Draugr that was threatening Sofia, turning it to ash. J’Zargo charged a Draugr mage, ward in one hand, two handed sword wielded in the other. The blade came down, not the most elegant strike, but enough to drive the Draugr to its knees.

 

A couple of powerful bolts hit Nora, the attentions of the Wolf Queen on her again. She cried out in pain, feeling her vision blur. Shouting Become Ethereal she let the next couple of bolts pass through her, then cast Greater Heal a couple of times, restoring her health and that of her people while hitting the Draugr with some serious damage.

 

“You can’t beat me,” yelled the cackling Potema. Nora was beginning to think that true. As long as the Bitch Queen stayed out of her reach and kept sending down spells it was a standoff. As long as she could keep up her end, which was not guaranteed.

 

“You can’t beat me either, Bitch,” roared Nora, feeling another surge of energy. If she could destroy Potema she could rule Solitude herself, then Skyrim, then finally all of Tamriel. Why not? She had the power, and therefor the right. She was the most powerful mage this world had seen since Shalidor. She would surpass Shalidor. She had the dragon blood, so why not. She..

 

The soothing presence of the Goddess entered her mind, calming her, slowing her heartbeat and letting her mind work again. Nora was not a despot and would not allow such thoughts to rule her. She used the magic, not the other way around. She needed to concentrate on what was right and kill this undead monster who wanted to rule the world. But how?

 

“Her remains, Nora,” shouted Eldawyn, flames flowing from both her hands to strike one of the last Draugr. “Strike at her remains.”

 

Nora looked at the other door into the chamber. The Draugr had all fallen, but the Wolf Queen was still throwing magic at her followers. Eldawyn, J’Zargo and Sofia had erected wards, trying to protect themselves and the others. It was working, for now, but some harm was getting through.

 

The Dragonborn sprinted for the door, shrugging off a couple of bolts before the mightiest of all hit her and lifted her from her feet. She hit the door and flew through, to land hard on the floor. Ignoring her pain she flipped back to her feet and ran toward the throne, while Potema wailed behind her. She brought Dawnbreaker down on the skull that sat atop the bones, shattering the evil source of Potema’s power. With one last wail Potema was gone.

 

“We did it,” shouted Nora, stumbling for a moment and finding herself seated on the floor.

 

“You did it,” said Eldawyn, sprawling to a seat beside her. “That metamagic was amazing. I didn’t know you had that in you.”

 

“Neither did I,” said Nora, feeling the fatigue of a thousand battles coming over her. “We still have to get these bones to Styrr. And then I want to sleep for a week."

 

As they left the crypt, just before she teleported back to the Hall of the Dead, Nora thought about what had occurred at the end of that battle. The power of a young god had flowed through her, and she had been sorely tempted to take on that mantle and become a conqueror herself. That was not her, and it was something that she needed to watch out for in the future.

 

*     *     *

 

“Report,” growled Ambassador Elenwen to the Altmer who appeared at her office door.

 

“I have more bad news I’m afraid, Madame Ambassador,” said Tragdur, her senior wizard. The male was a Master of Destruction and Alteration, and a most competent interrogator.

Elenwen huffed out a breath. It had been nothing but bad news lately. The killing of the entire garrison at Northwatch Keep. The disappearance of hundreds of soul gems filled with the souls of heretics destined for the Isles. Then patrols vanishing here and there, small groups of competent Thalmor gone without a trace. And General Tullius letting her know in no uncertain terms that he would not stand for any arrests of Imperial citizens without proof. When she had quoted the White Gold Concordant he had quoted it as well, and threatened to report her actions to her superiors, and to his.

 

“So far we have no evidence that Nora Jane Adams was involved in the incident at Northwatch Keep. She was seen walking through the gate to Solitude proper less than an hour after the prisoners were released.”

 

“Damn her. I need evidence to present to Tullius,” hissed the Ambassador. “Without it my hands are tied. At least officially.”

 

“So you still want the alert out to kill on sight?”

 

“Of course,” said Elenwen, glaring at the senior wizard. “But council caution.”

 

The walking patrols had been her idea. A wizard and three or four soldiers, they were tasked with arresting heretics which they came across, using a very loose interpretation of the accords. They only operated in Imperial territory and avoided the presence of bandits and Stormcloaks. They returned the arrested to one of several prisons when possible for questioning before trapping, harvesting souls in the field when they couldn’t return. The patrols had performed splendidly, harvesting hundreds of souls a week while weakening Nord society.

 

Until recently they had been all but untouchable. But patrols had started to disappear without a trace. She would like to pin those disappearances on the Dragonborn but doubted the woman was responsible for all of them.

 

“Double the size of the patrols,” she ordered. “I realize that will mean fewer parties, and much less ground covered. But it will increase survivability.”

 

Skyrim, even the half they had access to, was just too big. Five hundred thousand square miles, the majority of it wilderness, and her people were restricted to the sparse networks of roads for the most part. Perhaps if she started to procure enough horses to mount her people? But Altmer preferred to fight on their feet.

 

“And our informant at the college has presented me with some disturbing news,” continued the wizard, taking a seat and uncapping a flask of wine. “It seems our Dragonborn is not just a master of the voice. She’s also a Master of Four Schools of Magic. Alteration, Destruction, Illusion and Restoration. And it is hinted that she might be well on the way in Conjuration as well.”

 

“But, how?” asked a confused Elenwen. “She’s been here a little more than a year, and I was told that she knew no magic when arriving on Nirn.” Elenwen at first had denied the possibility that Nora Jane Adams was an alien, but the evidence had been overwhelming. And now to advance so fast in all the schools of magic, any one of which took a decade or more for most to master.

 

“A formidable innate talent, hard work, and a lot of field experience is what I am told. So now we are dealing with the most powerful mage since the ancients of the First Age. There might be two or three in the Isles who are her match. Then again, there might not be.”

 

Elenwen digested that news and didn’t like the taste. So anything they sent against her, other than a small army, was likely to never return.

 

“And my informant also said that the Dragonborn has had several contacts with the Psijics. So it’s feasible that she had picked up teleportation magic from them.”

 

Elenwen simply shook her head. The Psijics had been a thorn in the sides of the Thalmor for centuries. Mostly Altmer themselves, their philosophies were counter to everything the Thalmor believed. No one could dismiss their magical abilities though, which rivalled those of the Aldmeri Council of Mages.

 

“So she could have teleported on that night,” said Tragdur. “She…”

 

“I know. I know. Leave me.”

 

The senior wizard got up from his seat and walked out, leaving the Ambassador with her own thoughts.

 

Maybe it’s time to bring in some specialists from the Isles, she thought. That would cost her much political capital, but letting things continue to go downhill could be the ruin of her.

 

*     *     *

 

“Welcome, Sister,” said Taarie as she greeted the pair at the door to Radiant Raiment. As always the lovely Altmer was radiant herself, in fine clothing that her sister had made.

 

Nora had been surprised when Eldawyn had suggested this meeting. Not so surprised when she had asked that Nora tell none of the others in her party. After all, though Nora trusted all of her people, the members of this resistance cell did not.

 

“And welcome to you, Dragonborn. Come. The others are waiting.”

 

It was well past closing, and Nora was led to a side room where a number of Altmer were sitting around a small table, finger food and flasks of wine to their front. Endarie sat at the table, next to Auryen Morellus, while an Altmer that could have been the man’s twin sat on the other side of the seamstress. Nythriel, the Blue Palace gossip, was the final member of the gathering. Nora was surprised to see her there, but Nora decided that it must have been the perfect cover for a snoop.

 

“I know all here but you, sir,” said Nora in Altmer, looking at the unknown Man. She was wondering if Eldawyn might be able to arrange a group session with a pair of gorgeous Altmer males. Time enough for that later.

 

“Well met. My name is Halcar, and I must say you are very fluent in our language.”

 

“Eldawyn was my teacher, and she expected nothing less than excellence from me. And it helps to be able to overhear the Thalmor when they think they can speak without any of us lesser mortals understanding.”

 

Everyone at the table laughed.

 

“They are fools,” said Taarie. “Anyone who doubts that some shreds of intelligence linger among the shorter-lived races deserves what they get.”

 

“So, you are the Anti-Thalmor resistance?” asked Nora, looking at all the Altmer faces turned her way.

 

“We all left the Isles to get away from those authoritarian fools,” said Endarie, scowling. “I, for one, do not wish to live under their rule here as well.”

 

“We are just one cell of our movement,” said Auryen, smiling at Nora. “We are very compartmentalized. I for one know of a few members of two other cells, and maybe my brothers and sisters know of some others. But no one of us can give away the entire movement.”

 

“And these are the people you been funneling Thalmor armor to?” said Nora, glancing over at her friend.

 

“The largess you have donated has been given to those who organize our strike teams,” said Taarie, who Nora took to be the leader of this group. “Soon we will create more problems for the bigoted fools. But, we would like to talk with you about some things we have learned recently, that you might be prepared for what is to come.”

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