I collapsed almost as soon as we got inside the temple. There were deep cuts across my torso, some from the torture I'd endured I'm sure, but also some from the final, desperate struggle to get free. Evidently, despite my last minute dodge, the butler's dagger had cut deep into my midsection. Senna and a neophyte helped mother lay me down and wash my wounds, first with water and then with more caustic solutions that stung intensely. As this occurred, the neophyte gasped and staggered back. I saw her clutching her hand, tears welling in her eyes, but I couldn't comprehend what had happened.
Elizabella, her quarrel with mother at least momentarily forgotten, ushered the handful of worshippers and pilgrims out of the hall before joining the rest as they ministered to me. I could hear the distant ringing of restoration magic, and slowly warmth started to return to my body, albeit accompanied with an awful dull pain throughout my whole body, accompanied by much sharper, hotter lines of pain drawn seemingly randomly down my chest.
I couldn't follow the conversation at length, but I recognized a few words - bleeding, poison, danger. And then I sensed a presence, power and ominous in equal measure. An older woman dressed in an open red robe, but exposed beneath, stood over me. Her piercing eyes seemed dark as she examined me, then she gestured to my mother, speaking - commanding. The words were lost in a dully roar, and almost as soon as she had appeared she was gone. Then I realized that mother too was gone. Anwen, I thought I heard. The name of a sister I had not yet met.
Time passed indistinctly, and I think I may have slipped into sleep for a time. When I woke, light from the temple's open, central shaft had greatly dimmed and orange candlelight cloaked the women around me in shadows. I thought I heard the sound of armored feet on the marble floor, but I couldn't raise my head enough to see who was there. Then gentle hands raised my head and I found myself cradled on the neophyte's lap, one bandaged hand gently turning my head ever so slightly to the side. Mother was there, with a foaming pitcher in her hands; she brought it to my lips, and though I could not hear her distinctly through the roaring in my ears, I could tell she was mouthing drink.
From the contents appearance I would have taken it for beer, but it was something else. The thick, creamy potion was sharp with acidity, and I coughed as it struck my tongue. The neophyte pinched my nose and I automatically swallowed. My stomach gurgled, cramped, and then calmed. My vision cleared slightly, the roaring dimmed, and at last I let out a long belch. Then I felt hot blood running from my nose and my head swam - followed fast by a collapse into darkness.
I woke... I don't know how much later. It must have been the next day, for sunlight was shining through the ceiling. I felt so stiff, and as I tried to sit up the bruises all over my body pounded me with awful aches. Wrinkling my nose, I could feel a thin line of dried blood against my lip. After resting a moment more, I gathered my strength and rolled upright, examining myself. My wounds were all closed, and the last remnants of the drug-induced vertigo and disorientation had left me. I was sad to see however, that my chest and belly were crisscrossed with scars. Evidently, the wounds to my body had indeed been serious if even healing magic could not fully remove them.
I looked left and right, my eyes settling on Jenassa. I could see no sign of mother. The Dunmer woman rose, favoring her right leg a little, but didn't hesitate in moving closer to me.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
I pinched my eyes closed for a second, then focused on her and answered, "I'm not sure if I feel better or if I feel worse than last night. I think the drugs they forced on me were dulling a lot of the pain."
"Not just drugs," Jenassa explained, "but vile poison as well. Had the sisters not treated you, your mind would be gone by now and you would just be a drooling husk. You're very lucky."
"Divines, I am. What a fate... I'm sorry I walked you into that trap."
She shook her head in a prompt denial. "Don't apologize to me. I followed you willingly. Not just for coin, but out of my own fool curiosity."
I tried to rebut her, but my dry throat caught the words and I gave a hoarse cough. Jenassa knelt beside me, offering a flask. "Here, your mother said you should drink this."
I accepted it and took a sip, then almost coughed it up. It was the creamy potion from the night before, though this time without the frothy head. It was sweet and sour, with a taste of almonds and herbs and maybe a hint of coffee. The closest taste I could put to it was mother's milk, but even that was far removed from this thick brew.
I forced myself to drink the rest, before offering the skin back to Jenassa. "What... is that?"
The elf shrugged. "You'll have to ask your mother. She and Sister Anwen brewed it up in Anwen's alchemy lab, and mere commoners like me are not allowed there."
Before I could question further, Senna and Edippa entered the hall from the sanctuary. Mothers eyes came to me immediately and a smile lit her face. "Daughter," she said, "you're awake!"
She came to me quickly, kneeling to embrace me. Then gently, she held me straight with a hand on each bicep.
"I'm so happy you are with us again. Much has happened while you slept."
I could feel the headache starting to creep back, and tried to rub it away with the heel of my palm. Unfortunately, mother's grip prevented me from completing the motion, so my hand just flapped in the air ineffectively.
"What...?" I asked
"The Forsworn cell has been rooted out and destroyed. Troops from the nearby Imperial garrison arrived late last night and together with the city guard raided the Warrens. Many were arrested, and I'm told they are naming names. The Forsworn agent, the woman, from yesterday was also captured, though I'm told she had nothing to say to the guards. She'll serve a different role at noon today, if you are feeling up to observing."
I grunted at that, "uh, I'm not sure..."
Mother plowed over my half-hearted objection. "More importantly, I'm told that Thonar Silver-Blood wishes to thank you personally for uncovering the conspiracy. He's invited you to see him at the Treasury House after the execution."
The execution, of course, I thought. I wasn't really surprised that this was what mother meant by the agent serving a different role. That of object lesson, it seemed.
My stomach rumbled then, and I shifted uncomfortably. "Mother," I said, "do you have something to eat?"
"I'm sorry, dear, but sister Anwen says you must fast for a day, to help the medicine do its work. But here, if you are thirsty, have some water." Mother offered a jug and I drank greedily, washing the last of the awful tasting potion from my mouth.
I rested for a time more, but soon the temple was noticeably lightening and Senna returned with a bundle in her hands.
"Sister Kirstia, the Jarl has asked you be present to witness his justice on the woman who helped in your kidnapping. While you are still a neophyte, for today you will don vestments of a traveling sister." She offered the blue, white, and orange garments to me. After I had adjusted the outfit to hand comfortably, Senna offered me a mirror to inspect myself.
I thought the vestments fit well, and after adjusting the belt a little to hang properly, I returned the polished silver disc. It struck me that there might be a double meaning to the decision to clothe me however.
"Sister Senna," I asked, "are you having me wear this because it hides the scars on my body? Do I displease the Lady?"
She did not hide the truth from me. "Yes to your first question. The Jarl has asked that we not make it widely known how seriously injured you were. To your second question, do you still feel the lightness of Queen Dibella in your heart?"
I thought on that, then nodded. "I do, sister."
"Then you know the answer. The Lady is still with you, likely even more so after your ordeal. Now come, it is important that the Sisterhood stand beside the Jarl's justice and reaffirm our support for him."
I began to head for the door, but then I staggered, and intense feeling of vertigo washing over me. Mother caught me by the arm, preventing me from falling as my vision blurred, but even as it cleared I detected a new sensation - a pulsing, intense heat in my loins. I let out a long moan, and with care Edippa lowered me to the ground so I lay on top of a fur rug.
Jenassa, who had been following behind us, looked down with concern until I began to rub vigorously between my legs, obviously fully wet. The short tunic of my vestments were convenient - my old trousers would have been a mess almost immediately.
I ground my clitoris between my pointing finger and my middle, rubbing fast and intensely as if in a race with the waves of pleasure rolling over me. Finally, arching my back, I let out a cry as a single spurt of clear fluid leapt from between my legs. Then I slumped back on the rug, momentarily exhausted.
Once I'd caught my breath, mother offered me a hand to get back up.
"That's the blessing of our Lady," she said, "to bring you to the height of pleasure solely through spiritual power. You have so much potential - I am going to be very proud to watch you grow into your power."
I needed a moment more to steady myself on my feet, but then we continued on our walk from the temple. A guard was waiting at the door to guide us, but also a small crowd of pilgrims and worshippers. I didn't realize it immediately, but apparently they were waiting for me. Chosen by Dibella, I heard whispered more than once as I passed. They all watched, tracking my every move, but none of them came forward to speak.
A part of me wanted to ignore them, continue on to this grisly spectacle and then complete our investigation once and for all, but it didn't feel right to not acknowledge them. So I turned, facing an elven woman who had covered her face with a violet cloth.
"Are you here... for me?" I asked.
She bowed her head slowly, speaking slowly and with great formality. "Reverend Sister," she said, "they tell us you have ended the murders. After twenty years of bloodshed, we are safe."
"I hope so," I said, "no one deserves what happened to those poor people."
Then she dropped to her knees. "Give me your blessing, Reverend Sister."
I didn't know what to say. This was exactly the kind of religious service that the closure of the inner sanctum had prevented me from learning. So I just played it by heart. Still standing, I wrapped my arms around the kneeling woman's head and held her close against my belly. "Dibella blesses everyone who honors love and beauty," I said, "if you follow her teachings, she will watch over you."
Surprising me, the woman began to pull at her robes, first trying to loosen them and then when she could not - probably because she was kneeling on them - tearing at the fabric. With a loud rip, she shed her garments, baring her ashen skin to me. Standing, and bringing her large bust into full view, she said with total conviction, "Reverend Sister, I will devote myself to Dibella from this day foward. Will you bless me with her love?"
Despite the annoyance on the guard's face, it didn't seem right to deny her. I took the woman by the hand and led her into the temple hall. I bid her lean against the wall and carefully removed my garments, making sure nothing got rumpled or stained in the process.
Quietly, with a proud smile on her face, mother produced her godemiche and offered it to me. I stepped into the harness and adjusted the straps. As I did it, I felt a warm rush through my body as my heart started beating a little faster.
Gently, I held the woman against the wall with one hand while my other hand ran down between her cheeks, eliciting a quiet gasp. Even before my fingers brushed against her puckered anus and moving on further to start massaging her warm outer lips I could hear her breathing become quicker, fast turning into little gasps in time with each motion of my hand.
Behind me, I heard a man's voice call out, "Lady, bless me!" I glanced over my shoulder for just a moment to see another one of the worshippers had followed us. Jenassa stood a bit further back, keeping a careful eye on me.
The woman moistened fast under my touch, and in moments I had slid first one, then two fingers into her canal, sliding deep in her in long, gliding stokes. Her ample rear shook gently with each sharp draw of breath and by this point I did not need to guide her to stay against the wall. To the contrary, she was rubbing the side of her face against the pale stone like a cat laying claim to a chair.
"Are you ready?" I whispered to her.
"Yes!" she whined. "Yes!"
"Then turn around, I want to look into your eyes when I enter you."
She obeyed, leaning against the wall with one arm while I continued to massage between her legs from behind. Then, experimentally I lifted at her leg. The woman had thick thighs and I wasn't sure that either I had the strength or she had the flexibility to raise it, but my doubts were proven wrong as she demonstrated just how wide she could spread her legs. I gave her swollen clitoris a playful flick, noting that she was entirely free of body hair, and then brought my left hand to hold her steady. As I'd done before with my hand, now I ran the godemich along her bottom, gently drawing it closer and closer to her moist opening.
"Look," a voice said behind me. Once more I glanced behind me, and this time I could see Senna and another priestess approaching. They stopped short of the crowd, watching silently. I also heard the shake of mail, just in time to see the guard turn the corner. Far from impatient, he looked quite interested in the unfolding scene.
I looked the elven woman in the eyes then, the tip of my godemiche resting on the entrance of her vagina, and whispered to her, "Dibella loves you, and I love you," as I pushed into her with a fluid thrust of my hips. After the fact, I wondered how this had gone so smoothly. This was my first time using a tool like this - though I'd been on the receiving end as you well know by now - but the movements just came to me naturally. I felt a shiver run along the woman's body as my thighs met hers and the phallus plumbed her depths.
It only took a few more thrusts before her body tensed, shuddering, and she started to emit loud, lowing cries rhythmically with my motion. She struggled to keep my gaze, her eyes glazing over and rolling back, and I felt a sudden warmth against my leg. So lost was she in her ecstasy that she had lost control of her bladder. While at this point very little fazed me, I offered a silent prayer of thanks for the foresight to put my official vestments away. Surely many commoners just wouldn't understand if I attended the function smelling of piss.
While the woman was still enthusiastically moving her hips in time with mine, clearly her strength was fading, and we both came to our knees, continuing her pleasures closer to the floor. Behind me, I could hear Senna offering much more canonical prayers while we finished the deed... and I heard sounds that made me suspicious the male pilgrim had started to pleasure himself. Good for him, I supposed. There was enough love in the air for everyone who wanted some.
Finally, the woman climaxed for a second time, and she started to turn. She pushed herself up, nearly straightening her right leg, and I gently lowered her left leg back towards the floor. I gave her a few more strokes of the godemiche before I slowly pulled it free. The phallus slid backwards smoothly until it almost reached her entrance, then a sudden contraction of her muscles popped it free, leaving her passage unfilled but still gaping slightly.
As I helped her back onto her feed, I saw that in addition to Jenassa, Senna, Sister Jolene, mother, and the male pilgrim - who to my great surprise turned out was masturbating to the praying priestesses rather than to me, the neophyte who'd been assigned to greet visitors at the door was standing only a couple of feed away, watching us carefully. From the way her hands hovered over her breast and genitals, I concluded she must just be starting her journey on the path of Dibella.
Thinking about the neophyte reminded me of the one who had helped me earlier, and the injury to her hand. I mentally promised to ask mother later what had happened to her.
The Dunmer woman embraced me warmly, tears in her eyes.
"Reverend Sister, no one has ever brought me pleasure like that before. Lady bless you, I will never forget your kindness."
I returned her hug, firmly rubbing her back with one hand as I squeezed her close.
"I'm so happy to hear that," I said. Noting that the city guard's look of keep interest was now starting to shade into impatience, I added, "but now I must go perform my duties. Go with Queen Dibella, and go with love."
Sister Jolene, to whom I'd only been introduced most briefly, gave my arm a gentle touch as I passed. I turned to her, and she softly spoke to me.
"Good work," she said, "not many neophytes would show such grace. Go now, but when you return come see me and I'll teach you the, ah, proper way to respond to such prayers in the future."
Then she leaned in, planted a little peck on my lips, and sent me on my way.
We proceeded first to the Jarl's palace, Understone Keep. While a sprawling and impressive residence, there was also a worn and sad feeling to it, with piled of rubble stacked against many of the walls, and a general sense of dust and dirt.
Passing the first guard post, however, I caught up short. One of the dwarven soldiers that accosted us outside Ivarstead stared down at me from atop a grand staircase. Jenassa saw me stop and turned to follow my gaze.
"It's just a statue now," she said, "the last of the guardians stopped working hundreds of years ago. Jarl Igmond's lucky the lights even still work."
Shaking off my momentary surprise, I mounted the stairs and, finally, found myself in the Jarl's audience room. I could see the man at the back, seated on his great stone throne, one hand idly playing with his braided beard. Between us, a woman challenged me. Even in the shadows, I could see she had a pretty face, and my eyes couldn't miss the vivid sky-blue gem that shone with some inner light around her neck.
"You," she said, raising her voice just enough to convey authority, "who are you to approach the Jarl?"
Mother spoke for us, announcing, "I am Sister Edippa of the Temple of Dibella. This is my daughter Kirstia, who unmasked the traitor Nepos, and this is our bodyguard, Jenassa."
"Very well," she said, "you were expected. You may approach the throne."
I had mixed feelings about this. My father had rebelled against Igmond's father, and in a sense I felt he was my enemy. But the more reasoned part of my mind denied that, pointing out that we had never had any conflict with one another. Indeed, Igmond seemed to have put little or no effort into chasing my father. So perhaps, this man was just yet another nobleman, with only a fleeting, coincidental connection to me.
We climbed the steps until we stood just before the throne. Igmond looked us over, before speaking to mother.
"Sister Edippa. Your name sounds familiar."
She bowed her head submissively. "Yes, my Jarl. I served your father many years ago. After his death, I could no longer bear to live within these walls and went on a long pilgrimage. But now the pain has faded, and I have brought my daughter back to discover her ancestral home."
Igmond considered that for a moment before nodding decisively. "That is good," he said, "every child should know whence they come." Quieter, he repeated, "that is good."
Seeming to study my face for a moment, he asked me, "do you know that they call this seat the Mournful Throne?"
I nodded in assent, "I do, my Jarl."
"They call is so because whoever mounts it can only mourn his duty, never shirk it. What do you think about our purpose today?"
"In truth, my Jarl, I am conflicted. This woman it seems was a true and faithful servant to her master, but as I understand it, she is to meet a miserable end. The people always desire reassurance of their leader's strength, but in my heart I grieve that she cannot pass from this world free from further suffering."
"Those are bold, honest words, sister," the man rumbled. "It has been too long since someone has spoken so without fear. For just the reasons you said, I will mourn once more in this place. In a fair world, her loyalty - and indeed the bravery she showed when put to the question by my most skilled torturers - should have won her a dignified release. But I must satisfy the people. Especially now when twenty years of blood screams in their hearts for revenge."
"I do not envy you the weight of your rule," I confessed.
"Nor do I blame you. Will you grant me the blessing of your Lady before we set about this ugly work?"
I leaned forward and kissed him gently on his lips, his rough moustache and beard tickling my face. "Go with love, my Jarl. Go with beauty."
Somewhat to my surprise, he did not grope me or pull me to his lap, or any of a thousand carnal acts he could have set about. Instead, he just held my eyes with his for a moment, as if looking deep into me. Then he pushed himself back against the solid back of his throne with an exhalation.
"Thank you, Sister Kirstia. Now let us set about our task."
A warm rain was falling when we left the palace. Proceeding with the Jarl's entourage, we passed along to the bridge into Riverside, where we found Uaile, the agent who had masqueraded as Nepos' maid, bound fast with her neck and wrists in a heavy wooden yoke and her ankles fastened to an iron spreader bar. She was naked, the rain coating her body with a glossy sheen.
Whatever tortures the ill-fated Forsworn had been subjected to, it had left no marks on her skin. She looked away from the Jarl's party, refusing to meet any of our gazes. Further back, guards held a perimeter to keep the large crowd of gawkers from getting too close. At a signal from the Jarl, a man in commoner's clothes passed through the guards' cordon and approached the dwarven contraption situated behind the prisoner.
Jenassa leaned over to whisper to me, "you keep her facing that way on purpose. She can feel the heat of the branding iron, but can't see it. It makes the fear worse."
I shivered at the thought.
Before I could consider this further, the Jarl turned to the crowd and spoke in a loud, projecting voice.
"People of Markarth!" he began. "At last, the cowardly murderers who brought fear to our city for over twenty long years have been rooted out. Thanks to the good services of the Sisterhood of Dibella, we are now ready to serve justice on the last of these monsters. Witness what awaits anyone who spills innocent blood within the reach of my law!"
Smattered applause, a few cheers, and more than one lusty hoot greeted the short speech, and after letting the anticipation built for a moment, the Jarl looked to the workman and raised one hand. With a throw of a level, the machine rumbled to life. Circling around the prisoner with deliberate, unhurried motion, the branding iron then rose up until level with the woman's breast. Pushing in slowly, she screamed in agony as the yellow-hot metal burnt her with a sizzle and a thin release of smoke.
Even after the iron withdrew, her screaming continued for long minutes. I could see the angry red welt that remained of her nipple and I struggled to strangle a gasp in my throat.
Under the controls of its operator, the machine circled once, then twice, occasionally stopping and feinting towards the prisoners body before withdrawing. Each time she cried out and tried fruitlessly to pull away, only for the brand to never touch her. Tears streamed down her face and a trickle of urine pooled beneath her. After a few more rounds of this cat and mouse game, the Jarl nodded to the operator, who threw another lever.
This time, the iron stayed behind the prisoner, slowly lowering with an audible hum of turning gears. Then slowly, terribly slowly, it pushed towards her. The woman must have felt the heat approaching, for she tried to thrust her hips forward, away from the hot device, but this only delayed her agony by moments. Again her skin burnt and sizzled and again she cried out as the hot metal pushed first into her soft cheeks and then on until it rested against he intimate parts.
The Forsworn agent's head thrashed back and forth, froth spraying from her mouth as she desperately tried to escape the pain, only to find herself pushing back on the implacable metal when she could no longer hold herself away from it.
After what seemed like an eternity of torment, her head slumped as consciousness mercifully fled. By now the brand had already withdrawn, and her senseless form hung there, suspended in the rain.
When the first brand had struck her, many in the audience had cheered. During the mental torture of the teasing game, men and women alike had shouted abuse at the prisoner, jeering her and warning of what was to come. Now, there was silence, broken only by the occasional distant sound of retching and vomiting.
"Wake her," Igmond said, his voice flat and without relish. "Then prepare to hang her."
A guard waved something beneath the woman's nose - smelling salts, I suspect - and she jerked back to wakefulness. Almost immediately, she screamed again, before earning some measure of self-control. Her first words were a babble of cries for mercy and desperate begging for the Jarl's men to stop, but then she seemed to fully come back into control of her faculties, and she turned to look at Igmond.
"Kill me now, you Nord bastard," she half spat, half howled as tears and mucus ran down her face.
"You'll be dead soon enough," he said, then more quietly - surely heard only by his close entourage, "I wish I could make this easy."
Then he raised his voice again and motioned to a guard. "Hang her."
The man approached, a canvas hood in one hand and a collection of iron implements in the other. He hooded her first, tying the opaque bag tight with a drawstring, but not enough to choke. Then, he released the wooden yoke from around her wrists and neck. Catching her before she could fall, he held her fast, steadfastly ignoring her increasingly frantic pleas for mercy, as a fellow guard locked manacles, decorated with long spikes, to her wrist and then secured them tightly with a chain he ran between her legs. Screams like nothing I've ever heard before came from within that hood as the rough iron chain pulled tight against her burnt nethers, and then grew shriller yet as, with practiced ease, the second guard proceeded to run a long metal hook through the woman's left breast.
Dragging her to the bridge out of Riverside, the guards tied a thick rope to the hook and secured it to a stone bollared before unceremoniously throwing the woman from the bridge. The rope snapped tight, and new screams issued forth from the mask.
"If she's wise," Igmond said, "she'll turn her face up into the flow of the waterfall and drown herself. If not, she'll hang there for a day or more before she expires. It'll be a stern lesson to anyone who desires to aid the Forsworn."
I realized I was hugging myself as I watched the spectacle. I felt like I needed to say something, but I was literally speechless.
Gradually, the crowd started to disperse and then the Jarl's party began their return to the palace. I was frozen in place, pinned there by the echoing howl of the woman's pathetic cries alternating with choking and coughing as the water battered her through the hood. Finally, I broke free of my paralysis and turned to hug mother closely.
"I've never seen anything so foul," I spoke into her bosom, fighting to not break down into tears myself.
Edippa patted me on the back and caressed my hair. Whispering, she said, "and now you've seen everything Markarth has to show.
I pushed back form her then, looking her hard in the eyes. "After we talk to the Silver-Bloods, I want to leave this place. I'm ready to find the Sybil. I'm ready to bring her to the temple. And them I'm ready to never set foot in Markarth, ever again."
She hugged me again, reassuring me, "then that's what you'll do. Take a moment to collect yourself, then we'll call on the Silver Bloods."
The rain didn't let up until just before we arrived at the Treasury House, and the warm, dry air within was a relief to feel on my skin. The comfort was only momentary, however, as angry words echoed across the hall. While a collared and naked slave, dressed only in spectacles, pored over what looked like an accounting book, one well-dressed woman was loudly chastising another.
Jenassa leaned in towards me, whispering, "Betrid Silver-Blood. The bookkeeper of the family. She keeps counting slaves whose minds have been destroyed with magic to turn them into idiot savants. Don't let her pretty face fool you, she's just as rotten as her husband and his brothers."
I did my best to ignore the display, speaking to a young woman who was a receptionist of some sort.
"I am Kirstia Fire-Eye," I said, "I have an appointment with Lord Thonar."
She nodded without hestitation. "He has been expecting you. Down the hall to your left, all the way at the end."
Leaving behind Betrid's rage, we followed the hall until we reached a polished brass door. With a knock, we announced ourselves.
A moment later, a faint voice said, "enter."
I found Thonar in the midst of his lunch, a whole table of delicious food laid out before him. Had I not just come from that horrific execution, I would have been sorely tempted to join him for his meal. Instead, I bowed my head towards him.
"Lord Thonar Silver-Blood," I said formally, "I am Kirstia Fire-Eye. You asked me to join you?"
"What are you doing here?" he bluntly asked.
I was stunned for a moment, then said, "I'm answering your summons, my lord."
He waved a hand to me in perfunctory dismissal. "Stop pretending to be stupid. I mean, what are you doing in Markarth? Why are you stirring up trouble?"
I considered dissembling, but I decided to be honest. "I saw the Cyrodilian, Margret, murdered in the market square the day I arrived. I wanted to learn why she had to die."
"The Imperial agent?" he asked, "yes, that's right, I knew. I've become quite accustomed to Imperial dogs sniffing after my heels."
He narrowed his eyes at me as his temper grew heated. "This is my city. You Empire lovers should stay out of it. Now get out!"
That... hadn't been the reception I'd expected. I considered pressing, but I suppose I had my answer. Nepos had been in league with the Forsworn. Thonar was in league with Ulfric Stormcloak. It was probably just dumb luck that Nepos had Margret killed before Thonar did. At least now, I had answers for Eltrys.
"Very well," I said. "Thank you for your hospitality." And I turned on my heels and left, pulling mother and Jenassa in my wake as we departed.
Tired and wholly disgusted with Markarth, I walked slowly back to the Shrine of Talos. I hoped Eltrys was there waiting for me, but if not I'd have to find a way to leave a message for him.
When we reached the shrine, Eltrys was there, though not in any condition to benefit from what I'd learned. The poor man lay at an unnatural angle, surrounded by a trio of guards. I noted with some satisfaction that their leader had a freshly split lip dribbling blood down his face. But I also noted that they were clearly waiting for me.
"I think you've had enough warnings," the lead guard said. "I'm sick and tired of you causing trouble. You, your whore mother, and that knife-ear sellsword as well. Now we have to make the three of you disappear, silence any witnesses, and pin this idiot's murder on that bitch hanging under the bridge. Work, work, work."
"Let me guess," I said, "you're working for Thonar."
He nodded slowly. "We have a very nice arrangement in this city. I don't care what kind of holy harlot you are, we're not letting you get in the way."
I heard the jangle of mail behind us, and I realized we were trapped. Their leader cracked a cruel grin. "Now you're coming with us. It's a life sentence - off the books of course - in Cidhna Mine for you."
Cornered and without any way our, I raised my hands in submission. The guards laughed at that. As they hauled me away, one of them growled to me, "you'll never see the sun again, you hear me? No one escapes Cidhna Mine."
Behind the Scenes
In this chapter we wrapped up MS01, "The Forsworn Conspiracy," and also got to try out a couple of mods that are in the world but that we don't use much - notably Branding Device of Doom. I had actually hoped to avoid a fight entirely in the previous chapter, keeping me 'no kills' record from the previous segments of the quest, but there's no way to avoid the fight except by very high skill sneaking which - as a 4th level character - Kirsti is in no position to do. Fortunately, with a combination of console commands, Project Proteus, and Nether's Follower Framework, I was able to resurrect the maid, change her outfit, and maneuver her into the branding device to receive her punishment.
We didn't run into any major technical issues. I spotted one NPC with the black face bug, who'll be pretty easy to fix. Beyond that, everything went smoothly!
Another cute interaction happened between PAF and a dynamic idles mod. To address runaway arousal issues I was having stemming from the exhibitionist trait, I had to add Kirsti to the Temple of Dibella faction (console command addfac 656EA) so that "DAR - Cover Yourself" would exclude me from modesty animations. However, this caused the other animation mod to categorize me as a spellcaster, which unlocked one potential sitting animation where the character levitates in meditation. By chance, this fired off when Kirsti sat down to use the toilet. Sadly, since Kirsti isn't actually a magic user (not by training at least), this remained a "director's cut" scene that didn't make it into the final narrative.
Edited by gregaaz