Chapter 08 - The Blackguard

Cut Scene

It is a dark, moonless night over the Imperial City. The streets are quiet, held in the iron grip of the martial law, with only the click of the metal armor worn by the cruel Blackguard. There is a tension in the air - and the city awaits a spark that will ignite its citizens against the tyranny of Gerald and his men.

Beneath the city, four men make their way through the catacombs. Their clothes and armor are covered with thick black cloaks and temporary enchantments. Their faces are hidden under the masks of soot and clay, and their weapons are blackened to hide the glint and silence the noise. They fight their way through the repopulated tunnels, aided by clear martial prowess and arcane skill.

The men make their way to the top of the Tower. Fighting their way through redoubled guards, they silence their opponents before any alarms are raised, set to prevent anyone reaching the Draconian King. Eventually they burst to the top of the tower, encountering significant resistance. Through great skill, however, they cut the Blackguard down and block the entrance. Knowing it's only a matter of time before many more come having hear the roar of battle, they rush towards the comatose King. One stays behind, blocking the door, while the rest surround the King, injured from the battle but unwilling to fall. Soon, however, he is overwhelmed and falls to the brutal swords, and as the Blackguard rush into the Arboretum, they hear one of the remaining men shout "Come On, Varlin!", and in a flash the men and the King are gone.

Scene 1 - Ashes to Ashes

Standing atop of the tallest hill, the companions stare at the burned and poisoned ground beneath their feet. Their hopeful and excited mood is instantly replaced by dread and despair, understanding the ramifications of what lies before them. Someone put a lot of effort to destroy the cure for the Draconian King. Someone has been burning and poisoning the ground for a long time, preventing the "Morning Light" from growing here, as if afraid of it. In the distance they spot a group of guards using oil-filled backpacks and long blowpipes used to project fire. William charges the men, raging and unwilling to compromise. Almost immediately his friends following suit. Though the melee ensues quickly, it is Fizbin that unleashes great damage upon the unsuspecting men, choking and burning them with arcane might. Unexpectedly, one of the oil-filled backpacks erupts flinging all but one of the guards off the cliff. He lies in the charred grass, clinging to his escaping life, with a stone piercing through his side.

"Who are you?! Why are you here?! What have you done?!!!" yells William at the dying guard, laying his hands on the man's stomach and stifling the bleeding, so as to keep him from death.
"I'm a Child of the Eclipse!" the man replies, with spite and venom in his eyes, unwilling to accept the healing of the troubled paladin. "Get your hands off me! I go to my King. I go to the Son of Pelor!" he squeals, with a zealot's fervor in his voice.
"WHAT?!" says William, utterly confused.
Recognizing William as a follower of Pelor, the man's hate eases, and, as if expecting complete understanding, he explains. "The Overlord! He is the Son of Pelor. He is destined to kill All-Father, releasing him from pain and suffering, and take His place instead. He will blot out All-Father's Sun with Eternal Night. You must understand this, don't you? You hear His pain, don't you?"
William, completely confused and not understanding the guard, steps back, shaken and shivering, feeling the cold sweat running down his back. The blood of the guard starts pouring out again, and he chokes, fading quickly.
Arthus, seizing the moment to question the man further, shakes him awake. "Why do you burn these hills then? What has happened to this place?". The guard, waking for a moment, and with a crooked half-smile, blurts out: "On the orders of our King. We're told to keep this area purged of living things. All that's left is protected well in Skaven. You'll never get the cure", and with that, the man's eyes roll back, and the last breath leaves his lungs, fading into darkness.

William, unwilling to accept failure, starts digging through the ground, searching for any bulbs or remnants of the Morning Light. Alec joins him, and after a long search he finds about half a score of dried but not dead roots - and a chance for the King. Alec helps to wrap them in the unspoiled soil he dug up from beneath the charred and poisoned ground, and William puts them away, hidden under his plate. Somewhat discouraged but not losing hope, they group decides its time to leave this place, before new guards show up, investigating the loud explosion.

Scene 2 - Risky Choices

Finding a metal ladder on the side of the cliff, the group makes their way down into the dark valley between the tall hills. They find the path used by the guards and follow it for a while, until they hear spot two guards coming their way in-between the trees. Hiding in-between a group of tall boulders, they stay silent, waiting for the men to pass. Though they sit in a crammed spot, they aren't uncomfortable, slowly getting used to the realities, and dangers, of their undertaking.

Knowing the guards are some ways off and out of the earshot, they pass the time remembering times when they were children, hiding from Bartlebee or other town elders after one of their 'adventures.' In this it slowly becomes apparent that Fizbin's missing pieces of his childhood, not remembering these adventures, or the time in-between when he was locked away at home. He realizes that to his friends he was simply gone for days or weeks at a time, "Studying" as his father would say whenever they inquired. Fizbin tries to remember, focusing his mind. He notices that the wound on his chest has been healing rapidly, and with each passing day his recently-found freedom is being erased, but he musters his will and pierces the veil. In a sudden flash of memory, he recalls standing on a foreign staircase, linking two floors under a tall roof with a huge stained glass, covering a big part of the ceiling, with thick, iron bindings. The entire chamber seems illuminated by tremendous light, revealing what must be a beautiful Elven home, with wooden beams and smooth curves, as if grown and not built. There is a smell of earth, moss, and sweet flowers in the air. As he scans the floor below him and his gaze fixes on a closet door with the corpse of his father stuffed inside it, curled on the floor, with a blank stare, opened mouth, and blackened veins originating on a huge bite in his shoulder. As he stairs the door is slammed by… his father!, who in a leap jumps to the staircase and bears down on young elf. The memory fades, and Fizbin's left staring at a boulder before him, gasping for air as if having surfaced from beneath deep, cold water.

"What's wrong?" says Arthus, distracted from observing the road. William too looks concerned at his friend, holding back from jumping to his aid, lest the clunk of his armor reveal their presence.
"Nothing… Nothing…" says Fizbin, still stricken and pale, as if he'd seen a ghost. "I'm not quite sure.. but I think…"
"SHHHHHHHH!!!!" they hear from Alec, sprawled flat on top of the boulders, looking intently towards the road. "Be quiet!" he says, interrupting the conversation. Fizbin, thankful for the moment, takes a few deep breaths and begins to sit in silence, replaying the memory, and trying to understand what it means - trying to accept its repercussions.

When the guards pass them by, unaware of the watchful eyes recording their every move, Alec slips down towards his friends, informing them of the situation.
"Well, the road is clear. Now what?" he says, looking at his friends for an answer. "Where do we go from here?"

This results in a short conversation on what to do next. They realize that even with the bulbs of the Morning Light, it will take months to cultivate enough of the oil to cure the Draconian King. This is a risky proposition, especially not being sure if these bulbs will grow. The other option before them is to assume that the guard told the truth about there being Morning Light under guard within the walls of Skaven. So, even though they realize that Skaven is the Blackguard training ground, they choose to try it nonetheless, worried that Skaven is probably the King's only hope. With some trepidation and uncertainty, they make sure the road is clear, and, with Fizbin casting the now familiar rituals, they mount the phantom horses and ride hard south-east of the hills. They make their way for Skaven.

Scene 3 - Skaven

By late afternoon they crest a long hill and before the five companions lies a military town of Skaven. Once a bustling town on a trade route between Hammerfell and Cyrodiil, Skaven has long since become void of real citizens, merchants, and caravans. Though all around are signs of a large camp, with darkened spots where rows of tents stood, now there's little more than a few structures and a force of less than one hundred men, left to guard the town and finish their training.

Under the shroud of the dimming sun, the companions relinquish their horses to the winds and make their way on foot towards the burning fires of the town. Quickly they devise a plan to enter the encampment under the guise of mercenaries, they readjust their clothing. Even Fizbin passes as a student sorcerer with his beat-up chain mail. Only William refuses to participate in the lie, and instead compromises to be hidden by Fizbin's invisibility spells.

So, aware of the towers and the wall around the town, they walk unphased toward the main gate, keeping an eye on the many crossbows pointing in their direction. At the gates, Arthus takes lead and inquires about the job offers, presenting the group as travelling mercenaries looking for work. This seems to relax the guards a little, and soon they are ushered inside, to be inspected by one of the camp's trainers: the Swordmaster.

Breathing a little easier, they await the Swordmaster, observing his brutal training session on one of the trainees. He seems to toy with a young boy, as they square off in a deep pit of earth, so that onlookers can observe from above. The young boy, whirling his sword wildly, lands a lucky shot and scratches the shoulder of the Swordmaster. At that, and with a little fanfare, the unsuspecting novice is cut down into pieces, while his peers watch in utter horror and listen to a lecture on 'keeping guard at all times.' At that, the old warrior jumps out of the pit, wipes down his dual swords, and approaches the group, unphased by the senseless death only seconds ago.

"So I hear you're here to join the Blackguard? Hrm…." he looks them over, each in turn, making snotty remarks about their readiness. "Well do the trials tomorrow then. In the meantime, register over there." he says, pointing at a tent. The group simply nods and follows the guards to the tent, where they are asked to write down their names and present Notes of Citizenship. At that they follow instructions, presenting the fake notes procured in Amber Guard. Breathing heavily, they briefly worry for the quality of the notes, but the quartermaster doesn't seem to notice and they are assigned a tent to stay for the night.

Finally left alone, they quickly settle in the tent, and, leaving William inside, they explore the town, looking for their mark. It is fairly easy to find, for in the center of the town stands a two-story warehouses with boarded up windows and thick stone walls. The main doors on each side are reinforced with now-rusted bindings and propped up by two thick wooden pylons on each end of the structure. It seems to have been built a while ago, and something has beaten it more so than the remaining structures.

Around the structure stand four guards - each in a corner, with his back to the warehouse. Keeping a bigger-than-average distance, they seem to be accustomed to the growls and wailing noise coming from within the building's walls. Still, each grips his spear in both hands, with white knuckles revealing their true condition.

The rest of the camp is fairly unattractive. What must have been stone buildings of merchants and citizens have long since crumbled under the brutal treatment of the Blackguard. Some show clear signs of battering rams, while others obvious burn marks of arcane power. It is clear that the Blackguard never intended to make this place home, but rather used Skaven for their training and practice.

Looking around, they scope out the entire encampment with little trouble. It seems the Blackguard feel completely safe here, and new faces and mercenaries must be a common-enough sight. Using this to their advantage, Arthus, Fizbin, and Alec make their way to the mess hall - a large, long tent with arched roofs that open at the top to release the steam and smoke. Sitting at a table, they enjoy the bland but warm gruel and beer, and start up conversations with some of the guards. This seems to work quite well, and soon they learn that most of the Blackguard have been sent to the Imperial City, with these guys remaining behind until the orders come to join the rest. After asking some guided questions, they also learn that a couple of months ago the camp was visited by two large man-shaped machines, who were escorted by the overlord's men. They also get a confirmation about the Overlord's new cult - the "Children of the Eclipse", and the bizarre rituals that they perform. The Blackguard seem to pay little heed to the owners of Hammerfell. It is clear they view this land as theirs - or at least that soon it will all belong to them. Men with small hearts and little brains, these mercenaries seem cruel and petty - easy marks for someone like Gerald.

The companions finish their dinner and return to the tent. They learned a lot, but now it is time to act, and so emboldened by the success of their mission thus far, they throw the bones and elect a risky choice, but one difficult to pass by. Having sensed the inner mechanics of the camp, Alisaar decides that he will challenge the Swordmaster to a one-on-one duel. This is sure to draw the crowds and empty the camp, letting the others deal with the guards of the warehouse and giving them time to break down the barriers and steal what's inside. Though this sounds like a suicide mission, for the Swordmaster is clearly a talented and experienced soldier, Alisaar refuses to be deterred from this chosen path. Thus it is decided, and, after all the preparations are done, Alisaar walks towards the training grounds.

"I challenge you for the leadership of this camp!" he bellows at the trainig soldiers, stopping and hushing the whole training men. They all stand in fear as the Swordmaster steps forward and rolls up his sleeves. He looks Alisaar up and down, measuring his skill, and cracks an evil smile, amused and intrigued. "This will be fun" he says, and, jumps into the pit, readying a stance.

The soldiers scramble noisily, announcing to their friends and companions that a challenge had been issued. This has the desired result, and soon most men abandon their activities to observe the fight, and giving the remaining four the opportunity to go after the warehouse.

Inside the rink, Alisaar takes stock of his opponent, delaying the battle long enough to let the camp assemble around them. He extends his halberd, and swirling it above his head he takes a stance, announcing his readiness. To his surprise, the Swordmaster unsheathes dual scimitars, and then, splitting them in two, reveals a second set of arms! With four weapons, he smiles at the Dragonborn warrior, taunting him to advance. Knowing this to be a true test of strength and skill, Alisaar calls upon all his training and begins the duel, holding nothing back. The Swordmaster's blades have a sharp bite, but so does the halberd. The flurry of blows, and sparks from metal on metal at first drive the onlookers wild, cheering and jarring with each landed blow. Soon however, they see the battle turn, and for bleeding cut on Alisaar's body, the Swordmaster has two. In shocked silence they watch the blows get wilder and stronger, as if each opponent is calling upon some hidden reserves, until finally the Swordmaster's cockiness betrays him, and overextending his attacks he exposes the front of his chest. Alisaar, trained to spot an opportunity, wastes no time and in a split second his halberd drives the Swordmaster through, pinning him against the wall as his scimitars clink to the floor and his blood is temporarily stoppered by the cold steel weapon. He smiles, and placing all four hands on the hilt of the halberd, he yanks it out of his body, releasing the blood. "Tell the General 'Hello' for me," are his parting words, and he collapses to the ground.

Alisaar, standing there with his weapon covered in blood, takes a moment to bask in the glory of victory. Loosing himself to the smell of sweat and blood, he looks at the gaping soldiers all around him. Sensing an opportunity and claiming the ancient right of succession, Alisaar raises his blade high and screams "I am your master now!", releasing a loud, unmistakable roar of a true Dragonborn warrior.

Meanwhile, at the same time as Alisaar steps into the rink with the Swordmaster, his friends make their way to the warehouse. Encountering only four guards too terrified to leave their post, they cut them down with almost no resistance and cut down the thick wooden pylons holding down the battered doors. As the last beam falls down, the doors burst open and from within burst out dozens of undead spawns and zombies, hungry for flesh and driven mad by years of imprisonment. The companions duck the hunting monsters, unleashing them upon the town, and slaying the few that noticed their presence make their way inside the warehouse, finding a small warded chest in the center. Without much ceremony and making sure there are not traps, they grab the whole container and make their way out of the warehouse, hoping to reunite with Alisaar outside the town's walls.

Thus, just as Alisaar claims his victory, the stunned soldiers are attacked by hordes of undead released from the warehouse. Still frenzied and covered in blood, Alisaar forgets himself for the moment and leads 'his' men in combat, slaying many of the undead. However, he soon remembers himself, when a tall, thin man steps out from one of the buildings and with little ceremony starts pointing his hands at the undead monsters and blasting them apart with arcane power.

At that, Alisaar turns away, and ordering 'his' men to charge the undead withdraws himself from the scene of the battle. The losses seem high on both sides, but it looks like the sorcerer, known to the Blackguard as Spellslinger, will soon destroy any remaining undead. Satisfied that his task is done and the camp virtually destroyed, Alisaar makes his way out, reuniting with his friends outside the gates.

For a brief moment he and William stare at each other, visibly contemplating going back and finishing the job. They seem to want to deal with the sorcerer too, utterly destroying the Blackguard camp and undermining Gerald's power in Hammerfell. However, they listen to the reason of others, and accept the partial victory of this evening's events as sufficient … for now. Thus, battered but not beaten, they recall the phantom horses and turn their journey south, heading towards Cliffkeep, home of the Overlord.

Cut Scene

On an empty road north of the Imperial City, a covered wagon turns west. Under the cover of night, it moves quickly, pulled by four pure-bred horses, on a very familiar road. There are no symbols or sigils on the two men sitting in the front, and there is an air of great urgency upon the worried brows.
"Aldiard - I know he's powerful, but are we sure he can make it?".
"I'm sure, Gran. I'm sure." The taller man looks over his shoulder. Inside the wagon, there is a shimmering sphere of force surrounding the sleeping Draconian King. Next to him, concentrating on his wards, is Varlin. he's clearly struggling to remain conscious and fighting against the powerful Nightshade, knowing its only a matter of time before his spells fail.
"I'm sure…" repeats Aldiard, and, turning his head back, he snaps the whip a few times, driving the horses to the brink of their strength.


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