Fortify spells take some planning, so they’re very new to my game. I’m glad you liked the teacup incident. It’s easy to forget that he’s still broken. Thaurron has become one of my favorite NPCs since I started this story, even though he wasn’t so much in the game. Yep, a daedroth. Darnand could be a loose cannon at this point. You’re right about how he felt in the aftermath. Gibbering on the inside, then sort of retreating back into his formal shell, even with Jerric. Darnand’s tone has gotten more formal overall, that was my oversight in the beginning. First story. Destri:
I am honored and delighted that you’re reading. I hope very much that the story keeps your interest. Posting has slowed down lately, if that helps. Where we are:
Jerric and Darnand have embarked on their road trip. You might notice a departure from game mechanics. Please do not try this in the game. Chapter 12: Return to Kvatch, Part 3
Jerric knelt in a doorway high in the Sigil Keep, looking in at the pillar of fire. The livid, membranous floor told him he had reached the uppermost chamber. Two staircases with steps like severed claws arched up to meet on the next, open level. Above that, Jerric knew there would be two ramps to the final platform where the Sigil Stone hovered in its frame, powering the Gate.
He watched the pink glows moving above him. Too many life signs. Too many daedra. He had already used Jone’s Shadow to pass invisibly between two deadroth outside the main tower, and his last invisibility potion got him through a gathering of armored dremora in a lower chamber. His gut lurched with fury at the memories. Now he had to avoid another fight while every part of him howled for justice. The potion he had made from pears and wisp stalk caps would give him additional speed, but it would also cause him some pain. Best to take while it would not distract him, he decided. He reached into his daypack for the vial.
His ring showed him the shapes of two daedroth and two dremora on the level above him. The platform at the top was too far for him to detect the signs of any daedra. There’s usually at least one up there, he thought. Maybe more this time.
Jerric drank the potion and tucked the vial back into his pack, gritting his teeth against the stab of pain. It wasn’t bad this time. He guessed that the shriek from his torn back must be drowning out his smaller discomforts.
The pacing daedra finally arranged themselves to his liking. Jerric cast the spell to improve his speed, then brought his scamp to the front of his mind as he crept up the claw stairs, concealed by the next level’s overhanging lip. Exhaustion weighed his limbs despite the spells. The thrumming fire provided cover for the noise he must be making.
A furious voice like grinding metal told Jerric it was time to run. He summoned his scamp as he launched himself up the final steps and into full view. The two daedroth and a dremora mage stood to his left, no closer than a dozen paces. Precious scrambled up facing that direction, already throwing a flare. The shouting dremora charged around from the right, drawing its sword. Jerric would have to pass one way or the other to reach the leathery ramps. He ran toward the warrior.
Lightning cracked behind him over the fire’s roar. Jerric dodged the dremora’s shield bash and kept running around the tower, looking over past the column of flame to see Precious fight. He heard the armored dremora behind him, but he knew he was faster.
Both daedroth had engaged with Precious. One lifted the scamp and simply ripped it in two at the waist, sending it back to the Void. More lightning arced toward Jerric from the mage’s staff. He saw that it would hit the wall behind him as he ran. A glance upward showed him his last enemy.
A storm atronach. The daedra was already making its way down one of the ramps. The large rocks that made up its body came apart, beginning to rotate around its indistinct center. Jerric jumped onto the other ramp, almost skidding off as he reversed his direction. Get the Sigil Stone, he told himself.
Roars and thundering feet from below told him that the daedroth had joined the chase. Shock energy angled past him again, and he heard a furious screech over the fire. He slid to a stop on the platform and reached into the inferno for the humming stone.
Even through his surcoat and mail, the stone’s vibration seemed to seep into his bones. Jerric drew his sword as the storm atronach approached up one ramp. A daedroth’s fanged snout became visible as the monster climbed the other, roaring. Its companion was right on its heels. The Sigil Stone’s frame cracked behind him, and the platform lurched. Jerric felt the stone begin to pull him back into the collapsing pillar of fire. It would draw him down the heatless flame and back out through the Gate, he knew. Or he could stand and make his end.
Jerric stepped toward the daedra. “Come on!” he screamed, raising his sword.
White flame took him in a blinding rush. He became a wisp inside a vortex, without substance but drawn by the racing stone. Motion abruptly ceased with a sound like the world breaking. He opened his eyes to a sun-drenched hillside. Legion soldiers and Kvatch militia stood in a meadow. And there was Darnand.
Jerric found his feet as noise erupted around him. A Legion captain moved up to stand beside Darnand and the Kvatch officer. Their words melted into the cheers, and over it all Jerric thought he could still hear the fire.
Redeemer felt heavy in his hand, so he sheathed it. There were too many faces gathering around him, and he still felt like he should fight. He looked over at the distant trees until it passed. The soldiers begin to move down the hill away from them. Away from the Gate, Jerric remembered. He looked to the side where black spikes jutted out of the cracked soil, like the ribs of some abomination that had somehow grown there.
A meadow lark’s song was the first sound that made sense. Then Jerric realized that the Legion captain was speaking to them. “We’ll keep a guard on this site until we’re told otherwise. You men will be safe if you camp here tonight.” The captain looked like he wanted to say more, but he just extended his arm.
Jerric clasped the captain’s forearm, then the Kvatch officer’s. He hoped he wouldn’t need to know what the men had been saying.
The captain turned to Darnand as he stepped back. Respect and gratitude remained on the captain’s face. “Magister.” The men exchanged a nod before the officers strode away.
Darnand took the humming stone and handed Jerric a water skin. After a few moments, Jerric followed him down the rise away from the Gate. Green stickle bushes stood out against the winter-brown grass. They passed legionaries piling brush against a stack of skinned corpses. Jerric realized that they must have been scamps.
“Looks like you had a fight after I went in,” Jerric said.
Darnand pointed further down the hill, toward the Gold Road. Dremora lay in a row, stripped of their armor. Their chests had been opened. “The fire atronachs don’t leave much behind,” he said. “Just some residue on their armor. We thought the whole hill would burn at one point. Then it rained.”
Now Jerric noticed the darkened swathes. The ground under their feet was dry. They were following a path trampled into the grass. “How long was I in?”
“I count less than a day my time. But it’s hard to tell.”
Jerric remembered climbing this hill from the road, up toward the blazing Gate. Three days ago, he told himself, trying to make it real. He drained the last drops from the water skin.
When they neared the Legion encampment, Darnand veered off toward some trees. “Our camp is over here,” he said. Jerric could hear the weariness in his voice. “Though I haven’t spent much time in it.”
Jerric dropped his gear and knelt near the bedrolls. “Help me.” He gestured to his back, stripping off his gauntlets.
Belts and buckles came off, and Darnand lifted the surcoat away. He hissed behind Jerric as he pulled at the mail. “Daedroth?”
“Daedric longsword. Some kind of enchantment. Felt like it sliced right across.” Now that his eyes were closed, they felt too heavy to open. Darnand pulled the armor and then the padded tunic over Jerric’s head. The stiffened cloth scraped his neck.
“You made a mess when you healed your back,” Darnand told him. “Lie down. Gods blood, Abiene is going to kill you.”
You know you’re tired when you’re glad to smell your own bedroll, Jerric thought. Then exhaustion took him.
Jerric woke some time later to mist and the aroma of kahve. The light told him it was either dusk or a new day. He raised his head and looked around.
“Morning,” said Darnand. The Breton held their wooden mugs. Steam rose into the chilly air.
Jerric struggled to a seated position. Sharp pains and deep aches told him he was not finished with his healing. He spotted his boots and greaves near the fire. “Thanks,” he said, nodding at them. “I guess I don’t remember that part.”
“You were not fully awake for it.” Darnand handed him a mug. “Legion brewed. They are breaking camp. The militia has already disbursed. Their cook expressed his admiration by packing some meals for us.” Darnand sat across from Jerric, placing a large bundle between them.
“Whatever we pull out first, we’re calling it breakfast. Where are the horses?” Jerric took a sip of kahve before he opened the bundle.
“They await us down by the road with the Legion riders.’ The Gate site will be watched. The further intricacies of their explanation slipped away from me as soon as they were voiced.”
“I’d wager those fellows have a standard procedure for shaking off their sticks. Can’t argue with their results, though.” He took another sip of kahve while Darnand dug for their meal. “Did you find the hearts in my pack?”
“No. I moved your things, but I left them arranged the way you dropped them.” Darnand held out two biscuits. “Cheese or sausage?”
Jerric took both biscuits. “We should make some healing potions while we’re comfortable here. I guess we’ve gone through our supply, some of those soldiers looked like they were in rough shape. Anyway, Flash doesn’t like daedra hearts in his pack. This way when we hit Kvatch, we can just do your task for the guild.” Jerric watched Darnand for a moment while he chewed. He wondered where his friend had stashed the Sigil Stone. As anxious as he was to ask about it, he thought Darnand might be more impatient to tell him.
Darnand balanced his biscuit on his knee and took a sip of kahve. A small smile crossed his face as he looked up. “An enchantment to fortify your very life’s energy. Or one that can pull the life from your enemy, and use it to heal your wounds as you strike.” His knuckles whitened on the mug, and he leaned forward a little. “Any enemy, Jerric. Regardless of its immunity to the elements. It will even absorb the energy that animates the undead.”
Jerric grinned at his friend. “You sound like you’re ready to take up the sword.”
“Or the spear, mace, or hammer. We could even enchant your axe.”
Jerric sucked in a breath. “Your staff! It’s just a stick now, but we could enchant it for you! Darnand, you might actually survive if we enchant your staff!”
Darnand placed his mug on the ground and stood, taking a bite of biscuit. He retrieved his staff and handed it to Jerric.
“I retract my remarks,” Jerric said with respect. The staff was chipped and darkened in places. Deep gouges had been scraped out of the wood.
“Scamps,” Darnand said, sitting back down. “I survived.”
Jerric placed the staff aside and returned to his breakfast. “So we’ll argue about it later.”
“I shall reserve some time this afternoon.”
Jerric looked down over the meadow as he drank his kahve. The mist had sunk to the road, and he knew that soon the sun would burn it away. Ash pits showed where the Legion had burned refuse from the battle. Jerric could see the remains of the Gate high on the hill. A breeze shook the bare branches above them. Their position provided shelter and a view. He knew they couldn’t be more than a ten minute walk away from water. “Let’s camp here again tonight,” he suggested. “I need to clean my gear and make some potions. You could probably stand to wash your socks. If you work on my back some more, I’ll let you try to hit me with your staff. We can crack our teeth on Legion biscuits for dinner and start for Kvatch before dawn. We’re less than half a day away.”
Darnand gave him a knowing look. “And if the Gate should open again, you will be here to close it.”
“Yeah,” said Jerric, standing. “Plus I need to get my head straight before… Say, look in my pack and get out my mortar and pestle. Felen gave them to me for Saturalia. You know, since I made Master of Alchemy.” Jerric couldn’t resist the little dig. “I’m going to take a piss and check on the horses. Try to get over being jealous before I get back. Give me your mug, I’ll see if they have any more kahve.”
By the time Jerric returned with the kahve, Darnand had filled the water bucket and gotten the fire going again. He sat with Jerric’s mortar and pestle resting in his lap. The white stone glowed faintly, even in daylight.
Jerric handed over the mugs and went about gathering his supplies. When he settled by the fire, Darnand’s hands were still idle.
“Stone from an Ayleid ruin,” Jerric told him. He began to work on Atronach’s Redeemer. “Try it. I have some aloe vera pulp you can use with the hearts.” He wondered how his friend would adapt to working on the ground beside a campfire instead of on a table at the guild hall.
Darnand held the pestle in his palm. “I can feel the magicka in this stone. I wonder what the original enchantment was.”
“Maybe something to keep it from weathering away for thousands of years. Do you think the stone helps make the potions stronger?”
“I believe it does. It seems to enhance the alchemist’s ability to draw the mystical properties from the ingredients. Someday I believe that enchanted apparatus will do the mystical work, and alchemy will simply become a skill accessible to all, such as baking. I wish I could live to see such advances.”
“I know,” said Jerric. “You could turn yourself into a lich. Not an evil one mind you, a nice one that doesn’t have to take time to eat or sleep and gets to read all of the books that folk will ever write.” Jerric watched Darnand carefully as he ran his fingers over the sword hilt, feeling for wear and damage.
Darnand’s voice was mild, but his face showed irritation. “All of my life I have been told I do not adequately express myself, I do not ‘communicate.’ Now you greet my most idle thought with suspicion.”
“Who told you that?”
“Women.” Darnand’s annoyance darkened into a scowl.
“You should get to a brothel, Darnand. A prostitute will never say that sort of thing to you. One word at a time is usually all they need to hear. Well, sometimes two.” Jerric looked down the blade, checking for nicks.
“Of course that is what I should want,” Darnand snapped. “A dead-eyed woman whose skin is a map of abuse to which she has agreed, perfumed to cover the smell of other men’s leavings. A prostitute would fill every empty corner of my soul.”
Jerric felt genuinely revolted. “I guess I never looked at it that way.”
“No doubt your whores are different.”
“No. I won’t bug you about it again, in jest or otherwise.” Jerric decided that Batul was likely to swear at him when he handed over the sword. Perhaps he should show her the shredded mail first, in a bid for sympathy.
Darnand was silent for a few moments. “I might have been overly judgmental.” He passed a hand over his forehead. “I am afraid that my sleep was not restful.”
“You were honest, and you don’t have to apologize for that. You can tell me anything. I can’t say I won’t tease you about it, but I’ll quit checking to see if you’re wearing a necromancer’s robe under your gown.” Jerric thought that restful sleep was likely part of the past, at least for awhile.
Darnand snorted. Jerric decided that for this morning, not frowning was as good as a smile.This post has been edited by Grits: Aug 26 2011, 12:09 AM