"Master," says the young Nord, arming his utensil. "Are you ready to begin?"
"Yes..." The old man's voice is tired. The hood that usually covers his head now hangs at his shoulders, revealing his bald and liver-spot-ridden head, which is compensated for in his long flowing beard. He wears the blue robes of a mage, and hunches naturally in his seat. "I do believe I am."
"Very well. What is the title?"
"I think...hmm." He strokes his beard thoughtfully. The old man knew the contents of the book, but not what it would be called. "Perhaps...yes. I will call it...'Unifying Dawn.'"
"A fitting name. Let us begin with a foreword."
The man nods. Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes, and sits just a little bit straighter.
"Foreword: Before reading the true contents of this book, I feel the need to clarify some things. This is not a tale of heroes of grandeur. This is not a tale of the incarnation of a god, or mortal men with the souls of dragons; this is not the tale of heroes fated to save the world through the will of the gods, or of great warriors who rise up to the impossible task of protecting the people of this realm. This story is far from any of these things. This, dear reader, is a tale of..."
"A Somber Assassin..."
Whiterun. The commercial core of the Nordic homeland. Due to its central location, it serves as a prosperous trade hub for the High King's province, as well as a common stop for travelers of every sort. Its warm inns, friendly populace, and beautiful architecture -- especially the Jarl's castle, Dragonsreach -- all add to its inviting aura.
Stelio Kontos is here for none of these things. He is not a traveler on his way to Rorikstead to visit family, or a lone mercenary looking for work and a warm place to spend the night. Kontos -- or, rather, Rambaldi -- represents the antithesis of everything this city is known for. He is the moon to this city's sun; dissent, the cold of night, and death. He is here as an assassin.
Perched atop the highest pyramidal spire of Dragonsreach, you, Rambaldi, spot your prey. Behind the two expressionless masks you wear, an unseen face of sullen, familiar regret takes shape. You watch as your target, Lucia Gray-Mane, climbs the stone steps leading to the Jarl's castle.
Jarl Lerod Gray-Mane's daughter, Lucia, is eight years of age. She is of fair skin, has blonde hair, and gleams with crystal blue eyes. The middle child between two younger sisters and two older brothers, she is an aspiring alchemist under the tutelage of the owner of a local potion-shop. She spends her mornings there, and her afternoons either playing with her friends or helping her sisters clean. She is likely to be arranged to be married later on in life, to the Jarl's benefit, and he cites her as his "Crown Jewel," often and in great measure. These are the things that your mentor Fisher has told you about the girl you are here to kill.
You eye a group of children waiting at the bottom of the steps, where the Wind District ends and the Cloud District begins. You judge they are her friends, waiting for her to come back to play. The sun sets as Lucia enters the castle which you have been watching her from, and when she exits, night has fallen. She runs to meet her friends; you overhear the words 'hide-and-seek.'
Sithis requires a new servant, Rambaldi. Deliver her.
"...A Hopeful Blacksmith..."
As night comes, the Skyforge looks even more beautiful. It's embers seem to illuminate Xilliad's soul as they do the darkness around him, and he cannot help but admire.
"Liad," says his tutor, Djolharr, "stop staring and hand me that blade."
"Oh, yes, sir." In the way you always excitedly did, Xilliad, you rush to hand him the shortsword he had been working on. It was almost finished, only requiring one last bout of hammering before being absolutely perfect. The decorative pattern -- the trademark of Skyforge steel -- is reminiscent of ancient Nord weaponry; a subject which Xilliad is quite knowledgeable in. Since the Companions were cured of their secret Lycanthropy, the Skyforge has burned brighter than ever, and now weapons of old are commonplace in the hands of patriotic Nords. Xilliad knows this, and hopes he can create it himself one day.
You look to the stairs that lead down to the Plains District, and smile at the group of children running around and having fun in the torch-lit night. A tad dangerous, perhaps, but you note that the Guard is keeping a firm eye on them.
Djolharr shoves the blade into the wooden bucket to his side. Steam rises from the water inside, and the gray-haired blacksmith hefted it up to take one final look at it. He nodded to the sword and placed it in a pile with many others. The man sighed a deserved sigh; one he had long awaited, slaving away at the forge all day creating weapons for the Companions.
"Last one," says Djolharr. "Let us make...an axe." He looks to his young apprentice, his long beard shifting as a grin took his face. "You are familiar with axes, yes? Let us see you make one." He rises from the seat, gesturing to it with one hand while offering his hammer with the other.
These late, working nights are ones you remember, and have come to grow fond of. These nights where you will not just simply observe, but really work under the guidance of a master of his craft. On these nights, Djolharr whispers old tales of the Companions and the Skyforge, and speaks on his philosophies and worn-out stories of his adventures. Both of you have come to know each other very well through these nights, and you are thankful for them. These nights make you miss home less. You take the seat gladly, hammer in hand, and Djolharr guides you through.
You hear a scream. It happened at the same time the hammer struck hot iron, so it was muffled, but you are sure that you heard it. Djolharr did not seem to react; perhaps he was unconcerned, or didn't hear. It sounded like a young girl; one of the playing children? You look to the small sliver of Whiterun that you can see, and the Guard seems either none the wiser or uncaring. Maybe it was nothing.
No, it was something. You were positive. But you have little time to think about it as a hooded figure -- a mage? -- approaches you. The inclined, stone path leading to the Skyforge is covered in shadow, and you can hardly make them out, but they are coming.
"Who goes there?" Djolharr takes one of the blades from the pile and points it at the approaching mage. "State yer business." The old man looked scared, and even if you tried to help, Djolharr would only push you away.
The woman stopped just where the Skyforge's illumination ended. You knew she was a woman, now, being able to read her figure more clearly. A pale, white hand erupted from the sleeve of her pitch-black robe, and a bluish-white stream of electricity shot in an arc straight into Djolharr's chest.
The Lightning spell knocks your tutor back behind you, and he groans. The woman revealed her other hand, and they both crackled with the power of Sparks. Red eyes set their sights on you, and one word comes to mind: Vampire. Time is of the essence, Xilliad.
"...A Wandering Huntress..."
There had never been any issue with other Vigilants. Short chit-chats, the exchange of bounties and payment, and the occasional special assignment. There had never been a reason to resent these servants of Stendarr; good people, better warriors, and the money Eohlwyn Stryker needed and gladly earned. That is, until she met the Redguard Maltar.
Pompous. Overzealous. Too...religious. Asshole. All words to describe the head of Whiterun's Vigilant office, Maltar Thelonore. One of their many Halls was located just near the main gate of the capital; it was some house that used to be a fletcher's shop, a hunter's shop before that, and a blacksmith's shop before that. There, the Vigilants were led by this ex-Companion who didn't have the money to leave Whiterun after being kicked out, and quickly rose the ranks due to his combat prowess and charisma. But you, Wyn? Hated the guy. Not only was he a generally bad person to you, but he also went out of his way to give you a special assignment when you were just turning in your latest bounty. You hadn't even planned to stay in Whiterun, much less do a job for the office there. You quickly had to get over it and accept the job, though, and simply decide to do it as quick as possible and be on your way.
The job was a Vampire Lord and his followers. Sightings of secret meetings in the dark, suspicious visitors to the city, and an alleged witnessed transformation into the Lord's true form led the Vigilants to launch an investigation. Not many were willing to take on the heavy-duty assignment of taking down the most powerful breed of vampire, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong Redguard. For the past three days, you would patrol the city in the shadows after sunset, but to no avail. No secret meetings, no Vampire Lords.
This is the fourth night. As you walk your usual route, through back alleys and little-known offshoots, you catch glimpses of small, human forms in cramped spaces. Children, playing hide and seek. Given the nature of your investigation, it wasn't a good idea for children to be out at night. But you guessed that there were no vampires to begin with, given your thorough, fruitless investigations each night.
That is, until you heard the scream.
Well-honed instincts kick in, and your ears zero in on where the scream had come from. A little girl? Definitely one of the playing children. Your feet almost automatically carry you through a series of alleys to reach the main plaza, where the Temple of Kynareth was located, and you hear soft sobbing coming from inside. The guard seemed complacent to the obvious noise. Queer.
As you approach the wooden doors of the temple, two guards come in from either side of your vision to block your path.
“The temple is closed,” the guard on your right exclaims, his Nordic accent heavy. “Go home, Vigilant.” As you look closer into the eyes of the guard that spoke to you, you note glazed over white orbs with pale irises, and a faint, nigh-unseeable glow of seafoam green. These qualities are familiar to you, and as the realization paints your face, you see the two men in front of you slyly reach for their swords.
These were thralls of a Vampire, and their master -- or masters -- were inside.
"...A Vengeful Pirate...
Cold and wet. These are the words to describe every physical feeling, thought, and emotion that Stares-at-Storms was experiencing right now.
Your ship has been torn apart. Your crew is dead, save two: you, the captain, and your first mate, Brunonia Bari. She had left the crew just two days before, and you hadn't found a replacement by the time the ship was destroyed. Apparently she had family in Skyrim -- made little sense; she was an Imperial -- and wished to take an indefinite leave from the life of a pirate to spend more time with them. You reluctantly accepted, as the bond you two shared was unlike any other: one of mutual respect and, at times, fear for the other. You were friends.
But now was not the time to be reminiscing. Your ship is in pieces thanks to an unknown enemy, and night was beginning to fall in the northern region of Skyrim. You had to get somewhere to sleep and be warm fast, else you may fall ill and die. Skyrim was an unforgiving land, and even more so to those who did not know it. But you did, at least a little.
You knew from where your ship had gone down that the nearest town was Dawnstar, the capital of The Pale. Head South enough, and you would likely be able to see it at some point. And, as luck would have it, you did. Passing over a snowy incline riddled with snowberry bushes, you spot the sad-looking grouping of dozens of wooden houses, one -- the Jarl's lodgehouse -- standing out amongst the rest with beautiful Pale banners adorned along the side and front of the Jarl's home. You approach with a renewed vigor and make it to the Hold capital in just a few minutes.
When you are close enough, a clearly distrusting guard halts your progress and asks you to state your business. You almost automatically respond with the typical monologue of visiting family in a more southern Hold and needing a place to sleep, and he lets you pass.
You find your way to the local inn, Windpeak. Once inside, your tensed muscles relax as the warmth of the fire overtakes you, and a khajiit woman asks you what you need. A room, a drink, and food is what you ask for and hastily receive, paying with what little gold you could grab as your ship was engulfed in flames.
After eating and dodging the idle chit-chat of the patrons of this tavern, you head to bed early. What you did tomorrow was a mystery; you had no transportation, no money, and no idea where your first mate could be or who attacked your ship. But sleep was a solid option for now, and your aching muscles were relieved at the softness of the bed upon which you now lie, and you fall asleep almost immediately.
And then you were on -- wait, your ship? You seemed to be viewing yourself from a third person perspective, and your whole crew was with you on the main deck, including Brunonia. You and your crew were speaking, but you heard no sound. You heard birds chirping, and the waves of the ocean crashing against your ship, but no words.
Brunonia approaches you. Comes in close. And when you could feel her breath on your lips, the skin of her face suddenly and quickly burned off, revealing a bare skull, jaw opened unnaturally wide. And then you could hear it; her scream. And as that scream pierces your ear drums, you note that your whole crew begins to...change. Their forms become enveloped in a swirling red aura, and their eyes take on the same color. Their skin rots, but not to the point of being unrecognizable, and they seem undead. The most change comes to Brunonia, though; her entire form shifts and contorts into disgusting ways until reforming into...an argonian?
Not just an argonian. You. Stares-at-Storms stared back at you, a rotting, nightmarish version of yourself. The Stares-at-Storms in front you draws his blades, warped and disgusting-looking proxies of Firebrand and Frostbite. Time slows, and the blades begin to swing in reflected arcs, aiming for your neck.
You find you suddenly have control of your body.
"...A Fortune-Seeking Plunderer..."
Three centuries ago, Winterhold might have been an eyesore. But after recovering the Helm of Winterhold, getting over the mistrust of the College, and focusing on rebuilding the shattered capital, it now thrived as many of Skyrim's cities did.
You didn't really feel that positive energy, though, Elanna. In fact, you felt a ton of negativity as you were knocked on your rear by a terribly impolite wizard launching your things at you with an Alteration spell. You shrugged it off with a hint of regret, though, and made your way through the streets to the Frozen Hearth, the local inn. The warmth and smell of cooked food were inviting, and pushed the thoughts of your recent ousting away. You stayed the night, planning to leave in the morning and locate your good friend Josmhirr, but it seemed that he had found you.
"Is what they're saying true?" He asked. "Did you...actually set an entire room on fire? I didn't even think you could do that. The walls are stone!"
"Well," you reply, trying to recall, "I guess I'm getting pretty good at Destruction spells." You raise your finger in the air matter-of-factly, and Josmhirr laughs.
"Come on. I got this Nordic blade that a guard in Dawnstar says is his 'ancestral blade.' He's going to pay a lot of money for it. If you accompany me, I'll give you a cut, and we can go on some dives there."
You accept with a grin, glad to be in the company of one of your true friends again. With the sun still young in the sky, you embark on your next venture with an excitement that, quite possibly, only you have truly known. The excitement of new tombs to plunder, and experiences to be had that were uniquely and truly yours.
Josmhirr decided to cut through the mountains, past the gargantuan statue to Azura and directly out into Dawnstar. A dangerous path, to be sure, but the Khajiit knew his way well, and you both could easily handle any dangers that awaited your path.
Not far into your journey up the mountain, a group of well-armed figures approach from behind. They are walking much faster than you, and you and the Khajiit turn around before they pass you.
"Where are you two headed?" The man in lead asked. He was a Nord, and his accent was heavy. He was wearing fur armor and boots, and a greatsword was strapped across his back. His mohawk erupted from his head, and he was large enough to be menacing. But his voice was friendly, so you trusted him.
"Dawnstar," Josmhirr says. "Delivering a sword." You twitch slightly at his abhorrent lack of mistrust, but bite your tongue.
"I see," the Nord says back. "We're heading that way as well. Perhaps we can travel together, provide some protection?"
Then something seemed...off about them. Perhaps it was the hungry look in their eyes, or the subtle, dried blood stains on the man closest to you's armor. Or maybe it was the longing stares the four men that weren't close to you were giving you.
Cannibals. You may not be able to take them all down. You could turn back, return to Winterhold, and go around the mountain; but that would waste precious time and resources. You could accept their help and try to trick them into a position where you have the advantage; in fact, this seemed like the best option, and Josmhirr's look -- something literally only you could know the meaning of -- corroborated this.
It is your choice, though. The Khajiit did not speak, and looked to Elanna Moorsly for an answer.
"...A Self-Exiled Noble..."
Antiquas. A name that inspired respect -- and, admittedly, a touch of fear -- in the land of the Bretons. But it was just another name in Skyrim, and it held no weight or meaning to the Nords. And that was just how you liked it, Dacian.
You felt even less weighed down by your name in Riften, where the two ruling families, Black-Briar and Red-Stone, made everyone who wasn't part of their respective folds feel invisible. Some may not like this air of exclusivity and superiority emitted by the nobles of Riften, but you enjoyed it thoroughly. To be cast aside was to be ignored, and to be ignored was to be safe, in your situation.
You have stayed two nights in Riften so far, and have already experienced the city's 'charm.' The first day, a thief tried to rob you, only to be stopped luckily by one of the few guards that haven't been paid off by the Guild. The second day, you were knocked down on your arse a successive three times by Black-Briar nobles on horseback. And now, on your third afternoon in Skyrim's City of Thieves, the worst has come to pass.
Si Si is missing.
Your trusted companion had been tied up in the stables just outside the city, and you never thought you'd have to dealthis! Until the sun set and beyond, you searched in and around the capital for your beloved horse, but to no avail. Si Si is gone, and you can hardly sleep in your rented bed that night worried sick about your steed. You decide to go for a walk to clear your head.
You enjoyed walking at night. The sun and heat in general has always felt harsh for you, growing up in High Rock, so the cold dark of the night was welcoming when you began to get sick of it. While thieves were an obvious concern, right now you didn’t care. This time, though, you carried your trusty blade on you, just to be safe. And it seems the justification for said sword is coming towards you now.
Two Thieves Guild Khajiits -- signified by their uniform leather armor -- approach you. One male, one female. Your excellent vision discerns that they look alike, both with black fur, blue eyes, and similar facial structures; siblings?
“You should not be walking around at night,” the presumed sister says.
“It is unsafe for the...ill-armed,” whispers the other. They both draw two elven-made daggers each and pose in a threatening manner. “How about handing over that sword, eh? And any gold in your pocket.”
Oh you’ll give them your sword, alright.
"...A Deadly Thief...
The Rift is a beautiful Hold, but its capital is quite possibly the most criminal-ridden in all of northern Tamriel. But you suppose that shouldn't matter much to you, Dar'anjira, seeing as you are a criminal.
If anything, Riften was a nice place for you to get lost, following your most recent escapades involving thievery and murder. You came here often, either to get lost in the crowd or meet up with old contacts and fences. Usually a combination of both, though, with the latter bolstering the need for the former. You sit across one such contact now: an old, bald, fat half-Imperial named Boreas who seemed to be perpetually chewing on something edible. You sit on a public bench in front of the his homestead; that of the Black-Briars, an old, powerful family, with connections all throughout Skyrim and beyond. They made use of your kind -- freelance thieves and assassins -- often.
"You know what we strive for," Boreas says, bits of meat splattering out of his mouth. "I have one final job for you. Five-thousand gold, for one final theft."
You nod. Throughout the last few months, you've been enlisted as one of Boreas' many hired thieves to make his dreams of becoming Jarl a reality. You cared little for politics, but he paid well and offered you protection from those that would seek to capture you. The fact that he was able to speak about this freely and publicly with no caution attested to his confidence in his information network. Just now, there are likely a dozen lookouts.
"The job is simply a key. It is always on the Jarl's person, and obtaining it would be virtually impossible. Sending more than one thief is asking for trouble, and you're my best." He guzzles down half of a bottle of ale before continuing. "Can you do it?"
Of course you can do it. You're one of the best. "Yes, Boreas. I will get this key for you. Do you have any more details?"
"It is a rusted iron key, meant for a large chest in the Jarl's keep. Jarl Berthe wears it around her neck, tucked neatly under her clothes. I'd wager the best time for it would be when she is sleeping, but I'll leave the performance of the job to you." The old Black-Briar smiles at you. "I trust you will get this done. It is of the utmost importance."
A job to end all jobs. Certainly not a fortune, but hell; you could buy a house with that gold. The sun is setting, and the time has come for you to retrieve Berthe's key.
"...And A Righteous Warrior.”
As your dory makes its way onto the shores of the island upon which Castle Volkihar stood, you feel a sense of dread.
You are not afraid, of course, Zanik. You have hunted and killed dozens, possibly over a hundred vampires in your time, and this job was no different. This was the castle for a great clan of vampires that was wiped out in the second century of the fourth era, Clan Volkihar. They were long since killed or run out of Skyrim by the revived Dawnguard, but there were rumors of more of the wretched children of Molag Bal sighted entering and exiting the castle.
Your partner gets off the craft before you, helping you onto land just after. His name was Tepegrog, an orange-skinned orc who wielded an ancient axewith a unique enchantment; deadly effective against vampires. You have worked with him before, but you never became particularly close. Being a Vigilant, for most, requires the use of paired or large-group expeditions regularly, and you have grown used to it.
As you walk the short path past a watchtower and over the stone bridge, you note cracked, withered away statues of gargoyles. No doubt the familiars of the centuries-dead vampires that used to live here.
The lock on the door is broken. It appears to have happened from age, but the fresh, non-rusted section of the broken metal you see leads you to believe that it was recently torn off. You continue inside.
"We should search this floor first," says Tepegrog. He hands you a lit torch and you begin making sweeping rounds of the castle's rooms, lighting the long-unlit wall torches as you go. You pass coffins, rotted away corpses and skeletons on dinner tables, blood potions on shelves gone stale, and a myriad of other vampiric vices.
After checking every room, you meet back up with Tepegrog in the main dining hall. Nothing. You both agree to check for any underground catacombs, and after about a half an hour of searching in and around the castle, you find a door. Another broken lock, this time more clearly taken by force. Once inside, you find yourselves in a series of catacombs, and note obvious footprints in the age-old dust that has collected on the floor. Your partner leads the way, following the prints.
As you go along, you note what looks like dog collars rusted and stuck inside of disgusting, gelatinous masses of black goo. You had read about these; Death Hounds.
Carefully lighting the way you go so as to have a clear path back, you eventually find yourselves in a large chamber with alchemy stations, enchantment tables, forges, bookshelves -- of which there were few books actually on the shelves, as most were on the floor -- and storage chests.
It takes you a second to notice them. An altmer sifting through one of these chests, with two nord warriors at his side. The elf was very clearly a vampire, and he did not seem to notice you; in fact, he seemed positively absorbed in whatever he was searching for, mumbling things like "Where is it?!" and "It has to be here!" that is, until one of his thralls alerts him to your presence.
"Master Scarlen! Vigilants!"
Their master whirls around in shock, and almost immediately replaces that shock with a sick grin from under the hood of his royal vampire armor. You ready your crossbow.
"Thank you for showing up at such an...opportune time," Scarlen says. His fingers interlock into a devious yet 'thankful' gesture. "I've been positively enraged by my inability to find what I've been looking for."
"And what is that?" Your partner asks forcefully, axe in hand.
"No matter. All that matters now is that I get to take out my frustration on your delicious necks."
As Scarlen's form shifts into that of a Vampire Lord, his body writhing in darkness -- and relishing it -- you instinctively fire your crossbow in his direction. Dead-center, but blocked by one of the nord's shields. Tepegrog charges the thrall, but is lifted up off of his feet and choked mid-air by one of the Lord's powerful Telekinesis spells. His body is placed as a meat-shield between you and the vampire as he gasps for air, and the nords charge you with shield and sword both. Tepegrog's throat will close soon; you must act quickly.
“Keep these things in mind, dear reader, as you delve into yet another tale of adventure, sacrifice, magic, gods, and The Elder Scrolls: Unifying Dawn."