"There were many times in my life that I regret and I'm sure I have many more mistakes to make before I meet my end.
I remember that first time I truly felt body racking disgrace and shame was that fateful day when the code was finally solved."
A Flower in Dragonfire
Kesh-Ra felt the slam of a book. He jolted up, papers sticking to his green scales. He reached out his hands on the desk to get his bearings.
"I'm awake." He said haphazardly, adjusting his shirt and smoothing out the journal underneath him.
Tar-Meena rolled her eyes and sat across from him at their designated table.
"While you were resting, I think I've made out the message in the books." She told him, handing him a piece of parchment she scribbled over many times.
Kesh-Ra adjusted his eyes to the light to read.
"Green Emperor Way where tower touches midday sun?" He looked up at the mage.
Tar-Meena nodded, "Once I had the final book, my theory was correct. Each letter of the first word of each paragraph was part of a greater code."
Kesh-Ra immediately poured over all four books to check her findings. Once satisfied she was indeed correct he sat back in his chair and let out a sigh.
"The rest is utter jargon," Tar-Meena grumbled, "But now you have your code. And I'll ask you not to detail me any further than you already have. I have good standings with the Blades and I think I'll keep it that way." Then she smiled at Kesh-Ra, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
"Indeed we shall." Kesh-Ra said excitedly, packing away his things, "You're a dear woman." He gave Tar-Meena a quick half-embrace before practically bouncing out of the library.
His heart skipped a beat as he left the Arcane University. The guards noticed he seemed particularly chipper but rolled their eyes and continued their watch. Kesh-Ra hardly paid any mind to the actual time of day, hardly taking heed when people only just began to stretch out their legs and start their day.
He was slightly annoyed that none of his fellow Blades seemed to be out of bed when he arrived at Luther Broads. Kesh-Ra said a happy good morning to Luther and marched his way upstairs.
To his immediate right was Niamhs room, to which he gave a rapid knock on the door.
"Niamh?" He called to his friend, receiving no answer.
Kesh-Ra frowned and knocked again. This time his noise making, rather than catching Niamhs attention, caused Baurus to look out of his room.
"Ah!" Kesh-Ra quickly walked over to him, "I know you're setting out soon but I must tell you we've made a breakthrough with the commentaries!"
Baurus took a quick look at the parchment Tar-Meena gave to Kesh-Ra. A slow grin spread across his face.
"What luck!" He said, "I was hoping the clue wouldn't lead you out of the city."
"We'll still have to see what this reveals." Kesh-Ra took the parchment back and tucked it away.
"I'll meet you downstairs and we'll go." Baurus said.
Kesh-Ra halted what he was about to say next and changed his response.
"You'll need someone to come with you, Kesh-Ra," Baurus pointed out, "Let me gather my things. We'll go wait and when we find what we're looking for I'll make my way to Cloud Ruler Temple."
Kesh-Ra sputtered, "N-No offense, Baurus. B-But you'll make better time if you leave at your intended time. It's early still, I'll just wait for Celeste and Niamh to wake up." He seemed little deflated, but didn't want to impend Baurus.
The Redguard nodded in understanding, "Then I wish you luck." He picked up his satchel, "I hope the other two won't think it rude if I leave now then?"
"Not at all, I'll let them know." Kesh-Ra told Baurus, "Safe travels." He started for Celestes room.
Baurus gave Kesh-Ra a thoughtful look, "I was wrong about you."
Kesh-Ra turned back to face Baurus, "What is this in regards to?"
"I mean back in the jail," Baurus explained, "I'll admit I was apprehensive about you. Niamh I could see holding her own but, you've done very well."
A crooked smile grew on Kesh-Ras face, "If I could blush I would. But I have cold blood so…"
Baurus laughed and shook his head, securing his sword to his hip. Before he left he patted Kesh-Ra on the shoulder with a smile on his face. Kesh-Ra felt a swelling of something akin to pride.
Once Baurus left, Kesh-Ra waited downstairs until mid-morning. He was starting to get anxious when he finally saw Celeste come down the stairs. Kesh-Ra practically flung himself from his chair and met her with great enthusiasm.
"We've solved it!"
Celeste seemed taken aback by such energy, but gave Kesh-Ra a smile.
"Let's have a look then." Celeste ushed Kesh-Ra back to their table, signalling for a small breakfast of bread, cheese, and salted pork to be brought over.
Kesh-Ra regaled Celeste in the extremely tiresome research process, she listened intently but kept looking up at the stairs and hoped Niamh would come down and break the conversation. It was when Kesh-Ra was starting to explain the different types of combinations of code that could have been applied when Niamh joined them downstairs.
Celeste stopped Kesh-Ra and gave a quick explanation to Niamh that they know their next clue.
Niamh listened intently before saying, "Then we have no time to lose."
"It's not even midday yet." Celeste pointed out.
"'Where tower touches midday sun'" Niamh repeated, "We need to know where the shadow of the tower lies. If I'm not mistaken Green Emperor Way contains many graves."
"She's got a point," Kesh-Ra agreed, "We can't be sure what exactly the shadow will cross over. It's best to wait there and be prepared." The he added, eyeing Niamh, "We could have gotten an earlier start if someone hadn't slept through my knocking."
Niamh glanced up at Kesh-Ra from her cold breakfast but didn't say anything back. Instead she finished her food and tossed her napkin on the table.
"I had a rough night is all." She finally said, getting up and gesturing towards the door, "Shall we?"
Kesh-Ra scoffed at her indifference but relented.
The three of them left the boarding house quickly after. It was nearing midday and Kesh-Ra was beginning to worry they would have missed their opportunity to find any clues and would have to wait another day.
As they entered the center of the city, Kesh-Ra commented on the placement of the shadow coming from the White-Gold tower. Slowly they each searched along the length of the shadow before they came to a grand mausoleum bearing the name of a Prince Camarril. Kesh-Ra stopped in front of it and put his hands on his hips.
"I don't see anything." He scratched his head.
Celeste checked a gravestone behind him, "Unless the clue is a name? A date?" She kicked around a few loose rocks.
A guard passed by and the three of them pretended not to look like they were searching for something. Celeste rocked on her heels and whispered and Niamh gave a nonchalant good morning to the guard. Kesh-Ra got anxious and started to make himself look less suspicious by picking his nose.
The guard just shook his head and kept on walking. Celeste walked up next to Kesh-Ra and slapped his hand out of his nostril.
"I panicked." He said.
"Sweet Julianos…" Celeste rolled her eyes.
"Oh what like your whistling was really selling this-"
The two began to bicker until Kesh-Ra noticed Niamh getting up to walk to the mausoleum. Celeste kept talking until Kesh-Ra turned her around.
"By the Nine…" Celeste whispered.
Appearing before them on the mausoleum was a glowing red sunburst, and underneath was what appeared to be a map of Cyrodiil. Kesh-Ra quickly pulled out his own map and marked off the spot on the mausoleum that depicted another sun etched over a city.
"This must be where the Mythic Dawn has their shrine." Niamh said, observing the glowing etchings.
Kesh-Ra pointed to his own map, "According to this it's near Cheydinhal."
Niamhs lips set into a determined line and she started back towards the inner part of the city. Celeste and an exasperated Kesh-Ra followed.
"Where are we going?" Celeste asked, striding alongside Niamh.
"Cheydinhal." Niamh said curtly.
"Now wait one second," Celeste stopped her just as they entered the Elven Gardens, "We're not prepared for this. We need to go to Cloud Ruler Temple."
"I think not." Niamh refused.
Kesh-Ra put his finger up to interject, "I'm inclined to agree with Celeste."
Niamh scoffed, "Good, you two can go to the Temple, and I will go to Cheydinhal." She said, making her way back to Luther Broads to pack her things.
Celeste looked back at Kesh-Ra, "Well?"
"What do you want me to do?" He shrugged, "She's made up her mind."
Will an exaggerated eye roll Celeste followed after Niamh. She pulled Kesh-Ra along and met Niamh back up at their rooms.
"I think you're being very reckless about this." She told Niamh.
Niamh sighed, already adorned in her travelling clothes, "Mankar Camoran has the Amulet of Kings. If we delay any further we are sure to lose it. I will not return to Cloud Ruler Temple empty-handed." She adjusted her quiver onto her back, "You may meet Baurus on the road and return together but I will be making my way to the Shrine."
She and Celeste exchanged hard stares at each other for longer than Kesh-Ra could handle. Finally he came between the two.
"There is a chance Camoran will be there, Celeste." He pointed out.
Celeste bit her inner cheek, but relented.
The three of them dispersed to gather their things and agreed to meet at the stables. Niamh was already set to go when Celeste and Kesh-Ra arrived.
As they rode away from the city, Niamh turned to her companions.
"Assuming this is the usual path an initiate would take I think it's best we pose as cultists. We can leave our things by the horses, most likely they will search us for weapons."
"I suppose it's good I only have a dagger." Kesh-Ra piped up.
"I don't much like the thought of being stuck with the Mythic Dawn without my blade," Celeste said, "Perhaps there's a way to smuggle them in?"
Niamh thought for a moment, turning her horse onto the Red Ring road.
"Perhaps Kesh-Ra and I will go inside," She suggested, "Celeste, you can wait outside clad in armor and hold our weapons. Should Kesh-Ra and I not be out in under an hour you can storm the place, we take our weapons and fight our way out."
Celeste mulled over the plan, "I'm not exactly comfortable in leaving you two weaponless."
"Well we need some sort of plan," Kesh-Ra said, "I don't like any of this, but I'll do my part."
"We have four hours to Cheydinhal, we need to think of something before we get there." Niamh said.
The three had reached the intersection where the Red Ring road meets the Silver road before Niamh spoke up once more.
"This is your last chance to make your way to Bruma." She told the others.
"No way am I leaving you to those cultists." Kesh-Ra said adamantly.
Celeste sighed, "What sort of Blade would I be if I left you two to do this alone?"
Satisfied with their answers, Niamh turned her attention back to the road.
"I've been thinking," Celeste spoke, "What if there's some sort of secret entrance into the shrine? An exit of sorts for the higher ranking members in case of an attack?"
Niamh pondered over the possibility, "If we do find one we could potentially stop Mankar Camoran from escaping."
"Once we find the first entrance I can try to find a secret entrance," Celeste said, "If I can't I'll enter through the main door."
"Then we're continuing with my plan?" Niamh asked.
"As much as I am loathe to go along with it, yes." Celeste said, "It seems the best option."
Kesh-Ra cleared his throat as to let the others know he wanted to speak.
"Perhaps we should stagger our arrival? I'm not sure many cultists come in pairs."
"I'll enter first then," Niamh said, "You can help Celeste find any sort of secret entrance, if you do make your way inside while Celeste sneaks through the other way. It'll give me time to survey things and when we meet together we'll go from there." Then she added, "The most important thing is getting the Amulet away from Camoran. If either of us takes it they need to run to the exit as fast as possible."
"You're not really suggesting we leave the other two behind…" Kesh-Ra started.
"The very second one of us takes the amulet our cover will be blown, I'm sure of it," Niamh said, "It needs to be taken immediately to Martin."
Kesh-Ra looked to Celeste to seek some sort of calming words, but Celeste agreed with Niamh.
"We're Blades now, master Kesh-Ra," She said, "Sometimes a sacrifice has to be made for the greater good."
The three kept quiet afterwards, the idea that none of them will survive this mission sent a harrowing chill through each of their spines. When they came to the beginning of the Blue Road Celeste suggested they rest the horses.
Niamh went to feed the horses as the other two settled down to eat their provisions, though Kesh-Ra found he had no appetite.
"What's on your mind?" Celeste asked him.
Kesh-Ra shrugged, "What if none of us make it out? What will happen then?"
"Don't talk like that," Celeste scolded him, urging him to eat, "In the best case we all get out, worst is we all don't. At any rate, you know Baurus has some clue as to what we were following. Don't you lose your hope now, Kesh-Ra." She said encouragingly, "I learned years ago that soldiers are not infallible, but morale makes the difference."
Brushing her horses mane, Niamh pretended not to hear Kesh-Ras worries. She slowed her pace with the brush when she thought of what might happen to him. After all he was still just a boy compared to she and Celeste.
Niamh made a pact with herself, to find the amulet before Kesh-Ra enters the caves. Her breath wavered for a moment, but she collected herself and joined her companions for their meal.
"I'm concerned you might find the second entrance quickly or not at all," She told Kesh-Ra, "I that's the case I say wait an hour before entering behind me. I'll need time to get a good look around."
"That would possibly delay my coming in," Celeste pointed out, "What if something happens?"
"If there is a second door I say take it right away no matter what," Niamh said, "If not, I say give another half hour before entering."
"You'll be alone much of that time," Kesh-Ra squirmed in his seat, "That's some time to be in a festering snake pit."
Niamh set her hand on Kesh-Ras arm, "On the possibility Mankar Camoran and the amulet are there, I will need time to devise a way to get it back."
Celeste finished her food before speaking up, "I think it's best, Kesh-Ra. You're not exactly one for espionage." She gave him a playful wink.
"I suppose," Kesh-Ra slumped his shoulders, "But if something happens-"
"Nothing will." Niamh assured him, "I promise you."
Two hours were spent riding up to and finding the entrance to the shrine of Mehrunes Dagon. Celeste and Kesh-Ra went ahead and hid the horse down the road from the caverns of Lake Arrius. Celeste took Niamhs bow and arrows before descending down the hill with Kesh-Ra. Niamh waited until they were out of sight to enter the cave.
The air was musty and thick with the scent of incense. The cave Niamh entered through began to expand into a larger grotto where a single man stood by a rickety wooden door. He came to attention when he saw Niamh confidently stride forward.
"Dawn is breaking." He said to her.
Niamh remembered back to when Baurus told her about their initial meeting with the cult in the sewers.
"Greet the new day." She answered.
"Greetings sister," The man said, "The hour is late but the Master is always in need of willing hands." He opened the door for her, "Proceed to Harrow, he will take you to the Master for your initiation. And do hurry, the time of Preparation is almost over, and the time of Cleansing will begin."
Niamh didn't respond and instead gave a curt bow with her head. She passed through the door where it quickly shut behind her. At the end of the stony hall Niamh came upon a robed Dunmer. He met her with a way stare.
"I am Harrow," He said, "Warden of the Shrine of Dagon. By following the Path of Dawn hidden in the Masters writings you have earned your place among the Chosen." He ushered Niamh into another part of the cavern, "You have arrived at a most opportune time, the Master himself will be present for your initiation. As an order member of the Mythic Dawn, everything you need will be provided from the Masters bounty."
Niamh kept her excitement to herself, she was sure now more than ever she would have to take her chance to snare the amulet as soon as she could.
Harrow stopped suddenly.
"Now I must ask you to remove your worldly possessions and adorn this robe." Harrow held up a set of blood red robes.
"Here?" Niamh asked with an amused expression.
"You can't proceed until doing so." Harrow told her.
"I have nothing on me except my clothes."
"The robes, please."
Niamh grunted, grabbing her shirt and pulling it over her head. She locked eyes with Harrow as she undressed. In one fluid motion she adorned her robes, fixing her hair as if the uncomfortable encounter hadn't phased her.
"Very good," Harrow said, "Now follow me."
Harrow led Niamh into a deeper part of the cavern. Niamh took a mental note of how many quaters seemed to be carved out of the stone, and how many people were housed in them. She pretended to be interested in Harrows tour, but at the end of it all she managed to count fifteen initiates walking about the cavern quarters.
"And now for your initiate," Harrow led Niamh door another wooden door, "Through here is the shrine."
Upon opening the door Niamh could see various stone steps that led down into another grotto. Four large stone obelisks flanked squarely around a massive stone effigy of Mehrunes Dagon. Niamh felt a chill run through her.
"I felt the same my first time laying my eyes on it," Harrow told her, "I still do. Now go, the Master awaits." He closed the door behind her.
Niamh made her way down two sets of stairs and met a handful of initiates by the shrine. Each of them greeted her the same way.
"Dawn is breaking."
"Greet the new day." She answered back.
One of the woman looked at Niamh with a smile on her face.
"How lucky we are to be greeted by the Master himself."
"How lucky indeed." Niamh said.
From another set of steps two elves adorning red sunburst robes descended. Behind them was an older elven man, the only one wearing blue. Niamh knew it was Mankar Camoran himself. She held in her anger when she saw him adorning the Amulet of Kings.
Mankar Camoran came to a large stone altar. The initiates gazed at him with adoration as he spoke.
"The Dragon throne is empty, and we hold the Amulet of Kings!" Camoran threw his arms up, "Praise be! The Dragon Throne is empty, and we hold the Amulet of Kings. Praise be to your brothers and sisters. Great shall be their reward in Paradise!"
"Praise be." The initiates chanted.
As Mankar began his sermon more of the initiates filled into the room, followed by Harrow. Niamh thought to herself perhaps she was outnumbered if a fight broke out. Concern grew in the back of her mind, but outwardly she remained calm.
"Hear now the words of Lord Dagon," Camoran continued, "'When I walk the earth again, the faithful among you shall receive your reward: to be set above all other mortals forever. As for the rest…the weak shall be winnowed; the timid shall be cast down; the mighty shall tremble at my feet and pray for pardon.'"
"So sayeth Lord Dagon, praise be." The initiates recited.
Mankar Camoran resounded through the cavern, "Your reward, brothers and sisters: the time of cleansing draws nigh. I go now to Paradise. I shall return with Lord Dagon at the coming of the Dawn!"
Niamhs head shot up as Camoran left the altar.
Behind him, a great swirling portal was formed. Niamh was about to make her move when in a flash the cult leader disappeared.
Niamhs heart sank, knowing she failed.
She glanced back up at the altar and noticed Camoran left his book. Niamh new it wasn't the amulet, but to return with nothing would be worse.
Before she made another thought, the elven woman by the altar called out.
"We have a new sister wishing to join our ranks! Come and commit your service to Lord Dagon."
Niamh didn't hesitate to make her way up the steps. She was disheartened once more to find that under the statue of Mehrunes Dagon there lie an older Argonian. He was strapped to a table and beaten bloody.
The elven woman approached Niamh, bearing a striking resemblance to Mankar himself.
"You have come to dedicate yourself to Lord Dagons service," She spoke, "This pact must be sealed with red-drink, the blood of Lord Dagons enemies."
Out of the corner of her eye Niamh noticed a small figure hiding at the top of the steps.
The elven woman held out a silver dagger.
"Take the blade and offer Lord Dagon the sacrificial red-drink as a pledge to your own lifes blood, which shall be his in the end."
Niamh took the dagger and walked over to the Argonian. She poised the dagger over his stomach, seemingly ignorant of his pleas for life.
In a blur Niamh slashed his binds and set him free, turning and flinging the dagger into the chest of the Altmer woman.
An uproar began.
Niamh took the dagger and snatched the book from the altar. Atop the steps Kesh-Ra ran to meet Niamh. Niamh leapt from atop the altar and rolled as she hit the ground. Bolts of magic were shot at her and she narrowly missed each one. She scrambled to her feet and pushed the book into Kesh-Ra.
She turned back, using the dagger to cut into the neck of an initiate. Then another.
Blood spattered onto Kesh-Ras face and it sent him into a panic. He raced up the steps with the book in tow as Niamh fought off three of the initiates.
Down in the grotto Niamh killed whoever got close to the steps, trying her best to dodge the various spells flown at her. A litter of bodies began to pile at her feet.
Now adorned in his bound armor, Harrow raised his hand to use a spell on Niamh.
She felt her body lift into the air, and in an instant he threw her to the other side of the cavern.
Niamh crashed into a wall of stone, feeling the wind knocked from her. She tried to move herself off the ground but found that one of her arms had broken. Niamh managed to get herself to her feet.
She tried to find her dagger, disheartened when it had fallen halfway between. Harrow noticed and began to run for it. Niamh stumbled after the dagger, but stopped when she felt a heavy blow to the head. She fell to her knees. She could feel something warm trickle onto her neck.
Harrow once more lifted Niamh into the air and brought her to her feet. In one quick motion he stabbed the silver dagger into her side. He let her body fall back to the ground.
Niamh closed her eyes and waited for the final blow, but it never came.
Her vision blurred as she opened her eyes to see Celeste jump down and drive her sword into Harrows chest.
Ignoring the rest of the initiates, Celeste scooped up Niamh into her arms and made a mad dash up the steps. Celeste ran the length of the cavern and into a small backway that led into the ground before it made an ascent into the outside world.
Celeste burst into the oncoming night, Kesh-Ra already astride his horse. Celeste laid Niamh across Kesh-Ras lap.
"Don't pull that out." She ordered him, jumping onto yam and holding Niamhs horse by the reins.
Kesh-Ras face paled when he saw the blood seeping through Niamhs robes, but the distant shouting of cultists bade him kick his horse into a full gallop.
Niamh fell in and out of consciousness. She awoke to see Kesh-Ra weeping as they rode, the dagger in her side causing a searing pain with every bump and turn of the horse. Niamh felt her fingers turn cold, then her toes and legs.
"Kesh…" She started to say, "No…"
"No, no," Kesh-Ra urged the horse faster, "You stay alive. By the Hist you stay alive, Niamh."
He saw Celeste push the two horses in front even faster. She let go of Niamhs horse but it kept the gallop beside her. Celeste yelled to Kesh-Ra that she could see that path to the Temple just up ahead.
Kesh-Ra tried shaking Niamh awake.
"Open your eyes," He begged, "Stay awake for me."
Niamhs eyes fluttered and she whispered his name once more.
Kesh-Ra let out an uncharacteristic scream, his horse racing past Celeste as they ascended the hill. He pushed his horse past the guard by the gate, racing up the steps into the courtyard. He flung himself from the saddle and with all his strength held Niamh in his arms. He fumbled his steps under the weight, but pushed on.
"Help!" He screamed, "Help!" Hot tears fell down his scaly cheeks.
The two Blades guarding the temple doors ran forward and eased Niamh out of Kesh-Ras blood covered arms. Kesh-Ra fell to his knees and sobbed into his hands.
"I didn't pull it out," He wept, "I didn't…"
Celeste ran in behind him, dismounting so she could run and hold Kesh-Ra close to her.
The doors to the Great Hall burst open. Martin was the first to run out, slowing his steps as the two Blades carried a dying Niamh. Martin looked to a distraught Kesh-Ra and then back at Niamh as she passed him.
He followed close behind as the Blades brought her to their infirmary.
Martin sat helplessly as he watched the healers tear away at Niamhs robes, throwing the bloodied cloth to the floor.
Hours went by, and only after a slew of healing spells and poultices was the lead healer satisfied that Niamh would last the rest of the night.
When all was quiet, Martin took Niamhs hand in his. A shock ran through his body when he realized how frigid her hand was.
"I'm so sorry…" He whispered to her sleeping form.
Martin gave her hand one soft kiss and began to pray.