Season Unending (II)

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"Okay, fifty mudcrab sized dragons, or one dragon sized mudcrab." Dulurza offered.

"The mudcrab, easy." Hjar answered, confidently.

"Pardon?" L'laarzen interrupted. "They are dragons, Hjarnagredda. What is it going to do, flail at them?"

The three were sat together in their shared meeting room, waiting for Xander's return after the awkward end to the day's negotiations.

Hjar threw her arms up. "It's a ten foot tall crab! It can kill five of them in one claw."

"But they can fly!" L'laarzen paused, looked at Dulurza. "Can they fly?"

"Let's say they can fly and do the fire, but the speed and power is, like, relative." Dulurza said.

"If they can fly, they can just fly away!"

"Well surely that's a loss by cowardice," Hjar argued, "and it's not like their fire can get through the mudcrab's armour if they're just a lil baby lizard."

"This is just making me realise I really want a tiny dragon as a pet…" Dulurza mentioned.

That was when Xander stumbled into the room with wide eyes.

"Alexander!" L'laarzen cheered. "Explain to these fools why Dragons would—"

"We have until tomorrow to get Ulfric and Tullius to agree." Xander said, hoarsely.

Hjar blinked. "What? Why?"

"Because if we don't, the Dragonborn's going to make them agree at swordpoint." Xander answered.

A moment passed.

Then the room exploded into noise.

"He's what?"

"Can he do that?"


"He's going to go full 'teacher on the playground' mode." Xander summarised, leaning on the room's central table and staring at it. "First one to attack the other, he goes full Helgen on their capital city."

"Is he insane?" Hjar asked.

"Honestly, he might be the only sane one here." Xander admitted. "I mean, his maths works out, but it's a worrying indicator of his mental state that he's actually considering it."

"Do we need to stop him?" Dulurza asked.

Xander actually laughed. "I don't know if we can stop him. And even if we could, we'd just be dooming the world. Our only options are solving the problem or talking him out of it, and since I think he just went to the top of the mountain to brood, I doubt the latter's an option."

"Ja-Kha'jay and Jode…" L'laarzen breathed. "But, by tomorrow? That is not possible. It took us longer than that just to convince them to attend!"

"Yeah I know, meaning we've got to think of something smart, and we've got to do it fast." Xander slumped back into a chair and sighed. "Open to suggestions, here."

"Beg?" L'laarzen offered.

"Somehow doubt that'll work, but we'll table it for later."

"We could possess one of them with Potema?" Dulurza tried.

"I like that, but we've only got one Potema." Xander drew a hand through his hair. "Uh…Hjar, you got anything? Hang on, didn't you bring two dissident groups together to make peace? How'd you do that?"

"Well, it certainly wasn't in a meeting." Hjar answered, narrowing her eyes. "If I'd tried to put Thongvor, Faleen, Ondolemar and Kaie in the same room, it would have been a bloodbath."

"So you didn't do that?"

"No, I went to them individually." She mimed walking with her fingers. "You and L'laarzen were there. I snuck into their houses and negotiated with each of them separately."

Xander's eyes widened, and he stood back up. "Of course." He breathed. "What was I thinking? Back room dealings!"

"Back who now?" Dulurza asked.

"There's a saying in Cyrodiil. 'The Elder Council's an oven that only cooks when the fire's out'." Xander told them. "Nothing ever gets done when they're in-session, because there's too many people arguing all at once. All the actual dealing is done behind the scenes. Nobles cashing in favours, bartering in private, blackmailing, browbeating, lying to each other."

"We need to be assertive." L'laarzen realised. "Decide how we want things to go, then go to each group and get them to agree to it. That way tomorrow is just pushing paper."

"We've spent four days trying to get them to agree. About anything." Dulurza pointed out. "How do we get them to agree to this? Hjar?"

"In Markarth, it was a matter of survival." Hjar answered, narrowing her eyes.

"It is here!"

"Yes, but not an existential one, a specific one. I had to appeal to what I thought they wanted. I offered Faleen peace on the streets, Thongvor control of the city, the Forsworn access to the city. An end to the fighting, basically, as well as the chance to gang up on the Thalmor because—"

"Everyone hates the Thalmor." They all chorused.

"But the atmosphere here is not the same." L'laarzen pointed out. "Khajiit has been listening. They do not want the war to end, not the generals at least. The Dragons are a common enemy, yes, but it is not personal enough to incite them to band together."

"General idea is the same though. We need to bribe or coerce them." Xander said, rubbing his temples. "Divines, I wish we could ask Julius, but I've got things I need to straighten out with him first…Okay. We need to find something that we can use to convince each side to accept unfavourable terms in the negotiation."

He looked up at the others, and winced. "Again. I am open to suggestions."

They looked at each other.

"…We're not going to get to sleep tonight, are we?" Hjar grumbled.

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There was a knock on the stone outside Ulfric and Galmar's room.

Galmar (sharpening his axe) looked up, immediately suspicious.

Ulfric waved him down, getting up from his desk and walking to the doorway. Standing outside was a visitor that, in some ways, he'd expected for a while.

"Archmage Meteuse." He greeted.

"Jarl Ulfric." The Man nodded. "May I come in? There's something I'd like to discuss."

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There was a knock on the stone outside Tullius and Rikke's room.

Tullius walked to the doorway, and raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. "Dulurza?"

"General." Dulurza inclined her head. "Can I come in? There's something we need to talk about."

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There was a knock on the stone outside Balgruuf's room.

He stood with a sigh, drained enough from the day so far, and made his way to the doorway. Only to blink, when he saw who it was.

"Ah." He floundered, slightly. "Jarl Hjarnagredda."

"Just Hjar will do. The Jarl is my fiancée." Hjar smiled. "Mind if I come in? I have something I need to speak with you about."

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"I'll get straight to the point." The Archmage said, pulling a scroll from within his robes and unfurling it. "The following is a proposed set of conditions for the temporary peace we're negotiating. Tullius and Thongvor have already agreed to it. If you agree as well, we can be done before lunchtime tomorrow."

Ulfric's eyes widened in surprise, and he looked down at the paper. He got them both to agree on something? Did the Empire offer Markarth a deal? This all assuming he's telling the truth…

After reading through the bullet points on the scroll, his expression grew even more pensive.

"These conditions aren't very favourable to us." He said.

"They're not very favourable to the Empire either." Meteuse shrugged. "Peace is about compromise."

"What happens on the map is immaterial." Galmar rumbled. "The problem is leaving the Empire to recover after Titus' death."

"And you give them more time to do so every day this negotiation draws out." Meteuse pointed out. "You're lucky I got them to agree to this, this early. But I know Cyrodiil politics. They won't be done arguing about the new Emperor before this document runs its course."

"Then we should be able to push them further in exchange for more time." Ulfric answered. "I might not be able to get a better deal than this, but I owe it to my people to try."

Meteuse sighed, looking away. "Thought as much. Well, what if I could…sweeten the proverbial pot?"

Ulfric glanced at Galmar. And suddenly, things get interesting. "You mean, something we can gain outside this deal?"

"In essence." The Archmage responded. "The kind that would give you an advantage should the war recommence."

"Are you offering your College's allegiance?" Galmar asked.

"No." Meteuse answered, firmly. "But I can get you something better. Tell me, you're angling to be High King, aren't you?"

"Aye." Ulfric nodded, confused by the incredibly obvious question.

"Make a much more convincing king if you had a crown…" The Archmage said, offhandedly.

Ulfric's eyes widened.

"Don't get smart." Galmar warned. "We already know where the Jagged Crown is."

It was a bluff. And from his grin, Archmage Meteuse was about to call it. "I'm not offering you the Crown's location, I'm offering you the Crown. I already have it."

"I overheard Ulfric and Galmar discussing an artefact they wished to recover." L'laarzen spoke up. "Some 'Jagged Crown'. Have you ever heard of it?"

"Uh…wait, yes!" Hjar snapped her fingers, then ran to some of the books piled in the corner. "It came up while I was plotting ways to get the Reach on my side, and I think I saw it in one of these while we were prepping for the negotiations…aha!"

She pulled out one book and ran back to the table through it, flicking through the pages. "Yes, here. The Jagged Crown."

"That thing looks stupid." Dulurza said, staring at the illustration.

"I think you mean 'awesome'." Xander corrected, reading through the notes. "Last worn by king Borgas…lost in the War of Succession…Does every Skyrim artefact have to have belonged to some ancient king or another?"

"Oh, so it's a Volendrung situation." Dulurza realised. "If Ulfric gets it, does that make him king?"

"Khajiit does not think so." L'laarzen shook her head. "They spoke as though it was more a symbol than anything else. Ulfric wants it. They think it's in a ruin in the Pale, and are planning to use the peacetime to search for it."

"Nordic ruin? Hold on—" It was Xander's turn to run to the books in the corner. "High Hrothgar is a First Era construction, it actually predates some of those tombs! Which means…aha!" He came back with another book. "They have better records of these things than anywhere else in Skyrim, possibly in Tamriel. I've been transcribing some of the key texts as fast as I can while I've been here…okay, here we go." He unfurled a map. Bit his lip. "That…oh, wow, the Pale is a big place."

"There's…seven ruins in that area." Hjar pointed out. "More if you're less strict about what counts as 'The Pale'. It's hard enough to raid one, how do we go through all of them?"

"We don't need to look through all of them. Just the right one." Xander rolled his shoulders, then spoke into the air. "Hey, Azura? You know how you're a semi-omnipotent god-being, and you know all sorts of stuff…what? No, that would not be cheating! Wh—I'm your champion! Oh come on, that isn't fair."

"Can he…actually just talk to gods?" Dulurza asked. "I mean I know he was chatting with Meridia, but he had her rock thing."

"Azura's star is in his room." L'laarzen answered, giggling.

"Well fine then! I'll cheat some other way!" Xander huffed. "Like I don't have half a dozen other gods I can call up, I'm bound to get lucky eventually…" His eyes widened. "Lucky."

"Eh?" Hjar blinked.

Xander picked up the map, and thrust it out to L'laarzen, grinning. "You're lucky. Pick."

L'laarzen tilted her head. "You…Xander, this one does not think that—"

"You have cosmic luck powers, I sold a decade of your life to Nocturnal for them." Xander shook the map. "Pick one. Your odds are better than ours."

"There's no way that's how…" She sighed. "Alright, fine. That one." She reached out and tapped one of the markers on the page.

"That one, is…Korvanjund. Sweet, go there."

"Really?" L'laarzen protested. "You cannot be serious."

"I am completely serious." Xander looked around, winced, and ripped the map out, covering the noise with a fake sneeze. "Take Shadowmere. If you set off now, you should be able to get there and back before negotiations start tomorrow."

"But what if it isn't—"

"Then I'll think of something else! I've got some leftover Dragon bits; I can make a fake hat. Go!"

"No way." Ulfric said, bluntly.

"My College was doing some research in the Pale a few weeks ago when we came across it." Meteuse replied. "It was in my quarters in Winterhold, but when I realised it might be useful, I dispatched one of my operatives to retrieve it. It should be here by tomorrow morning."

"You're lying!" Galmar insisted. "There's no way some jumped up wizards would get their hands on the crown of the ancient Nord kings!"

"Is it that shocking that the intellectually curious would do the most looking for things?" The Archmage shrugged. "If I'm lying then it won't show up tomorrow, and you can do anything you want. So let's assume I'm not lying. If I can guarantee you the Jagged Crown, will you agree to the terms laid out in this scroll?"

Ulfric narrowed his eyes. "If you do bring us the crown, you'll have done us a great favour—"

"This isn't a favour. This is a transaction." The Archmage interrupted, flatly. "I show you the crown, you agree to the deal, tomorrow, and then I give you the crown as payment for services rendered."

"How can we trust you'll follow through?" Galmar demanded.

"Tell the Greybeards." Meteuse shrugged. "If I don't hand it to you afterwards, they'll annul the agreement."

Ulfric looked back down at the scroll that had been laid out on their table, reading through the terms again. If he's telling the truth, and he already has it, this is our one chance to get it. It's not like we can raid the College of Winterhold for the thing, public opinion will turn on me in an instant, and Korir might turn on me right with it. But then, through another eye, he's doing us a massive favour by offering us this. I doubt Tullius even knows, or he'd be demanding the Jagged Crown himself to give to Elisif.

…The conditions aren't that bad…

"Fine." He grunted. "Show us the crown before negotiations tomorrow, we'll support this deal, and then you hand it to us afterwards. Agreed?"

"Agreed." Alexander said, reaching out his arm.

Ulfric clasped it with his own forearm and nodded.

"Capital. Oh, and, by the way…" The mage turned away, then paused, and looked back with a cheeky smile. "The Imps and the Elves don't have to hear about this, do they?"

Ulfric glanced at Galmar. Both smiled.

"They're certainly not going to hear it from us." He answered.

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"I'll get straight to the point." Dulurza said, producing a scroll from one pocket and tossing it onto the table. "We've come up with a deal. Ulfric and Thongvor have both already agreed to it. If you agree too, we can get it written up when we meet tomorrow and be done before lunchtime."

Tullius raised a concerned eyebrow, as Rikke moved to unfurl the seal. "The two rebel states have come to an accord, then? Is this them threatening us?"

"Bugger if I know." Dulurza shrugged. "Xander just thinks it's the best deal anyone's gonna get. Elisif looked it over and she agrees."

"Of course she does." Tullius sighed, reading the document over Rikke's shoulder. "Elisif just wants this to be over. But she only has to worry about her Hold, my concern is for the whole Empire…"

"These conditions aren't very favourable to us." Rikke said.

"They're not very favourable to the Stormcloaks either." Dulurza pointed out.

"But that's not something I can accept." Tullius sighed. "Like I said, the Empire has expectations. I simply can't allow Ulfric's rebels free reign to dig themselves into the nation. Not without concessions or assurances that I'll be able to contain it when war resumes."

Dulurza huffed. Then said "So you need to be sure that if there is a peace, you're probably going to win afterwards."

"Essentially." Tullius admitted. "And of course, Ulfric knows this. So he's being stubborn, and hoping that eventually we'll crack under the threat of the Dragons before he does."

"The two greatest armies on the continent are fighting during the apocalypse." Dulurza said, flatly. "And it comes down to you and your Nord pen-pal playing chicken."

Tullius coughed. "It's…a little more complicated than that—"

"It kind of isn't." Rikke said.

"Lieutenant, I swear to the Eight."

"If you got you your assurance, you could agree to these terms?" Dulurza pressed, tapping the scroll.

Well, that's a leading question. "I suppose so." Tullius hedged. "But they explicitly don't leave room for that sort of thing."

"Only during the peace." Dulurza shrugged. "Who knows what could happen after."

Tullius narrowed his eyes. "What are you getting at?"

The Orc stood to her full height. "If you agree to this deal tomorrow. Whiterun will join the Empire."

"It's got to be a major Hold." Xander decided, looking at the map. "Whiterun, or Markarth. There's nothing else we can offer the Empire that has enough value for them to drop everything and agree."

Hjar grit her teeth. "I can't just give my homeland back to the Empire. We did all this to get away from the Empire."

She looked at their expressions, and winced. "I know it's the apocalypse, I know. I'll do it if I have to. But I'd have to convince Thongvor and Faleen, and that is not an easy task. Thongvor hates the Empire with a passion, and the people are too excited about their newfound freedom to give it up without a fight."

"But we can't offer them Whiterun." L'laarzen pointed out. "We don't have Whiterun."

"Whiterun's in an unstable equilibrium." Xander said. "Balgruuf knows he can't stay neutral forever. Just because we don't have it, doesn't mean we can't give it a push."

"Whiterun?" Tullius repeated, mouth agape. "How? Whiterun has been nothing but frigid to our advances since the very start of the war!"

"Balgruuf has his priorities in order." Dulurza replied. "He hasn't lost sight of the long fight. War coming to his Hold is bad; Dragons coming to his Hold is worse."

Tullius looked down at the map, mind whirring. Whiterun offers control over the centre of the country. Trade routes, troop deployment, things we've been fighting for since the start. If this is real…is it real?

"How do we know you're not lying?" Tullius demanded.

"Ask Balgruuf tomorrow morning." Dulurza said. "He's already agreed."

"And…and he'd put this in writing?"

"No. It's off the books. Ulfric doesn't know, and if he did, he'd throw a tantrum." Dulurza glanced meaningfully at the open doorway. "You'd be trusting Balgruuf's word."

"Sir." Rikke spoke up. "Balgruuf is an honourable Nord. If he tells us he'll join us when the war resumes, he means it."

"You want me to entrust the fate of Skyrim to one man's word." Tullius simplified.

"The other option," Dulurza mentioned, "is that we swing it the other way. Who knows, tomorrow or the day after, the Stormcloaks might suddenly be willing to offer you a more generous deal for seemingly no reason."

Tullius' jaw dropped. "You wouldn't…Balgruuf wouldn't—"

"I just need to keep my Jarl safe." Dulurza answered, eyes cold. "That's why I convinced my friends to bring this offer to you, first. But I reckon Ulfric would swear not to harm Elisif, if it won him Whiterun Hold."

"And it's Thane." Rikke whispered, making Tullius stiffen.

Of course. Damnit, how didn't I see this sooner? Whiterun's been currying favour with the Dragonborn since the moment he appeared. Balgruuf's not just offering his tactical significance, he's got a Divines-damned demigod on his side. If that Dragonborn survives his battle with Alduin…if the Hold he's the Thane of joins one side of the war…

…The conditions aren't that bad…

"Alright. Damnit, alright." He sighed. "If Balgruuf swears he'll join the Empire's side when the war resumes, I'll agree to this deal tomorrow."

"Nice." Dulurza grinned. "I'll let Xander know."

"Good." Tullius hesitated. "Balgruuf has already agreed to do this, right?"

Dulurza paused on her way out the door.

"I'd have to be pretty ballsy to say all this if he hadn't." She said, with a lopsided smirk.

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"I'll get straight to the point." Hjarnagredda said, producing and unfurling a scroll. "We've managed to come up with an agreement that Ulfric, Tullius, and our faction are all willing to agree with. There's just one snag: It requires you to agree to side with the Empire if the war breaks out again."

"What?" Balgruuf exclaimed.

"Of course, this is after the Dragonborn's done his whole thing. Everyone's agreeing to leave you be while you trap a Dragon."

"But—Why?" Balgruuf spluttered. "Once Alduin is dead, everything's back to normal. I—How did Ulfric agree to this?"

Hjar raised an eyebrow.

"He doesn't know." Balgruuf realised. "You're going behind his back on this."

"In case it makes you feel better, we're also going behind Tullius' back on other stuff." Hjar shrugged. "But yes. This would be an unofficial deal, entirely separate from the peace agreement. Tullius wants your word."

"And why my Hold?" He demanded. "Why isn't Markarth being used as a bargaining chip?"

"Because my people are more likely to rebel if that declaration is given, because Markarth's in a worse state…" She saw his expression, then sighed. "Well, actually, it's because I was in the room where it happened."

"The room where it happened?" He repeated, emptily.

"The room where it happened." She nodded. "It's not fair, but the world isn't fair. I'm sorry."

"And why should I agree?" Balgruuf pushed. "If I say no, this all falls apart, doesn't it? Bring me a better deal."

"Are you that disinclined to join the Empire?" Hjar asked.

"I will not be browbeaten into a decision of this magnitude." Balgruuf stated, anger rising. "My duty is to my people, and I will not throw their lives away on a politician's whim! Whiterun is neutral. It will remain so."

"Right, great, for how long exactly?" Hjar asked, leaning forwards. "Your refusal to take a side has certainly helped your hold's economy in these trying times, and in fact it's done more than most have to control the scope of the war by limiting both sides' access to each other. But that can't last forever. I'm sure the fact that this meeting was formed made you feel much better about your pacifism, but when it ends, you will have to make a choice. Why put that choice off? Fear?"

"There is a difference between facing a choice bravely and coming to it at swordpoint." Balgruuf protested. "How am I to know that I'm making the best choice for my people, if I'm making it like this?"

Hjar looked at him for a second. "…Then let me make the decision easier."

She reached into a pocket. "Some have said you're waiting to take a side until you know who'll win. But I've listened to you for the last week and I don't think that's true. You're truly unsure whether what Ulfric is doing is right for the country."

"That's the simple way of putting it, aye." Balgruuf admitted, warily eyeing what she placed on the table.

"Then this may prove interesting to you." Hjar said. What she had produced was a red book, entitled 'Thalmor Dossier: Ulfric Stormcloak.'

"So, this is the scummiest thing I've done since I was in the Synod, but I suppose needs must." Xander said, shaking up a small vial in his hands.

"Where did you even get these books…" Hjar muttered, looking over the four red tomes on the table.

"Two I took from Elenwen's torture chamber, two I took from the Dragonborn who took them from Elenwen's torture chamber. Yes, Elenwen has a torture chamber." Xander flipped open Ulfric's dossier, flicking to the relevant page.

"Uh huh. And what's that." Dulurza pointed at the vial he was uncorking.

"This is what happens when you crush up white chalk with slaughterfish oil and water." Xander answered. "It's sort of like white paint, but with some fun properties. First, I realised I could put a dollop on the tip of a quill and it would just melt through it, which is great for pranking. So I call it 'tip-ex'. But then I realised I could use it to retroactively erase things I've written with ink on parchment, and suddenly, my essays became way cleaner."

"So you can erase writing." Hjar said. Then, "Oh, bugger, you can erase writing."

"Yep. Now this is a pretty incriminating piece of text as it is. But with a couple of convenient redactions, it can look utterly treasonous."

"That's it. We're evil." Dulurza summarised. "We're all going to Oblivion."

The page that was currently open in front of Balgruuf read:

'Status: Asset, Dormant, Emissary Level Approval

Description: Jarl of Windhelm, leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, Imperial Legion veteran


Ulfric first came to our attention during the First War against the Empire, when he was taken as a prisoner of war during the campaign for the White-Gold Tower. Under interrogation, we learned of his potential value (son of the Jarl of Windhelm) and he was assigned as an asset to the interrogator, who is now First Emissary Elenwen. He was made to believe information obtained during his interrogation was crucial in the capture of the Imperial City (the city had in fact fallen before he had broken), and then allowed to escape. After the war, contact was established and he has proven his worth as an asset. The so-called Markarth Incident was particularly valuable from the point of view of our strategic goals in Skyrim,

Operational Notes:

Direct contact remains a possibility (under extreme circumstances), but in general the asset should be considered dormant. As long as the civil war proceeds in its current indecisive fashion, we should remain hands-off. The incident at Helgen is an example where an exception had to be made - obviously Ulfric's death would have dramatically increased the chance of an Imperial victory and thus harmed our overall position in Skyrim. (NOTE: The coincidental intervention of the dragon at Helgen is still under scrutiny. The obvious conclusion is that whoever is behind the dragons also has an interest in the continuation of the war, but we should not assume therefore that their goals align with our own.) A Stormcloak victory is also to be avoided, however, so even indirect aid to the Stormcloaks must be carefully managed.'

Jarl Balgruuf was not aware of the removal of a few key words here and there (such as 'uncooperative'), and what was left was particularly damning.

"No." Balgruuf shook his head. "That's not possible."

"You can check the handwriting against Elenwen's; I imagine there's some letters of hers in your post." Hjar said. "We can also provide other, similar documents we retrieved from Elenwen's home."

"But that's…" Balgruuf gulped, and said it. "If Ulfric is a Thalmor puppet…what hope is there for Skyrim?"

"There's always hope, so long as we're willing to look for it." Hjar answered. "Specifically, this peace itself must be making the Thalmor tear their hair out. Xander kicked Elenwen out for a reason. Of course, if the war starts up again…"

"Then they will do everything they can to ruin this country for as long as possible." Balgruuf realised. "The only out…is to make sure it ends fast."

"So are you in?" Hjar asked.

Balgruuf grit his teeth.

We still have the Dragonborn as our Thane. He does truly care about our city. Lydia says little besides swearing for his goodness and heroism; so long as he lives, we have a chance.

…The Empire isn't that bad…

"Alright. I'm in." Balgruuf nodded. "I'll tell Tullius that…if worst comes to worst…"

Hjar gave him an apologetic smile, and stood. "We do what we have to do. Don't worry, I'll keep in contact. Me, Xander, and Elisif are all working on this."

"Working on what, exactly?" Balgruuf asked.

She paused on her way out, looked back to him. "You won't have to pick a side if the war doesn't start again, will you?"

L'laarzen crept through the darkness of the Nordic crypt, feet silent on the cold stone. So far, that silence had served her well, as all the sleeping dead had remained dead as she'd progressed through the tomb.

The room ahead of her opened up, revealing a large central raised area and a circle of thrones. She carefully clambered up, finding that (surprise) each chair was occupied by a draugr. And the one that was most central in the room…

Oh, you've got to be kidding Khajiit. No way did that work.

A wrought iron helm, with raised spikes made from Dragon teeth. The Jagged Crown.

Nocturnal, if you can hear L'laarzen: Thank you very much.

The distant echoing laughter might have just been her imagination.

L'laarzen padded gently forwards, checking her surroundings. The draugr did not move as she approached the chair, reached out…and plucked the crown from the leader's head.

A second passed.

Nothing happened.

L'laarzen blew out a breath and stepped backwards, hooking the crown onto her belt and scanning for any faster exits—

When all twelve of the zombies stood up at once.

L'laarzen sighed, and unsheathed her claws. "Oh, because of COURSE—"

Morning came.

A few small things happened, in the few hours between dawn and the beginning of negotiations.

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Not long after the sun rose, Shadowmere galloped up the seven thousand steps, and L'laarzen slid off its back to be met by Xander just outside High Hrothgar.

An astute observer might have seen her hand over a small wrapped package, or heard:

"Khajiit is not doing that again."

"Thank you very much."

"It has been twenty four hours, and L'laarzen had to kill an entire crypt!"

"You did good."

"She is taking a nap."

"You go take a nap."


Some time later, Jarl Balgruuf surreptitiously approached General Tullius, grasping his shoulder and muttering a few sentences in his ear.

Tullius said a few words back, the pair shook hands, and they went their separate ways.

Some time after that, Ulfric Stormcloak approached Alexander Meteuse while he was leaning in an alcove. The Archmage checked their surroundings, then pulled aside part of his robes, revealing a flash of bone and metal.

Ulfric's eyes widened, and he nodded, before moving away.

Throughout it all, Julius Meteuse watched people come and go with a curious expression on his face.

Five minutes before the negotiations resumed, the Dragonborn returned from the path leading higher up the mountain, and soon after, it was time to begin.

"Ladies, gentlemen." Alexander said from the head of the table, struggling to contain a nervous grin. "Now, as I understand it, there has been a proposal circulated for a set of conditions that all parties may find tenable. I would like to go over this proposal, and, if everyone is agreed, consider the possibility of it's implementation. Is this acceptable?"

Everyone looked at each other.

"Aye. Do that." Ulfric said.

"Very well." Tullius agreed.

"I'm down." Hjar added.

The Dragonborn glanced across at Xander, face almost managing to look surprised.

Xander couldn't keep the smile off his face any longer. "Excellent. So, clause one…"

"It seems we have an agreement." Arngeir said. It was less than two hours after negotiations had started. "Jarl Ulfric, General Tullius, Jarl Thongvor, Jarl Balgruuf. These are the terms currently on the table:

All parties at this table will cease all military actions against all other parties. They will have four days inclusive from the day this agreement is signed to organise the standing-down of their forces before the truce comes into effect. All parties will withdraw their forces from Holds that are not under their control, as per the borders as seen on the map here, including the Reach and especially Whiterun Hold. The truce will last until the Dragonborn (or in his absence, the Greybeards, or Jarl Balgruuf) reports the defeat of Alduin, or after a period of sixty days, whichever comes first. At this time, the parties will reconvene at High Hrothgar, and discuss whether the war will resume, or (due to the continued presence of Dragons, or other factors) the truce must be extended.

The Reach and its capital Markarth will be treated by all parties as an independent and neutral Hold, the same as Whiterun Hold is at present. Jarl Thongvor will be acknowledged by all parties as Jarl of Markarth, and the Reach may not form military alliances with any other party during the time of the truce.

There will be no territories, finances, or military strongholds exchanged as a part of this deal. All military prisoners held by either side will be treated with all necessary resources and kindness to maintain their health as defined under Imperial law, or else returned to their military of origin.

The Aldmeri Dominion will accept these conditions, and cease all operations in Holds that are not allied to the Empire.

The Dragonborn, the Blades, and the city of Whiterun will immediately divert all necessary resources to the defeat of Alduin and the halting of the Dragon threat. Each Hold outside of Whiterun will donate ten thousand septims to the city, for the singular purpose of compensation for the international service that they are performing.

The allegiances are, as things stand: Solitude, Morthal, and Falkreath are considered Imperial, Windhelm, Riften, Dawnstar, and Winterhold are considered Stormcloak, and Markarth and Whiterun are considered independent.

Further intricacies are covered in the documents that you have all been provided with."

Arngeir took a deep breath. "Are these terms acceptable to all parties?"

"Aye." Declared Thongvor.

"Aye." Nodded Balgruuf.

"Aye." Followed Ulfric, then,

"Aye." Tullius agreed, with an eye-roll.

"Then the Dragontruce is now in effect." The relief (and lingering shock) in Arngeir's voice was palpable. "I thank everyone present for their wisdom and conscientiousness. Now, if the leaders could all sign the main copy, as well as their own and each others, we can make the agreement official…"

The tension in the room began to bleed out, the leaders standing and moving over towards Arngeir as others clapped each other on the shoulder or toasted with their drinks (Elisif, noticeably, leaned on Dulurza's shoulder and sighed).

Xander slumped backwards in his seat and let out a long, long breath, before turning to the Dragonborn and grinning. "There. See? Did I do good?"

"I knew you'd do it." DB replied, standing.

Xander preened—Then frowned. "Wait, is that all I get?"

"What were you expecting?"

"I mean, a 'well done' would be nice!"

"Well done." The Dragonborn replied, dutifully, before looking away. "Esbern. Tell me you have a plan."

"Ugh. No good deed goes unpunished." Xander rubbed his temples and squeezed his eyes shut, before sighing and standing.

After all, his job wasn't done quite yet.

I have been waiting to write this chapter for so long.

Scheming is a lot of fun, and oh boy did they scheme. 'Speech: 100' moment. I'm just gonna bask in the glory of the national level bribery present in this chapter, you guys do what you want.

Next Time: Everyone pats each other on the back, except for the people who still have stuff to do.