Chapter 17: The Winter War
After a while in Eastmarch, Mohamara pinned down where the sympathetic bond to the beacon was pulling, far to the northeast, almost in Winterhold, and by the water. When he told Kodlak this, the Companion responded that the best way to get there would be to go towards Windhelm first. So at the fork in the road where abandoned Fort Amol stood watch over they went the northerly direction.
“We must be careful on this road,” Kodlak informed the cat. “Or, at least I must be so. Gallows Rock is not far from this road, and the Silver Hand garrison it.” He looked down at the tojay with an arched brow. “Tell me, can you use that spear?”
“Not very well,” Mohamara admitted with a shrug. “I mean, I can use it to fish easily because it’s so long and pronged, but it’s magic too.”
“I don’t suppose Yagraz knows how to wield a spear--she has been a gap-closer as long as I’ve known her. Would you mind if we took a break and I show you how to use it in a fight?” The two of them stepped aside from the road so Kodlak could demonstrate how to hold the spear--though he said it would be more like holding a pike for someone Mohamara’s size. “Relying on any one strategy, magic or metal, is never a wise proposition. I’ve tried to teach this to the youngsters, but they have not faced the frustration of being useless in a fight enough to warrant practice.”
“I imagine just healing up other people who are fighting would fall into that category too?” Mohamara tried to practice the stabbing motions Kodlak had demonstrated, but with alarmingly less force behind them.
“Indeed. It would only serve to make you a target for archers, or combat mages.” However, it prompted Kodlak to rub his bearded chin in consideration. “Hmm, archery might be a good fit for you. Shortbows, clearly, or perhaps crossbows. Yes, a crossbow might just be the ticket.”
Mohamara paused in practicing to squint up at the Nord. “Are you trying to rope me into being a Companion?”
“Heh, the Companions do not ‘rope’ people into joining, lad.” Kodlak smiled down at Mohamara, seeming almost… jolly? “But when Yagraz brought you into our hall, she was as bright and energetic as the first day she crossed our threshold. For years, she had been languishing, but no longer. It makes me believe that her friendship with you partly inspired her to be as great a warrior--as great a woman as she is today. And, if you wish it, perhaps the Companions could do the same for you.”
“... You do know I technically work for Jarl Elisif of Solitude, right? As a Fool? The jump around, make an ass out of myself to get people to laugh sorta thing, yeah?”
“Lad, I’ve seen all sorts take up the crest of Wuuthrad. All your employment as a Fool does is lead me to believe you’re an honest man. How peculiar a notion, to think a Khajiit an honest man, hmm.”
Mohamara sighed and started walking back to the road. “If I agree to give it a shot, will you lay off the casual racism?”
“I can only promise to try.”
“You know, as much as my doctor would probably enjoy how much walking I’ve been doing, I can’t help but wish the flying broom was invented by now.” Mohamara let his feet soak in the hot spring waters Kodlak had directed them to. There had been nowhere suitable on the side of the river they had started on to make camp, so Kodlak had directed the cat to cross and find a spot.
“Then perhaps you should be the one to invent it?” Kodlak was in a different hot spring pool, separated by rocks and a tree for the sake of privacy. According to him, an ancient battle with between Tongues and dragons had left the center of Eastmarch volcanically active, supporting hundreds of small hot springs dotted around the land.
“Oh no, no, no. See, the gal who does invent the broom is an Orc. And Malacath gets mean when you steal the achievements of Orcs, so I’d rather not.” Mohamara emphatically shook his head even though the Companion couldn’t see. Yagraz had told him stories of the vengeance Malacath would craft on people who stole the achievements of the Orcs, the ramifications of which were allegedly visible from Nirn orbit in some cases.
“But it isn’t her achievement yet, she might not even be born.”
“You think Malacath cares? He knows that I know that it’s an Orc achievement, so it’s fair game. I could maybe sneak by with a flying carpet, but that’s pushing luck I don’t have.” Mohamara glanced across the river when a bird flew by and momentarily considered snatching it out of the air when he saw people in Hold guard armor colored deep blue with shields featuring a bear design walking down the road. “I’m guessing those are Eastmarch guards?”
“My eyes are not so good for seeing great distances at sunset anymore, can you describe them for me?” Kodlak ‘hmmed’ to himself for a moment as Mohamara described them. “That sounds like a Hold guard, but we’re in Eastmarch. They could potentially be Stormcloaks, I haven’t seen a Stormcloak and a Windhelm guard next to each other to know the difference.”
“Imma go ask them.” Mohamara stood up and trotted off toward the river with bounding steps.
“Wait, what? No!” Kodlak’s less than stellar vision did not allow him to see all of Mohamara’s journey. The old Nord lost track of the cat as he began to jump between rocks to cross the White River. The Harbinger’s mind ran through likely possible outcomes of the Khajiit’s rashness. Ulfric’s boys weren’t usually as xenophobic as their Jarl, so violence might be avoided. But in all likelihood, they would assume the cat had stolen up to try and rob them.
A good learning experience, Kodlak decided as he rose from the hot spring intending to dry off then don his armor and see to the younger man’s rescue.
However, Mohamara returned moments later without any signs of battle on his person. His fur, however, was a mess. “So, it turns out those were just Windhelm city guards on their way to investigate bandits trying to occupy that fort we passed. And the way to tell Stormcloaks from Windhelm guards is that Stormcloaks all use a lighter shade of blue than Windhelm.” The cat shrugged while Kodlak looked on in surprise.
“They gave you no problems?”
“Well they wanted to, but the lady in charge punched the one guy who thought I was a thief. Then she started petting me because apparently, I reminded her of her cat growing up.” The Khajiit stuck his tongue out and sat back down to rest his feet in the hot spring. “Being short and cute has advantages, sometimes.”
“I… see.” Kodlak returned to the hot spring himself. Since no rescue was needed, he could spend a bit more time in the medicinally hot water before setting down for the night. “You had to know that was really risky.”
“Everything in this country is risky Literally everything. A slaughterfish could suddenly appear in this water and eat my feet off. And no, you demented excuse for a Daedra, that wasn’t an invitation!”
Kodlak chuckled to himself and relaxed. “Enjoy the warmth while you can. As we get closer to the goal you’ve put to us, this will be but a distant memory.”
The Nord’s words proved true almost as soon as they went north of Kynesgrove. The green scenery was rapidly replaced with white and the volcanic heat with sub-arctic cold. Mohamara donned many layers of clothes and still found the cold chilling him to his bones.
After one day of that, Mohamara decided that enough was enough and took out the biggest soul gem in his small stockpile--a common sized one that held the soul of a Frost Troll. Kodlak watched in wonderment as Mohamara spun the gem into a crystalline thread and wove it into his jacket. When finished, the Nordic knots weren’t nearly as dense as what the ring of regeneration or his own Red Shoes sported, but the enchantment was as strong as a common soul could produce. The windbreaker was enchanted with a warming effect that would make it as effective as a heavily padded winter coat at providing warmth, and be too warm for ice to form on.
Without prompting, Mohamara used a lesser soul gem to do the same to a fur cloak Kodlak had to keep his head warm.
With his ears and nose pleasantly warm despite the frigid cold that blew from the north, Kodlak began to rethink his people’s stance on magic--on enchantment, at least.
Windhelm was visible in the distance after the third day’s march, and Kodlak strongly advised Mohamara against getting any closer to the city. Even when the Khajiit mentioned that he knew of a caravan that was likely to be outside, Kodlak still advised against it. “You are a servant of Elisif. I expect Ulfric’s lieutenants to know that much. The slaughter at Morthal is still fresh in the Stormcloak’s minds if a servant of their enemy were to show up on their doorstep they could easily take it as Elisif herself taunting them for their defeat.”
Mohamara imagined Elisif laughing like an evil noblewoman in an Akaviri scrying orb drama while the mysterious ‘Ulfric’ wept over fallen soldiers. And with Balgruuf’s letter to Elisif on his person, it had the chance to be a public relations disaster.
“Why can’t these Jarls just sort their problems out like civilized people instead of dragging thousands of stupid young folks into fighting?” Mohamara tried not to look toward Windhelm, afraid that his resolve would shake if he saw familiar-looking tents, wagons, and cat-people on the horizon.
“Vignar, Skjor and I have had that talk many a night when the ale flows like water. But then, the topic of what constituted civilized becomes muddy the more you think about it.”
They kept walking until they came to an obstacle: the Sea of Ghosts. Mohamara’s grip on the sympathetic bond to Meridia’s beacon led straight out from the shore northward, out onto the water.
“It appears our way forward isn’t possible without a boat,” Kodlak commented. “Or that your lost item is at the bottom of the Sea, beyond our reach.”
The Khajiit didn’t comment, instead, he focused on the bond they’d followed thus far. It pulled northward, and… faintly downward. When he tried to follow the bond, he only saw darkness on the other end. Either it was in a box, or it was so deep in the Sea that light didn’t reach down. There was really only one thing to do, and thankfully he had plenty of petty soul gems for the task.
“What are you doing, lad?” Kodlak looked over to the Khajiit spinning multiple petty soul gems into a thread and laying out a colorful bit of cloth from his backpack.
“I’m going to make me an item enchanted with water breathing so I can go looking for the beacon if it is down in the water.” Right away, Mohamara began to arrange the soul-gem threads into cloth, making small patches of densely packed Nordic knots. “Sub-arctic configuration, reduced friction through the water, enhanced gripping, noise reduction….”
“You are able to do all of that? I thought an item could only be enchanted once?”
“Maybe for weaklings who don’t know how to overlay an enchantment without crossing the arrays, or if they’re doing that thing where you just shove the soul into the item and let the morpholith crumble. But I’m a student of Jorrvaskr, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
The cat didn’t see it, but Kodlak faintly smiled at Mohamara’s words and sat down next to the cat to watch him work. To the Nord, it seemed like magical knitting.
Mohamara shook the cloth item and let the interlocked petty arrays cool down. “This is going to be unpleasant but assuming I don’t run into a whale I should be good. Unless a whale ate it, in which case--poopie.”
For any fish that saw him, Mohamara must have been a strange sight moving through the Sea of Ghosts--a small Khajiit in a swimsuit and jacket armed with an excessively long spear, all underwater.
By far, the otters were the best part of searching the Sea in Mohamara’s view. They seemed to enjoy the new creature in the water that had no wish to eat them, and one who often moved rocks on the seabed which revealed clams. And of course, the slaughterfish were the worst part, blindly chasing after Mohamara when he entered their field of view. The Spear of Bitter Mercy made short work of them--and the kill would distract other nearby slaughterfish. But just as often he’d be surprised by a slaughterfish suddenly biting down on his tail or limbs. He lost two fingers, a toe, and the tip of his tail that way.
However, the slaughterfish weren’t the most terrifying part of the Sea of Ghosts. That belonged to the whales. Start with the general shape of a fish, replace the scales with a rubbery skin of white and black, make the smallest ones the size of a Nord and the biggest the size of a ship, and then make them intelligent pack hunters.
When Mohamara first encountered one, it was just floating in the water behind him when he finished examining a boating wreck. After he saw it, he started to hear chirps in the water and saw dark shapes moving in the distance. The whale opened its mouth, showing off spear-like teeth and a mouth so large Mohamara could curl up inside, and moved like… it was laughing at him. As he moved to go back into the wreck, it surged forward and began to easily push the cat around with its huge nose.
A second, smaller, whale passed by and caught Mohamara’s tail in its jaws. The cat went stiff, to prepare for the inevitable biting, but it never came. Instead, the whale ran its jaw up and down the Khajiit’s tail like it was flossing with it.
Mohamara found himself passed between multiple sub-adult whales, tossed between them like a fuzzy underwater ball by their huge flukes. The small whale that had flossed its teeth with his tail bit the Spear of Bitter Mercy just under the point and yanked it free of Mohamara’s grip and swam away.
While being tossed around underwater, Mohamara focused some magic into a spell--Tongues. Once it completed, he could hear the clicks become ideas become information which his brain translated into words. The two large whales treating him as a toy found him… cute. One of them called to their mother, to ask if they could keep him as a pet.
A massive whale, easily the size of the Nordic wrecks that lined the seabed glided out of the dark with such grace Mohamara almost believed that it was the light that moved, not her. She told them to stop playing with their food and to eat the Khajiit before their grandmother grew annoyed.
‘Not food!’ Mohamara called out to them, speaking words that Tongues converted into information, and then ideas, and then clicks for the whales to parse. ‘Not! Food!’
It amused the sub-adults that he could talk to them, and they left the cat be long enough that Mohamara was able to swim down and hide in a Nord wreck. ‘Go on! Swim fast, try to get away!’
‘Yeah, grandmother will want us to exercise before eating!’
Mohamara tried to ignore the words of the whales as he made his way through the wreck. In hindsight, making himself able to understand what the chirping meant had been an awful idea. The whales would sometimes brush the hull of the ship, causing the whole wreck to shift from their weight, and taunted Mohamara that they could just get at him by smashing in if they wanted.
Mohamara didn’t stop swimming until he was in the ship’s hold, where he stopped to try and make a plan. Whales or at least the species of whales in the Skyrim side of the Sea of Ghosts acted like wolves if the natural history museum was anything to go by. Fast, would attack from multiple angles, and stronger than Mohamara even as children. Without the spear, there didn’t seem a way to make it out, all attempts would end in failure.
But the alternative was to do nothing.
A strong pull on the sympathetic bond to the beacon brought Mohamara out of his despair. It was close. If he could get it free of its bonds, then perhaps his Lady could help. And even if she couldn’t, it was still his duty to get the beacon somewhere that another of the faithful wouldn’t need to die to get it.
With a bit of illusion magic to create a false visual indicator of the bond, Mohamara peaked out of one of the gaps in the hold to find where the beacon was. A wispy trail of white light went out to the sea floor, and into another nearby wreck--the illusion cast light enough for Mohamara to see its name: The Winter War.
The cat dispelled the illusion and began to put together a plan. In the distance, he saw the smallest whale flitting about. With only a novice degree of skill with illusion, Mohamara had limited options on targets so he charged up a projectile and launched it outward. It struck the small whale and covered it with a magenta sheen. As if driven to great fury, the whale began to swim faster and snap randomly. And soon it began to come after its own kin in rage.
Infighting was the perfect way to deal with a pack animal, Mohamara realized in hindsight as he escaped the hold. The sub-adults were busy trying to calm down their little sibling, and in the distance, enormous shadows moved through the water. Mohamara made it to the wreck of The Winter War just in time for a massive fully-grown whale to swipe near the hole in the hull where he had been.
The Winter War was a ship in twain, it had sunk and broken in half when it hit some rocks on the ocean floor. Compared to some of the other wrecks, it seemed relatively new as mudcrabs had not yet picked every scrap of organic material off the ship. Mohamara had started in the wrong half, so he had to quickly swim between the bow and stern sections of the ship, with the whales prowling around outside.
Within a chest of black iron, locked tight against mundane thieves but helpless against magical ones, Mohamara found what he’d been searching for. The beacon resembled his amulet, but far bigger. A colorless faceted crystal, roughly the size of his head, and light as a feather. When he picked it up, he’d expected… something to happen. His Lady’s voice to ring out through his head, or perhaps searing pain for not arriving quick enough for her liking. But instead, he held the beacon and nothing had changed.
The Khajiit examined the beacon for damage, perhaps it was damaged in the theft. But after examining it, he developed a hypothesis. The beacon was a sort of sigil stone, a morpholith created from Oblivion matter to store tremendous volumes of energy--Meridia’s energy. And Meridia’s energy rained down on the world as sunlight.
Mohamara examined the distant surface of the water, and couldn’t tell if he was under a section of solid ice or not. Was it even daylight up on the surface? Without the iron chest weighing it down, the beacon would be light enough to float to the surface, but in the process attract the whales' attention. By the time they finished playing with it, the beacon could end up legitimately damaged.
The beacon had to get to the surface, and there was no way Mohamara could do that without getting grabbed by a whale. However, if he did this successfully, he could at least maybe earn a place in the Violet Room--Where Lie the Martyrs.
The tojay steeled himself, and swam free of the wreck, going upward as fast as he could.
But no matter how fast he could swim, he was never going to go faster than a whale in the water. One of the sub-adults from earlier slammed into him, in the chest dead center, and kept on swimming. With a flick of the whale’s head, Mohamara was released from the t-bone attack sent flying upward as he was swatted by the whale’s tale.
Sure enough, there was a layer of ice on the surface when Mohamara got close. The dappled light that came through the ice got dim lights from the beacon’s center to emerge, but nothing substantial. The tojay looked down to see a whale swimming at him with speed, its mouth of spear-like teeth open wide, and resigned himself to death then and there.
When the whale hit him, it broke the ice behind him and sent the cat flying through the air with many shattered ribs and a partially broken back. The beacon flew free of Mohamara’s grip and caught a ray of sunlight through the clouds. While the cat landed back in the water, unconscious, the beacon hung in the air. The inner light at its center grew rapidly until the faceted orb was radiating golden light like a star on its own.
A narrow beam of white-gold light burst from the beacon and pierced the ice below. Underwater, as one of the sub-adults, was about to bite into the unconscious Khajiit, the beam struck the creature. Its flesh burned away in seconds, leaving a pearly white skeleton that went to pieces without connective tissues. The beam cut through the ice and water like a cutting tool and struck every whale in the pod that had made Mohamara their prey. When it faded away, over fifty skeletons of various sizes began to settle on the seafloor.
The beacon cast down a wider beam of soft gold light that searched through the water and stopped on Mohamara, and by some unknown magic drew him out of the water up to the faceted orb. Unconscious and severely injured, the Khajiit automatically reached out and held the beacon close to his torso.
While he held on, the beacon examined him and found things that did not correlate to its trans-temporal records. Severe damage to the subject’s rib cage and spine--both in the form of a broken spinal column and missing vertebrae; damaged or missing digits on three out of four extremities; unaccounted for scar tissue throughout, and more importantly being sixteen thousand years out of Dragon alignment.
The beacon’s programming deduced that this level of deviation was beyond its ability to repair and so pinged across the liminal barrier to its inscriber for a service request.
In the Red Room--Where War is Made, a Daedric Lord of Meridia saw this ping request, checked the details and promptly spat his creatia coffee onto his secretary in surprise and fear. Hastily, he moved the request up to his supervisor and began to pray. This proved indicative of how things went for many levels of Daedric bureaucracy up until it had to transfer out to the Yellow Room--Where Monarchs Dwell.
In a crystalline palace of immortal beauty, suspended on clouds the color of butter, there was a grand office. At the center of the office was the throne where She of Infinite Energies would administer her Rooms, were She present. But near the entrance was a smaller desk where the Lady’s Chamberlain saw to the Realm’s needs while Meridia was away. He sat in front of a grimoire device, typing rapidly to keep up with the transfinite amount of work that needed to be done.
However, when a service request from a temporarily inactive beacon was forwarded to him, he paused this work. Had someone dared waste the Lady’s time with a service request? They would need to be taught proper respect later. But still, it had to be dealt with. Ah, a Champion-candidate, perhaps respect was not needed to be taught, just confidence.
The chamberlain examined the details of the request and carefully removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. With one hand, he willed a micro-slate into existence and dialed the out-of-Realm line. “Hello. Yes, I’ll accept the charges. Please connect me to the Shivering Isles.”
After an unreasonable amount of time on hold, the line was connected and the chamberlain braced himself for his Lady’s fury.
”Speak.” The deceptively calm voice of Meridia came from the micro-slate, and thunder sounded somewhere distant in the Yellow Room.
“My Lady, we have located your stolen property.” The former Archmagus Shalidor put his glasses back on as he focused on the service request again. “Fourth Era, Skyrim, directly on top of the regional beacon. And rather… extensively damaged. What is your will?”
”Prepare my way to the beacon. I am going to sort this out myself.” The line went dead, and Shalidor found himself almost pitying the Mad God for what was about to happen.