Chapter 36: The Helgen Incident
“Master, I was wondering… could you tell us about your realm?”
Mohamara looked up from grating cheese for his latest pizza attempt to squint at Orthorn. While the High Elf had been… lackluster as a traditional mage, he had proven exceedingly competent as a battlemage and enchanter. Orthorn had already started on practicing Mandala linework, something even Mohamara avoided like the plague. His inquiry seemed earnest enough, though from how Mohamara’s other students neglected their work ever so slightly so they could listen in, the Khajiit guessed that they had been planning this for a while.
“Forgive me if I’ve been impertinent,” the High Elf quickly clasped his hands and held them up as he bowed. It was something he found all the students doing when they felt the need to apologize--perhaps a version of the pose of supplication? “It’s just… we know so little about you, and you’ve taught us so much. We would love to know about the domain you rule.”
“Well, that’s an easy question. I don’t rule a domain.” The Khajiit shrugged and went back to grating cheese. “I come from far, far in the future. When Men, Mer, and Beastfolk travel by ships that ride on the winds to get everywhere. Where people live in giant towering buildings. And where everyone in the world, and every topic, can be found just by speaking into a looking glass.”
Mohamara was sure that whatever they imagined from his description was far more entertaining than the reality. Once the block of goat cheese was grated, he quickly went to his storage chest and retrieved his slate to show them.
“This is my looking glass, a slate. More mobile than a grimoire or an archive, but it sacrifices power to do so. Charged by magicka, and host to many servitors to make life easier.”
“That’s the mark of House Telvanni on the back,” the only Dunmer among his best students commented with amazement.
“Yeah, House Telvanni becomes the Telvanni corporation. They’re the leading experts in enchanting--I was taking a course to find employment with them before….” Mohamara drooped a bit remembering the unpleasantness of his first arrival to the Fourth Era. He shook those feelings off before his students lept to conclusions. “Anyway, let that be something to take with you. Yes, I’m the best at what I do right now. But in the future, what I know is something expected of the dimmest students. Don’t think you can’t possibly do better than me, even I’m still learning.”
“Can you tell us more about this future you come from, Lord?” Orthorn asked, excited by whatever he was imagining from what Mohamara had shared.
“Alright, one question each and then you go back to your work.”
The Dunmer student, Galamir Vedulis, of course, asked about Morrowind’s future. And Mohamara had to tell him gently that Morrowind got the living annihilation shit kicked out of it from the Fourth Era to the Ninth. The Dunmer’s province was a prolonged series of ‘how could this possibly get worse?’ questions that were immediately answered. Even the Elven Empire that came to rule didn’t treat them well, the Orcs got better treatment than the Dunmer. But rather than sink into despair, his student seemed to draw resolve from Mohamara’s answer.
“Then I will do my best to learn from you, that I may pass on the kindness you have shown me, and make the lives of my people a little better,” declared the student. “We can’t stop natural disasters, or wars breaking out, but we can make individual people’s lives happier.”
Thankfully the remaining questions weren’t as heavy.
“Can you show us something from your looking glass… slate?” A Bosmer student, Brenelin, asked next, which set up an opportunity for a group portrait. Once they’d all lined up on the wall, Mohamara set a timer and joined them. Afterward, he showed it to them, and explained how the servitor captured the image and could burn it off onto any surface--he demonstrated this with a page from a blank journal.
“Does everyone wear clothes like this in the future?” A Redguard woman, Traynda, held up one of Mohamara’s future shirts and his swimsuit to highlight the difference between Fourth Era and Twenty-First Era clothes. Most of the students hadn’t seen Mohamara’s future clothes before, and found the worked textiles bizarre, judging by their expressions.
“There’s a variety of options, and stop going through my stuff!” Mohamara actually snapped at the Redguard student and jumped up to snatch his clothes back and stuff them back in his storage chest. “By the Red Room, waving a man’s personal things around like that--shame on you, missy.” At least his other students had the decency to look like they hadn’t snooped and found those that did disgraceful. The tojay never noticed.
“What do you mean when you say ‘Red Room?’ You refer to a lot of rooms by color, and often use Malacath in your oaths, sir.”
“That last bit isn’t a question,” Mohamara stuck his tongue out at Orthorn who had asked. “The Red Room is one of Meridia’s Colored Rooms. It’s where she marshalls her armies for when they need to leave her plane of Oblivion and either attack another plane or come to Nirn. The proper name is Where War is Made. Mortals who worship Meridia, and die craving vengeance, are sent there to become warriors of the faith.” The cat returned to throwing shredded cheese onto the proto-pizza he was going to cook once the fire got hot enough.
“What is the music in the future like?”
The question came from the only Khajiit among his students. Adannna, a cathay woman--thin as a whip but the best Alchemist of the bunch. Without sparring much thought, Mohamara barked out an order for his Burmice servitor to play a random song at fifty-percent volume.
The music that came on was an acoustic guitar, and brass trumpets, instruments that hadn’t been invented yet, and a language that also hadn’t been discovered yet. A song from the Shivering Isles, strangely enough. The song sang a plaintive cry from the singer to be remembered by those whom they had to leave soon.
“That’s the Lilmothiit language,” Mohamara cut off any questions preemptively. “They didn’t go extinct, they just escaped to the Daedric realms of Sanguine, Clavicus Vile, and Sheogorath. The species returns to Tamriel a few thousand years from now and bring about the changes that lead to the beginning of the Tenth Era.”
“It’s beautiful,” Orthorn commented. “W-what does it mean?”
“How about you study Conjuration, work out a deal with some Daedra from the realms I told you they live, and ask them?” Mohamara sighed. The Lilmothiit he’d known weren’t the worst people, but having met Sheogorath and Clavicus Vile the Khajiit saw too clearly where the issues that frequently plagued the fox-folk came from. Which in turn reminded him of a hasty warning he had to give Orthorn before the High Elf actually did as Mohamara instructed. “And--be advised. You’ll get the most direct questions answered from the ones in Sanguine’s realm… but they chose to live in Sanguine’s realm so expect them to act like perverts.”
Mohamara paused in his cheese distribution as his students went back to their tasks. A horrible thought had wormed its way into his head: Was he being racist against the fox-folk?
“Only a little bit,” Sheogorath commented from within Mohamara’s ears. “Not nearly as racist as you’ve been against Nords in the past, though. Also, that pizza doesn’t have nearly enough cheese!”
Chillrend, being a malachite glass sword, the weapon was significantly lighter and thinner than a steel sword made in the Nordic style. And because it was a shortsword, or a long dagger according to Hadvar, it was one of the rare weapons Mohamara could wield one-handed and still seem like a threat.
Since the addition of students ate up Mohamara’s workload almost faster than the Legion could add to it, the cat had free time to learn how to wield a sword. Even if Hadvar admitted he was convinced that without far more substantial muscles, and way more weight, Mohamara would never actually be a threat with a weapon.
“But….” The cat had said after Hadvar confessed the doubts. “My niece, she’s ten years old. And Yagraz doesn’t hesitate to tell me how dangerous she is with a blade. I’m only slightly shorter and lighter than her….”
“Well, your niece has the benefit of being taught by the greatest warrior the Companions, an order of great warriors, have seen since the start of the Era.” Hadvar shrugged. “If you want to train with a blade for exercise, or even just knowledge of how to use it, I’ll teach you what I know. But I very much doubt you’ll ever be able to use it in a fight.”
“The Nord way to fight, and the Orc way to fight emphasize strength,” Yehochanan commented from Mohamara’s back. “You are neither a Nord or an Orc. What you have is speed, agility, and the power to always have the high ground. Don’t fight like a Nord soldier or an Orc champion; fight like a Khajiit Mystic. But if it can be avoided, do not fight at all.”
“Nothing wrong with being a skirmisher,” Hadvar admitted with crossed arms. “It’s not my way, and I can’t teach it.”
The spider-crab scuttled onto the Khajiit’s shoulder and down his arm. “Long before the Alterers figured out how to move things with magicka, the Psijics could turn the very terrain into their weapons. No boulder was too heavy to become a bludgeon, no spear too short to strike their foes.” Yehochanan gently took the sword from Mohamara’s grasp and held it away from his hand. Through their mutual connection, the spider-crab set up sympathetic bonds with where the sword was, and how it had felt in his hand.
When the spider-crab released the sword, Chillrend stayed floating in the air. The blue malachite glass shortsword slowly rotated but stayed about a foot from Mohamara’s hand.
Hadvar watched, amazed, as the cat bade the sword thrust, swing, or block without actually touching it at all. “If the Psijics could do stuff like that,” the Quaestor commented, “I understand why the Thalmor were so afraid of them.”
“I’m also pretty sure this is illegal,” Mohamara muttered as he had Chillrend spin at great speed, turning it into a blue disk of death. “You’re supposed to have a license to even study telekinesis.”
Yehochanan clacked his claws like castanets. “Those laws are restrictions for a society that doesn’t exist yet.”
“Can you do that with… other things?” Hadvar asked.
Both cat and Daedric spider-crab looked at each other, suddenly full of ideas.
When General Tullius and his guard arrived in Helgen, it was to find that the military town had an undue level of frivolity about it. Right in the marketplace were members of the Legion, tossing objects of various sizes for a Legion conscript to catch and juggle. What was alarming was that these items were so numerous that it formed almost a perfect circle. And to General Tullius’ eye, he could tell that cat wasn’t actually touching any of the objects he was ‘juggling’, just moving his hands near them as they came down.
It made the townsfolk happy enough, but it was also not what the cat had been paid for.
While the General consulted with the local Praefect about the state of the garrison, he had Rikke break up the waste of the Legion’s time and bring the cat--his soon to be son-in-law in for a formal review.
The cat, with his eyesight back again, seemed more confident and distinctly pinker than when the General last had a private chat with him.
On the Praefect’s desk, appropriated for Tullius’ use, was the documentation of the cat’s productivity, field reviews of the enchanted items he’d provided, and testimonials about working with the Khajiit. The General and the conscript sat in silence while these were reviewed until the General set the last one down and steepled his fingers.
“...You’re wearing earrings,” Seneca Tullius broke the silence with an observation and an arched brow.
“Marcurio gave them to me,” the Khajiit responded, not afraid of the General but still tense.
“Hmm. I wonder who they belonged to before he stole them.”
Mohamara’s expression became hostile, understandably. The cat sat straighter and glared to meet Tullius’ withering look. “Marcurio didn’t steal them, he told me so.”
“And you believed him? He’s been stealing from the Legion, from you, and from other people across Skyrim who don’t know to put his face to their hardships. He’s a thief, and only stupid people trust thieves.” Tullius leaned forward and rose both eyebrows as he looked down at the cat. “Are you stupid, Mr. Ahramani?”
Surprisingly, the cat shrugged. “A little bit, yeah. Everyone’s stupid sometimes.” Tullius did not see it, but the cat began to work magic upon him. He connected the General to a bound up lump of excess kindness that Yehochanan had extracted from his brain earlier that morning. He noticed a faint flash of pink in the General’s eyes, but no other change.
“I suppose you’re right. We’ll see how much you trust him in a year’s time.” Tullius leaned back in his borrowed seat. “Please understand that I do understand--Marcurio is charming, he has a gift for worming into people’s hearts. But he’s also not above using those gifts to get himself ahead, I’ve seen that myself. I imagine Jarl Laila Law-Giver will come to realize that before the end of this madness.” The General lifted up a parchment and examined it once more. “But this isn’t a meeting to talk about my son or his debauched lifestyle. The point of this meeting is to review your performance since being assigned here. It’s come to my attention, per this report, that you’ve taken on some… students to bolster productivity. Naturally, these people will need to be entered into the Legion’s records and--”
As it turned out, spending almost four hours talking about paperwork that needed to be filled out, then filling out that paperwork, finding out that the paperwork had been the wrong paperwork and doing the correct paperwork was a form of suffering Mohamara didn’t know existed. It was somehow worse than filing his taxes. Which, when Mohamara made the comparison, prompted General Tullius to call in Hadvar and fill out the cat’s Haafingar, Skyrim, and Imperial taxes. Which took another four hours.
“...Sign here to authorize the Legion to quarter soldiers in the pending settlement on your property,” Hadvar said with the same cheer he’d had at the start of the process and put a parchment in front of Mohamara.
The cat groaned like a Draugr and was about to sign when he paused. “There’s an old Dragon Cult fortress built into the end of the valley, can I lease that to the Legion instead?”
“You’re not the first Skyrim landowner to ask that,” Tullius commented. “No, you cannot. Nordic ruins don’t meet the building requirements for Legion encampments. However the paperwork your people filed with Elisif’s court suggests that they intend to use that fortress as the starting point for their settlement. So whatever Legion forces we send there, if any, would have to help construct the settlement to be quartered there legally.”
Mohamara squinted, still with the pen ready to sign. “Are you saying I can use Imperial bureaucracy to help my people build their settlement faster?”
The General met Mohamara’s eyes with a blank expression. “The Legion is good for more than just killing people, son. Someone’s going to have to build the roads to and from this settlement and Solitude.”
“...A’ight,” Mohamara shrugged and signed and dated the document. “Not going to turn down help I’m paying taxes for.”
“And already you’re better than legitimately half this province.”
Hadvar frowned slightly, but added the document to the stack of paperwork and brought forth another when a horn sounded from outside the building. “General, that’s the--”
“I know the enemy forces horn, soldier.” Tullius stood and nonchalantly walked around the desk. “The only Stormcloak encampment in the area recently lost half their men to that Hagraven’s coven, yes? Then they’re starving and want a warrior’s death because we’ve gotten no reports from Fort Neugrad about reinforcements--”
A rock that could only have been launched from a trebuchet struck the building, burst through the window and crushed the desk where General Tullius had been moments before. Thankfully Hadvar saved the paperwork.
Tullius seemed rather adaptive to the situation, in all honesty. “Or the gods can decide I’m wrong on all counts. That works too.”
With the Red Shoes enchantment and Mystic telekinesis, it proved almost too easy to get the civilians over the city walls and headed toward Riverwood and Falkreath. The Stormcloaks outnumbered the Legion garrison, but the Legion had spent weeks benefiting from an increasing stockpile of Mohamara’s enchanted items. It took the eastern gate being taken out by trebuchet fire to let Ulfric’s boys and girls get into Helgen proper because the archers were cutting them down before they could get their siege ladders up.
Mohamara had his students go with the townspeople to see them safely on their journey, and spent his time zooming around with the Red Shoes enchantment to heal people, enchant rocks with Explosive Runes and lobb them into the Stormcloak ranks, and in general, made a nuisance of himself.
Unfortunately, the Stormcloaks having far, far more men, and trebuchet support meant that even with a combat healer keeping the Legion soldiers alive far longer than they should have been, they lost the town by inches.
The order for retreat came from the General and would go through the keep since the north gate was blocked by a collapsed section of the wall. And, of course, Mohamara did not do the sensible thing and follow those orders right away, but attempted to combine the Red Shoes enchantment and telekinesis to retrieve injured Legionnaires. It also occurred to him, while he did so, that he could just launch people over the walls. Not even Legionnaires, he could do so with Stormcloaks.
Four Legion soldiers had been retrieved and twenty-plus Stormcloaks had been flung over the walls when they got too close before someone managed to put an end to the cat’s nonsense.
A vicious bear of a Stormcloak officer, armored in literal bear fur, managed to sneak up on the cat when he wasn’t looking and bring down his iron battleax on the pink Khajiit’s tail. The cat froze and puffed up right away, with only a hissing ‘f’ noise escaping his clenched jaw.
Sheogorath watched the battle from on the slopes of the mountain, eating tundra cotton out of a sack like popcorn while a Hagraven looked on through opera glasses. “Moira, dear girl,” the Mad God said as a palpable tension developed in the air, “do you ever get the feeling that something real bad is about to happ--”
He was cut off by a shockwave erupting from Helgen. A cacophonous scream of agony echoed through the surrounding land--and the Mad God was in a particularly good spot to watch sympathetic bonds of hideous pain explode from Helgen to reach out to every living thing for miles. Every soldier in the Legion and Stormcloak armies aboveground found themselves writing or seizing from the flood of foreign pain assaulting them. Faintly, he could make out a particularly naughty word in the scream.
The snow on the slopes of the Throat of the World shook free in a legendary avalanche that would be spoken of for decades to come. Trees bent and caught fire from the strain. A dragon was knocked from the air and pinned to Kyne’s sacred mountain as the snow passed. And the town of Helgen itself saw the mortar holding its stonework together vibrate itself to dust. The physical sound of the scream was audible as far north as Solstheim and as far south as the Imperial City.
“Ooh, boy’s got some lungs on him.”
Meanwhile, far to the north Ulfric Stormcloak, proud Nord warrior, Tongue, and Jarl of Windhelm looked up at the sound of a cacophonous shout that echoed across the Sea of Ghosts. His navy was about to turn the cape and enter Solitude’s bay to begin their half of the attack. The strange omen disturbed his men, as it disturbed Ulfric. But they had come too far to let mere omens stop them.
He went to the prow of the flagship, The High-King, and began to think of a speech that would put fire in the bellies of his men and get them spoiling for a fight.
“Stormcloaks! Sons and Daughters of Skyrim! Harken to me! Today, we will cut off one head of the Imperial dragon looming our homeland. Think of all the cruelties we have faced up to this point, the hardships! Picture the faces of all you have lost to an Empire too weak to rule you, and too distant to give a damn about you. Today, it ends! Today we will liberate the people of Haafingar! Today we--!”
Ulfric’s speech was cut short by a second omen. A stone statue sailed through the air and smashed into the deck of his ship. To the Stormcloaks’ horror, even Ulfric, it bore the seeming of his trusted friend and second in command, Galmar Stone-Fist. The poor man’s face was frozen in a mask of horror and agony.
“....go home. Today, we go home. Because neither the gods, or the winds, favor us.” All the fire was gone from Ulfric as he looked at the statue of his friend. As he did, water began to bubble up around the base of the statue, firmly punched through the hull.
“Sho-should we… go to the lifeboats?” A closed-helmeted Stormcloak soldier asked the crew at large.
“Yes,” Ulfric said, defeated. “That would probably be for the best.”