Cortana stared out the window as Meridia’s realm slithered past beyond the tempered glass. She was on her seventh ship in a relay that was taking her to the skald base, its location a closely guarded secret, all that she knew was its name Soven Vahlok [Secret Guardian]. She was dressed in a black shirt and pants similar to her off duty clothes and without any weapons.
All she had possessed, from her armour to her pocket dagger had been destroyed during Akuze and since she had not really owned anything since she had joined the army at age twenty it meant that she had nothing more than the clothes on her back and her amulet to Akatosh.
The door slid open and she saw that a young Maomer crewman was standing there “we will be entering mundus soon, you will be getting your first view of Soven Vahlok soon” the young woman told her.
“Thank you” Cortana replied nodding and turning back to the window and watched as the world beyond bent
and twisted, colours running together like wet paint and a black void replacing the bright energies as the ship slid through the barrier between worlds. As the ship pulled a little more to starboard she frowned, they were not in a system, instead they sat in an empty space between a massive nebula and a distant system.
The nebula swirled lazily as the gasses burned with all the colours of the spectrum, then they began to part like a veil, revealing the prow of a truly massive ship. It slid from the gasses like a sea dragon emerging from the depths, until it hung before them in the void.
No, she thought the word ship could not be used to describe the behemoth that sat before her. Larger than any carrier it sat far away from their position, gleaming in the light of the nebula. “Behold Soven Vahlok” the crewman said with a small smile “the home of the skald, covered with the tales of the heroes of Nirn. Ten kilometers of death and destruction ready to be unleashed at a word.” Its hull was a gleaming black, but it was the ward anchors that drew the eye. In place of the standard feather or scale pattern it was adorned with designs that one could not quite make out.
Slowly their vessel grew closer and the detailing was revealed, the black surface was covered in the golden and crystalline hues of the armour ward metals, the patterns adorning its length depicted the history of the Nirn, hundreds of Millennia compressed into life-sized pictures and covering it in its entirety, all the way to the creation of the empire.
As the grew closer she saw the form of Great heroes like Ethenwyn Elsinor ending the plane meld, Kashista Zalkus destroying the Heart of Lorkahn, Markus Severus raining magic upon the king of worms and Helena Snow-Smile holding back the Daedric hoards as Martin Septim battled Dagon. The history of heroes, for all to see. A true masterpiece.
“If you will follow me it’s time to disembark” the crewman told her, leading the way to the small Netch that waited in the hanger.
She entered and felt in shake gently as it lifted from the artificial gravity and passed through the hanger wards into the abyss. The journey was quick as the shuttle darted across the divide and slid into the waiting hanger and settling itself near the bay doors.
“Go, your new brethren await” her guide told her, pointing back toward the airlock. Numbly she retraced her steps until she stood before the door, her palms were sweating and she breathed deeply rubbing them nervously on her pant legs.
The door opened and she stepped out. There before her in neat rows stood the Skalds. Their black armour looked like the Daedric armour except the edges glowed with an icy blue light in place of the traditional red and the horns were a little smaller.
Their stillness and glowing eyes mad them look like the armies of some unknown Prince about to launch an invasion upon mundus. They lined a black pathway, as silent and unmoving as statues and at the far end stood a figure in red, their features and armour blurred by distance.
Slowly she stepped down the ramp until she stood on a level with the Skalds, she straightened her shoulders and began to stride confidently down the path. Behind her she felt the wiring of the shuttle lifting off and passing through the ward and the hangar doors closed, sealing her in.
Holding her face expressionless she continued forward, through the lines of black clad Skald, as she passed the first they inclined their heads, a slight movement that was just barely perceptible. On and on she walked until she reached the end where the red armoured one waited.
Up close revealed almost seven feet in height and the crimson helm bore a large set of horns, like those on a dragon. The face of the helmet was that of a stern looking human male, carved into the metal face and lined up so the eyes of the carving were the glowing blue eye slits.
“Cortana Shepard” The leader’s voice boomed across the hold and had a tinge of the Thu’um to it. “You are here to join our order?” Setting her courage she met the cold glare of his visor.
“Geh” she replied, refusing to twitch as he stepped forward, crowding her personal space.
“You think yourself worthy to join our ranks?” he thundered and she held in a wince as her teeth shook from the force of his yell.
“No, but those wiser than I, believe that I do, and so I trust their judgement” She told him, now glaring into his visor.
For a moment all was silent as the hordes of Skald burned stares into her back and the leader drilled into her eyes. The moment seemed to hang an eternity in an instant. A loud crash was heard, followed by another, and another, gaining strength, Cortana knew the sound, that of armoured feet stamping in rhythm. Voices now joined chanting “MU ZEYLUM, MU ZEYLUM!”
This sound continued as hundreds of feet and voices filled the air. The leader raised a hand and silence was immediate “Mu Zeylum, valokein hun” [We approve, Welcome Hero] he said before reaching up and removing his helmet, a rustle following as the others did the same.
The face on the helmet matched the one beneath it. A Square and ruggedly handsome face lined and weathered with age sporting a well-trimmed and full grey beard with shoulder length hair holding traditional war braids framed ice blue eyes that shone with an inner kindness and strength.
“I am Grandmaster Nanulf Greymane and I welcome you home young Skald.”
“This is your room here Shepard” the Skald Captain told her leading her through the ornately decorated corridors and arriving at a sliding door unadorned except for her name in the center, written in neat letters.
“Training begins at six hundred so be on time, use clairvoyance to get there and you should be fine.” He continued and she nodded, waiting till he was around the corner before touching the door button. It slid open to reveal a small but well laid out cabin, just big enough to hold a bunk, a foot locker, desk, a bookshelf and armour/weapons rack.
The bed was done up with standard black sheets and there was a small bedside reading magelight in an amber tinted lamp with the overhead light strips. The bookshelf contained several manuals but mostly was left empty for her to fill with later acquisitions. A sheaf of blank light sheets and a stylus sat ready next to the console and another amber desk light.
Her palm computer tinged and she held her hand out palm upwards activating the interface with a pulse of magica, in her messages was a letter from the quartermaster:
Welcome to the Skalds Cortana Shepard,
We have already placed your armour in your quarters. Your skald armour may be worn at all times or you may wear the off duty fatigues, they are in your foot locker whilst your armour is on its stand. Meal times will be at 8 am and pm with the lunch hour at noon precisely. A chime will sound at these times, free time may be spent in any of the common areas or libraries, you may use clairvoyance. Be sure to link your palm comp to the system to ensure that you receive all notifications, your passcode is 34452-gntwa-5kkhy-55531. Your mentor is Skald captain David Anderson, be sure to meet with him before training. Good luck Skald.
Ishea Grisas, Skald Quartermaster
Once she finished logging in she closed her hand in a fist, deactivating the palm comp and she turned to look at the armour on the stand, it gleamed like freshly spilt ink and it was without a glow as it was deactivated and waiting for its owner, folded on a shelf next to it was an ebony weave under suit.
With a feeling of determination she shucked her clothes and pulled on the suit. As the seams sealed magically lines along her torso and limbs began to pulse, small flashes of pale blue light running from the center of her chest, out along her limbs in time with her heart.
Feeling comforted by the slick feeling of the suit she reached for the armour and began to slid the pieces on. Each article fused itself to the body suit and was buckled on as an extra measure, seals clicking into place and small hisses and excess air was pushed out from the joints, sealing the suit and armour together in a vacuum and the suit in turn to her body.
At last she stood in her armour, her natural height of five foot seven now augmented to almost six feet, the helmet sat on its stand still and she reached out to fasten the weapons to their respective places, her new sword still in the shape of an ancient ebony blade and made of the Daedric alloy that formed the rest of her armour was attached to the sheath holder on her back.
Almost twenty daggers found their homes in various sheaths around her body and a longer knife took its place on her right shoulder, a new shotgun settled in the small of her back and the twin pistols on her thighs.
She paused and closed her eyes and breathed deeply through her nose, the weight of her gear was both a wonderful feeling of security and a horrific reminder of that day, she could almost smell the fumes of melting armour and hear the screams of her comrades.
Quickly she opened her eyes and shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the memories and turned to the door, it was time to go exploring.
The shadow slithered through the ducts without making a sound, in moved with almost supernatural silence and grace in a black skin-tight suit that covered the head and face with a matt black mask. It seemed to pause for a moment before both its hands at a particular vent opening, the left tone glowed purple for a moment and the figure looked around the room before nodding to itself and activating the small computer in the palm of its right hand, a flash of lines and coded were quickly flicked through and the lock on the vent made a soft clicking sound.
With gentle fingers the figure slid the vent cover off and slithered into the room beyond. As the thief remained crouched in the shadows it revealed to be a either an Asari or a female Nirnian, then it flashed a soft purple once before vanishing from sight. The room beyond was tastefully furnished and dotted with what appeared to be pieces of art and various Prothean artifacts.
One by one the pieces vanished, then the various furnishings, pieces of furniture and eventually even cooking utensils, all vanishing into the enchanted pouch that could hold almost anything, bigger items like the dining room table and the sofa were left but everything else that wasn’t nailed down with twenty inch spikes was taken.
Then the cover gently lifted back into place and clicked as it locked again, leaving the now barren suit for its furious owner to find.
Citadel, Nirnian Embassy
“Are you certain we have to attend?” Valern the new Salarian councillor asked Sparatus the new Turian councillor.
Sparatus sighed “for the twentieth time yes” he snapped at the Salarian, tugging at the bottom of his formal jacket uncomfortably. Tevos watched them and smothered the urge to sigh. These two were acting like children being forced to go to temple.
“This is a tradition that has been in place since they set up their embassy thirteen years ago” she reminded her companions. “If we don’t even give a token attendance then they will feel slighted,” she fixed her eyes on Valern who swallowed nervously. ”
I do hope you both have reviewed the etiquette for this function, I will tell you now that the last thing you want is to be in the receiving end of an Altmer’s disapproving sniff and they’re sticklers for proper behavior. In fact I think they claim to have invented manners.” she added, feeling a little mischievous pleasure as the two new bloods squirmed.
Their car pulled smoothly to a halt before the Nirnian embassy. The carved stone archway was tastefully decorated with green coniferous branched that twinkled with tiny multicolored lights, the two guards had wreaths of the same plant on their heads in place of helmets. Their spears twined with some kind of flowering vine. As the council approached the entrance the guards smiled at them, Tevos held out the invitation and the spears uncrossed, opening the way “welcome and Joyous New life celebrations!” they said happily as the councillors passed.
“Joyous New life” Tevos replied graciously as she lead the way through. Inside, the embassies main courtyard was filled with tables ringing the central fountain and leaving a large space in the center in a ring around the water rose a ring of magical flames making the affair look like a bonfire with the forms of the Dragon queens standing in the center with water pouring from their hands, all in all it made a fascinating juxtaposition.
The tables were decorated with candles and wreaths, the air filled with the resinous scent and little coloured lights floated through the air just above the heads of the guests. In a corner musicians played quietly, making a pleasant background to the throng of conversation held by the attending guests while brightly coloured cloth streamers adorned the high ceiling and banners bearing racial and familial crests adorned the walls and archways.
The Nirnian New life festival had become one of the social highlights of the years, with the elite and powerful of the citadel social life desperately hoping for an invitation, the entire Nirnian population celebrated the collection of festivals known as the week of Celebration, a week long affair that started on the last day of their year and ending on the seventh day of the new year with the festival of meeting were they celebrated the founding of their empire.
In what had become known as the bronze quarter where the Nirnian portion of the citadel population lived, there would be massive feasts that the entire district would attend, dancing and festivities would fill the corridors and the denizens would put aside grudges for this one week.
“Ah Tevos!” Voice Galeyal glided forward with the grace that made many envious. She was dressed in deep emerald green, a wreath of evergreen on her head woven like all the other Guests were wearing, “I am so glad that you have joined us this evening” she told them a smile on her face. She held out her hands and inclined her head before embracing Tevos.
Then she turned to the other two, her smile still on her face “and it is wonderful that you have joined us this year Councillors” she told them before turning to Tevos again “I hope you all enjoy the feast she told them before she turned to great the next arrivals.
The councillors moved over to the Redguard servant who stood next to two baskets and waited patiently was he hand each of them an ornate cuff covered in runes and sigils, these were dispeller cuffs and they ensured that no one accidentally consumed food that would react badly to the eezo in their bodies. Then with a deft skill that came from much practice he placed wreaths on their heads before they went out and mingled with the members of the citadel upper crust.
Tevos smiling and in generally enjoying herself, over the years she had learnt that whilst the Nirnians were absolutely ruthless on the battlefield, whether in war or politics, they were also truly amazing hosts, their parties tending to be the talk of the citadel.
Her attention was drawn to one particular young Asari who stood shyly in a corner looking rather lost. She smiled recognizing the girl’s freckled completion at once as Dr. Liara T’soni daughter of her friend Benezia.
She ran her eyes over the crowd and found Benezia speaking earnestly with a Dark haired Imperial male in wine red and black who gestured grandly with the glass of colovian brandy in his hand, no doubt recounting a tale. Tevos snagged two flutes filled with the sparkling white wine known as Prosecco and moved toward the lost Asari.
Liara felt so lost. She stood in a corner of the embassy courtyard and watched the glittering assemblage swirl before her. It was so strange, the Nirnians in their bright jewel tones, with the women in long elegant dresses and men in smart tunics; all covered with intricate embroidery that looked like something out of a fantasy novel.
All compared with the starker more angular and patterned styles of the Citadel species, though she did notice that many Asari sported outfits that seemed to take inspiration from Nirnian designs. The designs of the room both fascinated and overwhelmed her, the idea of making wreaths from a coniferous plant to symbolize life was such a foreign idea, yet she could see where such an idea had come from.
Someone cleared their throat nearby, breaking Liara out of her Archeologist mode and she looked to see Councillor Tevos standing next to her holding two elegant crystal flutes filled with a pale golden liquid
that fizzed gently.
“Liara” she smiled at the younger Asari and held out one of the glasses “here try this, I’m sure you will find it delicious” the councillor told her, smiling kindly. Hesitantly Liara took the glass and sipped tentatively, her face morphing into one of pleasant surprise at the slightly sweet liquid.
“Thank you councillor” she replied thankfully “I wasn’t really sure what to do.”
Tevos nodded sympathetically “here let me introduce you to a friend of mine” she told the younger Asari and leading her through the crowd to wear a middle aged Asari was standing with a Dunmer female.
“Liar this is Illia T’sen, a colleague of mine. I’m sure you two will get along” Tevos told her, introducing her to the pair, the Dunmer inclined her head before excusing herself and moving toward the drink table.
Illia smiled broadly, she was wearing and beautiful Nirnian style dress of deep amber that complemented her deep skin tone and wearing a simple silver pendant with a sapphire in the center, in fact if she had pointed ears and hair then she could have passed for a Dunmer.
“A pleasure to meet you Liara, first time at a Nirnian party?” Liara nodded bashfully and Illia nodded in a commiserating fashion. “I remember my first party thrown by Nirnians, was down in the Bronze quarter during their festival to their goddess Mara” her lips quirked ruefully at the memory “made an absolute fool of myself, a friend of mine in the commandos had given me a beautiful necklace that I later found out she acquired on a night out drinking with her squad, it was a beautiful affair, made of gold with a blue stone in the circle. I was propositioned for marriage by no less than seven males, it wasn’t till after that I was told that I was wearing an amulet of Mara, which when worn signifies the wearer is looking for a spouse. I have never been so mortified in my life”
Liara giggled at this before looking at Illia curiously “if you don’t mind my asking why are you dressed like a Nirnian?” she asked hoping she hadn’t offended the other Asari.
Illia shrugged “I like their stuff and I’m the head of the Citadel/Imperial travel bureau, I spend a lot of time on Shanxi trying to get travel visas set up, that’s where my main office is, so I tend to dress like them, they are less jumpy around you then, they don’t mind other races but they’re more used to seeing other races that dress like them.”
Liara looked at her in astonishment “You’ve lived among them? What are they like?” she asked her eyes wide and her archeologist persona kicking into high gear.
“Oh they’re pretty much the same as us, only they have a lot more aggressive stance towards certain things like slavery and honour” Illia answered breezily.
Liara’s forehead furrowed “so like the Turians or the Krogan?” she asked and Illia laughed.
“their Nords leave the Turians in the dust, they believe that to die in battle is preferable, and they have arenas where you can enter and fight for money and entertainment, apparently the practice of fighting to the death was dropped for the common bouts around eleven centuries ago. Though a condemned criminal can still ask to go to the arena for their death sentence rather than being shipped to Darkside.” Illia told her with a sight shudder.
“what’s Darkside?” Liara wanted to know and another voice answered causing her to gasp ad spin to face the newcomer
“Darkside is where the blood companies work out of” the speaker was a man with snow white skin, black hair and a pair of hungry orange eyes, he smiled and revealed a pair of lengthened canines that looked extremely sharp.
“Blood companies?” she squeaked and the man nodded ” My race needs blood in place of regular food” he told her, holding up the golden goblet that she had thought was full of wine but upon closer inspection held a thick red liquid she now realized was blood.
The man casually took a sip and smiled at her again before walking away. A shudder ran up Liara’s spine and she shook before a comforting hand fell on her shoulder “Yeah, those guys can be downright creepy, though I have met some nice ones, hey queen Serana herself is a Vampire and a really nice lady so I think of it as they are just like everyone else, just trying to make a living.” Illia told her, a kind smile on her face. “Here why don’t I introduce you to some of my colleagues?” Liara
nodded numbly before allowing herself to be lead deeper into the crowd.
Garrus walked out of the theater feeling amazed, it was a trial showing of a Nirnian vid called The Tale of tongues It was a war drama taking place during the dragon wars, he had been in awe of the dragons and the three main characters as they struggled against the dragon hordes.
“Spirits what a waste of credits” a voice behind him made him look over his shoulder to see an older pair of Turians walking out. The one who hadn’t spoken nodded
“Yeah complete garbage, and they claim it to be based on historical events” she said smirking
“proves they really are just a bunch of dumb primitives” the first one spoke again and his companion laughed as they walked away. Garrus stared after them in bewilderment at their retreating backs how could they think that?
It had been an amazing vid, he had been on the edge of his seat for most of the vid and the battle scenes had been truly epic with thousands of extras fighting the battles as the Nirnians frowned upon computer generated scenes, preferring to use the real deal as much as possible. He shook his head and continued home.
“Zorah if you don’t lift that shield higher you’re going to be short a life!” the instructor barked, Tali shook her sweat soaked hair out of her eyes and heaved her shield higher to block the incoming blow. Her opponent’s sword clanged off the surface in a shower of sparks and the reverberations shook her arm and shoulder. “Better!” the teacher said before moving on to the next pair.
As he left, Tali swung with her sword and managed to catch the edge of her friend Kal’s shield, the force of her blow knocking in down just enough. She lunged forward, putting her shoulder behind it and rammed the bigger boy, sending him staggering as her sword snaked into the opening and came to a rest against his chest.
“Dead” she panted, retracting the weapon and stepping away, keeping her shield in the ready position out of force of habit. Kal grinned “you’re getting better Tali, you really turned it around, still glad were not using dual swords, your mean with those.”
Tali smiled and blushed, but it was true. As members of the empire it was required that they learn the basics of combat. Melee, hand to hand, ranged, tactics, where the citadel races had physical education they had combat lessons every day.
A bell chimed and she smiled, walking back with Kal and the others to the equipment rack where they lined up and hung their curved Quarian sabres and shields, derived from ancient weapons and brought up to speed, on the next rack they hung their padded leather armour and helmets to be cleaned later before they all moved off to the showers, that adjoined the change rooms.
Tali groaned in relief as the hot water ran over her tired muscles, she had the morning class so she needed to be ready for her next classes soon, first she had biology, followed by chemistry and alchemy.
A break for lunch and then physics, and arcane theory. On the off days she had combat, History, technology (both electric and arcane) then lunch and an afternoon of Mathematics, Debate and Literature. Any recreational activities were usually before or after school, currently she was a member of the engineering club (one of its top members too).
The day slid by in the way that school days tend to, with the one highlight being that her teacher announced that they would be taking a field trip to the Imperial city on Nirn. It was an ecstatic Tali who raced home, her face filled with hope and expectation.
“Mom! Mom! You’ll never guess what!” she cried forgoing her usual greeting and throwing herself at her mother who was in the living room reading a novel. Lia’Zorah looked up in time to be hit by the gangly missile that was her daughter, gasping at the impact of her offspring’s hard muscled body.
“What?” she asked when she had gotten her breath back.
“Mr. Sala has said that we are going on a field trip to Nirn!” Tali cried excitedly, bouncing on her toes in excitement “all you and father have to do is sign the waver!” Lia grinned, though Tali could not see it behind her mother’s visor and she hugged the teenager fondly.
“I’m glad, I agree and I’m sure your father will too, he really enjoyed the time he spent in the capital”
Tali’s bright silver eyes grew huge “When he and the other admirals when to apply for citizenship?” she remembered excitedly and squealed in excitement, before sitting very still on the sofa, “I hope father agrees” she said, her barley contained excitement showing in her stance and expression.
As if her words had summoned him the front door opened and Rael’Zorah strode through the door, looking rather dashing in his admiral’s uniform that was altered to work with the Quarian enviro suit.
“Dad!” she cried, unable to hold her more reserved pose and flinging herself at her father like she had as a child. Rael braced himself at the sight of her and managed to catch her in a hug.
“Hello little one” he smiled said with a smile in his voice that only widened as he saw her petulant pout, once more marveling at the gift of being able to see her face.
“My class is going on a field trip to the imperial city. Can I go father please!” she pleaded looking up at him, hope and fear evident in her eyes.
Rael chuckled and hugged her,” of course you may go, I approved of the expedition in the first place for all eighth years.”
He smiled again as she grabbed him in a rib crushing hug, one that actually might crush ribs from the strength she had from wielding all sorts of heavy weapons.
“Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” she chanted squeezing hard before bounding out of the house towards her room practically bouncing off the walls in excitement.
Watching her go Rael looked at his wife, amusement showing in his stance “Well there goes your daughter” he told her and she crossed her arms.
“Oh no she gets that kind of excitement from you.”
Rael laughed and hugged Lia close “Maybe she does.”
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