The Killing Grounds
We reached Beyte’s tower near dusk and found it engulfed in flames.
Every level and window was dressed in fire. The only thing more astounding than the height of the flames—which must have risen five feet into the air—was the roar of such a powerful incineration. It was a thundering, endless noise, as if there was an enormous herd of fire-cattle stampeding around in the tower halls.
“Wouldn’t think a tower’d burn like that,” Dondir said, smiling from his saddle. He had put on a shirt of steel chainmail over his armor when we saw the tower, the links were gleaming in the firelight.
Astrid scanned the landscape. “I am assuming this is the mysterious Lord Vergun’s work?” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the flames.
“That’s my guess,” I said.
“What did the owner of this tower know about you?”
I shrugged. “She is the one who gave me the tattoos. Taught me to use them.” I looked around some more. The pillar of fire created a strange, flickering mass of shadows as night descended. “Might be she managed to get away.”
“Doesn’t seem likely,” Babette chimed in.
And she was right, it didn’t. But something in my guts told otherwise. Beyte was a slippery one, and she drew confidence from someplace powerful. Even with a thousand men, I think Lord Vergun would have had trouble putting her in the ground.
“Tracks here,” Nivos the taciturn Dunmer growled from a ways off. “Lot of ‘em.”
I guided my horse over and had a look. He was right—I figured about ten or fifteen horseman had ridden around the tower in a tight loop. The beasts had been wearing elven horseshoes, I could make out the tiny script indented into the earth. Only the Altmer are self-important enough to engrave patterns on the bottom of their horse’s hooves.
We all realized it was an ambush at about the same time. Something in the air just wasn’t right.
Dondir nocked an arrow, Nivos drew his Daedric swords. Babette leapt from her horse—smart, given how bad a rider she was—and Astrid drew the Blade of Woe from her hip. Slipped it into a reverse grip.
I slipped my mask down over my face.
The Thalmor had surrounded us, sneaking up from behind while we were distracted by the flames. They shot a volley of arrows towards us, shafts whistling through the night. Elven arrowheads reflecting the orange glow of the burning tower.
There were a lot more than fifteen arrows. More like fifty.
My four brothers scattered—everyone managing to dart away clean except for Babette, who took one shaft to the throat and another to the right tit. I have to give the little vampire credit, she ripped both arrows free without breaking stride and disappeared into the night.
The screams of men followed soon after from the direction she’d been heading.
I could have dodged the ten or so arrows that came my way, too. But something about the precision of the ambush reminded me of the time I almost got killed by a bunch of Thalmor in the woods, and I decided not to fuck around.
I blinked, vanishing from my horse in a cloud of shadow. Reappeared a stride behind three Thalmor archers who were in the middle of nocking their second arrows.
I drew Garland’s sword and cut off all three of their heads with a single stroke.
Then I blinked again, this time to a small hill about a hundred yards away from the tower. Far enough so that none of the ambushers would be able to see me. But I could see them—they’d rubbed their armor with soot to hide themselves better, but it wasn’t enough to hide from me.
There were about forty of them still alive. My Brothers were engaging different groups—killing with the fury and rage that only a servant of Sithis can achieve—but a clump of fifteen untroubled Thalmor were standing off to the east. They were tightening their bows, all of them aiming at the blonde-haired queen of darkness herself, Astrid.
I slipped the bow off my back and fired six arrows in rapid succession. Then I blinked and appeared in the middle of the pack just as my arrows were hitting their targets. Six kills. The rest of them died by my sword, unable to comprehend what was happening to them.
People simply don’t expect teleporting assassins these days. Even the Thalmor.
Astrid glared at me from across the field of fire, her face tight and unreadable. I nodded once at her and then blinked away. Killed about a dozen more gold-skinned bastards, laughing the entire time and enjoying the warm feeling of their blood splashed across my body.
We were all laughing by the end. It was easy work.
I should have known better. Should have seen it coming.
I’d run my teleporting slack down to a nub—the creatures that lurked in that dark dimension I blinked through were getting so close that I could see the long black hairs prickling out from their spindly, insect-like legs. One more blink and they’d have me. So I skewered one last Thalmor—ramming my blade through the narrow seam between his breastplate and backplate—then pulled off the mask.
“You’re just full of new tricks,” Astrid said, walking towards me. The Blade of Woe was still in her hand, completely drenched in blood along with her entire right arm. It looked like she had jammed the dagger all the way down some poor bastard’s throat.
“Yeah,” I said.
Dondir and Nivos and Babette were close by. We all relaxed a bit, seeing that everyone was dead.
And that is when the real ambush began.
A seven-foot tall Thalmor appeared behind Dondir. He must have had a powerful kind of invisibility to sneak up on the five of us like that. He was wearing a full suit of ebony armor that had been enameled with red and gold coloring. Some strange patterns had been burned into the steal. Expensive shit.
He was also carrying a two-handed Elven broadsword that was six feet long.
The Thalmor hit Dondir on the right hip. The force of the sword folded him in half—all the sudden Dondir was flying sideways through the air, his forehead slammed up against his boots. The links from his chainmail sprayed all over. Metallic plinking so loud I could hear it over the sound of the flames.
Dondir’s corpse landed five strides from my boots. I could see his spine broken and poking out his back like a snapped twig.
The Thalmor moved into a balanced fighting stance, one that would allow him to attack or defend easily. Green eyes flicking between the four remaining assassins that surrounded him. He seemed focused, but he did not seem afraid.
“You must be Lord Vergun,” I said.
He smiled. “And you must be Narova Black Hair.”
All of us took a few deep breaths and got ready for a fight.