AN: Thanks for the reviews, everyone! I haven't managed to find Captain Renault's first name yet – unless Renault is her first name, but that would be stupid – so I just decided to use a French name I found.
Also, forgive me once again for being late. Writing is a slow process for me. And this chapter turned out far longer than I had intended it.
Chapter four: Escape, part 2
That thing has a staff. A long, wooden staff with the head of one of the creature's unfortunate kinsmen latched on the top. In no way is it technically possible for the staff to generate and discharge electrical energy, yet that is exactly what it does, and you throw yourself down as a new beam of interlacing electrical vines sizzles over your head and crash into the wall behind you with a resounding bang.
Splintered pieces of rock scatter onto and around you, and with gritted teeth you lunge forwards, trying your best to ignore the searing pain in your thigh. The being looks like a primate of some sort, green skinned and hunchbacked and absolutely not interested in any kind of diplomacy with the human species. Whatever is in this large chamber is decidedly not worth the hassle these creatures are making, so you hurry towards the exit, though your leg slows you down considerably.
Luckily for you, aiming before shooting is a concept unfamiliar to the trigger-happy primate, though you can't help but feeling anxious as charges of electrical energy whizzes past you while two other primates dance in erratic circles around you, howling gutturally and stabbing their knives in the air. And damn it if you, someone who has faced off hordes of Super Mutants, aren't afraid of a bunch of batshit crazy monkeys. It's amazing how much braver you feel with a gun in your hand.
You exhale in relief as you pace up a small slope towards the wooden door of the egress and push it open with all the might you can muster before stepping in and slamming it shut. The weight of your body presses heavily against the door as you lean on it, expecting the fern colored primates to try to burst through. Nothing happens though, and you relax a little. Maybe they were just protecting their territory.
All you hear for a long moment is your own quiet breathing and a steady drip in the distance, but soon your ears catch something else. The sound starts off as a weak metallic rustling that slowly increases in volume and intermingle with heavy footsteps, angry male voices ricocheting in the rough cavern walls.
"… We should find a defensible spot and protect the Emperor until help arrives."
Isn't that Glenroy?
"Help? What makes you think help will get here before more of those bastards?"
And that must be Baurus!
As you move away from the door and around a corner, there is a startled shout and a cry of, "Here they come again!"
Sounds like trouble. Maybe they'll need your help. The only way out of this cavern is through a gaping hole in the brick wall on the far end of the passageway you're in. The rim along the opening is jagged and sharp; it doesn't look like the wall has just fallen apart due to natural decay, but rather like someone has forcibly blasted their way through it. Some fine explosives would be greatly appreciated just about now, especially considering that is the only type of weaponry you've actually been good at, which, bearing your natural klutziness in mind, is rather strange. The sound of battle becomes very loud and clear as you peek out of the hole that apparently leads back into the catacombs. Looking down, you can see that you are a couple of meters above the ground, and you sit on your heels, supporting your weight with your free hand before jumping down.
Landing painfully on the wooden soles of your sandals, you stagger inelegantly forwards in a momentary loss of balance before straightening yourself up. You hurry towards the source of the combat, and soon find yourself on a ledge above some sort of a hall, barely catching the sight of a roaring assassin whose shout is brutally cut short by the silvery glint of a sharp blade. The assassin drops backwards, her head rolling away to her left.
That was quick. They didn't need your help after all, but since you're already here…
You slide down the ledge, and walk towards the Emperor and his guards. Glenroy's eyebrows pull upwards as an expression of utter confusion upon noticing you before wrenching down in a scowl, eyes narrow. "Damn it, it's that prisoner again." His gaze wanders over your form, as do Baurus' and the Emperor's, a blend of disbelief and disgust tugging at their facial features. You don't even dare speculate what you might look like now, with zombie in your hair, scratches all over your legs and arms, caked blood on your face and attire… okay, you just speculated, and the sight wasn't pretty.
"By the Nine, what have you been doing?" Baurus asks, sheathing his blade. You shrug.
"Oh… this and that."
"And that cut in your leg?"
The question makes you cringe slightly. You can't possibly tell him you did it yourself. "Uhm…"
"Was it the assassins?" This time it's Glenroy's turn to talk and his voice is laced with seriousness.
No, it wasn't. "Yes, it was." You're inwardly grateful towards him, and even more so when he nods understandingly, even slightly impressed, as he slides his blade back in its scabbard. His eyes flick across your weapon, lips pressing into a thin line. "That was Captain Renault's sword. I recognize that scratch near the tip from when she sparred with Caroline." A hesitant pause. "She was a fine woman."
You nod. "I'm sure she was… sorry for your loss."
"It's okay." Glenroy rummages through one of his pouches for a moment before handing you a Potion of Healing. "Here, take this. The weak stuff won't work on such a deep cut."
"Oh, thanks! How nice of you."
You're just about to pour some of the potion into your palm when Glenroy suddenly snaps, "What exactly do you think you're doing?"
You glance up at him, confused. "I'm applying this on the wound."
"You honestly don't even know how to use a healing potion?" the weathered warrior snorts in response. "You're supposed to drink it, genius. Did you grow up in a cave or something?"
A smirk pulls at the corners of your lips. "Closer to the truth than you might think."
"Hmph," Glenroy frowns. "Just take your potion. If you can fight off the assassins, you can be of help to us. The gods know we'll need it. I'm still watching you, just remember that."
You shrug at the unspoken threat and take a deep sip from the bottle, surprised at how thin the liquid is. Remembering the thickness of the healing potion you found in the cave makes you shudder a little – thank goodness you didn't try to drink that one. A strange, prickly chilliness traces along the slash in your thigh as the scab rapidly darkens and rolls off, revealing perfectly healed skin underneath it. Your eyes widen.
Whoa. How is that even possib-
"Sir," Baurus says, somewhat sternly, "we have to get going now. I won't feel safe until we have escorted the Emperor to the Temple."
Glenroy gives a quick nod. "Alright. Let's get moving, everyone, and keep your eyes peeled!"
Right after this order has been uttered everyone's back turns to you as they move towards a gate, the Emperor falling slightly behind his two guards. You swiftly catch up to him, walking in a brisk gate at his side and ask in a hushed voice; "Where are we going?"
He glances sideways at you, remaining silent for a long moment. "To your freedom," he states simply, "and to my end."
Definitely not much of an optimist.
"Hey, don't worry, everything's gonna be alright," you try to reassure him, "your guards won't let the assassins -"
But he just smiles sadly and shakes his head. "No, you misunderstand me. I know that fate will catch up to me today. My dreams have told me this."
The last word is expressed too loudly for Baurus' liking and the look he gives you make you shrink away and whisper an apology to him. His face is tense as he turns his head away from you, continuing further into the catacombs with a tight hold on the hilt of his blade.
Lowering your voice, you address the Emperor again, with a tone drenched in skepticism; "So, you're like a psychic or something?"
His piercing eyes turn to you as he opens his mouth to answer, but is interrupted by a loud Aha! and clattering footsteps. Three assassins emerge from the shadows, roaring furiously, and you barely have the time to think oh no, not these assholes again before Baurus and Glenroy have subdued two of them. The last one rushes up to the Emperor, prepared to cut him down with her axe, but is brutally intercepted by you ramming your tilted body into her side, the force of the blow making both of you reel backwards. Just as the attacker manages to recover, Baurus pops up behind her, sword raised. Realizing what is about to happen, you close your eyes just as your ears fill with a sickening ripping noise followed by throttled gurgling and a loud thud.
"Scum," Glenroy spits contemptuously. "It looks like we got them all."
You open your eyes, bemused to discover that yet again the assassins' armor has disappeared in favor of some deeply red, hooded robes. Is the technology to do something like that even plausible? And if their technology is this advanced, how is it that they haven't come up with the concept of guns? Or power armor? Or –
A sudden sensation of strong fingers enveloping your right wrist breaks your string of thoughts, making you gasp loudly in shock. Glenroy raises a brow.
"Your eyes went glassy there," he remarks irritably. "What does it take to keep your attention if the threat of assassination can't? Stay focused. And for the love of Azura, since you already took the sword from Arlette – uh, I mean Captain Renault – you might as well try and use it." He lets go of you before turning around, muttering; "Damned rookie."
You frown, but don't say anything. If only he knew.
The four of you proceed further in, digging your gazes suspiciously into the shadowed corners of the catacombs. They remain assassin-free for a while, long enough for you to consider picking up the rather interesting conversation you were having with the Emperor, but you push that aside as the serenity is broken by yet another attack. This time you don't even have to throw yourself at the assassins – Glenroy and Baurus take care of them in a brutally dexterous and efficient manner, making them appear pitifully amateurish in comparison. You observe wide-eyed as their armor and weapons evaporate into a flare of yellow light.
"Conjured armor," Baurus explains, seemingly surprised when you ask him about it. "How can you not have heard of it?"
"Quiet you two," Glenroy snaps. "Your voices carry. We don't want to attract more of them, now do we?"
A brow elevates on your forehead. "You're wearing heavy metal armor and you're trying to be stealthy? That seems pretty stupid."
"Spare me from your opinions until they are wanted, prisoner," comes the curt response. It doesn't take long for you to reach a large door that emits sore complaints from its rusty hinges as you and Baurus force it open. The great chamber you enter is dimly lit and muffled by a silence that seems strangely forced in a way. Glenroy notices it too.
"Hold up," he orders. "I don't like this. Let me take a look."
His clanging footsteps echo hollowly in the hall as he descends a flight of stairs before coming to a halt, glancing around himself. Then he signals to you. "Looks clear. Come on, we're almost through to the sewers."
"See?" you nudge the Emperor chummily as he, you and Baurus proceed after Glenroy. "Seems like your dreams were just that; dreams."
The physical contact starts him a little, but he doesn't appear too bothered. "They are not," he insists.
"How do you know?"
"Because you were in them."
"Ha, I don't think – wait, what?" Did you just hear that last part correctly?
The Emperor sighs. "Listen. I know that you don't belong here – that this is all new and confusing for you and I'm not going to make it worse by overwhelming you with information you can't yet understand. But I will tell you that through my dreams I saw the world you came from –" his eyes gleam with unambiguous pity for you as he says this "- and I saw that your visage would be the ultimate signal of my end to come. But also of hope for Tamriel's salvation."
"Huh? What do you mean by that? And what's Tamriel?"
Rarely have you been as mystified as you are now. The Emperor has seemed so sane, but now he's talking like a complete screwball. You would know; you've met quite a few.
Started at the sudden frustrated outburst, you immediately move your gaze to its source; Glenroy. He stands by a large metal gate, frantically trying to jerk it open, but it outright refuses to budge. "The gate is barred from the other side! A trap!"
"What about that side passage over there?" Baurus suggests, pointing to a slender passageway. Glenroy nods.
"Worth a try. Let's go!"
You follow after the Emperor and his men into the channel, only to discover that it leads into a small, closed room with what looks like some tall, bricked up windows.
"It's a dead end," says Baurus, in an oddly flat tone. "What's your call, sir?"
"I don't know," Glenroy replies, desperately, "I can't see any good options here." His head suddenly snaps towards the passage as faint sounds of footsteps and eager voices emerges from the silence, flung between the many walls and stone planes in the catacombs. "They're behind us! Wait here, Sire!"
And then he dashes with a drawn sword into the hall. Baurus hurries after him, but before disappearing from sight he turns to you and says; "Stay here with the Emperor. Guard him with your life."
Well, that's not a small requirement, you huff to yourself. Why do these things always happen to you? If luck had a scale from one to ten, you'd be at a two tops. Unfair.
The air vibrates with murderous fury as enraged shouts and clashing of weapons against weapons permeate it, making you glance insecurely up at the Emperor. A strange sereneness blankets his features, eyes staring blankly at a spot in front of them. He looks thoughtful. Maybe he is praying to whatever god he believes in now that you have been assigned with the task of guarding his life. Hey, that's not such a bad idea… you could use some divine support just about now.
Dear God, you say inwardly, staring up at the ceiling. It's me. Again. Listen, I know we've had some problems in the past – I've cursed Your name more than once and I'm not even sure if You exist yet, but… I'm in trouble and I'm supposed to protect someone and I don't even have a gun. All I have is this stupid sword. You know how lousy I am with melee weapons, don't You?
"There isn't much time left."
You turn towards the emperor, brows raised. He is in the process of removing the jewelry around his neck, a necklace weighed down by an obscenely large, red gemstone shaped like the diamonds on playing cards. You take a few steps back in surprise as he suddenly comes up to you and gently grabs your hand.
"Uhm, what are you doing?" you ask suspiciously when he places the gem in your palm and drape your free hand over it with his own. Gravity lines his face as blue eyes lock with yours. "This is called the Amulet of Kings," he explains. "I can go no further, so I need you to take care of it for me. Take very, very good care of the Amulet; the Prince of Destruction and his mortal servants must not have it! Bring it to Jauffre. He alone knows where to find my last son. Find him… and close shut the jaws of Oblivion."
"What the what?" you stammer. "Dude, I have absolutely no idea what you're on about!"
"I know." A saddened smile draws out on his face and he gives your hands a quick squeeze before releasing them. "Listen to me. You might not think this yourself, but you are a brave young soul, and I have my complete trust in you. I know that you will do the right thing."
With that, the Emperor pulls away from you, his eyes closing. You can only stare at him in utter bewilderment and then at the bricked up window behind him as it suddenly gives off a low whirr. The wall trembles and slowly rises, stirring up a cloud of dust, and through the gray, swirling haze of airborne grime stands the outline of two booted legs. You stiffen. As the wall is fully retracted, a tall man clothed in the assassins' armor comes out from the shadows and promptly lunges at the Emperor.
You thrust yourself forward with a startled cry, but it's too late, and you can only watch helplessly as the Emperor's features twist in agony and the point of a blade rips through his torso. A dark crimson color rimming the edges of the sword swiftly expands in the otherwise red and purple fabric of his robes. As a slender trail of blood traces down from the left corner of his lips, his head slumps towards his chest and his body hangs limply on the blade which swiftly withdraws. You gawk in shock at the sight of the Emperor falling lifelessly to the ground, shifting your gaze to the assassin, then to the Emperor, and back at the assassin again, all the while trying to grasp something coherent to say.
"What the fuck, man?" you splutter eventually. "What the hell have you done?!"
A low, jarring laughter sounds from behind the assassin's iron mask. "With this blade, I have forever severed the Septim line," he states triumphantly, "just like I'll forever sever yours."
It all happens so quickly; the assassin swiftly pulls back his weapon arm and you thrust your sword in front of your body as the blurred, silvery line of a blade shoots towards you. There is a loud, clear clang at the impact of metal against metal before his sword slide down the edge of yours and for a moment gets itself stuck in the curved tips of your blade's cross-guard. You arc your sword downwards and brush his out of the way, leaving him open for an attack, and your instincts immediately sends your foot smashing into his unprotected groin. The assassin crumples with a strangled, surprised wheeze.
Refusing to give him a chance to kill you, you decide to just end him quickly by decapitation and promptly swing your blade at his neck. A red, horizontal line follows your sword as it cuts into his tissue, but stops as the sword gets lodged in the assassin's cervical vertebra. Blood gurgles sickeningly in his throat, making you shudder with disgust. You jerk the blade loose and stumble backwards, the assassin falling to the side in a silent heap just as Baurus and Glenroy storm in.
"No…" Baurus' face is marred by pain and disbelief, his wide eyes stiffly fixed on the Emperor. "No… Talos save us." He looks up at you, swallowing, "We failed… I failed… the Blades are sworn to protect the Emperor and now he and all his heirs are dead." Then, a little panicked, "The Amulet, where is the Amulet of Kings? It wasn't on the Emperor's body!"
"Oh, uh, he gave it to me."
"He gave it to you?" His expression softens a little. "Strange… he saw something in you… trusted you…"
"Uh, actually, I think it's just –"
"They say it's the Dragon blood that flows through the veins of every Septim. They see more than lesser men."
"The Amulet of Kings is a sacred symbol of the Empire," Baurus continues. "Most people think of the Red Dragon Crown, but that's just jewelry."
You merely nod, having given up trying to make sense of anything at this point.
"The Amulet has power. Only a true heir of the Blood can wear it, they say. He must have given it to you for a reason. Did he say why?"
"I'm supposed to take it to someone named Jauffre. Something about finding the Emperor's last son and closing shut the… well, he sort of lost me after that."
"His son?" the skin on Baurus' forehead creases. "There is another heir?"
"Hm. Nothing I've ever heard of, but Jauffre would be the one to know. He is the Grandmaster of my Order, though you wouldn't think so to meet him. He lives quietly as a monk at Weynon Priori, near the city of Chorrol." Baurus fumbles through one of his pouches before fishing out a key. "Here, take this. You need it to get into the sewers."
"Why am I supposed to be in the sewers?"
"Because it's a way out of the Imperial City. Watch out for the rats and goblins, and when you get out of here, you proceed to Weynon Priori immediately." A gloved hand suddenly wraps around your shoulder. Baurus stares intently at you. "You get that? Don't take any chances. The Amulet must not get into the hands of the enemy. Do you understand how important this is?"
You blink, perplexed. Bad idea. Like you don't have your own problems to deal with! Finding dad and getting the hell out of this place for one, but… heck, how difficult could it be? Just chuck the Amulet at the old monk and then continue what you are supposed to be doing. "Yeah, sure. I understand."
"Good." He releases you, a flash of relief crossing his dark eyes. "The Emperor's trust was well placed. Glenroy and I will stay here to guard his body and make sure no one follows you. Talos guide you, and good luck."
"Thanks. I guess."
You close your hand around the cold, rusted metal of the key and press past Baurus, avoiding looking at Glenroy as you step over the body of the assassin and into the small passageway he had come out of. The only way out of here is through a wooden door that you soon discover to be locked. You use the key Baurus gave you and push the door open, stepping into a small hallway that leads to a pothole. The sewers and then freedom. Great.
You remove the pothole's cover, and stumble back in revolted surprise as a warm, sour stench slams into your nostrils. Taking a deep inhale of air, you climb into the pothole and down the ladder, nearly slipping a few times before safely reaching the bottom.
Various dark stains of decay and microscopic life forms cling to the uneven surface of the sewer walls, the floor coated by a layer of filthy moist. There is no other sound other than dripping water and scuttling of rat claws against marble. You move with careful steps onwards, squinting against the impenetrable darkness, which comes in handy when you notice another one of the strange, green primates you bumped into earlier. They must be what Baurus called 'goblins', you figure. You successfully manage to sneak past it and several rats that are preoccupied with what appear to be a dead crab before you enter a brightly lit tunnel and breathe heavily in relief as you realize that you're near the exit.
A gate is blocking it, but you quickly discover that it's unlocked. Drawing closer to the egress, you forcibly blink once, thrice, six times, and not because of the intensity of the light, but because your eyes are being tricked by some sort of optic illusion. You stop dead in your tracks, jaw dropping, as you realize that it's not an illusion at all.
"Oh, my God…"
Fresh grass coats the landscape as a brilliantly green fur, the strong trees stretching their ruffled crowns of sharp leaves towards the sky. A white line of sand runs along the edge of a river with the clearest blue water you've ever seen and you know just by looking at it that it's not sullied by the radioactive remnants of an apocalyptic war – that none of this is.
Your mouth suddenly feels very dry. Screw dad. Screw the Emperor. The memories of them promptly get shoved into the back of your head at the prospect of something much more important, namely fresh, clean, pure water.
You fling the Amulet of Kings to the ground and tear off your clothes, golden coins spilling out of the pockets of your pants as you drop them before dashing towards the river. The water splashes coldly against your feet, but you ignore it and thoughtlessly hurl yourself in, inhaling a high-pitched gasp through trembling lips.
C-c-cold! But you're actually bathing without feeling sick! How awesome is that?!
You're not sure how long you stay in the river. Thirty minutes, maybe as much as an hour. The lumps of dry meat that clumps up your hair slowly dissolve, as do the stains of coagulated blood on your skin which is recovered to its previously clean, aggressively freckled glory. You eventually decide that you've had enough for one day and pull back to the place you left your clothing.
As you put your attire back on, you can't help but feeling that something is wrong. You frown a little and shake it off. It is only when you're fully dressed and staring at a blank patch of white, dry soil that you realize what it is.
The Amulet of Kings.