31.12.10: Sanity checking. Reformat of chapters and separators. Added missing chapter 5.
Chapter 0. Prologue
"Now what's going on here?" I asked the pilus once my horse was stabled at Black Plateau.
I wasn't in a good mood. Five days ago, I'd been having a pleasant week with my family at Faregyl Inn when I received the summons. The kits are growing up so fast; R'mara and Sheeyin are following in their mother's footsteps - along with 'Auntie Abhuki's' – and with any luck will run the inn just as well. At least, once they get big enough to cook and see over the top of a broom.
Don't tell anyone, but we're thinking of taking over the Inn of Ill Omen as well. Gods know that place needs a decent cook at least.
J'dargo... well, he's a big boy and I've told him that when he's older there'll surely be a place in the Legion or the Fighter's Guild for him, if he doesn't go getting himself killed.
And no, I will never bring them to live in the Imperial City. S'jirra hates the big smoke, and I'm not making her unhappy. More than I have to. Besides, you all know by now about how so many buildings became slaughterhouses at the height of the Oblivion crisis.
Let me tell you a truth: Despite what that cretinous greenie "Champion of Cyrodiil", Zul gro-Kissmyarse-Radagash says, it was me who closed the gate threatening the Faregyl Inn and the Inn of Ill Omen. I even have the sigil stone, since I knew damn well that any stones that moronic snot golem found would be turned into enchanted gimcracks before you could say moron.
Anyway, the aforementioned summons was in the form of a rather tattered-looking apprentice who stumbled through the door four days ago. "Arch-mage!" cries he, looking very tired and like he misplaced a lot of blood somewhere. And here I am sitting in a corner reading The Children's Anuad to them.
So I get up and over to this apprentice who's bleeding all over our nice clean floor and land a healing spell on him. "What the hells have you been doing?" asks I, "playing with those bandits around Horn Cave?"
He just gave me a sickly look and I make a note to pay the drunken swines a visit. "At the bridge," says he. Ah. Better pay the lazy drunken Legion swines a visit instead then.
"Well," says I, "We'll put you up for the night, at twenty drakes." And he looks at me like a stunned slaughterfish and I explain, "That's bed, potions and labour. You can deliver your message tomorrow."
Then I grin to let him know I was teasing.
"Arch-mage," gods he was persistent! "I have a message from Vito."
And I just look at him. What did the pilus of Black Plateau want?
"The message can wait," says I, "let's get you sorted." And I swing everyone into action and grab J'dargo before he can head out the door.
"No," says I.
"Dad!" whines he, "I'm going to kill those ban-dits!"
"No," says I, "you're too young." And at twelve he was too. "Besides the bridge is six hours away, and they have big axes, and big swords, and bows and spells that will get you before you see them."
Well! He draws himself up to his full height and stares at me from around stomach level.
"I can see in the dark," says he correctly, "I'll kill them all first!"
This is why heroes shouldn't settle down and have kids. I think Trey, you know, the Nerevarine, would agree with me. He didn't let Athlain hare out the door with a toy mace at twelve years old in the dead of night, so why should I?
So I do the only thing I can. I'm bigger than he is, so I yank his mace out of his hand and stick it in my belt. J'dargo knows better than to try and take it from my belt, because when I take his mace off him, I'm serious.
And I look at him and he looks at me and sags. "Please?"
"No." The world would be a better place if more parents put their foot down and said no to their kids. I've got into all sorts of trouble just from wearing my distaste on my face when confronted with brats and their servile sires and/or dams. And I've got out of all sorts of trouble when they recognised me.
And the children of the aristocracy are the worst, which is another reason I'm not bringing my family to the Imperial City.
Anyway I turn away from J'dargo – case closed, father knows best – and he slopes off to mope with his toy soldiers to the amusement of the other patrons.
And I go up to check on our visitor. I find him in better fettle, partly due to the silver flash of healing magic observable under the door.
"You able to talk?" and he nods, but looking a little woozy still.
"Did you come all the way from Black Plateau?" asks I.
"No," says he, "the message came to your chambers at the Arcane University, and Master Polus called for a messenger." And he shrugs.
"I'll discuss your run-ins later," says I, "Now, what's the message?"
And he points to a sealed packet on the dresser; fortunately my girls are sensible and know better than to read the Arch-mage's mail – even if he is formally known as 'Daddy' or 'Husband'. So I opens it and find:
Tuls Laren has had a fire in his laboratory as of 3 bells post-noon, 26 Last Seed 3E445. I think you should come and see this as soon as you can.
Black Plateau Magical Research Institute
PS. Don't call me Bruce in front of the men.
That's Bruce for you. A decorated hero from the battle of Bruma, but a knee smashed beyond repair condemned him to 'manning the wooden fort'. He may be deskbound, but don't underestimate him. He effectively manages the place with an iron fist.
But at the same time, he knows I'm a busy Khajiit. I've got the various guilds to keep under control; the Guardians of Oblivion to worry about; battlemagi to train in order to deal to said Guardians of Oblivion; a whole new set of buttocks to kiss under Chancellor Ocato and that oaf of a Champion, Zul gro-Radagash; and the Bruma guildhall still isn't back up to speed yet. So he wouldn't summon me for a common or garden laboratory fire.
Moreover, he had a method of directly communicating with me in case of emergency. Whatever had happened in Laren's lab wasn't life-threatening yet, but he still felt I needed to see it.
The apprentice had either fallen asleep or passed out, so I slipped out into the hall. My darling S'jirra was there with a small bowl.
"Some brroth forr the apprrentice," says she softly.
"He's just passed out for now," says I softly, "but he gave me the message. I'm wanted at Black Plateau."
I hate it when S'jirra looks sad. I'd rather see her smile that smile that feels like warm sun in my heart. "Don't worry," says I, "I'm not leaving now. They can wait until tomorrow, when I've finished vital important business here." And I look her up and down in that way that always makes her chuckle and in this case almost spill the broth.
"Silly kit!" says she, "I will take this in, then we will rretirre forr yourr verry vital imporrtant business!"
And so she did and, once we finally got the kits in their own beds, we did. Allow me to add here three asterisks, to indicate the pleasant passing of many hours.
At dawn we were woken by various grunts and bustles as Abhuki and some of our guests got up and about, readying themselves to head off. And so did I – reluctantly.
My little pride came out as I, looking resplendent in my now increasingly long in the tooth 'travelling clothes' – Ayleid armour, the black bow from my Leyawiin days, and a silver mace I hung onto "just in case" – prepared to mount the white gelding I'd got to replace the unicorn and match my shield.
"Now then hot stuff," says I to J'dargo sternly, "I'll be back between a week or a fortnight, depending on what's going on, so I want you to take care of your mum and Auntie Abhuki–"
"I'll defend them with my life!" Yep, definitely warrior material. But he needs to develop brains to balance his brawn, or maybe it's that I gave him his mace back. Local rats beware!
"– and your sisters," making those two kits giggle. J'dargo made a face, but I gave him a stern look. "No arguments," says I.
"Yes, father," he knows better than to argue about that.
And so with the farewell cries of my family echoing behind me, I rode off into the sunrise to the Black Plateau Imperial Mage's Guild Research Facility.