Getting out a few updates now. Chapter four, revised like its predecessors. I'll try to have chapter five in a more timely manner.
A pair of black-robed men dragged a third form between them. Their robes bore the image of a crimson skull being borne aloft by a pair of similarly colored skeletal arms, branding the two as necromancers.
The third man was wearing armor that had once been a fine example of Orcish backsmithing. Now, it scorched, ruptured, and stained with blood, most of it his own. His armored boots scraped across the stone floor as the two struggled not to show the effort it was taking to pull him along.
Though Bretons shared little physical difference from Imperials, they were known for their superior innate skills in the arcane arts and their natural resistance to magical attacks. Bretons were highly coveted in the ranks of the Imperial Battle Mages, combining both physical strength, endurance, and magical ability.
Gashes and cuts covered the Breton's face, and his right eye had swollen shut. Blood leaked from his mouth as he coughed, spitting out a wad of bile. He was in terrible condition, but he'd left nearly a dozen of the necromancers' comrades in even worse shape. He'd earned his reputation as a champion of the Fighters Guild, clawing his way to the rank second only to the Master herself, Vilena Donton. He was a force to be reckoned with when wielding his beautiful Elven-forged claymore, and his destructive magics made him one of the few of the Fighters Guild to use magic extensively on the battlefield.
Even for all his power, he could not have triumphed over such odds. He'd never been confronted by such force at any single time, and certainly not men of such potent magical ability. Necromancers commanded powerful elemental magics not far short of his own abilities, and they had powers of conjuration that he lacked. Half of them had summoned daedric creatures before he could even get within striking distance, supplementing their ranks further with a variety of hellbeasts.
Now, he was deep in the wolves' den, unarmed, wounded, and an enchanted armlet latched firmly onto his wrist that kept him from tapping into his mana. He was too exhausted to take it off, and he seriously doubted that his escorts would allow him to do that.
He fell facedown as his guards suddenly took away their support. He felt too weak to stand, but managed to muster the strength to push himself up with his unfettered arm.
A pair of leather boots planted themselves in front of him, covered from the middle of the shin up by black robes. The Breton lifted his head high enough to see the man attached to them.
He was an Altmer, more commonly known as the High Elves, with a head of neatly combed dirty-blonde hair that in another universe would be identified as a mullet. His robes were more ornate than those of the two other necromancers, the sleeves hemmed with red calligraphy and the hands holding the skull more elaborate.
"Marcus Antonius…" the Altmer smiled, "So glad to finally meet the rising star of the Fighters Guild." His voice dripped with flattery, too much to be sincere, with malevolent overtones. Marcus coughed out a few flecks of blood.
"I've heard about you," Marcus chuckled through gritted teeth, "The Mages Guild comes to me with the occasional odd job, and it's usually cleaning up your messes." The necromancer laughed, sounding genuinely amused.
"Come now," he laughed, "They're only 'messes' as long as Taven says they are." Hannibal Taven was the current Archmage of the Mages Guild, and a zealous opponent of necromancy. He'd banned its practice by members of the Mages Guild as soon as he had taken office, leading to mass desertions from the Guild's ranks.
"They're problems as long as people keep turning up dead," Marcus spat, "Or the dead keep getting up." The necromancer sighed and looked away.
"I had such high hopes for you. I thought you of all people would see the benefit of what I do," he walked slowly to the stone altar in the middle of the room, "My own existence is proof of the fruits of my labors. Of course, there are issues…" He removed one of the gloves covering his hands. Marcus grunted in disgust at the sight of the practically skeletal hand, only a few chunks of muscle and skin still clinging to the bones.
"I usually focus on maintaining my head, and keeping the smell in check," the necromancer replaced the glove, "People tend to be uneasy around the undead, regardless of origin. I suppose my next step will be a good public relations campaign." The other two mages chuckled. Marcus didn't, possibly because he knew what was to come, and that he had no power to stop it. He had no weapon, no mana, and he could barely keep his head up.
And now, he stood before Mannimarco, the King of Worms, one of the most powerful wizards in Cyrodiil, perhaps even in all of Tamriel. Even in peak condition, and with his claymore, Marcus wasn't sure he'd be able to deal with the wide range of daedra at his disposal. He'd seen what the summoned Xivilai could do to entire battlegroups of legionnaires; eight-foot towers of blue muscle, skin like armor, and weapons and magical skills to match their physical prowess.
Mannimarco clenched one of his gloved hands, crackling with elemental lightning. The two lesser necromancers lifted Marcus to his feet, unlatching his armor and tearing his tunic, revealing his bare chest. Marcus took one last breath as Mannimarco pressed his palm to Marcus' chest, just over his heart.
If it were done, then 'twer well it were done quickly.
The heart is a fragile thing. It's easily the most important organ after the brain itself. Evolution graced mankind with the ribcage to protect it, but there were plenty of threats that surpassed the best that nature had to offer for protection. Thin blades could slip between ribs, and powerful blows could turn the ribs into a bone beartrap, puncturing the soft organs they were intended to safeguard.
Electricity was even worse. It didn't even need to smash or cut past the ribs. It simply passed through. The heart was particularly vulnerable to electricity, taking only 100 milliamps to stop it dead.
Mannimarco could effortlessly hurl bolts of lighting that could cook flesh off bone. It took even less mana to channel that power directly from his body to his target.
Of course, the King of Worms didn't want to burn Marcus alive. That would defeat the purpose of even capturing him. Instead, he used just enough power to stop the Breton's heart with minimal tissue damage.
The next phase was more complicated, but Mannimarco had centuries of experience behind him. The ritual was quick and relatively clean, and in the end, Mannimarco's limp Altmer form was lain out on the altar, the robes placed on the floor beside it.
Marcus cracked his neck and flexed shoulders, experimenting with his limbs. He lifted up his cuirass, replacing it and the tunic with several snaps of latches. The Breton then reached down to the robe, sliding it over his head and over the armor. Its fabric expanded slightly to accommodate the armor beneath, then settled.
Finally, he flipped up the black hood, shrouding his eyes in shadows, and extended a hand to one of the two attending necromancers. The man knelt and extended the hilt of Marcus' claymore to him. Marcus accepted it, twirling the weapon once to feel its weight, smiling at how naturally its movements came to him, then slung it across his back.
The light of life had vanished from Marcus' eyes, replaced by the glassy haze found more often on corpses. Within the champion's body, the soul of the King of Worms had taken residence, claiming Marcus' body as his own.
Mannimarco was a lich, and a powerful one, at that. He could transfer his consciousness from body to body, but only to the deceased. He did it ever so often when either a more powerful specimen presented itself to be assimilated into his own might, or when he neglected to keep his body's decay in check.
The Breton champion would prove an excellent vessel for decades, if not centuries to come. His physical strength was a boon that Mannimarco had lacked, and one that he was eager to test.
"I feel like a trip to the Arena," Mannimarco mused, letting a ghost of a smile drift across his stolen lips, "We'll visit the outlanders once I return." With that, he strode past the two necromancers, leaving them behind with the rotting body that once held the soul of Mannimarco, and the black soul gem that held the tortured spirit of Fighters Guild Champion Marcus Antonius.
Ri'Bassa pushed open his door into the night air, having noticed a few others doing the same. Someone had lit a torch near the town entrance, presumably to welcome travelers.
Tsalajma, a young female, and among the more accepting of newcomers after the Prophecy fulfillment, was bearing the torch in question, casting its light on the dark armor of the newcomers. Ri'Bassa would have guessed them Legionaries from the color of their armor.
Tsalajma was approaching them with a warm greeting, and only then did Ri'Bassa see that they were not Imperial soldiers. And it was that moment when true Armageddon came to Border Watch.
Five men walked into town that night, into a tiny settlement with some five times their numbers in population. The center man raised a glowing gauntlet towards Tsalajma, letting loose a rolling ball of green fire. The young Khajiit could only watch in shock as the blast consumed her, reducing her upper torso to ash.
Another resident screamed at the sight, and Ri'Bassa reacted as he had always planned in the event of bandit attack. He sprinted towards the Border Watch Inn as another ball of fire launched itself at a resident, and the night became alive as Khajiit stumbled from their houses at the ruckus and to their deaths.
Ri'Bassa threw open the inn's front door, tripping over the doorstep and almost falling as the remaining men in the group attacked. S'thasa, owner and proprietor of the inn, had just begun to circle around the bar where she had been standing. A visiting legionnaire, too, was cursing and donning his armor, aroused from his sleep by the commotion.
By now, screams and the sound of the attacker's magics had seeped through the windows. There were only four people in the inn besides Ri'Bassa, S'thasa, and the legionnaire, and among them only one of the four and the legionnaire were non-Kajiit: an Imperial civilian and the soldier, a Nord called Arcturas.
"How many of what?" the Nord infantryman asked, sliding his steel helmet over his head, directing the question at the shaking Ri'Bassa.
"Uh, four, no five," he managed to stammer, "They're well armored, and they can use magic."
"Alright, listen carefully," Arcturas said, buckling his belt and unsheathing his sword, "I want you all to run from here as quickly and quietly as you can. Is there a back door?" This time, he addressed S'thasa.
"Yes," she nodded, "It's a bit sticky, but it works."
"Good," he nodded back, "Get out through there and get to Leyawin as fast as possible. The Count will either send troops himself, or contact the Legion. Now go!" The five moved through the inn to the back door, whispering final words of thanks as they did. The soldier tried not to listen. It implied that he was going to make the ultimate sacrifice for them, and that was never a pleasant thought.
"May the Nine protect me," he muttered, reaching slowly for the circular grip of the door handle. Arcturas was abruptly thrown back as the door exploded into flames, the detonation hurling nearly three hundred pounds of steel and muscle like a toy.
A figure out of Oblivion itself stepped through the shattered remains of the door as the flames spread along the predominantly wooden and floors of the inn. Seven feet tall, decked from head to toe in soot-darkened armor, and carrying a massive, two-handed weapon at his waist. He cast his baleful gaze onto the fallen legionnaire, but turned his head as a shout in a foreign tongue attracted his attention.
The armored giant turned and left without a second thought to Arcturas. From the slightly tinny sound of the voice, it seemed to be berating the man for something. The Nord couldn't possibly fathom what.
"Damnit, corporal, what did I just say before we got here?" Sergeant Kastner barked at Corporal Adam Deleon over din of violence and the crackle of fire that was slowly engulfing the inn. Deleon paused a moment, shifting his weight as he thought. Kastner sighed. The soldier's skill with the difficult-to-use gatling laser was invaluable, but he could be as thick as a post sometimes.
"Orders were, corporal…" Kastner said through gritted teeth, "…not to destroy the infrastructure, and capture at least one 'normal' local."
"And what, exactly, have you just done?" Deleon cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Destroyed the infrastructure, sir," he admitted far more sheepishly than a man of his size probably should have.
"Don't do it again," Kastner growled, "Was there anyone inside?"
"I saw one, sir."
"A mutant like the others?"
"No, sir, looked like a normal guy." Kastner sighed again. This was getting old fast.
"And what was the second order you were given?" This time, Deleon caught on and snapped a quick salute.
"On it, sir. I'll collar 'im." With that, the soldier turned on his heel and re-entered the burning inn. Kastner let out one last sigh, casually firing a blast of green plasma into the back of a fleeing villager. He hoped that the corporal could complete the simple task without breaking the man's neck.
Deleon flicked on the gatling laser's safety switch and turned off the power supply. He had range safety practically burned into his head, and knew how to make his weapon as safe as he could when he didn't want it firing.
Instead, he held in his left hand a thick metal collar, filled with a variety of electronics and serving a single purpose: controlling its wearer. It wasn't mind control to any degree, but it was a step up from the usual Paradise Falls slave collar.
Rather than simply holding a bit of C4 and a detonator in the event of a runner, it also included the same mechanism as a stungun. Thus, it could be used to deliver painful electric shocks of varying intensity by remote. Great for interrogation, especially since it meant you didn't even need to lay a finger on the subject.
Deleon kept his right hand free, knowing that he would need it to restrain or incapacitate the man. However, as he swept the interior of the inn, he couldn't find the man anywhere.
A metal clang and a push to the back of his head told Deleon that the man had used one of the most deviously deceptive stealth maneuvers of all time: hiding next to the doorway and hitting your foe over the head.
In this case, the stubborn soldier had decided to use his longsword. The plan would have worked, had Deleon not been wearing the finest powered armor the Enclave had to offer. Not even the 'horns' of the helm were damaged by the attack.
Deleon swung his arm in a backfist, striking the surprised soldier's helmet. The helm was dashed from his head and skittered across the floor, a large dent smashed into one side. It could have just as easily been the man's head. Deleon vowed to be more careful, lest he further anger his sergeant.
Arcturas grunted in pain as the giant's kneecap smashed into his stomach, warping his cuirass. The man's free hand shot out with speed uncustomary of someone of his size and strength, grabbing the Legionnaire's throat and forcing him against the wall.
Arcturas struggled for a breath that he could not take as the grip tightened. The enclosed helmet pushed itself close to his bare face, saying something in his rough tongue. Arcturas would have spat something back had the giant not drawn back his head and delivered a sharp and exceedingly painful headbutt. This, combined with the oxygen deprivation, was more than enough to put the otherwise hardy Nord out like a light.
Deleon snapped the collar into place around the unconscious man's neck. He then slung him over his shoulder and walked out the door amidst the flames, casually picking up his gatling laser as he did so.
Kasnter fired off a plasma bolt at the last kneeling target of a line of corpses. The execution done, he looked up to Deleon, impressed that the target was at least in one piece. Sure, he was bleeding fairly heavily from his forehead, but it was a better outcome than the sergeant had expected.
"Got 'im, sarge," Deleon announced the obvious, "Alive but incapic...incapcit...out cold." Kastner smiled behind his helmet.
"Good work, Corporal. Just set him down somewhere and give him a shot of morphine." Kastner turned to one of the other men.
"Get on the comm and call back to Jones. Tell him Alpha base is secure and largely intact."
R&R, the usual deal. Anon accepted, as well.