The Edge of Madness
Chapter 3: Taking Stock
Skyrim wasn't really anything like Aldanon had imagined it would be during his mortal days, back when he'd dreamed of traveling beyond Cyrodiil's borders and visiting the provinces. All the research he'd done, though admittedly mostly surrounding the College and it's host of Winterhold, had painted a picture of a Bruma-like environ: mountainous, snowy and cold and many of the Nords he'd met hadn't done much to disabuse him of the notion.
After his withdrawal from Helgen, Aldanon refused to call it an "escape" as that implied he'd been losing, he'd found himself in a heavily forested area that reminded him more of the Colovian Highlands, albeit slightly chillier, than the southern portion of the Jerall Mountains around Bruma.
Still the tall tree he'd managed to teleport himself into, an unfortunate byproduct of teleporting without having some sort of magical anchor, afforded him a distant but clear view of Alduin as the scaly bugger tucked tail and flew north away from Helgen, towards more populated areas. Possibly a gambit to make up for his rather dismal showing at Helgen, a thought that brought a satisfied smirk to Aldanon's face.
A quick gander at his map and the breathtaking view Aldanon had thanks to his perch let him pinpoint his position, near the south western edge of Lake Ilinalta, a few miles north of the city of Falkreath and several more away from the burning remains of Helgen to the east. All in all a rather successful attempt for his first blind teleportation outside of his own realm.
'As soon as I get myself settled here, I'm placing Markers anywhere that stands out,' Aldanon swore. 'Knowing my luck I'd probably end up in Hammerfell next time.'
It had taken him years of toil and dedicated research during his time at the Mages Guild to refine his unique teleportation spell, probably his finest work all told as it blended several unique styles of magic together. House Telvanni crafted Mark and Recall spells, designed to work around the wild magic surrounding the Red Mountain of Vvardenfell, combined with Mages Guild ingenuity and rune work to allow multiple Marks to be placed as he saw fit. Unfortunately his original Markers had long since dissipated, either due to time or the interference of others but he would remedy that in due time.
'Perhaps I can convince some poor sod to do it for Sheogorath's favor,' he mused as he stretched out his senses.
Far to the north Aldanon could feel Alduin's burning rage and a considerable amount of fear, it would have to be if he could pick it up at this distance without really trying, that helped confirm his earlier suspicion.
The rage increased exponentially the moment Alduin sensed his probe and lashed out at him but it was clumsy and unfocused, much like a child's temper tantrum. Despite the power behind the attack it was easily parried thanks to Jyggalag's tutoring.
The dragon god struck out a second time and this time Aldanon returned the favor, delivering the mental equivalent of a hammer blow to the nose as a warning. A warning that was apparently heeded as the attack ceased and Alduin wheeled about to head south, or rather southeast, towards a place that positively sung with a familiar sort of power. Something similar to the gate his predecessor had placed in the Niben Bay, and that Aldanon had kept open so that Relmyna could get fresh supplies and not start preying upon the rest of the Isles inhabitants, but with a more Divine feel to it.
Alduin and the unknown gate weren't the only things that pinged Aldanon's senses now that he was using them to their fullest. There were several other sources of power scattered across the land that positively roared against his senses now that he wasn't focusing on Alduin. There were so many, and they pulsed with such intensity, that they suffused the whole of Skyrim with so much power that he couldn't sense anything else distinct through it.
The thing that really caught his attention though was the fact that they, like the possible gate, had the distinct feeling of Divine energy.
There was one rather close by actually, situated somewhere in Lake Ilinalta, and a more powerful signature yet was almost directly east of that. His curiosity sufficiently peaked, Aldanon decided he just had to investigate.
"Onward, to great adventure!"
It would have taken him some time to try and climb down from the tree like a normal person and many of the branches didn't even look like they'd hold his weight like the one he was on, so he forwent that route in favor of simply walking along the branch and stepping off the end. Aldanon fell a good fifty or sixty feet before he finally hit the ground only to find himself hip deep in a pack of scrawny, half-starved wolves that wasted no time in trying to make a meal out of him.
'At least some things never change,' Aldanon thought with a sigh as his signature lightning lashed out to fry the furry pests. 'Everything that breathes, and quite a bit that probably doesn't, wants me dead.'
They were barely even worth noticing, the kind of thing his old sword instructor would have sent him out to hunt when he was just a novice handling his blades. If it weren't for the fact that he lacked any proper armor to keep six sets of teeth from sinking into his flesh and ripping his clothes to shreds he probably would have simply ignored them. Aldanon could still feel pain he'd found, a little experimentation once he'd stepped out of the gate had proven that, and while it was only mildly irritating and quickly healed he preferred to avoid it.
It wouldn't do much for his "Blending In" plan either if he made it a habit of simply shrugging off debilitating wounds like they were mosquito bites.
Leaving the smoking corpses where they lay, any useable bits ruined by the amount of power he'd poured into them, Aldanon crossed the short distance from the forest to the edge of the lake and peered out over it's shimmering expanse in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the mysterious beacon of power and found himself distracted by the picturesque view presented before him.
His home province of Cyrodiil was a nice place to be sure but it was mostly rolling hills covered in massive forests, and dotted with Ayleid ruins and old forts, except to the north near Bruma and the almost bitterly cold Jerall Mountains or to the south in the marshlands around Leyawin with little variation to be found between the three disparate climes.
Here though the lake shimmered in the sunlight calm, clear and undisturbed, reflecting the forest of pine that grew along its southern edge and the mighty mountain ridge overshadowing the area to the north. And to think, this was just one small area of a much larger province. He could only give voice to one word to describe it.
And there in the distance, just barely in sight, was a small rocky island that the mysterious source of power was radiating from. Mentally shaking himself free of his musings, Aldanon cast a water walking spell and strode confidently out onto the calm surface of the lake.
Why get wet or risk the needle teeth of Slaughterfish, since the little bastards seemed to thrive everywhere, when magic could let you thumb your nose at the laws of nature?
It took only minutes to cross the distance at a sedate pace and when Aldanon arrived at his destination he found something familiar and yet, wholly different. It was an arrangement of standing stones ritualistically placed around a central stone, one with a hole large enough to hold his entire head and rimmed with ebony metal with two bands above and below and a cap at the very top made of the same dark metal.
And just below that was a wonderfully carved image of The Lady, Aldanon's own birthsign, complete with the appropriate marks to denote her constellation form.
It looked remarkably similar to the ancient Doomstones Aldanon had found scattered all across Cyrodiil over the course of his mortal life. Most of them had been created to mimic or augment the effects or powers of the various birthsigns one could be born under, though a few were created by cults and the like to honor their gods or idols.
As he reached out to touch it he knew that it was something far greater than the creator's of the Doomstones could ever hope to accomplish. His senses hadn't deceived him, which had been a small concern at first. This stone and the others no doubt like it did indeed have Divine energy flowing through them which, to the best of his knowledge, shouldn't be possible. The only lasting creation the Divines were responsible for was Nirn itself and that was back before they'd poured all their power into it to give it life.
The only thing the Divines could safely infuse their power into anymore were artifacts or people. Both of which were things without true permanence even if many of those artifacts and people could, and indeed would, last for centuries if not longer. To make a true and lasting connection with Nirn however would only weaken them and, by extension, their creation which made such an endeavor wasteful, not to mention downright foolish.
Not even the Princes could break that unspoken rule without consequences. Although many of the myths surrounding the creation of Nirn glossed over their involvement the Daedra had a considerable stake in Nirn's creation, supplying the raw material that the Divines and other Aedra used to shape the world.
He and his fellow's strength was derived largely from their respective home plane of Oblivion though their connection to Nirn provided a considerable boost depending on how prevalent their primary aspects were in the world at large, hence their practice of choosing Champions and setting those mortals with tasks to either increase their influence or undermine the others.
To create an artifact, or something more, required a sacrifice of the essence that made up their realm and primary source of power. It was one of the reasons Aldanon had never had to contend with a vengeful Mehrunes Dagon after his ascension, his little stunt of creating such a massive physical form during his short stay on Mundus and it's subsequent destruction at the jaws of Martin's avatar form had hit the Prince of Destruction hard.
Whereas before he'd been one of the strongest with Jyggalag cursed and weakened as Sheogorath feeding him power, what with Chaos and Madness naturally fueling Destruction and Change, he now barely ranked among the top seven. Many of the other, 'lesser' Princes had been circling him ever since just waiting for him to slip in some way though he had yet to falter.
Aldanon figured he'd crack eventually, the Prince of Change was nothing if not ambitious and impatient. One day he'd slip up and reach too far and someone would take him down a few more pegs.
Back to the matter at hand though. The feeling behind the energy as it coursed through him, leaving a rather heady feeling of invigoration in it's wake, wasn't familiar. One thing he'd noticed when dealing with his fellow Princes was that they all, even himself despite being mortal at one point, had a certain...flavor if you will to their power. Considering that the Daedra and Aedra shared a similar method of creation, if the myths held even a lick of truth to them, then it was safe to say that the Divines would all share the same 'taste' that he got from Talos and the hints of Akatosh's and Dibella's from his and Risi's own Blessings.
The power settling over his own now wasn't fundamentally different from that of the Divines however, simply far more potent. It was almost as if the Divines was...diluted in some way by comparison, which left only a handful of possibilities in Aldanon's mind.
The most likely of which being one of the ancient Aedra that hadn't tied themselves to Nirn during it's making like the Divines, but since those kind went largely unnamed it wasn't likely he'd ever find out who was responsible. Not without incurring more debts to Mora at least.
Sorry bastard was rather prickly when those debts came due.
Still as much as not knowing irked him Aldanon wouldn't indebt himself further to the inscrutable Prince for something so relatively trivial, not when he had larger concerns to deal with here in Skyrim though it would be something worth investigating whenever he found the time.
With that in mind he placed a Marker on the spot to for whenever he decided to return and set his sights eastward yet again, this time to the larger source of Divine energy.
'Considering the concentration of energy and the apparent theme,' Aldanon mused as he stepped out over the water once again. 'Then this next one is actually three in one spot. Wonder what they could be?'
It took Aldanon nearly a half hour to reach the opposite shore at the same sedate pace he'd adopted earlier and thankfully found a road almost immediately. For whatever reason the map he'd bought didn't actually have any of the main roads marked, though the more natural features were rather lovingly rendered, which was something of a pain if he was honest. Either he'd have to add them in himself, which would be a time consuming chore, or hope that the native Nords were more intelligent than their Cyrodilic cousins and had proper maps he could get his hands on.
Again though it was a concern for later. Aldanon knew the general direction that he wanted to go, north in this case, both to investigate this next source of power and see what kind of damage Alduin had caused. The last irked Aldanon somewhat to tell the truth, though it was a relatively small matter any damage or deaths caused were indirectly his fault and that wasn't how he liked doing things.
He much preferred doing the destroying and killing personally.
As he made his way up the winding road the smell of blood and burning flesh reached his nose and Aldanon crinkled his nose in disgust at how fresh the smell was. It wasn't the blood that disgusted him, being a former assassin and Arena combatant had long since desensitized him to that, but the burning flesh dredged up some rather potent and unpleasant memories of his forays through Dagon's Gates in the later months of the Crisis, when the Elder Council finally started sending the Legion out to try and combat the swelling tide of Daedra.
Many of them died in that fiery realm and the Dremora had taken to leaving their bodies staked out like macabre trophies or warnings though really all it did was piss him off. It was also one of the main reasons he refused to use fire magic against his opponents anymore.
His first thought was Alduin, considering his penchant for fiery destruction, but the lack of any actual destruction to the surrounding area pointed to a much less powerful culprit in this case. That damnable sense of curiosity, both his own and the flighty one he'd found himself adopting the longer he wore Sheogorath's face, wouldn't let him just ignore something so potentially interesting.
The road branched off in several different directions a short ways north and Aldanon's nose had him turning south once again, this time uphill. In the distance he could just barely make out the silhouette of a statue in the shape of a man and, with a roll of his eyes, Aldanon already had a guess as to the cause of his little side trip.
Even with his duties as a Daedric Prince, dealing with wandering or invading Daedra and his own Court, Aldanon had not divorced himself completely from the goings on in Tamriel. He knew of the rise of the Thalmor and their almost centuries long shadow war with the Empire he'd fought so hard to protect.
Their lies and oftentimes outright slander had rubbed him particularly raw at times such as their claiming credit for ending the Oblivion Crisis for one, or ending the so called Void Nights. The first Aldanon viewed as an insult to Martin and the other to he and the gods themselves.
The how and why of the disappearance of Masser and Secunda was considered a mystery to most mortals who had any sense but to a divine being it had marked a time of war. Aldanon's old nemesis Mannimarco had used his power over the moons to essentially move them to an alternate plane of existence in a bid to cause chaos and death for his followers to capitalize upon, which in turn had brought down the wrath of the Nine Divines upon him.
From what Aldanon had heard from his followers on Mundus, the Divine Crusader and the legendary Knights of the Nine had perished battling against Mannimarco's mortal avatar and his army of necromancer's and undead over the course of the two year absence of Nirn's moons.
They hadn't waged their battles alone though. That war also marked the one and only time Aldanon would find himself working with another Prince besides Jyggalag and Hermaeus Mora, in the form of Meridia. His past conflict with Mannimarco and her hatred of his use of the dead made them strange, if fitting, compatriots and surprisingly enough the two had worked fairly well together.
While her worshipers worked to counter the God of Worms in the mortal realm alongside the Divine's agents Aldanon had worked mainly as a deterrent, keeping his fellow Princes from allying themselves with the ascended necromancer. Without the allies he'd likely hoped to get among the Daedra and his mortal cult harried on all sides Mannimarco could not hold out against the superior might and numbers arrayed against him.
And the Thalmor had the sheer gall to take all the credit once again.
It became clear that his suspicions would likely be proven all too real as he ascended the steps, made of rough cut logs, to a small plateau carved into the hillside with a tall statue of Talos overlooking the lake with a small shrine at it's feet. There were a couple of benches arrayed around the shrine and scattered around or draped over them were the smoking remains of several individuals, one of which was garbed in the robes of a priest.
"Hello?" A weak voice called out, drawing Aldanon's gaze away from the dead Talos worshipers. "Is...is somebody there?"
A few steps further and the source of the voice came into view, an Altmer garbed in hooded black robes with gold trimming trapped under the collapsed form of one of his badly burned victims. Aldanon carefully lifted the corpse off the elf, revealing a dagger buried deep in his side and several bloody gashes across his chest.
The elf grimaced and squinted up at Aldanon as he set the body to the side. "Who...are you?"
"Just a traveler from the heartland," Aldanon replied as settled on one knee to examine the Thalmor agent's wounds. "You?"
"Seeker Rulindil, of the Aldmeri Dominion," Rulindil ground out. "Now if you don't mind, I could use a hand here."
Aldanon scrutinized the wounded elf for a few moments before reaching down and firmly grasping the dagger hilt. With a quick pull and a splatter of red across the ground the dagger was free of the wound which prompted a small, pained groan from Rulindil.
"Gods, man! Are you trying to finish me off?" He hissed.
"Quit your whining," Aldanon shot back with an amused smirk. "Don't they teach you Thalmor any healing magic before sending you out to hunt heathens?"
"The dagger was poisoned I think, my magicka isn't regenerating like it should. That bitch of a priestess surprised me after I'd finished off her fellows," Rulindil groused as he pulled himself into a sitting position. "Damn that Sanyon and his 'unconfirmed rumors', I should never have listened to him even if I did send these fools to their false god."
The severe frown marring Aldanon's face went completely unnoticed by the wounded Altmer as he started searching the pockets of his robe for something. Aldanon quickly wiped said frown away and replaced it with a more congenial smile.
"So...you going to make it then?"
"Have a healing potion around here somewhere," the elf muttered just as he pulled a red vial out.
Only for it to be snatched out of his hands by Aldanon.
"Tut, tut, my fine elven friend," Aldanon drawled mockingly. "I'm afraid your condition has taken a turn for the worse."
"What in Oblivion do you think you are doing!"
"Just diagnosing an ill man," came the innocent sounding reply. "I'm afraid you've come down with a rather severe case of hypocrisy, dear Rulindil."
Ignoring the elf's incoherent sputtering Aldanon scrutinized him for a moment before continuing. "While it's far from the being the worst case I've ever encountered I'm sorry to say that it's still far enough along that the end result will no doubt remain the same."
"What are you saying?" Rulindil demanded shakily. "Do you have any idea who yo-"
Any further words were cut off rather suddenly as Aldanon struck, driving the dagger up under Rulindil's chin and into his brain. The Altmer's body twitched once and then again as Aldanon twisted the blade violently and withdrew it in another shower of blood, leaving the dead elf sprawled out on the ground in a growing pool of blood.
"We may not see eye to eye on things," Aldanon said aloud as he absently cleaned the blood off his new dagger with a scrap of Rulindil's robe. "But I think we can both agree that they didn't deserve this."
Throwing the bloodied cloth aside he looked up towards Talos' imposing image. "I'll make sure they are buried properly at the very least and this trash disposed of in an appropriate manner."
Aldanon wasn't even certain that the Divine could even hear him through his shrine like he could his own supplicants. The sheer number of shrines devoted to Talos and the Divines and the ease of accessibility would probably make such a thing rather tedious. Still, it was the thought that counted.
He hadn't been speaking idly however about seeing to their burial. With a snap of his fingers four rifts whirled into existence around him that quickly dissipated to reveal the kneeling forms of three Aureal and a single Mazken.
"You summoned us, my Prince?" They spoke in unison.
"Yes I did," he said with a gesture to the carnage surrounding them. "I desire for these people's remains to be buried with as much dignity as can be managed considering the circumstances."
"As you command, my Prince."
"Hold, Nelrene," Aldanon said to the lone Mazken. "I have a slightly different task for you."
Nelrene paused in helping her counterparts in their task to stare quizzically at Aldanon. "What is it, my liege?"
He nudged Rulindil's body with his boot. "I want you to take this filth to Relmyna, wherever the damned woman has set up shop now. She's been complaining to me about a lack of fresh materials lately and I want to assure her that she'll soon have a steadier supply...starting with this one."
The old Captain of Aldanon's guard during his days as the Duke of Dementia, though she had since moved up the hierarchy to being second in command over all Mazken in his service, hefted the corpse over her shoulder and looked expectantly to Aldanon rather than dispel herself immediately.
"Very good," Aldanon praised, still somewhat surprised at how well she could still anticipate his desires. "Make sure to tell Relmyna that she has my permission to go forward with her latest experiments, without the usual restrictions."
That stopped all four of his subjects dead in their tracks. It was well known that he and Relmyna didn't always see eye to eye on the subject of her research, though it was less a matter of morality like some might expect of the former hero but rather one of patience and restraint.
Relmyna was constantly pushing further and further in her research and on more than one occasion her failed experiments had broken loose to terrorize the Isles. The worst of which had actually required Aldanon himself to go out and deal with, which had marked the beginning of his direct oversight into the Dunmer's work and his insistence that she perfect her techniques and processes before moving onto a new experiment.
"Are...are you sure, my liege?" Nelrene asked hesitantly.
"Yes," Aldanon said firmly. "The wheel is turning, the world is changing and we must adapt to take advantage of new opportunities. Make sure that the Autkendo and Aurmazl have their forces prepared to handle any situations that may arise in my absence, I would much prefer not having to return to the Isles more than necessary. There are larger issues that require my attention."
"As you will, my liege," Nelrene replied, disappearing back to the Isles in mid bow.
Aldanon watched for a few moments as his Aureal carefully gathered up the bodies of Talos' devotees to prepare them for their burial before turning and heading north once again. The sun was starting to go down and he would prefer to examine the next set of standing stones while he still had daylight to see by.
A/N: Chapter 3, cleaned and ready! Here we continue with Aldanon's misadventures and I do a little world and lore building. About half of the lore I write is complete BS that I made up as I go along but at least I try to support it with facts from actual lore and connections that I can see that make a certain amount of sense (eg. Mannimarco being responsible for the disappearance of the moons. He channels his power through them for his necromancer followers to make Black Soul Gems so it isn't much of a stretch for him to be the culprit, or my concept of the Blessings that the Divines grant to mortals, represented in actual lore by the Dragonborn and the Sybil of Dibella)
Further hints at the scope of Aldanon's abilities too. The ability to sense energy of many different types, though blunted somewhat by the presence of the Standing Stones for the moment, and some fairly powerful mental/empathic talents as well. The empathy ability I thought was a good talent to have for a god that is associated with madness and insanity, lets him get a glimpse into what buttons to push and all that. As evidenced here and hinted at in previous chapters not without downsides like using his sensing abilities on a large scale is much like sending up a flare in the middle of the night which completely negates his ability to hide from Alduin and you can rest assured that in the future Alduin wouldn't likely flee for Sovngarde. No, now he's got an axe to grind with the "powerful mortal" that dares to stand against him.
His ability to spit in the face of the laws of magic is also put on further display. Not only can he supercharge his attacks he can ignore the limits of daedra summoning, at least to a point. I like to think of it like this: Rather like that big Russian boxer in Rocky, he looks down upon the established laws of magic and calmly declares "I will break you." He does naturally have limits of course, pouring too much power into a Destruction spell causes it to become unstable and possibly run out of control and he can't simply summon an army at the drop of a hat.
Please remember that we are dealing with a god, albeit one stuffed in a mortal body.