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The Imperial Standard

Author: 
Anonymous

While scouting the Nobles District, the Vestige encounters an imperial legionnaire who does not appear to be a member of Legion Zero.

Zelanus Equitius: You’re...? Whoa! Wait! I’m not with Molag Bal’s army,  I swear!

Vestige: You’re wearing an imperial uniform.

Zelanus Equitius: Not all of us swore oaths to Legion Zero when they started to betray the city. My commanding officer, Captain Caudex, marshaled what forces          he could after the insurrection and took the forum. Turned it into a garrison.

We’re holding on, but we need help.

Vestige: What are you asking me to do?

Zelanus Equitius: You’ve seen the big building that still flies Imperial colours, right? That’s us... at least, the eight of us that remain. It’s been a tough few months.

I don’t care which banner you fight for. We need your help. At least talk to Captain Caudex.

Vestige: All right. I’ll meet with Captain Caudex.

Zelanus Equitius: I’ll catch up. I’ve got to scavenge what I can before I head back. Food especially. We’re all a bit tired of smoked rat and boot-leather soup.

Vestige: You said Legion Zero betrayed the city?

Zelanus Equitius: Handed it right over to that necromancer, Mannimarco. I’d love to put a sword through his throat, but no one’s seen him for months. He’ll turn up - and when he does, we’ll be waiting.

Anyway, most of the surviving Legion serves Molag Bal now.

Vestige: So Captain Caudex fought against the traitors?

Zelanus Equitius: He wasn’t the only one. He’s just the only one who survived. Mannimarco had any officers who refused to fall in line captured and executed. Obviously that didn’t go well. The Legion ate itself alive. Brother against brother...

Vestige: Doesn’t look like it went well.

Zelanus Equitius: We thought we were winning... for a time. Then they brought in the Daedra.

First it was Captain Midara in the Arboretum. The Lieutenant Haderus and his soldiers in the Temple... slaughtered the same afternoon. We’re all that’s left.

Vestige: How have you held the garrison all this time?

Zelanus Equitius: Sounds impossible, right? I can’t say that I haven’t questioned it myself. Still, the Captain would have my throat if I spilled all our secrets.

Seems your best bet would be to ask him yourself, friend.

The Vestige fights through to the centre of the district and enters the garrison. Before proceeding to the captain, the Vestige decides to speak with some of the surviving soldiers. One soldier is playing a flute.

Ducilla Iullus: Well? Any requests?

Vestige: How can you play the flute at a time like this?

Ducilla Iullus: You mean when our cities burn? Our citizens suffer? My friends bleed and die as the armies that could save us squabble amongst themselves? Let me ask you something. What better time is there to bring a little joy into this gray world?

Vestige: Were you a musician before the city fell?

Ducilla Iullus: Not a very good one. Mostly, I won archery and drinking contests. It all seemed so mundane at the time. I never thought I’d miss it. All I want to do now is make the lives of my friends a bit brighter before the end. That’s something, isn’t it?

Another soldier is cooking.

Maxima Petellia: I must say it’s good to see s fresh, living face in these barracks. We haven’t much, but I might be able to sneak you a spoonful or two.

Vestige: What are you cooking?

Maxima Petellia: Oh, you like the smell! It’s amazing how a few spices can liven up boot leather soup. I’m teasing, of course. There’s really only a dash of boot leather in here. Zelanus has done an amazing job at scrounging up food. Meat, bread - even fresh apples.

Vestige: So scavenging is how you’ve held out for two months?

Maxima Petellia: That, and knowing how to pick and choose our battles. We fight when the odds favor us and pull back when they don’t. Simple tactics, really. For my part, I’m just glad I’m with my children.

Vestige: You have children living in the city?

Maxima Petellia: Oh, that’s just what I call my comrades. My boys and girls. Even Anatolius, though he prefers Captain Caudex. These soldiers are all my children. I’ll cook their meals and heal their wounds until I pass. That’s what a mother does, you know.

The Vestige moves on to a soldier in heavy armour with a red diamond on his helm.

Statius Vettiana: What?

Vestige: Can you tell me anything about how the Imperial City fell?

Statius Vettiana: Traitors.

Vestige: Could you be more specific?

Statius Vettiana: Our false comrades swore loyalty to that beast, Molag Bal for promises of riches and favor. All lies. Now I hunt these traitors and cleave in twain any who dare face my blade. Justice for our city and its people.

Vestige: How have you and Captain Caudex held this barracks?

Statius Vettiana: We are very proficient warriors. We slaughter any soldier or beast who dares approach. I am stronger than most. If we see any of my former comrades today, I will demonstrate. And if you ever betray us, you’ll learn firsthand.

The Vestige interrupts a soldier praying at a shrine of Arkay.

Arrianus Capius: Lord Arkay, guide my mace, that I might smite your enemies. Guide my steps on the path of the righteous, then give me rest at last.

Vestige: Praying to the Eight Divines?

Arrianus Capius: Praying? Yes, I suppose you could call it that. I’m praying for an end to this nightmare - the chance to finally put down my mace and leave this madness behind. I don’t expect my prayers will be answered.

Vestige: So you’re just going to give up?

Arrianus Capius: No, I will never give up, as long as the enemies of Arkay stalk these streets. I will smash them, one by one, until I can fight no more. I will not give up, but let’s just say that after all I’ve seen, I’d welcome death’s respite.

The Vestige goes over to talk to a woman writing at a desk.

Kyleus Herminia: Is there some reason you’re staring at me?

Vestige: What are you writing?

Kyleus Herminia: A scroll to drown these wretched Daedra. Prayers to the Eight who never answer. My memories. My eulogy. Why do you care?

Vestige: I’m trying to understand how the city fell to Molag Bal.

Kyleus Herminia: Through treachery, hubris, and an empress too enamored of Mannimarco’s charms to recognize the knives he was driving into everyone else’s backs. We were all fools. My only comfort now, is hearing Daedra scream as I electrify them. I can enjoy that.

Vestige: What about taking the city back from Molag Bal?

Kyleus Herminia: Impossible without reinforcements, and I don’t see any lining up. Do you? The great alliances have left us to die while they bumble about playing war. Pathetic. So far as I’m concerned, Molag Bal can take the lot of them - and he will. Soon enough.

The Vestige approaches a man at a bookcase.

Justianas Gratus: It’s good to know there are other survivors out there. We haven’t seen many new faces these past months. Not living, anyway.

Vestige: What are you reading?

Justianas Gratus: This? Oh, it’s an old book detailing the rise of Emperor Reman III. Capably-written, but largely apocryphal as far as I can tell. Not exactly a masterpiece, but it’s the only history book I could find. Any port in a storm, right?

Vestige: Is now really the time to be digging out old books?

Justianas Gratus: Perhaps not. Or perhaps now, when the night grows darkest, we need the strength that knowledge provides more than ever. Our history defines us and must be defended, even in grim times like these. Especially in grim times like these. Remember that.

The Vestige goes to speak to the captain

Captain Caudex: Didn’t expect to see any mortal faces today - not living ones anyway. You must be new. Provincial militia, right? You got the look of one.

Vestige: Provincials?

Captain Caudex: The Covenant. The Pact. The Dominion. The bull-headed armies tearing each other apart on the fields of Cyrodiil while Daedric beasts lounge on the throne. If you’ve come to ask me to join my banner to yours, you can walk right back out that door.

Vestige: Actually, I’m here to help you. One of your soldiers sent me.

Captain Caudex: Zel. He always sees the best in people. That’s why I had to drag him, bleeding, out of a legionary stockade. He couldn’t believe our superiors would betray us and hand the city to Molag Bal. Me, I see the worst in people. That’s why I am still alive.

Vestige: So you don’t want me help?

Captain Caudex: I didn’t say that. Desperate times demand flexibility. Molag Bal’s lapdogs are preparing for another assault. My soldiers are exhausted and the door braces are near to breaking. We need help. If you’re willing to fight, you’d have my thanks.

Vestige: I’ll defend your garrison from Molag Bal’s army.

Captain Caudex: Our weak points are blocked doors on the north, west, and south sides. Zel’s scouting for attacks, so if he thinks the Daedra are going to hit a door, he’ll mark it with a sigil. Look for that sigil and wait. Zel will update you whenever he can.

Vestige: How have eight soldiers held this garrison for two months?

Captain Caudex: Through some of the best soldiering I have ever seen. These soldiers are lions. Stubborn as High Rock mules. We’ve also been lucky. Very lucky. I figured we’ve made things so damned difficult that the Daedra have found better things to do.

Vestige: Is that all there is to it?

Captain Caudex: That almost sounds like you don’t trust us. Don’t worry, the feeling’s mutual. But for now, I need you to send those Daedra back where they came from and protect my people. We’ll talk again after the assault. If you live through it, of course.

The Vestige defends the fortress.

Captain Caudex: That was some damn fine soldiering out there. Nothing I didn’t expect, but it’s refreshing to have something go right.

Vestige: Now can you tell me how you’ve held out for so long?

Captain Caudex: I suppose it’s time for that. It’s all due to a scroll. Old magic. Just before Molag Bal’s assault on the Imperial City, a group of priests unearthed an ancient scroll they claimed dated back to the time of St. Alessia. Never asked where they found it.

Vestige: Is this scroll really that old?

Captain Caudex: Do I look like a priest? All I know is one of them, Father Egnatius, was obsessed with it. He brought it to me and urged me to keep it safe. I wrote it off as nonsense until I had my first dream. It came the night before the city fell.

Vestige: What was the dream about?

Captain Caudex: I saw the empress regent and her generals taking Molag Bal’s hand. I heard creaking chains and smelled charred flesh... Then I saw the scroll. It was just out of reach, covered in blood. Woke up screaming. After that, I knew I had to keep it safe.

Vestige: So how has an old scroll helped you defend the garrison?

Captain Caudex: Like I said, it carries some kind of enchantment... magic strong enough to bring us back when we fall in battle. It’s not pleasant, mind you, and each time I come back I feel less like myself. But it’s kept us fighting. Simply put, we can’t die.

Vestige: So this scroll made the eight of you immortal?

Captain Caudex: So long as we hold the garrison... so long as we keep fighting, yes. Zel’s taken to calling us the “Immortal Eight.” Nonsense, but I let him do it. It’s good for morale. There’s more. Some of the dreams that scroll sent me involved you.

Vestige: Me?

Captain Caudex: These were prophetic dreams, like the one that warned me of the invasion and betrayal. I dreamed you would come for the scroll, along with a masked woman. I knew I had to protect it for you. And so we have. Now, you should take it.

Vestige: So I should take this to the masked woman? The Drake of Blades?

Captain Caudex: It’s for both of you... but her especially. I can’t say more. You’d best go find her. Somehow, I’m certain this scroll is key to stopping whatever Molag Bal has planned for our city. Keep it safe.

Vestige: All right. I’ll take the scroll to the Drake of Blades.

Captain Caudex: I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again, soon. This war is far from over. Until then, watch you back, soldier.

Vestige: You said each time you come back, you feel less like your self?

Captain Caudex: Indeed, it’s like... shedding warm clothes in a heavy snow. We just get leaner. Colder. The first time I died, I was crushed by a siege engine. The next day, I just woke up - muddy, but no worse for wear. Old Maxima almost had a stroke.

Vestige: Doesn’t losing parts of yourself worry you?

Captain Caudex: This garrison - this city is all that matters. I will grind whatever grist the mill requires to protect it, even at the price of my soul. Some of us are more conflicted than others - Arrianus especially. But he fights on anyway. We all do.

Vestige: If I take this scroll, won’t you lose your immortality?

Captain Caudex: Honestly, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. This building used to be a forum, did you know that? Just bricks, and old ledgers, and broken chairs. But now, it’s something more. This garrison is the Empire. I’ll see it defended, whatever the cost.

The Vestige returns to the Drake of Blades in the sewers.

Drake of Blades: You’re back - good. I just finished looking through some of this correspondence and ... Wait, what’s that? A scroll? It looks ancient. Where did you find it?

Vestige: It’s magic. It made a garrison of Imperial soldiers immortal.

Drake of Blades: So that’s how they did it... I’ve been watching that garrison since the beginning. Caudex is difficult to read. Talented, but stubborn. Honestly, I’m surprised he gave this to you. I’ll hold on to it for now. We’ll find a use for it eventually.