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Gold Coast

Author: 
Naryu Virian

The Port of Anvil, where the final Secretive was headed.

In a way, I’d saved the worst for last because Dathus Ildram was the Tong’s leading diplomat—and the slipperiest, most devious, lyingest fetcher I’d ever met. Nailing him down wasn’t going to be easy.

Dathus Ildram

The aforementioned personage has been marked for execution in accordance with the lawful tradition and practice of the Morag Tong.

Anvil was even more of an “open port” these days than Abah’s Landing, ruled from Anvil Castle by a governor who’d promoted herself from pirate captain to local mogul. Was this petty tyrant the person whom our honey-tongued Ildram had come to the Gold Coast to see? Unlikely: control of a few pirate crews was small beer to the ambitions of the Seven Secretives. I had no doubt their envoy was hunting bigger game. But what could possibly be worth his time in this run-down and forsaken arse-end of Cyrodiil?

One thing was certain: it would be illicit and illegal. So my first stop, as usual, was the local Outlaws Refuge, which for once wasn’t hard to find. Since everything in Anvil not controlled by the pirates was outlawed, all I had to do was ask someone shady who wasn’t a buccaneer and flutter my luxurious lashes. Easy. I got into the refuge and loitered, eavesdropping. I missed Gadnuth: he’d have had snarky remarks to make about the denizens, who all seemed to be on the run from somewhere else.

But I learned some things, Skull. It seemed that for generations the main business of the Gold Coast had been smuggling—even resorts like the Jarol Estate had contraband caves hidden under them with secret seaside entrances. Governor Fortunata had co-opted most of these enterprises, but at least one, a major endeavor by a clandestine arm of the Gold Coast Trading Company, was operating secretly and without giving her a cut. That sounded promising, so I followed it up—though not because Ildram would be interested in smuggling.

It was because the Gold Coast Trading Company was in bed with the merchants of House Hlaalu—and because Ildram’s cover was a high-ranking Hlaalu negotiator. This doubly illicit venture was in a creepy old Ayleid ruin called Garlas Agea, northeast of Anvil. Sneaking past the numerous guards, I soon learned what the Gold Coasters were so keen to keep hidden: they weren’t smuggling goods into Cyrodiil, they were smuggling stolen relics out! The greatest treasures of the fallen Imperial City, looted, were being shipped out … to somewhere.

I learned that from the papers I found in the farthest chamber, scattered around the body of the murdered Hlaalu merchant who’d been running the operation. Not just murdered: assassinated, and by a professional. But the assassin hadn’t been Morag Tong—the finishing move that had cut the corpse’s throat was, by our standards, excessively theatrical. Dark Brotherhood, then. I couldn’t linger to discover more—other than the dead man had come from Kvatch—because Gold Coast mercenaries were patrolling nearby, brawny n’wahs with impressive arms and armor.

One of the mercs spotted me on my way out, and a squad gave chase. I decided to avoid the road and fade into the landscape. But the Gold Coast was no Morrowind—sun too bright and foliage too sparse.

I only lost them by climbing a cliff and hiding up in a tree. Embarrassing!

I decided to take advantage of what limited cover there was by following a streambed uphill—which was, of course, where the local beasts resided, including river trolls, which actually threw mudcrabs at me. Mudcrabs!

Somebody found that hilarious: a high-pitched tittering shrilled from the shrubbery. Laughing at the dread assassin Naryu Virian? I drew my blades and hacked back the bushes, only to find a pair of fluttering nixads pointing and snickering. The indignity!

I trudged uphill past where a majestic stone temple of Cyrodiil’s First Era stood crumbling, abandoned. Well, almost abandoned: a deep, feral grunt echoed from the shadows of the doorway, and out strode a creature from legend—a Minotaur, b’vek! It snorted menacingly. “There, now, bully-bully,” I crooned, backing away. “Little Naryu’s no threat to you, bully! Just go back into your ancient ruin—there’s a good bully! Bye, now!” And I darted off, to the snickering of another fluttering nixad. Little s’wits—we wouldn’t tolerate them in Morrowind.

I hadn’t gone far before I encountered another pair of Minotaurs—or so I thought at first, before I realized they were too small for the part. Two horned figures were conducting some sort of religious rite at a pillared shrine. Curious, I crept closer and realized I was looking at a couple of Imperials dressed up in Minotaur armor and intoning prayers to Saints Alessia and Morihaus. Weird—I’ve never understood how people can pray to dead divines when there are three living ones in the world right now.

I was still thinking about this when I arrived at Kvatch, with its towering Cathedral of Akatosh. The people of Kvatch were renowned for their piety, and it was said the Primate of Akatosh was almost the city’s co-ruler. Which would make it a perfect place for a chapter of the Dark Brotherhood, as assassins-for-hire do their best business where regulations are strict and people feel constrained and inhibited. With no way to vent frustrations, minor disagreements become major conflicts, and sometimes a person’s removal seems like the only solution.  

I knew that the slain Hlaalu merchant had been staying at Castle Kvatch, so the simplest course was to see if his compatriot Ildram was staying there as well. There was a handsome guard at the moathouse gate. What luck!

My dazzling smile elicited the information that a Hlaalu named Dathus Ildram was, in fact, in residence. But then I overplayed my hand by sweetly asking the handsome guard to let me in and then pretend he’d never seen me.

He immediately got all priggish and proper and warned me to leave or get arrested. Fetching Colovians! And worst of all, he’d gotten a good look at my face. Now how would I get in?

I was in the tavern thinking it over when an old friend walked in, a darling murder-vagabond who’d helped me in the past. I beckoned, and my friend came sauntering over, glowing with a sly, smug confidence. When I saw the hilt of a Blade of Woe peeking out of the adventurer’s cloak, I knew why: the adorable goof had joined the Dark Brotherhood. That moment, I realized my problems were solved. I just had to talk this killer-hobo into entering Castle Kvatch and letting me in the back way.

And that’s exactly how it worked out. No Black Sacrament required, either, since I was the one who killed the Hlaalu, right in his room. But it was hard to be appropriately grateful to my Brotherhood friend—for a failed assassination.

I hadn’t told my vagabond, but even as I was “Fileting the Trout,” I knew my victim was too slow and too stupid to be the real Dathus Ildram; I’d been taken in by another body double. Simulacra … doubles … suddenly I saw that was the key to the whole thing. The Morag Tong was the original league of assassins, but after the Potentate Executions, the Tong had been eclipsed, and another league—a double—had risen in our place. The Dark Brotherhood, which now had Sanctuaries across Tamriel.

The Seven Secretives’ ambitions weren’t confined to Morrowind—they wanted to extend their hand over the entire continent. How better than by co-opting the Dark Brotherhood, already in place and established in every province? That had to be Ildram’s goal: to negotiate an alliance with the Brotherhood. And if it couldn’t be done by alliance, then do it by hostile takeover. He was probably already in the local Sanctuary.

So I just tailed their newest Brother, my cute vagabond, to their ugly black door.

My friend entered, and I got comfortable nearby and pulled out my disguise kit. If we were going to play doubles, then doubles it would be. Eventually my vagabond emerged and walked off, not noticing that I ducked inside before the door closed—and looking, as much as possible, like my erstwhile companion. Inside, the Sanctuary was … pretty ghastly. I mean, just really tasteless, decorated like a teenaged Worm Cultist’s idea of sinister. The Dark Brotherhood were like kids who’d found a dark cave and decided to play assassin.

But what can you expect from n’wahs who personify Sithis and even sculpt statues of him? I was rolling my eyes at yet another skull sconce—did everything have to have skulls on it?—when a deep, chilling voice said from behind me, “Morag Tong, I see. You must be after the other one.” I whirled around to face a slim, silent presence clad all in black robes. I took a step back, but he said, “Do not run. You are no enemy. The enemy is the other one.”

“I rejected the diplomat,” the black-clad figure said. “He is nothing, now that his allies are all dead. The fool—he hadn’t known. ‘I’ll find new allies,’ he said, ‘at the Hourglass Enclave!’ He must be halfway there by now. If you make haste, Morag Tong, perhaps you can catch him before he embarrasses you further.” Then Black Robes turned and walked calmly back into the shadows, as if I didn’t matter, as if I were already gone. In fact, I had no reason to linger: their décor was atrocious.

The Order of the Hour: did Ildram really think he could find any advantage there? The Akatosh knights were fanatics, of course, and fanatics are easily fooled, but this move smacked of sheer desperation. I should have known Ildram was smarter than that. As I approached the Enclave three riders burst from its gates: Ildram and two Order Paladins, riding pell-mell toward the west. If I hadn’t instantly ducked into the bushes, I’d have been trampled. Clearly, Ildram had already been at work, cultivating allies among the knights. After them!

Following them was easy—their hoofprints led me straight to an old Imperial ruin called Knightsgrave that had something to do with the Order. The horses were grazing nearby, and the ironbound door stood half-open in invitation. So I went in. But could the fetchers set their trap near the entrance? No, I had to go on a tedious dungeon crawl before I found them. That just made me mad. But I had eaten the last Pariah Scamp, so they never saw me coming. The paladins died first.

Then Ildram. In the end, he begged. But I was in no mood for diplomacy.

And just like that, it was all over. Seven writs issued, seven writs executed. Probably the most important job of my career, and accomplished, dare I say, with flair and a becoming grace. Too bad there was nobody around to appreciate it properly, eh, Skull? Well, I’d had enough of these too-sunny lands where you couldn’t get a decent bowl of mushroom cassoulet—time to return to Vvardenfell. The long sea voyage would give me time think about the future. And I had an appointment to keep in Vivec City.