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Imperial City

Author: 
Naryu Virian

I’d been to the Imperial City on another job, before the Planemeld. Then I just rode in through a gate. This time I had to sneak in through the sewers.

Vuldronu Oth

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

I didn’t want to go to the Imperial City. I mean, it looks like fetching Molag Bal painted a giant archery target on Tamriel, with the capital of Cyrodiil as the bull’s-eye. It’s the focal point of two worlds at war—and war is no place for assassins. In fact, the Morag Tong’s whole reason to exist is to settle matters between the Great Houses so that war doesn’t happen. Once actual war breaks out, assassins just need to get the vekh out of the way. If only we could.

Aboveground, the city was a charnel house, a necropolis, the greatest city of Tamriel half-swallowed by the pits of Oblivion. The shackles of Dark Anchors stretched taut up into the swirling sky, where winged abominations wheeled about the White-Gold Tower like guzzards eying a corpse. My perfect memories of the pre-war city were no use; in fact, they were a liability, more misleading than helpful. Coldharbour horrors stalked the streets, overseen by Dremora—kind of like Ordinators, only Daedric. Summoned creatures were everywhere. No wonder Vuldronu Oth had come here.

Oth was a sorcerer who specialized in summoning Daedra. From an assassin’s standpoint, it was a handy skill to have: you want to kill a merchant in his sleep? Summon a scamp into his room, have it perform the execution, then banish it—poof! No escape necessary. If Oth was after summoning secrets to contribute to the Simulacrum Rubric, this would be the place to find them. Assuming she could survive long enough to scout the place out, make a plan, and act on it. How would she do it?

I ghosted from pillar to doorway, avoiding the Daedra, sorting the place out. Four armies were vying for control of this shattered city, entirely focused on mutual extermination, but that didn’t really make things easier—anyone who spotted me would assume I was a spy for another side, and add me to their extermination list. I had to keep my head down and figure out where Vuldronu Oth would go. To the center, of course—but above, to White-Gold Tower, or below, to the ancient Ayleid vaults in the depths?

Lacking data, I just needed to choose—well aware that whichever I picked first, above or below, it was going to be the wrong one because that’s just the way my luck goes. Or maybe by nature I’m just too nosy not to look at everything. Anyway, by the time I reached the Arena District, I was fed up with brushing Oblivion ashes out of my hair, and decided to go below. Except that, with all the rubble and collapse, I couldn’t find a way back down into the sewers.

It occurred to me that I was probably in the wrong district anyway, and I needed to find a place of mystical importance—so I made my way west to the Temple of the One. Sure enough, magic was happening there.

Big magic. The kind of thing assassins are ill-equipped to handle. I was outnumbered and underpowered for whatever was going on—it looked like death and felt like damnation—so I backed out and reconsidered. I hate these fetching wars.

I’d come into the city on the heels of a platoon of Dark Elf commandos, and I was disguised as an elite Ebonheart Pact soldier. The shiny bits were too flashy for me, but I like looking sinister, and I’d enjoyed clanking around in that heavy gear while pretending to be part of the army. But now it was a problem.

The Temple District was swarming with Dominion troops, most of them struggling with Daedra, but they’d be just as quick to attack a Pact warrior. Time to lose the spiky red armor. I considered shanking a Dremora and dressing like a Daedra, but I wasn’t sure their armor could be removed. It looked like it might be part of them.

I decided to join the Eagles—but though I don’t like High Elves much, I didn’t have a writ to kill any of them. Fortunately, I didn’t need to.

There were plenty of freshly slain Aldmeri Dominion soldiers to choose from. Nonetheless, it wasn’t easy putting together a complete outfit, as they’d mostly met horrible ends, ripped apart by flesh colossi or ice-speared by frost atronachs. Slain in their prime, their long, productive Elven lives cut short by the hundreds, and for what? Queen Ayrenn’s imperial ambitions? The Thalmor’s “ideals”?

Because we’re a league of assassins, the Morag Tong is regarded with fear and hatred—but we only slay single targets and only when authorized. The soldiers of the Dominion, Pact, and Covenant Alliances engage in wholesale slaughter and are lauded as heroes.

Good thing I’m not the bitter type, eh, Skull? Or your death might not have been so quick. But let’s stick to the subject: wholesale slaughter. I’ve been with the Tong for almost a century, I’ve lived through the Knahaten Flu and the Second Akaviri Invasion.

So I’ve seen a lot of death. But I’d never seen anything like the carnage of the Imperial City under the Planemeld. By the time I got to the Nobles District, I was almost hypnotized by it: I felt it just needed to be witnessed, somehow. Slowly, I made my way through the regions occupied by the Daggerfall Covenant army.

In the Elven Gardens, I passed a squad of Covenant Orcs skirmishing with a band of black-clad Imperials who’d gone over to Molag Bal, calling themselves “Legion Zero.” The fetchers.

For once, I actually felt some sympathy for Orcs. Not enough to stop and help them, but still. I continued on into Pact territory, switching back to spiky red armor.

Returning to the Memorial District, I took a quick look inside the Imperial Prison—and backed out fast because clearly that was not where I wanted to go. It was time I paid some attention to doing my job. I was thinking about that, hiding from some Xivkyn Voidstalkers, when I was quietly approached by another furtive figure. He said his people had been observing me for a while and had decided to approach me directly. He wouldn’t say who he was, only a title: the Drake of Crowns.

I told him, guardedly, that I was looking for the City’s focus of Daedric summoning—keeping a close eye on his reaction—and that I was undecided whether to search above or below. He just nodded slowly and said, “Below is not what you want. The depths hold the secret of the Dragonfire Cathedral, under siege by the Daedra. I will prevent you from going there if you try. But what you want is the Tower.” Clear enough: this Drake f’lah represented those who guarded what the Daedra were seeking.

Watching me, he started to talk about the summoned Daedra that were violating his city.

He talked about the Grievous Twilights, the Ogrims, the Dremora, and those murdering brutes of Molag Bal’s personal guard, the Xivkyn. He talked about atrocities he’d seen, gauging my reaction all the while. Then he paused to let me talk a while.

I told the Drake I was seeking another outsider, someone who’d come to his city to learn how better to summon Daedra to Tamriel so what happened here could be done elsewhere. Where would one go to learn such secrets?

The Drake seemed to have made up his mind because he told me of the Barathrum Centrata, the hub of the City’s sewers that the Daedra had converted into a terminal for portals to Coldharbour. He offered to lead me there; I thanked him, but said, “Portals to Oblivion are just the effect. The one I’m after seeks the cause.” The Drake nodded again, slowly, and replied, “Then you must go to the White-Gold Tower. And I’m sorry, but you must go alone. For even we do not go there.”

He pointed down the street toward the City’s center, where a hulking flesh colossus led a patrol of Daedra around the walls at the base of the Tower. “You must do what even the Alliance troops have not yet done.”

“You must pass inside the walls to Green Emperor Way, the street that circles the Tower. Good luck, stranger.” And with that, the Drake of Crowns disappeared into the shadows. I turned to face the Tower. Time to act. A Dremora officer was passing my darkened doorway. I stepped out behind her and drew my blade across her throat in the move we call “Crescendo on the Fiddle.” It worked as just as well as it did on a mortal. And, son of a s’wit, you could remove their armor.

After donning the Dremora’s gear, I at least looked like a Daedra—but I knew that wouldn’t fool the fetchers if I had to talk to them. I was going to have to casually pantomime my way past their patrols. I loitered around, spying on Daedric troops until I was certain I could imitate their moves and mannerisms, and then followed a patrol through a shattered gate into Green Emperor Way. And there it was: White-Gold Tower. Two minutes later, I’d pried open its heavy, steel-clad door and was inside.

Like the rest of the city, the Imperial Throne Room was wrecked and ransacked. A coiling abomination sat hissing on the Ruby Throne while Daedrats scuttled underfoot. Staying on the perimeter of the great round chamber, I ghosted right, following some recent tracks in the invasive blue lichen. Someone was approaching: a Dremora, furtive, her arms full of ancient books.

It was Vuldronu Oth, disguised as I was in Dremora armor. I smiled to myself.

I slowed so we’d meet where there was a pillar between us and the thing on the throne. Oth passed, I turned, and I played the fiddle on her jugular. I caught the books as she fell; outside the Tower, I tossed them into a pool of glowing blue goop and watched them start to dissolve. Three down. Not bad, eh, Skull?