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Vvardenfell

Author: 
Naryu Virian

Execution Journal, Writ 1: Vonos Bero.

It’s standard procedure for a Tong assassin, especially if she’s of Knower rank or above, to keep an execution journal, if only for the education of the Thralls.

Vonos Bero

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

This time around, I think I’m going to go into more detail than usual. A lot more detail. Because if what the Grandmaster told me is true, this needs to be recorded for the good of Tong history.

So pay attention, Skull: this is the Execution Journal of Morag Tong Assassin Naryu Virian, recounting the Honorable Execution of the targets known as the Seven Secretives. Target class: traitors to the Tong.

Vvardenfell: so here we are, back again. Which I guess is all right because you’re supposed to like the place you’re from, aren’t you? Even if it’s a flat-headed little town like Seyda Neen that you got out of as soon as you were big enough to row across to Ebonheart. But when you’re an operative for the Morag Tong, and Grandmaster Rythe Verano—you know his name well, don’t you, Skull?—when the Grandmaster, I say, summons you to Vivec City, you fetching well go. And quickly.

The Grandmaster instructed me to meet him in a maintenance room in the Waistworks, which had me wondering—until he explained that there was treachery inside the Tong and the writs he was giving me were for seven of my fellow assassins. The targets were scattered across Tamriel, but the first one, Vonos Bero—Vonos Bero, himself!—was right here in Vvardenfell. His current whereabouts were unknown, but he was last seen to the east, on Azura’s Coast. He was taking his ease, fishing among the mushrooms and waterfalls.

Fishing! What a s’wit! Where I come from, fishing is work, not play—but then, I wasn’t raised Serjo Vonos Bero, son of a councilman of House Hlaalu. No, I was raised on the Bitter Coast and spent my youth in the swamps and salt marshes, hunting through the muck under the moss-hung cypresses for violet coprinus, bungler’s bane, and other foul-smelling fungi—anything my Aunt Aranea could sell at the market for a few drakes, most of which she’d spend on bottles of sujamma.

But a ranking Hlaalu f’lah won’t be caught dead—get it, Skull?—on the Bitter Coast. No, you’ll find him in West Gash. Not that the Gash is paradise, at least down by the coast, where the Hlaalu hirelings and retainers have to live, harvesting muckspunge and farming kreshweed. The upper housemen live inland, in the higher and drier Funguswoods, where you can build something that won’t sink into the mud or fall over. That’s where the Hlaalu lords built Balmora. That’s where I knew I should start my search.

Balmora, home of House Hlaalu on Vvardenfell, where the architecture is as bulbous and self-important as the Hlaalu themselves. In my lovely line of work, you have to pay attention to how buildings are built—not for aesthetic reasons, Vehk knows, but because you need to get in and out of them unheard and unseen. Take this big dumb Balmora tower, for example.

You’re going to need to get to the top—because, trust me, the target is always at the top—without making a racket or knocking off the loose bits. But how? Study the details, my darlings, particularly the protrusions: staircases, gutters, and windows. Windows are wonderful things, especially above the ground floor—higher up, nobody ever bothers to lock them!

And the bridges—you simply must study bridges, because targets have to use them to cross rivers and chasms, so they’re important ambush points. Take this wall-bridge over the Odai in Balmora.

See that ledge below the three windows? Wearing crampons, you can scramble along that as nimble as a lizard, hop up topside, do the job, then slide down a gutter to the underpass.

The curving parts may look difficult to navigate, but you just need to get intimate with them, run your hands over their shapes, and feel their textures, until you know which parts you can count on to support you when it matters.

When it matters, of course, is after you’ve finished the target and the Hlaalu soldiers are after you. The Hlaalu’s power and influence come from trade, so their House color is gold—subtle, eh? But don’t be fooled: the gilding is just for decoration, and underneath their armor is thick, dagger-turning steel. None of your chitin or bonemold for the Hlaalu.

However, I did learn something from a rather handsome Hlaalu lieutenant. What a shame he turned out to be stubborn into the bargain. But he still has nine other fingers.

Bero’s got the wind up—he knows we’re after him. Which will make this difficult, Skull, as he knows all our tricks. But he should have known better than to confide in his lieutenant friend: a secret shared is a secret no longer. So now I’m aware that he’s changed his name and assumed the identity of an Erabenimsun Ashlander.

I tracked Bero south, into the Ascadian Isles. He stuck to the side roads and byways, as befits an Ashlander who’s now, as I learned, calling himself Ulamadash the Merry Tinker. Sounds insufferable, which makes it a good guise: House Dunmer hate jolly Ashlanders and will avoid him. Seems like Bero—or Ulamadash—is about a day ahead of me and moving fast. I need to catch him before he figures out a way to lose me entirely, but carefully, carefully. Because if someone was after me, I’d lay an ambush.

So as I follow his trail, I scan for traps or ambushers, looking everywhere, and at everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything: every bush, every rock, every fungustree, every face, and every voice. I’ll let you in on a secret, Skull, because I don’t think you’ll tell anyone: I have a perfect memory. Complete. Eidetic. Everything I see or hear, I remember, and I can access those memories at any time. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a successful assassin. And a damned fine lover, to boot.

We’re past Molag Mar: I can tell I’m closing on him, but still no traps or ambuscades. I don’t get it—is Bero overconfident he can escape or too terrified to turn? He’s rounded Azura’s Coast and is headed north into the Grazelands.

That means he’s leaving Erabenimsun territory and entering that of the Zainab. It’s time to change my look. Well, if Vonos Bero can wear Ashlander armor, so can I.

At least if I have to dress in sacks like a frump, the outfit comes with a face mask to hide my embarrassment. But I’ll still have to do that stiff guar-herder walk they do.

I guess if you follow bipedal reptiles through bitterweed all day, you start to move like them.

It occurs to me that appropriating some Zainab weaponry will be useful if I need to make it look like an Ashlander killed Bero. Better to leave evidence of an honorable execution…

…But sometimes you have to sacrifice the finer points in order to throw off pursuit.

Almost lost him! Looks like I was the one who was overconfident. While I was preparing to approach a target hiding out among the Ashlanders, Bero changed his identity again and sneaked away west up the slopes of Red Mountain. Did it during an eruption, too, just when no one would expect. Bero never impressed me before when I met him on Tong business, but I must say he’s earned my grudging admiration. If he’s this good, maybe the Grandmaster was right to fear him.

To be frank, Skull, that whole story the Grandmaster told me about the Seven Secretives and their threat to take over the Tong from the inside sounded rather far-fetched. Just didn’t fit the facts as I knew them—and I don’t miss much, as you know. Though Bero being tipped off that we were after him does point to treachery.

He’s a nasty fetcher, too: sneaked through a nest of ash hoppers during their dormant cycle, knowing I’d follow him when they were awake. And he crosses foyadas just ahead of lava flows so the magma wipes out his trail.

I’d have been stuck if I didn’t know how to make lava-resistant overshoes out of ash hopper shells. But Bero saved his nastiest trick for last, Dumac take him.

He went off-trail to go past a fetcherfly nest that was about to hatch. I came around a boulder just in time to trigger the hive as it swarmed.

The queen tapped her magma source, the nest chameleoned on my form, and it surged up into a full hive golem. Nearly had me! Good thing I had a spore-gourd handy: the doze-cloud works even better on bugs than on people.

Bero zigzagged left, leading me toward that big granite quarry on the south slopes of Red Mountain. Just beyond it I came across the fresh body of a stonecutter, stripped of his clothes, with some castoff shepherd’s robes nearby—so at least I know what guise Bero’s taken on. He certainly seems to be in a hurry, which leads me to suspect that he’s heading for a rendezvous with someone. That’s a problem, Skull: the Grandmaster told me to take out Bero first, before he could warn the others.

North again, past an old Daedric temple where some kind of ritual combat was taking place.

Not my business, so I gave it a wide berth. There was something more ominous on the horizon: an eerie Dwarven ruin, at the edge of which was a still-smoldering campfire, where Bero had clearly met someone else. Then they’d separated. B’vek! I couldn’t follow them both, so I tracked the stonecutter’s boots. Which went, the fetcher, down into the Dwemer site—Bthuand, I think, because I saw its name on a map once and I remember everything. I went in after him.

I was wondering, once again, what Bero was after when I found the bodies: a half-dozen crumpled forms clad in brazen armor so machine-like that at first I took them for dead Dwemer. Impossible, of course—but what I found on closer inspection seemed equally unlikely. The bodies were … people … but parts of them were mechanical, like the Dwarven constructs I’d dodged on my way in. What in the name of the Three? Where did these clockwork folk come from, and what were they doing down here?

Whatever they were after, it had killed them outright, without leaving so much as a mark on the bodies. Is whatever Bero’s after what killed them? If so, that makes this all the more urgent.

I followed the boot prints ever deeper into the Dwarven delve. I began to feel that sense of imminence I always get when an execution is reaching its climax. Everything I’ve seen and heard, all the sights and sounds just click into place, like a mosaic assembling out of shards of mental imagery. The Bitter Coast. Balmora. The Grazelands. The lava-flowing foyadas. The clockwork cadavers. And then, as I slip in to an empty bronze hall, there he is on the other side, just leaving! Now we come to it.

Clashing sounds of combat ahead, and I nearly get excited, like a beginner, and hurry forward. A few words of the Spinner’s Night-Chant calms my breathing and stabilizes my pulse. I glide past shattered constructs, and ahead I see Bero—meeting someone else! The newcomer holds up some kind of device, Bero reaches for it, they argue and begin to fight. Perfect. Locked in combat, they don’t see me as I saunter up, blades out. The device falls, shatters, as Bero runs the newcomer through, using the move we call “Coring the Apple.”

Then he turns, but too late: I use the same move on him. And that’s that. One down.