Captain Jimila let Kaawen and Betath sleep through the night, then fed them the next morning before they went on their way. Kaawen couldn’t help noticing how Betath fit right in while they breakfasted with the crew. She was friendly herself, but he treated them like they were old buddies, laughing and joking with them in a way she had rarely seen in an Altmer. When they departed, Jimila grasped their forearms warmly and told them sincerely that she hoped they would meet again.
Sergeant Firion even went so far as to hug them. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did,” she told Kaawen as she embraced her.
“Just take care of yourself and your squad,” Kaawen replied. “That’s thanks enough.”
“Do you have enough glow juice?”
“I have four bottles, and I know how to make more. Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”
They finally set out up the beach and across the island of Khenarthi’s Roost. The Temple of the Mourning Springs was on the other side of the island, and although it wasn’t exactly a difficult trek, it did take them a while to navigate the rolling hills and winding roads.
“It occurs to me that the people of Elsweyr and Valenwood are incapable of producing a straight thoroughfare,” Betath said with frustration.
“Straight roads are boring.”
“I would sooner be bored for half an hour than spend the entire day traversing impossible routes. Don’t you find it frustrating to look at your map and see that you should be standing right at a certain location, only to find that it is actually on an outcropping of rock a hundred feet above your head? An outcropping at the end of a two-mile hike, I might add.”
Kaawen chuckled. “And here I thought you had a sense of adventure.” She pointed up the hill. “You can quit your whining; we’re there.”
As they were ascending the hill to the temple, a Bosmer in Mages Guild robes approached them. She was young like Kaawen, no more than seventy-five or eighty years old, with blue eyes and brown hair that she pulled back into a partial ponytail. The elf had a look of desperation on her face. “Are you going to the Temple of the Mourning Springs? Please, I need your help. My master’s life is in in danger.”
“What happened?” Kaawen asked her.
“My name is Gathwen. I’m part of an expedition from Eagle’s Strand. The dead began to rise while we were exploring the temple. Most of us fled, but my master never emerged.”
“We were sent to investigate the undead problem. We can look for him while we’re here.”
“Good! I’ll need to come with you. Two magical wards seal the temple. If you can keep the undead at bay while I disrupt the wards, we can search for Rurelion together.”
“If you don’t want to go in there, I can disrupt the wards,” Betath offered.
Gathwen shook her head. “This is something I need to help with. I have no doubt Rurelion can protect himself, but I still cannot just leave him in there.”
“Understood. Of course we’ll help you.”
“You were here with Ealcil?” Kaawen asked.
Gathwen rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately. After our ship wrecked, we heard the locals mention a temple where the fountains never run dry. We leapt at the chance to investigate, but Ealcil insisted on leading the expedition. We found the Mourning Stone, which does seem to have a limitless supply of water, but when Ealcil removed it, the undead descended on us. Idiot.”
“And he just left Rurelion there?”
“I don’t believe he knew Rurelion was trapped. He may be a fool, but he’s not heartless. At least, I don’t think he is.”
“Well, let’s go get your master back,” said Betath.
With Gathwen trailing, they ascended a long, high flight of stairs. They were met at the entrance to the temple by a skeleton wearing a tattered purple robe. It walked toward them, and Kaawen tried her best not to flee. She’d come against undead before and had fear of cutting them down, but for some reason this one terrified her. Betath placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, and the fear was gone. In its place came a tingle of pleasure.
“Turn back,” said the skeleton, its voice echoing through the air but its mouth not moving. “You are not welcome here.”
“I’ve come across your kind before,” Betath said, “but none have ever spoken to me. Who are you?”
The skeleton chuckled. “I’m whoever I wish to be. I change bodies like high elves change clothes.”
“But my name is Uldor. What does it matter to you? Why are you trespassing here?”
“We’re looking for an elf named Rurelion.”
“Yes, my newest outfit. The flesh sags a bit, but the power in his bones reminds me of my youth. And the robes . . . I’d forgotten the feel of silk upon newly won flesh.”
“What did you do to him!” Gathwen demanded.
“Set foot in this temple and see for yourself. Such commendable posture! I could definitely wear you in the autumn.”
“Release Rurelion immediately,” said Betath with an air of quiet menace.
“I tire of this,” the skeleton groaned. “Leave or die. It matters not to me.” He turned and tottered away.
“We need to get those wards down fast,” Gathwen said.
They went through the gates and wound their way along a path to an expansive courtyard.
“Up there,” said Gathwen, pointing to a structure to the far left.
Kaawen and Betath led her across the courtyard, where they were set upon by several walking skeletons. Kaawen drew her bow and shot the ones at range, and Betath raised his staff to hurl magic at the ones closer in. Twice, he did the low swing of his staff and threw the skeletons backward, at which point Kaawen released her arrows.
“We make a good team,” Betath chuckled. As he did, a skeleton got too close and swiped its sword across his chest. “Damn it!” He pointed his staff at the creature and zapped it repeatedly with terrible lightning, until it fell to the ground, unmoving.
“Are you all right?” Kaawen asked.
“Yes, it’s a shallow cut. It’ll sting, but no more.”
They made it across the courtyard and up the stairs to the ward chamber, which was marked with a image of a scorpion and a barrier glowing with blood-red light. Gathwen held her hands out and cast a spell on the ward, which dissipated with a hiss.
“Okay, that was disturbing,” said Kaawen.
“Let’s go get the other one.”
They fought their way across the courtyard against a seemingly endless tide of undead, Gathwen helping with her own magic this time; and between the three of them, they managed to get to the other ward chamber with only minor scrapes and bruises. This ward was marked with the image of a spider.
“Spider weaves the web around its prey!” the disembodied voice moaned as the ward dropped.
“Now to the catacombs,” said Gathwen.
They fought their way across the courtyard yet again until they reached the temple door in the middle; then they entered the catacombs below. They went down a long flight of stairs to a cavernous room that was free of undead, contained several sealed crypts, wide columns with relief stones on them, and a magically barred door.
“That’s where we need to go,” said Gathwen. “There must be a way to disrupt that barrier.”
They looked around the room for something that might help them get past the ward, and Kaawen found herself staring at one of the relief plaques on the wall. It depicted Jone and Jode, the too moons that hung in the skies over Tamriel, in all their full glory. A nearby column showed them in their waxing phase. A closer look revealed that the reliefs—a total of four—depicted all the different phases of the moons.
“I wonder,” she mused. She went to the relief of the New Moons and pressed on it. Like a huge button, the plaque set back into a recess and then glowed with a bright, white light.
“I think you’ve got it!” Betath exclaimed. He was near the Waxing Moons plaque, and he pressed on that, with the same result.
“The Full Moons plaque is down there,” said Kaawen, pointing at the one on the end just past him. As soon as he had depressed that plaque, she pushed on the Waning Moons relief.
With a great whoosh, the barrier dissipated from the door.
“You’ve done it!” Gathwen cried. “But before we go in, I need to mention something.”
“What’s wrong?” Kaawen asked her.
“When we entered the temple, the skeleton implied that Rurelion was in grave danger. He is too important to lose. The Dominion relies on him for his sound judgment. He’s taught countless students the ways of magicka, including some of the queen’s own advisors. If anything were to happen to him . . .”
The way Gathwen said those last words, her voice breaking just a bit, made Kaawen realize more was going on than just admiration. Gathwen loved Rurelion, as sure as she was standing here. She reached out and placed a hand on her fellow Bosmer’s arm. “We’ll do what we can to protect him,” she said gently.
“Thank you. We should keep moving.”
They went through the door to the central ruins, where they found a high pedestal with a mage standing on top. His back was to them, his arms were out, and he seemed to be performing some sort of ritual.
“We found the Mourning Stone on that pedestal,” said Gathwen. “Wait, that’s Rurelion!”
Rurelion turned around and spoke, but it was the voice of Uldor they heard. “With ears that large, one would think you would be able to listen. I shouldn’t bemoan your stupidity. You fools ended centuries of captivity when you removed the Mourning Stone.”
“I’m not going to tell you again,” Betath said coldly. “Release Rurelion now.”
“No, I believe I’ll keep him. At least until the summoning ritual wears him through. You see, I’ve been wearing the undead for a long time now, and they’re all so . . . beige. But I’m willing to adorn myself with hundreds of tawdry outfits in order to collect the more colorful garb at Eagle’s Strand.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Then drown in a sea of bones!”
“We have to disrupt this ritual,” said Gathwen. “Look around. See those bone piles? Those are part of the ritual. If you’ll keep the undead at bay, I’ll disrupt it.”
Kaawen, Betath, and Gathwen left Uldor/Rurelion in the center and went to the first of four bone piles, were was covered with magical runes and radiated blue flames. Gathwen released her magic at the pile, and two skeletons emerged. Kaawen and Betath killed them easily, and they did the same with the next bone pile. With the third pile, Kaawen took a sword to her side, and she cried out in pain and dropped to the ground.
“Kaawen!” Betath cried with distress.
“Go ahead and take care of the other one,” she said.
“Fine.” But he cast a protective ward around her before he left her.
Gathwen disrupted the last pile and Betath obliterated the two skeletons while Kaawen sat on the ground, holding her side. The wound bled freely and the pain was incredible, and she felt as though she would pass out. Her head swam and she closed her eyes, not opening them until she heard a faint ringing and felt warmth radiating over her wound. She opened her eyes to see Betath standing over, holding out his Restoration staff. Although the gash didn’t close completely, it healed enough to stem the bleeding and ease the pain.
“Do you have a healing potion?” he asked her.
“Mh-hmm,” she mumbled, then dug in her pack for a bottle of Torchbug Treacle, which she downed quickly.
Above them, Uldor/Rurelion chuckled grimly. “It will make no difference,” he said. “Your body will simply be healthier when I wear it.”
Betath turned with a snarl and leveled his staff at the possessed mage, the tip beginning to glow brightly with an angry red light as he summoned its power. Before he could release it, though, Gathwen stepped to his side and placed a restraining hand over his.
“Don’t,” she pleaded.
“Uldor!” Rurelion shouted. “Get out of my body!”
“Silence! None command Uldor!” With that, he leapt from the pedestal, and darted across the courtyard, and disappeared through the door to the Great Hall.
They followed Uldor/Rurelion into the Great Hall, but they found that once they were inside, it wasn’t a simple matter to reach them. Spike traps lined the floors, and giant bats hovered over them.
“Wait here,” Kaawen instructed Gathwen.
If they timed their movements just right, she and Betath were able to slip around the traps, but they had to fight the bats in the small squares between. One of the bats swung its wing and caught Betath just right, sweeping him backward and onto one of the traps. He managed to get out of the way before being skewered, but he still sustained several shallow puncture wounds and scrapes.
“This Uldor is starting to get on my nerves,” he grumbled. “Let’s finish this.”
They finally killed all the bats and navigated the spike traps, reaching Rurelion standing at the bottom of a great flight of stairs. He was shouting at the top of his lungs. “Uldor, I command you by the Tears of the Two Moons, return to your prison!”
“Aargh!” Uldor cried. “That won’t hold me for long!”
With that, Rurelion collapsed to the floor and sighed with relief. “No, but it should hold him for a while. You’re Gathwen’s allies, yes? Please, disable the traps so she can make it to us safely.” He pointed to a lever at the bottom of the staircase.
Betath turned the lever and the spike traps stopped operating.
“Thank you,” said the wizard. “Despite all my knowledge, Uldor’s influence over me was absolute. I’d be little more than a puppet without your timely intervention.”
“Are you injured?” Kaawen asked him.
“Only my pride. But we have a more pressing matter. Uldor plans to overwhelm and enslave Khenarthi’s Roost with an undead horde.”
“How is that possible?” Betath asked incredulously as Gathwen joined them.
“He was a powerful Maormer wizard who learned to separate his spirit from his body, even in death. He can ‘wear’ hundreds of mindless forms at once.”
“You mean he possesses them,” Kaawen said with dread.
“That’s exactly what I mean. Thankfully, I know his weakness. The Mourning Stone’s endless water supply tied his spirit to his body. When Ealcil removed the stone from the temple, he set Uldor free.”
Gathwen rolled her eyes. “Eel-kill,” she grumbled.
“What was that?” asked Betath.
“Something Rurelion likes to call him. Something about a spell gone wrong.”
“Yes,” Rurelion groaned, “and once again his sloppy methods are almost the death of me.”
“So how do we restore Uldor’s prison?” Kaawen asked the wizard.
Rurelion dug into a knapsack that was sitting on the floor next to him and pulled out four large stones that looked like soul gems. “These are the Tears of the Two Moons; they focus the Mourning Stone’s power. Uldor had me remove them from the tomb. Ultimately, Gathwen should bring the Mourning Stone back from Eagle’s Strand, but for now, we can use the gems to restore his prison. Should be a simple task.”
Betath chuckled. “Somehow, I don’t believe it will be as simple as you think.”
“Because nothing ever is.”
“So what does the Mourning Stone do exactly?” Kaawen asked.
“It’s the centerpiece of the temple. After Uldor’s reign of terror, the Sea Elves gave it to the Khajiit to seal his prison.”
“Reign of terror?”
“Oh, yes. He was killed and imprisoned by his own people.”
“Let’s do this,” said Betath.
“Wait,” Kaawen said. “I need to know. Are we in danger of being ‘worn’?”
“No. For some reason, he feared you. After he saw you through my eyes, he became convinced that to wear you would destroy him. That is why we must be the ones to enter the temple.”
“‘We’? Maybe you should stay here and let Betath and me go in.”
“No, we must go together. Even though he can’t wear you, he can still destroy you with his magic. Only by splitting his attention can we hope to defeat him.
“Maybe,” said Betath defensively. “Maybe not.”
“Don’t argue with him,” Kaawen told him. “He knows Uldor better than you do.”
Betath glared at her but said nothing.
“No, Master,” said Gathwen. “I know what you’re planning. I won’t let you throw your life away.” She turned to Kaawen and Betath, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Rurelion is planning to let Uldor possess him. They’ll both be sealed in that tome forever. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Seal me inside instead.”
“Why would you do that?” Kaawen asked.
“He is too important for the Dominion to lose. Besides, you saw how the summoning ritual weakened him.”
“That’s madness!” Rurelion protested. “I’ve experienced so many summers, Gathwen. My greatest accomplishment was watching you blossom into a mage who will far surpass my own deeds. No, child. We will seal Uldor into the tomb, and you must recover the Mourning Stone to complete the binding. The Dominion will thrive without me. It is far stronger than it knows.”
“He’s right, Gathwen,” said Betath.
“Master, please reconsider,” she begged. Rurelion gazed into her eyes and shook his head apologetically, and she squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. “Farewell, then, Rurelion. I—” But she didn’t finish her sentence. With a wave of her hand, she threw up a portal and stepped through, disappearing from the Great Hall.
“I know, Gathwen,” Rurelion said softly. “I know.”
The three of them entered the tomb, walked around a large wall, and ascended a flight of stairs to a cavernous central room with a sarcophagus in the middle. The sarcophagus was surrounded by a narrow trench which had stone lions on each corner. Each corner of the room had a recess with a stone lion resting in it as well, and in front of each of these lions was a sconce about the size of one of the Tears of the Two moons. A blue ghost stood in front of the coffin.
“You!” said Uldor’s spirit, pointing at Betath and Kaawen. “I won’t wear a poisoned outfit.”
“I don’t think I like his tone,” Betath muttered defensively.
“You don’t seem poisoned to me,” Kaawen said mildly.
“Thank you, Shorty-Elf.”
Rurelion stepped toward the ghost. “I’ve thought about what our combined power could do, Uldor, and I’ve reconsidered. I willingly give myself over to you.”
“Ha! I knew you couldn’t resist such power!”
“Quickly,” Rurelion said, turning back to Kaawen and Betath. “Place the Tears of the Two Moons in the pedestals.”
Kaawen took two from Betath and headed for the nearest recess.
“What!” Uldor cried. “Stay away from those pedestals! You wretched fools, I’ll turn you to ash!” The ghost started lobbing lightning strikes at her, and she dodged nimbly out of the way.
She placed the stone in the first pedestal and ran across the room toward the next one. One of his strikes caught her and she screamed as her whole right side felt as if it were on fire. She slapped at herself, and all she did was make the pain worse as there were no actual flames to put out. Thus, she began running again, narrowly dodging another spell. She heard Betath cry out and shouted his name.
“I’m all right,” he called.
She reached the next pedestal and placed the stone, and water suddenly started shooting out of the lion’s mouth. The cool water was a balm to her singed side, and she stood still for a moment and let it wash over her before turning and heading back to the center of the room, where she joined Betath.
The trench around the sarcophagus had turned into a fountain, water spewing straight up all the way around. Rurelion sat on the floor in front of the coffin, and the ghost lay on top of it.
“You worthless rag!” Uldor snarled. “This tomb cannot hold me forever.”
“Go quickly,” Rurelion urged them. “Uldor grows in strength as we speak. Tell Gathwen we succeeded. And do not mourn for me, friends. I earned a useful fate; few can say the same.”
“What’s going to happen to you?” Kaawen asked him.
“Uldor will sustain me. Better a living form than a musty old skeleton, I suppose. I had hoped for time to meditate, although this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Goodbye, friends.”
“Farewell, Rurelion,” said Betath.
Kaawen stepped through the fountain, knelt next to the wizard and kissed his cheek. “I’m so sorry, Rurelion.”
They left the tomb and went through the Great Hall to the central ruins, where they found Gathwen waiting, her cheeks wet with tears. “You’re all wet,” she said.
“So are you,” Kaawen teased her gently.
“It’s done, then? He’s sealed inside?”
“Yes,” Betath confirmed. “Rurelion saved everyone on this island.”
“He’s still alive at least, which means there’s hope. I’ll find a way to free him from that monster.”
“We know you will, dear. If we can do anything to help . . .”
“Thank you,” she replied, forcing a smile. “I can open a portal to the outer grounds for you. I’m going to stay here awhile.” She threw up a portal, and Kaawen and Betath stepped through.
The courtyard was filled with ghosts, some of whom noticed them and nodded, but none were hostile. “I guess now that Uldor’s sealed away, they can move on to their rest,” said Betath.
One ghost, however, an orc standing against a wall, waved them over. “It looks like the Mourning Stone brought the spirits out into the courtyard,” he said. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” said Kaawen, “we can hear you.”
“I’m not sure how to tell you this, or if you’ll even understand, but you died at Uldor’s hands.”
“What?” Betath replied. “No, we didn’t.”
“I know it’s hard to understand, but you’re trapped as a spirit within the walls of this temple. Look around. Can’t you see how you stand out from the others in this courtyard?”
Betath started to say something else, but Kaawen reached out, touched his arm, and shook her head. “We see what you mean,” she said.
“I can pray for Arkay to help you move on, if it’s all right with you.”
“Of course. Anything that will help.”
He places his hands together and said, “Arkay, please hear my prayer. Take this lost soul as a wind lifts the flower’s seeds. Shepherd this spirit to a place where memories of pain and fear are replaced with tranquility.”
With that, he started to disappear from view. “Wait, what’s happening? Why does everything fade?” Within moments, he was gone.
Betath looked down at Kaawen. “How did you know that would happen?”
“I didn’t. I just figured helping us would be a comfort to him. Turned out better than I thought.”
“You’re amazing. How’s your arm? Are you in pain?”
Kaawen shrugged. “A bit.”
He held out his staff and healed her for the second time—or was it the third? She was starting to lose track. “What do you say we get to Eagle’s Strand and talk to Raz? Then we can go get a drink?”
Raz had already left Eagle’s Strand, but they found him in Mistral, sitting in the open-air bar at the inn. “This one sees you two have met.”
“She got into trouble,” Betath explained. “I had to get her out. After that, we decided to work together.”
“And you have been busy. This one has heard reports. You put an end to the troubles at Shattered Shoals. What of the temple?”
“That’s taken care of as well.”
“Then this one says ‘well done.’” He handed Kaawen a hefty sack of coins. “Go, relax, but do not go too far. Raz will have more work for you, if you’re interested.”
“Sure,” she replied amicably. “But tell me something. Who are you two?”
With his most innocent expression, he said, “Razum-Dar is just a simple Khajiit who seeks the best for all the people of Tamriel. And a saddle that won’t pinch the tail. One day . . .”
“Uh-huh. And you?” she asked Betath.
“Me? Hey, I was just walking up the beach and saw a very tiny lass fighting a very big snake.”
“You two are hilarious,” she said, deadpan. “Really.”
Betath waved the bartender over. “Two glasses of your best wine,” he said.
Kaawen’s eyes widened. “Oh, no. No wine for me. Mead, please.”
The bartender bought their drinks, and Betath said, “Not a wine drinker?”
“No, I’m a strict carnivore. I follow the Green Pact. Only mead and milk for me. And a good rotmeth from time to time.”
“Is there a good rotmeth?” Razum-Dar asked.
“Not outside of Valenwood.”
“But what about mead? It’s made of honey.”
“The pollen bees use to make honey is not something we harvest ourselves. It’s a natural process, and so it counts. Not sure why, but I’m glad because I like honey, especially in mead and as a glaze on ham.”
A barker standing outside the tavern caught her ear.
“Come and see. From the distant shores of Glenumbra, a real, live dog!”
“A dog?” she echoed. “This, I have to see.” She left the bar, mead in hand and Betath following.
In a cage just outside was a small dog with brown fur, looking up at her with big, sad eyes. When it saw her, it whimpered, stood up, and wagged its tail. It was adorable.
“Do not worry,” said the Khajiit standing next to the pen. “It is safely caged. Can you not feel the hatred that burns within its belly? Bars can scarcely contain its hunger. For five gold, gaze into its eyes. Peer into the face of death itself!”
“How much to get in there and pet him?”
The Khajiit’s mouth dropped open and she gasped. “You wish to place your hands upon its fur? Feel the muscle of this killing machine? Ten gold.”
Kaawen handed her ten gold pieces, and the barker opened the cage just enough to let her inside. She sat down, and the dog came over and placed his head in her lap. She scratched him behind the ears. “Killing machine, my arse,” she cooed at the mutt.
“Come on,” the Khajiit muttered into the cage. “You’re destroying my business.”
“How much to buy him?”
“You cannot be serious!”
“Would a hundred gold be enough to buy yourself a new killing machine?”
The Khajiit sputtered and stammered a bit before leaning and whispering, “This one cannot bear to part with this dog, even for a hundred gold. He’s my beloved pet. Feel free to visit anytime, though. As long as you keep up my ruse.”
“You have a deal.”
She opened the cage, and Kaawen stepped out. She handed the Khajiit ten gold pieces from the sack of coin Raz had given her and went back toward the tavern.
“You weren’t really going to buy that dog, were you?” Betath asked.
“Of course I was.”
“Seems like keeping a pet would be difficult in our line of work. Besides, don’t Bosmer eat dogs?”
“No, just livestock and snarky Altmer.”
“O-o-o-o-h! Now I’m afraid.”
“I don’t see myself eating an Altmer who saved my life. Even if he is snarky.”
“Still, I’ll try to keep the attitude to a minimum.” He winked and smiled at her.
With that smile, it was all Kaawen could do not to swoon.