Back at the inn, Kaawen finally lost herself and cried over the Silvenar’s death. Betath held her as she wept, stroking her hair and whispering to her soothingly. When her sobs finally subsided, he handed her a handkerchief with which to wipe her eyes. Then he bought her a tankard of mead.
She wasn’t feeling sociable, so after finishing her drink, she said goodnight and went to her room. She slept surprisingly well, exhausted after running back and forth across Mistral for two days, and the catharsis when she finally let go. Although she was still feeling the loss and probably would for some time to come, she was refreshed the next morning when Betath knocked on her door.
“No rest for the wicked,” he said. “I just spoke with Zaeri, one of Commander Karinith’s lieutenants. The Maormer have attacked Cat’s Eye Quay. We’re to report to the commander as soon as possible.” He handed her a plate with four pieces of bacon on it.
“Oh, you brought me breakfast! Thank you; I’ll be right down.” She closed the door and put on her armor, eating while she dressed, and then met Betath down in the tavern.
They made their way across town and found Commander Karinith near the docks. “Zaeri said the Maormer had attacked,” Betath told her. “She said you’re preparing a counterattack.”
The commander scoffed. “Counterattack? I’d settle for an organized defense. Our forces are scattered too thin, and we won’t be able to hold the gates.”
“What can we do to help?”
“I can’t lock down the gate until all the survivors are clear of the market on the quay, so send them my way. We need to get them on this side of the wall. Stop and gather some healing supplies before you go. There will be injured.”
They went to the quartermaster and obtained some bandages and potions, then went down to the docks and made their way to the causeway outside Cat’s Eye Quay, tending to wounded and instructing survivors to get out of the area so the commander could lock the gate. One of the survivors mentioned that Sergeant Firion was waiting just inside the gate, so they went on and met up with her and Gathwen.
“I didn’t realize you two knew each other,” said Kaawen.
“We don’t, really,” said Firion. “We came to help and ended up together. What are you two doing here?”
“We’re to help too. One of the survivors told us you were down here.”
“You feel that cold breeze? That’s just the way it was before the hurricane that started all this.”
“What can we do, Firion?” Betath asked.
“I sent my squad to scout the quay, but I haven’t heard back from them yet. I want to go look for them, and we can poke around while we’re at it. I’m sure our wizard friend here will want to come along.”
“Shouldn’t one of you hold the gate?”
“Others are coming to hold the gate,” she said, nodding to a handful of marines who were coming their way. “Let’s get in there and take care of this.”
“Gathwen?” Kaawen said, turning to the mage.
“I’m right behind you. I’m sure we’ll have to fight, and I can heal you.”
They entered the quay, which was in ruins. Boats were torn to pieces, barrels and crates burned, and houses and businesses were utterly destroyed. And Sea Vipers were everywhere. It was a good thing Gathwen was on hand. Not only did she heal them; she was pretty good at casting destructive spells, as well.
Kaawen marveled at watching Betath fight. He wasn’t your typical high elf; he had a mischievous streak and an élan that most Altmer would have turned their noses up at. But in a situation like this, he was a stone-cold killer with no compunctions about sending the Maormer to their deaths. She got a close look at his face once when they were fighting, and the jovial expression had melted, revealing something darker, something hard. The mischief still broke through on occasion, and he had a penchant for whacking his enemies with his staff and, with a carefully placed spell, sending them flying into unusual places. He lobbed two of the Maormer completely off the docks and piled them atop a large rock that jutted out of the water about twenty feet offshore. And he never batted an eye. It was a little disconcerting, but she also felt a strange sense of comfort over it. She could take care of herself and was never afraid of dangerous situations, but nevertheless, she felt a little safer with Betath fighting at her side.
In a tavern half a mile onto the quay, they found Firion’s men, Edhelas and Onglorn. Edhelas was kneeling next to Onglorn, who was badly injured, covered in blood, and barely moving.
“What happened?” asked Firion as she knelt next to him.
“Squad got separated,” said Edhelas. “Nistel and I found Onglorn. They hurt him bad, carved runes into his skin. What kind of low-life rat does that?”
“Where is Nistel?”
“Hunting Sea Vipers. I didn’t want to leave Onglorn.”
“Let me see,” said Gathwen, stepping in. She looked the injured Bosmer over and then used her staff to cast healing magic over him. Not all, but many of the runes that had been carved into his skin began to vanish, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“That’s much better,” he said.
“Did you learn what the Sea Vipers plan for Mistral?” Kaawen asked them.
“Not really,” said Edhelas. “I saw a lot of them near the other end of the quay, though.”
Firion rested a hand on Onglorn’s shoulder. “You two have done your part. Get back to Mistral when you can.”
“Take care, Sergeant,” said Onglorn.
They left the two marines in the tavern and continued up the beach, fighting Sea Vipers until they found Nistel in a shop. She hadn’t been as lucky as Onglorn and was already dead when they found her. Her body was badly damaged—slash marks, broken bones, even a few fang marks.
“Oh, Nistel,” Firion breathed, kneeling next to her and stroking her blood-matted hair. “I’ll avenge you, my friend.”
A bloodied piece of paper was clutched in the dead marine’s hand, and Sergeant Firion removed it and read, then handed it to Kaawen. It was a list of weaknesses and plans for taking the quay, including placing storm totems and initiating the tempest.
“There’s that word ‘tempest’ again,” she noted.
“Storm totems,” Betath mused.
“They’re going to cause another hurricane,” Gathwen suggested.
“Gods, I hope you’re wrong.”
“Let’s get this over with so I can take care of Nistel’s body,” said Firion.
They didn’t find anything of interest in the following buildings, and they went to check the mine at the end of the quay. The entrance was blocked by fallen rocks, and a Khajiit was cowering next to them.
“What happened?” Kaawen asked him.
“I was in the cave . . . working . . . when I heard a strange howling. Then warriors came out of nowhere, struck without mercy.”
“Who was it?”
“Sea Vipers, which made no sense because we had already paid protection and let them put their totems in our mine. They killed some and let the rest of us go; they were more interested in their totems. Then they collapsed the cave entrance.”
“Why did they do that?” Betath asked.
“Some high elf wizard tried to get in, so they collapsed it. I got out just in time. The wizard was trying to tell me something, but I was too disoriented to understand.”
“You should get to safety.”
“What’s that? My ears were ringing. Would you mind repeating the obvious?”
Kaawen couldn’t help chuckling.
“Don’t think me ungrateful. If it helps, the wizard was looking for another entrance to the caves. I’ve heard of a secret door by the cliffs, but I’ve never seen it myself. I’ll go now.”
The Khajiit ran up to the docks and across the quay, and they all stood silently, trying to figure their next move.
“I wonder,” Kaawen said after a minute. “In a shop by the cliffs, there was a trap door behind the counter. Any chance that’s the secret door he was talking about?”
“One way to find out,” Betath replied. “Show us.”
They went up to the beach and into the shop Kaawen had indicated. The lock on the trap door had been forced, and they opened it up and climbed cautiously down into the tunnel. When they came upon Ealcil, they knew they were in the right place. He was standing before two large statues in the shape of snake heads. Lightning sizzled between the statues.
“These totems harness a combination of wind and spirit,” he noted as the group gathered around him. He looked away from the totems and glared at them. “Excuse me, do you mind? Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here?”
“We’re here to stop the Sea Vipers,” Betath told him.
“I suppose that’s optimal. These Sea Viper rituals are barbaric, but quite effective. Their hurricane was nothing compared to their current efforts.”
“What’s worse than a hurricane?” Gathwen challenged him.
“You clearly haven’t studied the fundamentals of blood sacrifice.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she retorted, but he ignored her and continued.
“You see the serpent-shaped statues, their storm totems? They collect spirit energies from rune-marked subjects—”
“You mean people,” Kaawen threw in.
“Indeed. They collect their spirit energies and channel it, like water through a funnel.”
“Can we block the funnel?”
“Exactly the right question!” he exclaimed approvingly. “The Sea Vipers use a specialized lodestone to block the channel, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one. Approach an active totem, hold forth the lodestone, and harmlessly siphon the energy away.” He reached in his pocket and brought out a lodestone, handing it to her. “See for yourself.”
“You’re sure it’s harmless?” she asked taking the stone.
“Completely! Go ahead; don’t be shy. It’s not as though the totem’s energies will cascade through your body until you’re nothing but a lifeless, smoking husk. But do avoid standing in the puddles, will you?”
Gathwen grumbled insults behind her, but Kaawen turned toward the totems. She held the lodestone toward them and white light streamed outward, and after a moment the lightning fizzled out.
Ealcil applauded. “Phenomenal! I knew proximity was the key. And look at you, not even a hint of electrocution. You have the principle; apply it to the other totems before—well, best not to worry you about that.”
“Worry me about what?”
With a sigh, he said, “Well, I can’t say for certain. It’s one of two things, neither of which is good for anyone on this island. But you don’t stoop to blood sacrifice unless you need a lot of energy very quickly. And, well, to release it just as quickly.”
“You’re speaking in riddles,” Sergeant Firion grumbled. “What do you mean?”
“Listen, you handle the storm totems. I’ll determine how best to counteract the blood ritual without destroying Mistral. I shouldn’t need to tell you time is of the essence.”
“All right,” Kaawen relented. “We’ll do what you ask.”
They left him by the first totem and started making their way through the tunnels. “I can’t stand that man!” Gathwen snarled as they walked.
“Rather imperious, isn’t he?” Firion commented.
“You have no idea.”
As above, they had to fight their way through, and they had to stop and let Gathwen do some serious healing when Betath took a sword deep in his side after letting a Sea Viper get too close. Otherwise, she mended a few arrow wounds and burns. Betath used his club swing on one Maormer and left him propped against a very narrow shelf halfway up the cave wall, and Kaawen chuckled. “You seem to get very lucky with landing the Sea Vipers in interesting positions.”
“There’s no luck to it. I spent a lot of time perfecting that technique. My aim is very good.”
They pressed onward, shutting down totems as they went. There were nearly a dozen of them, and Kaawen did the first few, finding out quickly that draining the energy from the totems also drained her energy. After that, they took turns.
They finally came to the last totem, and as it dropped, Kaawen could hear a voice in her head. “This is Ealcil, speaking directly to your mind.”
Which is terrifying, Kaawen thought to herself.
“Find my Psijic projection near the tunnel exit. I know how to stop the Maomer.”
They found the projection floating above the floor near the exit. Gathwen groaned and rolled her eyes, and Kaawen had to smile. She found it amusing, how much the Bosmer hated Ealcil. It was understandable, but humorous nonetheless. As for Kaawen, she didn’t mind Ealcil’s manner. She thought he was funny, a notion that would probably mortify him.
“What do you have for us, Ealcil?” Betath asked.
“Through my Psijic projection, I observed an old ritual site. Should be just outside this tunnel’s exit. The Sea Vipers have summoned a storm atronach and are funneling all their energy into the bound Storm-Slave. The creature will only hold so much energy before it explodes. All that energy will wash over Khenarthi’s Roost, killing anything it touches. Oh, and the mountain north of Mistral will shatter and leave no trace of the town.”
“Sweet Y’ffre!” Kaawen gasped with horror. “How do we stop it?”
“Three ritual horns trap Storm-Slave, and they produce a gale that holds all his energy in place. But the lodestone you carry has absorbed enough storm energy to counteract the false winds.”
“And what happens when we release Storm-Slave?”
“He will shed his corporeal form and safely release his storm energy. Now, by ‘safely,’ I mean in relation to Khenarthi’s Roost. You’ll want to get as far away as you can, preferably with some solid rock between you. You should have no trouble, but in case you do, I’ve opened a portal at a distance of one league from Khenarthi’s Roost. I’ll tread water in the open sea until I’ve observed your success.”
“You’re all heart, Ealcil,” she muttered.
“Merely a precaution. I have every confidence!”
“Watch out for slaughterfish,” Gathwen quipped, and she held her staff toward the projection.
“Wait, what? I—”
But he didn’t finish. His projection vanished as Gathwen giggled, and they walked out the back exit of the mine and onto the ritual site. The site was vast, set into the beach right at the water’s edge, the parts not rising above the ground being partly submerged. The monstrous storm atronach stood on a central platform, which was crackling with energy. Three colossal horns were set into stone slings shaped like snake heads and placed at regular intervals around the platform. Wind, smoke, and lightning emanated from each of the horns toward the center. The scene was beautiful, if disturbing.
“Wow,” said Firion, “I wish Nistel could have seen that.”
“I’ve read about such things, but books don’t do it justice,” Gathwen whispered.
Kaawen remained silent, unable to express her thoughts as hear heart hammered in her chest.
Behind each horn was a Maomer wizard, floating in the air and bathed in blue light. Next to each wizard slithered a giant snake and several more Sea Vipers. They were in for a pitched battle.
“Well,” Betath quipped, “shall we get on with it? We wouldn’t want to keep our hosts waiting.”
Three times, they fought a handful of Maomer and a giant snake, then took the lodestone and disrupted the horns. Kaawen took the first horn, but her energy waned quickly and she grew too tired to help Betath disrupt the other horns. She managed to fight on, staying back and using only ranged attacks, but when they were at the last horn, the snake got close enough to bite and took a chunk out of her leg. The poison rushed through her veins, sapping her energy even more, and she bent over, gasping for air. The snake hissed at her, bringing her back instantly, and she darted backward, ignoring the pain and sending another arrow at the slithering reptile as Betath shot a lightning bolt at it from the other side.
When the snake and all of the Maomer were dead, Betath leveled the lodestone at the third horn and released the energy. With a loud crash, Storm-Slave broke free of his bonds.
“Children of the sea!” he boomed. “Your bonds cannot hold the Tempest!”
Dizziness overtook Kaawen, and she swayed as a haze washed through her mind. She was vaguely aware of Firion and Gathwen running away, but Betath bent toward her and took her chin in his hands.
“Kaawen, I know you’re in pain, love, but we have to run now. Can you run for me?”
Run? Um, yeah, she could do that. But her head swam and her stomach churned. She bent over, fearful that she was going to throw up, but Betath continued to plead with her.
“Come on, Kaawen! Gods damn it, we need to run!”
He took her hand and started running, and she followed him, although she really couldn’t see where she was going. But it was urgent, and somewhere in the fog of her mind, she realized they were fleeing from danger. Hadn’t someone said something about running from a . . . storm atronach?
“Hurry, my friends!” came Razum-Dar’s voice, and Kaawen found herself stumbling over some driftwood and splashing into the sea on the other side of the island from wherever it was she had been before. There was a distant sound a bit like the pop of fireworks, but it was short-lived.
The salt water stung her leg but cleared her head, and she looked over at Betath, who floated next to her, looking absolutely terrified. “I’m okay,” she said, her words slurring a bit.
“Let’s get her out of the water so I can heal her,” Gathwen said from behind her.
Betath wrapped his arms around her and pulled her up on the beach with him, and she lay down on her back and looked up at several faces peering down at her. Everyone was wet, and for a moment she forgot why. Then she remembered they had all jumped into the ocean. But why? What had they been doing? Oh, that was right—the storm atronach. She guessed her head wasn’t as clear as she had thought it was.
Betath sat next to her and Firion and Raz stood over her, all looking on as Gathwen worked on her leg. There was a weird sucking sensation, then a warm feeling washed over her entire leg and the pain and disorientation was gone. She sat up.
“Gathwen, you’re really good at that,” she said. “You should look into becoming a healer.”
“Perhaps I will,” she said proudly.
Kaawen looked at Betath. “Help me up?”
He stood up, then took her hands and pulled her up, gazing into her eyes with great relief. “You scared me,” he said softly. “I thought I was going to have to find another shorty-elf to torment.”
“No, no, you can go right back to tormenting me.”
Edhelas and Onglorn came running up to them. “You made it!” Edhelas cried.
“Report,” Firion commanded.
“We swept the shoreline. Commander Karinith captured some Maormer, but the Green Lady slaughtered the rest. I’ve never seen so much blood.”
“We’re so sorry about Nistel,” said Kaawen.
“Don’t mourn for Nistel,” Onglorn reassured her. “You made sure her sacrifice had meaning. Gods favor you, friends.”
Sergeant Firion took Kaawen’s and Betath’s hands in each of hers. “It was good working with you again. We have to go take care of Nistel now. Eternal loyalty, my friends.”
“You go, Firion,” said Kaawen. “Take care of your friend. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”
After the marines left, Raz placed a hand on Kaawen’s shoulder. “To escape death so triumphantly is a constant thrill, yes? Not so thrilling for the Maormer, of course. They are all either captured, fled, or dead, thanks to your efforts. And the Green Lady’s. Khenarthi’s Roost is safe, and voluntarily a part of the Aldmeri Dominion. You will receive a hefty sum of gold for your efforts. Had he known you would do so well, Raz would have scrounged up a nicer reward.”
“Gold is nice,” Betath said mildly. “If you gave us a trinket, we’d probably sell it for the gold anyway.”
“Raz can see your point.”
Kaawen turned to Gathwen, who stood smiling next to her. “I’m heading back to town,” the mage announced. “I do hope to see you again, hopefully with Rurelion by my side.” She reached for Kaawen and hugged her, then wrapped her arms around Betath’s waist and hugged him, as well. Then she turned and walked back up the beach.
“So, Kaawenyth,” said Raz, “are you still interested in helping out a simple Khajiit who looks out for the welfare of the people of the Aldmeri Dominion? In an official capacity, that is.”
“Of course. I’ve had more excitement these last few weeks than I’ve had in my entire life.”
“Good, good. The Maormer are like drunken uncle. Chase them off and they always come back. The people of Khenarthi’s Roost will be ready for them, but others will not be so prepared. If the vipers’ numbers are large enough to assault Khenarthi, then all the southern seas are in danger. The queen is in Auridon right now. Raz would ask the two of you to head to Vulkhel Guard and report to Watch Captain Astanya. She can pass word to Her Majesty. Perhaps you can hitch a ride on the Prowler; this one believes they are headed that way. Stop in at the fort before you go to obtain your rewards.”
“Understood,” said Betath.
The Green Lady came up the beach and stopped next to Kaawen. “I heard you were out here. I ran out of Maormer to kill. If you find any, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”
“What are you going to do now, my lady?” Betath asked her, although Kaawen knew very well what the Green Lady would do now.
“Now I’ll mourn the Silvenar. I must find oils for his body and tools for the rites.” She swallowed hard and said, “I can almost feel his hand on mine and hear him say, ‘all things find their way.’ But he’s gone forever and I’ll soon follow.”
Kaawen took her hand. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say.”
“Just say ‘farewell,’ Kaawenyth.”
“Farewell, my lady.”
The Green lady squeezed Kaawen’s hand, nodded at Betath and Raz, and walked back up the beach. Kaawen sighed sadly. She knew her spirit would live on in the next Green Lady, but she would miss this one. She had a fire and a fortitude Kaawen could only hope to aspire to.
Razum-Dar, Betath, and she started up the beach toward Mistral as well. “So,” Kaawen said as they walked. “What can we expect on Auridon?”
“Very tall elves and very green shores. And Betath’s parents.”
“Divines help us,” Betath groaned. “Will you be coming to Auridon, Raz?”
“Soon, soon. Raz will help Headwoman Harrani get established in the Dominion first, and then he will go back to Auridon. Keep a barstool warm for him, will you, friend?”
On the docks, Kaawen and Betath spoke to Captain Jimila, who offered to take them to Auridon at no charge. She was going there anyway, and she felt she still owed them for helping to fix her ship. She said they would set sail as soon as the two elves were ready, so they went back to town, packed up their gear, and headed to the fort to collect their payment. The sun was just setting when they boarded the Prowler and set sail for Auridon.
* * *
Two nights into the trip, Kaawen awoke with a feeling of aching emptiness in her chest. The loneliness was almost unable to bear, and a great sob escaped her throat. She wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep now, so she headed up on deck.
Betath was still up and about, sitting near the bow, leaning against some crates and gazing up at the stars. He scooted over to give Kaawen room when she approached.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.
“I just felt the Green Lady pass on,” she told him.
He reached out and took her hand. “I’m sorry. What will happen now?”
“Now a new Silvenar and Green Lady will rise.”
“How are they chosen?”
“Y’ffre picks them. That’s really all I know.”
“Maybe you’ll be the Green Lady.”
Kaawen shook her head. “I seriously doubt it. The Green Lady is a seasoned fighter, the epitome of strength and spirit, a natural leader.”
“You just described yourself, Kaawen.”
“No, Betath. It’s not me.”
“All right. But I think you would be an excellent Green Lady.”
“But if I was—can we talk about something else?”
They turned the conversation toward Vulkel Guard and their mission, but Betath didn’t let go of her hand. She certainly wasn’t about to let go.
They arrived at the port of Vulkhel Guard late in the afternoon a couple of days later, and Kaawen was ready to step on dry land again. Life on a ship could be tedious, especially when the crew wouldn’t let her help out. She was ready to get out and start working again.
“Take care of yourself,” said Captain Jimila as they began to debark just as the sun was setting. “This one hopes she will see you soon.”
As they stepped onto the dock, Betath took Kaawen’s hand. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”
“Where are we going?” she asked as she followed him down a long boardwalk.
“It’s the perfect time of day. You’ll love this.”
He led her to the end of the boardwalk and across the beach to a retaining wall. Just offshore were several giant, curving rock formations, one of which had grass and trees growing atop it. The sun was sinking just behind the formation with the trees, casting a warm, golden glow over the water and the beach below.
Kaawen gasped. “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Kaawen, I—” But he stopped before he finished.
She reluctantly turned away from the sunset and looked up at him. For a moment, they just stared in each other’s eyes, and then he reached around and undid the strap of her braid, letting her hair fall loose around her shoulders.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said, barely above a whisper.
Kaawen’s heart soared. Standing on tiptoe, she curled her fingers around his neck and pulled him down to her, covering his mouth with hers. He leaned into the kiss, wrapping his arms around her waist. Her lips parted to accept his tongue, and she breathed him in greedily, as though this first kiss would be their last. He withdrew all too soon and rested his forehead against hers, and she had a brief moment of irrational fear that it would be their last kiss, so she turned her head and kissed him again. Betath nibbled gently on her lips, threading his fingers through her hair.
She finally pulled back and said, “All right, now I’m done.”
He chuckled softly and caressed her cheek, his golden eyes gazing warmly into hers. “We waited far too long for that.”
“When that snake bit you on Khenarthi’s Roost, I was afraid I was going to lose you.”
“We’ve both been injured before.”
“I know, but that time . . . I don’t know. It just . . . you’re so precious to me, Shorty-Elf.”
“And you to me. I’m not going anywhere.”
She turned around and leaned back against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her. As they enjoyed the sunset and the feel of each other’s bodies, Kaawen realized that there wouldn’t be a last kiss anytime soon.