Mystery of Talara, Book III

Gnorbooth was leaving his favorite pub in Camlorn, The Breaking Branch, when he heard someone calling his name. His was not the sort of a name that could be mistaken for another. He turned and saw Lord Eryl, the Royal Battlemage from the palace, emerge from the darkness of the alley.

“Milord,” said Gnorbooth with a pleasant smile.

“I’m surprised to see you out this evening, Gnorbooth,” grinned Lord Eryl with a most unpleasant smile. “I have not seen you and your master very much since the millennial celebration, but I understand you’ve been very busy. What I’ve been wondering is what you’ve been busy doing.”

“Protecting the Imperial interests in Camlorn is busy work, milord. But I cannot imagine you would be interested in the minutiae of the ambassador’s appointments.”

“But I am,” said the battlemage. “Especially as the ambassador has begun acting most mysteriously, most undiplomatically lately. And I understand that he has taken one of the whores from the Flower Festival into his house. I believe her name is Gyna?”

Gnorbooth shrugged: “He’s in love, I would imagine, milord. It can make men act very strangely, as I’m sure you’ve heard before.”

“She is a most comely wench,” laughed Lord Eryl. “Have you noticed how much she resembles the late Princess Talara?”

“I have only been in Camlorn for fifteen years, milord. I never saw her late majesty.”

“Now I could understand it if he had taken to writing poetry, but what man in love spends his days in the kitchens of the palace, talking to old servants? That hardly sounds like molten passion to me, even based on my limited experience.” Lord Eryl rolled his eyes. “And what is this business he has now in – oh, what is the name of that village?”

“Umbington?” replied Gnorbooth, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Lord Eryl was too canny an actor to reveal it, but Gnorbooth knew at the pit of his stomach that the battlemage did not even know Lord Strale had left the capitol. He had to get away to let the ambassador know, but there was still a game to be carefully played. “He’s not leaving for there until tomorrow. I believe it’s just to put a stamp on some deed that needs the Imperial Seal.”

“Is that all? How tedious for the poor fellow. I suppose I’ll see him when he returns then,” Lord Eryl bowed. “Thank you for being so informative. Farewell.”

The moment the royal battlemage turned the corner, Gnorbooth leapt onto his horse. He had drunk one or two ales too many, but he knew he must find his way to Umbington before Lord Eryl’s agents did. He galloped east out of the capitol, hoping there were signs along the road.

Seated in a tavern that smelled of mildew and sour beer, Lord Strale marveled at how the Emperor’s agent Lady Brisienna always found the most public of places for her most private of conferences. It was harvest time in Umbington, and all of the field hands were drinking away their meager wages in the noisiest of fashions. He was dressed appropriately for the venue, rough trousers and a simple peasant’s vest, but he still felt conspicuous. In comparison to his two female companions, he certainly was. The woman to his right was used to frequenting the low places of Daggerfall as a common prostitute. Lady Brisienna to his left was even more clearly in her element.

“By what name would you prefer I call you?” Lady Brisienna asked solicitously.

“I am used to the name Gyna, though that may have to change,” was her reply. “Of course, it may not. Gyna the Whore may be the name writ on my grave.”

“I will see to it that there is no attempt on your life like that the Flower Festival,” Lord Strale frowned. “But without the Emperor’s help, I won’t be able to protect you forever. The only permanent solution is to capture those who would do you harm and then to raise you to your proper station.”

“Do you believe my story?” Gyna turned to Lady Brisienna.

“I have been the Emperor’s chief agent in High Rock for many years now, and I have heard few stranger tales. If your friend the ambassador hadn’t investigated and discovered what he has, I would have dismissed you outright as a madwoman,” Brisienna laughed, forcing a smile onto Gyna’s face to match. “But now, yes, I do believe you. Perhaps that makes me the madwoman.”

“Will you help us?” asked Lord Strale simply.

“It is a tricky business interfering in the affairs of the provincial kingdoms,” Lady Brisienna looked into the depths of her mug thoughtfully. “Unless there is a threat to the Empire itself, we find it is best not to meddle. What we have in your case is a very messy assassination that happened twenty years ago, and its aftermath. If His Imperial Majesty involved itself in every bloody hiccup in the succession in each of his thousand vassal kingdoms, he would never accomplish anything for the greater good of Tamriel.”

“I understand,” murmured Gyna. “When I remembered everything, who I was and what happened to me, I resolved to do nothing about it. In fact, I was leaving Camlorn and going back home to Daggerfall when I saw Lord Strale again. He was the one who began this quest to resolve this, not me. And when he brought me back, I only wanted to see my cousin to tell her who I was, but he forbade me.”

“It would have been too dangerous,” growled Strale. “We still don’t know yet the depths of the conspiracy. Perhaps we never will.”

“I’m sorry, I always find myself giving long explanations to short questions. When Lord Strale asked if I would help, I should have begun by saying ‘yes,'” Lady Brisienna laughed at the change in Lord Strale and Gyna’s expressions. “I will help you, of course. But for this to turn out well, you must accomplish two things to the Emperor’s satisfaction. First, you must prove with absolute certainty who is the power behind this plot you’ve uncovered. You must get someone to confess.”

“And secondly,” said Lord Strale, nodding. “We must prove that this is a matter worthy of His Imperial Majesty’s consideration, and not merely a minor local concern.”

Lord Strale, Lady Brisienna, and the woman who called herself Gyna discussed how to accomplish their goals for a few hours more. When it was agreed what had to be done, Lady Brisienna took her leave to find her ally Proseccus. Strale and Gyna set off to the west, toward Camlorn. It was not long after beginning their ride through the woods that they heard the sound of galloping hoof beats far up ahead. Lord Strale unsheathed his sword and signaled for Gyna to position her horse behind him.

At that moment, they were attacked on all sides. It was an ambush. Eight men, armed with axes, had been lying in wait.

Lord Strale quickly yanked Gyna from her horse, pulling her behind him. He made a brief, deft motion with his hands. A ring of flame materialized around them, and rushed outward, striking their assailants. The men roared in pain and dropped to their knees. Lord Strale jumped the horse over the closest one, and galloped at full speed westward.

“I thought you were an ambassador not a mage!” laughed Gyna.

“I still believe there are times for diplomacy,” replied Lord Strale.

The horse and rider they had heard before met them on the road. It was Gnorbooth. “Milord, it’s the royal battlemage! He found out you two were in Umbington!”

“With considerable ease, I might add,” Lord Eryl’s voice boomed out of the woods. Gnorbooth, Gyna, and Lord Strale scanned the dark trees, but they showed nothing. The battlemage’s voice seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere.

“I’m sorry, milord,” groaned Gnorbooth. “I tried to warn you as soon as I could.”

“In your next life, perhaps you’ll remember not to trust your plans to a drunkard!” laughed Lord Eryl. He had them in his sight, and the spell was unleashed.

Gnorbooth saw him first, by the light of the ball of fire that leapt from his fingertips. Later, Lord Eryl was to wonder to himself what the fool had intended to do. Perhaps he was rushing forward to pull Lord Strale out of the path. Perhaps he was trying to flee the path of destruction, and had simply moved left when he should have moved right. Perhaps, as unlikely as it seemed, he was willing to sacrifice himself to save his master. Whatever the reason, the result was the same.

He got in the way.

There was an explosion of energy that filled the night, and an echoing boom that shook birds from the trees for a mile around. On the few square feet where Gnorbooth and his horse had stood was nothing but black glass. They had been reduced to less than vapor. Gyna and Lord Strale were thrown back. Their horse, when it recovered its senses, galloped away as fast as it could. In the lingering glowing aura of the spell’s detonation, Lord Strale looked straight into the woods and into the wide eyes of the battlemage.

“Damn,” said Lord Eryl and began to run. The ambassador jumped to his feet and pursued.

“That was an expensive use of magicka, even for you,” said Lord Strale as he ran. “Don’t you know well enough not to use ranged spells unless you are certain your target won’t be blocked?”

“I never thought – that idiot -” Lord Eryl was struck from behind and knocked to the wet forest floor before he had a chance to finish his lamentation.

“It doesn’t matter what you thought,” said Lord Strale calmly, flipping the battlemage around and pinning his arms to the ground with his knees. “I’m not a battlemage, but I knew enough not to use my entire reserve on your little ambush. Perhaps it’s a matter of philosophy, as a government agent, I feel inclined toward conservatism.”

“What are you going to do?” whimpered Lord Eryl.

“Gnorbooth was a good man, one of the best, and so I’m going to hurt you quite a lot,” the ambassador made a slight movement and his hands began to glow brightly. “That’s a certainty. How much more I’m going to hurt you after that depends on what you tell me. I want to hear about the former Duke of Oloine.”

“What do you want to know?” Lord Eryl screamed.

“Let’s start with everything,” replied Lord Strale with perfect patience.

The Horror of Castle Xyr

Dramatis Personae

Clavides, Captain of the Imperial Guard. Cyrodilic.
Anara, a Dunmer maid.
Ullis, a Lieutenant of the Imperial Guard. Argonian.
Zollassa, a young Argonian mage

Act I

Late evening. The play opens in the interior Great Entrance Hall of a castle in Scath Anud, replete with fine furnishings and tapestries. Torches provide the only illumination. In the center of the foyer is a great iron door, the main entrance to the castle. The staircase up to the landing above is next to this door. On stage left is the door to the library, which is currently closed. On stage right is a huge suit of armor, twenty feet tall, nearly touching the ceiling of the room. Though no one can be seen, there is the sound of a woman singing coming from the library door.
A loud thumping knock on the iron front door stops the woman’s singing. The door to the library opens and ANARA, a common-looking maid, comes out and hurries to open the front door. CLAVIDES, a handsome man in Imperial garb stands there.

ANARA: Good evening to you, serjo.

CLAVIDES: Good evening. Is your master at home?

ANARA: No, serjo, it’s only me here. My master Sedura Kena Telvanni Hordalf Xyr is at his winter estate. Is there something I can do for you?

CLAVIDES: Possibly. Would you mind if I came in?

ANARA: Not at all, serjo. Please. May I offer you some flin?

Clavides comes into the Hall and looks around.

CLAVIDES: No thank you. What’s your name?

ANARA: Anara, serjo.

CLAVIDES: Anara, when did your master leave Scath Anud?

ANARA: More than a fortnight ago. That’s why it’s only me in the castle, serjo. All the other servants and slaves who tend to his lordship travel with him. Is there something wrong?

CLAVIDES: Yes, there is. Do you know an ashlander by the name of Sul-Kharifa?

ANARA: No, serjo. I don’t know no one by that name.

CLAVIDES: Then you aren’t likely to now. He’s dead. He was found a few hours ago dying of frostbite in the ashlands. He was hysterical, nearly incomprehensible, but among his last words were “castle” and “Xyr.”

ANARA: Dying of frostbite in summertide in the ashlands? B’vek, that’s strange. I suppose it’s possible that my master knew this man, but being an ashlander and my master being of the House of Telvanni, well, if you’ll pardon me for being flippant, serjo, I don’t think they coulda been friends.

CLAVIDES: That is your master’s library? Would you mind if I looked in?

ANARA: Please, serjo, go wherever you want. We got nothing to hide. We’re loyal Imperial subjects.

CLAVIDES: As, I hear, are all Telvanni.

(Note from the playwright: this line should be delivered without sarcasm. Trust the audience to laugh — it never fails, regardless of the politics of the locals.)
Clavides enters the library and looks over the books.

CLAVIDES: The library needs dusting.

ANARA: Yes, serjo. I was just doing that when you knocked at the door.

CLAVIDES: I’m grateful for that. If you had finished, I wouldn’t notice the space in the dust where a rather large book has recently been removed. Your master is a wizard, it seems.

ANARA: No, serjo. I mean, he studies a lot, but he don’t cast no spells, if that’s what you mean by wizard. He’s a kena, went to college and everything. You know, now that I think about it, I know what happened to that book. One of the other kenas from the college been round yesterday, and borrowed a couple of books. He’s a friend of the master, so I thought it’d be all fine.

CLAVIDES: This kena, was his name Warvim?

ANARA: Coulda been. I don’t remember.

CLAVIDES: There is a suspected necromancer at the college named Kena Warvim we arrested last night. We don’t know what he was doing at the college, but it was something illegal, that’s for certain. Was that the kena who borrowed the book? A little fellow, a cripple with a withered leg?

ANARA: No, serjo, it weren’t the kena from yesterday. He was a big fella who could walk, so I noticed.

CLAVIDES: I’m going to have a look around the rest of the house, if you don’t mind.

Clavides goes up the stairs, and delivers the following dialogue from the landing and the rooms above. Anara continues straightening up the downstairs, moving a high-backed bench in front of the armor to scrub the floor.

ANARA: Can I ask, serjo, what you’re looking for? Maybe I could help you.

CLAVIDES: Are these all the rooms in the castle? No secret passages?

ANARA (laughing): Oh, serjo, what would Sedura Kena Telvanni Hordalf Xyr want with secret passages?

CLAVIDES (looking at the armor): Your master is a big man.

ANARA (laughing): Oh, serjo, don’t tease. That’s giant armor, just for decoration. My master slew that giant ten years ago, and kind of keeps it for a souvenir.

CLAVIDES: That’s right, I remember hearing something about that when I first took my post here. It was someone named Xyr who killed the giant, but I didn’t think the first name was Hordalf. Memory fades I’m afraid. What was the giant’s name?

ANARA: I’m afraid I don’t remember, serjo.

CLAVIDES: I do. It was Torfang. “I got out of Torfang’s Shield.”

ANARA: I don’t understand, serjo. Torfang’s shield?

Clavides runs down the stairs, and examines the armor.

CLAVIDES: Sul-Kharifa said something about getting out of Torfang’s shield. I thought he was just raving, out of his mind.

ANARA: But he ain’t got a shield, serjo.

Clavides pushes the high-backed bench out of the way, revealing the large mounted shield at the base of the armor.

CLAVIDES: Yes, he does. You covered it up with that bench.

ANARA: I didn’t do it on purpose, serjo! I was just cleaning! I see that armor ever day, serjo, and b’vek I swear I ain’t never noticed the shield before!

CLAVIDES: It’s fine, Anara, I believe you.

Clavides pushes on the shield and it pulls back to reveal a tunnel down.

CLAVIDES: It appears that Sedura Kena Telvanni Hordalf Xyr does have a need for a secret passage. Could you get me a torch?

ANARA: B’vek, I ain’t never seen that before!

Anara takes a torch from the wall, and hands it to Clavides. Clavides enters the tunnel.

CLAVIDES: Wait here.

Anara watches Clavides disappear down the tunnel. She appears agitated, and finally runs for the front door. When she opens it, ULLIS, an Argonian lieutenant in the Imperial guard is standing at the entrance. She screams.

ULLIS: I’m sorry to frighten you.

ANARA: Not now! Go away!

ULLIS: I’m afraid the Captain wouldn’t like that, miss.

ANARA: You’re … with the Captain? Blessed mother.

Clavides comes out of the tunnel, white-faced. It takes him a few moments to speak.

ULLIS: Captain? What’s down there?

CLAVIDES (to Anara): Did you know your master’s a necromancer? That your cellar is filled with bodies?

Anara faints. Ullis carries her to the bench and lays her down.

ULLIS: Let me see, serjo.

CLAVIDES: You’ll see soon enough. We’re going to need every soldier from the post here to cart away all the corpses. Ullis, I’ve seen enough battles, but I’ve never seen anything like this. No two are alike. Khajiiti, sload, dunmer, cyrodiil, breton, nord, burned alive, poisoned, electrified, melted, torn apart, turned inside out, ripped to shreds and sewn back up together.

ULLIS: You think the ashlander escaped, that’s what happened?

CLAVIDES: I don’t know. Why would someone do something like this, Ullis?

There is a knock on the door. Clavides answers it. A young Argonian woman, ZOLLASSA, is standing, holding a package and a letter.

ZOLLASSA: Good morning, you’re not Lord Xyr, are you?

CLAVIDES: No. What do you have there?

ZOLLASSA: A letter and a package I’m supposed to deliver to him. Will he be back shortly?

CLAVIDES: I don’t believe so. Who gave you the package to deliver?

ZOLLASSA: My teacher at the college, Kema Warvim. He has a bad leg, so he asked me to bring these to his lordship. Actually, to tell you the truth, I was supposed to deliver them last night, but I was busy.

ULLIS: Greetings, sistre. We’ll give the package to his lordship when we see him.

ZOLLASSA: Ah, hail, brothre. I had heard there was a handsome Argonian in Scath Anud. Unfortunately, I promised Kema Warvim that I’d deliver the package directly to his lordship’s hands. I’m already late, I can’t just —

CLAVIDES: We’re Imperial Guard, miss. We will take the package and the letter.

Zollassa reluctantly hands Clavides the letter and the package. She turns to go.

ULLIS: You’re at the college, if we need to see you?

ZOLLASSA: Yes. Fare tidings, brothre.

ULLIS: Goodnight, sistre.

Clavides opens the package as Zollassa exits. It is a book with many loose sheets.

CLAVIDES: It appears we’ve found the missing book. Delivered to our very hands.

Clavides begins to read the book, silently to himself.

ULLIS (to himself, very pleased): Another Argonian in Scath Anud. And a pretty one, at that. I hope we weren’t too rude to her. I’m tired of all these women with their smooth, wet skin, it would be wonderful if we could meet when I’m off duty.

While Ullis talks, he opens the letter and reads it.

ULLIS (continued): She looks like she’s from the south, like me. You know, Argonians from northern Black Marsh are… much… less…

Ullis continues reading, transfixed by the letter. Clavides skips to the back of the book, and reads the last sentences.

CLAVIDES (reading): In black ink “The Khajiiti male showed surprisingly little fortitude to a simple lightning spell, but I’ve had interesting physiological results with a medium-level acid spell cast slowly over several days.” In red ink on the margins, “Yes, I see. Was the acid spell cast uniformly over the entire body of the subject?” In black ink “The Nord female was subjected to sixteen hours of a frost spell which eventually crystallized her into a state of suspended animation, from which she eventually expired. Not so the Nord male, nor the Ashlander male who lapsed into their comas much earlier, but then recovered. The Ashlander then tried to escape, but I restrained him. The Nord then had an interesting chemical overreaction to a simple fire spell and expired. See the accompanying illustration.” In red ink, “Yes, I see. The pattern of boils and lesions suggest some sort of internal incineration perhaps caused by the combination of a short burst of flame following a longer session with frost. It’s such a shame I can’t come to see the experiment personally, but I compliment you on your excellent notation.” In black ink, “Thank you for the suggestion about slowly poisoning my maid Anara. The dosages you’ve suggested have had fascinating results, eroding her memory very subtly. I intend to increase it exponentially and see how long it is before she notices. Speaking of which, it is a pity that I haven’t any Argonian subjects, but the slave-traders promise me some healthy specimens in the autumn. I should like to test their metabolism in comparison to elves and humans. It’s my theory that a medium-level lightning spell cast in a continuous wave on an Argonian wouldn’t be lethal for several hours at least, similar to my results with the Cyrodilic female and, of course, the giant.” In red ink, “It’d be a shame to wait until autumn to see.”

ULLIS (reading the letter): In red ink, “Here is your Argonian. Please let me know the results.” It’s signed “Kema Warvim.”

CLAVIDES: By Kynareth, this isn’t necromancy. It’s Destruction. Kema Warvim and Kena Telvanni Hordalf Xyr haven’t been experimenting with death, but with the limits of magical torture.

ULLIS: The letter isn’t addressed to Kena Telvanni Hordalf Xyr. It’s addressed to Sedura Iachilla Xyr. His wife, do you think?

CLAVIDES: Iachilla. That was the Telvanni of the Xyr family who I heard about in connection with the giant slaying. We’d best get the maid out of here. She’ll need to go to a healer.

Clavides wakes up Anara. She appears disoriented.

ANARA: What’s happening? Who are you?

CLAVIDES: Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine. We’re going to take you to a healer.

ULLIS: Do you need a coat, Iachilla?

ANARA: Thank you, no, I’m not cold —

Anara/Iachilla stops, realizing that she’s been caught. Clavides and Ullis unsheathe their blades.

CLAVIDES: You have black ink on your fingers, your ladyship.

ULLIS: And when you saw me at the door, you thought I was the Argonian your friend Warvim sent over. That’s why you said, “Not now. Go away.”

ANARA/IACHILLA: You’re much more observant than Anara. She never did understand what was happening, even when I tripled the poison spell and she expired in what I observed as considerable agony.

ULLIS: What were you going to use on me first, lightning or fire?

ANANA/IACHILLA: Lightning. I find fire to be too unpredictable.

As she speaks, the flames in the torches extinguish. The stage is utterly dark.
There is the sound of a struggle, swords clanging. Suddenly a bolt of lightning flashes out, and there is silence. From the darkness, Anana/Iachilla speaks.

ANANA/IACHILLA: Fascinating.

There are several more flashes of lightning as the curtain closes.

A Hypothetical Treachery

Dramatis Personae

Malvasian: An Altmer battlemage

Inzoliah: A Dunmer battlemage

Dolcettus: A Cyrodiil healer

Schiavas: An Argonian barbarian

A Ghost

Some bandits

Scene: Eldenwood

As the curtain rises, we see the misty labyrinthian landscape of the legendary Eldengrove of Valenwood. All around we hear wolves howling. A bloodied reptilian figure, SCHIAVAS, breaks through the branches of one of the trees and surveys the area.

SCHIAVAS: It’s clear.

INZOLIAH, a beautiful Dark Elf mage, climbs down from the tree, helped by the barbarian. There is the sound of footsteps nearby. Schiavas readies his sword and Inzoliah prepares to cast a spell. Nothing comes out.

INZOLIAH: You’re bleeding. You should have Dolcettus heal that for you.

SCHIAVAS: He’s still drained from all the spells he had to cast down in the caves. I’m fine. If we get out of this and no one needs it more, I’ll take the last potion of healing. Where’s Malvasian?

MALVASIAN, a High Elf battlemage, and DOLCETTUS, a Cyrodiil healer, emerge from the tree, carrying a heavy chest between the two of them. They awkwardly try to get down from the tree, carrying their loot.

MALVASIAN: Here I am, though why I’m carrying the heavy load is beyond me. I always thought that the advantage of dungeon delving with a great barbarian was that he carried all the loot.

SCHIAVAS: If I carried that, my hands would be too full to fight. And tell me if I’m wrong, but not one of the three of you has enough magicka reserved to make it out of here alive. Not after you electrified and blasted all those homunculuses down below ground.

DOLCETTUS: Homunculi.

SCHIAVAS: Don’t worry, I’m not going to do what you think I’m going to do.

INZOLIAH (innocently): What’s that?

SCHIAVAS: Kill you all and take the Ebony Mail for myself. Admit it — you thought I had that in mind.

DOLCETTUS: What a perfectly horrible thought. I never thought anyone, no matter how vile and degenerate —

INZOLIAH: Why not?

MALVASIAN: He needs porters, like he said. He can’t carry the chest and fight off the inhabitants of Eldengrove both.

DOLCETTUS: By Stendarr, of all the mean, conniving, typically Argonian —

INZOLIAH: And why do you need me alive?

SCHIAVAS: I don’t necessarily. Except that you’re prettier than the other two, for a smoothskin that is. And if something comes after us, it might go for you first.

There is a noise in some bushes nearby.

SCHIAVAS: Go check that out.

INZOLIAH: It’s probably a wolf. These woods are filled with them. You check it out.

SCHIAVAS: You have a choice, Inzoliah. Go and you might live. Stay here, and you definitely won’t.

Inzoliah considers and then goes to the bushes.

SCHIAVAS (to Malvasian and Dolcettus): The king of Silvenar will pay good money for the Mail, and we can divide it more nicely between three than four.

INZOLIAH: You’re so right.

Inzoliah suddenly levitates up to the top of the stage. A semi-transparent Ghost appears from the bush and rushes at the next person, who happens to be Schiavas. As the barbarian screams and thrashes at it with his sword, it levels blasts of whirling gas at him. He crumbles to the ground. It turns next to Dolcettus, the healer, and as the Ghost focuses its feasting chill on the hapless Dolcettus, Malvasian casts a ball of flame at it that causes it to vaporize into the misty air. Inzoliah floats back down to the ground as Malvasian examines the bodies of Dolcettus and Schiavas, who are both white-faced from the draining power of the ghost.

MALVASIAN: You had some magicka reserved after all.

INZOLIAH: So did you. Are they dead?

Malvasian takes the potion of healing from Dolcettus’s pack.

MALVASIAN: Yes. Fortunately, the potion of healing wasn’t broken when he fell. Well, I guess this leaves just the two of us to collect the reward.

INZOLIAH: We can’t get out of this place without each other. Like it or not.

The two battlemages pick up the chest and begin plodding carefully through the undergrowth, pausing from time to time at the sound of footsteps or other eerie noises.

MALVASIAN: Let me make sure I understand. You have a little bit of magicka left, so you elected to use it to make Schiavas the ghost’s target, forcing me to use most of my limited reserve to destroy the creature so I wouldn’t be more powerful than you. That’s first-rate thinking.

INZOLIAH: Thank you. It’s only logical. Do you have enough power to cast any other spells?

MALVASIAN: Naturally. An experienced battlemage always knows a few minor but highly effective spells for just such a trial. I take it you, too, have a few tricks up your sleeve?

INZOLIAH: Of course, like you said.

They pause for a moment before continuing as a fearful wail pierces the air. When it dies away, they slowly trudge on.

INZOLIAH: Just as an intellectual exercise, I wonder what spell you would cast at me if we made it out of here without any more combat.

MALVASIAN: I hope you’re not implying that I would dream of killing you so I would keep the treasure all to myself.

INZOLIAH: Of course not, nor would I do that to you. It is merely an intellectual exercise.

MALVASIAN: Well, in that case, purely as an intellectual exercise, I would probably cast a leech spell on you, to take away your life force and heal myself. After all, there are brigands on the road between here and Silvenar, and a wounded battlemage with a valuable artifact would make a tempting target. I’d hate to survive Eldengrove merely to die in the open.

INZOLIAH: That’s a well-reasoned response. As for myself, again, not saying I would ever do this, but I think a simple, sudden electrical bolt would serve my purposes admirably. I agree about the danger of brigands, but don’t forget, we also have a potion of healing. I could easily slay you and heal myself to full capacity.

MALVASIAN: Very true. It would end up a question then of whose spell was more effective at that instant. If our spells counteracted one another and I leeched your life energy only to be crippled by your lightning bolt, then we could both be killed. Or so near death that a mere potion of healing would scarcely help either one of us, let alone both. How ironic it would be if two scheming battlemages, not saying we are scheming but for the purpose of this intellectual exercise, were left on the brink of death, completely drained of magicka, with one healing potion to choose from. Who would get it then?

INZOLIAH: Logically, whoever drank it first, which in this case would be you since you’re holding it. Now, what if one of us were injured, but not killed?

MALVASIAN: Logic would dictate that a scheming battlemage would take the potion, leaving the injured party to the mercy of the elements, I suppose.

INZOLIAH: That does seem most sensible. But suppose that the battlemages, while certainly scheming types, had a certain respect for one another. Perhaps in that case, the victorious one might, for instance, put the potion up a tree near his or her gravely wounded victim. Then when the wounded party had enough magicka replenished, he or she would be able to levitate to the tree branches and recover the potion. By that time, the victorious battlemage would have already collected the reward.

They pause for a moment at the sound of something in the bushes nearby. Carefully, they climb across the branches of a tree to bypass it.

MALVASIAN: I understand what you’re saying, but it seems out of character for our hypothetic scheming battlemage to allow his or her victim to live.

INZOLIAH: Perhaps. But it’s been my observation that most scheming battlemages enjoy the feeling of having bested someone in combat, and having that person alive to live with the humiliation.

MALVASIAN: These hypothetical scheming battlemages sound … (excitedly) Daylight! Do you see it?

The two scurry across the branch dropping behind a bush, so we can no longer see them. We can, however, see the shimmering halo of sunlight.

MALVASIAN (behind the tall bush): We made it.

INZOLIAH (likewise, behind the tall bush): Indeed.

There is a sudden explosion of electrical energy and a wild howling aura of red light, and then silence. After a few moment’s pause, we hear someone climbing up the tree. It is Malvasian, putting the potion high up in the bough. He chuckles as he climbs back down and the curtain drops.

Epilogue. The curtain rises on a road to Silvenar. A gang of bandits have surrounded Malvasian, who is propped up on his staff, barely able to stand. They pull his chest away from him with ease.

BANDIT #1: What have we got here? Don’t you know it ain’t safe to be out on the road, all sick like you are? Why don’t we help you with your load?

MALVASIAN (weakly): Please … Let me be …

BANDIT #2: Go on, spellcaster, fight us for it!

MALVASIAN: I can’t … too weak …

Suddenly, Inzoliah flies in, casting lightning bolts from her fingers at the bandits, who quickly scramble away. She lands on the ground and picks up the chest. Malvasian collapses, dying.

MALVASIAN: Hypothetically, what if … a battlemage cast a spell on another which didn’t harm him at once, but … drained his life force and his magicka, bit by bit, so he wouldn’t know at the time, but … feel confident enough to leave the potion of healing behind?

INZOLIAH: A most treacherous battlemage she’d be.

MALVASIAN: And … hypothetically … would she be likely to help her fallen foe … so that she could enjoy the humiliation of him continuing … to live?

INZOLIAH: From my experience, hypothetically, no. She doesn’t sound like a fool.

As Inzoliah lugs the chest off toward Silvenar, and Malvasian expires on the stage, we drop the curtain.