Flight from Fort Dunstad
The interior of the castle was already in ruins. Fallen pillars, chandeliers and ceiling chunks littered the halls alongside smaller displaced objects such as kitchenware and books. The floor, normally cleaned every day by the servants, was covered in a layer of dust comprising of tiny materials trapped within the brickwork for decades broken free combined with ash from the fires. These flames, kept fueled by the wooden furniture around the castle, actually gave off more light than the usual candles. However, shrouded by the thick haze of the smoke, the light looked faded, as if some crucial element was missing. It was like staring at the eyes of the dead which have lost that spark of life. Or perhaps more accurately, it was like staring through the eyes of the dead. For within a few hours the halls which before were filled with court intrigues and energetic guards was transformed so utterly that it felt like a piece of Oblivion had fused with Mundus.
Finally she saw life within the stone walls- two guards navigating through the smoke in the same direction as her. One of them heard her approach and spun around, an arrow already notched in his bow. He let it fly before she could call out and she quickly jumped away from its trajectory. Fortunately the guard had given far more attention to speed than accuracy and the arrow missed its mark anyways, striking one of the still standing pillars and clattering harmlessly to the ground.
"Countess Goldwine! I'm so sorry...I didn't see it was you!"
"This isn't the time for apologies," the Countess snapped. "Enough people are dead already, so check your targets before you try to kill them."
"Are you alright?" the other guard, a Redguard woman, turned her attention behind her as well.
"I am. How are you doing?"
"We lost Laresus, but the two of us are still in fighting shape," the first guard replied. "Come on, we have to get you out of here."
The Countess shook her head, "The gate's blocked. The Captain and what's left of the guard is making a stand. He needs every sword he can get. Regroup with him, and if you can't break out, get as many of the citizens hidden away as you can."
"But what about you?" the Redguard woman asked.
"I'm going to find Ormellius," responded the Countess.
"We were trying to find the Count too," the Redguard stated. "We got pushed back from the living quarters, but now that we've found you, our duty is to-"
"Your duty is to do what I tell you to, Tierra," the Countess cut her off. "I'll be fine, I was court wizard before I was countess. Now go save the rest of the city. That's an order."
"Yes, Countess Goldwine."
As the two guards ran past her towards the direction she had come from, the Countess pressed deeper into the castle. The popping of burning timbers was suddenly interrupted by the characteristic screeching of scamps, small monkey-like Daedra that were among the weaker residents of Oblivion. A moment later, two of the creatures leapt in front of her, their hands glowing orange. They did not have time to launch their attacks, finding themselves lifted helplessly into the air as the Countess raised both her arms. She turned her palms outwards and made a wide sweeping gesture, slamming the scamps into the stone walls and knocking them unconscious.
Another Daedra approached from the corridor ahead- a form engrossed entirely by fire which she recognized as a Flame Atronach. This one managed to send a scorching bolt towards the Countess, but she easily sidestepped the attack and retaliated with two spikes of ice, one projecting from each hand. The first struck the atronach in the face and the second embedded in its chest and the Daedra collapsed instantly. The Countess wasted no time, rushing over the atronach's corpse and into the living quarters of the castle. Behind the door awaited a stronger foe, a Dremora clad in black armour and wielding a greatsword of matching colour.
"You're too la-" it began to say, but the Countess did not care for talk, sending another ice spike at him. The Dremora swatted the frozen projectile with his blade, shattering it into tiny pieces that momentarily filled the air with a sparking effect. His counterattack was swift, swinging the greatsword across the Countess' neck in a blow that would at least kill, if not completely decapitate her. That was, if she was there. The sword cut through like it was butter, but then the Dremora realized that was because it had not cut through anything at all. Before he had a chance to track where the real Countess had gone, she suddenly reappeared behind him, slicing her much shorter blade across his neck.
She left the fading Daedra where he lay and bursted into her room, only to find the Count lying face down, his body surrounded by blood. It did not take a healer to tell that he was dead. Outside the room, the Dremora gave a harrowing laugh that echoed through the hall even as he disappeared back to Oblivion. The battle was far from over, however. The Countess had no time to mourn as she heard the sound of reinforcements charging into the castle, and she knew they were not her reinforcements given the state of the guard force. The castle rumbled as it began to further deteriorate. The screeching of scamps followed, confirming her suspicions.
She had failed. Kvatch had fallen. She would be next. And then...the Empire?
Asa and Drubgurz both turned their heads to the new arrival. Cato had reacted quicker and was already on his feet, katana in hand. He did not strike though, having recognized the new figure from his time with the bandits, though he did not sheathe his blade either. All three of them stood and regarded her warily. Drubgurz was the first to speak.
"You have a better plan?"
"I was kind of hoping you'd ask how I got here, that goes better with what I wanted to do," said the black-robed woman. "But yes. Yes I do."
With that, she suddenly disappeared in a puff of purple, causing the three remaining to exchange a mixture of confused and worried glances. Then, one by one each of them began to disappear into similar purple mist until no one was visible in the room. Asa began to ask what was going on, but before she could finish they all came back into view, standing in the exact same spots.
"Invisibility," Cato remarked. "It's a useful spell to have, but it might not be enough. If the Legion doesn't have the gate shut they'll have legionnaires posted beside them. We'll still make footprints in the snow. And that's not even taking blood into account."
"We're not going by the gate," the robed woman pointed to the side of the staircase leading up.
"The tower?" Asa shook her head. "The walls are already too high to jump without breaking your legs."
"Invisibility isn't the only spell I know," the other woman replied. "I want to get out of here alive too, you know. And what do I have to gain by tricking you and getting you killed, Imperial armour? I can just steal it from the armoury or pry it off one of the dead legionnaires if I wanted some of that."
"You don't mean you know..." Drubgurz began but went silent as the woman raised her hands and suddenly began to float into the air, drifting seemingly without effort up the staircase. Her robes fluttered gently as she hovered, giving her the impression of being some benevolent spirit passing through and minding its own business.
"Levitation magic," Cato finished for the Orc. "That's illegal in the Empire."
"My dear, if what I did was legal, I wouldn't be hanging out with a bandit group, would I?" the black-robed woman said as she touched down, beckoning for the others to follow as she made the rest of the way on foot. "Come on, the Legion will be in here any time now."
"Doesn't look like we have any other option," commented Cato as he slowly stepped over to the stairs, wincing slightly from the pain of his wound as his arm inadvertently shifted as well.
"For once we agree on something," Drubgurz said. "I still think my plan could work, but this is a better one."
"Your plan is terrible," Asa chimed in as she followed at the end of the group. "You were going to leave me to die."
"You were going to agree to it," Drubgurz shot back.
"Yeah, only so Cato had a chance of surviving."
"You people..." grumbled Drubgurz.
They soon reached the top of the staircase, though it was not the top of the prison tower yet. They still had to ascend a ladder through a trapdoor which led out into the highest point of the fort. The robed woman climbed up first, followed by Cato who she instructed to climb so that she could save her energy for the descent. The wounded Blade had to make do with one arm and was much slower. By the time he had exited the trapdoor, the footsteps of the legionnaires were already audible from their location in the prison. Drubgurz waved for Asa to go first and she climbed the ladder swiftly. He followed last, kicking the ladder down and shutting the trapdoor.
Once all four of them stood on the snowy tower, the mage motioned with her hands and they were once again cloaked from view. They could not even see their own bodies, though they could easily tell that they were being lifted off the ground and carried by some unseen magical force to the edge of the tower and beyond. For a terrifying moment they hovered high up in the air, vulnerable to a gruesome fall if they were let go. Their descent took several seconds but felt like hours as the ground drew ever closer, almost as if they were plummeting to their deaths. However, they landed elegantly on their feet, making only the softest of imprints in the snow.
None of them spoke, maintaining absolute silence. No words were needed as the mage's footprints started to lead away from the fort. All the others followed, still invisible. The palisade had stopped burning, and as Cato had predicted, the exit was indeed being watched by legionnaires. The Legion no longer surrounded the entire fort though, their force now being focused on clearing and occupying the area inside. A few archers patrolled the walls, but if any had noticed the four sets of prints it was far too late.
When they had put some distance between themselves and Fort Dunstad, the four flashed back into a visible state. The black-robed woman dropped to one knee instantly and Asa rushed over to her.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," the mage raised a hand in reassurance. "Just exhausted. Give me a moment."
After a few seconds, the woman was back on her feet. She made her way over to a rock and sat atop it before reaching into her robe and retrieving a small vial filled with a blue liquid. The woman extracted the cork and downed the vial in one go, then returned it to where she was storing the bottle earlier. She sat for a short while longer, staring into nothingness. Finally, she brushed the snow off her clothes and walked up to Cato.
"Thank you," Cato smiled weakly at her from his own resting place on a tree stump.
"Oh don't thank me yet," The mage stretched out a hand in front of Cato's injured arm and the rest of the arrow that Asa had left in the wound flew out of his flesh. The man let out a scream of pain as he was surprised by this sudden act. This attracted the attention of the others but it was Asa who rushed up first.
"What are you doing?" she glared accusingly at the other woman.
"Making sure he survives the journey," she responded.
Unusually, blood had not come immediately from the wound as expected. The mage knelt again and set her other hand directly on the ex-Blade's wound, a soft red glow beginning to form between their flesh. Cato let out a long sigh of relief as this went on, and Asa observed with a mixture of curiosity and concern. When the woman removed her hand, the wound had apparently knit itself back together and was completely scabbed as if it had been healing for days rather than seconds.
"I can't heal it completely just yet," the mage stated, "but this should help stop the bleeding and speed up the process."
Cato nodded appreciatively, "You have my thanks. Again. Do you have a name?"
"Oh, I have many," the woman stared away as if deep in reminiscence again, and it was at this moment that Asa and Cato both noticed she had golden eyes like that of the High Elves rather than the Imperial woman she seemed to be.
"Well is there something we can call you by?" Cato asked.
"Celata," she smiled as she stood up, offering her hand to the man.
Taking the hand with his good arm, Cato pulled himself up as well, "We're lucky to have you here, Celata. So...what's next?"
He had directed the latter words to Drubgurz as the large Orc had made his way over as well and listened in quietly to the conversation up to now, "I think we should stay together."
"I'm in no state to go off on my own for the time being," Cato agreed.
Drubgurz chuckled, "Looks like the great Blade needs my help after all. We're regrouping at Bronze Water Cave."
"Bronze Water Cave?" exclaimed Asa. "That's near one of those Dwarven ruins, isn't it? These places are dangerous."
"I've read about them," Drubgurz said. "It's just a convenient place to regroup since all of my people know about it from that time we camped there. We didn't get attacked by Dwarven machines then and we're only going to meet with anyone else who made it out. If it's a bad site, we won't set up there, but that's where we're headed for the moment. We'll see about other plans when we get there."
"Fair enough," Asa turned to Cato. "You good to keep going? We're probably too far for the Legion to see or hear, but I don't like being out in the open like this."
"I can press on," Cato affirmed. "Let's go to this Bronze Water Cave, then."