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The Elder Scrolls: Insurrection - Chapter 2

Blades in the Dark

Cato observed the three elves from afar. He was too distant to perceive either their long faces or their pointed ears, the distinguishing features of the Altmer people. The latter would not have been visible under the gear they wore anyways, but it was this very equipment over their bodies and their heads that allowed Cato to identify them. Two of them wore decorated green armour and the third donned a long hooded robe. Such was the garb of the Thalmor, an elegant shroud that veiled the venom beneath.

There was no mistaking it. Cato could recognize that armour anywhere, even within the darkness of this stormy night. The Thalmor had slaughtered his friends, destroyed his order, crumbled the Empire that his people forged and denounced its founder's status as a member of the Divine pantheon. His entire world had been obliterated at the hands of these elves and their Aldmeri Dominion. Cato's hand brushed by the katana sheathed on his waist and his fingers subconsciously wrapped around its grip. He should kill them right now.

Having faced the soldiers of the Dominion during its Great War with the Empire, Cato knew full well what they were capable of. The ill outcome of the war did not exactly help his confidence, either. However, with surprise on his side, he was sure that he could take the three of them alone. It would not be an easy fight, but Cato was a member of the Blades, an elite organization of warriors who served as the Empire's spies and formerly the personal guardians of the Septim line of Emperors. It was said that in ancient times, the Blades hunted down the dragons that sought to enslave all the races of Tamriel. Though tall legends had little to do with life in this era, the skill of a Blade was never an exaggeration.

Cato would sneak up to the three elves and strike down one of the armoured warriors first. A well-placed cut in the gap between the defenses along the neck should allow for an instant kill- much easier than trying to aim for such weak spots while the enemy was also swinging back at him. The three elves stuck rather close to one another, likely clinging to safety in this wild and unfamiliar environment. As soon as the first was dealt with, Cato would slam his shield into the face of the other warrior; this would not do much damage but it would stagger and hopefully stun his opponent, temporarily taking him out of the fight. Cato would take this time to deal with the robed one, presumably a mage from how he seemed to possess only a dagger. Command of magic would give this elf the ability to inflict quite some damage, but with his shield and training Cato would be able to avoid taking any excessive hits. His lack of armour would mean he could be quickly cut down, and that was exactly what Cato planned to do: a swift dash at the mage. Then, it would just be him and the last warrior one-on-one, a fight that would end in his favour.

All this, he would do in the middle of the forest, with no witnesses to see. Not only did these Thalmor deserve to die, but getting rid of them would probably do others some good. He would have revenge for his friends, justice for his order and safety for the local Nords, and no one can pin the deed to him once he was done.

Cato paused as his blade slid halfway out of its sheathe. It was exactly this kind of initiative that spelled doom for the Blades. Their ideals were certainly righteous, and their members carried them out with skill and fervour. But their single-minded determination without thought of anything else proved to do more harm than good. During the Oblivion Crisis they had recalled almost all their warriors for the sole task of defending the Emperor. Records stated that Grandmaster Jauffre often did not allow his men to wander too far from Cloud Ruler Temple, instead leaving vital tasks to a lone hero they had recently inducted. The crisis was stopped, but at the cost of the last of the Septim bloodline, a loss that shattered both the purpose of the Blades and the stability of the Empire. From Cato's reading of history, their dedication to protecting a single man had instead resulted, albeit indirectly, in the death of that very man.

In the years following the Oblivion Crisis, the Blades continued to serve the Empire and were one of the first to see the threat presented by the increasingly powerful Aldmeri Dominion. They dispatched agents to deal with the Thalmor, seeking to eliminate or at least weaken the enemy before they could gather their full strength. Once again, their dedication to their goals caused only trouble. Failing to consider that the Empire was not ready for war with the elves, the Blades' provocation only quickened the schedule of the Thalmor and give them more reason to antagonize the races of men. When they did strike, it led to downfall of their order and to death and destruction across Tamriel.

The Blades were gone because of their own failings. And Cato would not make the same mistakes as his predecessors. He knew it didn't matter if they could find the killers of these Thalmor. As long as their bodies were found in Skyrim, the elves would blame men for having done it, and this would destabilize the fragile peace that they had finally achieved. The Empire could not afford another war.

Just as Cato quietly slipped his blade back into his sheath and prepared to break off from his pursuit, a flicker of firelight in the distance caught his eye. It had apparently caught the eye of the three mer as well, and they began moving towards the source. Cato decided to tail them for a little longer, and once again he followed, darting from tree to tree, the cover of thick leaves and bushes concealing him despite his armour. He saw that the light came from a campfire in a cave, a small, cut away section of the mountainside concealing...a statue of Talos. This did not bode well.

A golden-haired Nord woman stood beside the shrine to the god. She held something in her hands and set it down on the altar- an offering. Seeing this, the Thalmor leapt out from the forest and surrounded her. They just stood for a moment, conversing, most likely. Then, the two warriors grasped their swords. The woman reached for a small dagger. There was a bow and a quiver of arrows by the campfire, but she could never make it in time. The combat prowess of the Nords were fabled, but a single, poorly armed Nord hunter against three trained soldiers would not stand a chance.

All thoughts of implications left his mind. Cato sprung into action out of instinct, drawing his katana. He rushed for the nearest elf, slamming his shield across her helmet. She dropped to the floor but he wasted no time checking, simultaneously swinging his blade down at the second warrior. The elf repositioned his own sword just in time to swat away the attack, but this diverted him from the Nord, who seized the opportunity to pounce. The woman tackled the Thalmor soldier to the ground and landed on top of him, leaving her own body exposed. One of the robed elf's hands began to glow orange, and having seen battle magic countless times before Cato knew this was the onset of a fire spell. He stepped in between the Nord and the Thalmor mage, raising his shield to block the attack.

The flames engulfed the round metal, turning it uncomfortably hot. It would only be a matter of time before Cato would be forced to drop it, and when he did he hoped to avoid as much of the fire as possible while lunging at the mage to take him out. However, that time never came. The Thalmor stopped casting the spell, his eyes wide as he stared at the patterning of the shield. He had recognized who Cato was.

"Firawen, he's a Blade! Get out of here!" he shouted to his comrade.

"He's just a man," the female elven warrior replied as she regained her composure, balancing her sword in her hand. "I can handle him."

"Firawen! Don't!"

His warning went unheeded. Raising her left hand, the warrior hurled fire at Cato, but the more experienced fighter saw the attack coming and stepped to the right to evade it. She too had expected this of course; it was exactly what she wanted. Her right hand being the one that wielded a weapon, she would strike down with it, forcing Cato to either deflect it with his sword and lose an opportunity to attack, or to reach over and parry in an awkward pose that trapped his blade between his shield and his body. He was not going to play into either. As he moved, he turned his katana in his hand so that he held it with a backwards grip. When the elf's sword came down Cato reached his shield over his head and blocked it, momentarily trapping her arm in an elevated position. Before she could retract it, the former Blade thrust his weapon hand backwards, stabbing the katana into the gap between the armour beneath her arm.

The point of entry was even deadlier than Cato had predicted. The blade slipped between both her armour and her ribs, piercing deep through her chest all the way up to her throat. A quick tug told Cato that it was too dislodged for him to remove in the midst of combat, especially with the mage now charging at him. He let the elf fall to the ground with his katana still stuck in her, leaping back to avoid the storm of lightning that the hooded Thalmor shot his way. To his surprise, the mage did not continue his assault but knelt down beside his fallen comrade, his hands now pointed at her.

"Hang on, Firawen," he said as healing energies flowed from his hands into her body.

His only response was a gurgle of blood from the female elf. Seeing the katana still lodged inside her body, he placed one hand on her chest and the other on the hilt of the blade, yanking it out. As soon as it came free it was followed by a fountain of red that splattered over the Thalmor's robes, soaking it more than the rain ever managed to. He ignored this completely, pressing both hands against the wound and focusing his energies. A faint glow emanated from his palms, increasing in brightness before suddenly snuffling out. He tried again and again, but even with the natural talent of the Altmer he could not sustain the spell- his earlier use of magic had exhausted him.

"No, no, no, no," he muttered desperately. "Firawen, hang in there. Can you hear me? Firawen! Don't give up on me!"

Firawen did not reply. Her body had gone completely limp, her head lopped to one side, a trail of blood flowing down from her lips. The robed elf placed both hands on her helmet and slid it off, leaving a red imprint of his palms on them. He mustered all his energy and cast one final bout of healing, letting the energy envelop her before leaning over her. She remained still. The light had left her eyes completely.

"Blade!" the Thalmor screamed, suddenly snapping his head back to Cato. Grabbing Firawen's sword he made a frenzied dash towards the ex-Blade. The weapon did not come close to striking its target when Cato's shield smashed into the elf's long face, sending him crumpling to the ground instantly. Cato waited for a moment but he did not move; if he was not dead, then he was unconscious and no longer a threat.

Looking around him, he saw that the Nord had prevailed against the elf she was fighting against. They were some distance away from where he last saw them, so they must have struggled for some time. The victor was clear, for the elf lay on the ground, his helmet some distance away and his head now a bloody mess. The woman sat beside the corpse, wiping her dagger clean on the grasses beside the dead elf before returning it to its place on her hip. As she glanced back in Cato's direction, she suddenly sprang to her feet, grabbing the fallen elf's blade and rushing over.

Cato turned to see what had prompted her to action. The robed Thalmor had clambered back up and was half-stumbling, half-crawling towards the body of the female elf, Firawen. He must have noticed the Nord's sudden movement out of the corner of his eye and began to stagger out the mouth of the cave, eventually breaking into a panicked sprint by the time the woman reached his former position. Giving up the chase, the Nord decided to drop the sword and run to the other end of the alcove where her camp was. She retrieved her bow from where she had left it and pulled a single arrow out of the quiver, notching it and taking aim at the fleeing Thalmor.

Acting on instinct as he had been for the entirety of this fight, Cato darted towards her and pushed her arm down with his free hand. The Nord still managed to let the arrow loose, but it missed its mark, whizzing past the elf and embedding itself in the trunk of a tree. The woman cast him a surprised glance which quickly turned to disapproval. He did not know why he did that; he of all people wanted the Thalmor gone. Perhaps it was what he had witnessed- the reaction of the elf to his friend's death. He knew he had acted similarly when his friends were lost, lost because of the Thalmor. But having seen them display the same emotions, they became more than just the enemy. On one hand he felt pity for the elf, but at the same time he wanted him to feel this pain, the same pain the Thalmor had inflicted on Cato and countless others.

He did not make his feelings known to the Nord, however, "He's given up. Shooting him in the back wouldn't be right."

"He wouldn't think twice if it were us," she responded.

"Maybe. But we're not like him. We're better than that."

"He's going to warn his elf friends about us, and they'll come hunting."

"They're going to know their people disappeared and come looking anyways," he nodded to the dying fire by the Nord. "Do you really think they can recognize us in this light?"

She shrugged, "It's better to be safe."

"The Divines are watching."

The woman gave him another look, "What are you, some kind of knight?"

"I was," Cato said quietly, his head lowered as he stared at the cave floor.

"Fine," she sighed as she set her bow back down before bending over to pack up her bedroll. "I've had enough trouble for one night without arguing with some crazy adventurer. I know this land, and I usually try to avoid towns anyways. You're the one who'll be having problems."

"Wait. You're right, I don't know this land. I'm going to need a place to lie low."

"Oh. Now you want my help."

"You wouldn't be here right now if I hadn't intervened," Cato picked up his katana and began to clean it while the Nord gathered her supplies.

"The two of us travelling together will be a lot easier to spot than if we go our own paths."

"We'll also stand more of a fighting chance, as we've proven," he pointed out. "I can hunt, trap, fish. You can drop me anywhere, in a cave or a ruin, I don't care. I just need a good, discreet location that the Thalmor won't stumble upon."

"I have one in mind. Favour for a favour, then we're done, okay?"

"Fair enough."

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