At the center of the vast swamp that was Glenumbra Moors lay the site of an ancient battle between the Direnni and the Alessians. They called it a fort, but there really wasn’t much to it except for a few rotting log walls and a cave with a heavy door. Today it was teeming with people, mostly mages, who stood outside the gate, peering onto the battlefield or casting spells. A large tent stood off to one side, and smaller ones were placed nearby.
An officious-looking orc stood near the gate, and Amelia went up to her. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’m looking for whoever is in charge. I’m from Aldcroft.”
“Ah, a messenger! You can talk to me; I’m Conjuror Grahla.”
With a chuckle, she said, “You certainly are. What news from Aldcroft? We heard refugees from Camlorn inundated the village.”
“Not just refugees. Werewolves tried to take over the town, but we were able to stop them.”
“Good, good. Losing Camlorn was bad enough. We’ve made significant progress here, however. Our research is finally beginning to yield results. Now if we can just get past the ghosts.”
“As I’m sure you know, Faolchu fought and died on this battlefield all those years ago, but they didn’t call him the Invincible General for nothing. You could cut him, bash him, fill him full of arrows, and nothing dropped him.”
“Obviously something killed him.”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. If we can discover how he died, it will offer clues as to how to defeat him now.”
“And how do we do that?”
“Sarvith, our Master of Incunabula, hopes to evoke a vision that shows us the events surrounding Faolchu’s death. There are powerful historic artifacts on the field that will help us with that. Unfortunately, the ghosts are making that very difficult.”
“It’s been an age since the battle, but the spirits still linger.”
“I’ll handle the ghosts.”
“A handful of mages and Lion Guard soldiers are working on clearing the field as well.”
“Any idea what I should be looking for?”
“The generals of the Alessian army played a vital part in the Battle of Glenumbra Moors. Their weapons, if still intact, would suffice as focus objects for our spell. If you can get your hands on them, take them to Sarvith in the tent. In fact, speak to him before you go out there. He might be able to offer some insight.”
Amelia went to the large tent, where an Altmer with redder hair than hers spoke to an orc with an expression of derision on his face.
“It’s true!” Sarvith said, “Faolchu was as tall as a tree, with claws like greatswords.”
“Yes, yes,” the orc grumbled, “and he breathed fire and ate warriors for dinner, armor and all. Give me a break, Sarvith.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Amelia called from the door.
The elf looked over and gave her a toothy smile. “So you’re here to help, eh? We heard you out there with Grahla. Bhagrun here claims that the threat Faolchu poses is greatly exaggerated. But he’s an orc, right? They slay dragons before breakfast.”
“There’s no such thing as dragons, you idiot,” said Bhagrun.
“Poor fool wouldn’t know a moth from a mammoth.”
Amelia chuckled uncomfortably. “Grahla said you might have some advice for fighting the spirits on the battlefield.”
“There are two types, as far as we can tell,” Bhagrun told her, “wraiths and the ghosts of former soldiers. Neither seems to die any more easily than the other.”
“Do you have any magic?” Sarvith asked.
She nodded. “I’m a nightblade.”
“A nightblade, very good! Well, fight the ones you must, and use your shadow spells to sneak around the rest. Your swords should be useful, and some of your siphoning spells might help as well. We were attempting some drain essence spells on the spirits and they seemed to work.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She left the tent and made her way onto the field, where she saw a battle that was surely as bloody as the one that had taken place so many years ago. The living fought the dead, and blood and slimy ectoplasm covered the area. The ghosts did fall to swords—and to flame spells, apparently—but their ethereal blades seemed to do as much damage to the live soldiers.
A wraith attacked Amelia before she went twenty feet, and she engaged the creature in much the same way as she had the one inside the Wyrd Tree. She drew on the memory of how she had danced around the wraith while aided by the guardians and was appreciative to see that although she didn’t retain the magical energy, she did remember how she had moved. The first few spirits were a cake walk, but when she approached a tent and came upon three of the ectoplasmic soldiers, she had a real fight on her hands.
“Intruder!” the one in the middle cried. He was wearing more elaborate armor than the others, and Amelia figured he was one of the generals.
The soldiers attacked, and she cast an Agony spell at the general, stunning him. While he was incapacitated, she spun from one soldier to the other, dodging blades and ducking in for quick jabs. They finally dropped just as the general recovered and charged forward. He was tougher than his lieutenants, and Amelia took a few slices to her side and arms, but nothing serious. She parried a rapid jab to her midsection with her shock sword and countered with a similar thrust with her flame sword. He backed up with an “oof” but didn’t go down. Instead, he swung his blade at her head, and she had to duck to avoid being decapitated. While she was low, she thrust again with the fire sword, and he finally dropped. He remained in corporeal form for a moment, and she tried to take the sword, but though it had certainly felt real when it was slicing into her skin, she couldn’t touch it now.
How was she going to take the sword with her if she couldn’t pick it up? Would some kind of spell do it? Even if it would, she was no mage. Her nightblade spells were for combat. There was nothing in her repertoire for picking up ghostly weapons. But suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the sun glinting off metal. She turned her head to see the same sword—the real one—sticking up out of the ground. “Oh, thank the gods,” she muttered as she walked over and wrestled it out of the soil. She tucked it into her belt and moved on to see what else she could find.
Over the next half hour she managed to collect three swords and a host of minor to medium injuries. When she returned to Sarvith, she was covered head to toe with blood.
“Ah, the focus objects!” he exclaimed joyfully when she handed them the swords. Then the smile drained from his face. “You look terrible! Bhagrun?”
The orc stepped forward with a healing staff and cast golden light over her body. He even had her turn around so he could get her back. In just a couple of minutes, all the smarts and stings melted away until all that was left was the blood. “Better?” Bhagrun asked.
“Much, thank you.”
“Now,” said Sarvith, “let’s just” —the pommel of one of the swords broke free and clattered to the ground—“Hmm, I don’t think that was supposed to come off. They’re pretty beat up, but we should have plenty of material for the ritual. Would you care to join us?”
“Sure,” Amelia replied with a shrug. She followed them out of the tent to an open area where Sarvith placed one of the swords on the ground between himself and Bhagrun. “What are you doing, exactly?” she asked.
“If this works, we should be able to peer into the past and hopefully see what happened to Faolchu. We’ll be using an amalgamated essence of the past, focused with these ancient weapons, to open a sort of window into history. Now, stand back. You never know when a spell is going to backfire.”
Amelia backed up, and the Altmer and orc extended their arms toward the sword. Bright blue light shot out from their hands and met in the center, glowing up around the sword. Suddenly a figure appeared in the nimbus.
“Please, you must listen!” said a female voice.
Then the specter disappeared and the light exploded outward, sending shockwaves toward Sarvith and Bhagrun and knocking them both to the ground.
Amelia rushed over to the mages as they got up and dusted themselves off. “Are you all right?”
“All right?” Sarvity echoed. “Of course we’re all right! We did it! I think.”
“Who was the woman?”
“A fragment from the past, someone who was pulled forward with the spell.”
“You mean that was supposed to happen?”
“Well . . . no, but it just means we did better than expected. We didn’t create a window to the past; we opened a door into the past! We need only step through.”
“And by ‘we,’ you mean me.”
Sarvith lifted his palms to her in supplication. “It has to be you. Who else is brave and rash enough to do it? I’m too important to get stuck in the past, and Bhagrun would probably change history with all his bumbling about.”
The Altmer ignored him. “Go ask Grahla what she thinks we should do.”
Amelia went to Grahla, who was involved in a heated discussion with two other mages. She stepped away from them when she saw Amelia.
“We heard an explosion, and then ripples of magical distortion started to sweep across the battlefield. What did they do?”
“They opened a door into history.”
“What! They were supposed to cast a simple divination spell, nothing more. Those idiots!”
“Sarvith thinks we can use the door to go back in time and learn about Faolchu’s death firsthand.”
Grahla shook her head. “I don’t like this. Time magic shouldn’t be meddled with. But what’s done is done, so maybe we can get some use out of it. There are fewer spirits to contend with by now, so maybe you won’t have so much trouble getting onto the battlefield. Go out there and examine the ripples created by the spell to see if there really is a doorway. But keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. There’s no telling what else they pulled from the past.”
Although she figured the mages were better suited for such a task, Amelia drew her swords and stepped back out onto the battlefield. The ripples were easy to see; blue nimbuses glimmered in several locations across the field. The spirits had greatly decreased in number, and she made it to the first ripple without incident. It was centered around a barren tree, an azure glow with small tendrils of purple lightning flickering through the branches. Looking closely at it, she could see nothing that might be useful, but then again, how would she know? She reached toward the ripple, and there was a slight shock and a distinct drop in temperature as her hand met the light.
With a whoosh, the ghostly figure from Sarvith’s spell appeared in the nimbus. “You seek to the see into the past. I can guide you.”
“Who are you?”
Amelia looked across the battlefield and finally set her eyes on the crypt, which was in a remote corner. Strangely, it was the only one around. She crossed the field, fighting a couple of ghosts along the way, but made it to the tomb relatively unscathed. She was prepared to pick the lock, but she found the door open, so she carefully descended the stairs.
The room was deserted except for a solitary skeleton, and she was encouraged to see that it wasn’t up and walking around. It lay before a sarcophagus, wearing a suit of Direnni armor. The ghost slowly coalesced into view between Amelia and the skeleton. Alana was Breton, pretty, around thirty years old, and she wore armor to the skeleton’s, although not as elaborately embellished.
“This is where it all started on the day of the final battle,” she said nostalgically. “We gave up everything to kill Faolchu. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him be resurrected and curse the world again.”
“Is that why you’ve returned?”
“I’ve returned because of what the one I love did to save his people.”
“What did he do?”
“He sacrificed . . . everything.” She nodded to the skeleton. “This armor belonged to my beloved and was buried here with him, in this place of honor. It was his hand that cut Faolchu down.”
“And if I put it on?”
“You’ll take the place of my beloved—you’ll literally reside in his body—and relive the last moments of the battle. But be very careful; you won’t just see the events of the past; you’ll live them. It will be your decisions that guide the path, and what you do may change the destiny of those around you.”
“You mean I can change history? How is that even possible?”
“I can’t say. Just know that I understand the terrible burden you must carry. When you are ready, put on the armor.”
“What can I expect back there?”
“This was a violent, bloody time,” Alana told her. “The Alessians were on a crusade to purge every mer who occupied the land.”
“But you’re Breton, not mer.”
“Would you stand idly by and watch innocents be slaughtered?”
“Fair enough. How will I return to the present?”
“When Faolchu dies, the armor will eject you from the past. You should return to the here and now, unharmed.”
“You don’t sound all that confident about that.”
“No. No, that should . . . yes, I’m sure of it.”
Amelia knelt next to the skeleton and perused the armor. “Do I need to put on the whole set? I don’t think it’s going to fit me.”
“You’re right, of course. The armor simply establishes a link with the past, so one piece should do it.”
“I don’t get this at all.”
“You’ll understand more as you go. But you’re taking it all in stride.”
Amelia shrugged. “I’ve seen some bizarre things these last few months. Kind of getting used to it.” She took the pauldrons, pieces she didn’t have on her own armor and those she figured would be easiest to get off the corpse. When she finished strapping them to her shoulders, dizziness came over her, and she began to hear sounds of battle up the stairs. She looked down at her hands, but they weren’t hers at all; they were those of a man. “This is going to be so weird,” she mused.
The dizziness went away after a moment, but it was replaced by confusion. She still knew who she was—sort of—but her thoughts and memories were accompanied by those of another, and she quickly lost track of which memories belonged to whom.
Alana, no longer ghostly but blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful, bounded down the stairs. “There you are, my love! I was starting to worry. Why do you linger in this musty crypt? Commander Parmion rallies the troops for his final assault. You should be at his side for the big moment.”
“I’m—I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“Did that blow to your head rattle your senses?”
“Assume it did. I’m—who am I? What’s going on?”
“You’re Relin, Commander Parmion’s best and most noble knight, you silly man. We’re on the verge of turning the tide against Faolchu, and we’ll launch our final attack on his headquarters shortly. Come, we have work to do.”
“Remind me. What work is that?”
“The Alessian orders, of course. We captured the messenger, but not before he passed the orders off. We need to search enemy soldiers until we retrieve them.”
“And I’m supposed to do that, right? I’m starting to remember.” Or am I starting to forget?
Alana looked at him closely. “Are you sure you’re all right, my love? If you’re hurt too badly, someone else can retrieve the orders. I can go.”
“No, I’m fine, still just a little shaken. I’m on my way to get those orders.” He leaned in and kissed Alana softly.
Was that right? came the thought. Am I Sir Relin, or am I Amelia? Should I even be kissing this woman? Of course I should be kissing her. I’m just confused from the bump on the head.
“Do what you have to do and find those orders,” she said, pulling away, “then find me at the camp. We need to talk.”
She turned and went up the stairs, and he followed, watching her bum as she walked; then he turned left toward the Alessians’ camp. He fought his way through, and though he didn’t remember wielding twin swords in the past, he seemed to be very adept at it. His strength and experience were his own, but his speed and skills were . . . well, they belonged to Amelia, whoever she was. It also felt as though the last time he had crossed this field, he had been battling ghosts. Well, they were real now, and he roared victoriously with every Alessian he cut down.
He found the orders on a commander he slaughtered and made his way back to the Direnni side. When he was safe, he unrolled the scroll and read it. The orders indicated that the enemy was going to use the chaos from the attack to slip around and destroy the Direnni camp, then hit them from behind. A clever plan . . . and oddly familiar. He had heard something recently to the same effect. Something about werewolves and Aldcroft . . .
Relin shook his head to clear it and headed toward the command tent, where he met up with Commander Parmion.
The elf, distinctive by his piercing blue eyes and the gold ring he wore in his nose, placed his hands on his hips. “There you are, my knight. Did you recover the orders?”
“Aye, here they are. They plan to flank us, destroy the camp, and then assault from the rear.”
“You are a credit to the Direnni guard,” Parmion said proudly. “Now we can prepare a proper counterattack. Take these orders to the Alyeid King. He has just arrived and is eager to get involved.”
“The Alyeid King is here?”
“Aye, surprised us all. Who would have thought he’d show such interest? But the mer is a brilliant tactician, and any help he’s willing to give will be gladly accepted. In the meantime, I’ll send Alana and her unit to put an end to Faolchu.”
Relin gasped and his heart skipped a beat. “Alana? No! I need to be the one to strike Faolchu down.”
“Nonsense! Alana can handle it, and if these orders are any indication, I’ll need you to lead our defenses.”
No, this wasn’t right. He couldn’t remember why exactly, but he knew that he, and no one else, had to kill Faolchu. He placed his hands on his hips and paced back and forth nervously.
Parmion placed a hand on his shoulder. “This is the way it must be, Sir Relin. Speak to Alana before you go if you like. Just remember that time is of the essence. And don’t forget to talk to the king.”
“I’ll go to him first.”
He approached the king, who was standing near the command tent with a few of his soldiers, and bowed.
“A Breton fighting for the Direnni?” the king noted. “Not unheard of, I suppose, but surprising.”
“There is a large contingent of us actually, Your Majesty.”
“Your people are honorable. Wait, I recognize that armor. You’re the one Parmion spoke so highly of, no? I’ve heard stories about you before, as well. They say you are blessed by Auri-El himself.”
Relin cast his eyes away humbly and handed him the orders. “We recovered these from an Alessian soldier.”
The king read the orders and chuckled. “The Alessians intend to slip past our defenses and catch the Direnni ‘with their trousers down’? What a curious phrase.”
“Your specialized armor possesses Direnni magic, no? Use it to spot Alessian Shadow Scouts before they can do any significant damage, and dispatch them.” The king eyed him silently for a moment, then said, “Curious.”
“What’s curious, Your Majesty?”
“These old Alyeid eyes see many things. Everyone in this yard, for instance, radiates an aura of life force. Except for you. I can’t tell if you’re not truly alive or if you just don’t belong.”
For just a moment, he remembered. Amelia. Was she possessing him? Or perhaps he was possessing her. In any case, he knew the king was correct. “That’s very perceptive. You’re right: I don’t belong here. But know that I am not here to cause you or any of the Direnni harm.”
“Honesty! A redeeming quality. But we’ll have to speak of this later when time isn’t so short. Right now we have a battle to win.”
Relin gave a short bow and headed toward the tent he shared with Alana. He found her sitting on a cot inside the door, tightening the rivets on her boots.
She reached out and took his hand. “I know you wanted to go after Faolchu, but you’ll see plenty of action defending the camp.”
He knelt next to her and said, “I could go with you.”
“I appreciate your concern, my love, but orders are orders. But have no fear; I’ll make sure we never have to worry about Faolchu again.”
“I know you will. What’s your plan?”
Alana chuckled. “He’s formidable, but he’s just a man. I’ll kill him the same way I would any other man: I’ll stick my sword into him a few times until he drops. I’ll be back in no time, carrying his head as a trophy. I can’t think of a better gift to celebrate our new family.”
Relin’s breath caught in his throat, and his pounded. She couldn’t be saying what he thought she was. Not when she was leaving to fight Faolchu. “Our family? Alana, what are you saying?”
“Later, my love. I’ll tell you all about it after the battle; no need to distract you now.”
“It’s too late for that.”
She stood up, pulling him up with her and kissing him. “I love you, you know. I’ll see you soon.”
He held her close, as though it was the last time he would ever do it. They always held each other like that before a battle, saying goodbye, just in case. But this time he knew. Somehow he just knew Faolchu would die and they would celebrate together. With one last brief kiss, she turned and slipped out of the tent.
Relin made his way across camp to where Commander Parmion was rallying the troops. This day would bring victory; he was certain of it. It had already happened. That was why he was here: to find out how it had happened. Because Grahla had said swords couldn’t kill him . . .
Oh, gods, no. That wasn’t right. It couldn’t be. Besides, he knew no one named Grahla.
He set out onto the battlefield once more, this time skulking in the shadows, using the magic from his armor to remain hidden, and he managed to take out four Shadow Scouts before he came upon one of his own. Scout Loriel lay dying at the base of a large rock formation.
“Captain,” he choked, “Faolchu’s headquarters. We were ambushed, surrounded. Alana and the others—” But he wasn’t able to finish. The light left his eyes, and he perished.
“Damn it,” he growled. He gently closed Loriel’s eyes, then turned and headed toward the cave where Faolchu made his base.
Outside the cave, he found unadulterated carnage. At least a dozen bodies, Direnni and Alessian alike, were scattered about the bloody field. Only one was alive, Scout Hanil, who was just sitting up. He knelt next to the elf.
“Hanil, can you move?”
The scout nodded. “We tried, captain, but there were too many. Commander Parmion is dead.”
“Commander Parmion? How?”
“He decided to accompany us at the last minute. We thought it would just be Faolchu and his officers, but it was a trap. A whole platoon awaited us. The commander fought bravely, but they cut him down. And captain, they took Alana.”
A great weight settled over him as he realized how wrong he had been in the tent. If they had her, he would likely never see his love again. Her comment about their family—he knew what she had meant. She was with child, and he should never have let her go. As if he could let her do anything. Her will was stronger than his own.
He raised his eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Please, bring her back to me.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much time,” Hanil said, interrupting his thoughts. “We expect Faolchu to launch a full-scale assault at any moment. A few of our men are below, trying to hold them off. There should be enough of us left to defeat them, but we need to rescue Alana as well.”
It was an impossible choice. He could go after Faolchu, or he could look for his love. How could he decide that? Why had they taken her in the first place when they had killed everyone else? Faolchu undoubtedly knew Relin’s name. Was he making it personal? Did he plan to make him watch while he killed Alana in an attempt to demoralize him? And would it demoralize him or work him into a frenzy?
Stick to the mission!
He heard Alana’s voice as clearly as if she had been standing next to him. It’s what she would say if she were here, and she would be right. With Parmion dead, he was in command now, and he had to think about the mission.
“I’ll deal with Faolchu,” he said with a sigh. “You see if you can find Alana.”
“Very well, captain,” said Hanil.
Relin opened the heavy wooden door and stepped inside, where he found a few dead Direnni. He made his way down a long flight of stairs and into the chambers below, fighting Alessians when he came upon them. In a large room in the farthest reaches of the cave, he found the last remnants of the battle. A few soldiers from each side fought amid several small bonfires, and watching from above was a monstrosity.
Standing on the balcony overlooking the fight was a beast made of nothing but teeth, claws, and fur. He was taller than the most towering Alyeid, and his glowing eyes glared balefully at the carnage below. He roared with rage.
No! Please, be somebody else.
“Put out those damn fires!” the werewolf bellowed angrily but with the slightest touch of apprehension.
Relin recognized the voice. It was Faolchu himself. He was horrified, but at the same time a grim smile spread across his face because in that instant, he understood how to kill the beast. And killing Alana hadn’t demoralized him at all. It had galvanized him. He had nothing left to lose. With that understanding, he charged into the fray, battling alongside the others until no Alessians were left alive.
“Damn you!” Falchou thundered. “I’ll kill you myself!” He leapt from the balcony and menaced Relin. “Your puny weapons are no match for my teeth and claws.”
Relin didn’t answer. He used his swords to block Falchou’s advances as best he could, backing slowly up toward one of the bonfires. Just as the werewolf charged full-on, Relin stepped out of the way, and the werewolf dove into the flames.
“NO!” he screamed as he shifted. He wasn’t so scary now—human, bald, kind of short, and unarmed.
With one hard swing of a sword, Relin laid Faolchu’s throat open, and his enemy collapsed to the floor in a pool of blood.
Pain suddenly shot through his body as his armor burst into pieces. One of the shards pierced his heart, and he clutched his chest as he dropped to his knees. The pain ended quickly, though, and he was vaguely aware of his head resting on the stone floor. After that, there was nothing.
“Time for you to go back now,” said a soft voice.
* * *
“Oh!” Amelia gasped. With barely time to take a breath, she was back in the present, in her own skin, and the pauldrons were back on the skeleton before her. Her hand went to her chest, which had been so real, agonizingly real, only a moment ago. She had been, for all intents and purposes, Captain Relin, and she had died. She had been dead. Dead! “Gods!” she whispered as she started up the stairs to the surface. She made her way back to camp where Sarvith, Bhagrun, and Grahla waited.
“It worked!” Sarvith cried. “Into the past and back again. Are you all right?”
“I think so. A bit rattled.”
“Thank the Divines,” said Grahla. “I was afraid we’d lost you. According to legend, when the Nameless Soldier killed Faolchu, the armor shattered. The Nameless Soldier died.”
“He’s not nameless anymore. His name was Relin. The armor did shatter, but today it was in the crypt, fully intact.”
Grahla shrugged. “Another mystery. Direnni magic, perhaps?”
“Or Alyeid. The Alyeid king was at the battle, and he recognized that I was out of place.”
“I found what we were looking for. Fire weakens him and makes him vulnerable.”
“Fire!” Grahla echoed. “Of course. The beast can’t stand against its purifying flame. Quickly now. We must share our knowledge with Camlorn. The Lion Guard has set up a makeshift fort just outside the city. Find the commanding officer and tell him what we learned. Knowing Faolchu’s weakness might make all the difference.”
Amelia nodded. “I’m on my way.”
“You should rest first.”
“Take time. At least an hour.”
Amelia realized she hadn’t slept or eaten since before Gloria Fausta had died at Aldcroft. “Very well, an hour. But don’t let me sleep longer than that!”
She dug into her knapsack for some dried meat and cheese, gobbled it down, and found a cot in a nearby tent to curl up on. It was hard to sleep, thinking of Relin and Alana, their baby, and all they had lost that day. He had loved her so deeply, and he had hated himself for letting her go fight Faolchu.
Faolchu. He was wreaking havoc out there somewhere now and she had to stop him, but Grahla was right: she needed rest. Would she pay the ultimate price like Relin and Alana? It was that thought that she finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.