When Sotha Sil began his address in the chamber I flipped the switch and bathed the podium in bright light. The figure dissolved revealing Sil's shadow had taken his place. This reminded me of the events with Fyr's shadow when I arrived, and I wondered now if that had been a deliberate clue.

"Nocturnal, what are you playing at?" I wondered. Nothing made sense right now, but I didn't have time to think. The shadow was getting away, and I needed to chase after it. It was our only chance for finding Sotha Sil himself.

The battle with the shadow was brief, and at the end of it, the shadow just disappeared, leaving me with nothing to go on. I headed back to Fyr, to see if he had any ideas. I found Varuni Arvel arguing with Chancellor Gascone about what to do next. The Chancellor just walked away and left the problem in her hands, announcing that he had to leave the Brass Fortress for a while.

That oviously surprised her. She'd been certain that Gascone would seize the chance to take control himself, but now he didn't seem to want the responsibilty. She remained confident that Sotha Sil would return and put things right but Fyr wasn't so sure,

I decided to go to Gascone's quarters and find out what I could. I didn't expect to find one of Nocturnal;s shrikes searching the place for something. When she saw me, she grinned, tossed her head, and disappeared.

"Did she just flash her boobs at me deliberately, or was it an accident?" I wondered. Maybe it was another clue from Nocturnal, and I should be piecing things together about now, but it all remained a mystery.

I found a note from Gascone, that was not what the shrike was looking for. It revealed that he had left the Brass Fortress already. Varuni sent me after him, directing me to an artificer who would supply a tracking aide. This turned out to be a fabricant nix-hound, who followed Gascone's scent trail down to the oily river at the bottom of the ravine. The smell from the effluvium drowned out Gascone's trail, but I was able to follow his oily footprint a bit further west.

Eventually, I ran into a couple more shrikes who were also hunting for him. Apparently Gadcone wasn't on Nocturnal's side either, but that hadn't always been the case. He'd at some point betrayed her and thrown in his lot with Clavicus Vile, amd was probably headed for sanctuary at the Ventral Terminus, which was overrun with skaafin.

It was getting dark, and trying to chase him right now didn't seem too productive. I decided to head up out of the ravine to a wayshrine. Spending the night back in Vivec City would help me relax, and think things through.

The following day, I didn't get far along the road from the Sanctuary Wayshrine toward the Ventral Terminus when a suggestion from Azura popped into my mind. I tugged on the reins of the guar and we turned off up a side trail that appeared to lead to a blank cliff. However, when I got closer, I found a man standing by an ominous portal in a cleft of the rock.

Adjunct Daro told me that his more impetuous companion had decided to investigate the portal, and she hadn't come out. He handed me a device he called a perception tabulator, and asked me to at least find out where she'd gone, and anything more about the nature of the portal.

I didn't tell him that the shadowy nature of the portal already told me that it lead to Evergloam. I just accepted the device and stepped through.

"Do I need to concern myself with what this thing is picking up?" I asked Azura as soon as I could. Nocturnal replied for her.

"No, I can control what it records. It will get enough to satisfy Adjunct Daro, and pique his interest in this place. It's all part of my plan."

"You will explain some more of that to me, won't you?" I asked.

"Of course, but let's get Daro's little charade over first."

So I wandered around for a whiie, finding items that Acolyte Variah had dropped. Apparently, Nocturnal had arranged for her to be startled at convenient moments, so she could leave a trail for the tabulator to record. And then I found Varia herself, as well as a couple of earlier venturers, standing as scarecrows in a pumpkin patch near a small cottage in the woods.

The other two had apparently entered on their own, and it wasn;t until Variah arrived that someone was left outside waiting. So now the next part of the plan could begin. Releasing them with enough of a story to tell would draw more adventurers to this testing ground. I'd have a pitch to make to Daro when I left, too.

I went up the hill to "deal with" the Shrike Commander running the show. We flirted for a while and she shut down the compulsion field, before directing me to the cottage. "Nocturnal would like to complete your briefing herself".

When I went back down, the ex-scarecrows had all fled, and the door to the cottage was open. Two big armchairs were either side of a cozy fireplace, and Nocturnal was already relaxed in one, with a glass of wine in her hand. She handed me another glass as I sat in the opposite chair.

"I don't suppose anything is making any sense right now," she began. "All you know so far is that Clavicus Vile was scheming to find the Clockwork City, but naturally, you don't know why.

"When I got involved, I didn't either. All I knew was that Vile wanted help with something big, and of course that wasn't likely to be anything I'd approve of. I decided that 'helping' was a safer bet that letting any other Daedric Princes gang up with him. At least this way, I'd have some control over what happened, and maybe turn things my way.

"Vile's objectives are only gradually being revealed. At first it was the Clockwork City, but that was just a stepping stone to Sotha Sil, and he's supposed to help us locate Arteum. You know that he was a Psijic himself, so he's well aware of its location, and has full access."

"Is Sotha Sil in any real danger from Clavicus Vile?" I asked.

"He should not be. I'm sure Vile doesn't care one way or the other, but I'd prefer to be able to put things back the way they were, Seht included. Or maybe better. You'll be eliminating one of the weak links when you deal with Chancellor Gascone.

"Seht himself is safely locked away from harm. Anyone who wants to reach him has to travel through part of Evergloam, but he's actually in a part of the Brass Fortress that's cut off from the rest. That way, I haven't broken our agreement by abducting him to my own realm, but he's still safe. And once he's reunited with his shadow, he'll be back to normal.

"Gascone was supposed to be guarding the Skeleton Key, but he sold out to Vile, and it's gone missing. You'll need to get it back at some point, as you'll need it to reach Sotha Sil. That's so that Clavicus Vile sees that as the imprisoning device, and overlooks the requirement to pass through Evergloam to reach him."

"What do you need from me?" I asked

"Two things. First, to continue what you've started here. You'll be seen as Azura's agent in this, rather than mine, so Vile won't think we're on the same side. And second, I'd like you to look out for anyone who could become my agent. I'm going to need someone competent, independent, and loyal only to me. That last part rules out most people you already know. For example Seryn has all the right qualities, but her loyalty to her tribe, and especially to you, means I can't use her."

"Is that why you have this setup here?"

"Yes, I'm certain that Adjunct Daro will help direct adventurers to this part of my realm for evaluation. The portal itself will need investigation, and then scholars will need rescuing, and so on. There should be a steady stream of candidates coming through, and my shrikes will have some fun with those who don't measure up."

"And should I expect to be heading for Arteum next?"

"It's too soon to tell. Clavicus Vile seems to have an alternative strategy in the works in case I fail here with Sotha Sil. He has Mephala working on some other scheme in the Summerset Isles. If she gets the Sload involved, then that's likely to bring in Meridia against him, as she can't abide necromancy.

"However, with everything else going on, Meridia's stretched thin on the Molag Bal front, so at best she'll be a distraction."