36 - Azura

Paarthurnax had a good point. If I could get myself adopted by one of the other Daedric Princes, perhaps I could ensure my continued existence here. Although I knew that Dagon would be reluctant to recall me to the Deadlands, and lose one of his few representatives here, the temptation to disrupt the dragons would be a big temptation for him.

So who were the candidates, and how do I go about making contact? I knew of a few of the other Princes' shrines. Meridia and Azura had statues that could be seen near Solitude and Winterhold, and I'd heard that Boethiah had one, too. If any of the others had shrines, they were hidden away, and I didn't know where to find them.

I had something in common with Meridia: a hatred of necromancers. But I doubted her ability to stand up to Dagon, if there was any dispute over me. Azura, on the other hand, was no friend of Mehrunes Dagon, and I know he respected her enough to defer.

So it wasn't a hard choice to make. It just remained to be seen whether she'd respond to my request.

Azura's Priestess, Aranea Ilenth, a Dunmer with a serious expression but sparkling eyes, was expecting us. She'd seen our coming in a vision that Azura had given her. I got the impression that she was disappointed about that, so I asked.

"Usually, when Azura gives me a vision, it's in a dream. She sends men to me to ask about their future, and if they make me tired and satisfied, I dream vividly, and tell them all about it in the morning. It's an arrangement that suits me well, and getting the dream without the ... preparation ... was a bit of let-down this time. But I can see why it happened that way." She looked over at Zahra, and I knew what she meant.

The vision involved a "fortress endangered by water, yet untouched by it" and finding an "elven mage able to turn the brightest star as black as night". Aranea told us that she believed the fortress was the town of Winterhold, and the "star" was none other than Azura's Star, the fabled indestructible soul gem that had been lost for decades. She believed that Azura wanted me to find that lost artifact, and return it.

Winterhold was hardly "untouched", but the destruction had been caused by the tremors and landslides in the aftermath of the eruption of the Red Mountain. The water was far below the town, and waves beat in futility on the cliffs. We had no idea who the elf would be so we decided to ask at the tavern, and the patron we chose to ask turned out to be the one we were looking for. Nelacar knew all about Azura's Star, as he'd been working with Malyn Varen at the College when the latter got possession of the gem.

The senior mage had been dying of some incurable disease, and had seen the Star as a possible way to preserve himself. If he could only adapt the Star to hold his own soul, he could effectively become immortal, he thought. Nelacar thought that this desperate attempt was what drove Malyn insane, or perhaps Azura did that, in revenge for what Malyn was doing to the Star. Whichever it was, he'd killed a student as part of his research, and got himself thrown out of the College. He'd taken most of his other students to Illinalta's Deep, an abandoned fortress at the edge of the lake in Falkreath Hold. Nelacar hadn't gone with them, but he'd been ejected from the College, too.

"Whatever you do, don't take the Star back to Azura. She'll drive you mad, too, just like she did to Malyn Varen. The Daedra are evil, ..." Nelacar had just noticed that he was talking to one, and his argument wasn't working.

Illinalta's Deep had been abandoned, because it was sinking into the lake. The door must have been submerged long ago, but there was a trapdoor on one of the towers that looked like it might lead somewhere. The water level inside wasn't as high as it was outside, so it looked like we'd be able to access the rest of the building without having to swim.

We knew that the place would be full of necromancers. Zahra has a justifiable fear of necromancers, as they have spells that can banish her back to Oblivion. So she treats them in much the same way she does spiders, which is to blast them with fireballs, even after they're dead. I didn't have to do much to help her, until we got to the stairs that led up the final tower. I had her wait behind me, as I feared that the blast from her spells would scatter everything, and if the Star was here, I didn't want to risk burying it in debris.

As it turned out, there was nobody in the chamber, just a skeleton seated on a chair, with a book at his feet, and the Star on top of it. I picked them up, and read the contents of the book. It appeared that the skeleton was Malyn Varen's and he'd completed his work. Which meant that he was now inside the Star.

It looked very much the worse for wear. The crystal was cracked and chipped, as if it had taken a powerful beating to get Malyn into it. Perhaps it had. I had to take it back to Azura, though, whatever its condition.

Back at the shrine, Aranea was as horrified at the condition of the Star as I had been, but told me to lay it on the Altar, and ask Azura what could be done about it. The Princess told me that nothing could be done until Malyn Varen had been evicted, and I would be the one to do that.

"I can send you inside the Star," she told me. "And I will watch over you while you are there. I cannot send your companion with you, however. You'll have to do this alone."

Actually, she probably could have sent Zahra with me, but only by breaking the spell that bound her to me, and she was sure I wouldn't want that.

Malyn Varen wasn't alone in the Star, and I didn't believe who he had with him. There were three Dremora mages waiting to defend him. Something told me that Varen didn't do this without help, and Dagon was likely involved.

The mages didn't disappear back to the Deadlands when they fell, either. And fall they did, as their fire spells had little effect on me, but my war-hammer had a lot of effect on them. Varen retreated further into the depth of the crystal, firing shock spells at me as he went. I followed in no particular hurry, as he was depleting his magicka with all that lightning, and I could bide my time until he ran out.

When he could run no farther, he drew a pitiful dagger, and made a brief stand. Soon, though Azura was thanking me, and telling me to gather anything I needed before she pulled me back out. I took the hearts from the mages, in case I decided to make any more weapons and armor.

When I stood again before Azura's altar, the Star was whole again. The cracks and chips were gone, and it glowed in a way it hadn't before. Azura addressed me as her champion, and told me that the restored Star was mine to keep.

She'd spoken to Aranea, too, who told me that she'd been informed that she'd received her last vision from Azura. She wasn't sure what she'd do now. Did I need another companion? She'd be proud to serve Azura through her Champion.

I don't need any more than Zahra. Even if she hadn't been standing there listening, I'd have told Aranea that. But has anything really changed, I asked her. Pilgrims will still come to the shrine, and she's still the priestess.

"But the men come for the visions, to find out their future. What happens now?"

"What sort of visions, or dreams, did you have?' I asked.

"It varied, but generally it was treasure for them to find. Most of them, anyway, but Azura wasn't always fair. It seemed that the ones who treated me poorly, and only satisfied themselves, were told of the best treasures.

"There was one man I really liked, and he always treated me well, but Azura would only tell me about minor things, like a farm that was for sale at a good price, or a small amount of gold in a lost chest. Still, it did mean that he came back for more. The others came here once, and I never saw them again. I suppose that's because they got all they needed the first time."

"Or that those treasures you sent them to search for were well-guarded," Zahra suggested. "Did the same treasures come up more than once?"

"I'd not really given it any thought, but you may be right!" Aranea exclaimed. "But that means, they didn't get them, did they? And they didn't come back because ..."

"So perhaps a cheap farm, or a small amount of gold, could be a better reward after all," Zahra continued. "I think that your farmer friend got what he deserved."

"Gets. He's the only one that I see here regularly. And what do I tell him now? Sorry, Azura's all dried up, and there's no more for you."

"Perhaps he won't mind," I remarked. "He could be coming here just to worship Azura."

That was enough to make Zahra collapse in a fit of giggles. Aranea didn't understand what she was laughing about.

I wasn't concerned at leaving Aranea at the shrine, now that we'd learned that Azura had made provision for her. Her Dunmer farmer would be there tomorrow, if he kept to his usual routine, and we were sure they'd work something out.