Prologue: Penitus Oculatus

Previously: Dramatis Personae

City of Solitude, Haafingar Hold
Kingdom of Skyrim

Solitude was smaller than what she imagined.

The shops, houses, and castles were fewer than what she expected. The people were also fewer, though she wondered how much of that could be attributed to the war. She slowed her pace to a stroll, taking in the sights and sounds, and noting how they lacked the heavy bustle of the Imperial City. It seemed that a good thirty years after the end of the Great War, Skyrim overall still hadn't recovered, not financially, not structurally, and clearly, not socially.

Still, it was a beautiful day. Having just arrived from the Pale, where winter knew no end, it was refreshing to feel the sun on her skin and see its light upon the green, even all the way up here in the mountains.

Minerva Septima was aware of every eye on her as she made her way to Castle Dour. She was a tall beauty, half Imperial, half Redguard, with dark skin, dark eyes, and long dark hair. But that's not what interested people. It was her armor that triggered the stares and whispers, for what was an elite bodyguard of the Emperor doing so far away from the Emperor?

Minerva had her reasons, of course. In fact, one could say, the whole point of her joining the Penitus Oculatus was exactly for this moment.

The castle guards greeted her with stiff nods as she entered inner sanctum of the Imperial army in Skyrim. She'd never met General Tullius before, but she was well aware of his reputation of a being a hard bastard.

The castle was as beautiful and somber as tomb, with only two braziers and two very high windows to provide light. Minerva wondered the history of Castle Dour, how it got its name, and if it had always housed Solitude's guards.

General Tullius was hard at work, poring over a contingency map with two legates, one of which Minerva recognized as Legate Rikke.

"Afternoon," Minerva greeted cheerfully, with only the slightest nod of her head. She had a touch of the High Elf accent, courtesy of her tutors in her youth.

The tall Nord woman immediately stiffened up even more in her heavy Imperial armor, while General Tullius dryly inquired,

"And to what do we owe this dubious honor?" he asked, looking back down at his map.

Minerva tried not laugh; the military always responded to her order this way. "I assure you, General, the honor is all mine."

Tullius looked up at with amused incredulity. "Is it?"

"It is," she assured him. "And as a gesture of good faith, I have retaken Fort Dunstad, and secured the Pale for you."

The two Legates exchanged frantic looks while Tullius stood straight up, grim-faced.

"You were going to take Dunstad first, were you not?" Minerva asked, eyebrow raised.

His voice was very deep and dangerous. "What gives you the right?"

Unfazed, Minerva lightly touched the emblem on her armor. "You know very well I have the right."

"So you think can just walk into Skyrim and take over my campaign?" he demanded, nostrils flaring as he struggling to maintain his temper.

"One does not simply walk into Skyrim, I can assure you," Minerva chuckled. "There's a wildness here that never sleeps. As for your campaign, no one's taking anything over. You are still very much in charge."

"Then why act without my knowledge?" Tullius barked.

"To show what I can do," she smiled. "Your supply lines are stretched, and the rebels know this country better than you do. You need help, Tullius.  You know it, your Legates know it...and so does the Emperor."

"Of course," Tullius sneered. "This is Titus's doing."

"You can take the issue up with him if you wish," Minerva shrugged lightly. "But trust me when I say I am here to be of assistance."

"Trust an agent of Penitus Oculatus?" the general scoffed.

Minerva's humor dimmed as she met his gaze. "You should. We know so many things you don't."

The silence was followed heavy with meaning. Tullius refused to speak first, so she did.

"Fort Sungard is the next logical choice," Minerva calmly continued. "With most of the Stormcloaks already driven from Western Skyrim, it's time to finish off the rest."

"We'll take Fort Sungard," Tullius told her with a cold smirk. "Since you're just here to help, you and--I'm assuming--your merry band of 'elites' can take Fort the Rift."

Minerva allowed herself a broad smile. She knew he was going to do something like, and was glad he didn't disappoint."

"Gladly, General," she nodded. "I'll send a messenger when it's done. Legate," she murmured in farewell to Rikke, before turning and leaving.

She didn't leave Castle Dour right away, nor Solitude for that matter. It was a beautiful day, and she didn't know when next the weather would be so fair. The weather of the Pale had been utterly dreadful, and she had no idea what kind of weather awaited her in the Rift.

We got luck in the Pale

For Minerva, the best way to think about her plan was to think around it, not about it. She plotted better when she wasn't looking her mammoth-sized gamble right in the face. She supposed she was lucky; she'd teamed up with people as crazy and desperate as she. But the truth was, they got lucky at Dunstad. The Stormcloaks were outnumbered, their supplies were running low, and the hellish weather did them no favors. It would not be the same at Greenwall.

I've got some good warriors, but I need more.

It suddenly occurred to Minerva that she didn't need more, just one. And that one happened to live right in the Rift.

Next: The Mage


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