Deep beneath the Redguard capital Sentinel are buried the Impervious Vaults, where the necromancers of the Withered Hand are attempting to steal the Ansei Wards from the catacomb’s treasures.
With the wards in their corrupt hands, the necromancers could begin to raise the consecrated remains of the Ra Gada, and unleash an undead army upon Hammerfell, the might of which has not been seen in the Alik’r since the Yokudan Warrior waves of the first era.
I am to meet with the Breton mage, Gabrielle Benele, atop the mages tower in Sentinel. I last saw the fair Gabrielle back in Glenumbra where she opened the sealed Catacombs of Cath Bedraud, which led to my confrontation with the loathsome Reachman, Angof the Gravesinger. And now I need her once again to open another sealed door, this time to the Impervious Vaults under the palace in Sentinel, where the Withered Hand are attempting to steal the fabled Ansei Wards.
Gabrielle has seemingly grown in both confidence and repute since we last met and is a most welcome bright and friendly face in this harsh land; the Redguards can appear aloof and surly towards those not of their own kin.
And Gabrielle is not the only familiar face I’ve met in my short time in Sentinel. Crafty Lerisa I found at the Frozen Palms Tavern celebrating the acquisition of a new ship, the Maiden’s sigh. It is good to hear her tell how she still leads the libertine Jakarn a merry chase.
I also found Captain Kaleen, relaxing on the first floor of the palace. Her good service to the Covenant cause has been rewarded by the King with the command of three more ships. She has even seen fit to promote her former cabin girl Nicolene to first mate. And the ever-resolute Elf Neramo I discovered researching for his next expedition into Dwemer ruins, both known and rumoured, buried beneath the Alik’r’s ever shifting sands. He’s still employs the enigmatic Vimy to watch his back.
I am sent to the Royal Seraglio to meet with the Redguard Prince Azah, son to Fahara’jad, and brother to Maraya, and the late Lakana. He grew up in court with both Uwafa and Alasan, and so seems the perfect choice to investigate the leaders of the Withered Hand necromancers who now threaten the desert Kingdom.
But I arrive to find the aftermath of a fierce struggle; dead guards litter the floor, and the Prince has been taken. His abductors trail leads to the beach where the undead still predominate, feeding upon the carcasses of scorpion and sea birds. I discover a hidden alcove guarded by Withered Hand thugs, and it is here I find the Prince, bound and caged.
The Prince tells that, much like the dock invasion, his kidnapping was just another misdirect in the cultist’s elaborate scheme. The Withered Hand has apparently been tunnelling under Sentinel for months, attempting to break into the Impervious Vaults. For centuries the vaults, home to the Redguard’s mythical Ansei Wards, have been sealed by powerful magics, but Azah believes the cult may successfully circumvent the barriers from below.
Fahara’jad, the High King of all Hammerfell, holds court at Samuruik, the Palace of Sentinel. There were many in High Rock who felt given King Emeric’s recent displays of ‘vulnerability’, that the noble Fahara’jad might make for a better leader of the Daggerfall Covenant. But in the short time since I arrived in Sentinel, it is already clear to me that the Redguard King faces enough instabilities in his own land that he needs to prove himself against first.
He knew of the Withered Hands undead assault upon the docks but did not act, it was an unexpected stranger who stopped the threat of the necromancers. Fahara’jad suspects that the attack on the docks was but a rook, and that the Withered Hand have something far worse planed.
Many years ago, the arch-necromancer Suturah led an undead army against the Redguard people and but for the dishonoured Ash’abah, would surely have taken their capitol. The Redguard believe it is a dishonourable sin to fight their ancestors, even those long dead and risen by foul magic, and that those who do so are forever cursed.
So Fahara’jad secretly called upon the Ash’abah for aid, but then publicly claimed it was divine intervention that saved them. And now he tells me that the gods guided me here to save his city?! Perhaps in doing so he is just employing the same device he used years ago to shroud his peoples’ weakness, or perhaps it is that he has told the lie so often, and for so long, that he himself now believes it true?
The Alik’r is divided by more than just the barren, inhospitable sands, it is a land cleft by the contrary ideologies of its people; the progressive Forebears, and the traditionalist Crowns. Any sign of weakness from the court could be seized upon by either or both, making every move Fahara’jad makes a chary hop between the duneripper’s claws and the scorpion’s tail.
Merchants and peddlers from across Tamriel brave the harsh arid climate of the Alik’r to do trade at the great bazaar of Sentinel, which stretches across the sandy floor of the desert city from the docks to the front gate. Brusque Orcs from the mountainous north, haughty Elves from the isles to the south, reptilian swamp-tillers of the Blackmarsh, and avaricious Khajiit from the forests of Elsweyr, all have crossed land and sea to seek fortune, curio and rare antiquities at the great market in the sands.
There is one group of travelling merchants however who are not especially welcomed by the cities authorities. The nomadic Baandari tribe have an unfortunate reputation for holding profit ahead of ethic, conscience, morality, and oftentimes local law.
Ildani, for example, was caught by the local guard attempting to smuggle skooma into the city. Somehow, she managed to escape her binds and now seeks an accomplice to retrieve her contraband from the customs house and distribute it to her desperate clientele. Whilst Unishi is a Baandari potion-maker staying at the Frozen Palms Tavern, whose literal interpretation of her customers’ requests she fulfils with little regard to consequence or decency.
It is difficult however to feel sympathy for the ‘victims’ of the Baandarii, for one thing all seem to have in common at this great market in the sands, is an improvident desire for quick profit and easy coin.