Salisir finally caught me alone. I hadn’t seen him for the last few days and then suddenly, in the corridor leading through the western wing of the main palace hall, he found and pulled me aside.

“I hate the Tetrarch,” was how he started. “I hate them through and through for what they did to me. For what they’ll do to you.”

I reminded him they’d already done all they could to me.

“Not quite,” he said. “The thing is, I hate the Daedra more. There’s nothing I want to see come to its end more than the miserable life of a Daedric follower, except of course for multiple lives of Daedric followers. Generous as it is to call them lives. You and I share that. You and I share a respect for the Nantese now, too, though you’re still a little too young to fully understand what’s happened here. But it’s for my need to see the Daedra burn that I’m gonna tell you this, and I wanted that to be clear.”

Tell me first, I demanded, why he was in the Nanten. He cocked his head at that, so I clarified: what could the Tetrarch possibly hold over him to get him here in the first place. He clearly had no sense of duty to them like me.

“My wife,” he said like it should be obvious. “My daughter. If I ever go back, they’ll kill ‘em both. I kept them secret for a long time. Kept them hidden off in the north, but I could only manage it for so long. It was while I was after that Daemon that they found them. They held me prisoner in Silver Hall for two years, disgraced me in every way they could think, and when they couldn’t break me they sent me here. I would have found a way to save them. I would have beaten the bloody Tetrarch senseless to do it, so they acted first.”

I told him there was no one left to me they could threaten. Everyone had already abandoned me.

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“Don’t be so quick to say that,” he reprimanded me. “You’re softer than me when it comes to who you care for. I know you’ve got people you love, even if you don’t feel it now.”

He looked around the corridor to be sure no one was listening. “You have to go back.”

I told him I wasn’t going back. I’d never go back. He insisted that I had to.

Why, I asked. Why in Nine Hells facing Nine Demons would I ever want to go back to the Old Empire?

“It’s not about what you want, but what must be done.”

My duty was to the Nanten, I told him. The Tetrarch commanded me here, so here I would stay.

“Bugger the Tetrarch. If the First Order ordered you to slay the Second, would you do it? Didn’t think so. If you’re being ordered to do something that will harm your own, you don’t, do you? Not the blind dog you try to act like, which is what made you different. It’s what I tried to give you, the ability to resist. To think. That’s what the Scourge takes from those poor children, the ability to resist the First Order. You had it in you already, whatever your mother did to you, and I just finished what she started.”

I told him I didn’t understand.

“’Course you do. Your sense of duty is a bloody character flaw, not a strength, but it’s why you have to go back. Oroun told you his theories about the Tetrarch, yeah? He asked you why you’d never met any outside the Old Empire? Well I never met one either. Nowhere. And I’ve been at this a lot longer than you.”

Tell me then, I said. Tell me what you know.

He fidgeted. I don’t think I’d ever seen Salisir fidget or hesitate when it came to words. The bastard has always been too cocksure.

“Look,” he bit the inside of his lip and stared off down the hall. “Gods damn it. I can’t tell you much.”

Then I’m not going, I said.

“You bloody well will, I just… shit, I just… you have to figure the details out for yourself when you get there. Here’s what I can say from what I knew before, why they thought I was dangerous enough to exile but too dangerous to kill. At least I hope they think I’m too dangerous to kill, though I get the feeling they hoped you’d do just that. The First Order is compromised, as are members of the Second. They aren’t alone. There are… people…” he growled in frustration. “There are people spread throughout the Empire that want to bring about what we found here in the Nanten.”

Then it dawned on me. “And they have a Beacon.” They had someone who could speak telepathically over distance and who, thanks to my training, would be able to glance into my thoughts.

Salisir sighed in relief but then held his hands up. “Don’t you start guessing at shit. You can’t know anything until you get sealed back up, you hear? It’s possible. There are those that can do it and protect your mind, but you’ll have to find one on your own.”

My mother is the Beacon of the Second Order, I said. Was that why she worked so hard to get me exiled? Is she one who was compromised? Salisir literally put his hands over his ears and shouted. “Stop! I can’t tell you anything. I probably already said too much. If you walk back into the Empire, assuming they don’t kill you on sight, they’ll send someone to see if you know. See what you know. If that person senses something amiss, if they mark you as a threat, you’ll be done.”

I’ll be done no matter what I do, I said. If I go back they’ll put me on trial again.

“Then stay the hell away from Sterling until you know who it is you face. Until you find someone who can patch your mind and keep the bloody Beacons out. You go back, even if you have to go back alone, and you find those bastards.”

His wife and child keep him at bay, I noted, how could he know if they’re even still alive?

“I get reports from time to time,” he said. “It’s not much, nor is it regular, but they were alive two years ago. They’d mount an army to stop me in any case because unlike you, I do know who they are. They’ll never let me back alive.”

I’d never wanted the ability to read minds so badly before. I couldn’t ask him, but now it plagues me. Who are these people? If I fear anyone in this world it is my mother, and to think her a true enemy is beyond chilling. Who in the First Order is compromised?

So many questions and no answers for me tonight. Salisir extracted himself from the conversation as quickly as he could, parting with the insistence that I leave as soon as possible. It’s my turn to be the outsider, he said. It’s up to me to stem the tide.

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