I'm playing Skyrim with a rule: illusion magic only. No direct violence, just pure deception—which makes my current task tricky. Before I can join the Imperial Guard, I have to clear out a fort full of bandits. I've finally lured the toughest of them to his death at the hands of a passing archer on the road to Solitude, but there are lots more left alive.
Back at the fort, I have the same problem. I barge into the keep, use my Fury spell to trick the guy with the battleaxe into killing all his friends, then hit a brick wall. He won't follow me out, and no-one will follow me in, so I'm left with one very angry man I can't kill.
There's one more segment to the keep. Inside, I Fury two bandits, get backed into a corner, then jump over a table to escape them. Downstairs, a woman with a mace and a shield comes at me, so I Fury her too and duck into a cell. As they cluster to get at me, they realise they all have closer targets they're equally angry at, and fight amongst themselves.
The woman destroys them, batting them away like flies. I slip out while she's finishing the last one off with an overhead smash, and get back outside.
Even if there's some secret tunnel that connects these two wings of the fort, my problem is the same: one will be left standing. I need more options. I need to go back to town.
It's not far, but I still manage to get lost and take a strange non-path over the mountains. I pass a small herd of goats, and decide to Fury them for practice. They all charge me. Then gobs of venom starting splashing into me, and I realise there are two giant spiders hiding in the trees. I Fury more goats and stumble awkwardly down a steep slope to get away.
Back in Solitude, I visit the Winking Skeever tavern to see if the bartender can sell me any illusion spells—less unlikely in Skyrim than it might sound. He does not. But in the corner, sitting at a table by himself, is a hoary old warrior type. It finally hits me: can't you hire people?
You can. But hiring Belrand, who announces himself to be a spell-sword, costs twice as much money as I have. I do have a couple of gold tiaras I inexplicably found on the bandits I tricked into killing each other, but even after selling those I'm a little short. As someone who doesn't wear armour or weapons, the only other valuable possessions I have are health potions, which I sort of need.
On the other hand, there are an awful lot of health potions lying around this inn. You can't sell stolen property to reputable vendors in Skyrim, but I wouldn't have to: once I've stolen all of his, I could sell the inkeeper mine.
It's laughably easy: most of them are on shelves in empty rooms, and even out in the open, there are only four people in the whole joint. I nab almost as much in coin purses as I net from selling my potions, and pretty soon I can hire Belrand with change. It's not magic, but the old-fashioned switcheroo should be in every illusionist's repetoire. Belrand and I set off into the mountains.
He's a nice enough chap: he looks like John Malkovich pushing his face through a mop. He keeps calling me 'elf' derisively, then asking if there's anything he can do for me. It's going to be a weird relationship.
When we get to the fort, I check he's close behind and walk into the battleaxe bandit's building. He charges at me. Belrand takes one swipe at his neck and he collapses, axe clattering on the stone. Awesome. Next!
Mace lady is a tougher nut: she has a shield, and she's keenly interested in attacking me instead of Belrand. I actually have to Fury her to persuade her that we're equally tempting targets, and she and Belrand trade dozens of expertly blocked blows. I am thoroughly entertained.
Mace lady is better at it, thanks to the shield, but just as she gets into her stride, Belrand throws up a dazzling white dome of light. She doesn't seem to know what to do about it, and while she flounders, Belrand cuts her down with a rapid flurry of slashes. She actually surrenders, but Belrand just slays her on her knees. Well, I guess that's what I paid for.
More to the point, I've done it: all the bandits are dead, I didn't break any of my rules, and my initiation for the Imperial Legion is finally complete.
Before we go, I pick up the mace and shield and give them to Belrand. "Something for me? Can I keep it?" he asks, then laughs. "Just kidding!" Go ahead, man, you nearly died getting hold of them.
Back in Solitude, after much fanfare and oath-swearing, I'm told to collect my new uniform from the blacksmith. He presents me with an immaculate set of Imperial Steel armour. I sell it back to him for 140 gold.
Next: The Pale Lady.