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Legends Don't Burn

Chapter Text

Something sharp struck just below Kiir’Dun’s knee and her eyes flew open.

Sun, bright, hard, stuck.

She reached her hands up to cover her face but found them bound together with some dirty rags. She grunted in disgust, wondering absently where the cloth had been, and went about trying to free her hands. Looking down, she noticed she wore pants that were ripped and her silken robe was gone, replaced with rough feeling burlap. Shit. When had this happened?

In a mixture of anger and confusion, she tossed her head up and found herself staring directly into the face of a Nord.

Her heart fell into her stomach and she looked to her right, seeing two more humans just as dirty and angry-looking as the one in front of her.

Kiir huffed. She could feel a well of panic start to stir in her gut, but only in that she was still stuck in a world of unknowns. She had escaped one ordeal only to fall into another. Just my luck. She ripped one hand back, hoping to tear the bandages. As old and tattered as they looked, they held firm. She could feel tears welling in her eyes but she shook them away.

“You’re not going to get them off.”

Kiir didn’t look up at the Nord as he spoke to her. She told herself she wasn’t afraid of him but as it became harder and harder to hold her hands still she found that lying to herself would do her no good.

The Nord’s voice fell in volume. “What’s a High Elf doing trying to cross into Skyrim, anyway?”

“I’d never been.” Kiir’s voice sounded soft, a quality she didn’t like.

A deep chuckle rose from the Nord’s throat. “Well you picked a poor time to visit, Elf. With the war and all.”

War? Kiir scrunched her face up. There’s no war in Skyrim. Hadn’t the Empire signed the White-Gold Concordat? As far as she knew, the First War had ended and Tamriel should be in peacetime.

The dark haired man beside Kiir began to speak and she quickly tuned him out. She had to figure a way out of this. She stared down at her hands, still pulling at the bindings. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. Kiir tried to remember how she’d gotten here but her mind was... fuzzy. Was I drugged?

The Nord grunted as they passed further into the city. “General Tullius and the Thalmor?”

Kiir’s ears perked up and she sat a little straighter. The Nord caught her reaction and watched her cautiously as she strained to see behind his head; a man in red and gold armor sat atop his horse and just beyond him was a face Kiir recognized.

Elenwen.

Gods, the ambassador looked so much older. Elves didn’t age that fast but goodness did Elenwen look centuries older than when Kiir had last seen her, only a few years ago. She used to attend her father’s dinner parties when Elenwen was still only an errand girl; Kiir had always found her tenacity admirable.

The ambassador cast a glance at the carriage as it passed and Kiir ducked her head down. If Elenwen even suspected who she was, she’d be most certainly sent back to the Isles for trial and she couldn’t expect the Ambassador to lie to a high Councilor about the whereabouts of his daughter.

A large tower soon obscured the line between Kiir and the Ambassador. She lifted her head and watched a boy say something to his father, who looked uncomfortable and sent him inside. The gathering of soldiers out in front of the towers shifted from foot to foot. A dark veiled executioner leaned against his axe; Kiir wondered what he looked like.

The train of carriages came to a jarring stop and the dark-haired thief looked about him worriedly. “Why are we stopping?”

The Nord scoffed. He rose to his feet. “Let’s go, we shouldn’t keep the Gods waiting.”

Kiir didn’t rise immediately. She glanced around her, hoping that by some stroke of luck someone would pull her aside and tell her there’d been a mistake. No such moment came and as the one man who’s been gagged stood and exited the carriage, she followed.

They called each man’s name and slowly each man made their way to surround the chopping block. Then they reached the panicky, dark-haired man.

“Listen to me,” he pleaded. “I’m not one of them. I have a family. I’ve always sided with the Empire. I’m not a rebel!”

Kiir knew she must’ve looked just as frightened as he did; his eyes wide and sweat trickling on his forehead and wetting his hair. She gave him as reassuring of a smile as one prisoner could to another.

If he noticed, he did not return it. He, instead, launched himself up the path, running as well as he could with hands still bound.

“Halt!”

The dark haired man shouted something in return before the woman in the red armor looked up towards the top of the towers. Kiir following her gaze to archers set high above the group.

She could hear the collective thwang of the bows.

The man stumbled a few more steps forward before collapsing to the ground.

Kiir staggered backwards. Her heart rose to her throat. In that moment things became crystal clear.

The woman looked back at Kiir and narrowed her eyes. Kiir turned to look away.

“Wait a moment.” The man beside her squinted at the scroll of paper he held before glancing back up. “Who are you?”

Kiir swallowed. “Kiir’Dun, sir.”

“Odd name for a High Elf.”

“My parents are from... outside the Isles.”

The man hummed and looked at the woman beside him. “Clearly this one isn’t a rebel either.”

“We’ve got an hour before we have to rendezvous with the other group heading up to Solitude. We don’t have the time to debate.” The woman looked over Kiir. “Our luck we’d let her loose and she’d turn out to be a spy. Send her to the block.”

Kiir let out a sharp breath. This wasn’t happening. That was not happening. She tried to catch the Captain's gaze, but the stoic woman had turned to move towards the executioner. Kiir wasn’t even sure what she’d have said to her if she tried. Maybe if she mentioned something about Elenwen... but, as Kiir looked about her, it seemed the Ambassador had left.

Kiir felt her chest tighten. I should have said something before. Any punishments the Thalmor had would have been better than death.

The list-reader nodded and turned back at Kiir; he actually looked sympathetic. “I’m sorry. We’ll have you and your things returned to your family.”

Would they even know where her family was? Would any recognize her face well enough to take her home? Kiir wanted to speak up, say something. But her eyes fell on the dead man that’d been shot by the archers and her mouth dried up. It hadn’t worked for him.

A distant roar echoed in the air. Kiir looked up.

The list-reader guided Kiir towards the executioner’s block where the others stood, putting a hand on her shoulder. It was a gentle one, a last-ditch effort to express his condolences. A lot of good that did her.

The Captain had moved to the front of the gathering of prisoners. “Read them their last rites.”

A young human woman, adorned in robes far too ornate for such an event, raised her hands and began some sort of prayer. She was quickly interrupted before she could finish by a blue armored soldier. The same armor worn by the Nord she’d rode in with, though his was perhaps a bit scraggly and more worn down.

The man stepped forward, unabated, and knelt before the block of his own accord. He mumbled something sharply to the woman and placed his head on the block.

The Headsman looked to the Captain, who nodded. He raised his axe.

Violence was a foreign concept on the archipelago of the Altmer. The Isles were a peaceful place; at most some child would accidently burn a barn or a creature would sneak into the town at night and kill livestock. Death was an even rarer occurrence, given how long the elves of Summerset lived and the extensive knowledge of healing magic they had.

Yet, when she should’ve balked or turned away, Kiir could not tear her eyes from the soldier as he died. His head fell neatly into the box in front of the block and despite the utter horror at seeing such a thing take place so close... Kiir found herself relieved. At least he’d gone quickly.

The Nords beside her hummed sadly.

Then the roar returned.

Kiir’s head snapped up. The sound was much closer now. Before it had sounded like a distant saber cat but now... What in the world was that?

The Captain grew impatient as everyone’s attention was drawn from her. She grabbed the back of another Nord’s shirt and shoved him onto his knees, laying his neck onto the block.

That’s when a third roar ripped through the air, louder and closer. A black shape twisted and twirled in the sky behind the tower.

Kiir raised her head a bit as the Headsman lowered his axe and followed everyone’s eyes to the rapidly growing shape behind them.

When the creature landed with a resounding boom atop the tower, Kiir could see clearly the pointy, black scaled body and fiery eyes. It looked at her and roared again... only this time it sounded like words. Syllables she’d heard before. There was no mistaking the beast, it was a-

Dragon !”

Kiir saw the Headsman drop his axe and bolt out of her line of vision. The Nord at the block followed suit, racing out to the road.

The dragon leapt from the tower and it’s shadow passed overhead. Kiir ducked instinctively, running towards the tower that the Nord had entered. The thick stone dulled the chaotic screams and destruction continuing outside.

“What is that thing, could the legends be true?”

The man spoke who’d been gagged was already inside the tower. “Legends don’t burn down villages,” he replied. His voice was much deeper than Kiir had expected, with an even deeper undertone beneath it.

Kiir saw the way the soldiers clad in blue and silver armor avoided her gaze and she decided that these were the last people she trusted with her life.

She moved to travel up the stairs, ignoring the way the burlap pulled and scratched her skin, before freezing halfway. The dragon’s head slammed through the wall, breathing fire and scorching the man who’d been just in front of her. The heat was intense and the light blinding. She only saw a black shadow retreat from the rubble, but she could’ve swore it looked at her.

Tentatively, she stepped around the body and peered out the hole the dragon had made. Everything was on fire and, if it wasn’t, looked like it had been. Kiir looked down and saw the top floor of someone’s house and, since the fire had yet to reach the interior, decided to jump.

The landing was less graceful than she’d hoped. She landed hard on her knees. She was able to regain enough of her balance to scramble back to her feet and run for the stairs to the first floor. She swung the front door open. The sun seemed brighter.

A red armored soldier stood herding people out of the road, beckoning a frightened young boy to come towards him.

Kiir ignored him and ran on to the road but as she passed the soldier he grabbed her arm and pulled her back just as the dragon landed, spewing flames where she’d been standing just a moment before.

She recognized the man; he was the list reader. She frowned at him.

“Stick with me.”

Surviving was currently at the top of her to-do list, and figured that staying by the man with a sword and at least some combat experience would be better than her running aimlessly about a destroyed town.

She stood about a head taller than the man, which meant where he easily slipped under fallen boards and short doorways she had to crawl. She still got a few nasty bumps before they’d arrived at a keep, pain she ignored as best she could.

The soldier paused outside the Keep, thinking.

Kiir did no such thing and ran for one of the doors to the keep. Her hands were still tied, getting it open proved to be difficult. With a few twists and a shove, she finally got it open.

Nord locks were so primitive it was a wonder they’d survived as long as they had. Her people hadn’t used ring locks for centuries, nor had they used such crudely made doors.

Kiir found the keep a bit smaller than she’d have liked, the ceiling only a few inches above her head. She made sure to avoid the hanging chandeliers, or what she assumed to be chandeliers.

Behind her the door opened and closed again and the list reader made his way into the keep. He motioned for her to come over to him but she stayed put.

“Let me get those bindings off.” He withdrew a knife from his belt and motioned for her again.

Kiir hesitated and got only as close as she needed for him to reach her wrists. He sliced the fabric and she retracted her arms, rubbing where the fabric had worn her skin raw.

“There should be some armor and a sword or two laying around somewhere.”

Kiir turned away from the solider and opened one of the chests, hauling out a cuirass similar to the one the man wore. It felt heavy and awkward on her shoulders; it was far too broad and the skirt portion barely reached halfway down her thighs. The boots were out of the question and even the leather gauntlets rattled on her thin wrists.

“I’m guessing your people don’t don armor often.” He commented as she walked over and then extended a hand. “I’m Hadvar. I know you told me your name but the previous events seem to have pushed it from my mind.”

“No, we don’t.” She took his hand and found it engulfed hers. “And it’s Kiir’Dun.”

“Well, Kiir’Dun, I’m sure you’ll want these back.” Hadvar reached into a side pouch and hauled out a gold necklace and a tightly wrapped scroll of papers.

Kiir placed a hand to her neck. She gratefully took her things and tucked them into her belt. They didn’t miss anything, did they?

“What about my coin purse?”

“You’re lucky to have gotten the necklace back.”

She pursed her lips.

He nodded towards her empty hands. “Don’t you want a weapon?”

Kiir eyed him before holding out a hand, fire lit in the palm. It was the only Destruction spell she knew, having learned it secretly after finding some of her father’s spell tomes in the basement. “I have this.”

“Right.” Hadvar said slowly. “Just try not to hit me with any of it, okay?”

Kiir blinked. That was an odd thing for him to say.

Hadvar turned on a heel and, cautiously, Kiir followed.

Chapter Text

Hadvar’s pace was one Kiir found little problem keeping up with. Yet, she still stayed two steps behind him.

They approached a closed gate and Kiir picked up on the two voices coming from inside the other room. Even in the dim light, she could see the figures standing against the wall- though their voices were still too distant for their words to be made out.

“I’ll take the two on the right.” Hadvar said as he opened the door, nodding towards the two blue-clad soldiers rummaging through barrels.

Kiir shook her head, frowning. She’d never killed before... let alone used her magic for anything intentionally destructive. The Dominion had outlawed any practice of Destruction magic outside of a few novice spells and, even if she could do more than light a candle, flames still seemed...

As they entered the room, Kiir quickly opted instead to use telekinesis and flung one of the pointed fire pokers she saw near the fireplace at the female. She hadn’t held the spell long enough and the poker flew sideways, hitting the woman’s head and knocking her out.

Hadvar had already finished with the other man and glanced at her as he pulled his bloodied sword from his gut. “I assume you meant to do that?”

Kiir didn’t respond and only looked up when Hadvar tossed her a small dagger.

“Kill her quick. We need to move on.”

“Can’t we just leave her?”

Hadvar scoffed. “Do you want her at our backs the whole way out? Just do it quick, grab some of the potions lying around and meet me at the door.”

Kiir looked at the dagger in her hands and back at the woman sprawled out on the floor. The blood from the two men Hadvar had killed began to make its way towards them and still wearing only foot wraps, Kiir wanted none of that.

She crouched awkwardly near the woman’s face and paused. She didn’t want to kill her, but was far too proud to ask Hadvar to do it instead. Her new life was calling for more than she was willing to give. She hadn’t chosen to leave, this hadn’t been a choice .

Kiir decided to use her anger. She placed the blade against the woman’s neck and breathed out.

Suddenly, the woman’s eyes flew open and she looked a Kiir for only a moment before her hand flew out and wrapped itself around Kiir’s throat.

In surprise, Kiir shoved the blade into the woman’s neck.

The woman recoiled, frantically pawing at the blade and finally pulling out. A torrent of blood shot directly at Kiir who fumbled backwards. She ended up scooting directly into the cold, grisly puddle from the man Hadvar had killed, the one Kiir had tried so hard to avoid.

Kiir sat, back flat against the wall behind her, and watched as the woman slowly died. Gods preserve me. Her movements grew slower and slower until she finally stopped moving altogether.

She heard Hadvar chuckle and she looked up at his smiling face.

“You look worse than she does.”

Hardly, Kiir thought. Her hands and feet were soaked in blood and her cuirass was no better. Kiir wondered if she’d gotten any on her face.

“First one’s always the worst. Come on.” He tossed her a rag. “Wipe some of that off and let’s get going.”

Kiir did as he asked, finding the rag to be far less adept as cleaning blood than she’d hoped. She met Hadvar by the door and smiled weakly.

He swung open the door. “You elves age pretty weird, don’t you?”

Kiir scrunched her face. “Weird?”

“Yeah, you guys live to be like... 800 years old, don’t you?”

“1000 usually. More with magic.” Kiir stated, moving out of the way of a torch that’d jutted out into the hallway.

“And you all look the same age. How does anyone know how old you are?”

“Asking usually works.”

Hadvar laughed. “Good point. How old are you?”

“203.” Kiir said. She found herself a bit reluctant to answer.

“Gods.” Hadvar murmured. “That old and you look barely old enough hold a drink.”

Kiir narrowed her eyes. She’d never been called old before; older, perhaps. But never old. She’d forgotten how short the lives of men were. “How old do you have to be to hold a drink?”

Hadvar shrugged. “I dunno. I was maybe 15 when I had my first mug of mead. Been drinking it ever since.”

“Mead?” Kiir squinted. “So your family wasn’t too well off, then.”

“I wouldn’t say we were rich.” Hadvar looked back at her as they descended the stairs. “What does that have to do with mead?”

“That’s a poor person’s drink, isn’t it?” The only people Kiir had ever heard of drinking mead were those in the lower caste; it was made with only honey and water, perhaps spices if the occasion was special enough. Was it not like that in Skyrim?

Hadvar laughed again. “Not here it isn’t. Everyone from a beggar to the High King will drink the stuff.”

“Is it any good?”

“Would everyone be drinking it if it wasn’t?” Hadvar opened the next door. “You High Elves are an odd bunch.”

Kiir wasn’t sure what he meant by that but didn’t ask as they entered a room with rusted cages around the perimeter and a particularly crotchety looking old man in hooded robes.

“I wish we didn’t need these.” Hadvar mumbled as he nodded at the old man.

Kiir squinted. “Old men?”

“No!” Hadvar startled. “Torture rooms.”

The chains and cages, the collection of weapons hanging about the walls... it dawned on Kiir that Hadvar wasn’t lying; this was a torture room. She’d read stories about them and how the men of old had tortured the Aldmeri during their conquest of Tamriel. There didn’t seem to be anyone in any of the cages, however, much to Kiir’s relief. An old skeleton lay in one and a dead man was strewn oddly in the middle of the floor.

Taking care to not step in his blood, Kiir nearly ran into an end table and glanced down at a book, seemingly out of place in the room devoid of anything not metal or stone. The title was worn, but she could still make out the name.

“You can take it.” The old man said dismissively. “Some hogwash a Stormcloak had on ‘em. It’s gonna end up as kindling.”

A ‘storm cloak’? Never one to turn down a book, Kiir grabbed it and held it to her chest, chasing after Hadvar who’d already made it halfway down the next hallway.

“That’s not going to help us any.” Hadvar said when he saw what she was carrying.

Kiir didn’t respond, instead holding the book closer to her chest. The title was a bit confusing but it certainly sounded exciting. Far more exciting than the copious amounts of history books and spell tomes she’d been forced to read back home.

“You should get out of here,” Hadvar turned to the old man. “The town’s been turned to shit by a dragon.”

“Dragon?” The old man laughed. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Hadvar started to move towards the cave opening at the end of the room. “You’ll be seeing it soon enough if you don’t leave.”

The old man waved dismissively and Hadvar shrugged, continuing forward.

The stone hallways soon turned to solid rock as they entered a cave. There were so many twists and turns and rooms that Kiir wasn’t sure they’d ever find their way out.  She’d have missed the faint glow of sunlight shining in at the end of one of the tunnels had it not been for Hadvar.

“Thank the Gods.” Hadvar breathed as they exited into the fresh air.

Kiir made a silent prayer to Auri-El.

A dragon’s roar echoed in the distance and Kiir’s head shot upwards as a black mass sailed through the blue sky in a haphazard pattern before disappearing behind a mountain.

Kiir let out a sigh. She scanned the forest and what portion of the horizon she could see. Perhaps it was because she’d been unconscious for most of her time here, but for the first time she realized how beautiful the country of Skyrim was.

“I still cannot believe they’re real.” Hadvar breathed and Kiir noticed he had begun walking down the path. She jogged to catch up with him.

“I thought your people believed they once ruled over the land.”

Hadvar shook his head. “Those were stories, ones you told children. No one actually believed them.”

Kiir remembered what Ulfric had said back in the tower. Legends don’t burn down villages. “It seems they should have.”

Hadvar looked over at her and raised his eyebrows. “So where might a High Elf be heading to in Skyrim?”

Kiir shrugged. She had been so worried about surviving the previous ordeal, now that she’d escaped she wasn’t sure where she’d go. “There’s a College here, right?”

Hadvar grimaced. “In Winterhold, yes. I guess that’d be the best place for your kind.”

The way he’d spoken reminded her of the words of her father. Except he’d been speaking about men.

“Do you how to get there?”

“There’s a carriage service in Whiterun. The city’s only a couple hours walk from here. You can stop in Riverwood, it’s on the way and I have family there.” Hadvar looked her up and down. “I’m not going to lie, they aren’t too fond of Elves. Especially High Elves. But they’ll give you a change of clothes and some food.” He smiled, a gesture Kiir returned. “Besides, I don’t think I would’ve made it out of there without you. Magic or no magic.”

It was a nice thing to hear, Kiir thought. She wasn’t sure how true it was, seeing as most of the fighting she’d done involved throwing things. But the sentiment was nice, nonetheless.

They walked together to Riverwood, which happened to be further than Kiir had anticipated. She wouldn’t have minded as much if she’d had anything on her feet other than a bloodied piece of leather tied with twine. One of the leather pieces had all but fallen off when they finally passed under the walkway that extended up and over the road.

The town’s guards watched her wearily but said nothing. She moved closer to Hadvar.

“I swear I saw it! A dragon!”

Kiir glanced up at the elderly woman on her porch as she passed. Had Kiir not herself seen the fire breathing beast she might have dismissed the woman as senile. With her sunken face and wild eyes, however, Kiir figured that talk of dragons was the least of this woman’s problems.

Turning back to Hadvar, she followed him up to the steps of what looked to be a blacksmith’s shop.

“Uncle Alvor!” Hadvar called to the man behind a grindstone.

The man looked up and grinned broadly.  “Hadvar? What are you doing here?”

Kiir watched as the blacksmith got up from his seat and walked over to the two of them. He was shorter than Kiir, not that she was surprised, but was nearly three times her size. His arms looked about as wide as her head. Were all Nords so large?

He looked at her for a moment, seeming to take in everything- from her pointy ears to bloodied clothes- before addressing Hadvar.

“Shor’s bones, boy. You look terrible.” His voice dropped as he neared Hadvar’s face. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Hadvar shook his head, backing away. “I’m fine. Please, let’s go inside. I’ll tell you more once we’re there.”

Alvor looked back at Kiir again and did a second sweep. He seemed even more displeased the second time. “And who is this?”

“She’s a friend. Wouldn’t have made it out without her.”

The blacksmith frowned. “You know how I feel about Elves.” He spoke as if she could not hear him.

“Yes, Uncle. But she’s not one of them , I promise you. Now please,” Hadvar paused, lowering his voice, “I’ll tell you everything once we’re in the house.”

Hadvar’s uncle reluctantly started towards the door and Kiir wanted nothing more than to leave. But her stomach ached for food and there was no way she’d survive a two hour walk with the foot wraps she currently had on her feet so she, too, reluctantly made her way inside.

The inside of Alvor’s home was much smaller than any house Kiir had been in. It looked more like a one room shack than a home; she was sure her mother’s closet was about this size. But it was warm and had a homey feel about that Kiir found pleasant.

“Sigrid! We have company!”

A young girl came bounding up the stairs and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Kiir. Her face changed to one of intrigue. “What are you ?”

A woman who Kiir assumed to be the blacksmith’s wife appeared just behind the girl and caught Kiir’s eyes with the same look of disapproval Alvor had given her earlier. She then looked at Hadvar and her face softened. “Hadvar? We’ve been so worried. Are you alright? We were just about to eat, let me fetch you something.”

The woman turned to the pot on the fire, but not before glancing once more in Kiir’s direction.

Kiir felt closer to a local spectacle than a house guest. Surely these people had seen things more interesting than a filthy Altmer in ill-fitted armor.

Or perhaps not, now that she thought about it.

The uncle took a seat across from the one Hadvar had taken before he spoke. “Now then, what’s with all this blood? And this... Elf?”

“You know I was assigned to General Tullius’ guard. We stopped in Helgen when it was attacked... by a dragon.”

Alvor erupted with booming laughter, seemingly unfazed by what his nephew had just told him. “Come now! I think you’ve just had a little too much to drink.”

“Alvor. Let him speak.” The wife chastised, placing a bowl of stew in front of Hadvar.

“I don’t know what more I can say. The dragon came and destroyed the whole town, I don’t think anyone else in the town made it out alive. In fact, I wouldn’t have if not for her.” Hadvar motioned towards Kiir.

Alvor followed Hadvar’s gesture. He didn’t seem as angry, but his expression was far from joyful. “You look absolutely ridiculous in that armor. No wonder your people wear robes.”

“I feel ridiculous.” Kiir responded.

A smile pulled at the corner of the uncle’s mouth. “Sigrid, you have some old clothes that might fit better, don’t you?”

His wife looked up at the Altmer girl. The look of disgust seemed gone from her face, but she still looked wary. “She’s a little tall, but yes. I figure they’ll fit better than that cuirass at least. Come with me.”

Kiir followed the woman down the wooden steps to the cellar as Hadvar continued to discuss, quite feverently it seemed, the events of Helgen with his uncle.

The young girl followed them down, seeming utterly entranced by Kiir’s presence.

Sigrid rummaged through some chests and pulled out a few dresses, laying them on a couple of nearby barrels. “You aren’t like those other Elves, are you?”

Kiir wasn’t sure who she meant by ‘other’ Elves. “I don’t think so.”

“Well you certainly don’t look like one, dressed in that armor.” She held a dress up to Kiir and, shaking her head, held up another. “You really fought off a dragon?”

Kiir shook her head. “No, kind of just... ran away from it. I owe your nephew my life.”

“And it sounds like he owes you his.” Sigrid handed her a white and tan dress. “Go see how that fits. I’ll be upstairs.” She placed the other dresses back into the chest and walked back up the stairs, taking one last glance before disappearing over the ceiling.

The little girl did not follow. “Are you an Elf?”

Kiir smiled. “Yes.”

“Why are you so tall?”

Kiir pulled the bloody foot wraps from her feet and placed them on the ground. They looked even more pitiful off her feet. The gauntlets were put next to them, equally as stained. “I don’t know. That’s just how I am.”

“My dad doesn’t like Elves. He says they’re bad.”

Kiir felt odd undressing in front of a child. And the little girl’s intense stare that made her nervous. “I don’t look bad, do I?”

The little girl smiled and shook her head. “No. You’re really pretty.” She pointed to Kiir’s head. “I like your hair.”

Kiir couldn’t figure how the girl could like her hair, as knotted and bloodied as it was. She looked like she’d been put through the ringer. “I like your hair, too.”

The young girl giggled and, without another word, ran up the stairs.

Kiir smiled and shook her head, pulling on the soft fabric dress. She was surprised; it fit her better than she expected. The sleeves and skirt were short but the rest of it fit well enough to be workable until she found some different clothes in the bigger city. She folded the burlap clothes and placed them on top of the armor before slipping on the boots Sigrid had placed out. They, too, were a bit small but leagues more comfortable than the foot wraps.

Hadvar was just finishing his story when Kiir reappeared. “But I need to be getting back to Solitude to tell them what happened. I was hoping I could stay for the night.”

“Absolutely.” Alvor agreed, standing from his chair. He looked up at Kiir. “You’re... welcome to stay as well. I’ll be out at the forge if any of you need me.”

Kiir didn’t know how serious Alvor was and didn’t feel like overstaying her welcome, if she was even welcome in the first place. She slowly made her way towards the door, hoping to avoid any awkward goodbyes, when Sigrid placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’ve put a bowl of stew on the table for you, if you’re hungry. And I’ve got something to get that blood out of your hair.”

The sudden change in demeanor caught Kiir off-guard. Not thirty minutes ago this woman had look at her as if she’d killed one of her children.

Sigrid pulled out a chair and Kiir sat, still unsure of the woman’s intentions. The aroma made it too difficult not to eat the food set down in front of her, but Kiir was sure to inspect each spoonful before she ate it.

“Apple cabbage stew.” Sigrid explained, as Kiir turned a few of the larger bits of apple over in her bowl. “I have a few left over pheasant breasts if you’d prefer one of those.”

Kiir shook her head quickly. Sigrid had interpreted Kiir’s lethargic eating pace as an insult to her cooking. “No, no. This is just so foreign.” It was true; Elven food was extravagant but very balanced. Sweet was always sweet and savory was always savory... this was both at the same time.

By the time Sigrid returned with a shimmering bottle of what Kiir assumed to be the shampoo, the bowl of stew was gone. Kiir wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Something her mother would’ve chastised her for mercilessly.

“This should get that blood right out. It works wonders when Dorthe gets mud in hers.” Sigrid said, eyeing her daughter.

Kiir thanked her and inspected the jar, attempting to swirl the contents. It was, however, quite thick. Like a silver custard. She set it down and looked over at Hadvar. He still donned his red and silver armor, prompting her to ask a question before she lost her chance. “So who is who, exactly?”

“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that.”

Kiir pointed to his outfit. “You’re wearing red. The others were in blue. I’m going to assume that means something.”  

Hadvar nodded. “Ah. Red are the Imperials. Blue, Stormcloaks.”

Neither term meant anything to her. “They didn’t have cloaks.”

“No, no, Stormcloaks! As in Ulfric Stormcloak.”

“Ulfric?”

Hadvar cocked an eyebrow. “Surely you know of the war? Ulfric killed the High King of Skyrim, murdered him, and all his rebels are fighting to take over the country. He was among you at Helgen, the man whose mouth was gagged.”

There was that word again. War. “There’s another war?”

“Gods, what are they teaching you out on those Islands? Yes, another war. The Imperials are fighting to keep this damned country together while the Stormcloaks fight to tear it apart.” He shook his head. “After the Empire banned the worship of Talos, Ulfric used it to rally together a ragtag group of rebels. They were never really much of a threat, until he murdered the High King. That got our attention.”

Talos. Now that was a name Kiir knew; her father spoke incessantly about how foolish and ridiculous men were to think that one of them could become a god and how banning worship would truly show men who held the reigns. Ulfric had clearly not taken kindly to that. “So if he’s the leader, how did you capture him? Why did you capture me ?”

“General Tullius is truly a mastermind. The Empire was scrambling to find Ulfric before Tullius was put in charge. He walked right into our ambush; I guess you just got caught up in the scramble.” He shrugged. “Not that it matters now.”

Kiir didn’t remember much from the ambush. She’d been making her way north from Cyrodiil and after that her mind blanked. “Well thank you, I think.”

Hadvar laughed. “I guess sending you to your death was not the best introduction.”

“I’m not too fond of dying.”

“On that we can agree.” He slid his bowl across the table and sat back in his chair. “Hey, if you ever get out of the College and are looking to join up, you should head to Solitude and talk to Tullius. We don’t have too many mages on our side and after seeing a little bit of what you guys can do, we could certainly use it.” He seemed sincere.

Kiir thought about that look on the Stormcloak woman’s face and shuddered. “I’ll certainly think about it.”

“Of course. And know you’ve got at least one friend here in Skyrim.”

Kiir smiled. At least something good had come of the day’s events. She uttered another ‘thank you’ as she got up from the table and decided to try out Sigrid’s shampoo before it got too late.

The river behind Riverwood was icy cold, not that Kiir expected it to be anything but. She dunked the ends of her hair into the water and, with a bit of the shampoo on her hands, started kneading it in. The crusty feeling of dried blood quickly dissipated. Sigrid hadn’t lied, her shampoo was working wonders.

Kiir started scrubbing at her hands and found she couldn’t stop thinking about the Stormcloak woman. The one she’d watched die clawing at her own throat.

After hearing Hadvar speak of the war, Kiir wondered if Skyrim was the best place for her to have come to. It was so different than what she was used to. Cold, harsh, and with more blood than she’d seen in her entire 203 years on the Isles.

The learning curve for survival in Skyrim was steep and Kiir wondered if she’d be able to get on track fast enough to make it to 204.

Pushing those unpleasant thoughts to the back of her mind, she rang her hair out as best she could before gathering the jar up and returning to the house.

The rest of the evening was quiet and slow; Alvor stayed out at the forge until dark with Dorthe joining him anytime her mother turned her back for long enough for the young girl to slip out the door. Sigrid made up beds for Hadvar and Kiir in the cellar out of some straw and a few extra blankets. Dinner was the pheasant breasts, something Kiir had eaten before but found Nords cooked them far differently than the Altmer did. It seemed she’d have to live with the peculiar flavors of Skyrim for a while.

The next morning came faster than Kiir would have liked and had to pull herself from the blankets to begin on her way to Whiterun.

Alvor gave her somewhat vague directions to the city, but Hadvar assured her that there were signs along the road to help her if she got lost.

“And stay on the roads.” He warned. “There are a lot of nasty things in those woods.”

That was the last thing Kiir wanted to hear as she was about to head out on her own into those very woods, but decided it was better to have been warned than to go in blind. She wished the family well and held tightly to the pack Sigrid had given her, to carry the book and some bread.

Kiir crossed the bridge north of Riverwood and began her long walk to Whiterun.

Chapter Text

The grand city rose like a mountain in the distance. Strategically, the city was in an excellent defensive position and aesthetically it was as imposing as it was grandiose.

The farmers, with their windmills and extensive gardens, gave Kiir wary glances as she passed. One woman herded her children quickly into the house when she saw who was coming up the path.

Even the guards outside the city gates seemed awfully anxious as she approached, readjusting their grip on their weapons and tightening their stances.

Whiterun had thick stone walls that encircled it with one entrance that was only accessible over a drawbridge. It was a type of design Kiir had never seen outside of the drawings in select history books back on the Isles.

She ran her hands along the huge wooden doors as she entered the city, far more advanced than the ones in the keep, and admired the work they’d must’ve taken to construct, but quickly removed them when she saw one of the guards cast an unpleasant gaze her way.

She travelled up the cobbled path, unsure of what she hoped to find. The city was medieval; merchants lined the streets and children ran about like wild creatures. Men dressed in full armor milled about with others who wore nothing but rags. Kiir was unpleasantly surprised to find the streets had no rules to them; people pushed and prodded their way through... sometimes with 3 or 4 baskets full of vegetables and cuts of meat.”

A hand fell upon Kiir’s shoulder. “That dress looks a little small for you, dear.”

Kiir jumped. She hadn’t noticed the female Orc in the crowded marketplace. The woman seemed unthreatening but her shaved head and her...teeth made Kiir more than a little uneasy. She opened her mouth to speak but she found herself at a loss.

The orc raised an eyebrow. “Does the elf speak?”

Kiir nodded.

“Good good. That’s progress. Now,” the Orc took a step forward and tugged at the fabric of Kiir’s dress, “I've been in Skyrim for a while, but I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of seeing one of your kind tip-toeing around in pinchingly small boots and what looks like a Brenton's hand-me-down's." She released her grip and grinned.

Kiir weakly returned the smile. The Orc’s friendly attitude was worrying. Everyone before her had treated Kiir like a caged animal, keeping a close eye on her. This woman, it seemed, had not even once considered Kiir to be a threat.

“Is there a reason you look like a Riften Orphanage charity case?”

“I don’t know what happened to my old clothes...” Kiir started.

"Had one to many the other night, huh?"

Kiir stared. “One too many what?”

The Orc’s expression changed. She reached up to Kiir’s head and tilted it so she could see. “Did someone give you something?”

The woman’s tone made Kiir backpedal, realizing what her words sounded like. “No, no. There was a dragon-”

“A dragon ?” The Orc stepped back from Kiir and eyed her for a moment before lowering her voice. “Are you on skooma?”

Kiir blinked. She had no idea what this woman was on about but she knew she didn’t like where it seemed this conversation was going. “I don’t know-”

“Can you tell me your name?”

“Kiir’Dun?” Kiir stated cautiously, starting to fidget.

“No.”

“Yes?”

“No. Are you sure you aren't on something? Did you take any food or drink from strangers? Or did Farkas put you up to this?”

“No, I haven’t even- Who?”

The Orc woman held up a hand. “If you're not on skooma, or anything else, that means you willingly put on that child’s size atrocity. You look like a lost whelp; a very tall, gangly whelp.” She paused again. “I’m Romanda.”

Kiir still had no idea what skooma was and ‘whelp’ was a word she recognized but couldn’t quite put her finger on. “It’s... nice to meet you, Romanda.”

Romanda’s hand tugged at her sleeve again. “So where where exactly did you find this?”

“A woman in Riverwood. I’m trying to get to the College.”

A laugh rumbled from deep in Romanda’s throat. “Well if that’s where you're headed, you could definitely use a hand. And a weapon. At least some decent some clothes or better, armor.”

“Are there shops anywhere?”

Romanda shook her head and reached for Kiir’s hand. “Come on, follow me.”

The Orc’s grip was strong and even if Kiir wanted she wouldn’t have been able to tug her hand free. By the time they’d reached where Romanda was taking them Kiir’s fingers had gone nearly numb.

“Farkas?”

Kiir gazed up at the building they’d stopped at. There was an entire ship’s hull upside down as the roof. What in the world were the Nords thinking? Had the ship been made specifically for that reason, or was an actual ship repurposed to act as a roof? The Nords weren’t magically inclined either, so how had they gotten it up there?

“Hey, Elf.”

The wood seemed surprisingly well kept; did people actually get up there and polish it? There didn’t seem to be any magic involved in the preservation so someone had to get up there with a brush or something.

“Hey!”

Kiir jumped and realized Romanda had returned with a particularly rough looking man. She pointed to the building behind them. “That’s a boat?”

The man looked towards Romanda. “Are you sure it’s not skooma?”

Romanda whapped his arm and turned towards Kiir. “There’s a guy who works up on that forge who can get you into something a little more... fitting.”

“Are you sure she can wear it?” The man added. “She looks like if she sat down too fast she’d break a leg.”

“I’ve never broken a bone.” Kiir responded quickly.

The man huffed and started to walk behind the boat-building, waving her along. “I’ll bet.”

Kiir followed and Romanda fell into stride beside her. “Farkas is an ass, but you’ll get used to it. He’s really sweet once you get to know him.”

“I’ll bet.”

A quirky smile fell onto the Orc’s lips.

Stone stairs led to an upper platform that held a large forge and an older looking man who wore nothing but fur pelts and some thick leather straps over his chest. He was sweaty and dirty and looked as though he hadn’t washed his hair in a few months.

Kiir has never seen a man so poorly dressed.

“Eorlund,” Farkas said as they approached.

“I’m busy, boy.”

Kiir squinted in the man’s direction. Did he have cotton in his mouth?

“Well, I’ve got some work for you.”

Eorlund looked up from the forge and his gaze stopped when it got to Kiir. His eyes narrowed and he looked her up and down. “What’s this.”

Romanda put a large hand on Kiir’s shoulder. “Someone in desperate need of a new outfit.” She grinned. “Damn girl must’ve travelled all the way here like this.”

Eorlund looked at Romanda, then at Farkas before his gaze traveled back to Kiir. He stepped forward and grabbed Kiir’s hand, pulling it forward and inspecting her arm. “I think anything we have now will be much too large for her. She’s barely got anything to her.”

“I’m surprised she even survived the trip.” Farkas added.

Kiir was nodding along, even though half of the words coming from Eorlund’s mouth sounded like mumbling grunts. She wished he’d speak slower.

“Speaking of that, how did you manage to get here without so much as a scratch?” Romanda had stepped back and crossed her arms.

Kiir shrugged. “Illusion magic, mostly.”

“Just Illusion magic? No fireballs?”

“I only know a few Destruction spells. One, really.” Kiir held up her hands. “The Dominion forbids it outside of Thalmor officials and recruits. We learn most of the other schools of magic though.”

Romanda scoffed. “Sounds just like those slimy bastards.”

Kiir frowned. “No, no. It’s not like that. We don’t really have a need for it. Healing magic is a lot more useful than fire or frost spells.”

“Then how do you protect yourselves?”

Kiir turned to look at Farkas. “The guards do that for us. And there’s not a lot to protect against. Most of the wildlife stays out of the cities and well-travelled paths.”

Farkas humphed and Romanda rolled her eyes.

Kiir wasn’t sure why they seemed so upset. Destruction magic was dangerous; the Dominion was only looking out for their people. And what had Romanda called them? Slimy bastards? Surely she didn’t liken them to mucus laden slugs, they were anything but.

“Enough about magic,” Eorlund waved his hand dismissively. “I can get you some steel armor whipped up by tomorrow morning. I’m thinking 500 gold for the whole set?”

Kiir suddenly remembered Helgen and Hadvar. You were lucky to get the necklace back. She had no money and no idea how to get any. Kiir touched her neck - she didn’t plan on selling this.

Romanda glanced over at the fidgeting elf and sighed. “I don’t think she’s got that kind of money.”

Eorlund made a sound like a laugh cut short. “No High Elf with hair that long comes from a poor family.”

“And no High Elf wears clothes that look like they’d fit a child’s doll.” Romanda responded. “Can’t we cut the girl some slack?”

“Are you going to pay me, Romanda?” Eorlund stared at the Orc for only a moment before turning his back to the group and returning to his forge. “I don’t work for free.”

Romanda cast a pitiful glance at Kiir and then at Farkas. “Surely you’ve got the coin, hon. Nie’mar says the Companions are doing well for themselves; haven’t we got coin to spare?”

Farkas shook his head and started to speak but another voice cut him off.

“This one heard her name.”

Kiir turned back to the staircase to see a grey Khajiit making her way towards them. Her ears were adorned with many golden earrings and her hair hung in thick cords, each with a gold ring of their own on the end. She reminded Kiir of the wives and daughters of the Manes who’d visited Alinor; some of whom wore so many pieces of jewelry they seemed to be a walking beacon of light.

“Hello, Harbinger.” Farkas nodded in her direction.

“Good morning, Farkas.” The Khajiit beamed. She looked at Romanda and then up at Kiir. “And good morning to you.”

“Good morning.”

The Khajiit turned to Romanda. “I heard you speak this o- my name.”

Romanda shook her head. “I was only trying to convince Farkas,” she paused to stare at him. “To spare a few coins for some armor.”

The Khajiit looked amused. “Surely Farkas has more than enough armor. I’ve seen his room, and he most likely has more than this one does.”

Farkas pointed to Kiir. “Not for me. For her.”

Kiir watched the Khajiit’s eyes look over her for a moment before she nodded. “I see Romanda has found another stray to take in. You do look awfully uncomfortable in that dress. Is Eorlund too busy? I can spare you some of this one’s armor. Although, I’m not sure it will fit.”

Eorlund spoke up. “Not too busy, Nie’mar. She simply doesn’t have the coin.”

Nie’mar huffed. “If you’re going to be like that, thi- I’ll pay for it.” She glanced up at Kiir. “I’m assuming some basic steel armor will do the trick?”

Kiir didn’t feel right, having this stranger buy her things. It felt even more odd, considering her early encounters. “No, that’s not-”

“Nonsense. I cannot send you out with good conscience in that outfit.” Nie’mar reached into a pocket in her belt and hauled out a smaller pouch. “500, right?”

Eorlund nodded but did not take the pouch Nie’mar extended to him. “I won’t take money from you, Harbinger. If you want me to make this elf some armor, I will do just that.”

Nie’mar placed the pouch back and looked at Kiir again. “You’ve probably already figured out who I am. But I don’t know who you are.”

Kiir much preferred conversing with the Khajiit; the Nord’s accents nearly gave her a headache in trying to decipher them. “Kiir’Dun.”

Nie’mar raised her eyebrows disbelievingly, but said nothing. Instead, she waved a hand towards the boat-building. “Eorlund won’t be done with your armor for a while. Please, come inside.”

Without warning, the Khajiit turned and started to make her way back down the stairs.

The inside of the boat-building was even more impressive than Kiir would’ve thought. A huge roaring fire was set in the center of the room, giving a warm and welcome feeling as she entered.

Just as she stepped down the stairs to the lower section of the room, a loud thump echoed off to her left and she jumped.

Two people, one of them a Dunmer, Kiir noticed, had started fighting. Kiir flinched backwards into Nie’mar as one of their fists connected with the other’s face.

“Hey, now! You are scaring our guest!” Nie’mar shouted, moving past Kiir towards the dueling duo.

A woman approached Kiir quite swiftly to her right. “Don’t see many of you around.”

Kiir was still focused on the fight ongoing to the side, completely surprised no one was doing anything to stop them. “I... aren’t-”

“It happens.” The woman interrupted.

She had dark blue face paint done across the entirety her face, appearing very... primitive. Kiir tried backing away from her but ran this time into Romanda. Even though she stood above most of them, Kiir was beginning to feel claustrophobic.

“Aela doesn’t bite.” Romanda said, placing a hand on Kiir’s arm and moving her back up the stairs where it was less crowded.

Aela grinned. “Shows what she knows.” She then looked back at Nie’mar, who’d been attempting to quell the fighting. “Harbinger, what’s the High Elf doing here?”

Nie’mar ignored her for a moment, pulling the Dunmer to his feet and crossing her arms at him. He spoke some words to her before taking a seat at the long table surrounding the fire.

“She’s here for armor. And some food and rest.” Nie’mar waved Kiir over to the table. “Come, sit. We’ve got more than enough food.”

Kiir nodded and took one of the end seats, remembering she hadn’t had the chance to sit all morning. She extended her feet towards the fire, sighing softly.

Romanda clattered into the seat beside her. “You know,” she started, “I have a house here. You can stay the night and Farkas and I can take you to the College in the morning.”

“I wouldn’t want to-”

“You wouldn’t.” Romanda interrupted. “We’ve got an extra bed and, no offense, but I don’t think you’d make it very far on your own.”

Kiir shrugged. “I made it this far.”

“Luck can run out very fast.”

Kiir considered. It was still only mid-morning and Nie’mar had made it sound like her armor would be done in a couple of hours. That would mean she could leave around dinner time, maybe even earlier. “I hadn’t planned to stay long.”

Romanda scoffed. “And I don’t blame you. Your kind aren’t very well trusted in Nord country. I was in your situation once and I can tell you travelling alone out in Skyrim isn’t easy; a few spells aren’t going to fool bandits or Thalmor.”

Kiir shook her head. “The Thalmor shouldn’t give me any trouble.”

“What, because you look like them? Hon, they barely trust each other.”

“I’ve done nothing illegal.” Kiir scrunched up her nose. “They should have no quarrel with me.”

“They have a quarrel with everybody .” Romanda reached forward and grabbed an apple from one of the bowls. “Nords, mostly. But don’t think those pointy ears are going to earn you any brownie points. Mine sure didn’t.”

Kiir huffed. Romanda wasn’t making a bit of sense; Thalmor were the justice bringers and order holders. They kept peace and stability for the Isles and her people. She made it sound like they were war mongrels. “I’m sure they seem that way to you.”

A grin spread across Romanda’s face but Kiir had the inkling that it wasn’t a happy smile. “What, I’m a little too green for them?” She then tapped her two large bottom teeth. “Or maybe it’s these guys. Too beastly?”

Kiir immediately regretted her earlier comment. “No, I just mean... you didn’t grow up with them-”

“And thank the GODS for that one!” Romanda roared, lifting her hands in exasperation and then slamming them back down.

Grabbing a small roll from one of the plates, Kiir nibbled as an excuse to stop talking. She could feel Romanda’s eyes on her

“Look.” Romanda started, her voice now much softer. “As I’m understanding it, it sounds like your Thalmor and Skyrim’s Thalmor aren’t of the same breed. I don’t want you getting into any trouble with them. They’re no one you want to screw around with.” She placed the hand not holding the apple on Kiir’s shoulder. “My house is the little one by the blacksmith’s just inside the main gate. We eat around 7.”

And with that, Romanda rose and left.

Kiir spent a while longer in the boat-building, feeling like it was childish to meekly follow Romanda. However, without the orc to converse with she felt out of place. It was only a minute or two before Kiir slipped out the front, deciding to explore a bit of the city before attempting to find Romanda’s home.

Despite its crowded and, as Kiir saw it, unruly nature the city had a charm to it the longer she stayed. The atmosphere was something she’d never experienced on Summerset; it was alive, if a bit loud. The lines of class were blurred. Children of rags ran about with children of means, hard laborers discussed the times with people of wealth.

Most intriguing of all there stood a man, adorned in robes of orange and gold, preaching loudly to any that stopped to listen. Kiir would’ve simply continued on her way had he not swung an arm out at her as she passed.

“You have come!” He said, drawing her in. “You have come to hear the word of Talos!”

She had not. But his vigor and intensity intrigued her. She’d heard much of the man-god from back home and while many of her people despised the very thought, Kiir could not help but wonder why so many held him in such regard to sacrifice their lives for him. “I have.”

“My friend!” His entire being seemed to glow. “If you seek knowledge about the mighty Talos, you have come to the right person! Is there anything particular you’d like to know?”

Kiir pondered for a moment, before offering a question long dismissed by any of her professors in school. “What did Talos do to deserve a place amongst the Divine?”

The man seemed aghast. “What did he not do? Mastering the voice and uniting all of Tamriel he did more than any man could ever hope to!”

“So, he was never a man?”

“No, no. What he did as a man allowed him to ascend to the Divines and take his place amongst them!”

That made no sense. “But you said he did more than a man could. So he couldn’t do what a man couldn’t unless he wasn’t a man.”

The preacher halted and stared at her. “He was a man! No other man before nor after him could hope to match his ability and power!”

“Why?” Kiir inquired. “What made him so special?”

“He was a hero-god! He mastered the voice and conquered all of Tamriel!”

“You said that already.” Kiir pointed out. “What made him different from all the other men?”

“Because he is Talos the mighty! Talos the unerring! Talos the unassailable!”

Kiir sighed. This was going nowhere and she knew it. But something, perhaps her curiosity or her ignorance, pushed her to continue. However, as she opened her mouth to speak, two large hands plopped themselves onto her shoulders.

“There’ll be no more of that.” It was Farkas. He turned her from the preaching man and directed her towards the stairs down to the market place.

“That man refused to give me a straight answer.”

“Most around here choose to ignore him.”

Kiir huffed as Farkas moved from behind her to walk beside her instead.

“I bet this place is a lot different than where you’re from.”

Kiir nodded. “Very.”

They walked in silence the rest of the way to small, quaint place he and Romanda called home. For two people close to Kiir’s own height, it was surprising to her that they lived in such a cozy place. She admired the decorations, ranging from delicate pottery on shelves to animal heads heaved up on the walls. Her attention, however, was quickly diverted towards the aroma of meat and herbs that filled the living room.

Romanda stood at the fire, stirring a boiling pot as Farkas and Kiir made their way inside. She grinned up at them. “I was afraid you’d gotten lost.”

“Far from it.” Farkas replied. “She was up by Jorrvaskr arguing with Heimskr.”

“I’m surprised you even took the time to listen to his ramblings.” Romanda let the wooden spoon sit up against the pot as she rose from her seat. “You can help set the table. C’mere.”

Kiir followed closely behind Romanda as she weaved her way to the back cabinet filled with assorted plates, bowls and cups. “They don’t match?”

Romanda’s face curled up into a smile and handed her 3 tin cups. “Put those on the table behind you.”

Kiir did as she was told and sat across from Romanda. The soup smelled unfamiliar but delicious nonetheless. The was beginning to become a theme for food in Skyrim. “What is this?”

“Horker.” Farkas mumbled quickly before heaving a spoonful into his mouth.

“They’re big, fat sea mammals from the North. Up near the College.” Romanda explained.

Kiir, now far less excited to try the stew, tentatively dipped her spoon in. She sipped at the edge and was delighted to find it tasted incredibly similar to the fish back home.

All three had a second helping, and Kiir contemplated a third before she decided having left-overs for the journey to the College would be far better than stuffing herself that night.

Kiir watched Romanda move from the table to the sink, clearing the table of dishes. “You said you'd been in my situation once.”

Romanda paused. “I did.”

“What happened?”

Romanda dropped the rest of the bowls into the sink and sighed. “Do you know anything about Orcs?”

Kiir shrugged. “Not a lot. You live in... forts? No, clans.” She paused. “Usually.”

“Strongholds, but close enough,” she started, sitting down next to Kiir.

“Strongholds.” Kiir repeated. “Clearly, you’re not there anymore.”

Romanda smiled. “Thank goodness.”

“How old were you?” Kiir turned to the side to face Romanda. “When you left, I mean.”

“I was about 19 years old,. My dad was getting to that age where he was ready to leave this world to join Malacath.” She leaned over and grabbed a towel off the edge of the table, wiping her hands off. “And there was this other orc near the stronghold. Torad,” she said grimacing. “He was an ass , but he won.” She took a deep breath, “He won the fight, killed my father, became chief and wanted me as his Hearth-wife.”

Kiir frowned. “Hearth-wife? Is that a special kind of wife?”

“The most special. The Hearth-wife get’s to bare his children and dictate what the others do while he is gone.” Romanda seemed to think a moment. “A chief can take many Forge-wives and Shield-wives and Hunt-wives, but there is only one who he claims as his first.”

“That... that still sounds...” Kiir’s voice trailed off. “Don’t you get to chose? Why didn’t you just... say no?”

Romanda began to laugh, “You don’t get to say no. It’s an honor to be the first wife of the strongest male in the clan.” She sighed, “I didn’t think it would seem so strange to you. Don’t you Altmer have arranged marriages?”

It was a good point. “We do, but they aren’t done..” Kiir thought for a moment. “It’s for the longevity of our heritage, not because one man is the strongest.”

“We do it for our gene pools then. The stronger the better, you know?” She smiled. Romanda looked at the fire. “Anyway, when I finished burying my dad I took off for the hills.”

“The hills?”

“High ground, away from that ,” she said waving behind her. “I wasn’t going to become Torad’s first. I didn’t want that, so I left. I ended up here in Skyrim eventually, and well,” She gestured to herself. “Here I am now,” she smiled.

Kiir returned the smile. “Well, thank you. I appreciate the help.”

“I’m just glad you let me help. I was too stubborn to accept help when I first ventured out, felt like I constantly had to prove myself to the world that I could live on my own. I was proven wrong quite a few times,” she cringed.

Kiir chuckled. “I’m glad everything worked out for you.”

Romanda smiled as she turned and looked at Kiir, “My point is, dear, if you ever need anything, I’m here. Don’t you ever hesitate to ask me for something.” She placed a hand on Kiir’s arm, “I got lucky, and I want to know you’ll be okay out there.”

“I think all I need now is sleep.”

Romanda smiled, “I think that’s the best for all of us.”

Romanda returned to her room and rummaged through her trunk, offering Kiir a nightgown to sleep in. It was of no surprise it was a little short but was leagues more comfortable than the dress Kiir’d gotten from Sigrid.

There was a small room just off the stairs that Romanda assigned to Kiir. It was probably one of the smallest rooms Kiir had ever slept in, but with a full stomach it didn’t take long for the Altmer to drift off into a dreamless slumber.

Chapter Text

Kiir woke to commotion below her. They were only slight bumps and clunks, but it was enough to drag her from bed and descend the stairs.

Her eyes caught the bright glint from a set of armor sitting on one of the chairs around the fire. Kiir assumed it was the armor from yesterday that she’d only now remembered she’d left at the boat-building.

The armor looked ridiculously proportioned resting on the chair. Surely it would look even more peculiar on her. Nevertheless, she was still excited to have some well-fitting clothing; it seemed like ages since she’d last had clothes that fit.

Romanda appeared from behind her. “Nie’mar dropped that off this morning. She was worried you’d leave without it.”

Kiir turned and noticed the packed bags and folded blankets neatly stacked on the kitchen table behind her. Romanda and Farkas had been up much earlier than she had. Kiir felt a bit guilty for not helping. “I hope you thanked her for me.”

“While you were still sleeping? Of course. She wishes you well.” Not missing a beat, Romanda grabbed a crate of left-overs and shoved them into Kiir’s arms. “Now, Farkas is somewhere outside the gates by the carriage, I’m sure you’ll find him. I’ll get whatever is left in here, just take this out and wait for me.”

Kiir nodded and adjusted the box to a more comfortable position before heading out. She weaved her way in and out of the morning crowds towards the front gates. She’d only been in the city less than a day but to her it felt like ages had passed.

Farkas was hunched over the back of the carriage, shoving sacks and carts every-which-way to organize them best.

“That armor’s not going to do much good sitting in the back.” Farkas said as Kiir heaved the crate and slid it over to where he could reach.

Kiir had slipped back into Sigrid’s dress, which was becoming ragged and more than a bit dirty from having been worn so much. “Will I need it?”

“You got lucky your first time around. There are some nasty things out there. Better safe than sorry.”

The shiny new armor sat folded nicely atop one of the crates. Kiir pulled the helmet off and stuck it on her head; it was more comfortable than she’d thought but that by no means meant comfortable on its own. She looked towards Farkas who had a grin spread across his face.

“Does it look that bad?”

Farkas shook his head, smile not wavering. “Not bad just... odd.”

Kiir hummed and pulled it off to set it near the rest of the armor set. “I’ll save that for last.” She grabbed the bodice of the set and pulled it on. The thick material of the dress helped pad the heavy metal armor but it rolled and creased in some parts of the arms and Kiir found herself partially stuck.

“The armor has undergarments.” Farkas patted at the ivory wool clothing that had fallen into a pile when Kiir had tugged at it. “It’ll fit better than that dress.”

Kiir frowned. “I can’t get undressed here.”

“There’s a stable over there.” Farkas pointed over his shoulder. “And be quick. We need to be setting out.”

Kiir hesitated, but ultimately grabbed the armor in her arms and rushed over to one of the empty stables. The stable hand seemed absent so Kiir decided not to question what Farkas had told her.

Getting the bodice off proved to be more difficult than getting the rest of the suit on. The boots were a little big and the gloves a little small but neither was too significant to cause Kiir any concern. What did, however, was the weight of the whole thing. Just by her wobble back out to the carriage she was already a bit winded.

Romanda had made it out by then and was seated on the front bench when Kiir returned. She smiled. “How do you feel?”

“Tired.” Kiir replied, struggling into the back of the carriage. She must’ve looked like a giant child scooting herself on her stomach to try and get her whole body inside.

“Do you need a little-”

“I’ve got it.” Kiir quickly said, righting the gauntlets that had twisted in her scramble into the cart.

Romanda looked back and then turned towards Farkas. “Are we all ready to head out then?”

Farkas whipped the reins a bit and with a jolt the carriage took off northbound for the snowy coast of Winterhold.

The ride was silent for the first hour. Kiir was laid back on some of the crates, watching as the warm, open fields of Whiterun turned to the cold and jagged forests of the North. She worried a bit about the horse as the snow got deeper but it seemed to have no issue with the trail onward.

“Do people really live out here?” Kiir asked, finally breaking the silence.

“A good fire and a roof over your head is warm enough for some people.” Romanda said.

“But not for you?”

“No.” Romanda nudged Farkas with her shoulder. “I’m not quite as hardy as the Nords.”

“And even some of us don’t much care for the cold.” He replied, returning the nudge.

“So do only Nords live up here?”

Romanda shook her head. “Hardly. I’ve seen Redguards of all people making their homes up here.”

“From Hammerfell?”

Romanda hummed in agreement. “How they can go from the scorching deserts to the frozen tundra I’ll never understand.”

Kiir stopped to think a moment. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a Redguard.”

“Fine fighters, if a bit flighty.” Farkas patted the sword at his side. “I prefer to kill my enemies, not dance about them with curved swords.”

Romanda nodded. “The Alik’r are not a bunch to mess with. Had a couple show up in Whiterun a few months back looking for a woman.”

Kiir could hardly resist a good story. “Why?”

“They said something about her being a traitor, selling her city out to the Thalmor. Think her name was Sanya...?”

“Saadia.” Farkas corrected.

“Right, Saadia.” Romanda pulled the shawl she had around her shoulders closer and continued. “I ran into her in the Bannered Mare. That’s the inn in the Marketplace.”

Kiir had wondered about the horse on that sign.

“She got real defensive when I asked her about the men, nearly stabbed me. After I got her calmed down she asked me to go kill their leader, get them off her back.”

“And did you?” Kiir had turned to completely face Romanda, who herself was partially turned to the side.

“I had to find them first. Apparently one of their lackeys got holed up in the dungeons. Had to pay his bail to get anything out of him.”

Farkas looked at her. “You said that money was to help your brother.”

“A little white lie to help out an innocent woman?”

“A lie and 100 gold.”

Romanda shook her head and smiled. “Anyway, he told me where they were and I figured I’d be in and out in no time. The Alik’r usually don’t travel in very large groups, maybe 5 at most. And with Farkas along there was hardly a reason for concern.”

“Too bad they’d brought a whole regiment.”

Romanda’s head turned from Kiir to Farkas. “That was not a whole regiment. Twenty-five at most.”

“Twenty more than you thought.”

Kiir could hear the laugh in Farkas’s voice; he wasn’t angry. But something in the way he spoke, something under his chuckles gave rise to a sense of insincerity.

Romanda continued. “We got all the way to the main chamber and a Redguard, hair kinda like mine, stops us and offers up a deal. We hand Saadia in and they won’t kill us. Says they’re not assassins, simply couriers sent for a women who betrayed her countrymen.”

“How did you know they were lying?” Kiir inquired.

This caused Romanda to pause. She looked over at Farkas, who continued to stare forward, and sighed. “I didn’t. It was a case of hearsay. But to hand over a woman, whom I wasn’t sure was guilty, seemed like the worse of two evils.”

“Did you end up killing the Alik’r?”

“Yup. All of them.” Romanda’s voice had dropped and she seemed to have lost her earlier spirit. This wasn’t a tale of heroic bloodshed anymore, this was a tale of doubt.

Kiir squinted. “Maybe you should’ve talked to him. Maybe he had papers or something-”

Romanda’s face took on a momentary flash of rage. “You don’t think I’d thought of that? Orcs do think, surprising or not!” She shook her head. “And what good would that have done anyway? They were working with the Thalmor and I wasn’t about to let those filthy skeevs kill an innocent woman!” The fury had all but gone from Romanda’s voice.

Kiir had jumped when Romanda started shouting and must’ve looked frightened as Romanda immediately apologized.

“I didn’t meant to upset you.” Kiir offered. “I forget your Thalmor and my Thalmor seem to be very different people.”

Farkas suddenly grunted. “And speak of the devil.”

Kiir looked around, seeing nothing but the trees and snow they’d been passing for hours now. She tried looking ahead but couldn’t see over the bench seat. Placing both hands on the back of the old wooden seat, she pulled herself up and immediately recognized what Farkas was talking about.

She’d know those robes anywhere. She’d grown up with them; she’d worn them. But the deep black and shimmering golds that’d once tucked her in and hugged her tight now struck her with fear.

“Sit down, don’t talk.” Romanda commanded. “It’s just a check point, we should be fine.”

Kiir did as she was told, sliding on the helmet she’d been putting off wearing. Anything to make her look less like herself.

The carriage continued on in a tense silence until an accented voice halted the cart.

“Do you have a reason to be heading north?”

Farkas swung a hand back, motioning towards the contents of the carriage. “Taking some supplies up to the College.”

“Supplies?”

“Food, mostly. They don’t get very many fresh fruits and vegetables up there. Can’t grow much in this weather!”

The Thalmor official was hardly amused, and looked angrier from where Kiir was sitting. He glared at both of them, thinking. “I’ll need to see them.”

Romanda nodded, starting to get down from the cart. “Of course, just give me a sec-”

She didn’t get to finish.

Instead, the Thalmor pointed a gloved hand in Kiir’s direction. “And I’ll need you to remove your helmet.”

Kiir locked eyes with the Thalmor and could feel the heat start to build in her chest. She wanted to speak, but worried her voice was accented like his. She was surrounded by enough things and the weather was just right that her golden skin was muted to not give her away. Yet. What if he recognized her? What if he was looking for her?

Kiir looked desperately back at Romanda, who seemed to be waiting for Kiir to do as the elf asked. They looked at each other for a moment.

“Kiir?”

Kiir remained silent, hoping it would prompt Romanda to avoid the subject. Of course she had no idea why Kiir did not want to expose her face but Kiir hoped her stoic silence would relay that it was a bad idea.

Romanda seemed to take the hint and returned her gaze to the Thalmor. “Is that really necessary?”

The Thalmor smiled, but it was not a pleasant one. “Is there a problem? You are passing into rebel controlled territory. We cannot have but anyone getting through. You all could be rebels yourselves.”

“I can assure you she’s not-”

“Then let her take off the helmet!” He shouted. “Or I’ll be forced to take it off myself!”

Kiir didn’t move. She wished she’d casted an illusion spell, something that could’ve aided her in avoiding this situation. She looked at Romanda again, then back at the Thalmor. His face was curled into a snarl.

By now several of the other Thalmor had heard their colleague shout and had come over to investigate, none of them looking pleased.

Farkas extended a hand out to the Thalmor who’d first spoke to them. “We want no trouble with you. You’re welcome to look-”

Kiir had stopped listening when she saw the elf’s gaze lock onto something on Farkas’s chest before his face turned aghast and then angry. He hissed something in Aldmeri, something Kiir barely had a chance to register before the cart was surrounded by the glow of magicka.

“Step out of the cart.”

Kiir saw Romanda move her hand towards the weapon at her side. She saw Kiir staring and gave her a momentary pointed look before her eyes returned to the Thalmor that had grown even more restless.

“We just want safe passage to Winterhold. Nothing more.” Farkas tried.

The flames held in the Thalmor’s hands jumped. “Get out of the cart!”

Romanda, hand still on her weapon, matched the Thalmor’s intensity. “Give me a fair reason. I am not here to do any harm. My weapon is sheathed and I welcomed you to go through our things. We are no threat to you, and unless you can tell me exactly why you want us to leave our cart, I’m not moving.”

“We can work with that.”

Kiir wasn’t sure where the spell came from or who cast it but she knew what it was the minute Romanda’s body grew rigid and then lost all form, starting to slide out of the seat.

Farkas grabbed her to keep her from falling out of the cart.

Paralysis was a temporary spell, usually used as a way to escape a situation with little bodily harm to anyone involved. It worried Kiir that the Thalmor were using an inherently defensive spell to attack rather than defend.

A few of the surrounding Thalmor moved to grab Romanda but Farkas draw his sword which extended past the width of the carriage, and held it in one hand. If she weren’t worried for her life, Kiir would have have been impressed.

“Step back.” His voice had grown deeper.

“I think not.”

A second spell was cast and hit Farkas in the center of his chest. He tensed, but unlike Romanda, he did not go limp.

His eyes slammed closed. He tensed and convulsed, arching his back and clenching his jaw as if biting back incredible pain. Kiir heard him growl, something vaguely inhuman, as his muscles seemed to bulge under his skin, pulling the tissue taught until the flesh finally gave and split in a violent burst of dark, wiry hair. He let out something between a scream and a howl as he dropped to all fours, taking the corner of the cart with him to the ground.

Kiir felt the carriage shift and shake, gripping with white knuckles to the sides of it.

Farkas’ face was elongating, his lips drawn back into a feral snarl as his teeth became pointed, and the fur covering his rapidly growing body was likewise coming in thicker and faster - until just as suddenly as it had started, it was over.

His muscles relaxed instantly and he steadied on his feet. The werewolf snapped open a pair of bright amber eyes and growled deep in his throat. He lept from the cart, the front of which was now a half splintered mess, shaking it once again.

The Thalmor had not been expecting this, many of them wearing an expression Kiir was sure her face donned as well. Dark robes and neon spells filled the air above her and her fear finally pushed her to move. To escape.

Kiir looked for Romanda who had disappeared from her spot on the bench. Kiir was bordering on hysteria; her heart was thundering in her chest and her breathing had gotten sporadic. Neither changed even when she found Romanda, who had fallen from the seat, splayed on the ground. She was struggling to pull herself up but the lasting effects of the paralysis left her arms almost useless.

In the chaos that Farkas had created, completely engrossing the Thalmor’s attention, Kiir attempted to hop down, her arms and legs shaking so badly it took her a few tries to even lift herself. She’d barely gotten an arm around Romanda’s shoulder before the Orc shoved her off.

“Go.” she whispered harshly.

Kiir shook her head. “I can’t. Where would I go?”

“Go!” Romanda said, louder this time.

Kiir backed away, pulling herself to her feet and looking around them. There were only pine forests and snow as far as she could see. Everything looked the same and different; her panic was both pushing her to run and holding her still.

Behind her, Romanda had gotten to her feet and pushed Kiir forward.

That stumbling step ripped Kiir from her indecision and she ran. The armor pulled her deeper into the snow so she lifted her feet higher. The wind pushed her backwards so she charged forwards.

She ran until the sounds of fighting were distant and the trees were the only living things around her.

When she could run no more, the snow cushioned her fall and she curled underneath the nearest pine. The armor did little to warm her but it was of little consequence now. She eyelids were too heavy to ignore and without a reason to keep them open, she fell to the seductive call of sleep.

Chapter Text

She dreamt of Auri-El.

He wasn’t quite what she’d pictured. Much taller than any of his renditions depicted him. And his face seemed familiar, far too much like her father’s.

“Elandaae.”

That was not a name she’d heard in months. How long had it been since she’d last been called by her real name? Not since she’d left Summerset, that was for sure. “Kiir’Dun.” she replied. There were too many emotions, too many memories, tied to that old name.

He raised his head in acknowledgement. “Does your name not suit you any longer?”

It wasn’t that it didn’t suit her. She was always quite fond of her name. But where she was going and the direction she was headed, the elegant cadence of her Altmeri name would no longer fit. Nor would the recognition it carried with it. “No. Elandaae never left the Isles.”

“I see.” He extended a hand towards Kiir. His wrist was adorned with floral bracelets and gold bands that glinted in a sourceless light.

Kiir took his hand without question, finding it surprisingly cold.

Auri-El motioned forward, where the formless room was flooded with  light.

Kiir was blinded and tried to cover her eyes, but it did little to shield the rays of light. She felt as though she was drifting slowly in a sea of white. Auri-El had gone, but Kiir had not seen him go.

She was suddenly alone.


 

Kiir awoke slowly, coming to feel the soft furs underneath her and the heavy wool blanket on top. She was grateful to be warm, a feeling that seemed so rare in Skyrim, but the unfamiliar surroundings kept her from relaxing.

She was in a tent; red with golden lanterns bringing the room to a comfortable glow. It must’ve been late.

It was difficult to sit up, but Kiir managed. The air was chilly, even with a small fire still burning at the back of the tent. There was a wooden desk and another bed not far from where she’d been laid. A Dunmer slept loudly in it, his chest rising and falling with rattling snores to match.

There was no immediate danger, as far as she could tell. Kiir wondered where her armor had gone, wearing only the thin undergarments that Nie’mar had given her. They were threadbare and clung to the sweatier parts of Kiir’s body. There was some embarrassment with learning she’d been undressed but there were more pressing concerns at the moment. Namely where she’d ended up. The last thing she could recall was cold. White and cold.

The Dunmer across from her stirred and she jumped. She’d gathered he was some sort of military official, given the heap of armor on the floor by his bed. It had been so unceremoniously laid there she’d barely recognized that it was even clothing.

“You’re awake.”

Kiir’d been so absorbed by the armor she’d missed seeing the deep red eyes open and staring at her. She didn’t reply.

“There’s no need to worry.” The elf pushed himself up and rubbed his eyes. “This is probably the safest place this side of Wayward Pass.”

“Is that where I am?”

The Dunmer laughed. “No, pretty far north of it, actually.” He rose to his feet and went to grab a pitcher. “My soldiers and I were making our way back from a scouting mission. We saw a carriage, or what was left of it. Was pretty much kindling when we found it. Didn’t see anyone around so we left it.” He handed a glass of water to Kiir. “About a half-an-hour out one of my boys spotted you, and were you ever lucky that we did.”

Kiir hadn’t realized how thirsty she was. She’d finished the entire glass before the elf had finished the rest of his tale.

He poured himself a glass and sat at the desk. “You were blue and as good as dead. We brought you back here and you’ve been out since. Glad to see you’re coming around.”

“Is this...” Kiir searched her mind for the right words, “...a military camp?”

“Winterhold Imperial Camp. Been calling it home for a couple of months now.” The elf leaned back. “Name’s Telendas, by the way.”

“Kiir,” she replied in like. “You didn’t find anyone around the carriage?”

“Should I have? The place was barren, save for the splintered wood littered about.”

Kiir hummed. Romanda and Farkas were capable fighters, they were probably fine. Most likely back at their home and worrying about her . “Thank you.”

“No need,” he replied, downing the water in his glass. “Where were you headed?”

“The College.”

“The College?” Telendas repeated. “What were you doing taking Wayward Pass? There’s a trail that leads right around the mountain straight up to Winterhold.”

Kiir shrugged.

Telendas scrunched his brows. “The Stormcloak camps near the pass have been pretty active lately. We’ve caught a few of their people scouting as far as Alftand. Bastards are pushing people up through the pass to get to Winterhold.”

He was speaking aloud to himself, but Kiir thought it rude to interrupt him. She nodded along, pretending she knew what he was talking about.

“I’ve got a scouting group headed up that way tomorrow morning. I can have them escort you if you’d like.”

“Oh, you don’t-”

Telendas laughed. “I don’t know how you ended up with burns and hypothermia, but I’ll tell you again how lucky you are that my men found you. I don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t with good conscience send you out on your own.”

Kiir was more than happy to accept the escort, knowing that she wouldn’t have to struggle through unknown lands in dangerous weather to find a place she wasn’t even sure she’d be allowed into. Still, something about his comment stung. “I appreciate it.”

“Of course,” Telendas finished his glass of water, “but sunrise is still about an hour out.”

Kiir frowned. “I’m sorry for waking you.”

“No, no.” Telendas waved her off. “It’s absolutely no bother.”

There was a beat of silence between them. Telendas twisted the cup in his hands before he spoke again.

“Do you mind my asking what you’re doing in Skyrim?”

“What I’m... doing?”

“Well, you’re clearly not from here. You’re hardly dressed for the weather and the accent comes from the Isles. Just visiting?”

Kiir felt her chest tighten. Nobody had mentioned her accent. Was it that obvious? Why hadn’t Romanda or Farkas made note of it? Kiir saw Telendas waiting expectantly for an answer, but she suddenly realized how self-aware she was of her own voice. “I...”

Telendas put up his hands. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I just thought some light conversation might make time pass a little easier.”

“I’m here... for a get-away. I’ve never left the Isles before.”

“And you came to Skyrim?” Telendas looked both amused and surprised. “You trade up tropical, warm summers for the harsh winters of Skyrim? The ones that almost killed you?”

“It seemed interesting.”

“Well,” Telendas began, “you certainly picked interesting times to come visit. The war has made life here even harder than it usually is.”

There it was. That ‘war’ again. “Isn’t the war over?”

Telendas gave her an odd look. “Over? Don’t I wish.”

“There was a treaty. Skyrim-”

“This isn’t a war with the Thalmor. Sure, they’re still prowling around but the Empire can’t worry about them now. This is a civil war and a nasty one.”

“The Nords are fighting themselves?”

Telendas drew a hand to his head. “It’s... complicated. The easiest version is that the Nords are unhappy with Talos worship being outlawed. The Empire needs to keep relations with the Dominion so they enforce it.”

Kiir furrowed her brow. “All this for outlawing a God?”

“Would you be alright with it?” Telendas pressed. He didn’t look angry, but his tone took on something more controlled. “I can understand, perhaps even sympathize, with the Nords. But this infighting is exactly what the Dominion wants.”

“I would...” Truth was, Kiir wasn’t sure how she’d feel if the same laws had been applied to her. Frankly, the thought had never crossed her mind. But to fight a war over it? To have people die and suffer because of a silly law? “Even if I wasn’t okay with it, is a war really necessary?”

“The Nords seems to think so. And they aren’t playing nice.” Telendas scratched the back of his neck and stood, stretching. “Look, I know everyone has their opinions and you aren’t really from around here, but you’re heading directly into Stormcloak territory. You’d do well to keep your thoughts to yourself, especially if they are pro-Thalmor.”

Telendas spoke with a sort-of fatherly nature, but Kiir couldn’t help the chill that ran down her back. Even after the dragon attack, the carriage being destroyed and her near death at the hands of father Winter, it wasn’t until Telendas spoke those words that had her realize just how far from home she was. These weren’t her people and these people weren’t her friends. These weren’t the Thalmor she knew and, if yesterday taught her anything, a shared heritage gave her no advantage. Trust was not granted, it was earned. The air suddenly felt colder. “I’ll remember that.”

“Good.” Telendas walked forward to the tent opening and peered outside. “I don’t think either of us are going to be getting any more sleep. Would you like something to eat?”

Kiir nodded, finding her voice difficult to articulate.

“Well, come then, we’ll get some breakfast.”

Chapter Text

It was midafternoon when Telendas’ soldiers reached as far as they could into Stormcloak territory. They bid her a sincere farewell, but were quick to disappear back to the safety of their camp.

Kiir had no such luck.

Night was coming fast and Kiir knew she had to stop for the night, but the realization she had no idea how to set up a tent urged her to keep going.

When the sun had finally set, a vicious cold wind picked up and Kiir decided she had to stop- whether she liked it or not. Her pack was carving a divot into her shoulder and plopping it down into the snow was more of a relief than she’d expected. How long had she been walking?

Kiir turned and pulled the folded tent from the bag and settled out all the pieces. It looked simple enough, surely she could figure it out.

Tying the poles together took more finesse than Kiir’s cold hands could provide. The wind continued to pull the cloth off the wooden poles, sweeping it clear across the field and forcing Kiir to trudge through the snow to get it.

Once, it managed to fly all the way out to the forest and caught itself on a twig. Kiir huffed over, reaching down to yank the cloth back when a low hissing erupted from a little deeper in the woods.

Kiir had never heard such a noise before and it terrified her. She stumbled back, only just keeping her footing, as the largest spider she had ever seen crawled its way out of its burrow- a burrow that had apparently just so happened to catch her tent cover.

“Get back!” Kiir shouted, waving her hands at the creature. It was stupid, she knew as soon as the words left her mouth.

The spider reared back and hissed again, this time bringing its two front legs up to strike.

Kiir raised a hand, a light green color shining outwards into the dark forest. She had spells, how could she have forgotten she had spells?

The green glow surrounded the spider and it stumbled back, pausing for a moment before slowly settling back into the burrow.

Kiir lunged forward, grabbing the tent cover, and raced back to her meager campsite. Now she was exhausted and-

Somebody was making off with half of her campsite.

The figure was hunched over, Kiir’s bag on their back and scooping up the tent poles that had fallen over into the snow. Nearly dropping the tent cover she’d just retrieved, Kiir picked up her pace, waving her one free hand.

“Hey!”

The figure - a small female bosmer - turned and glanced blandly at her, “Hey.” She then turned right back around, carrying Kiir’s things off into the brush.

“Where are you-” Kiir huffed, unsure whether to follow. This person seemed unthreatening but she could never be too careful. “Where are you going?”

The bosmer paused and nodded her head to indicate some crag a fair distance ahead. “There are impressions in the stone up that way. They act as a windbreak. You weren't exactly having much luck here . Are you bringing the rest of that or leaving it to that spider you didn’t kill?”

“How did you...” Kiir looked over her shoulder. She didn’t see the spider. “Who are you?”

The bosmer studied her, clearly deciding how to answer, “Just a wanderer.” Adjusting the goods in her arms, she started for the crag again. “Not a bandit, anyway.”

“Not a bandit and yet you’re taking my things.” Kiir followed and pointed to the tent poles and food pack perched on the bosmer’s back. “That seems awfully bandit-y to me.”

The bosmer barked a short laugh, nearly slipping from the stones she’d just begun to scale. “I’m fairly certain bandits intend to keep what they’ve taken. I might be more of a… kidnapper. My intent was to get you up here with me: and look at that, here we are.”

The bosmer had led her to what must’ve been her own camp, complete with its own fire and lean-to tent. She set Kiir’s things down and motioned for her to join her by the flames. “You can call me Driem,” she paused, but seemed to decide against asking Kiir’s name in return, instead saying, “I remember being new to Skyrim too. The cold was the worst part for me.”

Kiir took a seat beside the fire and enjoyed a moment to warm herself. Her hands were red and stiff. “I can’t believe people live in this.”

Driem smiled, “You’ll get used to it. Eventually,” she frowned, “But you’re going to have to get over your distaste for killing. Or get yourself something to fight with, if that’s the problem. I assume you’re from the Isles. If you’d lived in the Green you wouldn’t have let that spider go.”

“I startled it- there was no need to kill it when it was my fault.” Kiir shrugged. “Besides, I didn’t really have a way to kill it anyway.” She wiggled her fingers into the air before smiling and extending a hand. “I’m Kiir’Dun. Or just Kiir. That’s usually easier.”

Driem gave her an odd look, but took her hand and shook it firmly, “Sure you are. Well met, Kiir.” She rifled around in her own bag and pulled out bits of some kind of meat, handing a portion to Kiir, “I hope for your sake you’re on the way to the college.”

Kiir brightened up immediately. “Yes! Have you been there? Do you know the way?”

She shook her head. “I’ve been to Winterhold but I’ve never been in the college. You’re headed the right way. The path is just there, I’m sure you’ll see it in the morning.”

Kiir hummed, looking out where Driem had pointed. There was hardly a path, just snow and a parting in the trees that seemed to trek up the mountain. It seemed awfully far. “Where are you headed?”

“South.”

That wasn’t what Kiir wanted to hear. She frowned, looking away from the mountain path and instead at her hands, which had happily returned to their normal color. “Thanks. For this.” Kiir looked up and laughed. “It’s been one setback after another since I stepped over the border.”

“I’d like to ask what you’re even doing here, but your business is your own. Still, almost anywhere else would have been safer.” she paused, considering, “except maybe for Black Marsh.”

“But adventure is my middle name!” Kiir offered a half-cocked grin and stretched back. Having finished the food Driem has offered her, Kiir found exhaustion that much harder to ignore. “I should be getting some sleep, though. Long day of walking tomorrow.”

“It’s closer than you might think, by now.” She shuffled around and got comfortable herself. “Sleep well, Kiir ’Adventure’ Dun.”

Kiir could hear her snicker quietly before Kiir, too, turned to her own pack and reached for her sleeping bag. Laying it out on a bare patch of dirt, Kiir nestled in and fell asleep swiftly.


When Kiir awoke, the bosmer was nowhere to be seen, the remnants of the fire snuffed out some time ago. Laid in Driem’s spot was rusty iron sword, half buried in snow. Kiir laughed, leaving the sword in its spot to begin packing her things.

It turned out to be a half-day’s walk before Kiir saw the beginnings of a fortress rise from the snowy haze. The snow had been falling near non-stop and Kiir was just glad to finally have a chance to go inside.

As she walked further into the city, Kiir noted the numerous dismantled and downtrodden homes. This place had clearly seen better days.

Kiir slowed near the tavern, a sign naming it the Frozen Hearth, but decided against going in when she saw how close the entrance to the college was. Her heart skipped a few beats as she realized how nervous she was- would they even let her in?

There was a walkway spanning a massive cavern that surrounded what Kiir assumed to be the college. As she continued forward, she realized even the college was worse for wear. The path was nearly collapsed in some places.

Kiir walked under the main archway and into the courtyard, stopping to stare at the massive statue that dominated the yard. Kiir didn’t recognize the man, but its scale was enough to be marveled at.

Her anxiety dropped a few levels when she spied an Altmer woman stepping into the main building, the heavy doors swinging shut behind her. Thank goodness, there were others like her here.

With a newfound skip in her step, Kiir followed where the woman had walked.

The entrance hall was... smaller than Kiir expected. And far more archaic. The walls were made with the same brick inside as they were out- a dull grey. The floors were wooden and old. Was she in the right-

“Oh!”

Kiir jumped.

An older looking Nord, grinning ear to ear, approached Kiir from the side. “I haven’t seen your face around!”

“Oh, I-... no, you wouldn’t-” Kiir patted her pockets for her academic transcripts. She was sure she’d brought them with her. “I have-”

“Are you here as a mage?”

Kiir paused, raising an eyebrow. “Uh, yes. This is the college?”

“It is!” Somehow, the Nord smiled wider. “Class is just about to begin, come follow me.”

“But don’t you need-”

“Hurry, hurry. I, more than anyone, can’t be late.” The Nord shuffled off through another set a large gates, beckoning Kiir to follow.

Kiir stood, bewildered. Was that allowed? She looked around her and everyone else seemed to be going in the same direction- everyone else consisting of about two or three other students.

Finally willing herself to walk, Kiir entered the circular chamber and quickly found herself vying for one of the last seats. She squirrelled her way into an empty chair and found it to be far too small for her frame, curling up to try and not bother the students around her.

She didn’t even have a paper or pencil. None of the other students seemed to have books... would there be other classes? Was this the only one?

Suddenly, a loud crackling erupted from the center of the room. The old Nord had surrounded himself with a storm of purple lightning, the bolts striking just above the student’s heads. Somewhere to her left a khajiit redirected a stray bolt at a dunmer who jumped and yelped.

“Good afternoon, class!” he called. “I’m glad to see everyone’s awake now. And to our newest member,” the Nord turned to face Kiir, “you can call me Tolfdir.”

Kiir flushed, feeling the eyes of the class on her. The moment was fleeting, thankfully, but Kiir felt the nervousness from earlier come flooding back.

“Right then, let’s talk about destruction.” Tolfdir waved his hands above his head, creating a swirl of flames. “Even a little child with any inclination towards the arcane can probably light the wick on a candle if he tries hard enough, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for this- ” With a flick of his wrist, the Nord sent a row of jagged ice springing up from the floor and up the wall.

There was a murmur throughout the class, Kiir herself widening her eyes at the display. She’d never seen magic like that. She’d heard of it, of course, from the stories of Thalmor raids by her father but to see that sort of power first hand was mesmerizing.

“Magic is art, my friends. Dangerous and beautiful.” Tolfdir waved his hands to usher the students down from the seats. “And art is done by doing. So let’s see who did their homework.”

A majority of students raced each other down to the ground floor, playfully pushing and shoving one another. A few cast some of their own spells and soon the entire room was filled with the noises of chatter and magic.

Kiir stayed back near the seats, quietly watching. The class was small, maybe fifteen total. The floor looked like a jungle, with magic and spells and limbs flying about. Kiir had never seen a class like this, let alone been in one.

Tolfdir eyed her from across the room and approached, wearing his ever present smile. “There’s no need to be shy.”

“I don’t, ah,” Kiir chuckled under her breath. “I don’t really know any destruction spells.”

Tolfdir patted her back. “No worries! We’ve got spell tomes and spell books... we’ll get you caught up in no time! For now, I’d say just watch. You’d be surprising how much you can learn.”

Kiir nodded, content to do just as he’d said. She leaned herself up against the wall and was settling in to watch when a voice rose itself above the steady stream of chatter.

“Oi, new girl!”

She looked up in time to see a dunmer, a number of feet in front of her, actually catch a blazing ball of flames tossed by another student, and then launch it at her.

Kiir blanched and frantically swung a hand up to her face, feeling her skin harden and the flame spell disintegrate against her flesh. She released the spell, heaving a breath and shooting a confused look at the now-stunned looking dunmer.

“Whoa, I can’t believe you took that to the face! That was the strongest Stoneflesh I’ve ever seen!”

“Stoneflesh?” Kiir looked down at her arm as the last of the black scales disappeared. “That was Ebonyhide.”

Tolfdir, squinted. “I think you mean Ebonyflesh, my dear.”

Kiir shook her head, still reeling from the fireball. “No, it’s more of a combination of that and Dragonhide. Magic resistant and damage resistant.”

Tolfdir made a noise of surprise.

The dunmer, who’d now crossed the room to come closer, laughed. “Show off.”

“Show off?” Kiir stared at him a moment. “What was I supposed to do?”

He looked at her incredulously, “Uh, catch it?”

“I didn’t even know that was possible!” Kiir exclaimed. She’d seen the party tricks performed by Altmer mages for her family’s parties, but nothing with something that dangerous. Minor destruction spells at most.

The dunmer raised an eyebrow. “Where did you say you were from?”

“Ah, I-”

Tolfdir smile returned and he laughed. “I’m excited to see what more you can do, Miss...?”

“Kiir’Dun.” Kiir replied, quickly adding, “or just Kiir works, too.”

“A pleasure, Kiir’Dun.” The dunmer grinned, moving into the spot that Tolfdir had vacated. “I’m Eithis.”

The Khajiit she’d seen redirecting lightning earlier seemed to suddenly appear, hanging off of Dunmer, Eithis, “This one is J’zargo.”

Kiir felt claustrophobic, taking a step back from the two. “It’s... nice to meet you both.”

“J’zargo is impressed; you successfully out-magicked a teacher.”

“Oh, no,” Kiir backpedaled, raising her hands in front of her. “That wasn’t meant to be one-up.”

“Oh but it was beautiful. This one thinks it will be nice to see some real competition.”

“I was just... trying not to die. I didn’t realize this was a competition.”

He scoffed, “Everything is a competition. The only reason you would not think so is if you were too far behind to see it.”

Kiir opened her mouth to reply when another voice spoke up from behind her.

“Or perhaps your pride is too fragile to stand on its own. Perhaps your need for competition is a byproduct of your insecurity and need for validation.”

“This one sees the kettle has arrived. J’zargo suggests we take this as our cue to leave.”

Kiir hardly heard J’zargo’s comment as she turned, startled to find herself eyelevel with another Altmer. She eyed his dark blue robes and felt her stomach drop. Did he-

“Ancano. Thalmor representative and advisor to the Arch-Mage.” He extended a hand.

Kiir waited and, not seeing any recognition register on his face, shook his hand. “Kiir’Dun.”

He curled his lip “Is that so? Your accent clearly marks you as an Isle’s native but that name...”

“It’s a... family name.”

“That’s even more odd.” Ancano looked to continue when another voice cut him off.

Eithis, still lingering nearby, raised his voice, “So, Kiir ,” He emphasized her name, as if to stress his acceptance of it, “Are you coming, or did you actually want to stand here talking to this wet blanket?”

Ancano’s eyes narrowed and he scowled. “She has paperwork to finish, classes to register for, a dorm to be assigned... with the amount of free time you students have, I’m sure you’ll find the time to speak with her later.”

She shot Eithis an apologetic look but directed her attention back to Ancano, “I have my transcripts with me... somewhere...”

“Perfect.” Ancano turned, sweeping a hand towards to door. “If you’ll follow me.”

Kiir started patting her pockets, once again finding she had no idea where she’d stored her papers. She tried to keep pace with Ancano while digging through her pack one handed.

The two exited the front doors, crossing the front courtyard.

Ancano turned his head back. “Where in the Isles do you hail from?”

“Alinor.” Kiir answered, not looking up from her pack. She knew she’d packed those transcripts!

“Ah. It’s nice to see another civilized individual here. The Nords can be so very dull.”

Kiir paused her search. “I saw another Altmer woman as I came in. I’m sure-”

Ancano huffed. “Nirya is a spoiled brat who instigates her own problems and you’ll find Faralda is an Altmer in appearance only.”

Kiir started at him. That seemed awfully harsh. She followed Ancano into another hall and up a set of stairs to a door. The nameplate designated it as his office and Kiir hauled out her transcripts just as he closed the door behind her.

“The Summerset colleges put this skeever hole to shame.” Ancano commented, reaching forward to take Kiir’s papers. He motioned for her to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk as he looked them over.

Kiir did just that. She sat up as straight as possible as Ancano took a seat in his own chair.

Ancano hummed before chuckling to himself.

Kiir frowned. “Is there-”

“It would seem these transcripts are for an... Elandaae Caemis.”

Kiir let out a choking sound, trying to both breath in and swallow at the same time. She opened her mouth, but her mind could not think of an accurate excuse fast enough. Kiir must’ve looked like a blubbering fish.

Ancano waved his hand, setting the papers on her desk. “I must say, I’m relieved it isn’t a family name after all.” He looked up at her and laughed again. “There’s no need to look so worried, I understand. Skyrim is not the most welcoming place for our kind. Anything to distance yourself...”

“I apologize.” Kiir started. “I should have-”

“Nonsense. Like I said, it’s a clever tactic. Though you might have chosen something less... abrasive.”

Kiir returned a weak smile. “Too late to change it now.”

Ancano nodded. “Nevertheless, I'm impressed.” He leaned back in his chair. “And if what I saw today continues to be a trend, I think you’ll find you’ll like it here.”

Chapter Text

Kiir could not for the life of her get her Flames spell to stay lit.

Tolfdir had assigned her work on the more minor Destruction spells over the past two weeks, saying that if she got control of those, the more complicated ones would come easier. Flames, Frostbite and Sparks were her current assignment but based on the way the past fourteen days had gone, it would seem catching up would be near impossible.

“What are you even trying to do?” Eithis sat backwards in a chair, head rested on his arms.

Class had been dismissed about a half an hour ago, but Kiir had stayed behind in the classroom to practice. Eithis and J’zargo had stuck around too, probably because neither had anything better to do than watch her struggle with first level spells.

“I’m trying to get this spell to work.”

“It’s Flames.” Eithis said. “You just... do it.”

“Helpful, thanks,” Kiir replied. Then, the flame in her hand went out. Kiir groaned. Why couldn’t she do this?

“This one thinks you must have lit candles before.”

Kiir sputtered, “Of course I have! But I don’t know how to maintain it.”

“Well, okay, you’re good at illusion right? Can you make an illusion of flames and hold that? Are real flames very different?” The Dunmer began clicking his fingers, trying to cast an illusion of flames himself, and struggling as real ones kept overtaking the ghostly off-color illusory ones.

J’zargo joined in and seemed to have less trouble with real flames cropping up, but his looked more like writhing orange snakes than anything.

Kiir watched and attempted to keep her face impassive but their illusory flames were just so... wrong. Wrong color, wrong shape, wrong movement...

“You know, I guess it is different. Flames is more about heat and fueling it. Illusion is more imagining how it looks. It’s actually hard to keep it cool,” he laughed.

“Are you kidding me?” Kiir smiled a half-cocked grin. “The illusory ones are easy!” With a swoop of her arms, the entire chamber was awash with flame, turning the room bright orange.

Eithis startled and J’zargo went as far as to leap to his feet, hackles raised. Eithis recovered quickly and grinned at the J’zargo’s wide eyes and heavy breathing.

Kiir laughed. There was no heat, but the crackle and light of the fire was convincing enough, it seemed. Kiir returned the room to normal. “Now if only I could cast a damn Flames spell.”

J’zargo slouched back into his chair with his ears laid back.

Eithis leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Have you tried casting with your eyes closed? Maybe you’re too caught up with how it’s supposed to look. When you have a real fire you won’t be in control of how it looks, how it’s moving, just… how strong it is and which direction you’re throwing it in, really.”

“I haven’t tried that but...” Kiir thought a moment. She wasn’t getting anywhere with how she was currently doing things and she had leagues more to learn before she’d even be anywhere near the other students. “Alright. Let’s just...”

Kiir placed her hands out in front of her and closed her eyes. “What exactly should I be feeling? Heat?”

“Yes, and a sort of...”

“Hunger?” the Khajiit supplied.

“Yeah, hunger. Flames need to be fed. Heat and power, let it want to consume.”

“Here goes nothing.” Kiir focused on something in her gut, a warmth that had settled there. She worked to guide it up to her arms and out her hands. It took some time but she’d finally worked the feeling to the place that she wanted it. In a single push, she let it go.

The sensation was unlike anything Kiir had experienced before. It was a rush of warmth and power. She could feel the flames lick at her fingers as they passed, but they didn’t burn. They pulled, drawing out more of the flames behind them.

Startled, Kiir opened her eyes. Before her, emanating from her open palms, was a cone of flame as long as she was tall. Kiir drew her hands back, accidently pulling the flames with her and inadvertently drawing two lines across the classroom.

When Kiir finally stopped the spell, she looked to see Eithis and J’zargo flat against the ground, lowering wards that had thankfully protected them from her inferno.

“B'vek!” Eithis pushed himself up off the ground.” You don’t really do anything by halves, do you?” Both he and J’zargo were beaming at her.

“I guess not.” Kiir looked down at her hands. As terrifying as those few moments had been, there was a newfound spark that hadn’t been there before. She had done it. She had more than done it. A part of her, still reeling, recognized why the Dominion had put such stringent laws in place for Destruction magic. But a stronger, more logical part of her wondered if there wasn’t just civil protections the Thalmor had in mind.

“Perhaps with the next one, you can try pointing it away from J’zargo though. He prefers to have his near-death experiences out in the field.”

“Speaking of fieldwork and near-death experiences, has anyone told you about the trip to the Nordic Ruin yet? That’s getting close now.”

Kiir perked up, turning to face Eithis. “A trip? I haven’t heard anything about a trip.”

“It should be fun. I go through ruins myself sometimes, but this one was only uncovered recently. Saarthal I think? It shouldn’t have any bandits hiding out there yet and should still have most of the neat artifacts in tact.”

“That sounds fantastic!” Kiir had only seen Altmer ruins from afar on trips about the Isles. But to actually explore one? “When do we go? Do I have to sign up?”

“J’zargo would ask if you have had to ‘sign up’ for anything at this college, but then he remembered the Thalmor - what is your word?” he turned to Eithis, but continued before he could respond, “ S’wit - used ‘signing up’ as an excuse to steal you away that first day”

Kiir rolled her eyes. “There was actually quite a lot of paperwork- what, did you all just walk in?”

“Actually yes.” Eithis scratched his head, “I think I might have had to write my name on a list?”

“J’zargo remembers the list, yes.”

Kiir waited a few moments before realizing that was all they had to say, the only thing constituting paperwork that they remembered. “You can’t be serious. A college can’t function like that. Where do you get the money to go on these ruin diving trips? Whe-”

Eithis cut her off, “Why would we need money to go on a trip? We’re more likely to find things worth money and make some coin off it.”

“Well how do you keep logs on student attendance? Their grades? How do you graduate ?”

“Slow down, one question at a time,” Eithis laughed, “Nobody keeps attendance. This college is voluntary, not mandatory. Why would we need grades? Tolfdir has a long memory and he sees how we progress. And we don’t graduate - we just, get a signed record of how long we attended.”

Kiir put her hands to her face. “How do you know how long you attended if you don’t keep attendance ?”

“This one thinks the list was dated.” J’zargo piped in. “Would you not simply count back?”

“That is downright primitive.”

Eithis raised an eyebrow. “Well, you aren’t wrong. I had more formal schooling back in Morrowind - but we have so much more freedom to explore and learn what we want to this way. I’ve learned more here in Skyrim, and much more quickly, than I ever did in ‘civilized’ colleges.”

“And somehow you’ve yet to master even one of the schools of magic.” Kiir rebutted. “There’s freedom and exploration but magic needs structure.”

J’zargo bristled but Eithis just frowned.

“I’m near Expert, at least, in every school, but mostly what I’ve learned here is how to pick up new skills more quickly.” EIthis shrugged. “I’ve learned how to let the schools flow into each other. How magic can be applied in entirely new ways. In fact, I think you’ll find you’ve excelled in destru-”

“I find it interesting,” Ancano’s sharp voice interrupted, “that you attribute all of your success to this poorly run sham of a college, when you freely admit to having attended better colleges in the past. Wouldn’t you suppose that all of that foundation was necessary?”

Kiir turned her gaze from Ancano to Eithis. She raised her eyebrows expectantly. “ I would think so.”

Ancano continued, still speaking directly to Eithis. “After all, look at your skill level as compared to this,” he gestured to J’zargo, “barely Adept, uneducated beast.”

There was a pregnant pause. Kiir heard herself utter a small gasp. She turned her back on Ancano to face the boys.

Eithis’s face was a mask of fury. J’zargo snarled and made as if to cast something at Ancano, but Eithis grabbed his wrist.

Kiir opened her mouth to speak, starting to step towards them, but neither even acknowledged her as Eithis pulled the Khajiit out of the room.

Kiir frowned, casting a confused glance Ancano’s way. “I hardly see how that was fair.”

“Fair or not, I really haven’t the time to beat around an unpleasant bush. You cannot deny the Dunmer’s schooling has been superior to the Khajiit’s, and their skill level reflects it. It was only fact.”

“You called him a beast, Ancano.” Kiir furrowed her brows, turning to face him fully.

“Is he not?” Ancano seemed bored. “The Khajiiti and Argonians, and arguably the Orsimer, are considered races of beast. Surely you know this.”

“Surely you know that calling them such a name is uncalled for. I would’ve thought a Thalmor representative would be above name calling.” Kiir shook her head. “You say you’re from the Isles, but with your utter lack of manners it would seem you’ve never stepped foot there.”

That struck a nerve. Ancano’s nostrils flared, but he held his tongue. He, instead, changed the subject. “I came to speak with you about the trip to Saarthal.”

“What about it.”

“It would seem this isn’t news.” Ancano paused. “Nevertheless, this trip is a class-only event. I will be, unfortunately, unable to attend.”

“Pity.”

Ancano paused again, but this time it was to cast a glance at Kiir. Her face was held in a tight line. “I would ask that you report to me anything that might happen at the ruins. It is a newly unearthed structure and, as such, not much is known about it.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “You want me to report  to you?”

“It is the least you could do for a fellow Altmer. And a Thalmor representative no less.”

“Why?”

Ancano turned to leave, his head just barely over his shoulder. “As I said, not much is known and I’m sure the Thalmor would like to keep tabs on such things. I do appreciate the help. Have a lovely rest of your day.”

Kiir had no chance to protest before Ancano had left the room. The chamber seemed awfully quiet with no one in it, every little noise seemed amplified. Alone with her thoughts, Kiir wandered back to what Ancano had said. Something about Eithis’ face before he’d left started an unpleasant stirring in her gut... she had to go find them.


 

It was well past nightfall and neither J’zargo nor Eithis were anywhere to be found. Kiir sat in her dorm room, one of her old spell tomes open on her bed. She’d been absentmindedly waiting for the two of them to show up and hopefully give her a chance to speak to them about earlier this morning.

She shut her book and sighed. She felt awful, and that stirring in her gut had only gotten worse the longer she realized they’d been gone.

Kiir rose from her bed and wrapped a heavy fur shawl about her shoulders before heading up the staircase to the roof of the old castle. Eithis and J’zargo had shown the area to her when she first arrived at the college; it was unused and almost always desolate which made it a perfect place to think.

She shoved open the heavy wooden doors and the ever biting winds wrapped themselves around her. Sure, it was cold and dark and snowy but Kiir found the place relaxing. She lit a magelight near her head and it followed her around the curved path.

At the apex of the curve, the path gutted out into a square seating area. Kiir followed it and as she entered the square, saw someone standing by the far end. She immediately stopped.

The shadow was moving and breathing quite heavily.

“Hello?” Kiir took a step closer. ”Are you alright?”

“J’zargo is doing quite well.” He sounded strained.

Kiir had been stewing all day on what she’d say to them but now that she was here... “What-”

Her voice was cut short as Eithis’ face lit up in the blue glow of the magelight; he was bent forward J’zargo behind him, hands on the dunmer’s back..

Kiir could feel her face warm.

Eithis let out a breathy laugh. “Whoops.”

J’zargo grinned devilishly from behind the mer. “J’zargo welcomes you to join us, if you wish.”

Without another word, Kiir dropped the magelight and turned on a heel, power walking in near complete darkness back to the dorm rooms. She slipped a few times and nearly went over one of the railings but once she felt the wooden door in front of her she ripped it open and flew back down the stairs to the dorm area.

She wished these rooms had doors; she dreaded the two coming back down, when she would have to talk to them. First the argument and now this? What would she say? Sorry? Gods, what were they doing ? No. She shook her head. She knew what they were doing. For a while, she just sat in silence on her bed, staring at nothing. Brelyna had passed and waved at her but Kiir barely registered it. It was after another moment that she realized what had to be done; she’d have to leave the college. She had few belongings, she could be out before either of them returned.

Kiir rose and started rummaging through her closet; did she own anything large enough to carry all her things?

“Going somewhere?”

Her hands froze on the hangers and she wondered how long she could stand facing the wardrobe before they’d start questioning it.

“J’zargo thought the trip was not until a few weeks from now.”

Kiir scrunched up her face. They were both in her room; Gods give her strength. She turned and saw Eithis sprawled out on her bed with J’Zargo in one of her chairs behind him, playing with a soul gem. “I was just, uh, checking for-”

“For...?” Eithis pressed.

What was he so amused about? She felt like Oblivion itself had taken refuge in her gut. “For my robes.”

“You mean the ones you have on right now?”

Kiir glanced down and cringed. “Yes. But I have another pair-”

Eithis held up a hand. "You really don’t have to be embarrassed for us. We’re over it.” He paused. “Unless, now you're wishing you hadn't run away? It isn't as if it’s too late - I'm not really into girls but-”

J’zargo put the soul gem he’d been tossing about back down on the shelf as he picked up where Eithis left off, “J’zargo, on the other hand...”

"Yeah, I mean, you can have a go at him if you want. I don't mind sharing!"

Kiir let her eyes wander to the flower pot beside her door. She’d forgotten to water it today. It was a Blue Mountain Flower- they had nothing like these back on the Isles. Such vibrant shades of blue were uncommon in-

Both were staring at her questioningly, waiting for her to respond in some way, but if she opened her mouth she wasn’t sure what would come out would be words.

Eithis snickered, "You've gone redder than a Khajit's anus.”

The resident Khajiit mocked offense, "J'zargo does not think his butt is that red. Pink perhaps."

“Stop, please.” Kiir barely forced out. The words came out harsher than she’d intended but she was lucky she got them out at all.

They both looked surprised. Eithis held up his hands in an attempt to pacify. “Hey, we didn’t mean any harm.”

“J’zargo might have.”

Kiir met eyes with the cat and he turned his head to the side but said nothing more.

Eithis sighed. “Look, you’re an awesome person and I really like having you around but I wasn’t kidding earlier… I’m sorry if it’s me, but I’m just not into females.”

“What?”

Eithis matched Kiir’s look of bewilderment. “I’m gay.” He said. “J’zargo might be interested in you, but he’s sort of with me too, and that’s not changing.” He looked up at the Khajiit for support.

J’zargo made a soft purring noise.

Kiir wondered if either of them had a scrap of shame between the two. “I have eyes. I’m not blind.”

“No, but you’re obviously upset. If it’s not one of us, then it is just because you caught us? Never seen that sort of thing up close before?” A smile danced at the corners of Eithis’s mouth.

“No, I...I was looking for you to say sorry and I had gone everywhere and I just thought I’d go up on the roof to think and...” Kiir paused. “Weren’t you afraid of getting caught?”

“Of course! That’s... why we were on the roof.” Eithis looked at her like she’d been missing something so obvious, but her thoughts must have shown on her face because he sputtered to continue, “Clearly you caught us, so obviously we didn’t think it all the way through, but we tried to be quiet once we saw you.”

“If J’zargo had had his way, it would have been on his bed.”

Kiir gave them both a look of absolute bewilderment. “I don’t understand how you both can be so lax about this.

They exchanged glances. Eithis seemed to pick his words carefully, “Is there a reason we shouldn’t be?”

“Is there-” Kiir pressed her hands to her face. “Yes, there is a reason! I just caught you, up on the roof doing..” She waved her hands in front of her. “... that.

“This one wonders if the Altmer do not do the same. Perhaps they have a spell to create new Altmer babies instead”

“Hush,” Eithis waved his hand at J’zargo. “This is just one of those things that’s only embarrassing if you let it be embarrassing. We were the caught party, if anyone should be embarrassed it’s us, not you - and we’re fine, we trust you.”

“Of course, I know, it’s just-” Kiir ran her hands through her hair. “Gods, if this had happened back home you’d have been crucified, set aflame, and dropped somewhere at sea. Not to mention the social ramifications...”

“Do you mean to tell this one that the ‘flaming crucifixion at sea’ was not a metaphor for the social ramifications?”

Kiir shook her head. “No! I mean, yes it was a metaphor, but my point is that while you have to deal with the embarrassment and shame, so does your family . Your third cousins would be held accountable for your actions. Your parents have to live with your actions, whether you’re there or not.” Kiir breathed. “The Altmer live a very long time.”

Eithis’s brows drew together in concern, “Are we still talking about us?”

Kiir felt tears pricking at the corners of her eyes and forced down a growing lump in her throat. Today was just not her day. She averted her gaze; not answering was answer enough.

“Is that what happened? We can talk about it if you want.”

Kiir shrugged. “No, it’s fine. Sorry for freaking out on you guys. And sorry for... earlier.”

J’zargo smiled at her, “This one understands. He is also very hungry, and would like something warm before the Frozen Hearth closes.” He pushed himself up from the bed and, after a quick glance at Kiir to make sure all was well, exited the room.

There were a few beats of silence in the wake of the Khajiit’s disappearance, then Eithis turned back to Kiir, “Earlier - that was Ancano, not you. As for just now… I’m sorry we surprised you. There aren’t a lot of places for privacy at the college.” He was still looking at her with concern, though, clearly not saying what he really wanted to say. He was looking at her like he could see into her, and almost touch those still-fresh wounds.

“I understand.” Kiir forced a smile. Perhaps that would keep her eyes dry. “I kind of got a little... serious.”

“It’s alright.” Eithis considered her again. “I know you said you were fine, but… talking about it helps.”

Kiir let out a heavy sigh. “You have to understand, my life was planned out since day one. My path was set and it was the best path for me. For my family. I didn’t really make a choice for myself until…  just before I came here.”

Eithis tilted his head, “No choices at all?”

“Not really. I was my parents legacy. Unless it served some definite purpose that had already been laid out for me, it wasn’t even an option.”

“You’ve never decided to do anything ? What about picking the tastier dessert, just for the flavor? There can’t be a way desserts make a difference in your path.”

Kiir thought of her answer and laughed at its absurdity. “Of course there is. You choose what the head of the table did. And you’re not allowed to eat more than they do. It’s common courtesy. Choosing for myself would be very rude.” She laughed again. “And my father wasn’t big on sweets anyway.”

This gave him pause. He chose his next words very carefully, “Alright… nevermind table manners. In general, if you do something that doesn’t further - but also doesn't hinder - your end goal, wouldn’t the final impact be the same as if you hadn’t done it at all? And so, if that thing is enjoyable and it makes no difference… why not do it?”

“It doesn’t work that way. Altmer are very... black and white. You do things right , otherwise you’ve done them wrong. You’re either with me or against me. There is no ‘neutral ground’.”

“And you… failed to follow one of these customs - made a choice - and then chose to come here of all places. Why?”

Kiir shrugged. “ Leaving wasn’t my choice...” She paused. “...and neither was Skyrim, really. I just sort of... ended up here.”

A furry head suddenly popped into the doorway. “J’zargo has returned with ale and fresh cheese to share!”

“That sounds lovely.” Kiir replied, thankful for a reason to bring the conversation to a close.

“Good. Because J’zargo also remembered that he has firecrackers, and this one would like to put them under Onmund’s bed before he returns from the city.”

Eithis patted Kiir on the knee, his eyes bright. “Come on, we can eat after!” He jumped to his feet, taking the goods from J’zargo and putting them aside. “I call dibs on lighting them.”

“You can’t aim your flame spells for shit.” Kiir commented, moving to follow the two.

“Says the Altmer who couldn’t even catch a simple fireball.”

Kiir gasped. “That was my first day !”

“On J’zargo’s first day, he saved Tolfdir from a bear with only a novice Sparks spell and a stick.”

Kiir gently pushed J’zargo’s shoulders as they entered his room and they each grabbed a number of small firecrackers. “I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Tolfdir has never said anything about it.”

Eithis inspected one of the small explosives. “You know, maybe we should go ask him. He should still be in lecture hall.”

“J’zargo would advise against that. It might bring back bad memories.”

“Or no memories.”

J’zargo looked at Kiir and grinned. “That is also possible.”

Eithis waved at both of them. “Come on, Onmund could be back any minute. If we’re going to do it, we’re doing it now.”

“How are we supposed to light them all at the same time?”

“J’zargo has the answer to that.”

A few minutes later and the three of them were huddled behind a wall; a small piece of twine was the the only sign they were there. Eithis held it in his hand and watched eagerly as Onmund sleepily wobbled into his room and promptly collapsed onto his bed.

“How long should we wait before we light it?” Kiir whispered, peering over J’zargo’s head to see into Onmund’s room.

“Why wait?” And with a snap of his fingers, Eithis lit the twine and the three scattered to their rooms.

Kiir held her breath.

The popping was much louder than any of them anticipated. Brelyna screamed and nearly fell out of bed before rushing over to see a frightened and slightly smoldering Nord. She could hear Eithis fail to cover his snickering.

Tolfdir, who’d been coming up the stairs, poked his head in to see what the racket was about, “By the Nine, what happened to you, boy?”

Kiir watched from her room, feeling a little bad as Tolfdir began brushing off Onmund’s robes. She was too tired now, though, to feel more than that. She quickly took her share of the cheese, scarfing it down with little regard for her appearance. The ale was finished off with equal speed.

She’d had enough excitement for one day, not to mention she hadn’t studied at all for the test they were having next week. The ale had started to dull her thoughts, she still had yet to build a tolerance for Nord spirits, so there would be no more studying tonight.

Kiir shrugged off her thoughts and curled into bed. As long as she did better than J’zargo and Eithis, she’d be fine.

Chapter Text

Tolfdir raised another ward. “Excellent. Now Firebolt.”

J’zargo whipped his arm out, a fiery orange blast launching forth and disappearing when it hit the ward.

The old man chuckled. “Very well done, J’zargo.” Tolfdir dropped his ward and stepped forward. “I would watch your residue. It’s not a problem on stone floors but you’d have to pay more attention in more dangerous environments.”

“Personally,” Eithis piped up from the other side of the room, “I find if I hold the spell a bit longer before I release it, it sort of coils tighter, and shoots cleaner.”

J’zargo scowled. “Personally, this one thinks your comment is unnecessary.”

“Hush, Eithis.” Tolfdir chided. “This isn’t your test. J’zargo was silent during yours, I ask you afford him the same respect.” He turned his attention back to the Khajiit, pointing out the doors. “You can head to the Arcanaeum to finish the written portion.”

“This one insists that we be allowed to sit on Kiir’s as well!”

Tolfdir sighed heavily. “You can sit in if you are silent ,” he aimed the comment at Eithis. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “and if Kiir is okay with it.”

Kiir stood from her chair and made her way down to the center of the floor. “It’s fine by me. Are those written tests timed at all?”

“Roughly.” Tolfdir answered. “But it’s more to gauge progress than to actually grade, so timing seems awfully harsh. Just do your best and finish when you finish.”

“This one suggests not keeping Ancano waiting past dinnertime. J’zargo did that once. He was drawing a wedding between a horker and a bear to waste his time. He was not amused and decided to fail J’zargo.”

Kiir laughed. “Do you still have it?”

J’zargo’s eyes lit up and his whiskers lifted, “Of course! J’zargo framed it and hung it on the wall by Ancano’s staff picture. It is protected by ward runes so that only J’zargo can remove it.”

“How have I never seen that?” Kiir was ready to venture out into the halls to find it had Tolfdir not coughed, drawing attention back to the reason she was in the room in the first place. “Ah, sorry. Should we get started?”

Tolfdir nodded. “If J’zargo would so kindly take a seat...”

The Khajiit theatrically sealed his lips and sprinted to join Eithis across the room, falling quickly into a seat and watching intently.

They quickly flew through the apprentice and adept level spells, but hit a roadblock as they progressed into the Expert level spells.

“Your Thunderbolt is well-formed and strong. But this-” Tolfdir motioned to the scattered ice spears that failed to hit their mark, “-is hardly either. Try holding the spell longer.”

Kiir felt her face warm. She did her best to keep her eyes trained on Tolfdir, afraid to see the faces of Eithis and J’zargo. She tried again but the spears did the same thing- breaking apart mid-air and twinkling to the ground.

“Don’t fret!” Tolfdir soothed. “Many can’t even get a spear to form!”

“Yeah!” Eithis shouted across the room, “My slush-spears were hardly even sticking together!”

“I told you to hush back there!” Tolfdir shouted back with a pointed glare.

Eithis had the decency to look guilty as he mimed the same lip-sealing gesture that J’zargo had made earlier.

Tolfdir returned his attention to Kiir. “Now, let’s wrap this up. We’ll finish with Incinerate.”

Kiir nodded and turned to return to her place on the other side of the floor. The shame still had her face flushed. She lit the small ball of flame in both hands, bringing them close to form a larger sphere between them. Spinning suddenly, Kiir launched the fireball directly at Tolfdir- whose ward was barely up in time to catch it.

“Oh-” Kiir scrambled forward. “I didn’t mean-”

“Impressive! Very well done!” Tolfdir chuckled. “Though next time you may want to wait until I'm ready!”

“Of course, of course!” Kiir heaved a sigh. “My apologies.”

Tolfdir placed his hands on his hips. “No need for apologies!”

Up in the seats, Eithis stood and stretched. “We should get going before Ancano throws a fit.”

“J’zargo is sure he will have a fit to throw simply for the three of us walking in together.” J’zargo added.

Another fit then.”

Kiir nodded, meeting them at the door. She was not thrilled to take the written test- having messed up her physical portion, any confidence she’d had going in was gone.

Eithis bumped into Kiir’s shoulder. “Chin up, we’ve just got this to do and then we’re done!”

“J’zargo thinks we should have showed Tolfdir our new spell.”

Eithis rolled his eyes. “You nearly killed yourself both times you’ve used it.”

“Clearly J’zargo’s magic is powerful then, no?”

Kiir cast a glance at them. “Are you going to tell me or do I have to ask?”

Eithis nodded towards the doors to the Arcanaeum. “We have absolutely no intention of telling you, better yet we’ll sh-”

“Why am I not surprised.”

Kiir turned her head from Eithis towards Ancano, who looked none too pleased. “My apologies. Our previous section ran a little late.”

“Our?” Ancano clicked his tongue. “Associating with vagabonds will only bring you trouble. This being a perfect example.”

Eithis grinned, proudly accepting the Vagabond title. J’zargo stuck out his tongue instead.

Ancano barely gave them a second glance before turning. “Well, we haven’t got all day. Let’s get on with this.”

The trio accepted the test papers from Ancano and moved deeper into the Arcanaeum. Finding seats far enough apart that they couldn’t be accused of cheating, they settled in and got comfortable.

It wasn’t particularly difficult, and after a relatively short time Kiir finished first, handing her test to a smug Ancano.

He grinned. “Done already? I should’ve known you’d catch up quickly.”

“This was more a review than anything.” Kiir smiled. It always felt odd accepting his praise, knowing how poorly he spoke of Eithis and J’zargo.

Behind Kiir, the sound of chair scooting backwards caught her attention. Eithis rose and walked up front to join them, handing in his own test.

Ancano’s face fell into a hard line. “Mmm. Thank you.”

Eithis turned to Kiir, though his comment still seemed directed at Ancano. “A closer race than you might have expected, eh?”

“J’zargo thinks this test is unfair.”

“Be quiet, all of you.” Ancano snapped. He pointed to the door. “If you both are finished...”

Kiir caught the message and turned to travel out the doors, Eithis beside her.

“About that thing earlier,” he began as they exited the room, “the spell? When J’zargo gets out, whenever that happens to be, we’ll come find you.”

Kiir nodded. “Alright. Where are you going?”

“I don’t know, out? I need some fresh air. Maybe to grab something good to eat in Winterhold. Wanna come?”

“Nah,” Kiir shook her head. “I’m actually pretty tired. I’m going to go take a nap.”

“Your loss.”

Kiir trudged outside and into the dorms, flopping herself down on her bed. How late had she stayed up last night that she’d be this tired? Maybe it was just all the worry about this test... which wasn’t even really a test. All that worry for nothing.

With a huff and sigh, Kiir let herself fall asleep.


Kiir could never tell what time it was in the dorms; there were no windows and she wasn’t used to not waking to sunlight in the morning. Instead, one of the upper level mages would walk around at 6 and wake everyone up and, if you stayed asleep past then, the loud bells would ring at 8. It was all so sharp and immediate that Kiir felt more tired in her first weeks at the College than she ever had before in her life.

This time, however, she was woken up by something different.

“Hey, wake up.”

Kiir opened her eyes to the familiar blue glow of the focus point in the main chamber. Unexpectedly, though, was Eithis’s head inches from her face, grinning from ear to ear.

She recoiled and groaned. “What?”

“J’zargo and I are going to go practice that spell we wanted to show you.” Eithis bounced his hands on her bed. “So come on, get up.”

“Ugh.” Kiir rolled over. What time was it? She felt more tired now than she had when she fell asleep. “Is this really worth getting up for?”

“Absolutely. It’s a Master level spell!”

Kiir sighed and swung her blankets back. “Where are we meeting?”

“Where else? Get dressed and meet us up there.” Eithis darted from the room, presumably to meet back up with J’zargo on the roof.

Thankfully, Kiir had fallen asleep in her robes, so she only needed to pull on her shawl and boots before heading up the stairs.

It was past dark and Kiir frowned. Had she really slept that long? The light snowfall was colored blue from the magelights placed about the perimeter. J’zargo and Eithis were sitting on the stone benches at the apex of the curved path when she joined them.

“So what exactly are we doing?”

As J’zargo stood and fell into a fighting stance, bright purple veins of electricity danced up and shot back down his arms. His hands moved around each other, and a growing ball of sparks resting between them. Then he shoved his hands forward and the ball of electricity exploded violently outward, causing the khajiit to leap into the air, bristled and patting at singed fur along his arms.

Kiir pulled her shawl closer. “Lightning.”

“More specifically, Lightning Storm .” Eithis said, standing next to J’zargo. “C’mere.”

Kiir walked over, keeping her face still. She tried to look unconcerned. Despite leaps and bounds in her understanding of it, Destruction Magic was not exactly her forte. It was something she’d only just started learning a few weeks ago. Still, the allure of power overshadowed her nerves. She repressed a giggle.

Eithis grabbed her left hand and held it out. “Ok, so this spell is kinda like dual casting. On one hand, you’re going to be casting the spell, but you can’t let it go, kind of like Thunderbolt you have to keep hold of it.”

“Alright.”

“And on the other hand,” Eithis grabbed for her right hand. “You can’t just charge it in one spot - there’s too much going on. You’re going to have to direct it around yourself until you’re ready to let it burst. Following me so far?”

“Yup.” Kiir’s hands were ice cold.

“Ok. Now when you cast it, unlike your other spells where your focus is on your hands alone, where you’re casting from, you’re going to have to be aware of your entire body. You’re making almost a barrier of lightening all the way around, right up until you release it.”

“Isn’t that a lot of magicka?”

Eithis shook his head. He motioned for her to stay put, and J’zargo moved to stand next to her as Eithis stepped into the ring of dummies they’d set up. Like J’zargo, he first cast a bright ball of electricity that quickly spread to arc across his arms as they circled each other. Soon a torrent of flashing bolts spiraled around his entire body, the brightest point the ball between his hands. With a sweeping thrust of his practically glowing arms, the entire orb around him raced outward, latching onto every dummy around him and throwing them forcefully away from him.

He grinned triumphantly. “The lightning is pretty self sustaining once you have it going. Just keep it swirling around yourself. Concentrating it on your arms works best. But,” He held up a finger. “You have to make sure you don’t let it arc back at you when you release it. You have to bounce the current away from you in ALL directions, not just forward. You’ll hit everyone in your vicinity. Sound good?”

Kiir nodded and stood facing the dummies. Restoration and Illusion Magic dealt with a lot of outer-body manipulation so the redirection was going to be a cinch and it wasn’t like lightning was that complicated of a spell either. She lit the little white-purple ball in her hand.

“Now remember what I said-”

“I’ve got it, Eithis.” Kiir rolled her eyes. She could feel the energy pulsing in her palm and was eager to try it out. She silently made the same arm movements Eithis had and let the ball between her hands grow in intensity. She could feel the bolts crawl up her forearms and her hair stood on end.

Beaming with excitement, Kiir drew her hands backwards before thrusting them forwards again.

The entire area lit up white and as the light faded, Kiir found herself laying on the cold, snowy bricks. Everything felt wrong.

Eithis laughed. “Wow. That was... impressive.”

But Kiir wasn’t laughing. She went to sit up and realized her arms were numb. Her hands felt like they were being dipped in fire and, as she tried to look at them, found her vision blurred. What was going on? She tried to draw in a breath to calm herself but it felt like her lungs were only taking in half of what they should’ve.

“Hey,” Eithis’s laugh had fallen an octave. “You alright?”

“She simply needs to regain her bearings. J’zargo had this happen to him the first time he cast the spell. And the second.”

Kiir felt Eithis crouch beside her. He grabbed for her hands and she flinched away, but he’d seen enough. They were bright red and it looked like the top layer of skin had been burned away. They went up her wrist and disappeared underneath her robes, no doubt continuing up to her shoulder.

“We need to get her to Colette. Right now.”

J’zargo stepped forwards. “Don’t you know any healing spells?”

Eithis shook his head, his breathing picking up pace. “Not for something like this! Come on, grab her other arm.”

Kiir heard them speaking but they sounded like they were far away under the sound of her rapid heartbeat. She felt lightheaded, and queasy, both of which worsened as the boys hoisted her up. Their grips on her arms were excruciating, the fabric rubbing against the raw skin beneath.

Her legs were far too long for them to adequately pick up off the ground and they dragged behind her, not due to any lack of trying on her part. Quite a few times she tried pulling them upwards but they hung like dead weight and no amount of will power would do otherwise.

Kiir heard the heavy roof door open and felt the biting cold of the outside fall away to the comfortable warmth of the College.

The stairs were torture, as Eithis repeatedly apologized for readjusting his grip on her arm and sending repeated bursts of pain through her body. She vaguely realized that she wasn’t aware of much beyond the pain, and wondered briefly if she was crying.

At the bottom of the steps they sat her down and she heard Eithis say something about leaving her there to go find Colette. She focused in on their voices, trying to steady her breathing and ignore the aching in every part of her body and the feeling of burning flames worming their way through her hands.

It was short lived, however, as another voice joined the conversation. “What’s going on here?”

Kiir felt Eithis tense next to her. “What’s going on is we need Colette.”

There was a pause in conversation as she heard the third voice get closer. “What happened to her?”

Ancano.

“It doesn’t matter, we don’t have time for this. We need to Colette!”

Kiir, despite her swimming thoughts and disorientation, felt her stomach drop. The last person she wanted to see her. How was she to explain that she’d botched a spell and nearly gotten herself killed? First the test and now this? Once is a mistake but twice is a pattern. Her breathing picked up and she started hyperventilating.

A hand grabbed her chin and forced her head upwards, sending a wave of dizziness and nausea flooding through her. She pulled away but the hands grip held tight.

“Give her to me.”

“What?”

“This one must insist we locate the Restoration mage as quickly as possible. You can give us the third degree later.”

Ancano clicked his teeth and muttered under his breath; Kiir felt arms under her knees and behind her back.

Eithis made a move to place himself between Kiir and Ancano but J’zargo was faster, using his shoulder to force the Thalmor to retract his arm.

“J’zargo doesn’t trust you. J’zargo thinks you should back off and allow us get help for our friend instead of wasting more of our time.”

Ancano’s head snapped in the cat’s direction and, when he didn’t shy from the glare, spoke with venom. “The only one who’s time is wasting is hers. If you had even an ounce of common sense in that primitive head of yours you’d realize a Thalmor representative would be far more adept at healing than some Breton who’s fooled herself into thinking she’s a mage.”

“Do you even know any magic? We all see how big you talk but this one has never once seen you cast. This one wonders if the rest of Thalmor sent you here to get rid of you.”

There was a momentary flash of anger behind the Thalmor’s eyes and J’zargo saw it. But Ancano, instead of responding, shoved the Khajiit back and scooped up a now limp Kiir, heading towards the door.

Eithis’s eyes darted back and forth a little desperately. He wanted to run for Colette, but he couldn’t just leave J’zargo and Ancano alone with Kiir, especially when he had no idea where he was taking her.

A low hiss echoed Eithis’ thoughts. “Where are you taking her?” J’zargo stalked after Ancano, aggression apparent in every step but not willing to attack while Kiir was in his arms.

“It is not your place to ask that question,” Ancano answered, tone cold. “Nor do I feel like answering.” He opened the heavy doors to the Hall of Attainment and a cold burst of air wrapped itself around the dorms.

The boys followed the Thalmor out. Eithis made a break for it, running as quickly as he could for Colette before Ancano could get too far away. J’zargo tried to step in front of Ancano again to slow him down and demand a second time to know where his friend was being taken.

Ancano shoved him aside, his stride not slowing. He rounded the statue and made straight for the Hall of Elements.

Kiir felt tired more than anything else now. Her hands still hurt, granted her whole body did, but it fell back to the warm, inviting call of sleep. She knew people were talking around her, not that she could make any of it out, and that she was being carried somewhere. She tried to ask why, but found her mouth dry and wasn’t sure if a sound had even come out.

A small chamber off the side of the hall was converted into an alchemy room some years ago. It served as a makeshift sick room, where the more serious injuries were treated on the off chance they weren’t fatal.  There were a few beds and copious amounts of potions and elixirs sorted somewhat haphazardly on shelves.

J’zargo was on Ancano’s heels the entire way, moving to stand on the side of the bed that Ancano had placed Kiir on. Her normally golden skin had taken on a unpleasant pale appearance and her breathing was still coming in short, now raspy, gasps.

“Your attendance is not needed.” Ancano said, removing his gloves and pushing his sleeves up to his elbows. “The only thing you’ll be is in the way.”

“If you hurt her, this one being in your way will be the least of your problems.”

Ancano turned from the bed, pausing in front of one of the shelves of potions before grabbing a green tinted one. He removed the cork and set it on the bedside table. “Move, cat.”

J’zargo hesitantly took a step back as Ancano placed a spindly hand onto Kiir’s chest. The typical golden glow of healing magic spun about his fingers.

Kiir’s chest suddenly rose and fell, settling into a much more natural rhythm. Her head lolled to the side and she thought she’d asked where she was but nothing more than a murmur escaped her lips. Numb to nearly everything happening outside her head, Kiir finally let her exhaustion get the best of her.

J’zargo saw Kiir’s body relax and perked up. “What just-”

“She’s exhausted.” Ancano interrupted, grabbing the green bottle he’d set down earlier. “I’m more surprised she was even still awake when I found you all.”

Had Ancano not left the door open, Eithis probably would have taken much longer to find the sick room. J’zargo made eye contact with Eithis as he walked in, the latter mouthing ‘she was asleep’.

Ancano moved fluidly between the shelves and Kiir, both Eithis and J’zargo watching him intently. Eithis saw her hands were no longer as red, resembling their natural hue much closer.

“If you both insist on staying here, I suggest you start explaining yourselves.” He placed a hand on the side of Kiir’s head and the golden light danced.

“Someone forgot to dispel their storm atronach on the roof. We ran into it and Kiir happened to get caught in the crossfire.” Eithis said.

Ancano looked up to stare at him for a moment. “You might be able to pass that off onto Colette or possibly Savos but not me.”

J’zargo raised an eyebrow. “Have you something against the truth?”

“I have something against idiots who have no control over their magic and expect to pass off their glaring shortcomings on a rogue atronach.” Ancano pulled his sleeves back down to his wrists. “Do either of you have any idea how close to death she was?”

Eithis glanced down to Kiir, whose long limbs hung awkwardly off the bed. The ends of her robes looked charred.

“Made much closer by your stalling.” J’zargo replied, having stepped towards Ancano.

Ancano pulled on one of his gloves. “Stalling? I saved her life .”

“Your help was unnecessary. Colette would have helped her.”

“And yet she is still not here. Left to that breton alone she’d be dead.” Ancano put on his second glove and brushed off his robes.

That earned him a growl, “Excuse you?”

There was a short, almost laughing sound that came from Ancano’s throat. “Is this how you treat friends?”

Eithis turned to follow Ancano’s gaze back to Kiir, silently asleep on the medical cot. J’zargo, however, took another step towards the Thalmor.

“Rushing to get her help when she was in need certainly seems like a friendly thing to do.”

Ancano huffed. “And who put her in that situation in the first place?”

“This one hardly sees how that matters! We are meant to experiment, yes? What matters is how we handled it.”

Eithis continued. “And accidents happen! We learn from them! We come back smarter and stronger!”

“So it wasn’t a rogue atronach. This was some kind of experiment?” Ancano shook his head, but a sneer was still present on his face. “Take one look at your friend and you’ll see she’s hardly ‘smarter and stronger’. In fact, I’d wager quite the opposite.”

Eithis felt the fire drain from his body. He no longer wanted to fight or argue or spin words; he was exhausted. He collapsed into the bedside chair. He just wanted to sit and wait for her to wake.

J’zargo, on the other hand, was nearly snarling. He opened his mouth to respond but was cut off as Colette finally entered the room.

“What in the world?”

Ancano finished righting his clothes and smiled at Colette. “Oh good, the entertainment has arrived.”

“What happened here?” Colette demanded, seemingly ignoring Ancano’s comment to her.

“I’ll let those two explain. I’ve got more important errands to attend to.” And without another word, Ancano swiftly moved out of the room.

Colette looked to the boys expectantly, waiting for them to say something. Anything.

But neither spoke up. J’zargo took a seat next to Eithis and silently smoldered.

“Well? Is she hurt? Did Ancano do something?”

J’zargo scoffed, but still offered Colette no response.

“Everything’s taken care of, Colette.” Eithis finally said. “I’m sorry for waking you.”

Colette stood uncertainly for a moment more before moving to exit the room.


Kiir woke, peeling her eyelids back and trying to feel out where she was. Had she ever seen this room before? It looked unfamiliar. She started to pull herself up but a voice stopped her.

“Don’t get up. Just. Just stay there, Kiir.”

Kiir turned. Eithis sat beside her, his hand hovering just above her shoulder- afraid to touch it. She leaned back to settle onto her elbows but a sudden static ache that ran up and down her arms made her realize that wasn’t happening. She laid back down. “What happened?”

“We tried to do Lightning Storm and it backfired when you cast it.”

“It is not rare for a first casting,” J’zargo put in, “J’zargo did it many times himself, but his body was not so susceptible to his own magic.”

Kiir looked back at the ceiling. Some of her memories were still hazy, but that she now remembered. She’d fucked the spell up and nearly killed herself. Great. Just great. “Am I alright? I feel... alright.”

“You will be alright.” Eithis hesitated, “Ancano made sure of that.”

Kiir groaned, closing her eyes. She saw that Eithis looked apologetic; he understood that Ancano was the last person Kiir’d want to know she’d failed so miserably. Ancano would be absolutely thrilled.

J’zargo leaned forward. “Eithis tried to get Colette instead, but Ancano found us first. We are sorry. We did not tell him how it happened though, we-”

Ancano and Savos strode in, cutting the khajiit’s hushed voice off entirely.

“Out.” Ancano was not asking, and the look on Savos’s face said it was not up for debate.

J’zargo’s ears laid back and Eithis’s head creased with worry, but they followed the command, slipping out quickly, concerned gazes lingering on Kiir for as long as they could.

Savos wasted no time moving to Kiir’s beside as she tried to sit up again. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel fine.” As if on cue, Kiir knocked her arm against the bed and that static returned. She smiled. “Well, kind of.”

“Your arms won’t be fully healed for a week or two, but you should be able to return to class in a few days.” Ancano moved to stand beside Savos. “I’d be careful with any spellcasting in that time regardless.”

“A few days?” Kiir frowned. “As in... 2? 3?”

“A few.” Savos patted her knee. “I know being kept out of the fun is unpleasant but we’d rather you be safe than sorry. As for right now, we need to hear what happened.”

Kiir shrugged, keeping her face as still as possible. Ancano was staring her down, eyes unmoving and she squirmed. “I don’t really... remember.”

“Come now.” Ancano took a seat in one of the chairs. “There’s no need for you to protect those...”

“What Ancano’s saying is that if someone did this to you, you don’t need to fear repercussions. We take these sort of things seriously here.” Savos watched her, his eyes soft.

Ancano scoffed at the arch mage, “Surely it isn’t blackmail she fears. Those three are inseparable. Regardless, even if it was an accident, measures must be taken to keep these things from happening. You mustn’t allow irresponsible behaviors to continue just because you, somehow, enjoy their company.”

Kiir could feel her grasp on the situation slowly slipping. There was no way she could admit she’d been the one to cast the botched spell- not with Ancano there. But if she didn’t... “Did Eithis or J’zargo say anything? They were there, they’d remember more than I would.”

“Ah, at least you admit that they were present.” Ancano chuckled. “Indeed they said quite a lot. They dreamed up something about a Storm Atronach-”

“Yes!” Kiir interrupted. “I remember that! It was just... huge! Massive even! Just, floating... around.”

Savos narrowed his eyes. “That seems highly unlikely. Atronachs require a steady stream of magicka... if no one was there to-”

“She’s protecting those two.” Ancano cut the Arch-Mage off. “For whatever reason. You have been made aware that you were very near death.”

Kiir’s eyes widened a little, enough for Ancano to continue.

“They must not have told you. Why would they?” Ancano shook his head. “They nearly killed you and here you are, lying to keep them from trouble.”

“We don’t know that she’s lying, Ancano.” Savos spoke, his voice low.

“Look at her arms!” Ancano moved to grab one of Kiir’s wrists but hesitated before returning his hands to his sides. “Even mostly-healed you can see this was no atronach.”

“Even so, we don’t know that it was the fault of those boys. If she feels there is no lingering threat, perhaps it would be best if we let it go.”

Ancano hissed under his breath. “Very well. But the truth will come out eventually. And when it does, I can promise you those friends of yours will be dealt with accordingly.”

Kiir felt a knot tighten in her gut as she watched Ancano storm from the room. Everything was going wrong and she was helpless to fix it. What could she say? What could she do?

“If you change your mind about telling us what happened, we will always be ready to listen. Accidents are bound to happen… circumventing repeated mistakes is still important.” Savos stood and patted Kiir’s knee once again. “I wish you swift recovery, Kiir.”

 

Chapter Text

The walk to Saarthal was grueling, if not particularly lengthy. Kiir doubted she’d ever get used to dragging her feet though so much snow, her long stride doing precious little to help her passage.

She glanced at Colette, one of the shortest by far, who was easily keeping pace. It was a wonder the shorter races could plow through with such ease.

Even the icy chill of melting snow working its way into her boots couldn’t quell her smile though. She’d been eagerly awaiting the day of the trip. This was it, finally, and on top of that, she was mostly healed up. She let flames flicker over her fingertips as they walked. No pain. The radiant heat didn’t even irritate her freshly healed skin.

She noticed Eithis’ head tilted in her direction. He offered her a weak smile when she met his eye. J’zargo was somewhere near the head of the pack - eager to get first pick of whatever treasures they were to unearth.

Kiir was always surprised at how ancient the buildings in Skyrim looked. Dark grey stone, notched and rough, looking like they were barely holding together. Saarthal was no different and she was careful where she placed her feet as they descended the stairs to the ruin’s base.

As they approached the sprawling entrance, Tolfdir paused to allow the group to gather together.

“Alright everyone, a few rules before we go in.” Tolfdir waited while they huddled even closer to the door, making sure they all could hear him. “The College allows, and encourages, risk taking. But,” his eyes flicked towards Kiir, “I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

Kiir frowned.

“I want groups of at least two wherever you go. Watch each other’s backs. If it looks dangerous, it probably is- this ruin hasn’t been looked through yet so we can expect booby traps. Perhaps draugr. Keep an eye on your surroundings.” Tolfdir smiled. “But most importantly, this is a learning experience. Have fun, find some artifacts, and maybe learn a little of Skyrim’s history along the way.”

Turning and humming to himself, Tolfdir forced open the doors of Saarthal and wandered inside, the rest of the class dutifully following suit.

Kiir had been hoping to meander through the ruin, taking her time to observe all she could. However, as soon as Tolfdir had opened the doors J’zargo stormed ahead, sliding quickly down the wooden platforms and further into the ruin.

“J’zargo!” Eithis looked back at Kiir, giving her a shrug before he too made his way downward.

Everything wooden in this place looked rotted and weak. Kiir went after the boys as quickly as she could while still checking every place her feet touched. Every time a board creaked or snapped she could feel her heart drop.

On the stone floor, even despite the scattered debris, she was able to move faster, catching up to where J’zargo had stopped to begin rifling through a pile of objects.

“What was that for?” Kiir asked.

“J’zargo plans to find the best artifact- and one does not find those at the entrance .”

Kiir sighed, turning to look behind her. “I don’t even remember how we got here. This whole place looks the same.”

“Once you have seen one, you have seen them all.” J’zargo mumbled, still digging.

“You’ve been in ruins before?”

J’zargo only chuckled. “Old ruins are plentiful. Newly uncovered ones are not. J’zargo understands that you are new to Skyrim, but still he does not plan on letting you mooch. You will have to find your own treasure.”

“We’re supposed to stick together.” Kiir contested. “We can’t ‘go find our own’.”

Eithis shrugged. “I’m sure we’ll be alright if we don’t go too far. As long as someone is close enough to help if there’s any trouble.”

Kiir looked back at the room and frowned. She was sure she’d get lost if she wandered further than a few feet from where she stood. There was a single doorway to her left that looked to be relatively well lit. “I guess I’ll go this way.”

“Holler if you need anything.”

The bridge to the door was thin and quite high off the ground. Kiir watched carefully where she placed her feet as she walked over. The archway lead into a smaller hallway that, on one end, had collapsed and the other had a thick iron gate.

This was the first gate Kiir had seen and, as she approached, realized it to be moveable. There was a space above the gate that looked to house it... if she could figure out how to get it up there.

Kiir’s passive anxiety was replaced with intrigue as she wrapped her hands around the bars and shook. It was sturdy alright, but there had to be something around to move it.

There weren’t any levers or pulleys or buttons from what she could see. Kiir ran her hands along the carvings in the wall, wondering if perhaps the riddle was answered in whatever language had been carved into the stone.

Following along the wall with her hands, her fingers fell upon a smooth statue. It was vaguely humanoid and adorned with a surprisingly well detailed necklace. Kiir moved to touch it and, as she did, the charms moved with her fingers. They weren’t carved... they were separate from the statue.

“Hey, guys!” Kiir dug her nail between the necklace and the statue, trying to pry it up. “Come check this out!”

Eithis’ reply was drowned out by a series a loud metallic clunks sounds to her left and Kiir turned just in time to see an iron gate crash to the ground. She held the necklace in her hand now and she huffed. Of course.

The boys came jogging up and Eithis shook his head at her, “Congratulations, you found a gate trigger.”

J’zargo hissed in mock-offense and pointed at her hand, “She has stolen J’zargo’s treasure!”

Eithis' smile vanished as his gaze dropped quickly to her fingers, “Please tell me that isn’t what triggered the gate.”

“Um.” She winced.

Eithis groaned.

“Try putting it back!” J’zargo suggested.

Kiir turned back to the statue and carefully laid the necklace back in its place.

Nothing happened.

“Eh,” Kiir took the necklace back. “I’m sure there’s a way out of here... somewhere.”

“J’zargo thinks you should give him the necklace. For safe keeping of course.”

Kiir raised a brow and, not breaking eye contact, slid the necklace over her head. “Finders keepers.”

J’zargo crossed his arms and pouted, but Kiir’s attention had already been drawn towards the statue again. The area around it had become warped and unsteady.

Kiir at first wondered if she was growing dizzy but then realized that it was only the area around the statue. She reached out a hand and could feel only the warm pulse of magicka where she should have felt stone. “I don’t think...”

“What?”

Without finishing her sentence, Kiir strode towards the statue and suddenly found herself on the other side of the wall. She grinned- this was getting interesting. “Can you guys hear me?”

“This one can hear you fine!”

“Can you find a lever or a pull chain? Anything that might reopen the gate?” Eithis had raised his voice, though he didn’t sound at all muffled. “Be careful before you pull anything though, make sure it isn’t a booby trap first!”

“Right, right.” Kiir looked around her at the tunnel she now found herself in. It wrapped itself around and she couldn’t see where it ended. “There’s a tunnel here, I’m going to follow it.”

“Just be careful!” Eithis' voice overlapped with a shout from the khajiit.

“The next artifact belongs to J’zargo!"

Kiir chuckled, shaking her head. The tunnel’s ceiling was just above her head and she had to be careful of large rocks that stuck out from all angles. Slowly but surely it opened into a circular room with a desk, littered with waterlogged papers, in the very center. Three massive obsidian slabs sat along the wall, two of the three opened containing-

“Are these bodies ?” Kiir shouted. These were ruins, sure, but graves? Were these Nord burial grounds? A chill ran itself up Kiir’s spine.

Kiir was pretty sure she heard Eithis curse before shouting back, “Watch out, and don’t yell! They might be-“

A blue light filled the room and Eithis’ voice was cut off suddenly, enveloped by silence. Instead, another voice filled the space.

“You are not... who we were expecting.”

The voice had no discernable source, much like the accompanying light.

“A pleasant surprise, it seems. Heed this, mage. Something is brewing and you are helpless to stop it. You walk an untrodden path. Know we walk behind you.”

The blue faded and with the return of the yellow lighting and smell of mildew came Eithis’ voice again.

“ -draugr!”

No sooner had his voice echoed down the tunnel when the sarcophagus at the front of the room shifted. The lid of the slab came slamming to the ground and the mummified corpse within stumbled out.

Kiir stood stock still, her breath gone.

The thing ambled forward with fast, stuttered motions, joints audibly creaking, milky eyes swiveling, and its mouth hung open. It uttered hushed grunts that sent goosebumps across Kiir’s skin.

“What in Auri-El!” Kiir swung an arm out, flames scorching outwards. The flames blocked her view for a moment, but when the creature continued forward unfazed, and now on fire, Kiir panicked.

She turned, trying to run back down the tunnel. Unfortunately, the desk stood in her way. Without a chance to move, Kiir slammed into it. Hard.

Kiir could still hear the thing behind her and she scrambled atop the desk, slipping on the few papers. She turned around to see it lurching an arm up to swing its sword and, in a moment of fear, kicked.

The creature’s head snapped back. It fell against the wall and, before it could regain its bearings, she engulfed it in flames once more.

Kiir held the monster there with her torrent of fire, even past its death. It had not moved but Kiir held it until nothing remained but a smoldering pile of ash. She heaved a breath, settling her shaking limbs down atop the desk. She buried her face in her hands.

It took her a moment to realize the near-frantic voices of her friends were filtering down the tunnel.

“Kiir! Kiir are you okay? What happened? Are you there? Kiir!”

“This one swears that if you have met your death at the hands of a draugr, he will kill you!”

“You didn’t tell me this place had walking corpses! ” Kiir’s hands had not stopped shaking.

“They’re Draugr, Kiir. Tolfdir mentioned them but we didn’t consider you might not know the word,” Eithis at least sounded apologetic. “The nords don’t like to stay dead.”

“And they are not very strong,” J’zargo put in. “This one thinks they should not be too much trouble for you now that you know what to look for! And! If you find any urns along the way, this one urges you to dig through the ashes! There could be gemstones inside!”

Kiir scoffed, but didn’t reply. She instead picked her head up, trying to steady her breathing, suddenly realizing the sarcophagus had opened into a doorway. She had to go deeper to escape. Fantastic. “I think I’ve found my way out.”

“Kiir!” Eithis’ voice continued to echo down the tunnel, “Go ahead and keep moving forward, but I’m going to go get Tolfdir. We’ll try to get the gate open and meet you inside. Don’t take on anything you can’t handle alone.”

“I think we’re long past that point.” Kiir slipped through the new doorway and into the next room.

There was no doubt in Kiir’s mind now that Saarthal was a burial ground. Room after room was filled with bodies, some wrapped in rotting cloth and others still dressed in warrior’s garb. Many who had decided she was not welcome.

Kiir could not shake the feeling of wrongness as she walked the halls and caverns, deeper into the ruin. She saw the urns that J’zargo was speaking of but didn’t even consider looking through them. Every so often a chest would appear and, while Kiir could perhaps justify opening those, the stagnant air of the tombs gave her but one objective: leave.

There was something else, too, that she was noticing more and more as she made her way through the winding, body laiden tunnels. Beyond the smell of damp dirt and stale rot... a warmness the she recognized from when she’d been at the statue. Magic, there was something magic.

Kiir pushed open the next set a doors and, as if on cue, a dull hum joined the warmth to confirm her suspicions. She stood on a balcony above a large open changer, and beneath her was an orb, far larger than anything she’d ever seen. It spun at an impossible pace, surrounding itself in a ward-like aura.

“What are you...” Kiir mumbled herself.

Suddenly, she was surrounded by a blast of white light that quickly changed to form images, places, people. She could see a deep green sky and hear fire burning. The images flashed again and she was in... a town? There was screaming, figures running. Another flash and she was back in Saarthal again, catching herself on a pillar before she fell head first onto the floor below.

She had to get out of here, this place was messing with her mind.

Kiir stumbled down the steps, careful to stay a good distance away from the spinning orb. She paused a moment to watch it and was entranced- it was etched with letters... words? The humming was louder here.

Breaking from the trance, Kiir creaked open the nearest door and followed the tunnel. She staggered down a few ledges and pushed open a second set of doors to another chamber. Gods, how long did this go on? Kiir heaved a sigh, about to sit and wait out her rescue.

“Oh!”

Kiir jumped and looked down onto the lower platforms. She could have collapsed from the relief of hearing Tolfdir’s voice below.

“Wonderful! I wasn’t making any progress whatsoever on this gate. Good to see you’re unharmed!” His ever present smile was reassuringly plastered on his face.

“Tolfdir!” The platform Kiir stood on did not seem to have a ladder or stairs. “There’s something up here. An orb, a huge orb! It’s glowing and spinning and-”

“Calm down, dear girl. Come, make your way over here so I can hear you better.”

Kiir realized she’d have to jump... or at least drop down onto the next nearest ledge. She crouched, swinging her legs over and plopping down to the level where Tolfdir stood. She scrambled over to him. “We have to get up there, we have to... do something with it. It’s huge .”

Tolfdir grinned. “I’ll gladly take a look; it sounds awfully interesting.”

“I can show you-”

“You look like you’ve been through the ringer,” Tolfdir stopped her. “I’ve sent everyone back to the college with their finds... I think you should do that same. Besides, your friends seemed quite worried- seeing you might set their minds at ease.”

Kiir nodded, still a bit unsure how she felt sending Tolfdir alone back into that place. Still, she turned towards the entrance door as the cheerful Nord made his way towards the platform Kiir had just descended from.

The brisk winter air felt far more welcoming than it had been when Kiir had come this morning. She closed her eyes and heaved in a breath of it, letting it chill her lungs.

Rather suddenly she was nearly knocked off balance by a forceful fuzzy embrace.

“Oh thank the Eight.” Eithis sighed from nearby. “You had us really worried, and Tolfdir insisted we go back to the college.”

J’zargo was still against her chest as he spoke. “He said that we were only getting in the way and breaking his focus. This one thinks he did not want to be watched because he did not know what he was doing,”

Kiir looked down at the khajiit and tentatively returned the hug. “Are you... purring?”

The rattling cut off as he let go and scowled, crossing his arms and letting his whiskers lay flat.

Eithis leaned against him and affectionately scratched between his ears, which only served to make J’zargo’s ears lay back flatter and his tail lash petulantly. “Don’t worry, it’s cute.”

Kiir grinned, happy to finally be out of that place. She was the first to start back to the college, looking forward to some warm cider and an even warmer bed.


It seemed that there was never a moment where the marketplace was not filled with the sounds of music. Whether it was the peaceful melodies that rang out a midday or the high paced evening pieces that brought young couples out to dance, there were always sounds to accompany Kiir’s  walks downtown.

“Hey,” a voice spoke from beside her. A gentle hand placed itself on her shoulder. “You seem a little distracted.”

Kiir shook her head and smiled. “No, just... enjoying the weather.”

Her father returned her smile and looked upwards. He hummed a soft tune to himself. “So Vitrano seems like a nice boy.”

Kiir laughed. “I knew you just wouldn’t be able to pass up the chance.”

“What!” Her father chuckled and bumped into her shoulder. “A father can’t be curious?”

“I never said anything like that.” Kiir corrected. She looked down at the cobblestone path that they walked. “I’m... excited mostly. Nervous, too. But there’s nothing too involved until the actual ceremony.”

“Nonsense. Half the fun is getting there!”

“Half the stress, you mean.”

Her father rolled his eyes, still grinning. “Don’t even try to convince me you aren’t enjoying all the pampering. You could barely contain yourself the last time you went dress shopping!”

“I wasn’t that bad!” It’d been a week or two since she’d gone with her mother and aunt to shop for wedding dresses, but the image of herself in the flower patterned lace still brought a smile to her face. “I said I was excited!”

“You’re just like your mother, Kiir.”

Kiir squinted up at her father. “What?”

“I said you’re just like-”

“No, the name. What did you just call me?”

Her father opened his mouth to speak but his image immediately became distorted. The music began to drift, sounding like it had been put under miles of water.

“Kiir?”

Kiir closed her eyes and when she opened them again, she saw the blurry stone rocks of her College room. She was face down in her pillow, a bit of drool escaping the side of her mouth.

“Kiir?”

She pushed herself up and brushed the drool from her mouth and rolled over to a figure standing in her doorway. It was far too tall to be Eithis or J’zargo and the light coming in from the outside room made it hard to make out who it was. She could just make out long hair and dark blue robes. She felt a knot in her gut tighten. “Dad?”

There was a beat of silence. “Hardly. Wake up, Kiir.”

Kiir was suddenly awake, her face flushed. She sat up fully and rubbed her eyes, shaking off the last dregs of sleep. She gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs nearby as she slunk out of bed and into the other. “My apologies, Ancano. Did you need something?”

He nodded, gracefully lowering himself into the chair against the wall. “I understand you returned a bit later than the other students from Saarthal yesterday. I would like to speak with you about it, per our agreement.”

“Of course.” Kiir was attempting to straighten her sleep-rumpled robes, embarrassed at her state of dress in addition to her faux pas. She’d completely forgotten the agreement to fill him in on the goings on of the trip. “I can just give you the short version right now if-”

Ancano shook his head. “I would prefer as many details as possible.”

“Right,” she began, “I suppose I do have some explaining to do. Did that... orb get brought in safely?”

“Yes, thankfully. Completely intact.”

“What is it? Do you know?”

“The Eye of Magnus.”

Kiir recognized the god of Magic’s name but as to how that tied to a powerful floating orb was beyond her. “Is it dangerous?”

“Not in the right hands it’s not.” Ancano deadpanned. “It’s lucky that you were the one who found it. Who’s to say what could have happened had it been bandits plundering the ruin for valuables?”

There was a thought to J’zargo’s comment on the urns, but Kiir quickly moved past it. “Do you know what the college is going to do with it?”

“That’s yet to be determined and, decidedly, not the topic of our conversation.”

Kiir raised a brow. “I thought you wanted to know about Saarthal?”

“I do. But moreso on the events that took place prior to the discovery of the Eye.” Ancano paused, waiting for Kiir to begin speaking.

She shrugged. “We... went into the ruin. I found a necklace, got trapped and had to find a new way out. That new way just so happened to have the Eye. Dumb luck, I guess.”

Ancano hummed. “And Tolfdir allowed you all free reign of this place?”

“No, no!” Kiir shook her head. “He had us group up, to make sure we weren’t alone.”

“And I assume you had a group?”

“Eithis and J’zargo.”

Ancano’s face drew in a thin line. “I figured as much. Though I can’t say I’m surprised what happened to you in the ruin did so under their watch.”

Kiir frowned. “This wasn’t their fault. I picked up a necklace that triggered a gate. We got seperated by it, it was a total accident.”

“And you’re sure of that? You saw them every moment of the trip? They didn’t lead you anywhere?”

“That’s ridiculous. J’zargo ran in so fast Eithis and I nearly lost him. Then he had me off searching on my own. There’s no way-”

Ancano raised an eyebrow. “They had you off searching on your own. I thought the groups were to stay together.”

“We were still together, I was just off to the side-”

“The side where you were ultimately trapped and nearly killed by draugr, yes. I know of that already. Tolfdir informed me.”

“Nearly killed is a little... exaggerated.”

“Be that as it may, I still cannot ignore that this is becoming a pattern. You’ve only just recovered from the last time your ‘friends’ have needlessly and recklessly endangered your life.” Ancano did not break eye contact. “Your view of the events are being skewed by your attachment to those two. Something must be done.”

Kiir frowned. “I disagree. Everything turned out fine. There’s no need-”

“You said that initially and look how that turned out. You protecting them has done you no good at all-”

“What is your problem with them?” Kiir demanded. She had leaned forward in her chair. “You’ve been nothing but terrible to them and they’re the problem? I do not need your guidance for who I should associate with!”

“Clearly you do, as your choices make obvious.”

Kiir was taken aback. “Excuse me? They have done nothing-”

“Nothing? They almost killed you!”

I almost killed me!” Kiir shouted. “ I wasn’t careful; I botched the spell! They didn’t want to tell you because they knew how embarrassed I’d be! How embarrassed I am!

Ancano humphed. “I cannot believe you’d lie , sully your own reputation, to earn the approval of someone whose opinion shouldn't even matter”

Kiir stood, launching her arms out in front of her and hearing her chair screech backwards. She reached over with each hand, pulling her sleeves up to her shoulders. “Something funny about lightning spells: they burn. A whole lot more than fire spells do, actually. Did you know that?”

“I can see how one could assume-”

“Tell me, Ancano, where does the lightning concentrate itself when Lightning Storm is cast? Where would it backfire the worst if miscast? Tell me how exactly the damage of a spell cast by someone else would have primarily damaged here,” she gestured to her inner arms, “without also damaging me here?” she gestured to her midsection, chest, shoulders.

Ancano stood too, leveling himself with Kiir. “I can see,” he repeated, “how one could assume that such things-”

Kiir suddenly lost her balance as the entire college shuddered, gripping the edge of her bed to steady herself. A bellowing roar was hardly muffled by the thick stone walls. Everything inside her clenched as the realization struck and adrenaline flooded her system. That was a sound she would never forget.

“Dragon!”

The voice had come from the hall. In a second Kiir was on her feet, racing for the door. Nothing looked too damaged- it must’ve landed in the courtyard. Kiir moved for the outside doors, nearly toppling J’zargo as he, too, raced through hallway, Eithis hot on his heels.

“There is a dragon out there. This one swears on the moons- he was on the roof and saw it headed this way!”

“I know, I know!” Kiir moved for the door, pushing it open.

Red scales stood out against the grey backdrop, hardly obscured by the droves of falling snow. It clung to the roof, spitting fire into the courtyard below.

“Stay under the overhang!”

“No, really?” Kiir took off to the left, trying to get a better view of the beast.

Tolfdir and Savos were already taking shots at the dragon, drawing its attention from the gaggle of students trying to hide in the Hall of Elements.

From her left a Thunderbolt snapped out and connected with the dragon. It turned its head sharply, eyes locking onto Eithis.

Kiir pointed to the statue in the middle of the courtyard. “We can go under his cloak and get a better vantage point!”

Eithis nodded, but J’zargo had already begun to circle to the other side, shooting a Lightning Bolt to draw it’s attention back away from the two mer.

The dragon howled, turning his attention away from Kiir and to the side where J’zargo was. The khajiit barely got his ward up in time to block the burst of flames that still slammed him up against the wall.

Eithis broke into a sprint for J’zargo.

Kiir moved while she had the chance, speeding across the open area to hide under the statue. She nearly tripped and fell over someone who’d fallen in the snow. Kiir reached a hand to pull them to their feet, but instead she’d simply rolled them onto their back.

Nirya.

Kiir blanched, dropping the altmer’s cold hand and stumbling to the place under Shalidor’s stone cloak. She lit an Incinerate spell- her hands were shaking.

Peeking out to see where the dragon’s attentions were, Kiir saw a figure running along the roof, Frost Atronach already thundering behind them.

Kiir threw an Ice Spike, striking the leg holding the dragon more securely to the roof.

The dragon roared, retracting its claws and swiping at the figure on the roof as it began to fall.

It landed with a crash just feet from Kiir. It quickly righted itself, pushing its talons further onto the dark elf now writhing beneath them.

“Brelyna!” Kiir slung another Incinerate. Her spell struck the dragon’s shoulder and two others - a Thunderbolt and another Ice Spike - lanced through one of it’s wings. The dragon seemed unfazed.

It lowered its head, gripping Brelyna between its teeth, and pulled.

Kiir felt blood strike her face. Brelyna was gone, part of her body still hidden behind the dragon’s massive paw.

The dragon let out a snapping growl and lowered its head again, but this time to meet eyes with Kiir. It heaved a breath and threw flame.

Her hardened skin deflected the flames. Kiir held Ebonyflesh for a moment longer, stepping out from beneath the statue. Sparks danced up to her elbows and Kiir thrust her arms forward. A stream of electricity flew from her fingers and met with the side of the dragon.

Moments later Eithis and J’zargo were at her side. Three Lightning Storms engulfed the dragon and it bellowed, attempting to retreat. It stumbled backwards, knocking into the archway and lashing back and forth. It crumpled, lowering its head until it had stopped moving altogether.

Kiir lowered her arms, ready to collapse.

She had only a moment to let the adrenaline settle down, mind drifting towards her lost classmates, when a bout of sharp crackles emanated from the dragon’s body. Her arms were up again in an instant.

The dragon’s skin was glowing like fresh embers, parts floating upwards and disappearing into air. In mere moments  the body was nothing but bone.

A sudden gust of wind picked up and, as Kiir quickly noticed, had centered itself on her. The air spun upwards and she felt her chest swell and body warm, but the moment was fleeting.

Kiir stood still, turning to see J’zargo and Eithis looking just as bewildered as she felt.

Ancano, who’d made his way outside at some point during the battle, was now marching towards the trio. “You thought this wise to keep secret?”

“What?”

“Of course the Dovah name makes considerably more sense- I thought it simply coincidence.”

Tolfdir moved to intercept Ancano, having crossed the courtyard. “I don’t think this is appropriate, Ancano. Our students are still shaken, we can discuss this-”

“Absolutely not. This is a priority and, most specifically, far above your head.” Ancano looked directly at Kiir. “We will be continuing our discussion from earlier.”

Kiir had hardly heard him. She could see his mouth moving but her attention had been drawn to where Brelyna had died. She could just make out the remains of the girl’s robes beneath the snow.

Chapter Text

“Did you ever plan on telling me you were Dragonborn?”

Kiir narrowed her eyes. “Telling you I’m what?”

“Don’t play coy.” Ancano was pacing behind his desk. “This is a nightmare. An Altmer Dragonborn? I don’t know who will be more upset, the Thalmor or the Nords.”

Kiir was tired; Nirya’s cold hands and Brelyna’s horrified face continued to dance in her mind. “You still haven’t told me what the means.”

Ancano snarled . “Daft girl!” He slammed his hands flat on the desk, scattering many of the papers littered there, “How many times have I asked you not to play coy with me? The Dovah name, coming to a war-torn Skyrim of all places, the dragons returning!

Kiir flinched back and looked to respond, not even sure how to continue insisting that she’d never heard of a ‘dragonborn’ before, but hesitated. Actually, something about that word did sound distantly familiar.

Ancano suddenly snatched his hands back up, almost as if burned, and frantically began to collect the papers from the floor, muttering under his breath.

He tossed them back among the others on the table with no semblance of organization, and as Kiir cast her eyes around the room, she realized it wasn’t only loose papers on the desk... There were half a library’s worth of books, from pristine to falling apart, jammed into every nook and cranny. Some were even spelled to the walls, pages hung open with half a dozen dog-eared corners and makeshift bookmarks jammed inside. They weren’t even spelled to hang straight.

She glanced at the last of the papers as he thrust them at his desk. There was definitely a common theme. “Are these all about the Eye of Magnus?”

“You must think me quite the fool, that I might be distracted that easily!” His voice was deadly. “Do not change the subject.”

Kiir blanched. This was not the Ancano she’d spoken to just before the dragon attack. Something was off, something had changed. He hadn’t even been present until the very end of the battle, so he likely didn’t even realize that students were dead. This was something else entirely. Kiir leaned forward and grasped one of the papers on Ancano’s desk, pulling it to her face before Ancano could snatch it back.

It was difficult to find where the text started and Ancano’s notes ended. There were endless scribbles and comments, some in Altmeri but many others not.

This can’t be right, one said.

There was a passage speaking of a staff, circled multiple times, with a note beside it: But how?

Suddenly the paper was gone, Ancano’s grip nearly crumpling the page. “I’ve asked you a question you’ve thus refused to answer. Continuing to lie to me will only hurt you.”

Kiir shook her head. “I’ve already answered your question, and I have a better one: Where were you? When the dragon attacked, you didn’t come out until the battle was over.”

Ancano was caught off guard. He stood straighter, his eyes wild. “Excuse me?”

“Where were you?” Kiir asked again.

“I don’t have to answer you.” Ancano rebuffed, but he was clearly unbalanced. “And I am the one in position to be asking you questions.”

“Do you even know that people died?” Kiir held back an urge to stand, instead scooting forward in her chair. “Brelyna, Nirya?”

Ancano was silent, waiting for her to continue.

“You didn’t, did you. You were in here with-” Kiir waved her hand over his desk, “-this. How is this more important than a dragon?”

Ancano placed his finger on top of a pile of papers. “This is Thalmor business. Something a Thalmor should be concerned with. You forget what I’m here for, and it is not to defend this decrepit place.”

“People died .” Kiir spoke more out of surprise than anything.

“An unfortunate occurrence to be sure.”

“Unfortunate? How about preventable?” This time Kiir did stand, putting her face level with Ancano. “You know, I let a lot of your comments go because I was new and I wasn’t going to put myself where I didn’t belong. I figured an Altmer, and a Thalmor, would know how to conduct themselves. But this is utterly inexcusable.”

Kiir shoved her chair back with her legs and brushed past Ancano, heading for the door. “You can find me in the Hall of Elements if you have any more questions.

The door to Ancano’s office opened and closed without another word.


 “There you are,” Etihis jogged over as Kiir exited the college and entered the courtyard. She looked around wondering where J’zargo was. Eithis seemed to understand and answered the unasked question. “J’zargo is down in Winterhold,” his voice then dropped to a hush, “helping dig the graves.” He looked her up and down, scrutinizing, “How are you doing? Are you okay?”

“I’m alright.” Kiir looked about the courtyard, “I don’t know if I can say the same of Ancano.” Her eyes were drawn to the red stained snow and she quickly turned back to Eithis.

“What makes you say that?”

Kiir laughed, recalling to absurdity. “He was shouting at me, claiming I had planned this or something. Slamming his desk- his entire office looked like a storm had gone through.”

Eithis cocked his head, “I thought he was just being testy because he blamed us for Saarthal thing. He’s been overly hostile since we came back last night. Moreso than usual. I’m surprised he lashed out at you, too. He always seems so collected around you.”

“I have no idea what’s going on with him.” Kiir shook her head. She gestured around the courtyard. “I’m sure there’s still work to do around here- how can I help?”

Eithis eyed the stain in the snow. “There really isn’t much left to do. After Ancano whisked you off to his office, pretty much everyone came to help take care of things.”

Kiir frowned. She didn’t like being idle, especially now. “There must be something...”

Eithis reached out a hand. “Hey, this shook a lot of us up. Let’s head to the dorms, yeah? I’m sure J’zargo’s got some wine or something stashed away.”

“Do you know when he’s going to be back?”

“Before nightfall, surely. There weren’t many... losses.” Eithis paused. “Drevis, Colette, Enthir, and Urag of all people are with him. It shouldn’t take too long.”

“The librarian?”

“He’s strong,” his implication was made clear by his inability to meet her eyes as he said it, “And he felt it owed it to them, since he didn’t make it out in time to help with the battle.”

They walked in silence after that, Kiir following behind Eithis as they made their way to the dorms. Kiir was careful to keep her eyes from wandering. Her mind had calmed since the attack, but in the silence should could still hear the dragon’s low grumble. She shivered, even as they entered the balmy dorms.

“You did really well by the way.” Eithis sat on his bed, Kiir taking up the chair along the wall. “I thought you were crazy to try Lightning Storm again after how that turned out the first time. And under pressure no less.”

Kiir laughed. “I got lucky, that’s all.”

Eithis scoffed, and for a few minutes they sat in silence.

“Do you think that was an actual dragon?” Eithis asked after a while. “I mean, most of it disappeared when we killed it. Maybe it was some sort of powerful conjuration.”

“I guess.” Kiir said, despite knowing that the staggering amount of magic needed to conjure something that large and that real would have been borderline impossible. “But what about the bones it left behind?”

Eithis gave a conceding nod. “That’s true. Necromancy, maybe? Can that be combined with conjuration?”

That didn’t seem right either. “If that were the case, only the bones would’ve reanimated. But it had flesh and fire, both very real.”

“Either way I don’t like it.”

“On that we agree.”

The two were silent for a moment, lost in thought. It had been a long afternoon for both of them, Kiir knew. Maybe an early night would prove best-

A familiar furry face peeked into Eithis’ quarters. “J’zargo is pleased that he wasn’t missing anything. He was afraid you had found something interesting to do without him.”

Kiir smiled up at him. Even the ever jovial khajiit looked drawn and haggard, but he tried to force a smile back.

“Then again, he isn’t sure that would be possible. J’zargo is always the one who finds the interesting things to do.” He tossed his dirty shawl onto Eithis’ bed post and sat next to him. “Are we just going to sleep, then?” He actually didn’t sound particularly opposed to the idea.

“I’m not sure I could sleep even if I wanted to.” Kiir admitted.

“Then a walk?” Eithis offered.

“Is there even any roof left?” Kiir asked, only half joking.

J’zargo laid back onto the bed. “J’zargo just got in from the cold and you assume he wants to go back out into it?”

“You’re welcome to stay here alone if you want.” Eithis pressed. “I’d like to see if our spot still exists.”

J’zargo huffed, leaning forward and grabbing his shawl again.

Kiir stood and followed the other two out the door.

The roof had only a thin layer of snow; it crunched under Kiir’s boots. The balcony remained relatively undamaged, with the exception of the section where the dragon had actually landed. The dark grey stone had crumbled down into the courtyard and left a bit of a gap between the two remaining sections.

The gap was small enough that it didn’t deter Eithis from wanting to get across. He jumped it first, then J’zargo followed, both making the leap rather gracefully.

Kiir readied herself for the jump, but she made the mistake of looking down. The blood stain seemed so much larger from up here. She could see all the places the spray had reached. Even up on the roof, near the edge, were speckles of red and pink.

“You coming?”

Kiir pulled her eyes away and nodded, finally leaping across. She looked up to Eithis and J’zargo and was about to make a comment when everything suddenly everything came to a stop and the world turned blue. Kiir realized that this was just like what had happened back at Saarthal.

Sure enough, a voice spoke to her, sounding as though it was coming from all around her.

“Further down the path you are, mage. But there is much you still face.”

“Who are you?” Kiir called out, her voice sounding dampened.

“You will meet us soon enough. For now, we offer you a warning. The Thalmor with you- he should be avoided until your task is completed.”

“My task?”

“The further down the path you walk, the more that will become clear.”

Kiir turned around, starting to ask another question but the blue light faded fast and the sound of the wind returned. She returned her attention to Eithis and J’zargo. Things were getting more complex than Kiir was sure she was ready for.

She was on a path she couldn’t see and didn’t understand. And what, she wondered, would be waiting for her at the end of it?

Kiir, Eithis, and J’zargo spent the rest of the evening, and most of the night, atop the roof. The wind had let up so that a light snowfall was all that remained when they walked back into the college.

It was quite late as Kiir descended the stairs towards her dorm, which made it even more peculiar that Ancano was waiting at the bottom of the steps. She stopped, feeling Eithis bump into her back.

“Kiir’Dun.”

He’d used her full name. “Yes?”

“It would seem you have a visitor.”

Kiir furrowed her brow. A visitor? Who in the world-? Kiir racked her brain. Had Romanda and Farkas found her? And asking for her this late in the evening?

Eithis seemed to have the same thought. “Who would be out this late?”

Ancano directed his attention to the dark elf. “If would seem you’re no stranger to this late hour.” He turned back to Kiir. “And I would surely ask him to return in the morning if he didn’t insist it was of immediate importance.”

Kiir immediately felt worse. “Who is it?”

“I don’t know. But he asked for you by name.”

Kiir could not for the life of her think of who might be asking for her. Ancano has said ‘he’. Singular, male. Suddenly, Kiir’s heart dropped. Could it be her father? Or perhaps Ancano was lying. “Alright. Where is he?”

“The Arch Mage's quarters. I will escort-”

“I know where the Arch Mage is.”

Ancano scoffed. “Of course, but I must insist.”

Kiir looked back at Eithis and J’zargo, both of whom looked just as skeptical as she felt. Still, her curiosity, and dread, would not rest unless she went. “Alright, fine.”

There was little spoken between Kiir and Ancano as they walked. Kiir stayed behind the Thalmor, to avoid any unnecessary conversation.

Savos was sat in a chair when Kiir entered and he started to rise.

More interesting, however, was the figure that stood dead center. It was someone she certainly didn’t know. He was an altmer, but she didn’t think he had anything to do with the Thalmor or her father. His robes were ones Kiir did not recognize- bright yellow with red accents.

“You asked for me?”

Before he could reply, that blue color returned to cover the room and this time Kiir immediately knew what was going on.

“You?” The Altmer remained unfrozen, so he had to be the one casting this. “You’re the one that’s been talking to me?”

“I haven’t the time to explain everything to you.” The Altmer didn’t break eye contact. “The longer the Eye is here, the more dangerous this all becomes.”

“Why? What’s that have to do with me.”

The Altmer continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “We hope to take the Eye, but we cannot do so with it in its current state.”

Kiir shook her head. “We? Who’s we?”

“There is only one thing known to be able to control the Eye. You must find the Staff of Magnus.”

Everything was happening so fast, Kiir could feel her heart thundering in her chest despite standing still. Who were these people? Who was he? How did he know about the Eye? And the staff? “I don’t understand! A staff? What kind of staff?”

“It is unmistakable. We cannot see where it is, nor what this path holds for you.” The Altmer looked almost mournful. “But we ask you still- fetch the Staff and save this place.”

“What’ll happen if-”

“I’ve no time for what ifs. Know that the Staff is the only way to prevent disaster.”

And just like that, the blue was gone.

Kiir heard Savos begin to make his way over. He smiled. “I apologize for the late hour.”

Ancano, too, had come over. He, however, addressed his comment to the yellow robed Altmer. “So? What have you come here for?”

The Altmer suddenly looked confused. “I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.”

“Excuse me?” Ancano stepped in front of the Altmer. “I am under full jurisdiction to inquire as to your reasoning for being here! You asked for a specific student- you know exactly where you are.”

“I should be going-”

“You’re not going anywhere .” Ancano snapped.

Savos had started to move away from Kiir and in between the quarrelling Altmer but he was a second too late.

Bright purple electricity arced out from Ancano’s fingers and struck the Altmer, sending his rigid body crumpling to the ground.

“Ancano!” Savos shouted.

Kiir stumbled backwards, her mouth agape. What in the world was going on? She had thought Ancano had been acting odd, but this-

“And you!” Ancano spun towards Kiir. “You are not leaving this College until I know exactly what is going on!”

Kiir paled. “You can’t-”

“I can and I am.

Savos had bent down to inspect the fallen Altmer and now turned back to Ancano and Kiir. “Ancano, I cannot support-”

“This is solely Thalmor business. I do not need your support, Savos.” Ancano had taken a few more steps in Kiir’s direction. “You are to return to your dorm and stay there until further notice. If you so much as step foot outside your room the punishment will be severe. Are we understanding each other?”

Kiir nodded.

“Good.” Ancano straightened himself. “I will be checking in periodically. Effective immediately.”






Chapter Text

The Staff of Magnus.

Its name was almost deceivingly accurate for its purpose. Who would've thought that the god of magic himself would so plainly name his weapons.

Kiir sat cross-legged on her bed, three different tomes open in front of her and countless others carefully stacked under her bed. She was tired, her eyes beginning to blur the words on the page.

The Eye had grown in strength since it had first arrived at the college; she could feel it. Everyone could feel it. Like a constant warm hum of energy, the Eye reached out past the courtyard and Eithis was sure he could feel it even when he took trips down to the tavern in Winterhold.

“Hey.”

Kiir jumped, looking up to Eithis, his hands filled with more books, walking into her room.

“I wasn’t able to find much more on the location.” He dropped the books on her bed. “Most of these are just encyclopedias with some myths and legends. I brought them anyway.”

“Thanks, Eithis.” Kiir looked down at the new books and groaned. “It’s just so frustrating. We know what it is! We just need to know where it is!”

Eithis shrugged. “I don’t know where else to look. I’ve scoured every inch of the Arcanaeum.”

Kiir laid back on her bed, eyes closed. She hadn’t left her room in over 48 hours and it was driving her crazy. Eithis and J’zargo had brought her dinner both days and she was grateful, but the lack of windows and fresh air was beginning to wear on her sanity. “Are there any other libraries near-by?”

J’zargo walked in then, arms empty of all but a single piece of paper. “If there were, J’zargo thinks they would not be of any more use.” He held the paper out to Kiir, “Here! J’zargo drew you a picture to make you feel better. It is Ancano looking short next to a giant, and they are wearing each others’ clothes so that Ancano appears uncivilized. It is good, yes?”

Suddenly, Kiir sat straight up. She looked at the drawing and then back up at Eithis and J’zargo, eyes wide. “Ancano!”

J’zargo’s ears flicked back, “Yes?”

Eithis scoffed. “I doubt he’d be willing to help us with this.”

“No! His office! It was full of stuff about the Eye! Maybe it has something on the location of the staff!” Kiir tried to remember any specifics about the things littering Ancano’s office but her mind blanked.

J’zargo laughed. “J’zargo is always up for espionage.”

“He’d catch us for sure, and he certainly won’t want us meddling with his “thalmor business”.” Eithis eyed Kiir. “We can’t just waltz in.”

“J’zargo thinks Ancano would leave his office for quite a while if he thought Kiir was breaking his rule.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “What, you want me to go run around the courtyard, screaming my head off?”

J’zargo shrugged. “That could work. Or, this one was thinking, someone could tell him you were down in the city.” The khajiit nodded towards the other dorms. “Onmund, perhaps?”

“You don’t think he’d check here first?”

“Then you will not be here!”

Before Kiir could raise protest, J’zargo left the room and traveled across the dorms. Kiir went to follow but stopped at the edge of her room. She was near positive a travel twenty feet in front of her wouldn’t count as leaving her room, but she had no idea if Ancano had put something magical to keep her in place. If their plan was to work, they couldn’t have him rushing in now.

Eithis moved up beside her. “Of course you’ll have to hide somewhere.”

“I assume you have something in mind?”

A sly grin worked its way on Eithis’ face. “You bet.”

J’zargo wandered back, Kiir seeing Onmund slip out the door to the courtyard behind him. “J’zargo had a better thought. You thought perhaps more clues to the staff were back in Saarthal and went to check.” He winked, “This one thinks we have only a few minutes before Ancano comes storming in.”

“Then we’d better get a move on.” Eithis stepped outside Kiir’s room. “Come on, we’ll get you nestled away.”

“Shouldn’t I come with you?” Kiir asked. “I mean-“

Eithis shook his head. “Ancano will be looking for you and if he finds you it’s over; if he finds us without you.. well, he’ll know we were behind it, but - you’ll still be missing and his top priority. He’ll have to let us go to keep looking for you. Come on, we’ll come get you when we have a location.”

If you get a location.” Kiir corrected. “Are you sure you know what you’re looking for?”

J’zargo shrugged. “If we can not find it quickly, J’zargo will grab all that his hands can carry.”

Kiir nodded and, taking a deep breath, took a step outside her room. No shocks or flames came for her and she felt no magical energy shift. She sighed. “Let’s go.”


Eithis stretched his back as he looked down over the courtyard, J’zargo at his side. Onmund had returned a few minutes ago, letting them both know that Ancano had been talking to the Arch Mage, and both were waiting to see Ancano storm across the courtyard.

“J’zargo hates this waiting. Can we not just go in now?”

“Do you want to spend three hours being interrogated by Ancano?” Eithis sighed. “We need him to realize she’s gone and let that sink in. I’m surprised he’s taking this long. I thought he’d-“

Eithis stopped his sentence short and ducked behind the barrier as the main doors to the college swung open, slamming against the outside wall.

Ancano was running across the courtyard, his Thalmor robes billowing nearly straight out behind him.

Eithis motioned to J’zargo and both swiftly made their way back inside the college. They wasted no time descending the stairs to where Ancano’s office stood and pushed open the door. He’d left in such a hurry he must’ve forgotten to lock it.

His office was dark, save for a small candle lit on Ancano’s desk.

J’zargo lit a magelight spell and both he and Eithis gasped.

Ancano’s office was a mess. Kiir has mentioned that the place was less than clean but this was far more than either of them has anticipated. The walls, the floors, even parts of the ceiling were covered with loose pieces of paper. Some seemed to connect drawings that looked like maps and others were covered in mad ramblings.

Eithis leaned back to lock the door- they didn’t need any uninvited visitors. He was careful to step in the few bare patches of floor left open. This just got a whole lot more difficult. “Where do we even start?”

He’d turned to look at J’zargo, but the cat had already begun digging through the piles of paper on the floor.

Eithis followed suit. He bent down and pulled up the first paper his hand touched. The text on the page had been entirely scribbled out with ink, with only a few ‘no’s’ scrawled in the margins. Looking back down, he realized a majority of the papers looked like this. “I think the floor is the discard pile.”

J’zargo reached up and yanked a piece of paper off the wall, ripping a corner.

“Hey!” Eithis snapped. “Do you want him to know we were here?”

“He will figure it out eventually.” J’zargo eyed the paper. “These are no help. We know all of this already.”

Eithis looked across at Ancano’s desk. “Maybe we should see what Ancano was working on most recently.”

Ancano’s desk was no different than the rest of the room, in a state of utter disarray. The lit candle was dangerously close to a set of books. Droplets of spilled ink surrounded the inkwell and a quill was left sitting atop a stack of papers, slowly coloring them black.

“These all look the same,” Eithis lamented.

J’zargo started sliding open drawers and, after a few seconds, pulled out a leather bound journal. He grinned. “Ancano’s personal diary perhaps?”

“We don’t have time to be reading about Ancano’s sexual frustrations.” He grimaced as he realized his own words, “Actually I’m not sure I’d want to even if we had the time.”

But J’zargo had already opened the journal and began skimming the pages. His grin fell to a confused, opened mouth stare. “This is the Arch Mage’s.”

Eithis, who’d resumed scouring the desk, snapped up. “ What?

J’zargo held up one of the open pages for Eithis to see and, sure enough, the writing was a clunky print- nothing like Ancano’s script.

“Are you sure that’s-“

J’zargo flipped to the front, where ‘Savos Aren’ had been written on the inside cover. “What is Ancano doing with this?”

Eithis moved to position himself behind J’zargo so he could read the journal over his shoulder. The journal entries were sporadic, written inconsistently. There were jumps from a few days to a few months between entries. They were mainly retellings of the day like any other common diary, but, Eithis noticed, the entries were from the time when Savos was still a student himself. “How old is this?”

J’zargo shook his head.

They flipped a few more pages, skimming entries until a flash of darker, fresher ink caught Eithis’s eye. “Wait, turn back, what did that say?”

Suddenly, a loud bang erupted from the door. Someone had just slammed into it and the string of curses that followed it sounded like Ancano.

Eithis shot a look over to J’zargo.

J’zargo slipped the journal into his belt with one hand, and with a wave of the other, a white light engulfed both of the boys.

J’zargo grinned at the seemingly empty space where Eithis stood, and looked down at his own hands, pleased to see that, save for a slight ripple effect at the edges, they were both quite invisible. “J’zargo picked this one up from Kiir.”

“Nice!” Eithis whispered as he pulled J’zargo with him towards the corner of the room, just as Ancano burst into his office.

The Altmer was clearly frazzled, his long blonde hair a mess atop his head. His robe was askew and his eyes looked tired but still frantic. He looked around him, Eithis holding his breath as Ancano’s eyes passed over where he and J’zargo stood.

Ancano then moved towards his desk, shuffling the papers around before suddenly stopping. He looked down and scowled.

Eithis and J’zargo had already made a move towards the door when Ancano roared. He slammed his drawer shut, which J’zargo just then realized he’d left open, and Ancano shoved the entire contents of his desk onto the ground.

Eithis pulled J’zargo out and they made a break for the courtyard.


Kiir sat in the Midden, shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders. It was surprisingly snowy down here, where it should not be able to reach. She stayed near the entrance, hearing creaks and groans of ice further into the cavern.

Suddenly, the hatch above her swung open and blurry motion melted into Eithis and J’zargo as they dropped down onto the ground.

Kiir smiled at them, even more so when J’zargo handed her a journal. She greedily took it and became skimming the pages, grin turning into a frown. “What is this?”

“The Arch Mage’s journal.”

Kiir looked up, her face twisted in confusion. “What? Why in the world did you bring me this?

“Ancano had it,” Eithis said as J’zargo reached forward and opened to a page that only had the first three lines filled in.

I’ve made a mistake. The Labyrinthine was a mistake. That place is cursed. I mustn’t let myself forget, so here I write. Such is my punishment.

“The Labyrinthine” was underlined in a fresher set of ink.

“The Labyrinthine is an ancient Nord city southwest of here,” Eithis explained.

“But this says nothing about the staff,” Kiir questioned. “So Savos went to some cryptic place years ago, what does this have to do with the Eye?”

“Why would Ancano have this and make note of it?”

Kiir looked back down at the page. “That means Ancano has already read this.”

“And he knows that we took it from his office.” J’zargo chuckled. “J’zargo might have forgotten to close the drawer.”

Kiir felt her heart rate double. “We have to get there before he does. He already has a head start!”

There was a silent agreement as Kiir reached for the ladder. There was a twinkling at the back of her mind that had her wondering about the Arch Mage’s involvement in all this. How had Ancano gotten his journal? Moreover, why had Ancano taken it in the first place? If Savos knew about the staff, why hadn’t he said anything before?

Kiir peeked out of the hatch and then swiftly pulled herself up. She reached a hand down to Eithis and J’zargo before the three sprinted down the bridge and through Winterhold where Eithis led them out behind the Frozen Hearth. The half-ruined building still had most of its roof and inside was a deep brown, nearly black horse that tossed its head and nickered at their arrival. It was shorter, but also much more stout and powerful looking that Isles horses.  

Eithis hurried over and placed a hand on its muzzle, “Hey there Queenie, want to go for a bit of a run?” He quickly untied her lead and turned to Kiir. “This is her Royal Majesty, Queen Alfsigr.”

“You have a horse?”

“He has a horse.”

“I have a horse.”

Eithis heaved onto her back and held his hand out for J’zargo, who grabbed on and swung himself up. The two of them fit nicely and Kiir wondered how this was going to work. J’zargo nonetheless held a hand out to help her up.

Kiir paused. “I.. don’t think that’s wise.” She turned towards the only other horse stabled in this makeshift barn - a pale tan one. Holding out a hand in front of her, she approached it, grabbing its lead when she got close enough. “If anyone asks, it was an emergency.”

J’zargo grinned. “Agreed.”

Kir mounted her horse and settled in. Gods, she hadn’t ridden in years.

“How have you not mentioned her? She’s beautiful.”

Eithis pulled on his reins and Queen Alfsigr began to trot towards the road. “I don’t know? I’m sure I must have… I come down here and see her most days.”

Kiir moved her horse beside him. “ That’s what you’ve been doing?”

J’zargo turned to look over his shoulder, leveling her with an incredulous stare, “This one did not think it was a secret”

J’zargo leaned back around and gripped Eithis more firmly as Eithis shouted something and shifted forward. Kiir was surprised when Queen Alfsigr broke into a run, but managed to direct her horse to follow without too much trouble.

Eithis turned sharply, steering them off the road as he apparently decided to try for the shortest path: running as the crow flies.

With the icy breeze whipping about them, Kiir could feel a nagging doubt puddle into her stomach. If they were wrong about this, they had to start all over again- and deal with whatever punishment Ancano decided was fitting. She shivered.

The snow got progressively thicker and the wind got progressively stronger as they neared the ruins. They came upon the Labyrinthine just in time; any longer and they wouldn’t have made it at all before the blizzard made riding any further impossible.

Kiir dismounted and ducked her head further behind her scarf as she traversed up the steps to the main doors. She shoved them open with surprising ease and welcome the gust of warm, if dank, air. “I didn’t see any other footprints. Do you think Ancano has already been here?”

Eithis shrugged, brushing snow from his shoulders as he led Queen Alfsigr just inside and out of the wind with him. “I'm hoping the horses got us here first.”

“Hopefully.” Kiir replied. Or perhaps he went to the real location of the staff. Kiir pushed that thought from her mind. She moved her horse just beside Queen Alfsigr, looping its reigns around a nearby pillar. She gave it one last scratch on the head before moving inside the Labyrinthian.

“Is a labyrinth not another word for a maze? This one sees how large this place is and worries.”

Kiir hummed. It was mossy, made of stone, and impossibly old- just like Saarthal. But where Saarthal held the air of a ruin, this place was something completely different. It felt ancient but... alive? There was an essence filling the air that Kiir couldn’t ignore.

She pulled her hair from her hood and turned to address her friends when something off to the side caught her attention. Eithis saw it too, startling a bit as the mist manifested into a figure.

“Is that... Savos?”

Chapter Text

It was Savos. He wore apprentice robes, not too dissimilar to the one’s each of the three were wearing now. Savos looked over at the three of them.

“Ah, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see you all here.”

Kiir was silent. She looked at Eithis and J’zargo who all seemed equally stunned. “Are you-” Kiir started. “Are you really here?”

“It would seem.” Savos held out his arms and looked at them. They were transparent, a blue ghost. “I must be... bound to this place. In my death I was drawn here.”

“Death?” Eithis echoed.

Savos looked up, surprised. “Yes, unfortunately.  You must’ve left before.... Things at the college have escalated, far beyond a point of return. It is good you all are here- I worry what could happen to those still back there if the problem isn’t fixed soon.”

Kiir exchanged glances with Eithis and J’zargo. “What do you mean-”

Savos shook his head. “Suffice to say, Ancano has finally made his play. No doubt exacerbated by the presence of the eye and my... failure to...” He sighed.  “I don’t know how long I will stay like this and you all need to hurry. I can show you where you need to go.”

“Of course.” Kiir nodded.

Savos waved over his shoulder as he walked out in front of the group. “Stick close.”

Kiir followed, hearing Eithis and J’zargo move in beside her.

“Is that really Savos?” J’zargo leaned over to ask.

Kiir shrugged. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.”

“It could be a trick.” J’zargo continued. “We don’t know if Ancano got here first.”

“If it is Savos, that means he’s dead.” Eithis added. He looked forward at the wispy figure ahead of them and frowned. “You don’t think Ancano would actually kill him, do you?

Kiir thought back to her meeting in the Arch Mage’s office with the mysterious mage and how easily Ancano had struck down that elf. No hesitation. “I think he’s capable.”

Eithis raised an eyebrow, but did not respond as Savos raised an arm to stop the group.

“Do you see that mound in the middle of the room?

Kiir peered through the doorway and saw what Savos was pointing to. The room itself was a massive open cavern with just one other doorway on the other side of the room. Just as Savos had said, there was a ring of stone and a raised bit of dirt at the center. “Yeah. What about it?”

“There’s a dragon there. You walk into the room and you’ll summon him.”

Kiir’s stomach dropped and she heaved an exasperated sigh. “And I’m guessing we have to get to that door on the other side.” She paused. “Can’t we just... run for it?”

Savos shook his head. “Trust me when I say this creature is fast and he does not fight alone.” He moved forward, towards the threshold, and looked around. “I can go in first, pull down one of those pillars...”

“Will that do anything?” Eithis asked. His eyebrows where low on his forehead, knitted in concern. “I mean, the dragon at the college...”

“Well,” J’zargo cocked his head, “we did not have pillars to try dropping on that one.”

“It will draw him my way long enough for you three to run across. If we’re lucky, it’ll injury him enough that he won’t give you trouble on your way back out.”

Kiir looked at Eithis and J’zargo before nodding. “If that’s our best shot.”

Savos took that at his sign to move. He crept out from behind the archway and moved in a slow circle around the center. He glanced back only once before casting a Wall of Frost that nearly encapsulated the entire pillar. Without missing a beat, he cast an Incinerate spell that blasted against the stone. The rapid fire heat and cold shattered the pillar, sending bits of it flying in all directions.

As if on cue, a deep rumbling emanated from the mound at the center of the room. A massive boney head thrust itself upward, clambering to stand on bleach bare bones. It roared and raced for Savos.

Kiir felt herself shiver. It moved far faster than she had anticipated, at least as fast as the living dragon - maybe faster.

Just before the dragon reached him, Savos made a sweeping gesture with his arm.

In a moment, Kiir was racing across the room. She heard Eithis and J’zargo not far behind her. It was difficult to move swiftly in such heavy robes, the thick material lapped at Kiir’s legs and she feared with every step she would trip.

Unbeknownst to her, several other skeletons had risen too. Their lumbering gates turned to charges as they noticed the trio crossing the room and the motion caught Kiir’s eye. Raising their swords and bows, they gave chase.

Kiir’s heart rate doubled. This is what Savos had meant when he said the dragon didn’t fight alone. She felt an arrow catch itself on her shoulder, but she wasn’t sure it hit skin. She swung around the threshold to the next passageway, unsure if she should continue running.

She slowed and Eithis plowed into her back.

“What are you doing? Go!”

“Sorry!” Kiir picked up her running pace, now just behind J’zargo who’d shot past the both of them without slowing; she had no idea where they were, but he seemed to have some semblance of an idea. Then again, Kiir thought, he’s always been a confident bullshitter.

They rounded another corner and raced through a set of double doors before they finally felt safe to slow down. Kiir couldn’t hear the creaking of bones anymore, but her senses were still on high alert. She twisted to look behind her. “Where are we now?”

J’zargo shrugged. “This one just throught to keep running. A clear path must be the right path, yes?”

“Except...” Eithis peered into the room, the floor almost entirely engulfed by a massive, deep pit, “...this looks less than ideal.”

Kiir let her eyes wander. There were slivers of path that criss crossed their way down to the bottom. It seemed to go on forever and, distantly, running water flowed. “How do we know it’s not in  one of the blocked off passages, completely inaccessible?”

“It makes sense that the staff would be here...” Eithis replied. He stepped back. “I think we’ve just got to trust-”

Kiir stepped forward onto the platform just passed the doorway to lean over the pit, but it felt as though something had sucked the entirety of the air from her lungs. She gasped, suddenly feeling light headed. She stumbled forward and might have actually gone over the edge had Eithis not grabbed her collar.

Wo meyz wah dii vul junaar?

Kiir fell to the ground, Eithis close behind, only catching himself with a hand on her back.

“You felt that, too?”

Kiir nodded, drawing in a deep breath. “And the dragon language? What did it say? Who... something?”

“J’zargo did not hear anything.”

“Neither did I.” Eithis helped pull Kiir to her feet. “But I would be hard pressed to assume they weren’t connected. What did you hear? Who something?”

K’ir brushed herself off. She had only looked over the Dovah language in passing, as an occasional hobby. She was by no means fluent. “I don’t know... the only word I caught was ‘who’.”

“J’zargo is more concerned with the effect it had on his magicka.” J’zargo inspected his hands before continuing. “This one has seen this in Imperial city jails. Makes escaping difficult.”

“You’ve...?” Kiir raised an eyebrow.

“Perhaps. Maybe never.”

Eithis grimaced. “Whatever it is, a few more and we’ll be on our asses.”

Kiir nodded. They were heading into unknown territory with little to no preparation. But Savos - dead Savos- said things at the college had gotten really bad... they couldn’t return, in good conscious, without the staff. Kiir prayed they were in the right place. “Either way, we’ve got to keep moving.”

“Agreed.”

Shaking out any remnants the voice left on her, Kiir stepped out onto the first part of the narrow path down into the pit. The walkways were surprisingly well kept for as old, and as fragile, as they looked. She started out double tapping every step to test its integrity but now, near the bottom, she was almost jogging.

The tunnel at the bottom seemed purposeful, and under the growing sound of running water, Kiir could hear chanting. Soft, but rhythmic.

Nivahriin muz fen siiv nid aaz het.

Kiir stumbled a bit, but having gone through the experience once, she was more prepared this time. She heard Eithis behind her gasp and called over her shoulder, “You guys alright?”

They had stepped into a small creek that ran swiftly along the bottom of the pit, coming from a crack in the wall and disappearing underneath a doorway.

“Yeah,” Eithis replied. “Any words this time?”

Kiir shrugged. She caught even less this time. “All I caught was a ‘no’.”

“That’s... helpful.” Eithis nodded towards the door to their left, where the creek disappeared. “Little odd to have water pointing us in the right direction.”

“I’ll be optimistic and hope it’s a good sign.” Kiir stayed near the edges of the water. Her boots were in no way made to get wet. She moved towards the door when the pale blue mist that had preceded Savos’ appearance earlier formed near the door.

Savos looked far more tired than he had before. He sighed. “I feel I must... at least warn you all-”

J’zargo huffed. “If there is another dragon-”

“No.” Savos’ voice was sharp. “The... things that happened here. The things that I believe are the reason I am bound here...”

Kiir was slowly shaking her head. It was bad news, whatever he was going to say.

“...I ask that those things stay within these walls.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow, but Eithis beat her to the punch.

“What did you do?”

“I kept the college safe.” Savos said. “I made sure the evil that is here would not leave it.”

What ,” Eithis pressed, his voice growing harsher, “did you do?

Kiir couldn’t tell if Eithis’s change in tone was fueled by a need for information on, or the fear of how bad, what lied ahead might be. Savos did not reply, but rather moved towards the door. He paused before looking back. “You all should move on. Time is short.”

Kiir looked bath at Eithis and J’zargo, glad to see their reactions were similar to hers. How horrible would it be that he would ask them to keep quiet about it?

Following Savos, the three moved forward. It was quiet the rest of the way, surprisingly so. With Savos' direction they circumvented an array of traps. At each new worryingly subtle trigger Kiir thanked Auri-El that such things hadn't been in Saarthal, certain she'd have bumbled into them.

They had just reached a trap gate when the voice spoken again, but no longer was it a distant whisper speaking an unknown language. This time it was loud, Kiir heard it as if the man was beside her ear. His voice seemed to drain the very energy from her, an icy breath chilling her to her core. She collapsed to her knees as he spoke.

I should have known I would have had to use this ugly language, but I was expecting Aren to be the one to return to this place. Not you, Miraak.

Miraak? Kiir drew in a breath. She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up at J’zargo.

“This one thinks we must be getting close.” He was winded, though holding himself mostly upright. He reached a hand out to help both her and Eithis back to their feet.

“He... spoke Tamrielic.”

“I thought it was Dovah?” Eithis’ eyebrows rose, “You speak Tamrielic? What did he say? Do you know who he is?”

“I don’t know who he is.” Kiir pulled her robes closer around her. “He thought I was someone named Miraak.” She looked to Eithis, then J’zargo, waiting for either of them to show recognition.

J’zargo outright shrugged.

“Is that... someone we should know?”

Kiir didn’t know and honestly it didn't seem like the most important thing at the moment. The Staff of Magnus was their current objective. “I dunno. We should- hey, where’s Savos?”

She spun around, taking in the room they were in. There seemed not a sign of the Arch Mage.

“This one wonders if ghosts  are made of magicka and perhaps the voice has drained him away,” J’zargo quipped.

Kiir hummed her disagreement; he hadn’t disappeared the last few times the voice had spoken after all. She found herself quite unsettled by the sudden disappearance. She pointed to the next door they had to head through. “We should keep moving.”

Eithis was the one to push the doors open, but it was Kiir who moved in first.

“By Auri-El...” Kiir could not decide where to look first.

Two mages, their forms not far from Savos’, stood atop plateaus. Their arms outstretched to perpetually cast something that was sustaining a magical barrier opposite them. Within the bubble was a... man? Spectre? Kiir couldn’t tell from where she stood, but the icy chill came just moments after she saw him. A deep chuckle followed.

Not Miraak, it seems. Oh, won’t he be pleased to know about you.

Kiir shivered.

J’zargo moved next to her, pointing to the spectre in the bubble. “Is that the staff?”

Kiir wasn’t going to ask how he saw that from so far away, but now that he had pointed it out, it did seem that the thing within the magic barrier was holding the staff they needed.

“We’re going to have to let it out,” Eithis said dryly.

“I don’t think...” Kiir knew Eithis was right. But, too, she knew that the voice that drained their magic and taunted her was tied to that entity. The room was filled with the hum of magicka. It did not bode well.

J’zargo had hardly let a moment past before he was climbing up the steps to one of the ghostly mages. He reached out a hand to touch the mage’s shoulder and it spun on him so fast, J’zargo hard barely a moment to step back.

Flame erupted from the mage’s mands, engulfing J’zargo in seconds.

Kiir felt Eithis race past her, purple lightning arcing from his palms as he ran.

“No!”

Her stomach dropping to her feet, Kiir felt the situation slowly slipping from her grasp. She ran to help J’zargo but the voice spoke again. It chilled her legs stiff and she crumbled.

Oh, yes. Free me and the staff will be yours.

Kiir didn’t wait for the exhaustion to pass before she pulled herself to her feet. If they were going to kill this thing and get the staff, she could not keep letting him do that to her. She looked up at the platform where J’zargo had fallen.

The ghost was gone and Eithis was kneeling on the ground.

“Are you guys alright?”

“No!” Eithis shouted. “J’zargo... D'sil!

Kiir feared the worst. She turned her attention to the second mage, still casting. They had to get that staff. They had to.

She was behind the mage in an instant, not wasting any time filling him with flames. Kiir had hoped to kill him before-

Kiir had forgotten how it felt to be burned.

The ghost had caught her right arm in his own cone of flames. He didn’t seem to flinch at Kiir’s attack, but Kiir had no doubt felt his.

She recoiled, stumbling back. Her arm felt numb now, useless. She stole a glance to Eithis, who’d begun to stand up. He was moving her way, looking to aid.

Kiir threw up a ward just in time to block another fiery onslaught and shook her head, “The minute that barrier goes down-” she nodded towards the spectre, “-light him up!”

In that moment, Kiir brought down her ward and, in its place, launched a line of flame. The ghost disappeared in a small flash of light.

On the platform across from Kiir and Eithis, the barrier about the spectre fell.

Ah, freedom at last. I would love to see dear Miraak’s face upon finding out you exist, Dovahkiin, but unfortunately some things must be attended to first.

Kiir wobbled on her feet, resisting the magic drain to the best of her ability. She watched the spectre raise its arms, lightning crackling upwards and filling the air with a static buzz. She quickly turned to Eithis, who looked just as winded as she. “Eithis!”

It sounded like it came too late. Kiir could feel the air change as the spectre cast and she looked down, shielding her eyes from the light. She feared the worst. She stumbled backwards and heard the spectre hiss.

She opened her eyes to watch it cast again. A massive strike of electricity split the air as it snapped towards Eithis, but never connected. Instead the spectre reeled back with another pained screech. What just happened?

Enraged the spectre shot again, and this time she saw it. Eithis’s magicka had taken the same hit as hers. Unable to regain enough in time to cast a ward, he’d done the only thing he could think to do: instead of casting, he redirected.

Again the spectre shot bolts at Eithis, and again they turned to strike the spectre instead. It was brilliant, really. Eithis was using hardly any magicka at all. The spectre was advancing on Eithis, giving him less and less time to manage a redirect, but as it drew closer the toll of its own attacks became increasingly apparent.

By the time Kiir realized she should be helping, it was practically over. The spectre wobbled as it lifted its arms to send another bolt and Kiir cast before it could, engulfing it in billowing flames. Eithis sagged as the spectre screamed and dissipated.

Kiir rushed down from the pillar she was on and up onto the one where Eithis was already hoisting a badly burned J’zargo to his feet.

“We have to move,” Eithis swung J’zargo’s arm around his shoulder.

Kii held up her finger. She scrambled down the steps and looked at where the spectre had fallen. All that remained was a pile of ash... and a bright gold staff that seemed untouched by time. She reached down and retrieved the staff, comforted by its warmth and soft hum. This has got to be it.

Relieved that they had not come so far for naught, she rushed back up to where Eithis was guiding J’zargo down the stairs. She pulled J’zargo’s other arm over her shoulder.

They moved the khajiit down to the ground floor. Kiir thought back to when it was her being carted around like this; the pain had been near unbearable. She shivered.

“You doing okay?” Kiir asked.

J’zargo had closed his eyes and seemed to be drifting off. At her question, he opened his eyes and winked. “This one is doing fine. Just a scratch.”

Kiir smiled. “Didn’t think you’d go down that easy.”

“Merely a misstep.” J’zargo confirmed. He huffed a little as Eithis moved him father up on his shoulder.

The three were travelling in the direction of the door on the opposite end from where the spectre had been. It was the only other door, save for the one they came in through.

Kiir was the one to step forward, grabbing for the handle and swinging it open. At this point she wasn’t sure what to expect; maybe an exit or, perhaps less optimistically, another longer hallway. What she was not expecting, however, was the sudden blast of lightning that hit her chest and sent her sprawling onto her back.

Eithis shouted something but Kiir didn’t hear it. She flipped over and tried to fumble to her feet.

At first she had thought it was Ancano; it was a Thalmor mage that stood in the doorway after all. But - she glanced at the small scorch mark on her robes - there was no way. Had Ancano shot that bolt, she’d have been dead. And somehow, that thought gave her a semblance of comfort. This guy would be easier to deal with.

“I didn’t think that would be this simple. Ancano had made it sound as if you all would be a challenge.”

Ah, so it was on Ancano’s orders then. Kiir frowned at the thought.

The Thalmor raised his hand and Kiir shielded her face, still not fully on her feet. She heard a spell being cast and braced for impact... only to hear that spell then fizzle out against a ward. She looked up.

Eithis, still hoisting J’zargo on his shoulder, had an arm outstretched.

There was no hesitation as Kiir stood and sent flames flying in the direction of the Thalmor.

He moved deftly to the side. “Ha! There are the actions I was expecting.”

Kiir cast at him again. Flames poured out in his direction, this time only just singing the side of his robe as he leapt away once more.

The Thalmor’s eyes flicked to where Eithis stood and Kiir was quick to move in front of them.

“What do you want?” Kiir was poised to strike.

The Thalmor, on the other hand, seemed relaxed. “That staff, clearly.”

He swung his hands up so fast Kiir almost didn’t see the spell until it was too late. Her ward barely caught lightning and she stumbled back. She moved to cast again, pushing out a wall of flame that the Thalmor seemed uninterested in.

“Ancano sent you for the staff?” Kiir asked. She felt the staff on her back. Reaching a hand back she, as subtly as she could manage, gripped onto it.

“Glad to see you’re not as dimwitted as I feared.” The Thalmor paced around the three, Kiir trying to keep pace.

Eithis scoffed. “He couldn’t even come for it himself.”

“Far more important things to deal with. Now if you’ll-”

Kiir swung the staff out in front of her, aiming the green orb atop it in the Thalmor’s direction. The wispy tendril that reached out and struck the mer halted him in his tracks.

He looked disoriented, then confused, then in pain. He writhed silently, collapsing to his knees.

Kiir held the staff in place, unmoving. The warmth of the staff suddenly grew, and its hum grew with it. Kiir, too, felt warmer. The staff was... draining him.

By the time she’d realized it, the Thalmor had fallen completely prone. He was unmoving and Kiir did not want to wander any closer to him. She watched him for a moment, staff still held in her white knuckled hand. He’s... dead?

Shaking her head free from those thoughts, she lowered the staff and turned.

She was surprised to see Savos watching her, brows knitted and frowning.

“I thought I could handle all this,” Savos spoke softly.

Kiir wasn't sure who he was talking to.

Savos frowned. “I thought I had everything under control... I thought I could fix this.”

The ghostly blue form of Savos faded in and out. His eyes were focused on the dead Thalmor. He shook his head.

Kiir looked over to Eithis, exchanging confused glances.

“I put you all in danger because I couldn’t... I was the Arch Mage for God’s sake!” Savos looked up to the trio, barely visible anymore. He opened his mouth to speak again, but no voice came through.

And in a moment, Savos was gone entirely.

Kiir returned to J’zargo, who’d all but fallen asleep, and placed his arm around her shoulder. “Come on, we don’t have a lot of time.”

Eithis nodded and they both started out the door.

Kiir felt the staff weigh heavy on her back. She focused her attention straight ahead, lest it start to drift back to the dead man in the corner.

Chapter Text

Winterhold had always appeared like the forgotten land, tossed aside by those too important to care for the frozen town. The little brother left in the shadow of everyone else, to fend for himself. Not important enough for the Stormcloaks to defend, not vital enough for the Imperials to bother invading.

A footnote at the edge of Skyrim.

When Kiir, Eithis, and J’zargo rode down the snowy path back into Winterhold, they were forced to pause.

“What-” Kiir had her breath catch in her throat.

It was an odd sight, a blazing inferno backed by a raging blizzard. The fires coughed black smoke up into the sky and people scrambled about like ants.

“By the Gods,” Eithis adjusted J’zargo in front of him on Queen Alfsigr and swatted her rump with his heel, bringing her to as quick of a pace as he could without jostling the khajiit.

Kir pulled her horse into stride behind him. “I didn’t think it would be this bad!”

“Neither did I...” Eithis slid into the streets.

Kiir was tempted to stop. Houses were burning; families were huddled together with their backs turned to the icy winds that blew in. As much as she yearned to stop and aid, Kiir had to remind herself it would only get worse if they didn’t take care of the root cause of all this chaos.

Winterhold guards hurried about the town and Kiir worried that one of them might try and ask them where they had been or where they were going. Fortunately, their attention was far too focused on putting out fires to worry about a few more running civilians.

When they made it to the base of the bridge Eithis leapt from Queen Alfsigr’s back and eased J’zargo down onto a pile of snow.

“He’s not fit to fight,” Eithis said, keeping his voice low. “I don’t want to take him up to the college until we know it’s safe.”

“Will he be okay out here?”

Eithis turned to look at the khajiit, brows knit together. “I did the best I could to stabilize him. He needs to see a professional.”

Kiir hated this. It seemed like trouble refused to just let her be. Being caught in an ambush, almost executed, a dragon attack, a Thalmor attack, nearly dying by her own magic, Ancano’s antics, the Eye, and now… now she stood outside a burning town and beside an injured friend wanting nothing more than to sit and wallow.

“Hey,” Eithis’ voice drew Kiir back. He’d placed his hands on her shoulders. “We’re gunna do this.”

“Yeah.”

Eithis shook her a little. “Don’t quit now. We’ve still got a ways to go.”

A low groan made them look back at their friend slumped in the snow. J’zargo picked his head up a bit, forcing his eyes open. He winked. “J’zargo will be fine where he is. The snow feels good on his burns.”

Kiir smiled. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

“Perhaps this one will go and get some ale while the inn owner is busy. Ale is good for dulling pain.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Eithis warned, “or you’ll have to worry more about your ass than your skin when we get you to the infirmary.”

J’zargo grinned, but said nothing.

Kiir took that as her sign to move. She and Eithis scrambled up the stairs and onto the bridge to the college, leaving the horses behind and untethered near J’zargo.

“You feel that?” Eithis asked.

Kiir nodded. That same eerily warm pulse was emanating all the way out here. She’d known the eye was powerful but this did not bode well. She quickened her pace.

Upon landing in the courtyard, Eithis and Kiir stopped. They couldn’t see the statue or the front door of the college – not behind the massive swirling wall of magicka. It throbbed in time with the warm pulses. This was obviously the work of the Eye.

“Can we…” Eithis reached out a hand and touched the wall. He flinched a little as he made contact, but it seemed the wall was solid.

Kiir reached behind her back and pulled out the staff. It was vibrating, almost unnoticeably. She put it out in front of her and sure enough, the swirling mass parted enough for her and Eithis to slip under.

“Guess that confirms it’s the right staff,” Eithis muttered.

Kiir didn’t respond, but pushed forward to the front doors. The inside of the college was warm, too warm. She quickly undid her shawl, letting it drop to the floor.

She could see Ancano, sure that it was despite being just barely able to make out his form against the intense light of the Eye. Its surface was no longer smooth, but rather separate pieces swirling around the center mass. It was a terrific sight to see.

Stepping just inside the room, Kiir leveled the staff with the floor. She had initially pointed it at Ancano, but she drew her arm up so that the end of the staff instead pointed at the Eye.

It wasn’t until she began to cast that Ancano spun on his heels.

The staff was doing... something. The pieces that had been spinning about the Eye had slowed, and looked to be returning to their places. It’s... working? Kiir wasn’t sure.

Ancano snarled. “Stop this! Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

Honestly, she didn’t.

“We could ask you the same!” Eithis shouted from behind her, “That thing is no good for you and you have no idea what you’re doing with it. You’ve killed the archmage! The city is on fire! Honestly Ancano, this is the madness that has to stop!”

“No! No!” Ancano heaved, the amount of magic he was using on the eye was draining him. That was clear enough. “I can’t stop now! Do you see this? I’m so close!”

The Eye’s waves of energy grew in intensity at another charge from Ancano, the room turning a bright teal as light enveloped the room. Kiir felt her feet slipping on the stone floor, her robes pulling her back by the eruption.

Ancano was standing beside the Eye. He had a glowing aura around him, the Eye shifting and churning behind him like a swarm of rats. His eyes were wild.

“Ancano,” Kiir whispered. A pit had settled in her stomach. The Thalmor wizard had gone mad. Absolutely, undeniably, mad.

“Finally,” Ancano drawled. He raised his hands and let sparks dance about his fingertips. He locked eyes with Kiir. He drew his arm back.

Kiir felt the staff continue to twitch in her hand, and she pulled it forward. Her mind flew back to the Altmer in the Labyrinthian. I can’t-

A lightning bolt flashed by Kiir’s peripheral and struck Ancano. It appeared to have no effect whatsoever. An identical bolt flash from his own hand. It barely missed as Kiir threw herself to the side.

Kiir angled the end of the staff away from Ancano.. A raging inferno erupted from her other hand and barreled into him. Again he seemed entirely unharmed.

He laughed, “You can’t even touch me.”

Another thunderbolt cracked from off in Eithis’ direction and dissipated on impact, then another.

Ancano responded with ice spikes. Eithis nearly threw himself into her, narrowly escaping the frozen daggers. Kiir cast another incinerate at Ancano. The smoke parted to show yet again that it’d had no effect.

“This isn’t working Kiir, use the staff!”

No! Kiir dodged Ancano’s fireball and launched one at him in return. He threw lightning, she tried ice. He cast fire, she tried lightning. Nothing affected him.

“Use the staff!

“No!” This time she shouted out loud.

“We didn’t spend all that time and effort getting it for nothing! ” Eithis snarled. A particularly bright lightning bolt flashed by Kiir’s face. Eithis had shot at the Eye.

The spell was quickly swallowed by the aura of the artifact. Kiir stared, unmoving.

With a deep chuckle, Ancano swung his arm forward. One hand touched the Eye and the other cast a lightning spell.

“Kiir!” Eithis shouted.

Eithis’ voice broke her from her trance. She dove to the side, feeling the heat from Ancano’s spell drift past her. Her grip tightened around the staff and, still on her side, she swung it out towards the Eye. The spell had been swallowed so... The staff warmed her hand to a point where it was almost uncomfortable.

The magicka from staff did the same as if had done before. It pulled the pieces of the Eye shut. This helps none!

Kiir scrambled to her feet. It was difficult to keep a hold on the staff, now that she had to keep readjusting her hand. She looked up to where Ancano had been, but only saw a bright flash of purple light.

She heard Ancano swear as he stumbled back, holding a singed shoulder.

Ancano backed up, removing his hand and putting the Eye in between himself, Kiir and Eithis. He reached his hands out and the Eye’s output increased again.

The room swirled with energy. Anything not nailed down flew against the walls.

Kiir was pushed back into one of the pillars. Her head cracked against the stone. How much more does this thing have?

She pulled herself forward. Kiir pointed the staff towards the Eye again. Its glowing light hit and Kiir could feel the energy in the room calm.

Ancano snarled, thrusting his hand out towards her.

This time, Kiir was able to pull up a ward in time. The spell crackled, dissipating on contact.

“Aim at him! ” Eithis shouted. He moved forward to cast his own lightning spell.

Kiir ignored Eithis. She kept the staff on the Eye, and her eyes on Ancano.

With Magnus’ Eye settled, Ancano seemed distraught. It couldn’t protect him in this state. He moved to begin casting at the Eye again.

Kiir threw a fireball. It missed, but at least pushed him away from the Eye.

“Kiir!” Eithis shouted again. “You need to aim at Ancano!”

“No!” she screamed. Not again .

Ancano, however, seemed to have no such hang ups. He ran at Kiir.

Kiir moved to stumble out of his way when he suddenly changed course.

Eithis hadn’t a chance to react before a wall of frost sent him up one of the pillars. His face was contorted in pain and surprise. He looked to Kiir. “It’s him or us, Kiir! End it!”

With Ancano so close, Kiir swung out with the staff. It cracked against his head.

Kiir ran to the other side of the room. She was sweating, clothing sticking to her skin. She look up at Eithis, who was struggling against his bindings. Shit.

“You should quit while you’re ahead.”

Something had changed. It was unnervingly calm.

Kiir watched Ancano walk around the Eye. He let his fingertips run along its surface. Then, he cast a fire spell.

It was a miracle that Kiir avoided it. She ducked, moving closer to Eithis.

She saw Ancano grimace and move to follow her. The minute his hand left the Eye, Kiir swung the staff out at Ancano.

The light from the staff engulfed the Thalmor mage. He shouted, stumbling backwards. But he didn’t fall. Instead, he cast a spell Kiir was all too familiar with.

How? The staff should-

Ancano’s lightning struck the staff, channeling it up and through Kiir’s arms.

Kiir couldn’t move. Her arms stayed outstretched, the staff continued to cast, but she was burning. Her hair stood on end and her skin felt tight and hot. Impossibly hot. Her chest rippled with the energy coursing through her. It hurt to breathe.

Ancano kept casting, even as he fell to his knees.

Someone was shouting. Kiir couldn’t hear over the roar in her ears.

Finally, Ancano collapsed. The lightning ceased.

Kiir’s body grew limp. She fell forward, staff falling from her grasp.


“Absolutely not. We cannot leave until we know for sure what happened here.”

“I told you. It was the Eye of Magnus and it is gone now.”

“And how can we be sure this ‘Eye’ is to blame? How can we be sure-“

“This is a tragedy for the college as much as it is for the city of Winterhold! You can be sure that we will do all we can to aid in its recovery now please , allow us to work.”

Kiir opened her eyes. She was on her back, the feeling of cloth beneath her. A crowd of people stood by the entrance to the Hall of Elements. She could make out Eithis and Tolfdir, but the rest were unfamiliar soldiers. Stormcloak soldiers, she corrected herself.

Pushing herself up into a sitting position, Kiir swung her feet over the edge of the bed. Her arms and hands were bandaged and, she realized as she pushed up her sleeve, the wraps went all the way up to her shoulder and onto her chest. She gingerly touched the area but felt no pain.

Looking away from the door, Kiir frowned. Ancano?

Head hung low and wrapped in a blanket sat the Thalmor wizard. His hands were wrapped around a small cup of hot liquid.

Kiir stared.

Ancano looked up to meet her stare. He didn’t move to speak or make any other attempt to communicate. A moment later, he let his head drift back down.

“Kiir!”

The voice had come from the door and as Kiir turned to look that way, her vision was filled with the sight of Eithis.

He had crouched down to hug her, then settled back onto his haunches. He laughed. “Nice to see you finally join us.”

Kiir looked him over. His robes were torn in some places and burnt in others, but he himself looked to be alright. The last time she’d seen him he’d been frozen to a pillar. “Are you okay?”

“Don’t I look okay?”

Kiir smiled wryly and shrugged. “Eh.”

Eithis laughed again. He picked up her arm and eyed the bandages. “You’d think you’d learn after the first time this happened.”

“Third time's the charm?”

“Let’s hope not.” Eithis looked over his shoulder. “I’m sure you’ve recognized our guests.”

Kiir nodded. “I’m assuming dragons and Aedric artifacts don’t amuse the Nords very much.”

“You’d be right.”

The soldiers at the door had backed off, but still looked restless. They fidgeted, but whether uncomfortable being around so many mages or simply bored Kiir couldn’t tell.

“Hey,” Kiir suddenly remembered. “Where’s J’zargo?”

Eithis frowned. “In the infirmary with Colette. Onmund brought him in, actually. Soon after you passed out. He’s alive.”

That story definitely didn’t match up with Eithis’ facial expression. Kiir waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she spoke. “Is he alright, though?”

Eithis broke eye contact. “He looks a little rough but… I figure we’ll find out when he wakes up.”

Kiir decided not to push the issue. “So what about Ancano?”

“What about him?”

“What about-“ Kiir scoffed. “He’s just… sitting over there. Shouldn’t he be chained up or something?”

“Perhaps.” Eithis looked over to Ancano, brows knitted. “He’s an ass, but I don’t think that was really him we were fighting. I think that was the Eye’s influence.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t considered… “And if you’re wrong?”

“I don’t think I am.” Eithis stood up, looking back to the main doors. Tolfdir was still conversing with the soldiers. “I should get back.”

Kiir stood. “How long was I out?”

“Not long, about twenty minutes.” Eithis had started walking back to the doors. He waved for her to follow. “But a lot happened.”

"I can see. What about the staff?"

"In the Arcanaeum for right now. Tolfdir said he had a place for it."

Moving closer, Kiir could hear Tolfdir trying to allay the Stormcloak’s fears. There were only five or six of them, but they looked formidable in their own right.

“How can we know something like this won’t happen again?” One of the soldiers asked.

“It was a fluke that we even found the damned Eye!” Tolfdir said. He turned when he saw Kiir approach and his face, which had been twisted in frustration, smoothed out into a smile. “Glad to see you’re alright, my dear.”

Kiir looked between the soldiers and Tolfdir. “Is something wrong?”

“No, just a little… misunderstanding.” Tolfdir looked back at the soldiers. “Could we move this outside? Students and staff need to get through here.” He looked to Eithis. “We can finish our conversation later this evening.”

The soldiers humphed and followed the old mage outside.

When silence finally fell, Kiir raised an eyebrow. “What conversation?”

“What to do about the Arch Mage.”

Kiir had completely forgotten. The College was rudderless without a leader. “Is Tolfdir going to take up the position?”

Eithis shook his head. He paused, looking off towards the door then back at Kiir. “No. He asked me to.”

A broad grin spread across Kiir’s face. She couldn’t have imagined a better fit, except… Eithis’ face was drawn in a hard line. He looked nothing like she’d expect the newly appointed Arch Mage to look. “You don’t want to?”

“It’s not that, I’m honored, but... this dragon business does not bode well.” Eithis started to explain. “I had hoped to travel to Whiterun, speak with my sister. Find out if she knows anything.”

“And you can’t?”

Eithis shook his head. “J’zargo isn’t fit for travel and the college will need a lot of work after everything that’s happened. It would be foolish of me to leave.”

Kiir shrugged. “You don’t have to leave now. I’ll help out here, too. J’zargo will heal.”

“And if another dragon attacks the college during that time? No. It needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.” Eithis looked back to Kiir and grinned. “And you, Dragonborn, are just the person to do it.”

“What?” Kiir furrowed her brow. She thought all that Dragonborn business had blown over. She opened and closed her hands as she thought of how to respond. “I’m hardly the person to go on a dragon hunting quest.”

“Aren’t you?” Eithis challenged. “Look at what you’ve done here. You’re not the same girl that walked in late to class, unable to shoot even a simple fireball. You’ve grown. You saved the college, for the Gods’ sake!”

“With help!” Kiir protested. A feeling settled in her gut – a familiar feeling that fell far too close to her heart for comfort. The feeling of losing a home. “You think I would have survived any of this on my own?”

Eithis paused a moment. “Meet with my sister. Tell her I sent you. She will help you in every way that she can.”

Kiir looked down at her feet. Her plan from the beginning had been to come here, the college. It was the only place she knew in Skyrim and, now, the only place she knew anyone. It was safe here.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to Kiir; we can find-“

“No.” Kiir interrupted. Eithis had thought it foolish for him to leave, and Kiir was realizing it was foolish of her to think that she could stay. Things had changed. Whether it was for the best… “Your sister lives in Whiterun?”

Eithis nodded. “ Irileth. She works for Jarl Balgruuf. Head on up to Dragonsreach and you’ll find her.”

Kiir hummed in response.

“You know-“

Eithis’ voice was cut off as the doors to the hall were slammed open.

Kiir had expected it to be Tolfdir, or perhaps the Stormcloak soldiers again. But instead it was a Thalmor, one Kiir didn’t recognize.

Her eyes fell on Kiir first and she strode up to her. “Are you in charge here?”

Kiir shook her head.

“I am.” Eithis turned. In his ragged robes, he hardly looked the part of current Arch Mage.

The Thalmor woman looked him over once and frowned. “I’m here to speak to the representative that was stationed here at Winterhold.”

Eithis looked confused. “Ancano?”

“Yes, yes. Something like that.”

Kiir turned to look at Ancano. He had lifted his head at the sound of his name and seemed to have grown paler. He only stared at the three of them.

“What business do you have?”

The Thalmor woman frowned. “ Thalmor business.”

She didn’t seem to noticed when Eithis glanced at Ancano for a moment. “As a current staff member at the college, I’d ask that you elaborate.”

Clicking her tongue, the woman relented. “He’s been removed of his post. I’m here to relieve him.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Kiir shared the look of surprise on the Thalmor woman’s face. Even Ancano had his brows raised.

“Excuse me?”

“What do you know of the college?” Eithis asked. “You didn’t even know who was in charge. Ancano, while… difficult at times, understands this college and knows its people. He has proved himself a capable wizard.”

Kiir could not believe what was coming out of Eithis’ mouth. She’d seen him at Ancano’s throat so many times for him now; what happened for him to be defending him?

“That is, unfortunately, not your decision to make.” The woman replied.

“You can take Ancano if he wishes to return with you.” Eithis continued. “But rest assured no other Thalmor representatives will be allowed to replace him.”

The Thalmor woman’s eyes grew dark. She frowned deeply and looked like a coiled snake. But she was silent. She looked to Kiir, then to Eithis. She clicked her tongue. “We’ll see how that goes over with the council.”

“Please, do.”

With a sharp turn, the woman exited the way she came.

Behind Kiir and Eithis, Ancano spoke. His voice was quiet and soft, so unlike his usual commanding tone.

“I don’t know what motive you could possibly have for defending me,” Ancano looked to Eithis. “But thank you.”

“Better the evil you know than the evil you don’t, right?” Eithis grinned slyly and then turned, moving towards the doors to exit the hall.

Kiir laughed, seeing a hint of a smile form on Ancano’s own face.

Eithis would make a fine Arch Mage.

Kiir aided Eithis in removing the Stormcloaks from the college grounds and moving the injured into the infirmary to receive care. There was a short funeral procession for Savos, who was buried down in Winterhold’s cemetery. Kiir eyed Brelyna and Nirya’s graves, their gravestones appearing so new against the rest of the weathered rock.

By the time Kiir made it back to her room, it was late. She wanted to just fall into bed and worry about nothing but class tomorrow. But there wouldn’t be class, not for a while. Not until the college had been put back in working order.

She knew she should start packing now, but her heavy eyelids refused to stay open for long enough to get anything done.

I’ll get it done when morning comes.

Unfortunately, morning came far too fast.

She’d forced herself up at the crack of dawn to make sure she saw J’zargo before leaving. He wasn’t conscious and she’d been afraid to even pat his head or stroke his arm. Most of him was bandaged, and what wasn’t looked far worse than it had seemed on the ride back from the Labyrinthian.

Still, he was alive, and an exhausted Colette had assured her he’d remain that way. Apparently last night she hadn’t been so sure.

After checking on J’zargo she’d managed to catch Onmund on his way into the city, and he agreed to see if the carriage would take a passenger to Whiterun. She spent the time waiting for his return by writing to J’zargo. Leaving without any kind of goodbye just didn’t feel right; she was sure Eithis would read it to him once he woke up.

It was Drevis who returned with the message. The carriage would take her, but he wanted to leave by midday.

So now Kiir was carefully arranging her belongings into her bags. She couldn’t put it off any longer.

It was melancholic, to be packing things that she had felt she’d only just un packed. She pulled out the armor she’d gotten from that khajiit in Whiterun… Nie’mar? Having finally gotten a set of fitting robes, Kiir placed the armor on her bed. Surely someone here at the college could find use of it.

Near the bottom of one of her drawers, Kiir pulled out a book. It’s cover was black and she didn’t recognize it at first.

The Book of the Dragonborn.

Kiir laughed aloud. It was the book she’d picked up in Helgen, so long ago. How ironic, she thought, placing the book in one of her bags.

She had some reading to do.


The warm weather that blessed Whiterun was a pleasing change of pace. Kiir had rested her shawl behind her, giving herself some cushioning against the bumpy dirt paths. Her book rested in her lap. She’d made it about halfway through, but as Whiterun grew closer, Kiir’s attention was drawn out to the open plains.

When is the last time I saw grass?

Kiir left Winterhold late in the morning, giving her a chance to wish everyone goodbye and triple check that all her things had been put into the wagon.

She was lucky the wagon was even still in operation, considering the state of disarray that encapsulated Winterhold at the moment. She felt a small pang of guilt, leaving after such a disaster and failing to help rebuild, but Eithis had been insistent that she leave as soon as possible.

He’d given her a letter to give to his sister, wished her safe travels, and sent her on her way.

“You wanna get dropped off by the stables?”

“That’s fine.” Kiir found that Whiterun seemed far less imposing than the first time she’d seen it. Perhaps after seeing how large the buildings in Skyrim were beneath the ground, the ones above ground seemed less… impressive.

Kiir closed her eyes, breathing in the smell of fresh air. As much as she hadn’t wanted to leave the college, being in a place where the air wasn’t always cold and biting wasn’t anything to complain about.

A sudden gust of wind blew forcefully over the plains and Kiir laughed. “A lovely day for travel.”

The carriage driver didn’t respond.

Kiir opened her eyes and looked towards him. “Hey, you-“

His eyes were staring off behind Kiir’s back.

Kiir turned and she felt the breath pulled from her lungs. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The horse pulling the carriage reared and the carriage driver drew in a deep breath, letting out a shout across the plains.

“Dragon!”

Chapter Text

Kiir was running.

Another dragon. A year ago the dragons may as well have been a myth. Had someone told her a few months ago that she'd be running towards one, she’d have said they were insane.

But here she was.

Even from outside the walls of Whiterun she could smell the smoke, hear the roars and the screams and the shouting. The dragon circled overhead, swooping low to bellow flames and shooting right back up again, followed closely by a volley of arrows.

The carriage she’d taken from Winterhold refused to go any closer - so she’d pounded down the path on foot. Past where guards should have been posted, she slammed through the entrance doors and found herself directly in the fray.

The entire city was chaos. People were everywhere . Unarmed folks seemed to be scrambling haphazardly- many not even appearing to be seeking shelter. Guards rushed from cover to cover, firing arrows at the airborne beast.

As Kiir sprinted towards the market square, the dragon was swooping low over Jorrvaskr. She pushed into the square and through the fleeing crowd. An obnoxiously loud clanging drew her attention. Just beside the steps to the Bannered Mare was one of the Companions... Vilkas! He was slamming the hilt of his sword into his shield and bellowing.

She shifted her course in his direction and his words drifted into focus, “Down here you ruddy beast! Over here!

“Vilkas! What are you doing?”

The nord caught her eye but was immediately distracted.

Kiir ducked.

A gale of wind thrown by the dragon’s wings rushed through the square. She whirled to find it hovering just across the way. With its back facing them, it poured flames into the thick of directionless people attempting to flee.

“I said over here!” The nord snarled and charged towards the dragon, pushing right past Kiir. “Gods damn you!”

Purple sparks shot across her field of vision. Turning to see them coming from someone other than Eithis or J’zargo was jarring. It was a dunmer, but if this was Irileth, she didn’t even remotely look like her brother.

“Guards! To me!” Kiir could hear her shout.

The dragon seemed completely unfazed by the torrent of hell the city of Whiterun was unleashing upon it. Kiir could see arrows sticking out of its hide.

“Irileth!”

Kiir turned towards the familiar voice behind her.

Nie’mar. She had a bow clenched in her hand as she tore down the steps. An expression of surprise crossed her face when she saw Kiir, but she didn’t slow down.

Kiir followed behind the khajiit, descending with her, back down into the market square.

“Tell your guards to aim for the wings!” Nie’mar shouted over the dragon’s roar.

“We’re having enough trouble just hitting it at all! Not all of us are master sharpshooters, Harbringer!”

Nie’mar knocked an arrow, moving closer to Irileth. “One way or another, we need to ground it!” Her arrow struck the dragon’s neck as it drew low. “I need help.The Companions can fight but not when the damn thing is sixty feet in the air!”

Irileth paused for just a moment. She nodded. “Oi!” Her voice carried across the square. “Aim for the wings!”

Kiir ducked beside a market stand, covering her head. Heat exploded into the square and flames skittered across the cobblestone. Whiterun would be a smoldering crevasse if they didn’t move fast. Kiir looked up, seeing the steps leading towards the Jarl’s place. She stood, moving towards Nie’mar and Irileth again.

Nie’mar gave her a hint of a smile.

“Are you Irileth?” Kiir stood beneath the overhangs of the nearby shops.

Irileth raised an eyebrow. “Now is not the time.”

“She is,” Nie’mar answered for her. She had another arrow knocked back. “I am surprised to see you.”

Kiir nodded. “I have an idea.”

She got no response. Nie’mar flinched and her eyes darted to follow the dragon. Irileth looked ready to bolt across the square.

“I’ve-”

Kiir had no chance to finish her sentence before Irileth darted from her spot on the corner.  

“...dealt with one of these before...” Kiir sighed. Nie’mar was right; at the college everyone had ranged spells that could hit the dragon wherever it went. If they wanted to be able to do anything worthwhile here , they had to get it out of the sky.

Nie’mar’s shoulders dropped. She looked back towards Kiir and then forwards to the dragon. “We can not just ground it anywhere. We need to get it out of the city.”

Shit. Kiir looked up towards the Jarl’s place again. She had intended to shoot at it from there and let it land wherever it ended up. But it had done enough damage to the city.

“I’ll have the Companions move towards the gate,” Nie’mar said. “Irileth will follow and have the guards do the same. You’ve really fought a dragon?”

Kiir nodded. “We killed it with lightning and lots of it. I figure not many of the Companions know magic.” The last time Kiir had fought a dragon, there’d been at least two other mages.

“Not any,” Nie’mar shook her head.

Then they’d have to make due. “You want it outside the city?”

“As far past the gate as we can get it.” Nie’mar said. “This dragon has done enough damage and I do not want to keep trying to fight it amongst all these civilians.”

Kiir watched the dragon circle above. “Where do you want me?”

“The field out front. This one will join you once we have the beast where we want it.”

Kiir nodded. She looked up watching the dragon move towards the Cloud District and then bolted, following behind Nie’mar as she ran for the gate.

The dragon’s bellows filled the air. Kiir slipped out and down the cobbled stairs to the field. The thick fabric of her robes was beginning to suffocate her. Kiir breathed to try and still her hammering heart.

She backed out into the field, turning her attention back to the city.

The dragon still swirled above Whiterun. It dipped below the wall and Kiir’s heart dropped.

From the front gates she saw a few guards scramble out.

Suddenly a massive crash echoed into the air. The outer wall of Whiterun blew outward. Flames reached upwards into the sky.

Kiir heard the dragon call again.

Her fingers thumped against her thighs. She was asked to wait. Was that the right call?

The dragon took flight again. This time, however, Kiir saw its attention drawn to something on the ground.

A pack of archers were making their way out of the city, calling the dragon’s attention to them. Behind them, following suit, were a few of the companions. Nie’mar was among them.

The khajiit shouted something, pointing out Kiir.

Kiir drew in a breath.

The dragon bellowed and swooped.

Kiir felt the blow back as the dragon pushed itself higher into the sky.

“This good?” Nie’mar shouted.

Kiir saw Irileth move up beside her and swing her arms upward. Sparks flew from her fingertips.

The dragon was still high above the ground, circling. It was biding its time in the sky.

When Irileth’s first bolt struck, the dragon shifted suddenly. It screamed, shooting fire down where it thought the danger was coming from.

Kiir backed up. Shit. The last time she’d cast this on a dragon it was standing atop of a building. She hadn’t realized how fast and nimble the creatures were until she was trying to aim a spell at a moving one. She put both her hands up, trying to put the dragon between her thumbs.

“Shoot it!”

Finally, the dragon swooped again.

Kiir drew her hands back and cast. A flurry of bright purple sparks flew from her hands. She could barely see over the lightning.

The dragon roared again. Then, suddenly, Kiir felt the ground shake.

Her arms still warm with magicka, Kiir dropped her hands.

The dragon had slammed into the ground, pushing up mounds of dirt.

Nie’mar and her companions wasted no time. They had already covered half the distance. The guards were following close behind.

Kiir moved in a circle around the dragon, trying to keep away from its face.

But the dragon had other plans. It drew back a breath and shot it in Kiir’s direction.

Thankfully, her ward caught the blast. But it pushed her back, so much so that her feet drew lines in the dirt.

Her ward only lasted as long as the blast. The residual heat warmed her face. Kiir paused a moment. She’d heard a similar sound from the dragon back in Winterhold. Underneath the roar of flames there was... something.

The dragon hissed. Each stop of its feet shook the ground.

Kiir had no time to think. She tried to keep her distance. She could see the Companions drawing nearer.

Irileth sent another bolt of lightning. It struck just below the creature's head.

The dragon snarled. It drew back a breath.

“Oi, you filthy beast!” Farkas seemed to appear from nowhere. His steel drew blood on the dragon’s neck.

In a sudden twist, the dragon turned and swept out with its tail.

Kiir didn’t see it until it was too late. Her legs stung and she felt the ground disappear beneath her. She hit the ground, hard. She couldn’t breathe, the air was knocked from her lungs. Her vision swirled. She could still hear the battle but the sounds were distant and warbled.

She forced herself onto her side.

Farkas was laid out on his back, not far from her. Vilkas had run over to him trying to pull his brother to his feet.

Nie’mar was back tracking, Irileth walking in step with her.

Romanda, Kiir noticed, had joined the fray. She was the only one anywhere near the dragon. Her warhammer was poised at the dragon’s hind legs.

We can’t fight it, Kiir thought. She pushed herself to her knees. We can't’-

Something suddenly flew by her face. A flash of strange purple light striking the dragon's neck before bursting into shards.

Kiir turned. A Frost Atronach raced by her.

She watched as it flung itself directly into the dragon. It threw the beast off balance.

Another purple streak flew by just seconds later. It stuck itself inside the dragon’s open mouth.

Kiir spun.

A heavily armored bosmer women held a glowing bow in her hands. She drew another purple arrow, racing past Kiir without a second glance.

The Atronach’s upper half was now in the dragon’s mouth, its jaws splintering the thing in two.

Kiir scrambled to her feet. She was unsteady.

“What’s the plan?”

Kiir looked up to see the bosmer from before had moved beside Irileth.

“Kill it,” Irileth screamed above its roars.

Kiir could taste blood in her mouth. She moved opposite Irileth, trying to get back around to the side of the dragon.

Romanda landed a solid blow to its front legs. It held one of the winged appendages against its chest.

Vilkas and Farkas were running side by side, shouting.

Kiir looked down at her hands. Nothing I’m doing is working. She smelled burnt hair and blood.

This wasn’t good. She hadn’t seen how many guards had fallen. The field looked like a war zone.

The dragon drew in a breath... and Kiir heard it.

Dovah. There was no doubt it was speaking dovah under its breath.

Kiir silently cursed herself for not remembering more about the language. She could only barely make out the sounds, let alone translate it.

The dragon launched forward a fire breath, sending Romanda hurtling backwards.

Kiir winced, seeing her slam into the ground. Glancing down at her hands, Kiir saw some of her bandages were beginning to come off. She looked up at the dragon. What if she cast the spell point blank? “Vilkas!”

Vilkas stumbled backwards, looking over his shoulder.

“Pull the dragon that way!” Kiir pointed away from Whiterun and towards the crumbled watchtower in the distance.

“You make it sound so easy!” Vilkas shouted back. He moved to the front of the dragon, slamming his sword on his shield.

Nie’mar seemed to catch on to what Vilkas was trying to do and she moved to mimic his movements.

Kiir, however, turned towards the back of the dragon. She still had not come to terms with how large these beings were. As she neared, she realized she was barely the size of the monsters hind leg.

It was moving fast toward the companions. Kiir was jogging to catch up.

The dragon stopped to draw in breath and Kiir took her chance.

She ran, full tilt, towards the dragon’s hind legs. Her hands were outstretched, sparks already forming.

When she felt the dragon’s scales under her fingertips, she let loose.

The light was brilliant. Kiir couldn’t see anything in front of her as her vision was swallowed in the astounding array of electrical sparks. She pushed harder.

When Kiir finally stumbled back, she was utterly spent. Residual lights danced in her eyes.

She focused on the dragon, still but a few feet in front of her. It was...smoking.

And still alive.

Fuck-

A single arrow shot from a distance pierced the dragon’s skull, directly through its eye.

The beast howled, stumbling forward and reaching out with its claws to grasp at whatever it could reach.

With a final, pitiful mewl, the dragon collapsed.

It was dead.

The silence that fell over the field was calming at first. There was a collective sigh as the danger passed.

But as Kiir let her gaze wander, the scale of the damage here was far greater than she’d anticipated. The Winterhold dragon had destroyed some of the upper walkways and outer walls, but this...

Whiterun was still smoking. Black clouds swirled into the sky. Kiir could see flames coming through the hole it had punched in the outer wall.

The field was in no better shape. Guards were rushing to put out grass fires that threatened to swallow the entire grassland. A number of more unfortunate guards lay crumpled on the ground, unmoving in a puddle of their own blood.

Kiir blanched.

Then, a warm wind kicked up. Kiir turned to see where it could be coming from, realization dawning for her immediately as her eyes fell upon the dragon.

Just like the one before it, its scales glowed like lit embers. They burned away, leaving only a bleached skeleton behind.

The wind centered itself on her and swirled downward. Her body was warmed.

When the scene ended, Kiir caught the eyes of a few nearby guards. She couldn’t see their faces behind their masks, but their frozen stature told her all she needed to know.

Ducking her head, Kii moved past them to where Romanda had fallen. Farkas was just pulling her up into a seated position.

The entire right side of her face was bloodied and her eye was swollen shut and bruised a dark purple. One of her tusks had been completely broken off, the remnants of it pushing through her lip. Her arms hung loosely at her sides and she looked barely conscious.

Kiir moved closer.

Romanda popped open her good eye. It widened. “Kiir?”

Kiir crouched closer to the ground.

Romanda’s mouth broadened into a grin. “It is you! What’re you doing here?”

“Fighting a dragon.”

Romanda clicked her tongue. “You know what I meant.” She grasped onto Farkas’ shoulder as he hoisted her to her feet. She was unsteady, but continued to speak. “Was the college not your thing?”

Kiir shrugged. There was far too much to explain right now. “I missed you guys.”

Farkas chuckled. “I bet. Grab her other arm, we’ll haul her back to Jorrvaskr.”

Kiir obliged, shifting Romanda’s arm onto her shoulders to help balance her. This was her bad arm, Kiir noted. She moved so that a majority of the pressure was on her chest.

The walk back into Whiterun was slow, but Kiir was tired. Farkas was hauling most of Romanda’s weight, so Kiir found the walk a chance to catch her breath.

She saw Nie’mar pass them on the cobbled path, carrying someone in her arms. Kiir was a little surprised - Nie’mar had little more muscle definition than she did yet the khajiit seemed to carry that body with ease.

The Companions left the doors of Jorrvaskr open in the aftermath. It was a revolving door of people coming in and out of the building. Some carried food or drink, others blankets.

Kiir and Farkas maneuvered their way through the crowds and sat Romanda at the long dinner table.

“I’ll fetch some bandages,” Farkas lay a hand on Romanda’s head. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Romanda grinned lopsidedly. She tilted her head up towards Kiir. “Are you going to be staying for dinner?”

“Dinner?”

“We were planning something tonight anyway but, with the dragon attack, I’m sure Nie’mar will want to do something. And with the loss of Athis...”

Kiir raised her brows. She hadn’t realized one of the Companions had lost their lives. “Is that who-”

“Yes.” Romanda confirmed. She smiled again. “But you did more than help. You absolutely have to join us.”

“I would love to.”

Farkas returned with the bandages, cleaning and dressing Romanda’s wounds.

Mid-afternoon progressed into late evening, the sun disappearing and the sky growing dark. The people grew fewer and fewer until all that remained within Jorrvaskr were the Companions and who Kiir assumed to be friends and family.

Dinner was served and Kiir ate heartily. She realized she hadn’t eaten all day. Contentedly full, Kiir sat back and watched the room. She hadn’t spoken much to any of these people when she had first showed up here. Save for Romanda, but the orc was in the corner five ales deep.

Kiir dumped the remnants of her plate into the fire and rose to her feet. The air was thick and heavy within Jorrvaskr, not to mention far too warm. Kiir still wore her robes from the college. They were made with thick heavy wool; great for blizzards, terrible for the temperate grasslands.

Kiir pushed open the back doors out onto the patio. There was a nice chill in the night air, but there was still a humid heaviness. Kiir closed the door behind her and looked up, nearly falling backwards onto the ground

There stood a shadowed person leaning against one of the pillars.

“Oh,” Kiir gasped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was out here.”

The person turned, their face barely illuminated by the lights coming out from inside Jorrvaskr.

It was the bosmer from the dragon attack. The one who had summoned an atronach and used a conjured bow.

Kiir raised her brows. “Are you going to come in and eat?

“Nah, I’m not really hungry.” The woman turned, nodding towards the doors. “What are you doing out here? Too loud?”

“Too warm.” Kiir clarified. She wiggled her arms. “I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion.”

The woman nodded. “Fair enough.”

There settled an uncomfortable silence.

“Are you one of the Companions?” Kiir asked. “I didn’t see you around when I was first here.”

The bosmer chuckled. “No, I’m not. I’m here on business.”

Kiir paused a moment. She felt it was rude to go back inside but... “Summoning an atronach is quite a skill. Are you a mage?”

The woman stared off into the distance before finally answering, “Yes? I guess I never consciously thought about it…”

“I’m surprised.” Kiir suddenly frowned. “Not... like that’s a bad thing.”

The bosmer’s brow raised. “Surprised because…?”

Kiir paused again. “No reason. I’m Kiir, by the way. That probably should have been the first thing I said.”

“Tukara,” she replied. She held out her hand.

Kiir took her hand. “It’s nice to meet-”

The conversation broke as one of the doors inside burst open. A well-dressed Argonian stumbled out, barely able to stay on his feet.

Kiir moved quickly out of his way. He didn’t even notice her.

Tukara moved quickly beside him, catching him by the arm.

“Ahh, Tukara!” He slurred.

Tukara sighed, pulling an arm up onto her shoulders. “Fish...”

He replied with a smile, nuzzling his snout into her cheek.

“Sorry,” she sheepishly smiled at Kiir. “I have to go take care of this.” Tukara turned her back, moving down the steps of the patio.

Kiir opened her mouth to wish them both goodbye, but she was again cut off as Aela poked her head out from the door.

“Kiir, there you are.” She motioned for Kiir to come inside. “Did you have a place to stay for the night?”

Kiir’s sudden panic must have been obvious. A grin spread across the Aela’s face before she continued, “Nie’mar asked me to show you to your room.”

Kiir looked back to where Tukara and the argonian had went, but they had already made their way to the side of the building. Kiir returned her gaze to Aela. “My room?”

“What, did you think we’d kick you out?” Aela motioned again. “Come on, follow me.”

Kiir nodded, allowing Aela to weave them through the remaining crowd within Jorrvaskr. They descended downstairs, a place Kiir had never been to. It was cozy, Kiir noted. But the gray brick walls gave the entire area a dungeon like feel.

“This room is yours, for as long as you need it,” Aela said. “But, try to be discreet about it. It’s touchy.”

Kiir followed Aela down a smaller side hallway. She wondered if it was because she wasn’t a companion, and nodded. “Of course.”

“You don’t have to sneak around or anything though, everyone knows you’re here and you’re more than welcome.” Aela opened the door. “Just... actually pretend like I didn’t say anything about the room.”

Kiir looked inside. It was fully furnished as one would expect, with a bed, wardrobe, and bedside table. But, also, there were decorations. Furs and trinkets hung on the wall. There was a bookshelf fully stocked and decorative candle holders sat on a desk.

“Thank you.” Kiir moved inside.

“Of course. If you need anything, don’t be a stranger.”

Kiir nodded and Aela closed the door behind her.

Alone in the room, Kiir found herself with the first chance to truly breathe. The day had felt like an entire week had passed. She sat on the bed, finding it far softer than the college’s amenities.

Apparently I’m a Dragonborn, Kiir thought sarcastically. I should expect these sort of things to happen to me.

Kiir felt her eyes drift to the bookshelf. When was the last time she had a chance to just sit and read for pleasure?

She stood, peering onto the top shelf and pulling the first book that caught her eye. The Lusty Argonian Maid, v.1 .

Kiir laughed aloud to herself. What a find.

 

Chapter Text

Kiir opened her eyes, groggily yawning and rolling onto her back.

Her room was quiet and dark. The walls of Jorrvaskr were thick and muffled sound, both in and out. The lack of windows meant it looked to be night no matter the time of day.

It was all Kiir could do to not fall back asleep.

She lit a Flames spell in her hand, then cast it outward to the numerous candles in the room. In the light orange glow, Kiir pulled herself from bed and dressed in her robes from yesterday. She chided herself for not asking for a change of clothes earlier.

Kiir smoothed the wrinkled bits of fabric and opened the door. The hallway was quiet, too.

Had something happened? How late is it?

Moving faster, Kiir made her way down the hall and up to the main chamber. The hearth fire burned readily, but still there was no one in sight. Kiir would have been more concerned had she not heard voices coming from outside.

With a rush of relief, Kiir pushed open the front doors.

The streets of Whiterun were littered with people, their combined voices echoing up to Kiir. At first, she thought they were picketing or that there was a fight… but then she realized they were carrying stone and lumber. She picked out Nie’mar, three large crates held in her hands, moving down into the market.

They’re rebuilding.

Kiir descended the stairs. Off to her right, a set of five or six men were singing a tune. Kiir did not recognize it, but their energy was infectious. She smiled, hearing their laughter under the melody.

It wasn’t until Kiir saw another Altmer woman bend down and hand a boy a small bustle of straw that she realized how… foreign this was. To her, at least.

Kiir tried to imagine this sort of situation on the Isles, but she couldn’t. An Altmer wouldn’t be caught dead doing hard manual labor if he valued his reputation, let alone doing so for anyone but himself. Kiir sighed. Her people were compassionate and caring… but standing amongst Whiterun’s show of camaraderie and community she could understand why her kind had such a stained imagine among these people.

Kiir hurried to catch up to Nie’mar, who’d just dropped the crates off to a nearby market stand. “Early morning?”

Nie’mar lifted her head, smiling. “I was wondering how long it would be before you got up.”

“I got used to the bells at the college.” Kiir shrugged. “Jorrvaskr is so quiet.”

“Quiet?” Nie’mar stood up. “Didn’t think I would ever hear the place described as ‘quiet’.”

Kiir looked around the square. Everyone seemed to be busying themselves with work. “Do you need me to do anything?”

“Thi- I think we’ve got a good handle on things. Didn’t you want to speak to Irileth?” Nie’mar nodded up to the Jarl’s home. “I am sure she has returned to Dragonsreach by now.”

“Wouldn’t she be busy?”

Nie’mar chuckled. “I think dragons trump almost everything, Kiir.”

Kiir nodded in agreement. Still... “I haven’t seen Romanda. Is she alright?”

“She’s doing fine. You can see her after you speak to Irileth.”

“I-”

Nie’mar made a shooing motion with her hand before heading back up the stairs towards Jorrvaskr.

Kiir sighed. She looked up to Dragonsreach, finding it the one place left in Whiterun untouched by the dragon’s attack. There weren’t any guards near the bottom of the stairs; they were likely out helping with renovations. Kiir moved upwards, pleased with the lack of restriction.

That feeling was short-lived, however, as a single guard by the door issued her a hand, signaling her to stop.

“What is your business with the Jarl?”

“Ah,” Kiir paused. “I’m… actually looking for Irileth. I was told she was here.”

The guard chuckled. “I’m sorry, but the Jarl’s protector doesn’t take appointments. And even if she did, there are far more pressing issues than whatever you might need, elf.”

“But this is important.” Kiir continued, ignoring the guard’s jab. “It has to do with yesterday’s dragon attack.”

“Does it now?” The guard drawled. “And you want to speak to Irileth about it? Not the jarl?”

“I’ll speak to the jarl about it as well. If he’ll have me.”

“He won’t.” The guard nearly cut her off. “We’ve got a city to rebuild and people to bury. Come back when that’s said and done.”

Kiir opened her mouth to protest, but the guard had pointedly moved to the other side of the door. “Fine.”

This was working out just beautifully. Kiir wandered down the steps back to the city.

“-an entire family murdered.”

Kiir slowed her pace. Two guards had returned to their post at the bottom of the stairs.

“Was it the dragon?”

“No. They were ripped apart… heard Irileth couldn’t barely even tell the bodies apart.”

“Is she still down there?”

“Yeah, heard her talking about it when she came back up to fetch more guards. Word is she’s upping security around the farms.”

“Pity the man who gets that job.”

“You’re a guard, Lorngar. Guarding is your job.”

“Yes but out there? At night?”

“Afraid of the dark?”

“Of course! I fear the night, because the werewolves and vampires don't.”

Kiir had neared the bottom of the stairs and had to continue lest she look suspicious. The guards seemed unfazed by her presence as she passed between them, though they paused their conversation as she did. If Irileth was out, Kiir might be able to catch her before she went back into the Jarl’s place.

The crowds near the front gates were just as thick as they were near Jorrvaskr. Kiir could’ve tried to weasel her way through them, but she decided to instead slip through the hole in the wall that had yet to be fixed.

It was no difficult task to find the farm in question. A swath of guards swarmed around one of the small houses, almost obscuring the building behind their bodies.

Kiir approached cautiously. She wasn’t a guard and wasn’t even from Whiterun – these guards had every right to shoo her away.

Thankfully, she wasn’t the only onlooker and their attention was fixated on the house in front of them.

Kiir was able to see above a few of the heads and was disappointed to see nothing but a few broken pots and an open door. She strained to see anything of interest but the home looked like nothing more than a strong wind had passed by. Had there actually been a murder?

“Yes, there was.”

Kiir jumped. She looked to her left, where a Nord man was looking at her. “Excuse me?”

“There was a murder here, more than one. The entire family is dead,” he explained.

Kiir raised her brows. “That I heard. But it doesn’t... look like a murder scene.”

He laughed, “Seen many murder scenes I take it? No, the mess is upstairs. Torn to bits. Werewolves again, I’d bet my life on it.”

Werewolves. Kiir frowned. “Again? This has happened before?”

“Many times. Savage beasts, they are. They’ve been on the rise as of late, though this may be the closest attack to the city in a while.”

“Are you sure it was werewolves? People are just as capable.” Kiir’s mind drifted to a few months prior, before she’d arrived at the college. The carriage, the Thalmor, Farkas...

“Capable, sure, but in the night? Killed before they could make a sound to alert anyone nearby? An entire family! The guards who found them say you couldn’t tell which parts belonged to who. That’s not uncommon for a wolf attack.”

“Well-”

“-and then there’s the question of how they got in - the door and the first floor look fine from what I can see. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say one of the family took the curse, and then this happened!”

Kiir turned her head to entirely face the man. “Who would curse their own family?”

The nord paused his rant to scrutinize her. “What do you mean?”

“You said it was one of the family who cursed them,” Kiir repeated.

“Oh, no, I said I’d bet it was one of their own family who tore the others apart. How else would a wolf have gotten inside without destroying the door? When I said curse I meant the wolf! The infection.”

Kiir took a step back. The man was intense and he seemed so sure of himself. “That sounds terrible.”

“We’ll know for sure if one of the family turns up missing. Especially if we find they’ve taken their own life. They never seem to understand the choice they’re making until it is too late.”

Looking back to the house, Kiir found its untouched state unsettling. “Choice,” she echoed.

It was then that Kiir saw a dark elf woman emerge from inside the house. She cast a glance at the nord and issued him a quick farewell as she slipped around the crowd to meet up with Irileth.

The dunmer wore a tense expression, guards parting in front of her without a word.

She looked up and met eyes with Kiir. Her stare was hard. Kiir wondered if she should even try and speak with her, but Irileth then gestured for Kiir to come towards her.

“I didn’t think yesterday would be that last I’d see of you.”

Kiir raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry?”

Irileth shook her head. “Time is hardly a luxury we can afford. You… absorbed that soul yesterday. Guards have been talking about the Dragonborn ever since. You’re clearly not just an average wanderer.”

“No,” Kiir answered. “I’m not. I was hoping to speak to you-”

Irileth was easily keeping up with Kiir’s long strides. “And I, you. Surely the Dragonborn can fill me in on this dragon problem.”

“Uh,” Kiir paused. She felt her body sag. “I was hoping to ask you about it.”

“Me?” Irileth cast a surprised glance towards Kiir. It was the first time she’d shown any emotion save for contempt since they’d started talking. “What gave you the impression that I would know anything?”

“Your brother. Eithis? I met him at the College and he told me-”

A soft smiled spread across Irileth’s face.

Kiir was surprised.

“Eithis? How is my brother?”

The two had just entered back within Whiterun’s wall. Walking through the crowds was much easier now that the captain of the guard walked beside Kiir; the crowds parted as they made their way up to Dragonsreach.

“He’s fine,” Kiir replied. “There was a dragon attack up in Winterhold and he told me to come speak to you in hopes you might know something about where they’re coming from or why…”

“Well, I don’t.” Irileth’s voice dropped back down to its low grumble. “I’m just as far in the dark as anyone else.”

Kiir frowned. “Is there anyone else I could talk to?”

Irileth held up her hand to stop her. “Let’s us speak to the Jarl first. Then we can go from there.”

When Kiir reached the top of the steps, she moved behind Irileth. The guard, who before had given her nothing but snark, scrambled to open the door before Irileth got to it. What Kiir would give to see his face beneath that mask.

The Jarl’s home was warm and well kept; Kiir expected nothing less of a leader. A long hearth fire, not to unlike the one in Jorrvaskr, roared at the center of the room.

“Irileth!” A booming voice spread throughout the room. “I hadn’t expected you back until much later.”

“Things are escalating far faster than anticipated, my Jarl.”

Moving closer, Kiir could now make out the old Nord’s face in the warm lighting. His smile fell to a look of confusion.

“I’m sure you plan to elaborate.” The Jarl gestured towards Kiir. “And this is?”

Irileth turned slightly. “The Dragonborn.”

Kiir shrunk. “Kiir’Dun, actually. Kiir, if you like.”

“The Dragonborn?” The Jarl half spoke, half whispered the word. “And an Altmer, no less.” He paused a moment, letting his eyes drift between Kiir and Irileth. “So the legends are true.”

“Many of them,” Irileth reminded him. “The people are working hard to rebuild, but we can not withstand another attack.”

The Jarl shook his head. “I know this, Irileth. I need ideas. Plans.”

A small, mousy man beside the Jarl spoke up. “Surely another attack is highly unlikely. We should be spending our time and resources rebuilding.”

“This is not a one-time affair, Proventus,” Irileth argued. “There was a dragon attack in Winterhold before this one.”

Proventus’ eyes grew wide. “And why were we not told of this?”

“You are being told now.” Irileth turned to Kiir. “How long ago was this?”

“Two weeks?” Kiir offered. Time was flying by faster than Kiir could keep track.

“Could it have been the same dragon?” the Jarl asked.

“No,” Kiir shook her head, “We killed that one too.”

Irileth faced Proventus again. “This threat is very real and very dangerous. We need to take precautions.”

“I have a mind to agree with Irileth,” the Jarl said. “Protecting my people is of the utmost concern.”

“If we do not work to rebuild,” Proventus interrupted, “then what are you protecting but a smoldering corpse?”

Kiir watched the Jarl’s upper lip twitch. Then he turned his eyes to Kiir.

“Have you learned anything about these dragons?”

Kiir hesitated. She had fought two of them and knew barely anything. “No. I was hoping that you all knew something.”

The Jarl frowned. “I wonder... Why now? Are we sure that these are not a tool of Ulfric?” He paused, looking to Kiir. “Or the Thalmor?”

Kiir barely stifled a gasp. She hadn’t even considered the possibility of the dragons being a tool, and a tool of her own government. No, Kiir thought. There weren’t even dragons in any of her people’s history. No stories, no tales. She’d had to dig deep for what little she knew of the dragons and their language, and what she found had been directly in relation to other lands and cultures. Surely, the Thalmor had no idea dragons were even real, let alone able to be resurrected.

But something was nagging at her. Ancano had known her name was derived from old Dovah… what other reason could he have for knowing that if he wasn’t studying it himself?

“Kiir’Dun?”

Kiir looked up.

The Jarl tilted his head. “Have you something?”

“No,” Kiir lied. “I’m sorry. I wish I had more to tell.”

“As do I,” the Jarl sighed. He looked to Irileth. “Speak to Farengar and find out if there are any magical defenses we can have put up quickly. I want my people to feel safe.”

Irileth nodded.

“And you,” the Jarl looked to Kiir, “I’d appreciate if you would stay in and around Whiterun until we can solidify a next step. Legend or not, you are important to this mystery.”

Kiir nodded and opened her mouth to speak but was quickly cut off.

A loud, thunderous rumble shook the walls of the Jarl’s home. Metal tankards clanked onto the ground, plates crashed, and a few guards lost their footing and tumbled to their knees. Dust was shifted free and fell down from the ceiling.

Kiir felt her heart rise into her throat. Another dragon? So soon?

But instead of the telltale bellow of the mighty beast, there came a voice. A chorus of voices. And they spoke a single name of three syllables that hung in the air.

Kiir’s mouth went dry.

“DOH. VAH. KIIN.”

Chapter Text

“He called them ‘Greybeards’,” Kiir explained. She was sat around the hearth fire back at Jorrvaskr, absently munching on a slice of bread. “He said it was likely my best bet to understand this ‘dragonborn’ thing.”

Nie’mar nodded. “There is a path up to their sanctuary, but it is not a trip to be taken lightly.”

“I made it to Winterhold okay.” Kiir looked over to Romanda. “Well, for the most part.”

“You made it along a clear, well-travelled road through the ground winters. The mountain is a whole other beast.” Aela leaned back in her chair. “You don’t just decide one day to go up there – you’ll have to pack enough food, gear… not to mention all the nasty shit that calls that place home.”

Kiir frowned. “So I should probably leave soon, then.”

“No!” Romanda answered, rather loudly. She paused, and continued a bit quieter. “You’re not leaving without a group.”

“And you should take a few days off,” Nie’mar added. “Rest up, make sure you are totally ready. The trip will take a lot out of you.”

Kiir did not like the idea of waiting around. She fidgeted. “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“Relax,” Nie’mar laughed. “Besides, this- Aela and I have to coordinate a few more of the relief efforts around here before we can talk about leaving. Enjoy your time off.”

Kiir hummed in response. “Alright.”

Romanda leaned back in her chair and started digging through her pockets, before offering a small coin purse across the table. “The Khajiit caravans should have come in today, just outside the gates. If you need something to do, go see if they have any Blisterwort or healing potions. Arcadia jumped her prices after the dragon attack – a true Imperial, that one…”

Kiir stared at the purse.

“Take the money, Kiir,” Romanda said. She smiled, wincing a little. “We’re almost out of healing salves and we’ll need plenty more for the journey. And feel free to get whatever else you need.”

Kiir grabbed the purse and shifted it between her hands. “How long before we’ll be leaving?”

Nie’mar cast a glance at Aela, who shrugged. “A few days. Two or three.”

“Alright.” Three days felt like an eternity, but Kiir was happy for their help so she didn’t push it. She stood from her chair and smiled. “Thank you guys.”

Romanda grabbed Kiir’s hand. “Nonsense.” She patted the top of Kiir’s palm. “Now get along before the caravan gets too busy.”

Kiir laughed. Romanda sounded more like a mother than a friend. She swung open the doors to Jorrvaskr and descended down into Whiterun.

The crowds had thinned so there wasn’t too much issue making it out the front gates. Many had stopped for lunch and, even in its state of disarray, Whiterun was making due.

Kiir crossed the outer bridge and walked along the cobbled and dirt path to where a small encampment had been set up.Off the road behind them was an enormous covered carriage that would easily take two horses to pull. Closer to the path, five or six Khajiit milled about, tending to their fire and rustling in chests.

Upon approaching, Kiir raised her eyebrows. She’d had many dealings with the Khajiit before coming to Skyrim. They were one of the few races allowed past the docks and into the Altmer cities. But back home, those Khajiit were Altmer in almost every respect save for appearance.

These caravan Khajiit, though… They moved with a strange elegance, their claws seeming to linger just a moment longer than normal on anything they touched, and their manner of dress was striking – brilliant golds and vibrant purples and yellows that radiated against the drab browns and grays of Skyrim. Khajiit anywhere often had a fondness for jewelry and piercings, but these individuals took that to another level entirely.

The outermost Khajiit, a woman completely covered in flowing robes, addressed Kiir first. “Ah, this one sees the Altmer is interested in Khajiit’s wares?”

Her accent was surprisingly thick. “Blisterwort, if you have any.”

The woman hummed. She turned and called to one of the other Khajiit closer to the fire. He flicked an ear in her direction and disappeared into the tent.

“Quite popular, Blisterwort. Khajiit heard it was dragons that attacked this area, no?”

“Yes, it was.” Kiir watched behind the woman as the man continued to scavenge about. “There was another attack north of here too, in Winterhold, and southwest in Helgen.”

The khajiit’s eyes widened. “Dangerous times, these.”

Kiir watched the man return with a bundle of small mushroom plants and handed it over, his fingers brushing the woman's shoulder as he stepped away again. The woman turned after him and said something in foreign tongue.

Kiir’s ears perked up. “He’s your husband?”

The woman stopped. “The Altmer knows Ta’agra?”

“Oh, no, just a little,” Kiir clarified. She waved her hands in front of her face. “I grew up with Khajiit servants for most of my life, so I picked up a little. Ah,” Kiir paused, trying to remember the words of the greeting. “ Dras'kay, trevan?

The woman smiled, but her eyes stayed low.

The man, now only a few feet away at the fire, nodded to her, “ Var an khaja.

Kiir watched the woman step away and move back to join him, and frowned. Had she mispronounced something?

“Can Khajiit fetch you anything else?”

Kiir turned to another khajiit man who had stepped forward. She started to shake her head, but her eyes fell upon a cloak hung up by one of the tents. Kiir pointed it out. “Is that for sale?”

The man nodded. “Fifty coins sounds fair, yes?”

Kiir eyed the coin purse. There was more than enough after the blisterwort for the cloak, but she felt odd spending someone else’s money. After a moment, Kiir nodded anyway. “Fifty coins.”

It was too warm today to wear such a heavy cloak, but if what Aela said was true, Kiir’s winter robes would not stand well on their own. She draped the brightly designed cloth over her arm, wished the Khajiit caravan well, and began to move back towards the city gates.

However, something further down the path caught her eye. Another camp and someone… waving to her?

Kiir was wary, staying put until she could fully see who it was beckoning her over.

It was the Nord from earlier that day, at the homestead.

What could he possibly want? Kiir wondered, tucking the coin purse into her belt and wandering over.

“Hail, Kiir is it? Have you eaten yet? My companions and I have a fine meal on the fire and we’d be honored to have the Dragonborn join us.”

Kiir slowed her pace as she neared the encampment. When had he learned her name? “I haven’t...”

His laugh cut off the trailing end of her sentence and he gave her a friendly clap on the back, “Of course! Of course! My apologies. I didn’t know who you were when we spoke earlier my friend, but I heard the guards talking when you left with the Jarl’s protector. Come! Join us, please.”

Kiir moved to follow where the Nord was guiding her. “I don’t think I caught your name-”

“Einar!” He smiled warmly, “The name is Einar.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Einar,” Kiir attempted to reply as she was shuffled into the large tent at the back of the encampment. On the inside sat a crude dining table, covered in mismatched metal plates and cups.

Several people, at least seven or eight, milled about the inside. A few gave her equally warm smiles as she entered. It didn’t seem that many people could fit comfortably in that tent but no one seemed crowded for room.

Einar moved ahead and pulled out a chair gesturing for her to sit.

Another nord off to the left spoke up, “Have a seat! We’re so pleased you would meet with us, Dragonborn.”  

“I’m sorry, this probably all seems so strange.” Einar paused, looking a little bashful. “The truth is we could really use your help.”

Kiir took the seat offered to her. The chair was wobbly and uneven. “Help?”

“My group here,” he gestured to the others in the tent, many of which raised a hand in acknowledgement, “We call ourselves the Silver Hand. We’re a group, the group, that has taken up the duty of hunting down these rogue werewolves that have been plaguing the area. We fear that poor farmer’s family won’t the last death by canine teeth in Whiterun.”

Werewolves again, Kiir thought. “But can’t that only happen once a month? With the full moon and all that?”

One of the others stifled a laugh, another seemed taken aback, but most looked at her almost pityingly. Einar seemed nonplussed, “No, that must be some sort of myth from your Isles, or wherever it is you hail from. It only happens once a day, and usually at night, but anything can trigger a werewolf to transform and attack.”

“Anger especially!” The nord who had spoken up before chimed in, “It’s a frightening sight to see when the beast rips out of the body of a sane man and he turns on whoever is within his grasp, friend and foe alike.”

Kiir remembered quite vividly the sight of Farkas crushing the corner of the carriage - Gods only knows what he could’ve done to a person. But he hadn’t gone for her or Romanda, surely... “They must have some agency. I’ve seen...” Kiir shook her head. “Not all are vicious monsters, or else you’d have a much bigger problem on your hands than just one murdered family.”

The nord whose name she didn’t know scowled at her, “Make no mistake mis-”

Einar leaned forward sharply and held up a silencing hand, sending a dark look towards the angry man, “Easy Havid, she clearly isn’t familiar with the area.” He turned back towards Kiir, “What have you seen? A wolf with a handler, I’d wager? That does happen occasionally. I pity the fool who chooses to put a leash on a werewolf though. It wouldn’t take much, only a split second’s mistake to fall prey to their little pet.”

Kiir shook her head slightly, but didn’t speak.

“As for the rest, we have had a much bigger problem than one murdered family. There have been strings of deaths and disappearances all over the Hold for months, and more than a handful of werewolves have been killed in those same areas.” His brow was creased in concern.

Another nord, this time a woman, stepped away from the stew on the fire to continue where he left off, “There’s at least one pack that’s purposefully expanding, and we’ve tracked it to here, right near Whiterun. This was the first death at the city’s doors, but if they’re making new wolves… the youngsters will have a harder time stopping themselves from transformations. It’s only a matter of time before we see deaths in the city proper.”

Kiir looked up at the woman, then to Einar. “So what do you want me to do? I’m no werewolf hunter.” She laughed. “And clearly I know little about them.”

Einar and the woman exchanged anxious glances, “To put it frankly, we were hoping to use you as bait.”

What?

Einar was quick to continue. “Whoever is putting people through the ritual seems to want to cause as much damage as they can. We have a cave we use sometimes, up the way. There’s a safety cage inside.” He took a seat next to Kiir, setting an arm on the table. “They wouldn’t be able to get to you, I promise! We hope to lure the pack inside with hopes of recruiting the Dragonborn.”

“How do you even know I’m the Dragonborn?” Kiir asked.

The nord woman who had begun to dish up the stew set a steaming bowl in front of Kiir, “You are the mage that absorbed the dragon’s soul, aren’t you? That’s a bit hard to miss. Every guard in the Hold has been talking about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if word had reached from Markarth to Riften and back by now.”

Kiir frowned. No one had said anything to her about it. She suddenly felt small. “Oh.”

Einar grinned at the woman as she placed a bowl in front of him as well, then turned his attention back to Kiir, “So… What do you say lass? Would you help us? Consider it at least?”

Einar’s eyes were unwavering as he waited for Kiir to answer and she squirmed under his gaze. “You all seem rather... passionate about this.”

The eyes of nearly every person in the tent quickly looked away from her, falling sadly to the side or down at the table. The nord woman’s voice was rough, “You could say that.”

“We all owe the miserable state of our lives to those damn beasts.” The one Einar had called Havid grit out.

“Oh, I didn’t...” Kiir stammered. “If you don’t...”

Einar looked at the ceiling of the tent and blinked his eyes as if to clear them. “I had a son, once. The boy’s name was Uffe. Funny enough, wolves were his favorite animal. He hoped to tame one some day. He was six years old the last time I saw his face.” He turned to look her dead in the eye. She could see the anger burning there - not focused on her, but rather at the memory, “It wasn’t attached to the remaining half of his body.”

Thaen hal,” Kiir murmured. “That’s terrible. I’m sorry for your loss.”

The air in the tent had grown heavy, but Kiir knew it would be rude of her to just up and leave after...

Thankfully, Einar continued. “I appreciate the sentiment, but being sorry can’t change the past.” He shook away the last dregs of memory, “All I can hope is that we can stop these beasts from taking away anyone else's’ sons and daughters.” He glanced around the tent, “Or brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We’ll understand if you can’t help us, or won’t, but...”

“No,” Kiir interrupted. “I will help it’s just... I feel sorry for them. I can’t imagine turning on my fami-” Kiir cut herself off.

Einar didn’t seem to notice. “Don’t. It isn’t… it isn’t like vampirism. It doesn’t happen by mistake. It’s a ritual that turns them. Everyone who ever became a wolf did so of their own free will.”

Kiir opened her mouth to reply but found herself startled enough to have trouble forming words. She looked down at her hands. “I... hadn’t realized.”

He nodded grimly, then forced his face into a gentler smile as he chuckled lightly, “I’m sorry, again, I didn’t mean for this meeting to become quite so grim. You haven’t touched your stew.”

Kiir glanced over to the bowl that had been set out in front of her. She hadn’t even noticed it, and now her hunger had all but gone. “It’s fine... I should get going anyway...”

Havid stood up suddenly, looking almost pleading. “You’ve said you’ll help us catch those bastards, though. We should show you to the cave.”

Kiir jumped at the man’s sudden movements. “I, ah... I can’t, currently. I’m heading up the mountain in a few days.

“I take it you won’t have time before then?” He shot Havid another warning glance, “That’s entirely fine. We should set up some things before hand anyway. You’ll be back, though? And we can set the plan in motion then?”

“It should only be about a week,” Kiir replied, standing. “I’ll find you when I get back in town. Will you be here?”

“We may not be exactly here, but we’ll be around. In fact it might be easier for us to find you. We won’t be putting our tracking on hold for the week, but we’ll come find you when we’re ready.”

Kiir nodded. “I’m staying at Jorrvaskr. I’ll be there after I return.”

Havid’s face became a mask of angry confusion, but Einar silenced him before he could speak. “Perfect. We’ll send someone for you.”

“Sounds good.” Kiir forced a smile, brushing off her clothes. Havid’s face had unsettled her. Kiir moved towards the opening of the tent.

“Oh, and Kiir?” Einar spoke to Kiir’s back. “Thank you.”

Kiir turned and smiled, then dipped under the opening and moved back out onto the path. She wasn’t sure she wanted to head back to Jorrvaskr yet. She knew Farkas wasn’t dangerous... didn’t she? Everything felt so jumbled and confused.

Kiir shook her head. She ran through the conversation over and over.

I can’t imagine turning on my family like that.

She couldn’t even say it aloud.



Chapter Text

“Blizzard cloaks?”

“Check!”

“Extra boots?”

“Check!”

“Bread? Dried meat?”

“Check and check!”

“Like a lot of it?”

“Check!”

“Flint and steel?”

“For the fourth time, I can use Flames.”

“For the fourth time, what if we get split up?”

Kiir grunted, digging through one of the burlap bags. “Check.”

Nie’mar stood up, stretching her back and sighing. “Sounds like we have everything.”

“I was pretty sure we had everything last night,” Kiir replied. She plopped herself down into one of the chairs.

Aela swung two of the sacks onto her back. “Better safe than dead,” she quipped.

In the momentary silence, the door down into the living chambers squealed open and Kiir cast a glance in its direction- only to see Romanda in a full set of armor hauling herself up the stairs.

“I thought you went home,” Kiir said. “You stayed the night?”

Romanda chuckled. “You think I was going to let you all sneak out without me? Not a chance.”

Nie’mar pursed her lips, “You are not fully recovered yet, Romanda. This on- I am not so sure you should be accompanying us.”

“Nonsense. You think a little scuffle is enough to put me out of commission?”

Aela shook her head and grinned, “It’d take quite a bit more than that. Alright let’s get going, this trip is going to suck.”

“This is why I like her,” Romanda laughed. “She gets it. It takes a whole lot to take me down.”

“Good thing I’m a whole lot, then.”

Kiir’s eyes moved to behind Romanda to see Farkas ascending the stairs. His was worn in a hard line and, as he approached, Romanda’s face mirrored his.

“Come now, Farkas,” Romanda started. “I’m fine.”

“‘Fine’ doesn’t need her bandages changed every few hours. ‘Fine’ has good eyesight in both eyes. ‘Fine’-” Farkas reached up to take one of the bags off Romanda’s shoulder, “-doesn’t need to put all her carried weight on her good side.”

“You’re over exaggerating.” Romanda tried to tug the bag back from Farkas’ grip but he didn’t budge. She pointed to Kiir. “She has bandages and you’re not stopping her from going.”

Kiir looked down at her hands. She’d kept telling herself she’d replace the old tattered bandages on her arms, but she’d never gotten around to it. They were dirty now and Kiir grimaced. “I should’ve taken these off a while ago.”

“See?” Farkas argued. “There’s no comparison.”

Kiir reached up near where the bandages were tied at her shoulder and undid the knot. She was wearing her heavy robes so it was a hassle to try and unwind them beneath her sleeves.

“I could take off my bandages, too!”

“Don’t you dare!”

Nie’mar pinched the bridge of her nose.

Kiir had finally reached her hands when she stopped and squinted. She tugged back the bandage more to reveal a mottled and uneven skin beneath. Kiir blanched, pulling back more to catch sight of her entire hand.

“Romanda, I swear if you touch that gauze-”

“Well, would you look at that. It’s gone!”

Aela was cackling.

Kiir moved frantically to her other arm, trying to keep herself from looking too distressed. All the way from her fingertips to her shoulder were covered in ugly bumps of scar tissue. Kiir pulled at the sleeves of her robe, tucked her hands underneath.

“The bandage might be gone, but I can still see what it’s supposed to be covering!”

“Details details...”

Aela leaned over Romanda for a closer look, “Oh man, actually that looks worse than I thought.”

Kiir looked up, thankful that the attention was focused on Romanda. She could feel her hands rubbing up against the uneven skin and she could feel her stomach flip. This hadn’t happened the first time she’d been struck by a lightning spell. Why now? Had the healing spell been botched?

“I changed my mind, I don’t like her.”

“Hey!”

Kiir tucked her hands deeper into her robe. “So are we heading out?”

“Please.” Nie’mar turned to her, relief evident, “Aela let’s go- Romanda just stay home, please.”

Romanda drooped her shoulders. “Fine, fine. If you insist.” She laid her bags on the floor and walked to Kiir, opening her arms for a hug.

Kiir stood, but looked down at her crossed arms. Shit. Kiir moved forwards, letting herself be engulfed in the orc’s embrace.

“That cold already?” Romanda chuckled. “You’ve got a rude awakening coming then!”

Kiir smiled, turning back towards her bags. She waited until Nie’mar and Aela had moved out of her line of sight before reaching to put them on.

 


 

 

The sun had not yet peaked over the horizon. It was still dark, but luckily Kiir had a mage light bobbing along beside them, as they had so conveniently forgotten torches.

Even in the dull blue light, the scenery was breathtaking. Kiir did miss the tropical landscape and beaches of her home, but the rugged beauty of Skyrim almost made up for it. The air was cold and had begun to sting her face, but Kiir hardly paid it mind.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Nie’mar echoed Kiir’s own thoughts.

“What? The dark? How we’ve hardly started this climb and it’s already cold? Yeah. Amazing.”

Nie’mar scowled at Aela.

Kiir snorted. “If it were ugly this would be ten times worse.”

“Guess it’s a good thing Romanda didn’t come with us.”

“Aela! That was uncalled for!”

“No, it was funny.” She turned to Kiir and loudly whispered, “Make sure you tell her I said it when we get back.”

Nie’mar lashed her tail.

“Absolutely,” Kiir agreed. She looked back up at the sky, seeing the oranges start to leak and stain the cloud. “Hey, you guys are... close with Farkas, right?”

Nie’mar sounded confused. “Yes?”

“He’s a companion after all. Why?”

“Well, I was thinking about... you know, that family?” It felt like Kiir’s tongue weighed a hundred pounds. “The ones that were murdered a few days ago. Ripped apart and...”

“Of course. Did Farkas say something about it?” Nie’mar couldn’t have looked more befuddled.

Kiir shook her head. “No, no. Someone mentioned to me that it could be... uh,” she felt ridiculous saying it aloud. “They said it could be werewolves.”

Aela practically growled. “It absolutely was. I’m getting real sick of it too. I wish we knew who the hell was making them, and now so close to Whiterun? That takes balls.”

Nie’mar nodded, “Yes, it’s been more and more of a problem as of late, but we’ve been so busy it’s been hard trying to track anything down.”

“Oh.” Kiir’s stomach dropped to her feet. Farkas was their friend - she didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. But if he was behind what had happened... Kiir shook her head. No, not Farkas. “I hadn’t realized they were such a huge problem.”

“Only as of late,” Nie’mar began, “Somebody is specifically making feral whelps and setting them loose. We think they may just be trying to incite fear. One thing is certain: they are nothing but cannon fodder to their maker, pawns for something bigger.”

That seemed entirely possible and Kiir figured that conclusion was better than the one that she was coming to. “But don’t people... choose to become werewolves? It’s not entirely mindless, right?”

“Becoming a werewolf is a choice, yes. But it’s not supposed to be like this.” Aela steamed, “It’s supposed to be… controlled. You can’t just churn out new pups and give them no guidance, or this happens. No, whoever’s doing this definitely has a plan, and I don’t think moving towards Whiterun was a coincidence.”

Nie’mar jumped in as soon as the Huntress was done speaking. “There have never been problems with werewolves in the Hold before. This is clearly something purposeful.” She followed it up by bumping lightly into Aela, who seemed to take notice of her own tension, closing her eyes and taking a breath.

Kiir hummed in response. She figured, then, that agreeing with Einar had been the right thing to do.

By the time midday arrived, the novelty of the mountain had grown sour. Along much of the path at least a foot of snow drifted across and made walking difficult, and still that was preferable to the ice-slicked stone stairs. Her muscles ached, she was hungry, and the swirling snowstorm wormed right through her cloak and bit at her face. Every time she asked if they could pause to eat or rest, the others insisted that they keep moving.

Kiir was hardly built for this harsh cold.

When the snow finally started to calm the sun had arced all the way across the sky and was nearing the point of decent. Nie’mar pointed to a clear area against an exposed cliff only a little way off the path, “We should set up camp.”

“Thank goodness,” Aela groaned. She dropped her packs onto the ground and stretched.

Kiir heaved a sighed. She placed her things on the ground, relishing in how light she felt. She rotated her shoulders and moved to sit back on the rock.

“Ah, ah!” Nie’mar scolded. “We have tents to set up and a fire to start.”

Kiir smiled. She reached down to pull her mitten off when she saw the skin of her arm. She paused.

“Yes, yes, you have magic.” Nie’mar was yanking part of the tent fabric from one of her bags. “But we need wood to light in the first place.”

“Already ahead of you.”

Kiir hadn’t even noticed that Aela had disappeared, but now the woman had returned with a number of large branches in tow.

“That was fast.” Nie’mar laughed.

Aela scoffed, tossing them in the center of their encampment. “Hardly. Storm knocked a bunch down. Figured I’d take advantage.”

Kiir stood up. She pointed to where Aela had dropped the wood. “Do we want the fire there?”

“Yeah, but not on the snow.” Aela reached down with her hands and started sifting. She reached the ground and dug out a small circle to put the wood into. “Eh, most of it should melt eventually. We’ll let the fire clear the rest.”

Kiir realized, then, that a well aimed fire spell could’ve done most of what Aela had just spent the past few minutes doing, but she decided against mentioning it. She helped place some of the smaller branches into the hole and then bent close to light them.

Nie’mar was still busy securing the tent and Aela had turned towards her own pack. Kiir took the opportunity to quickly remove her mitten and start the fire.

“Could someone hold this?”

Kiir backed away from the fire pit, pulling at her sleeve, and saw Nie’mar struggling to keep one end of the tent from fluttering in the wind. Kiir grabbed hold of it, giving Nie’mar a chance to tie the end securely to a nearby tree.

“Thanks.”

Before the sun had completely fallen beneath the horizon, the tent was up and the fire was cooking the night’s meal. The wind only grew more fierce as the night wore on and Aela had to build a wall around the fire to keep it from throwing snow into the pit.

Dinner was rabbit. The meat was tough and rubbery, Kiir found. It was hardly filling and only left her more hungry than she’d been before. She passed her leftovers onto the other two, opting to munch on bread instead.

The tent Nie’mar has set up was large enough to fit all three of them, but Kiir found herself unable to get comfortable. The thin fabric did little to keep the cold at bay and it was a long while before Kiir was finally able to fall asleep.

“Shit.”

Kiir felt Aela shift next to her. It wasn’t bright enough to tell what time it was and Kiir was resigned to try and fall back asleep when a hand grabbed her shoulder.

“Get up,” Nie’mar hissed. “Bears.”

Kiir’s fear was overshadowed by her exhaustion. Bears take me, at least I’d have more time to sleep. The inside of the tent was cold and the wind howled outside, making prying herself from her blankets all the more challenging.

Poking her head outside the tent flaps, Kiir saw that another blizzard had picked up. The snow stung Kiir’s bare face. Through the white haze, she could see Aela had already engaged one of the creatures.

There were three of them.

One for each of us, Kiir thought. She drug herself from the tent and pulled her mittens off.

Three bears were hardly a match for two companions and an Altmer mage... but they’d done more damage than just ravage the camp.

“We should get moving,” Nie’mar said, replacing her bow on her back. “This blizzard will swallow us if we stay.”

Kiir grimaced. “What? It’s barely light out and you can hardly see!”

“By the time we get everything packed up, it will be well into the morning.” Nie’mar reached to free one of the tent’s ropes. “And getting buried by this snowstorm will not help anything.”

Kiir dropped her hands to her sides. None of them could’ve gotten more than a few hours of sleep and her muscles still ached. The wind seemed to cut through Kiir’s clothes. “We’ll get buried anyway if we leave.”

Nie’mar turned. “No, that is unlikely. If we get moving, we can be well on our way before this storm gets any worse.”

“Worse?” Kiir could hardly see how the weather could get any more unpleasant.

“Worse,” Aela repeated. “Look, Nie’mar and I have made this trek before. We need to move. Go grab your bags.”

Kiir frowned. “How is walking exhausted through ten feet of snow, in a blizzard, a good idea at all?"

Nie’mar placed a hand on her shoulder. “Th-I am sorry Kiir. But if we stay here it will not be ten feet, it will be hundreds, and most of it over head. The higher we get above it, the less danger there will be of an avalanche.”

“I’m not sure what you expected, but this is how mountains are. I said from the start that this was going to suck. Apparently it blows too. But I’d really rather not die up here so quit pouting.” Aela swung a pack onto her back. “Or we can just go back to Whiterun. We’re up here for you. If you don’t want to-”

“No,” Kiir interrupted. “Let’s go.” Maybe the blizzard will let up after a while.

It didn’t.

It was nearly two days before the snow lessened enough for some sunshine to reach through the thick cloud cover. That didn’t help much, however, as it soon turned the snow covered landscape into a blindingly white one.

And while the snow had stopped, the wind did not. Kiir was grateful that she’d bought the Khajiit cloak back in Whiterun - surely in her robes alone she’d have frozen already.

Thankfully, they reached a small ravine by mid-afternoon. Snow drifted high up the rock walls - they must’ve been thirty feet at least.

“Careful,” Nie’mar warned as they wandered deeper. “We might not be the only ones taking refuge here.”

Who, besides others heading to see the Greybeards, would come up here? Kiir wondered. It seems like an unlikely place for bandi-

“Fuck!”

Kiir jumped at Aela’ sudden outburst.

Aela moved towards the walls of the ravine, drawing her bow.

“What?” Kiir didn’t see anything. She turned and her vision was filled with white fur. Kiir hadn’t even noticed she’d been thrown backwards until she landed three feet deep in one of the snow drifts. Her vision sparked and she wheezed to catch her breath. As the momentary shock wore off she realized her stomach ached where she’d been hit.

Kiir could hear shouting and... grunting? Everything was muffled by the snow that encased her. She struggled to push herself up and out, but the snow would sink whenever she pressed too hard into it. I’m stuck?

Rolling back and forth to try and clear herself some room, Kiir finally pulled herself up from the drift and tumbled back out into the ravine.

The shouting was much louder now. Kiir looked up, seeing Aela just barely dodge a swing aimed at her head.

Kiir could see the beast in its entirety now. It was a hulking figure, taller than her, but moved quickly. Patchy white fur covered most of its muscular body, and where Kiir could see its skin it was a mottled purple. She blanched.

“Kiir!”

Nie’mar was positioned on the other side of the ravine. She knocked an arrow back, striking the creature in its shoulder. “Hit it with fire!”

The monstrosity howled. It dropped to all fours and thundered towards the opposite side of the ravine where Kiir and Nie’mar were stationed.

Kiir scrambled backwards, pulling at her mittens.

Nie’mar avoided the beast's attacks, long enough for Aela to strike an arrow and draw its attention back towards her.

“Kiir!” Nie’mar shouted again.

The beast had moved again to strike Aela.

Kiir readied a fireball, but realized she couldn’t fire it... not with Aela so close.

She waited for Nie’mar to strike the beast with another arrow.

The beast turned, growling. It rushed Nie’mar and, in the fleeting moments that it was in the middle of the ravine, Kiir fired her spell.

The ball of flame exploded on the creature's chest and Kiir fulled expected it to fall back. But it was barely staggered.

Nie’mar didn’t have enough time to pull up her bow again and the creature slammed into her chest.

Aela screamed.

The beast was on top of Nie’mar, pinning her to the spot. It drew back a claw and swung. Bright red blood splattered atop the white snow.

Kiir already had a fireball ready again.

Behind her, she heard Aela snarl. It was a deep, guttural sound.

“Aela, no!” Nie’mar brought her feet to her chest and kicked out.

The beast stumbled back. Far enough that Kiir was able to hit it with another fireball. This time some of its fur singed and it actually looked to be in pain.

At least it’s doing something!

Aela dashed across the ravine towards Nie’mar. The beast, who seemed to want little to do with Kiir, started to follow.

Nie’mar had yet to stand.

Kiir lashed out a wall of flames behind Aela. The creature skidded to a halt. Kiir breathed a sigh of relief.

It was short lived, however, as the monster now finally turned its attention to her.

Kiir cast an Incinerate, then another fireball.

The beast was growing tired, but it continued to push forward.

Kiir tired Incinerate again. She could see her spell was hitting but, too, she could see the beast’s from growing larger and larger. What does it take to kill-

Kiir didn’t finish her thought.

The beast, who’d just seconds before filled her vision, now stumbled to the side.

Aela was on its back, dagger sticking out from the base of its neck. She fell with it as it crumbled to the ground. Aela took a few more stabs at the monster before sliding off. She looked at Kiir for only a moment, then dashed back over to where Nie’mar still sat.

Kiir hurried to join her. She knelt beside where Nie’mar was laid out. Her hands were pressed into her side. “Are you alright?”

“This one will live,” Nie’mar grit out. “I will need bandages though, the wound is not shallow.”

“I’ve got those,” Aela replied. She moved quickly to fetch her bags.

“What do we do now?” Kiir asked. Her shoulders slumped. “Can you make it the rest of the way up the mountain?”

“Rest of the way? We’re already there.”

Kiir frowned, but followed Nie’mar outstretched finger pointing up the path a way.

‘Already there’ was a bit of an overstatement, but Kiir could make out the grey stone building just beyond the white haze of snow.

“Kiir?”

Kiir’s attention was drawn back to Nie’mar. The Khajiit looked concerned. Kiir was about to ask what was wrong when Nie’mar grabbed at one of Kiir’s hands.

Kiir blanched, snatching her hand back and tucking them into her robes. She looked behind her to see Aela returning with bandages.

Aela crouched down. “Hey,” she looked at Kiir, “don’t you know any restoration spells? Something to make this... easier?”

Nie’mar was still watching Kiir, brows knitted in worry.

“I can, yeah...”

“No,” Nie’mar interrupted. “I’ll be fine. Don’t waste your energy.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow, but lowered her hands.

Aela firmly wrapped Nie’mar’s entire midsection and within the hour, Nie’mar was back on her feet. She had just a slight limp, but Aela was on the side ready to help if needed.

Kiir absently wondered if there was something between them. The two seemed to be halves of the same whole - always in sync, communicating without words. Kiir laughed to herself. They reminded her of her parents.

A light snowfall had started again as the three of them climbed the steps to the sanctuary.

Aela was the one to knock on the door and they each waited for a response.

After a minute or two, the massive door swung open. An elderly man looked at them. His face was drawn and a long, scraggly beard fell down to his chest. He smiled at Kiir and beckoned her inside.

Kiir started to move forward, when she saw the man gesture for Aela and Nie’mar to stay outside. She frowned. “Oh, they’re with me.”

The old man shook his head.

“We are not supposed to come with you for this Kiir.” Nie’mar said. “We will wait for you at the base of the mountain. You will be alright. You can get to the bottom in a day and a half. Going down is much easier.”

Kiir started to shake her head, but she had hardly a chance to speak before the old man placed a hand on her back and led her inside, the door closing loudly behind her.

The inside of the building was cold and Kiir could hear the mountains winds howl between cracks in the rock. Worst of all, she was alone.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Chapter Text

Kiir did not like this place at all. The rooms were far too small, the ceilings too low, the lighting too dark... she was tempted to cast a mage light spell but worried it might offend the old man.

Beside her, he coughed. “I apologize for-”

Kiir jumped. She didn’t think the man could speak.

The man chuckled. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “There’s nothing for you to fear here, child. I just wanted to apologize in case I came off... rude. The Thu’um is a powerful thing and-”

“Thu’um?”

“Most people refer to them as ‘shouts’.” The man led her into a main chamber, just as poorly lit as the hallways. “They’re phrases in dragon language, Dovah, that hold magical power. Like casting a spell, but using your voice as the medium.”

Kiir nodded, though the whole thing sounded a little far fetched.

“As I was saying, the Thu’um is powerful. That’s why I did not speak to your companions - there is always the worry that one might slip up. Anyway,” the man extended a hand, “I am Arngeir.”

“Kiir’Dun,” Kiir replied. “Or just Kiir.”

Arngeir paused, thoughtful. “Child of Grace.”

Kiir raised her eyebrows, a little embarrassed. She’d yet to meet anyone who’d translated her name. Ancano had picked up on the language, but never gone through the trouble of learning what it meant. “Ah... yeah.”

“I’m going to assume your parents didn’t give you that name.” Arngeir moved to light a few more candles about the room. “I can’t imagine an Altmer giving their child a name in a dead language from a race of creatures they’ve never seen.”

“I needed another name,” Kiir explained. It was difficult to avoid specifics. “I figured a dead language would avoid too many questions.”

Arngeir turned. “Another name. Are you in trouble?”

Kiir shook her head. “No, no. A disagreement of sorts.”

“Understandable.” Arngeir crossed his arms. “Well, we should be getting started. I don’t know how much time we’ll have together and I’d like to make the most of it.”

“Of course,” Kiir replied. “Although I’m not quite sure...”

“That’s what you’re here for. To learn,” Arngeir said. “Now, considering that you were unaware as to what a shout is, we should probably start with the basics. You know what the Dragonborn is, yes?”

Kiir didn’t, not really. She’d read that book she’d picked up, but it was all gibberish to her. Old Nord ancestors and dragons and rebellions... “They’re gifted powers by Akatosh...”

Arngeir waved his hand. “The legends are unimportant now. I mean physically. What it is to be Dragonborn.”

Kiir was silent.

“How did you discover you were Dragonborn?”

“I absorbed some power from a dead dragon.”

“Its soul,” Arngeir clarified.

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “It’s soul?

Arngeir hummed in affirment. “A dragon soul outside of a dragon’s body is weak. It needs strength and gets that from swallowing souls like it.”

Kiir was impressively confused now.  “Dragon souls? I read it was Dragon’s blood.”

“That, too.” The man confirmed. “Both are what make a Dragonborn.”

“Well, surely blood is a metaphor,” Kiir continued.

“Oh no,” Arngeir started. “It is entirely physical as well. The blood in your veins is what makes it so that you can even absorb souls in the first place. It’s why being Dragonborn in inheritable, it’s what made the end of the Septim bloodline so tragic.”

“It’s... hereditary?”

Arngeir hummed. “That’s why it’s so surprising an Altmer of all races ended up with the power. You’d have thought they’d have bred it out long ago. Although,” he mused, “with no native dragon species on the Isles, I doubt any with the blood would ever know they were Dragonborn.”

Kiir felt something odd settle in her gut. It was possible her parents had this... thing, too? It seemed out of the question. Ancano had thrown a fit having found out she was Dragonborn. How would the Altmer themselves feel about housing a bloodline of dragons?

“I know this is a lot to take in,” Arngeir said. He put a hand on her shoulder. “But, as I said, I don’t know how long we have so we should get going on your lessons.”

Kiir nodded. She felt so distant, but forced herself to listen to Arngeir explain to her the ‘words’ that would be used to form a shout, how each words added more power to the shout but also was more taxing on the user. She watched him show her ‘Fus’, then ‘Ro’, then ‘Dah’.

“Now, you.”

“I just... say the words?”

“Yes, just say them,” Arngeir repeated.

Kiir turned to the wall. Nothing seemed breakable. She breathed in and spoke aloud.

Fus.

A force that had swelled in her chest came echoing out with her spoken words.

Arngeir smiled. “Yes, exactly. Now try the whole string. Force, Balance, Push.”

Kiir couldn’t help but mirror Arngeir’s smile. She nodded.

Fus. Ro. Dah.

The force this time was an explosion of air and sound.

Kiir stumbled back a little, as the air rebounded off the wall and rushed backwards. The room was plunged into near darkness, as a majority of the lit candles were snuffed out. Kiir was sure she heard a vase or two break.

On the floor, Arngeir sat back. He laughed. “In hindsight, it would’ve been better to do this outside.”

“I’m sorry,” Kiir replied. Her voice was breathy and dry. She hadn’t realized how exhausting that was.

“Nonsense. If anything, this confirms your place as Dragonborn.”

It was a bittersweet comment. On one hand, Kiir felt that things were finally beginning to be answered. It had seemed that, for so long, she was just continually answering questions with questions. But on the other hand, she was confirming herself in a role she wasn’t so sure she’d be able to fill. Kiir reached down to help pull Arngeir to his feet. “I’m going to assume there are other shouts. Other phrases?”

“Many, buried in ruins and tombs. We’ve got a few full strings copied down here, found before my other companions and I grew too old to go adventuring.”

“And I’d just need to read them?”

“In theory.” Arngeir brushed off his robes. “But using full shouts that you are not ready for is dangerous. Unrelenting Force is a basic shout, which is why we began there. If I were to teach you, say, Battle Fury, you’d likely be out for a few hours.”

Kiir nodded. “Is there a way to know which shouts I’ll be able to use and when?”

“Not really. Dragons can use any shouts they want at any point. It’s a restriction unique to you as the Dragonborn.”

“So I just use them and hope I don’t pass out?”

Arngeir laughed. “To put it plainly!” He put his hands on his hips and looked behind him. “Are you still feeling up to learning one more shout?”

Kiir grinned. While physically draining, the swell of power in her chest was something she was eager to feel again. It was such an odd sensation - as Arngeir had said, it was like casting a spell but... different. Like it was drawing its power from somewhere else. “Absolutely.”

Arngeir waved her to follow him as he moved deeper into the sanctuary. It was still dark in the hallway, neither of them having bothered to relight the candles, so the bright sunlight from outside stung at Kiir’s eyes.

She raised a hand over her face. As her eyes adjusted, Kiir realized her and Arngeir were no longer alone. Another three men stood outside, milling about and casting her glances as she followed Arngeir.

“Don’t mind them. As I’ve said, the Voice can be difficult to control if you’re not of dragon blood. They all prefer not to speak.”

Kiir understood, but it was still unsettling.

“This next shout is a little more... interactive than the other one.” Arngeir waved over on of the other Greybeards. “Borri will demonstrate Whirlwind Sprint.”

Borri nodded, stepping back and, before his voice had even finished the shout, had shot forwards. He turned and repeated the shouts, returning to his spot.

“That’s impressive,” Kiir said.

“This is a shout that works best if you learn it all in once. Otherwise, you’ll run into the trouble of moving before you finish the entire shout.”

“Alright.”

Arngeir moved to pull Kiir to the end of the small path. “This one is Whirlwind, Fury, Tempest.”

Kiir breathed.

Wuld-

She hadn’t barely spoken the word when Kiir felt herself go flying forwards. It wasn’t as far as Borri had gone, but it was enough to throw her face first into the snow. She rolled over onto her back as another of the Greybeards offered her a hand onto her feet.

“Well, you got a third of it right,” Arngeir smiled. “Now for the rest of it.”

Kiir was glad to find that Arngeir was as patient as he looked. Where Unrelenting Force had taken but a few moment to learn, Whirlwind took a bit longer. Several hours longer.

By the time Kiir was finally able to speak all three words without falling, the sun had already begun to set. Kiir hadn’t anticipated spending the night - hadn’t anticipated more than a short conversation actually - and she wondered if the Greybeards even had a place for her to stay.

“I hope you like venison,” Arngeir said, opening the door back into High Hrothgar. “Wulfgar and Borri are surprisingly skilled in the kitchen.”

One of the Greybeards, Kiir assumed to be Wulfgar, hit Arngeir on the arm with a smile.

“You hardly look the part of chef!” Arngeir laughed.

The Greybeards and Kiir filed back into the main chamber, then she followed them down a set of narrow hallways into a dining room. The stone table at the center was large, seating twelve.

“There used to be more of you,” Kiir said, taking a seat.

Arngeir nodded. “We are an old order. There are only five of us in the current age, but more will emerge.”

“Five?”

“You haven’t met you leader, Paarthurnax. He sits alone atop the mountain. He prefers little distraction from his studies.”

“I see.” Kiir watched Borri and Wulfgar emerge, carrying a steaming pot. It smelled wonderful. “Thank you for dinner.”

Borri nodded at her.

“We are honored to have a Dragonborn among us,” Arngeir grabbed a bowl and set it in front of Kiir. “You have a long path ahead of you - it is our hope that we can help prepare you for it.”

“Long path,” Kiir echoed.

“And an extremely unique one at that.” Arngeir grabbed a bowl of his own and sat beside Kiir. “The return of the dragons is most certainly connected to your arrival.”

Kiir looked over. “Do you know anything about that? The dragons?”

“No more than you do, I’m sure. We study the past, review the legends of the Dragonborn and the Voice. Current events are not within our realm of expertise.”

“Does this happen every time a Dragonborn appears?”

“No, no!” Arngeir chuckled. “The First Dragonborn was a Dragon Priest. Used the Black Book and his Dragon Blood to rebel against the dragons. That’s about as close as you’ll get. The rest were emperors, before the Septim line died off. You’re unique in that regard.”

Kiir wasn’t sure how she felt about constantly being called ‘unique’. All that meant was that she was on her own - there was little for her to look to for guidance.

“Don’t look so downtrodden,” Arngeir smiled. “You distrust your own instinct. You’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

Kiir turned back to her soup. The five of them all finished their meals in silence, before Arngeir showed Kiir where she’d be sleeping.

The Greybeards were men of little means and it showed. The beds were simple, with patchwork furs as blankets.

Arngeir closed to door to her room and spoke.  “When you leave here, there is one final task I will ask of you.”

Kiir met his gaze.

“There is a horn, buried deep within the marshes of Hjaalmarch. The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.”

She snorted, sitting down atop the bed. “What a name.”

“Indeed. I would ask you to fetch this horn from Jurgen’s tomb.”

“Alright… What for? Does it have magical properties?” Kiir asked. “Who is this Jurgen?”

Arngeir smiled wryly. “The founder of our Order, no less. And this Horn is massively powerful. Jurgen hid it in his tomb for the purpose of keeping it out of anyone’s hands.”

Kiir raised a brow. “And you want me to bring it back here?”

“Yes. The Horn amplifies any Thu’um spoken into it; it was both Jurgen’s greatest asset and the reason for his downfall.” Arngeir paused. “Paarthurnax hopes having it here will keep anyone from misusing it.”

“Well, it only works with a Thu’um, right?” Kiir asked. “So there’s only a few people you’d have to worry about even being able to use it.”

Arngeir nodded. “Which makes it all the more important that we have the Horn safely here in the sanctuary. It is the last favor we will ask of you.”

Kiir laughed. Arngeir sounded so serious. “I’ve delved in tombs before. Saw a couple draugr. It shouldn’t be too bad.”

“A seasoned adventurer,” Arngeir chuckled. “Get some sleep. We wake early.”

Waiting until Arngeir left the room, Kiir settled into bed. It was difficult to find sleep; the room was freezing and the fur blankets were hardly doing their job.

But there was something else. Kiir could no longer dance around the idea of being Dragonborn. It wasn’t a term tossed around in ignorance she could ignore, pass off as unimportant or untrue. As Arngeir has said, it had set her on a path that she was destined to follow.

She was Dragonborn. Whether she liked it or not.

Chapter Text

The Greybeards rose early, and so did Kiir. However, it seemed the mountain air had done her some good as she woke up feeling more refreshed than she had in awhile. She was offered breakfast but Kiir decided to just take some fruit to eat on the way. She was apprehensive about having to travel down alone, despite Aela’s comments that it would be easier.

“You are always welcome here.” Arngeir stood holding open the door, allowing Kiir to slip outside. He smiled, following behind her as she descended the steps. “May the Gods be with you.”

“You’ll see me again in no time,” Kiir replied. She turned and offered Arngeir one final smile. “Stay warm!”

In only a day, the winter had seemingly progressed weeks. The steps were icy and slick - far more than they had been when Kiir had first traversed them. She could barely make out the dark grey material beneath the sheen of frozen snow.

Off to a great start, Kiir groaned inwardly. She wobbled her way down, further and further. Time had passed so much faster with people to talk to - now all Kiir had to entertain herself were her own thoughts.

She mostly just thought about the dragons. It wasn’t a wasted journey since she’d learned to shout, but she’d been saddled with another chore in the meantime, and ultimately had learned nothing new about the dragons. If the Greybeards didn’t really know what was going on or why, who would?

The walk dragged on an on, but true to Aela’s word, Kiir felt like she was covering ground a lot more quickly than they had on the way up. She squinted over an edge to try and judge how far down the mountain she’d come, and the sun shone bright in her eyes, almost at the horizon. The sun had fallen much faster than Kiir had planned for. She turned to look back up the path, then forward again. She had no idea how far it was until she’d reach Whiterun again - should she set up camp?

Kiir’s stomach grumbled.

Camp it was.

The tent was easy enough to set up, as was starting a small fire. The wind had died down enough to be comfortable and Kiir looked on to her camp with a sense of pride. Her father would’ve never-

Kiir shook her head. She still needed food.

While not quite her favorite, Kiir had seen rabbits scurrying about while she had been busy setting up her camp. All she had to do was grab one of those and cook it. She’s watched Aela skin it, surely she could manage.

Kiir crept a ways into the nearby brush. She saw a rabbit scamper out and aimed to hit it with a flames spell but the wide range spell missed the quick-to-startle creature and it skittered off to safety.

I need something more precise. Kiir decided perhaps a lightning spell would do the trick.

A few minutes later and still empty handed, Kiir huffed. How could she not manage to catch a damn rabbit? They were too small and fast for her to hit accurately. She was used to fighting enemies that came towards her, and dragons who were difficult to miss.

Kiir breathed. If they were too fast, she would just have to make herself faster... and she’d learned just the thing.

Readying a lightning spell, Kiir waited until another rabbit wandered into view. Breathing slow, Kiir spoke quickly to keep the rabbit from fleeing.

Wuld.

Kiir watched the brush breeze past her as she flew forward. She lost her footing and stumbled, landing on her hands and knees.

Dammit. Kiir pushed against the ground to stand, but the snow shifted. Slowly, the chunk of snow she was on started to fall.

Kiir scrambled backwards. This wasn’t ground, it was a hanging drift! Her hands reached fruitlessly for something to latch onto, but the handfuls of snow she grabbed did nothing to stop her descent.

And then she was falling.

It was a long way to the bottom. By the time Kiir finally rolled to a stop, she thought she’d been falling for ages. Her shoulder was on fire; she must have slammed against a rock during the tumble. The rest of her body didn’t feel much better - it was like she’d been hit by three frost trolls.

Struggling to her knees and sitting back, Kiir looked upwards. She had no idea where she’d fallen from. And now she didn’t have a tent, food, supplies... and the sun had dipped well below the horizon.

The wind was howling something fierce - Kiir was no longer in a place where the trees blocked most of the gusts. Her clothing was beginning to grow wet from the snow. Her stomach grumbled again.

Kiir bowed her head, wrapping herself tighter in her cloak. She prayed silently. What else was she to do? Her luck she’d snap a leg if she tried to keep going down.

“Elandaae.”

Kiir snapped her head up. Under the dark night sky stood a familiar form she hadn’t seen since before she’d gone to the College.

“You look surprised.”

The last time Kiir had ‘seen’ Auri-El was in a dream. She was sure it had been a dream. But this... she could still see the mountain and feel the chilly air. The wind pulled at his hair - he was here? “I didn’t think-”

Auri-El hummed. “So much surrounds you... it is hard to tell where your path is or where it will lead.” He turned his attention to Kiir. “Does that scare you?”

Kiir shrugged, feeling her shoulder protest. She wasn’t sure if she should be scared. She was more worried she wouldn’t be able to-

“-live up to the expectations? Not much changes, does it.” Auri-El turned his head towards the sky.

Kiir followed his gaze and jumped.

Instead of the night sky, Kiir saw another familiar face. But this time it was not a god, but the scrunched face of a Bosmer woman.

“Who are you talking to?”

Kiir flushed. “What?”

“You don’t have a concussion do you?”

“No! I don’t think-”

The woman leaned closer, squinting her eyes, “Nothing black and slimy caught in your head then, I hope?”

Kiir reflexively reached for her hair. “ What ?”

The woman laughed, “Nevermind. I saw you fall. When I caught up to you, you were talking to yourself. Can’t say that’s exactly normal.”

“Ah, sorry. I-” Kiir went to push herself up to a standing position but her shoulder refused to cooperate. She sat back on her haunches again. “How far up are we?”

“Up the mountain? Not very far. You tumbled a long way. What was your name again? Something Dovah, with a K?”

Kiir reeled for a moment, but then realized who this bosmer woman was. She nodded. “Kiir’Dun. I thought you looked familiar.”

“Kiir! That’s right. Yeah, I’m Driem. Last I saw you were headed for the collage. That was… long enough ago that I don’t think you just got yourself turned around and lost on the throat of the world. What are you doing here?”

“I was,” Kiir paused. Did she want to talk about being Dragonborn? “There’s a sanctuary. I was just heading back.”

Driem’s head tilted slightly and her eyes narrowed for a moment, then the expression vanished as quickly as it had formed. “Well, I guess you found a shortcut.” She stood up and began to walk away.

“Hey, wait!” Kiir tried again to get to her feet. She was more successful this time, but now her entire arm throbbed from shoulder to wrist. Her legs felt wobbly and her head heavy. Driem was moving quickly and Kiir hurried to catch up.

“Don’t worry!” Driem shouted back, “I’m just setting up a camp.”

Kiir fumbled through the snow, finally coming upon the area where Driem had begun to set up her tent. Kiir made a beeline for the fire and got as close as she could without setting herself aflame.

“So.” Driem began as she joined Kiir at the fire, “How was the college? Not your thing? Or did you manage to graduate already? I see you ditched the armor idea.”

“It was fine. I was there for a while. Stole a staff. Fought a dragon.” Kiir laughed at the absurdity. “And robes are much warmer.”

“Armor’s safer,” Driem countered, “And enchantments are very handy. Exactly the temperature I want them to be, never too cold or too warm.”

“I doubt armor would’ve done much when you fall off a mountain.”

Driem snorted, “Fair enough!”

They sat in silence for a couple minutes before Driem spoke again. “Where are you headed to now?”

“Whiterun. I’ve been staying with the Companions.” Kiir settled back, her stomach growling.

“The companions?” Her expression shifted quickly from impressed to sheepish as she glanced at Kiir’s midsection,  “Sorry, I don’t have any food with me this time. The companions though… wow, are you training to join them?”

Kiir frowned. She was starving. “No. I hardly think I’d be the right fit. Tall, willowy Altmer with a bunch of hardy fighters?”

“I thought you said you fought a dragon? That takes bravery, which is something - even if it kicked your ass.”

“Fought it with magic. The Companions are more... physical. I doubt I could lift most of their weapons. Have you seen some of them?” Kiir smiled. “And don’t get me started on bows.”

“Oh I absolutely want to get you started on bows.” Driem grinned as she shifted just enough for the two bows and quiver on her back to slip into Kiir’s line of sight.

Kiir sighed. “Why does everyone seem to choose those? My dad tried to get me to learn, just for fun. I could barely draw the thing back.”

“They’re popular because they’re ranged.” Driem shook her head, her smile still evident. “I thought a mage would understand the appeal of that. Maybe he should have started you on a smaller bow. Or a more supple one at least.”

“I barely wanted to do it in the first place. I wasn’t exactly athletic.”

Driem nodded. “That makes sense. I grew my first bow when I was about twelve. It was terrible - took me years to perfect it. Before that though, my sister and I used to play with this vine in the mid-canopy that we could use like a big slingshot. We’d try to shoot down birds with it. I can’t remember a time I didn’t love bows.”

“You grew them?” Kiir turned back to look at Driem. “Did you do that for all of your bows?”

“Yeah! Stationary ones at least, you have to just kind of leave them around. They still have roots, like a tether?” She tried to mime having a bow that was, as far as Kiir could tell, leashed to the ground. “We can, or, I could , influence the Green. The forests in Valenwood are special. We grow our houses too.”

Kiir’s eyes had widened.

Driem broke eye contact in favor of the flames. “It doesn’t work the same outside of the Green. I could make my own strings using tendons, but bone isn’t supple enough for a really good bow. I still don’t really understand smithing or metallurgy. I didn’t craft either of these myself.” Driem motioned to the weapons slung across her back.

“Hey, any crafting is impressive from where I’m standing,” Kiir said. Her stomach grumbled again. “But I should probably be getting to sleep before I get any more ravenous. Is there someplace I can sleep?”

“You can crash in my tent with me. There should be enough space as long as you don’t mind tight quarters.” She walked over and held the flap of the tent open for Kiir.

Kiir glanced quickly between Driem and the tent. She was silent for a moment. “Um, are you... sure? If you’ve got a blanket I could just-”

“Kiir. The wind could pick up in the night. It could snow again. There might be a bears or something. Where have you been sleeping if you didn’t bring a tent? You haven’t really made due with a blanket .”

“My tent is back up... wherever I fell from. That’s where all of my things are.”

“Oh… shoot, I hope you didn’t have anything important up there.”

Kiir was too hungry and too tired to remember everything she brought up with her to the mountain. “Me too.”

Driem shrugged and pulled a blanket from inside the tent. She tossed it to Kiir. “You can stay out here if you like, but don’t get too close to the fire. Just come inside if you change your mind. I don’t bite. Or, I wouldn’t bite you anyway.” Chuckling, the bosmer crawled into the tent, leaving the flap open behind her.

Kiir eyed the tent flap. She wanted more than anything to sleep somewhere warm but... wouldn’t it be weird to sleep in the same tent as a near stranger? She shifted the blanket to better wrap herself up. The pain in her shoulder was still there, as well as new emerging aches and sores.

At least it’s not broken, Kiir mused. She went to rotate her shoulder but a sharp pain stopped her moments after started.

Bad idea.

Kiir inched closer to the fire, the blanket wrapped tightly around herself. Maybe I could make myself a nest out of the snow…? She looked back up at the tent. She didn’t know this woman. Do I trust her? She didn’t do anything last time we shared a camp, but… Can I just walk in?

The fire was dying from the drifting snow, and the blanket was doing nothing to fend off the cold.

Kiir sighed.

Shaking off what snow she could, Kiir stood up and walked into the cramped tent. Driem lay on one half of it, leaving just enough room for Kiir to fit if she curled up.

As Kiir entered, Driem’s head picked up. “Glad you could join me,” she snickered, rolling onto her side. “I was starting to get chilly with that flap left open.”

“Sorry,” Kiir said.

“Don’t worry about it” Driem replied. She leaned forward to tie the straps hanging from the inside of the tent flaps closed.

Kiir knelt down in the space left for her. She tried not to bump into Driem as she settled in for the night. The snow softened the ground and Kiir curled up under her blanket to try and get some sleep.

“Good night.”

“Night.”

When Kiir awoke, the only thing she could think about was the intense pain in her shoulder. It was both on fire and buzzing with a numb ache. Kiir pulled herself into a sitting position finding that she could barely lift it.

Beside her, the space where Driem had been was empty.

Did she leave again?

Kiir pinned her robes back together from her tossing and turning. Her hair felt a mess but Kiir decided there was nothing she could do about it now. She stood and moved outside.

The fire pit Driem had made was gone, buried by the new snow drifts. The only tracks were subtle older footprints headed away from the tent.

“Glad to see you’re awake.”

Kiir looked down the path to see Driem just returning, rabbit in hand.

“I thought we could use some breakfast,” she grinned.

Kiir’s stomach rumbled. Gods, she hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning . “Yes please.

Driem cleared out the fire pit while Kiir gathered some sticks and set them alight. She, too, let Driem skin and clean the rabbit. It looked more difficult than Kiir remembered it being when Aela had done it.

Rabbit slowly roasting atop the flames, Driem sat back. “How’d you sleep?”

“Fine.” Kiir tried to remember how long it had taken the other rabbit to cook.

“Really? You seemed pretty uncomfortable.”

Now Kiir raised her head. “I did?”

“Well, you did fall off a mountain yesterday, so I understand. It’s probably why you slept as late as you did,” Driem laughed.

“When did you get up?”

“Before dawn,” Driem poked at the rabbit. “I had to get us something to eat. I couldn’t let you keep starving all day too.”

“Thank you,” Kiir smiled. So that’s why she stayed…

“Anyway, I’m thinking we can eat this bad boy on the way down,” she said stretching. “We have to pack up and get out of here. Don’t wanna spend another night in the cold like that, do you?”

Kiir groaned at the thought.

“That’s what I thought.”

The two folded the tent back down, strapping it back together. Driem tossed it onto her back, swinging it onto herself as Kiir grabbed the cooking spit and rabbit. She looked back up the mountain. She had no desire to climb all the way back up to try and find her things, which were likely buried under a foot of snow, but it still felt wrong to just leave them. She told herself she’d look for them when she returned with the horn.

The fire was the last to go. Kiir kicked snow into it. She threw together a quick makeshift sling for her shoulder. It would have to do, at least until she could figure out what in the world she’d done to it.

As they walked, Driem tore pieces of the rabbit off and handed them over. Kiir was eating them faster than Driem could manage. “Slow down!”

Kiir shoved another piece of meat into her mouth, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“When did you say was the last time you ate?”

“Yesterday morning.”

“Eesh. Here,” Driem handed her what remained of the rabbit. “Finish ‘er off.”

“Oh, you don’t-”

Driems brow narrowed. “Take it.”

Kiir didn’t argue. She took the rabbit and finished it by the time they finally reached the bottom of the mountain. It was still a ways to Whiterun, but at least there wasn’t any more snow. Kiir could go the rest of her life without ever seeing snow again.

“So,” Kiir started, “what were you doing up there?”

“Me? I wander. Probably why I wasn’t so surprised to see you again. You get into the habit of running into people when you don’t stop moving.”

“Doesn’t it get lonely? Always being on the move?”

“Nah, not really. Besides I’m not always alone. I really only just got back from Solsthiem. Ralis - he’s a dunmer - likes to travel with me when I’m over there.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “Solsthiem? That’s a place?”

Driem turned back around and cocked her head at Kiir, “Sure, it’s a big island off the northeast shore of Skyrim, but it’s really part of Morrowind. Most of the dunmer who escaped the Red Mountain explosion ended up there.”

“I heard about that,” Kiir said. She hadn’t had many dealings with the Dunmer. She’d heard about some Dunmer in another part of the Isles having come to a position of power - something her mother would not stop raving about - but other than that had hardly seen anything of the dark skinned elves. Besides Eithis, of course, but he’d never seemed to speak for his people.

Then, suddenly, Driem let out low whistle.

After a short time a beautiful bay horse came ambling from behind them and fell into a prance beside Driem, tossing its head. The bosmer smiled and stroked its neck.

“This is another of my traveling companions. Her name is Cheshire.”

Kiir nodded. With Eithis’ Queenie and now Cheshire, she wondered why she hadn’t gone and gotten a horse. Travel would’ve been much easier

The harsh cold gave way to balmy breezes and grassy fields. Kiir breathed in deeply, enjoying air that didn’t chill her lungs. The Whiterun windmills could be picked out in the distance and, just a ways further, Dragonsreach.

Finally.

“Kiir!”

Kiir was startled to hear her name. That hadn’t been Driem, so who-

Suddenly the image of Nie’mar and Aela came into view. They were bounding towards them, but Kiir watched them both stop short, turning their gaze towards Driem.

Kiir followed their eyes.

Nie’mar spoke first. “I know you.”

“Well met, sister.”

Sister? Kiir thought. What does that-

“So?” Aela had moved close to Kiir, having seemingly gotten over her earlier interest in Driem. “How’d it go? What happened to your arm?”

“It went okay. And I, uh, kinda fell off the mountain.”

Nie’mar snapped her head in Kiir’s direction. “You what?

Aela seemed more amused. “How in the world did you manage that?”

“The Greybeards were kind enough to show me how to shout. Unfortunately-”

Aela burst into laughter. “You launched yourself off the mountain!?”

“Are you alright?” Nie’mar moved to nudge Aela out of the way. She eyed Kiir’s makeshift sling. “We will have to take a look at it when we get back.”

“Did you camp out here the whole time?” Kiir asked.

“We figured we would at least wait for you here,” Nie’mar explained.

Kiir smiled. The gesture made her feel warm.

Aela had finally caught her breath. “So is that it? You learned to shout off a mountain?”

“No,” Kiir said. Aela was just too pleased with her mishap. “They want me to find a horn.”

Aela snorted. “Well, that's the strangest request I've heard in awhile.”

“Horn?” Nie’mar asked.

“The horn of… Jurgen Windcaller?” Kiir struggled to remember the name Arngeir had given her. “You have any idea what he’s talking about?”

Aela shook her head. “Not a clue. But we can ask around Whiterun - there are enough Nords around there. Someone ought to know something.”

Kiir nodded.

“Will you be joining us?”

Nie’mar had spoken to Driem, who Kiir had almost forgotten was there.

The Bosmer shook her head. “Nah. But I do think I might have something on that horn of yours. I’ll go sniff around and, if it’s what I think it is, I’ll be back.”

Nie’mar accepted that answer and waved for Aela and Kiir to follow her.

Kiir turned to Driem and offered her thanks. “And I appreciate you looking into the horn for me.”

“No problem,” Driem replied. “I'm sure I'll find something about it.She pulled herself onto her horse, “Let's just hope what I find is actually helpful.”

Kiir nodded and, turning back to Nie’mar and Aela, started on the way back to Whiterun.

Chapter Text

Kiir couldn’t believe how happy she was to be back in Jorrvaskr. It was late evening when she, Aela, and Nie’mar finally stumbled in and the Companions were already well into dinner.

“Look what the skeever dragged in!” Farkas was sat at the far end of the table. He threw his arms up as the three women entered.

Kiir was more focused on the food set out for dinner. The rabbit had held her hunger at bay, but now the smells of meat and bread made her almost woozy. She reached for a bun in one of the baskets - it was still warm.

“What happened to your arm?!”

It should have come to no surprise to Kiir that Romanda would be the first to notice her injury. The orc was up and out of her seat before Kiir could finish chewing her first bite.

“Did you break it?”

“No,” Kiir managed before swallowing. “Might be dislocated-”

“And you left it like that?” Romanda’s voice rose an octave. She looked out over the table to Nie’mar. “You let her leave it like this?”

Nie’mar shook her head. “I did not know how to fix it. She would be treated better here.”

Romanda didn’t argue, but took Kiir by her good arm and led her towards the barracks. “We’re taking care of this.”

Kiir looked back out at the table, hoping there was something left when she returned.

Romanda led Kiir to her room. “I’m going to go get some hot water. Don’t move. And take off that robe.”

There was no fighting her on this, Kiir knew, so she did as she was asked. Her undershirt was filthy. Romanda had probably meant for her to take that off, too, but the burn scarred skin still made Kiir cringe.

Sighing, Kiir laid back on the bed. How long had it been since she’d slept properly on a bed? The room looked the same as it had when she left it - it wasn’t as if Kiir had thought anyone else would sleep here, but it was nice to know she still had a place to stay.

Kiir shuffled to sit comfortably and heard something crinkle under her feet.

She leaned down to pull the small sheet of paper out from under the bed. She’d wrinkled it a little by stepping on it but the drawing was mostly still intact. It was kind of cute; a poorly scribbled wolf with the name ‘Uffe’ written under it.

Why does that name sound familiar?

Romanda bounded into the room, bucket and towel in hand. She set them near the door. “Now, if it is dislocated, this is probably going to hurt.”

Kiir placed the drawing beside her on the bed. “And if it’s not?”

“It’ll likely still hurt,” Romanda chuckled. “But that’s what the hot water is for.”

“I really doubt it’s going to do much.”

“You’re probably right.” Romanda caught Kiir’s eye and laughed again. “Don’t fret, I’ve dislocated mine so many times it’s a wonder I can still use my arms. Now scoot over.”

Kiir did as she was asked, but moved slowly. She’d hardly even gotten scraped knees when she was a kid, how was this-

Romanda gave no warning as she gripped Kiir’s shoulder with one hand, back with the other, and violently pushed the two together.

Kiir’s shoulder erupted in pain and she flew sideways and out of Romanda’s reach. The pain was fleeting but - “You didn’t even warn me!”

“It would’ve taken twice as long.” Romanda reached down to dip the towel in the water and then squeezed out the excess. “Put this on your shoulder. I’ll see if Farkas has any of his heating stones around, I’ll throw a few in the fire for you. The moisture and heat will do well to calm the swelling.”

Kiir nodded, taking the towel.

Romanda was quiet a moment. “Tell me if I’m overstepping, but I don’t remember you having burns.”

“Old injury.” Kiir replied. She tightened her grip on the towel. “Misfired spell.”

Romanda hummed. “I’ll see about those stones.”

Kiir heard Romanda move up the hallway so she laid back onto the bed again. She picked up the drawing again, eyeing it closely.

It reminded her a lot of J’zargo’s drawings, if she was honest.


 

Kiir hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep until she heard shouting.

“What? Where?”

“The Market Square! They came out of nowhere!”

Kiir lept from the bed, letting the towel fall to the floor. She moved out into the hallway where she nearly ran into Vilkas.

“Oi!” He narrowly dodged her.

“What’s going on?”

“Werewolves.” Vilkas’ reply was short.

Kiir felt her heart rise into her throat. She quickly followed the flow of people up to the dining hall.

Vilkas, as well as a number of the other Companions, raced out the doorway.

Kiir continued to follow until a hand caught her arm.

“No.” Nie’mar spun Kiir around to face her. “You’re not going out there, I need you here.”

“Here?”

Nie’mar motioned with her head to a few of the other Companions milling about the room. They looked at each other and around worriedly. “I am taking the senior members to face the threat directly. I need you to take the rest and get silver swords from Eorlund.”

Kiir was a little surprised. Wasn’t that a job for an actual Companion? “But I can help out there!”

“I need you here. Now go, quickly!”

Nie’mar moved out the front door, leaving Kiir and the other Companions alone in Jorrvaskr.

Kiir felt out of place. Who was she to order these guys around? She wasn’t even part of their group. “Ah, Nie’mar said we should go get silver swords from Eorlund.”

The gaggle of outer Companions looked to Kiir, a mixture of concern and distaste crossing their faces. A few frowned deeply at her, but said nothing.

The group turned and made their way out the back. Kiir scrambled to catch up to them.

It was strange. As hectic as things had been in Jorrvaskr, Kiir had expected the outside to be just as tumultuous. But the night air was eerily quiet. Crickets chirped merrily and, had Kiir not heard what was going on inside, she’d never have thought something was amiss.

Eorlund eyed the group as they ascended the stairs to the forge. He must’ve gotten the message earlier than Kiir had heard.

Kiir weaseled her way to the front of the group. “We need silver.”

“And you expect me to just hand that out?” Eorlund scoffed. His brow was creased and covered with sweat. “I’m busy enough without having to deal with your heroics.”

Heroics? Kiir was taken aback. “Nie’mar sent us for silver swords. This has nothing to do with me.”

Eorlund contemplated this new information.

“We’re short on time,” Kiir added. Part of her wanted to ask what made him think she was doing this for the sake of heroics , but time was of the essence and she didn’t need to stall him any further.

Finally, Eorlund marched off behind him and grabbed a bag full of swords, dropping them near Kiir’s feet. He then turned silently back to the forge.

Most of the Companions snatched up their weapons. They looked to Kiir.

Kiir was no swordsman, so she simply watched as the others armed themselves.

“Are we sure we should be going down there?”

One of the men, a young Argonian, kept tossing his silver sword between his hands. Beside him, a Nord woman looked equally disturbed. He looked out towards the Market Square and Kiir followed his gaze.

The sounds of fighting were more intense now. Kiir was sure she smelled smoke.

“You don’t want to fight?” Kiir asked. “I thought that’s why people joined the Companions.”

The Argonian looked up. “Yes, but these are werewolves. They’re beasts.”

“And they die like anything else,” Kiir replied. She wasn’t sure where this was coming from. They needed to get moving. “You’ve been taught by some of the best fighters around. You don’t think you’re prepared?”

A Nord man a ways back huffed. This one Kiir did recognize. Torvar. “By the time you all finish arguing, the battle will be over.”

Kiir frowned at him, but focused her attention back at the Argonian. “Nie’mar expects you out there. She expects me out there. So you can stay back if you’d like, but your brothers and sisters will be at a disadvantage without you there.”

There was a loud explosion from lower in the city and Kiir jumped. Hadn’t Whiterun just narrowly escaped complete destruction at the hands of a dragon? And now this?

She turned to the remaining Companions. “Stick close to me. I can heal you quickly if need be. Pick someone and keep by them – werewolves are fast.” Kiir was speaking as she moved down the stairs and out in front of Jorrvaskr. She hadn’t seen any werewolves except for Farkas and she hoped he was the rule and not the exception. “Don’t go off on your own-“

“We got it!” Torvar shouted. He dashed by Kiir and was immediately engulfed in the frenzy that had overtaken the Market Square.

It was absolute chaos down there. At least when the dragon attacked, most people had the common sense to stay indoors – and there had only been one . Here, Kiir couldn’t even count how many fur clad beasts dashed about the market. People had just been leaving the tavern, enjoying the night air and now?

Fuck. Kiir immediately cast a Call to Arms spell, watching some of the remaining Companions flinch as the pale green light moved to surround them. She leapt from the stairs and onto the incline the surrounded the square. “Keep to the perimeter!” Kiir shouted.

Aela was the first person Kiir made out in the crowd. Her face was twisted into a scowl, fresh blood coloring her face.

These werewolves felt bigger than Kiir remember Farkas being. They looked more animalistic and ragged. Nie’mar and the others were clearly on the defensive, trying to give anyone still outside a chance to escape.

Attention drawn towards the square, Kiir barely noticed one of the werewolves effortlessly jump from the cobblestone directly into Kiir’s path. She had to stumble back to avoid being landed upon, feeling herself slam into one of the Companions behind her. Its hot breath smelled like death.

Kiir immediately thrust a Flame spell into its face, confident it hit after hearing it snarl. She scrambled to her feet. Around her, footfalls signaled that the younger Companions had moved in.

This wasn’t good. Their footing was unstable. Kiir had kept them to the perimeter to keep them out of the fray, but now they were fighting on uneven ground.

Before Kiir had even turned, one of the Companions had been slammed against the brick wall. Kiir fired off another Flame spell.

Draw its attention, maybe I can-

The werewolf roared. She had drawn more than its attention; the beast was furious. It charged.

Kiir’s ward caught the werewolf’s claws and teeth, but it sent her sliding back into the railing of the stairs. She rolled off to the side, just narrowly dodging another swipe of its claws.

Kiir was on her feet again, but she struggled to breathe. The wind had been knocked out of her.

The Companions had encircled the werewolf, and were dashing around it taking well timed slashes.

They’re wearing it out.

Then one of them slipped. Kiir caught his arm, pulling him back to his feet.  They moved in tandem back up the incline.

Kiir took the chance to cast a Ebonyhide spell. She let out a shrill whistle and, when the werewolf turned, shoved her hands into its eyes let lose a Sparks spell.

The beast cried out and stumbled back.

In a movement of unspoken rhythm, the circle of Companions moved like an advancing tide and attacked.

Kiir held on for as long as possible. She was lifted up and she felt her legs connect with one of the Companions bodies. She mentally apologized before dropping to the ground and heaving a breath.

The wolf was still fighting. Eyes free again, it lashed out at the nearest enemy.

The girl went flying backwards. Kiir was sure she heard a crack when her head hit the wall.

Kiir was heaving breaths now. Her heart beat wildly and a part of her wondered how much longer she could keep this up. How much longer they could keep this up.

The Argonian had moved behind the beast. He brought his sword up and plunged it into its back.

The howl that the werewolf let out was loud and shrill.

She didn’t trust these noises to mean anything anymore. If it could handle five swords at once and stand again-

In a flurry of movement, the wolf reached back and grabbed ahold of the Nord woman.

The Argonian reached out to grab her hand but he was too late.

She struggled as it lifted her into the air, swinging her sword wildly. She caught the beast a few times in the face, tearing into its flesh. But the creature slowed none. It brought her close to its mouth and Kiir remembered the smell.

Death.

Kiir rushed forward, fireball in hand.

Then everything slowed to a crawl. The werewolf put the young woman’s head into its jaws. Saliva and blood slid down and covered the woman’s face. She was screaming.

Kiir pushed herself faster.

When the werewolf closed its jaws, time was snapped back to speed.

The woman’s head popped like an overripe fruit.

Warm blood shot out in all directions as the wolf shook its head viciously, the limp body following the motion. Kiir felt the spatter on her face. She froze.

It was like Winterhold all over again. Kiir saw Breylna, bit in half, whatever was left of her landing in the snow. She could smell the fire and the blood. Her breathing hitched and her sight grew blurry.

And then the vision was gone.

Kiir had shoved her hand up under the werewolf’s jaw. An Incinerate spell blasted outward. Kiir could hear herself yelling, a sound of animalistic rage.

The spell sent the wolf hurtling backwards onto its side.

The Companions needed no instruction. They rushed the monster, plunging their swords deep into the creatures exposed abdomen.

The beast yelped. It flipped over with such force that two of the Companions were sent flying.

One landed atop a market stand. Another skidded across the cobblestone, narrowly missing a guard.

Kiir cast a quick healing spell, hoping it was enough to keep those two on their feet.

Werewolves were fast, Kiir knew. They were immensely strong and twice as big as she was, neither a surprise. But seeing the wounded and bleeding beast rise to its feet again brought Kiir to another revelation.

These fuckers were unbelievably hard to kill.

Kiir was ready to rush the wolf again when she saw something flash in her peripheral. She was about ready to hit it with a fireball when she saw it was Farkas.

He didn’t acknowledge her. He made a beeline for the beast, bringing his massive sword down on its shoulder.

While still alive, it had certainly grown weaker since the battle had started.

Farkas easily pushed the beast back further and further until, in a final act of strength, plunged his sword through the werewolf’s heart.

It howled, suddenly slumping forward.

Kiir half expected it to pick its head up again and take Farkas’ head with a single swipe.

Thankfully, the beast continued to fall until it crumpled around Farkas’ sword.

Seeing him free it from the werewolf’s chest, Kiir turned. She expected to have to continue fighting but saw that the battle had ended.

Nie’mar was tending to some of the wounded. Vilkas was stabbing the corpses of the dead werewolves, ensuring they didn’t get back up. Aela was standing amidst the carnage, her gaze turned upwards.

“Kiir?”

Kiir jumped. She hadn’t realized Farkas had been speaking to her. “What?”

“I said, I’m going to take the whelps back to Jorrvaskr.”

“Of course,” Kiir nodded. Behind him, she could see a number of them wearing grins on their faces. The two that had been tossed aside were back, both – despite their injuries – looking incredibly proud. Even the girl who Kiir thought dead from head trauma was standing. Each of them looked so pleased with themselves.

All but the Argonian.

“We fucking slaughtered those fucks!” Torvar, his entire body almost completely coated in blood, sauntered up from the square.

Farkas’ mouth was set in a hard line. “Torvar.”

Torvar quickly caught onto Farkas’ tone, but his broad smile didn’t falter. He shrugged and followed behind Farkas as the rest of group turned back.

Kiir skittered down the slope to the center of the square. There were so many bodies. How many people had Whiterun lost in the past few weeks? Even worse, there were some bodies that weren’t whole – parts that lay mismatched on the ground. Kiir nearly tripped on a single arm that lay in her path.

“Kiir!”

Nie’mar was crouched near the stairs to Dragonsreach. She motioned for Kiir to join her. “You know healing magic? Normally I would not ask, but... ”

The guard Nie’mar was tending to was pale, his breathing shallow. Kiir moved her hand over his stomach, letting the soft yellow light engulf her hand and, then, the man’s wounds.

“How many more?” Kiir asked.

Nie’mar didn’t answer for a moment. “I don’t know. I will have Aela do a-“

“Aela left.” Vilkas had wandered over. He looked so tired.

“And you let her?” Nie’mar hissed. “What did she leave for?”

“Blow off steam, I’d guess.”

Nie’mar launched herself to her feet. “Find her. Now.”

Vilkas put up his hands, but nodded.

Kiir had never heard Nie’mar so angry. She always seemed to pleasant and stoic. Now her face was contorted in fury.

“Do you have this handled Kiir?” Nie’mar gestured to the guard.

Kiir nodded.

“Someone is going to have to start dragging these wolf bodies out of here.” Nie’mar continued to fume to herself, “Curses, Aela! Now of all times.”

Kiir turned her attention back to the guard. His face was already beginning to turn a much healthier shade of pink.

He looked up to her and smiled; a gesture Kiir returned.

Standing back up, Kiir watched as Nie’mar continued to pace about the square. Her frustration was evident.

Nie’mar snapped her head up, but her expression of anger fell from her face. “This one, I -“ There was a slight pause as she took a calming breath, “I am sorry, Kiir.”

“Sorry?”

“This-“ Another flash of anger crossed Nie’mar’s face. “ I should not have barked orders at you. You are not part of the Companions – I am not in charge of you.”

“No,” Kiir started, “but I hardly mind.”

“Still.” There was a beat of silence. “You know, if you wanted to join, you have more than proven yourself.”

Kiir shook her head. “I’m not the type.”

Nie’mar hummed. “I will help you gather the wounded.”

Kiir was pleased to see that not many had died and, instead, had simply been injured. It was not an ideal situation, but Kiir was far happier to heal the wounds of a child than watch their bodies be carted off to be buried.

Eyeing the carnage, Kiir couldn’t help but wonder… how in the world had seven fully grown werewolves gotten into Whiterun? Townspeople would have noticed a group of strangers walking in – the guards would’ve known to keep a close eye on them… wouldn’t they?

Either that or they were locals. Trusted and familiar. Someone no one would expect would-

Kiir stopped herself and shook the thought from her mind.

The sun had already started to pull itself up above the horizon when Nie’mar called Kiir to return to Jorrvaskr.

The uninjured guards had moved to take over clean up and care, now that a majority of injured were stable.

Kiir followed Nie’mar and they both sat down to eat in silence. The younger Companions had thrown something together for everyone just returning. It wasn’t as large of a banquet as yesterday, but Kiir wasn’t complaining. It was just nice to have a full stomach again.

Even though it was early morning, a majority of those in Jorrvaskr were just heading to bed.

Kiir walked by Farkas, speaking softly to the Argonian man who sat alone in the corner of the dining hall. Her earlier conversation with Einar and his friends came flooding back.

“...I pity the fool who chooses to put a leash on a werewolf though. It wouldn’t take much, only a split second’s mistake to fall prey to their little pet.”

“It’s only a matter of time before we see deaths in the city proper.”

Kiir suddenly realized she was staring and shook the thought from her mind.

Wandering back to her bedroom, Kiir noticed the drawing still lying on the blankets of her bed. She picked it up and eyed it once more before setting it on the bookshelf.

It was all too much too fast. Kiir curled under the covers and closed her eyes.

She’d worry about it in the morning.

Chapter Text

“Is your shoulder feeling any better?”

Kiir looked up from her breakfast as Romanda entered the dining hall. Kiir always forgot that Romanda didn’t live here - she expected the Orc to come up from downstairs. Kiir shrugged. “Kinda.”

Romanda took a seat. “You haven’t been around much these past few days. Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, of course,” Kiir offered. In truth, she wasn’t sure how she felt. After the werewolf attack she’d barely left Jorrvaskr. She felt so tired and everything was exhausting. Kiir would wake up and want nothing more than to go back to sleep.

She’d found out the Argonian had left the Companions. Farkas said something about a ‘better offer somewhere else’ but Kiir felt wholly responsible. Nie’mar had reminded Kiir that Companions knew the risks before they joined; that those who joined were under no false pretenses... but it didn’t make it sting any less.

“Of course,” Romanda echoed. She reached out and grabbed a mug, filling it with ale. “You should get outside. Breathe some fresh air. At the very least get some sun.” Romanda placed a hand to Kiir’s cheek. “You’re looking a little pale.”

Kiir smiled up at her. Maybe it would do her some good to leave Jorrvaskr, even just for a little while.

There was a soft breeze that drifted out through the town. It was warm and Kiir stood at the top of Jorrvaskr’s stairs just letting it flow by her.

Whiterun had done well to get back up on its feet. A dragon attack, a werewolf attack and still the houses stood and the people persevered.

Moving on down to the market place, it was hard to tell there had ever even been an attack. The vendors had restored their stands and shoppers once again flocked to the square. One man pointed to his newly bandage arm, missing half of it, and proudly told of how he survived the attack.

But Kiir found it hard not to noticed the deep crack and scratches in the cobblestone or the dark stains under the crates and bags around the stands. She saw the guard she’d healed after the attack, trying to stand at attention but leaning onto the bannister.

“Hey, you’re Kiir right?”

Kiir nearly jumped out of her skin. She’d been so in her own head she hadn’t seen the gruff looking Nord wander up next to her. “Yes?”

“Good. I wasn’t sure how many more Altmer women there’d be in Whiterun.” He scratched at his neck. “Einar’s been asking about you. You said you would help with the trap?”

Einar, shit! Kiir had completely forgotten about him and his plan. “Yeah, yes, of course. Are you doing it right now?”

The man nodded. “If you've got things to take care of that’s fine-”

Kiir shook her head. “No, I’m ready. But I should let someone know I’m leaving-”

“Don’t worry, we’ll head to our camp first. We can send someone out to let them know.” The man paused. “Does that sound alright?”

“Yes,” Kiir answered. She followed the man, moving down the streets, outside the walls, and finally to the tent nestled on the outskirts of the city.

Kiir recognized most of the people here from her first visit, but was surprised to see Einar wasn’t present. To her dismay, it looked like it was Havid who was in charge. She hesitated.

No, Kiir thought. She was doing the right thing. She had seen the devastation those werewolves could inflict and if she could do anything to stop it, she would.

“Ah!” Havid said, noticing Kiir enter. “I was wondering if Filgi would be able to find you.”

“I wasn’t hiding. I just...”

Havid nodded. “No problem. You made it just in time.”

Kiir looked around, noticing many of the people moving towards the exit of the tent. “Where’s Einar? Are we leaving already?”

“Yes we’re leaving now. It was you we were waiting for. No sense in walking all the way out to the cave if you weren’t coming.”

Kiir hummed. She backed up to let the rest of the Silver Hand make their way out of the tent. She followed in the back.

Havid fell back next to her. “We do appreciate your help. This is the best course of action we’ve come up with and we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to go through with it, had we not found someone to help.”

“I’m glad to be helping.”

“I know, I just wanted to make sure you knew we were grateful.” Havid clapped a hand onto Kiir’s shoulder. “Glad to have you on our side.”

The cave wasn’t far from camp. Kiir could still see Dragonsreach from the entrance of the cave before they descended inwards.

Everything progressed smoothly. As Einar had promised, Kiir was put in a room behind iron bars - she would be safe. The rest of the group would wait in the shadows for the werewolves to show up and then they would strike. After all was said and done, she would be let out and then they would deal with whatever came next.

It sounded good theoretically, but in reality Kiir didn’t want to sit in the dirt and the room smelled musty and old. She traced her hands along the stone and tried to keep herself preoccupied. Havid had warned her it might be a while for the wolves to arrive, a few hours at the least. They were coming though, he reassured her.

Now that she was here, some parts of the plan didn’t seem to make much sense. How would they even know where she was? Did Einar or Havid just walk up to the feral wolves, touting “Hey, the Dragonborn is in this cave!” Maybe they would follow her scent? Then again, how did they know what she smelled like?

Leaning against the wall, Kiir realized the cave seemed more like a tomb, if Kiir was remembering Saarthal correctly. There were Nordic designs etched into the walls and golden urns nestled into the corners.

Kiir thought back to the draugrs. She shivered. There had better not be any-

“Kiir!”

Kiir snapped her head up. She had been anticipating people, but not for people who knew her name.

Her anxieties were paused when she saw it was Farkas. But only for a moment.

Farkas?! What was he doing here? Kiir felt her heart rise into her throat. She’d been right all along. Farkas was-

Behind Farkas, who was now making a beeline for Kiir’s cage, Nie’mar, Aela, and Vilkas all trailed in.

Kiir took a step backwards. Wait. She stood, staring directly ahead as Farkas grabbed ahold of the cage bars, shaking them. This can’t be right. No, they’ll spoil the whole plan. They have to get out of here!

“Kiir! Are you alright?”

Kiir focused her attention on Farkas. His eyes were wide, his brow creased in concern. “What?”

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Kiir shook her head. “No, I’m-”

Suddenly, there was a clatter near the door.

Kiir didn’t need to move around Farkas to know what that was. She started to tell Havid that these were not the people they were looking for, but she was caught off guard as Nie’mar hissed.

There was no exchanging of words. The Silverhand immediately charged.

Kiir could hardly hear herself think and the room descended into chaos. I have to get out, I have to let them know there’s been a mistake! She ran her hands along the wall again, this time with the distinct purpose of getting the hell out of there.

Nie’mar was shouting orders, with Havid’s voice echoing behind hers with orders of his own.

Kiir moved to the bars, trying to catch someone’s attention.

The battle seemed to be entirely one sided. While the Silverhand seemed to be moving full force and fighting with no reserves, Kiir watched the Companions dodge blow after blow. Vilkas seemed to be inching closer to Kiri while Farkas was busy trying to move his way around the perimeter towards a side door.

“Hey!” Kiir tried shouting into the room. “Stop there’s been a mistake!”

Suddenly, Kiir heard a loud bang against the bars beside her. She looked and Farkas had been pinned against them by Havid, their faces inches apart.

Farkas was groping at a lever Kiir herself hadn’t noticed.

Havid slammed Farkas’ arm into the wall. “She belongs to us now, beast.

Kiir had seen Farkas change before. His body swelled at a rapid speed and his armor came hurtling off in different directions, the breastplate shoving Havid away from him. His face elongated and, within seconds, in his place stood a fully grown werewolf.

When Kiir looked to the other Companions, she expected looks of surprise. However, she had but a moment before a bit of Nie’mar’s armor came flying off and got itself lodged between the iron bars.

Kiir scrambled backwards, slamming her back hard against the wall. What? This isn’t-

The wolves moved to put themselves in front of her cage.

Havid did not wait a second more to charge again. He dragged his blade against one of the wolves’ chests.

There was an echoing snarl in response.

The rest of the Silverhand followed suit. It was a dance now. The wolves trying to outmaneuver the silver and the Silverhand trying to outmaneuver the claws.

Kiir held her place against the back wall of her little cell. She should get up and help. Her friends were… werewolves? But they were in danger. They were the ones who had given her a home and friendship when she needed it. She should get up, she should help...

Havid shouted something and suddenly the roar of battle turned to a hummed ambience as the Silverhand fled. Kiir could hear running footsteps and clattering metal fade away.

She then watched as the werewolves thumped about outside her cage. Two of them stood at the bars, staring inward.

Then there was the loud metallic screech as the iron bars fell back into the ground.

Kiir didn’t move. She knew who these wolves were but she couldn’t see past the claws and teeth and-

One of the werewolves moved swiftly towards Kiir and put its face near hers.

Then, it licked her.

Kiir squinted, drawing herself from her stupor. She watched the others wander in slowly. Kiir pushed herself up from the ground but didn’t approach. She stayed back a few feet from the one who licked her and just watched.

Without warning, the wolves seemed to draw in on themselves. Kiir suddenly found herself looking not at werewolves, but at the naked forms of the Companions.

Kiir flushed, immediately spinning on her heels to face the wall.

“Kiir?”

“You’re naked.”

There was a chorus of chuckles behind Kiir, then a shuffle and the sounds of metal and leather.

“You can turn around now.”

Kiir looked out over her shoulder before turning around completely. They had haphazardly dressed... at least enough to be decent.

“Are you okay?” Farkas asked. He didn’t step any closer than he already was.

“Yeah, totally fine.”

Aela grinned. “Good. Can’t have our favorite Altmer getting hurt.”

Kiir looked to Aela, and then Nie’mar. “What’s going on?”

“That is what we would like to know as well,” Nie’mar replied. “How did you even end up here?”

Kiir paused. “I came here. I thought I was doing something good.”

“You came here?” Vilkas repeated. His eyes narrowed. “What, willingly? What were you even doing with the Silverhand in the first place?”

“Trying to fix the werewolf problem!” Kiir shouted. She hadn’t meant to get loud, but she didn’t want any of them getting the wrong idea. “They had a plan and asked for my help. Clearly they hadn’t planned for you.”

“I would not be surprised if they had planned for us from the start,” Nie’mar said. “The remaining Silverhand knows what we are. I thought we had a deal but it is possible that they think we have gone rogue and are behind these attacks.”

Kiir was more confused than she liked being. “Deal?”

“The Silverhand know that we are not feral,” Nie’mar explained. “Any brand new werewolf takes a risk but we are not a danger; we are ourselves.”

“In fact, we help around here!” Aela looked upset at the idea of being feral was even mentioned.

Vilkas took a step forward. “What did they tell you? About us?”

“Nothing,” Kiir answered. “I thought I was helping you all by coming out here. The only one I was worried about was you.” Kiir looked pointedly at Farkas.

Farkas raised an eyebrow. “Me?”

“I knew what you were,” Kiir continued. “I was afraid that you had been a part of the attack behind everyone’s backs.”

Nie’mar turned to face Farkas, her eyes low. “You told her?”

“No, I don’t know how-” Farkas paused. “The Thalmor attack.”

Kiir nodded. “But it seems I was mistaken.”

Farkas looked to Nie’mar and seemed to shrink. He took a step back from the group.

“I’m sorry,” Kiir offered. “I hadn’t meant to put you all in any danger, I just thought... I assumed...”

“There is no need for apologies,” Nie’mar replied. “Let us head back to Jorrvaskr before it gets too cold. I, we, can explain everything to you back there.”

Kiir followed behind the Companions as they exited the cave and started up the path back to Whtierun. It was a silent walk; no one spoke even as Jorrvaskr drew close.

It wasn’t until Kiir had been seated at the dining table, with just the four from earlier, that she was given the entire story.

Vilkas had explained that it was an exchange of sorts. “During your first transformation you invite in the spirit of a wolf into you. And that first change establishes your relationship.”

“You can give it your body, let it take control and use you,” Aela continued. “You can force it under your thumb, dominating it entirely. Or you can befriend it, work in unison as partners - but the first change establishes the pattern.”

“In a real pack, a family like ours, we make sure you know what you are getting into and help keep you from temptations and dangers while you are in that critical time.” Nie’mar leaned into the table. “We protect each other just as much as we protect anyone else.”

“That's why this is so upsetting. These people are going in without a clue and their fear is letting the wolf take hold...” Vilkas sighed. “And there's no coming back from that.”

Kiir nodded along, following as much as she could. This all still seemed so... surreal. She looked to Farkas, who hadn’t said a word.

“Take your time, think things over,” Nie’mar suggested. “I know it is a lot to take in. We will be here if you have any questions.”

And with that, the group dispersed, leaving Kiir alone in the dining hall.

The Companions were werewolves. It was a statement Kiir had to repeat to herself a few times. She felt a little sad that they had not told her, but she understood why. With groups like the Silverhand, it was doubtful that they would be willing to listen to anything about ‘controlled lycanthropy’.

Kiir leaned back in her chair, putting her feet up to the hot coals still twinkling in the hearth. Life in Skyrim was never dull, was it.

It was a few minutes later when Kiir finally stood, pushing in her chair and descending down to the bedrooms.

When she opened her door, though, she was surprised to find someone already in there. “Farkas?”

Farkas had been sitting in the chair by the bookshelf with his hands in his lap. He looked up as she entered. “Ah, sorry. I just wanted to get a chance to talk to you and wasn’t sure-”

Kiir shrugged, sitting herself on her bed. “It’s fine. You guys offered me a place to stay, free of charge. I can’t complain too much.” She smiled.

A ghost of a smile appeared on Farkas’ lips before it disappeared again. “Listen, I just... wanted to apologize for not explaining myself earlier. I shouldn’t have let you wonder about something so...”

“Farkas, that was months ago.  I’m sorry I ever doubted you - you and Romanda were some of the first people to show me kindness when I got here. I can’t believe I ever let myself think you had been a part of something so heinous.” Kiir smiled again. “There’s no need for apologies here. I’m just glad this was all cleared up before someone got hurt.”

Farkas hummed. “Still-”

“Still nothing!” Kiir kicked at Farkas’ leg. “This is the second time you’ve saved my ass.”

“Third if you count-”

Kiir kicked him again, pointing to the door. “Shh. Now get out of here before Romanda comes storming in demanding to know why you’re late. I’m not catching the brunt of that one.”

Farkas laughed, a full smile finally adorning his face. “Fine, fine.” He rose from the chair and moved towards the door. “Good night.”

Kiir waved him off, shutting the doors behind him and laying herself down in bed. She reached over, moving aside the drawing she kept on her nightstand for a book that lay beneath.

The Lusty Argonian Maid, volume II.

Kiir settled in, opening to where she’d last left off. She shook her head. Sheesh. Who the hell writes themselves as a main character of their own story?

 

Chapter Text

“Any word from Driem?” Kiir walked into the dining hall, seeing Nie’mar shuffling through a number of papers laid out on the table. She was likely the only one awake in Jorrvaskr right now - even Kiir was surprised that she herself was awake.

“None from her, but-” Nie’mar waved a single envelope above her head. “Perhaps something from a person named Eithis?”

Eithis? Kiir grabbed the letter from Nie’mar’s hand. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Those are sometimes the best.” Nie’mar sat back, hand set atop the papers in front of her. “Are you expecting a letter from Driem?”

“She said she might be able to find some information about the Horn.” Kiir slipped Eithis’ letter into a pocket in her robe and took a seat beside Nie’mar. “With nothing happening about the werewolves for a few days I’m getting antsy.”

Nie’mar smiled. “Have you tried talking to Irileth?”

“Irileth? What about her?”

“She has a lot more resources dealing with that sort of thing. Actually, Farengar may be able to point you in the right direction.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “Farengar?”

“Court wizard. Kind of an ass, but he is good at his job.” Nie’mar pushed her pile of papers into a single stack. “It is still early. If you head out now you might be able to get in there before the rush.”

“There’s a rush?”

Nie’mar laughed. “Usually yes, and you do not want to get stuck in it.”

Kiir shrugged, accepting what Nie’mar had said even if she wasn’t quite sure what it meant. It was mid morning when Kiir started up to Dragonsreach, meaning the city was just starting to wake up. Kiir waved at a few of the vendors as she meandered through the market square.

Surprisingly, none of the guards gave Kiir any trouble this time as she wandered up the steps to the Jarl’s home and to the dunmer that stood by his side.

“Kiir’Dun,” Irileth said.

Kiir would never understand how the sour faced Irileth was in any way related to the bright and cheerful Eithis. She patted her pocket to make sure the letter from him was still there. “Good morning.”

“Is there something you need?”

“I was hoping to talk to you. Do you have a minute?”

Irileth looked over at the Jarl, then nodded, waving Kiir over to a smaller room to the side of the main hall.

A man in dark robes, who Kiir assumed to be the court wizard Nie’mar had mentioned, look at them as they entered but said nothing.

“What is it you need now?”

“A horn,” Kiir answered plainly. “The Greybeards told me they need the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller but were kind of vague in their directions. I was hoping you might be able to help me.”

Irileth shrugged. “I might live amongst the Nords, but I know hardly anything about their myths and legends. If there is such a horn, I wouldn't know how to find it.”

“But I do.”

Kiir looked around Irileth to the man who spoke. Nie’mar had said his name was-

“Farengar,” the man offered, standing back from his work desk. “The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, hm? I can’t say I’ve heard the name in a while.”

Kiir perked up. “I’ve been told it’s in Hee-all-march?”

Farengar raised an eyebrow. “Hjaalmarch, yes, I’ve heard the same. What could you possibly need with the Horn?”

“I’ve been asked by the Greybeards to fetch it for them,” Kiir replied.

“Mmm,” Farengar stared a minute, before turning his gaze to Irileth. “Is that-”

“True? She’s the Dragonborn. I’m not surprised they’d ask something of her.”

“Of course. But I would expect they would care more about the dragons than some old fabled Horn.”

“No one seems to know much about the dragons,” Kiir said. “I’ve almost given up asking.”

Farengar laughed. “Then you are foolish. I’ve found that there’s an ancient stone tablet, housed in a ruin not far from here. It’s said to contain a map of ancient dragon burial grounds. If that turns out to be accurate I am certain it will aid us in this dragon crisis.”

Kiir nodded along. “A ruin near here?”

“Bleak Falls Barrow. Not a kind place, mind you. Certainly riddled with bandits hiding from the cold. And draugr.” Farengar paused. “It’s likely kept in a chest in an old tomb. Probably the deepest chamber.”

Kiir blanched. She’d had enough draugr to last her a lifetime. “Have you tried to get it?”

“If you are in some way implying that I should get it, no. I’m far too busy here to be delving into ruins. You,” Farengar extended a long finger, “however, are aimlessly going after a Horn. You undoubtedly have the time.”

Of course. Kiir tried not to let her displeasure show on her face. “What about the Horn?”

“What about it? The Horn can wait.” Farengar’s voice seemed to have taken on an edge it didn’t have before. “Surely something pertaining to the actual dragon problem is far more important than the whims of some aging recluses on a hill top.”

Kiir shook her head. “I still need to get it. And if you know where it is, it’d be much appreciated-”

“Get the tablet and then we can discuss finding you your Horn.”

“That’s not-” Kiir started, but Farengar had already turned his attention away from her, back to whatever happened to be on his table.

Irileth moved to grab Kiir’s shoulder and pull her into the dining hall. “He can be ornery at times.”

No kidding. Kiir thought. She followed Irileth outside of the wizard’s chambers. She had no desire to go cave delving again, not if her past experiences were to judge by. Not to mention, she’d be going to get something that she didn’t even need. “Hey, Irileth?”

The dunmer turned.

“Do you know anywhere I could... hire someone?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific than that,” Irileth replied. “For what? Housework? Heavy labor?”

“For getting a tablet from a Nordic ruin?”

A smile played itself on Irileth’s lips. “Ah.” She thought for a second. “The Bannered Mare is where a lot of transient help stays. Your best bet would be to head over there. Ask the bartender.”

Kiir nodded. “Thank you.”

Kiir had not been into the Bannered Mare yet, a surprise considering how long she’d been in the city. She’d seen the sign and seen the drunks, but never bothered to walk inside.

The smell of ale and sweat was pungent even on the steps up to the Inn. Kiir moved around the patrons standing around the door and pushed inside where the air was even thicker.

Kiir was surprised to see so many people in the Inn when it was barely noon. A number of them were already drunk enough to be laid out on the benches that lined the perimeter of the room. There seemed to be something cooking over the fire at the center of the room and Kiir’s stomach rumbled, but she ignored it as she made a beeline for the counter.

An older woman, a Nord, looked up from cleaning the counter and smiled. “Hey, how can I help you?”

Kiir felt incredibly out of place. “I am looking for...” She searched her mind for the right word. “Help?”

The woman looked at her. “Help?”

“As in... people help.” Kiir heaved a heavy sigh. “I need someone to go into a ruin and get something for me.”

“Ahh!” The woman’s face turned to something of recognition and nodded. “Mercenaries then. We get a whole lot of them this time of year - looking to stock up on coin before winter comes and business dies down.” She looked out over the tavern. “There’s a group that’s known to be good, a little pricey though. How much can you spend?”

Kiir had garnered a nice pocket of funds, but she had no inkling what ‘a little pricey’ was for hiring mercenaries. She was about to speak when a voice interjected itself.

“Any group will be more than a little pricy.” It was an argonian woman who had slid up to the bar, setting her drink on the table. “And more difficult to deal with. If you hire me, you’ll only have to pay for one mercenary.”

Kiir moved to make room as the argonian sat beside her. “One?”

The bartender had moved back behind the bar. “This group is well trusted and well known. I’ve only seen you around a few days a year. Who’s to say you won’t take the money and run?”

The argonian took a slug from her tankard. “That is precisely what I will do, but I won’t take the money until I’ve completed the task.” She flashed her teeth at the barkeep in a way that Kiir wasn’t so sure was a smile. “Unlike some I do not require the insurance policy of being payed up front.”

Kiir looked to the bartender’s face for some idea of whether or not to trust this argonian by her word. But, despite the frown etched into the Nord’s face, Kiir couldn’t see the offer as a bad deal.

“You lose nothing in trusting me, Dragonborn. When I return with whatever it is you’re seeking retrieved, you will pay me 1000 gold and we will part ways.”

Kiir raised a brow, wondering how she knew about being Dragonborn, but then remembered the Nord woman in Einar’s group. Every guard in the Hold has been talking about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if word had reached from Markarth to Riften and back by now.

“Ha!” The barkeep let out a short laugh. “And you called the groups pricy! That’s twice the asking price of its members!”

“Perhaps, but paying half the price to many more members equates to a much greater price overall.”

The bartender shook her head, then turned to Kiir. “Do as you wish. I only warn that there are far more people looking to swindle than you’d think.” She then turned to grab a plate of drinks and went out to the tavern floor.

Kiir wasn’t sure if the woman was right to distrust the argonian, or simply was a talking piece for the group she'd mentioned before. “You said I’d pay you after the job is done?”

She nodded. “If I asked for payment up front I would never be hired. A lone mercenary making bold claims - I understand your hesitation. But what do you stand to lose? If I do not return, you lose nothing but some time.”

“You haven’t even heard all the details of the job.” Kiir stared at the Argonian. “What makes you so eager?”

The argonian’s lips curled up in that same predatory grin, “I simply enjoy clearing ruins of bandits and draugr. If I can be paid for the chance, all the better.”

Kiir nodded, extending a hand. “Kiir’Dun.”

“Swings-the-Hammer.” She placed her claws in Kiir’s hand and shook firmly. “So, what exactly am I to be retrieving for you, Kiir’Dun? And where am I to find it?”

“A tablet. I was told it was in Bleak Falls Barrow. Likely the deepest chamber.” Kiir thought back to her conversation with Farengar. She sighed. “To be honest, I don’t know a lot about it myself. The person who wants this seems adamant Bleak Falls is where it is.”

The argonian hummed. “If it is there, I can find it. Do you know anything about what this tablet looks like? I will not be pleased if the item in question turns out to be something like an entire wall that I cannot deliver back to you.”

Kiir shrugged. “It is supposed to be a map, so it was more than likely meant to be moved and carried. Made from stone.”

Swings-the-Hammer nodded as she stood. “Excellent. If I have not returned in a week you can assume me dead. I will be back within a couple of days.”

“How much was-”

“A thousand,” Swings interrupted.

Kiir nodded. That was do-able. “Thank you.”

The argonian nodded again, flashed her teeth, and was gone - already out the door.

Kiir didn’t linger long in the Bannered Mare. She had spent all the time she wanted to in the tavern and was quick to slip outside and make her way back to Jorrvaskr.

Nie’mar was still seated at the table when Kiir walked in. The khajiit looked over her shoulder and smiled. “That was fast. How’d it go?”

“Good,” Kiir replied. “Okay.” She took a set at the table near Nie’mar.

“That bad?”

Kiir looked up. “No, not bad. I hired a mercenary.”

Nie’mar’s eyebrows shot up. “You what?”

“No, it’s nothing like that!” Kiir put her hands up in mock surrender. “I needed someone to go get something for me.”

“You absolutely could’ve asked us, Kiir. How much did you spend?”

Where before Kiir had felt the price was fair, she felt a little reluctant to answer Nie’mar question. “A thousand?”

Nie’mar slumped. “You spent a thousand coins-”

“Didn’t spend it... not yet.” Kiir corrected. “I pay the woman when she gets back... assuming she found what I needed.”

“What did you even need?”

Kiir sighed. “Farengar knows about the Horn, but refused to tell me anything about it until he has this... dragon map tablet. It’s buried in some Nordic tomb and already have to get the Horn, deal with the Dragon shit, and werewolves and shouts-” Kiir shook her head, her voice rising. “The worst part is I’m stuck like this. I can’t even pass it on to someone else.”

Nie’mar was silent a moment. She pushed her chair back and turned to face Kiir completely. “I did not  mean to sound harsh. A thousand for a couple of mercenaries is not a bad price. I just wish you had told us; the companions are mercenaries and we could have helped you without the need for coin. You are our friend as much as you are the dragonborn. We will always strive to help you.”

“No, I know that. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I’m alone, I just-” Kiir mentally chided herself for getting so upset. “I didn’t mean to make it sound that way.”

“Something it eating at you,” Nie’mar pressed.

Kiir looked up to the ceiling. A lot of things, actually. “It’s all so much, so fast,” Kiir began. How long had it been since she first came to Skyrim? Two months? And in that time she’d brushed death more times than she found comforting. “I didn’t come here to deal with others’ problems.”

“Why did you come here?”

“To... find someplace new?”

Nie’mar looked unconvinced. “Altmer don’t typically travel far from the Isles, do they? Unless they’re Thalmor which you are clearly not.”

No, Altmer didn’t typically travel far. Most only left on business and begrudgingly at that. Kiir wondered if she would’ve left had she not been forced to. “If this was a vacation, I’d have gone home a while ago,” Kiir chuckled softly.

“So it is not a vacation.”

Kiir shook her head. “If you're asking if I can go home, the answer is no.”

“Something serious?”

“I guess,” Kiir shrugged. “I didn’t think it was too serious, but I was wrong. Very. My mother was always big on appearances.”

Nie’mar smiled. “I guess we have something in common. My fado was always so worried about how I looked, how I smelled. Said appearances were your first impression.”

“Yes!” Kiir exclaimed. “Appearances first.”

“I know she had my best interests in mind, but wool is incredibly itchy. I don’t know how the Nords do it.”

I can’t say the same about my mother, Kiir thought. “ Fado is mother, I’m assuming? I didn’t know you spoke Ta’agra.”

“It is not something one forgets, but I do not speak it so much anymore.” An expression crossed Nie’mar face, drawing the corners of her mouth down into a frown. “Bad memories.”

“I’m sorry,” Kiir replied quickly. “I didn’t mean to bring up anything bad.”

“No, you did not know. It is fine.” Nie’mar paused a moment. “It is those bad times that put me here, Harbinger of the Companions, and I could not be happier.” A smile had crawled itself back up onto her face.

Kiir nodded. “I wouldn’t have met all of you if I wouldn’t have left.”

“Exactly. Sometimes, in the moment, those awful things seem unfair and terrible but... we are not really sure where they will take us. I can not say I that do not miss my mother, and I wish she was still here, but I am nonetheless happy with where I ended up.”

“And your dad?”

“He is around. I do not see much of him. He still works for the caravans but he does not come around here often. Fada’s death really messed with him.”

Kiir felt a knot tighten in her stomach. She’d wondered about her parents a lot when she first left the Isles. She hadn’t even gotten the chance to tell her father she was leaving - did he know why she left? Did they miss her? “You never see him?”

“Nope, not often. But I have made a new family here, so it is alright.” Nie’mar leaned back in her chair. “But at least my father is near the area that I decided to stay in. I can not imagine your parents are too keen on their daughter being in the opposite corner of Tamriel.”

“I don’t think they even know where I am,” Kiir blurted.

Nie’mar looked alarmed.

“Ah, I-” Kiir sighed. Shit. “I just mean I didn’t have a set destination when I left. I hadn’t really planned on coming to Skyrim I just ended up here.”

Nie’mar hummed. She looked to say something more, but smiled instead. “Well, I, for one, am glad you ended up here.”

Kiir smiled, but that knot stayed put. In fact, as Nie’mar turned the conversation to Aela and the werewolves, the knot only grew.

Homesickness? Kiir thought. It was far too late for that.



Chapter Text

“Gods preserve me, I am so sick and tired of this!”

Kiir had settled into her chair for lunch when Aela had come bounding in from outside. She looked up just as Aela slammed her hands on the dining room table.

“Do you have any idea how rare it is to find these werewolves post transformation alive? And I’ve gotten nothing out of them! This is ridiculous!”

“Calm down, Aela,” Farkas started.

Aela spun on him. “I’m not going to sit here and wait for another attack. We need to be proactive - find these guys before it happens again. I am not going to calm down about this!”

“And you’re not going to get any leads while screaming over lunch.”

Aela huffed. She shoved off from the table and turned towards the front door. She opened the door, but turned back for just a moment. “If I don’t get something soon I’m going to lose my mind.”

“Too late,” Farkas retorted.

Kiir laughed. She was glad to see the Companions returning back into normalcy. After the attack everyone was so on edge, apprehensive about what could be coming next, and it was nice to see them falling back into the natural swing of things.

Vilkas stood with his plate and knocked into Nie’mar’s chair as he passed. “Any news from that noble in Morthal? He still need our help?”

Nie’mar started respond but Kiir zoned out as she suddenly remembered her own letter. Eithis! She’d completely forgotten!

Kiir rose from her chair and quickly deposited her plate into the wash bucket. She slipped downstairs and into her room, where she dug through her dirty robes. Did I wash it accidently?

Thankfully, Kiir’s hands landed on the smooth envelope and she pulled it from the pocket. Her name was elegantly scrawled on the front. I didn’t know Eithis could have such nice handwriting. His notes looked like chicken scratch.

Kiir tore open the seal and unfolded the letter.

Miss Kiir’Dun,

Kiir sat on her bed, eyebrow raised. “Miss?” She questioned aloud.

First and foremost, I sent this letter to Irileth in hopes that she might be able to get it to you. Though, if the seal seems broken, let me know. I've sent her a letter of her own along with this one, but I still wouldn't put it past her to snoop. If you're reading this sis you'll be in for it later. Kiir will tell me. She will.

The seal seemed fine to Kiir. But, then again, Irileth could have always resealed it. Siblings will be siblings.

I got word about the dragon attack at Whiterun and that there was a Dragonborn there, so I know you at least got there safely. I’m sure you have your hands full, but J’zargo insisted I write. He’s included one of his ‘masterpieces’ and asked you to ‘get the word out’. I’m sure hanging it up in your room wherever you’re staying will suffice.

Kiir pulled out the second page, discovering a drawing of the College. If Kiir was honest, Uffe’s wolf drawing she found was probably better. The statue of Shalidor looked like a stick man having a heart attack.

Being Archmage has its perks, but it isn’t really all that fun. The others seem to want to turn to me for every little thing and it’s suffocating. Even my chambers seem stuffy. I’ve been thinking about buying a plot of land to build a house, somewhere I can call home without having to deal with every minor explosion one of the new wizards sets off by accident. I think I may have even found a good spot that’s available already. Fingers crossed.

If I end up finding the time, I’ll send word to you and we can have a homemade dinner. Of course, I’d need an address. Think you’ll be settled down by then?

Would she? Kiir hadn’t ever really considered her life after this dragon stuff died down. Would she stay in Skyrim or try and go home? Kiir shook her head; no need to worry about that stuff now.

Ancano’s actually been surprisingly helpful. We’ve got the bridge completely repaired and, even more surprising, the people of Winterhold seem to be warming up to us. Can’t say the same about the weather, though.

Kiir shivered involuntarily.

Anyway, I do hope you’re doing well. If you get some time between fighting dragons and solving the world’s problems, you should come and visit. You’re always welcome.

Regards,

Eithis had signed his name ‘Archmage Eithis’, but Kiir could barely read anything past his uppercase ‘E’. The letter dominated the bottom of the page and the rest of the letters were illegible.

Kiir chuckled. She hadn’t been expecting a letter and it certainly brightened her mood. She’d have to remember to write him a reply. He would certainly be expecting one.

Kiir didn’t have any paper in her room, or an ink well. She figured Nie’mar would have one. Surely, Kiir would just have to ask-

“Kiir?”

Kiir jumped. Farkas stood in her doorway. “Hmm?”

“Someone’s here for you. An argonian?”

Already? Kiir folded Eithis’ letter and set it on her nightside table. She made a mental note to write back to Eithis the first chance she got.

Kiir was a little surprised. It had been only three days since she had talked to Swings-the-Hammer and sent her out after the Dragonstone. Maybe a thousand gold wasn’t too bad after all.

Kiir nodded to Farkas and turned towards her bookcase, grabbing the pouch of gold she’d set aside from behind a set of stack books. She was sure every one of the Companions had offered to cover some of the cost, but Kiir felt weird taking their money. Especially for something that had nothing to do with them.

Checking to make sure the amount was right, Kiir bounded up the stairs to the main hall.

Swings had been invited in, but it seemed the Companions were none too pleased to have a stranger, a mercenary no less, in their home.

Kiir walked straight up to Swings, who offered her a felt-wrapped package. It was much heavier than Kiir has expected. She unwrapped it, pleased to find what looked to be the dragonstone Farengar had described. It was chipped and missing a few pieces, but the etchings in it looked just like a map. Kiir held out the pouch of coins. “Thank you.”

Swings took the pouch without bothering to count it. “If you ever need a tomb cleared again, let me know.”

“How would I -”

“There aren’t a lot of argonian mercenaries in Skyrim. Runners with a message are cheap. Send one here, Riften, Markarth, and Raven Rock. I’ll get the message quickly enough.”

Kiir nodded.

Swings flashed her teeth and walked out the door.

Kiir looked back down at the object in her hands, completely removing the felt wrapping to eye the ancient looking stone. This has to be it.

“You paid someone to get you a rock?” Farkas asked.

“It’s not a rock,” Kiir smiled. “It’s a map.”

“Of?”

“Dragon burial grounds, if Farengar is to be trusted.”

Vilkas, who’d since sat down, rose to look at the stone. “What the hell does he want with that?”

Kiir shrugged. “I don’t know, really. But he said that if I got him this, he’d help me find the Horn.”

“Why didn’t he just hire a mercenary?” Vilkas demanded. “You shouldn’t have had to do that.”

Vilkas was right. Farengar could have just as easily hired Swings to get him the stone - instead he’d asked Kiir. Kiir’s face flushed - she felt used. “Well, at the very least this should get me started on the location of the horn.”

“An expensive start,” Vilkas muttered as she returned to her seat.

Kiir returned the felt wrapping and tucked the stone under her arm. She could wait until tomorrow, but being so close to finally getting somewhere pushed Kiir to move immediately.

It was midday, so the ‘rush’ Nie’mar had warned Kiir about a few days ago was in full swing. People littered the Jarl’s hall and Kiir had to squeeze through them to make it into Farengar’s side study.

Kiir placed the tablet on the table. “I got it.”

Farengar looked angry when he first lifted his head, but when he laid his eyes on the tablet his expression changed. He reached out and grabbed the stone from the table, placing it in front of him and unwrapping it. “This is it.”

Kiir beamed. “Is it in good enough condition?”

“Absolutely.”

Kiir waited patiently as Farengar looked over the tablet. He grabbed a brush and began dusting off a few parts of the etchings.

It was a few minutes before he looked up at her.

“You’re still here.”

Kiir frowned. “Yes, you said if I got you the tablet-”

“This is about the Horn?” Farengar scoffed. “I may have embellished my knowledge of the Horn’s location. You already said you know it is in Hjaalmarch, why don’t you look there?”

“Because I don’t even know where that is , let alone where in that area to look!” Kiir felt heat rush to her face. Was he serious?

“And yet you found Bleak Falls Barrow with naught but a name. Look on a map,” Farengar stated bluntly. “I’m a very busy man. Do you think I found the location of this, easily?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you swindled the location of it out of someone else!” Kiir hissed.

Farengar barked a short laugh. “Swindled? I negotiate. It is of no fault of mine that you did not see a poor deal when you were offered one.”

“So you admit you deal was shit,” Kiir quipped. She felt her face grow hot. She was angry and embarrassed.

“I admit no such thing. A deal is good as long as agreeing parties are happy. I won’t be blamed for a changed mind.”

“This is disgraceful.”

Farengar huffed. He waved her off, turning his head back down to the tablet. “I haven't the time for this. I’d appreciate your leaving before I have the guards do it for you.”

Kiir stared a moment longer before she turned on a heel and stormed out. She had shoved a number of the Jarl’s patrons out of her way, but at this moment she didn’t care. This was outrageous. She had spent money to play fetch with a lazy, incompetent, vile-

Kiir stopped at the bottom of the stairs to Dragonsreach. Now what do I do? She slumped, sitting on steps. She was out a thousand gold, was no closer to the Horn than she had been a week ago, and had been lied to in order to provide help to someone undeserving of it. This was the worst possible way this could have gone.

The market was bustling, a warm breeze wafting its way through. It was a beautiful day and a majority of Whiterun’s people were making the most of it.

This whole ‘dragonborn’ thing has my work cut out for me, Kiir thought. If it were just killing dragons it would be one thing. Instead, she was tasked with fetch quests and side errands that seemed important but had yet to pan out. Who’s to say the dragonstone would get her anywhere? And the Horn! The Horn she’d spent so much energy worrying about was just a simple delivery job.

The books made being a hero so much easier. There was a villain to best, a quest to accomplish.

This all just felt like a muddy mess of responsibility and conjecture.

Kiir stood and brushed herself off. Find a map, Farengar had said. Kiir wandered back up the steps to Jorrvaskr... slowly. She didn’t really want to relay her utter failure at getting new information and waste of money. Was Hjaalmarch enough to go on?

Kiir pushed open the doors. “Do any of you have a map of Hjaalmarch?”

“Hjaalmarch?” Farkas looked up. “Do we even have maps of Whiterun?”

Nie’mar shrugged. “I have not seen any.” She turned to Kiir. “Are you planning a trip?”

“Well, I’m not getting anywhere just sitting here,” Kiir replied.

“And you will not get anywhere just aimlessly running around Hjaalmarch either.” Nie’mar leaned back. “Is there really that much of a rush on the Horn?”

Kiir shrugged. “There isn’t a time frame. But why just sit here when I can-”

The doors to Jorrvaskr swung open. Driem, hair wild and grinning broadly, strode into the room. She walked straight for the table, dropping her bag off and turning to face Kiir. She leaned back against a chair.

Kiir found Driem’s smile was contagious. “Good news?”

“Ustengrav.”

“Is that a-”

“Tomb,” Farkas answered. “How’d you get that information?”

“That would be my little secret,” Driem answered. She pushed off from the chair. “So what are we waiting for? Shouldn’t we be-”

As if on cue, the doors to Jorrvaskr opened again, only this time it was Aela who strode through the doors. She looked a little frazzled, leaning up against the door as it closed. “I think I’ve got something.”

“Another false lead?” Farkas asked wryly.

Aela shook her head. “No.”

No humor had returned to Aela’s demenor, and Kiir felt the air in the room shift. She watched Aela and Nie’mar exchange a glances before Aela ventured further into the room.

“Skooma,” Aela finally said. “They’re getting them hooked on skooma.”

The news hardly felt like it matched the oppressive atmosphere that the room had taken on. Kiir knew of skooma and its effects but the look on Aela’s face said that wasn’t just it.

“Does he remember anything? His dealer?” Nie’mar pushed herself into a standing position.

“I couldn’t get much out of him, and what I did get…” She shook her head slightly, clearly deciding against saying whatever she’d been about to say, “Well, the guy’s going through withdrawls. Hard.”

“Where is he now?”

“Begging for money outside the walls. I asked the guard to keep an eye on him in case he tried to run.”

Farkas stood now, too. “Wouldn’t they just arrest him?”

“I asked them to hold off.” Aela looked to Nie’mar. “I thought I’d come back for help. This is the closest we’ve gotten yet we cannot let this slip through our fingers.”

Kiir watched Nie’mar cast a look her way. Of course. Such was the way things worked out for her - finally on lead on the Horn and, as if just to spite her, a lead on the werewolves comes, too. Kiir wanted nothing more than to just get the Horn and have that done and over with. But I owe the Companions a favor. Quite a few.

“Do you need help?” Driem asked.

“I’d like all hands in on this,” Nie’mar answered. She looked to Kiir.

Farkas had already gone to fetch Vilkas and Aela was packing to leave.

Kiir couldn’t back out now. Especially not just to help herself. She nodded. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Kiir wasn’t sure what she expected to see outside the gates of Whiterun. Aela seemed rather shaken up, but hadn’t offered up much in way of an explanation. Kiir had seen these werewolves, but her mind still conjured images of hairy men with fangs who snarled and spit - perhaps it was the word ‘feral’ that made her uncomfortable.

The man Aela led them to was rail thin and shaking. He looked up at them with wild eyes and Kiir worried for a second that he might transform. He was almost completely covered in blood, his clothes drenched.

Kiir was no werewolf and even she could smell the coppery tang. How had hardly anyone noticed him?

The six of them surrounded the man, Nie’mar being the first to crouch to his level and address him.

“Do you have a name?”

“Look, I just-” the man seemed at a loss for words. “I just need some skooma, okay? Just a little and then I can-”

“A name,” Nie’mar repeated. “What is your name?”

The man looked around, before hiding his face under his arm.

“I can not help you until you give me a name,” Nie’mar pressed.

The man was silent for a moment. “Mmm, Stendik. Stendik Finestone.”

“Stendik, I need to know what happened to you.”

“No, no.” The man shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no, I can’t remember. Don’t remember. Some skooma... please, come on, please. Just-”

Nie’mar sighed.

Aela looked over her shoulder to where Vilkas, Farkas, Driem, and Kiir stood. She nodded to the brothers. “You guys remember smelling skooma on those wolves that attacked the city, right?”

“Only now that you mention it,” Vilkas replied. “But I just don’t get why whoever’s doing this is hyping them up on drugs. It would only make them more unstable.”

“Maybe that’s just it,” Driem broke in. “They want wolves for pure destructive power and what better way to enhance that than with skooma? Wild, unhinged, barely any pain response. These guys could go for ages before they’d go down.”

Kiir nodded absently. She remembered how many times she’d seen the younger Companions stab those creatures and the barely seemed to flinch. She’d had a team and it still took them ages to bring the beast down... and not without-

“Look, you’ve had me... me sitting here for ages, ” the man said. He started to stand.

Nie’mar reached to stop him but he dodged her arm.

“If, if you can’t give... give me skooma then I’ll just go back. The Gallows will for sure have, sure have something...”

Kiir saw Aela wince and look to Nie’mar, whose head shot immediately in Aela’s direction. The Gallows?

“Thank you,” Nie’mar said. “We will take you back to the Gallows.”

The man seemed surprised and, honestly, so was Kiir.

We’re just letting him go? Kiir stood back and Nie’mar moved past her.

Aela waved the group towards her. She grabbed the man by the elbow and slowly the group made their way down to the river.

Kiir looked back to Nie’mar. She was speaking to one of the guards.

When Kiir returned her gaze forward, things seemed to move faster than she could register them.

Aela’s hand were on the man’s head. There was a loud crack. Then the man was crumpled at the feet of the group.

Kiir saw only herself startle. She backpedaled, nearly tripping over her own feet. “What’d you-”

But even before Kiir finished her sentence she understood.

“We can’t be wasting time,” Vilkas said. He hoisted the body onto his shoulders. “Who knows how long they’ll be staying in the Gallows.”

“You don’t think he meant Gallows Rock do you?” Driem’s brows creased.

Aela nodded, “Do you know of another Gallows?”

“No, but that’s much closer to Windhelm, and we haven’t been having any problems in or around there, at all.”

Aela hummed as her brows drew together as well.

Nie’mar rejoined the group. “The guard shouldn’t bother us.”

Aela’s brow smoothed as she turned to Nie’mar and smirked for just a second. “You talked to Wilki?”

“Yes,” Nie’mar answered quickly, clearly avoiding eye contact.

Kiir raised a brow and thought to say something, but Driem spoke first.

“I’ll round us up some horses. You plan on carrying him all the way to Gallows Rock?” Driem nodded to the man on Vilkas’ shoulder.

Vilkas shook his head. “I’ll meet you at the stables.” He turned and headed off, Farkas close behind him.

“I don’t have a horse,” Kiir said, falling into step beside Nie’mar. “I could catch a ride with the carriage-”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Driem shouted, “Cheshire can easily carry us both.”

Kiir smiled and nodded at Driem, then turned back to Nie’mar, “I should probably think about getting one of those.”

“It would not be a bad idea,” Nie’mar said. She rounded the corner up towards the gates of Whiterun and turned to the group. “I will go fetch Romanda and let the others know where we are going.”

“Stables?” Aela asked.

“Yes. I want us on the road as quickly as possible.”

Aela patted Kiir on the shoulder and the two turned to head back down the trail to the stables. Driem had grabbed some of the stable hands to help saddle the horses. By the time Vilkas, Farkas, Romanda, and Nie’mar had returned, everyone was ready to leave.

Kiir slid into the saddle behind Driem. She placed her hands awkwardly onto Driem’s shoulders.

“You’re going to fall off.” Driem reached up to pull one of Kiir’s arms around her waist. “I don’t bite.”

Kiir obliged. “Sorry.”

Gallows Rock was located north along the White River, west of Windhelm. It was a few hours ride, including a number of stops to water the horses and discuss plans. It was notably colder here, Kiir noticed, than in Whiterun.

Aela pulled ahead to ride next to Nie’mar. “So we’re just going right in? Frontal assault?”

Kiir frowned. She had expected a fight, but- “Won’t that turn into a bloodbath?”

Nie’mar nodded. “It might. There is only one entrance and exit. We do not have much of a choice.”

“Should probably leave the horses a ways away, then,” Driem added. “We don’t need them sabotaging our escape if we need it.”

“‘If’,” Farkas said. “I don’t think any of us plan on leaving this job unfinished.”

“No,” Nie’mar agreed. “We do not.”

Kiir and the group dismounted just south of the fortress. It was in poor repair, much of its tower crumbled away under its own weight.

“Aela and I have been here before, so we will take point,” Nie’mar said. She withdrew her bow from her back. “Farkas, Vilkas, behind us. Romanda, keep an eye on Kiir. Kiir, you and Driem take the back.”

Kiir looked to Driem and nodded. It was probably best that she stay as far back from the fighting as possible. Kiir wasn’t quite as durable as the Companions... nor did she heal as fast.

Aela backed up a ways and, with a running start, slammed herself into the door. The old wood cracked and splintered, breaking the door from its hinges.

Nie’mar was close behind and the rest of the group followed.

It was incredibly dark. Kiir could hardly see anything but the few spots where the torches lit the wall in a warm orange. She was pretty sure they were heading down a series of hallways, but she was more focused on the backs of Vilkas and Farkas to make sure she didn’t get lost.

There was silence at first. Kiir relaxed her hands, expecting to have a few minutes to gather herself.

She heard them before she saw them. A low grumble emanating from somewhere in the cave.

“Left!” Romanda shouted.

Kiir spun on her heel.

Farkas caught the beast on the upswing of his blade. His sword plunged through its stomach.

Kiir backed up. She wanted to give Farkas room. Her back fell against cold metal bars. Bars?

She turned just as another snarl ripped through the room. A nord inside the cage burst outward in a whirl of fur and claws. She stepped back just in time to avoid it’s swipe. They’re captives?

Nie’mar’s arrow silenced it.

“Aela!”

Kiir turned again. Three more werewolves were staggering their way from deeper in the cage. Kiir backed up against the door and raised her hands, casting Call to Arms. She wanted to help, but the room was small. There was no doubt her spells would have collateral damage.

Driem swung out, her longsword cracking against the skull of the nearest wolf and it crumpled.

Romanda caught the next one with her warhammer and it went down just as easily.

The third didn’t even try to attack. It seemed to draw in on itself and become a redguard woman, looking glazed over and confused.

“Is that all of them?”

“Here, at least.”

Kiir was surprised. “That was... fast.”

“These ones were weaker,” Vilkas said. “They didn’t seem to be all there.”

“Skooma should’ve hyped them up,” Driem added. “But they’re all so... lethargic.”

“This isn’t their first time on skooma and probably isn’t their first transformation either. These are the ones that lived and came back .”

Kiir moved from the door and walked back towards the cages. She peered inside.

At least two more Nord men were huddled in the corner, arms wrapped around their knees. Their skin was scabbed and chapped. They didn’t even look up at Kiir.

“Are they starving them, too?”

“Shit,” Aela said. She moved up beside Kiir. “We can’t leave them here to starve to death, but we can’t just let them out either. What if they transform later?”

Vilkas nodded. “I’ll do it.”

Kiir moved away from the bars and made her way back to the door. She didn’t want to hear what was about to happen. Instead, the hauled open the wooden door and waited for Nie’mar and Aela to start on the way down the stairs beyond it.

It was eerily quiet again, but Kiir didn’t let it catch her off guard. The hairs on her neck stood up as she listened, fully expecting another snarl off in the dark.

But there wasn’t. It was silent until there stood a large, double door at the end of the hall.

“Last room,” Aela said.

“And probably not empty,” Romanda added.

It was Farkas this time who strode up to the door. He pulled and found it unlocked. The group filed in, Kiir coming in last. She followed closely behind Driem as everyone moved further.  Suddenly Kiir’s chest slammed into the back of Driem.

“Oh, so-”

“Einar?”

Kiir’s head snapped up. She knew that name.

“Einar, you can’t-”

Kiir realized it was Farkas who was speaking. His voice was low, mournful.

“What are you doing here?” Einar spit.

“This isn’t right!” Farkas continued. “You can’t tell me you don’t know that!”

Kiir looked about the room. One, two, three... she counted six total other men in the room. They stood with their backs against the wall. They weren't the Silver Hand. Werewolves, Kiir had no doubt, and they didn’t look like lethargic like the ones they’d silenced earlier.

“How can you talk to me about what’s right?”

“She wouldn’t have wanted this. Any of this!” Aela was crying.

Kiir looked to Driem, who was just as wide eyed and lost as she was. The men around the room moved closer. Kiir shivered.

“Don’t!” Einar screamed. “You don’t have any idea what she would’ve wanted!”

“We were her friends, Einar,” Romanda started to move forward.

Nie’mar seemed to move past shock and sadness and was returning to anger. “How could you put other people through this? After Uffe?”

Einar chuckled. His mood had suddenly flipped. He backed away, almost being swallowed completely in shadow. He reached behind him and Kiir watched as he pulled on a set of strange, oversized armor.

Immediately, the room filled with a loud hiss.

Romanda recoiled. “What-”

Farkas grabbed at Romanda’s shoulder, pulling her back. He drew his sword and placed it in front of him.

Kiir felt her stomach roll. Einar’s skin was bubbling and peeling away anywhere it touched metal.

His scream turned into a roar. Then, within a moment, the room was filled with wolves.

Kiir stumbled back. Her vision was filled with flashes of grey and brown fur, and the occasional glint of silver. The room was filled with snarls and roars.

Her back against one of the walls, Kiir could do little more than throw up a ward as a wolf slashed at her. It recoiled and turned on another wolf. She heaved a breath. She couldn’t tell anyone apart!

A werewolf lept forward.

Another slashed.

Another bit.

The only one she knew for sure was the screaming werewolf donning the silver armor. It’s fur was falling off in patches. It threw itself at the others in the fray. Its howls were of agony.

Another glint of silver caught Kiir’s eye. Romanda helped to right a wolf as it stumbled. She swung her warhammer at another wolf that ran past.

The other silver blur caught Kiir’s eye again. Einar smashed himself into a wolf. It, too, screeched in agony as it’s back began to boil away at the contact with the silver armor.

Kiir felt sick. She hugged the wall, moving forward. How could Romanda tell who was even on their side? If she was going to be of any help, it was going to be against the only one she could identify. Einar.

Crouched, Kiir cast Ebonyhide. At least now it would take more than a single hit to knock her out.

Einar seemed to be staying in the front of the room. Anyone who drew too close was pummeled by his armor. The hissing sound would crescendo into a static.

Kiir waited until Einar was knocked backwards to send out a quick fireball.

The flames exploded against his body, but he seemed unfazed.

Kiir swore. What in the world do I do?

Einar was back on his feet. He ran forward, slamming into another wolf. The hissing grew again.

Kiir’s stomach flipped. She reached out with a Telekinesis spell and gripped Einar’s armor, pulling him back. He flailed, snarling at the open air.

He was strong.

Kiir knew that, had assumed that, but even through her spell the amount of strength Einar had was startling.

Some of the armor was still in contact with Einar’s body. It had burned past skin and was eating into muscle. It dug in further. He howled.

A few of the wolves, who Kiir hoped were the Companions, took advantage of the opening. They redoubled their efforts without the added worry of the silver-clad battering ram.

No longer able to use the armor, Einar had lost his advantage.

Pain erupted in Kiir’s shoulder.

The spell dropped. She caught a flash of Einar dropping to the ground before she smelled blood and... rot.

Kiir turned to look but found herself stuck. Her heart leapt into her throat. She saw the black nose and muzzle. It was biting her. It was biting her.

Flame spell suddenly in hand, Kiir pressed her palm into the wolf’s face.

Thankfully, the beast let go.

Kiir scrambled back. She fired off another fireball as it attempted to charge again. Another wolf barreled into it from the side, tearing it back into the main fray.

Confident the werewolf had moved far enough away, she pressed a healing spell into her shoulder. The pain dulled. She would have to bandage it.

Kiir looked up just in time to see one wolf slam another against a wall. It crumpled to the ground. The crack told her the move had been fatal.

She looked around.

Other wolf bodies lay on the floor, either dead or dying. It was over. The remaining wolves heaved. Kiir certainly hoped they were the Companions.

When her eyes found Einar, she realized he had just curled up on the floor. His fur was almost completely gone, flesh exposed. His soft cries made her breath catch.

“Kiir?”

Kiir turned her gaze upwards.

Romanda had come over. Her brow was creased in worry. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I,” Kiir tapped her shoulder. The bleeding had mostly stopped. “Is everyone okay?” She looked around the room, eyes jumping from Nie’mar and Aela who were redressing, to the fully dressed Farkas.

“I think so.” Driem had walked up behind Kiir. Vilkas was with her, still naked but carrying his armor. She could see a nasty burn across his chest.

Kiir looked back to Romanda who extended a hand.

Kiir grasped it and steadied herself as she was pulled to her feet. “What about-”

There wasn’t even a chance for Kiir to finish her question.

Farkas moved towards Einar and crouched down by his face. He snarled weakly.

Kiir saw Farkas say something, but couldn’t quite make it out from as far away as she was. Romanda, too, had turned to watch.

Farkas brought his blade up and brought it down on Einar’s neck.

Finally, the whimpering stopped.

This was the third time Kiir was surrounded by silence, but this one was the heaviest.

Farkas rose to his feet, then turned and exited the room. Aela followed close behind.

Kiir didn’t say anything, even as she and the Companions exited Gallows Rock back out into the open air.

Driem brought her mare around and reached a hand out to Kiir.

“I still need to get to the Horn,” Kiir said. She grasped Driem’s hand and allowed herself to be pulled into the saddle.

“That’s right,” Nie’mar replied. “Let’s get back to Jorrvaskr and we can figure things out from there.”

Kiir nodded.

Driem pushed her horse into a trot. Farkas had gone on ahead, and Vilkas and Aela followed him. Romanda had to saddled with Nie’mar instead. Their horse pulled up beside Driem’s and Kiir’s.

They had been on the trail a short while but there was something waiting at her. “So,” Kiir began. “I’m confused.”

“Hmm?” Romanda hummed.

“Einar,” Kiir said. “I thought he was Silver Hand. He had been so... anti-werewolf. I don’t understand what happened in there.”

“Silver hand?” Nie’mar cocked her head. “He must have been playing both sides.”

“He was the leader, if I remember.” Kiir looked to Nie’mar. She frowned. “He’s the one that had me go to cave where I got trapped in the cage.”

“That actually makes more sense. He must have known you were staying with us.”

“Shit.” Of course he’d had her do it then, if the Companions were his true target. “That doesn’t exactly explain why, though. Why did he want you all dead?”

Nie’mar sighed. “That is a long story.”

“His wife was a Companion, once.” Romanda spoke up, “Fasida. She was… a very good friend.”

Wife. Kiir looked between Romanda and Nie’mar. “What happened?”

“She made it to the Inner Circle. He knew, damn it, he knew how fragile a first transformation can be.” Nie’mar spit, but she sounded sad.

Romanda spoke again. “He took his son, Uffe, outside to watch her change. He shouldn’t have been there.”

“Oh no,” Driem spoke up suddenly, startling Kiir who’d forgotten she was even there.

Thaen hal,” Kiir whispered.

Nie’mar looked away. “She killed her son. He killed his wife. He was grief stricken. We thought he left because he blamed himself.” She shook her head, “We never expected to see him again. We never thought that he’d blame us .”

“I’m sorry this happened.”

Driem scoffed. “Men.”








Chapter Text

“It’s not really much to look at, is it?” Driem said.

No, it wasn’t. It was a hole in the ground at best.

After her tussle through Saarthal, Kiir had been expecting something similar for the tomb of some revered hero. Instead, it looked more the the opening to a mine.

“Are you sure this is it?” Kiir asked.

“Positive.”

Kiir dismounted and wandered up to the edge of the opening. A spiral set of stairs led down to a door at the base. She frowned. “You think there’ll be draugr?”

“No doubt,” Romanda replied. She joined Kiir at the edge. “Not a fan?”

“Not at all.” Kiir shivered. At least we’re finally getting this damn thing. She started down the steps. “Will the horses be alright out here?”

“They have water and food. They will be fine.” Nie’mar fell into step behind Kiir.

The door to the tomb was ornate and, thankfully, not locked.

Kiir pushed it open with relative ease and relished the warmth of the inside of the dungeon. She eyed the lit torches on the wall. “Was someone already here?”

“Bandits, maybe,” Driem answered.

The fire didn’t seem to be magical in any way, at least as far as Kiir could tell. She waved her hand around them and the flames flickered.

“Well don’t put them out,” Romanda chided. She picked one of the up from its place on the wall. “We can use them.”

Kiir backed away and nodded. The room they were in was large, held up by crumbling pillars. I hope this thing isn’t planning on collapsing. No one else seemed to be worried, so Kiir kept her mouth shut.

This tomb was far more streamlined than Saarthal had been. There were fewer halls to get lost in and fewer large rooms to inspect. The whole place seemed to be pointing its guests in one, singular direction.

Kiir would have found the place far more charming if she wasn’t eyeing the sarcophagi that lined the walls. There were a number of draugr bodies strewn across the floor - ones that Kiir made the active choice to stay as far away from as possible. “Are they-”

“Dead,” Driem said. She kicked one, then crouched and turned it over. “Not long death, either.”

“I’m pretty sure draugr are, by their very nature, dead,” Romanda laughed.

Driem huffed. “Yeah, yeah. Re-dead then. These guys were moving when they came out of their coffins. Now they’re not.”

“So someone was here,” Kiir said. There were at least four dead draugr just in the hallway. Kiir could see a few more open caskets further down. But who would even know about this place?

“We should assume that they are here for the same thing we are. Treasure at least, if not the horn specifically.” Nie’mar said. “I cannot see anyone fighting their way this deep through the tomb for anything else.”

Kiir nodded. But who else would want the Horn?

As if hearing her thoughts, Romanda spoke aloud. “I didn’t think the Horn was that popular.”

“The Greybeards wanted to keep it out of the hands of people who might misuse it,” Kiir said. “Maybe I’m a little late to the party.”

Nie’mar hummed. “Only one way to find out.”

The walls were tinted a mild green from the moist air that hung throughout the old Nordic burial ground. The few halls or rooms dotting the central halls were filled with Urns and more coffins. How many people lived her in its prime? She found herself wondering.

“Hey, come on, this way,” Romanda called from ahead.

Kiir hardly noticed she was lingering. She jogged ahead, catching up to where the group was positioned in front of a large metal door.

“Here, look-” Nie’mar pointed. “Hand prints.”

Kiir leaned in. Nie’mar was right - they were as clear as day, having rubbed away at the metal of the aging door.

“Looks like they found a key, too,” Kiir added.

Romanda sighed. “ Great . The way this is going the Horn will be gone by the time we get there.”

“Not necessarily,” Kiir said. There was no guarantee someone made it all the way through the tomb.  Saarthal had been full of traps and she was sure Ustengrav must have some too. “They could be dead further in.”

“Well, let’s hope they are,” Driem said. She pushed forward on the doors.

Kiir pulled her robes closer to herself, stuffing her hands under her arms. The tomb grew colder the further they descended.

“Hey Kiir, look at this!” Romanda called from below.

Kiir grinned.

They had made it to an old banquet hall of sorts and Romanda was sitting lazily in what must’ve been a throne. “How to I look?” she asked.

“Smug and up to no good.”

“Perfect.”

“I did not think I would have to be telling you to quit horsing around, Romanda,” Nie’mar chided from the bottom of the steps. “Come on, let us keep moving.”

Suddenly, Driem’s voice echoed from above. “Uh, guys? You might want to come see this.”

Kiir’s brow raised. Did she find the Horn?

Romanda had already started up the steps and down another bridge above the throne room, coming up from behind Driem and Nie’mar.

Kiir was hot on her heels and, when they all stopped, she turned her gaze upwards. “Wow.”

This looked nothing like Saarthal. The hallway led into a room that was hardly even a room. It was a... ravine? Cavern? Giant hole? The floor extended only a few more feet before it dropped off to a pool below. There were a number of paths and bridges that connected different parts of the cavern to each other, all illuminated by beams of light filtering from fissures somewhere up above. There were trees and grass and a waterfall... Kiir could barely believe all of this was underground!

“This is amazing,” Romanda said. She started to wander forward.

Nie’mar grabbed at her shirt collar, pulling her back. “Be careful! Who knows what kind of traps are laid out here.”

Romanda scoffed. “Relax, don’t you think we’d see them? That’s daylight, Nie.”

“Whoever’s in here with us might have left traps of their own too,” Driem said. She leaned out to look over the edge.

Nie’mar nodded, “And ruin spells can be subtle.”

Nie’mar headed the group and took the path that lead them straight down to the ground floor, choosing her steps very carefully once they reached the grassy bottom..

Kiir caught glimpses of the insides of the other rooms as she followed, most of them having caved in long ago. She had to resist the urge to wander.

Nie’mar pushed forward, and Kiir was sad to see them heading back into the tomb, leaving behind the grass cavern.

I had hoped the Horn would just be at the bottom, Kiir thought. She shrugged - things hadn’t ever been that easy.

More dead draugr and various already-triggered traps greeted them as they divulged further inward. Kiir was surprised Nie’mar was able to keep her bearings - many of the rooms and hallways looked the same to her.

Kiir was examining a particularly nasty looking barbed gate tied back and kept from swinging into the walkway by a sturdy chain, when Nie’mar suddenly called them to a halt.

“Hold up!”

Kiir snapped her head up.

Nie’mar stood before a hallway, no different to Kiir’s eyes than the many others they’d already gone through, hand raised. “We might have a problem.”

Kiir drew closer.

The hallway didn’t change. It was longer, perhaps, and full of draugr bodies, but nothing about it seemed to warrant Nie’mar’s attention.

“What?” Kiir asked.

“The bodies,” Driem said. She wandered up close to the hallway. “They’re burnt. Almost look fried.”

Nie’mar nodded. “And there are pressure plates on the floor. They probably trigger some kind of flame trap.”

Kiir was silently thankful she wasn’t here alone. Now that she knew what to look for, she could see the raised plates plain as day. She’d probably have triggered the trap. “So the draugr burnt themselves.”

Driem shook her head. “No, draugr aren’t heavy enough to activate the plates. Nords designed them that way so the draugr didn’t trigger all the traps and leave the tombs open to raiding. Our friend did this.”

“So how did they get through?” Kiir continued. The only bodies she saw were draugr. “How do we get through?”

There was a beat of silence.

“Maybe there’s a lever?” Romanda offered. “To shut it off.”

Nie’mar shook her head. “Of course. I doubt it would be on this side of the hallway though.”

“Because then what’s the point of it in the first place,” Kiir finished. “Do you think our... friend turned it off? Maybe it’s still disabled?”

Romanda shrugged. She turned around and glanced over the room they were in. “That’s possible. We haven’t seen any working traps yet. Maybe they were in a hurry.” She drew her war hammer and leaned away from the plate as she applied force. The entire hallway erupted into flames.

“No such luck then.”

Kiir stared at the hallway. There had to be a way through!

Wuld. Na.

A flash of wind burst through the room.

Kiir startled, turning around.

Nie’mar had her attention on the hallway.

Kiir followed her gaze. Again the hallway was filled with flame. She heard another Wuld .

Driem flew out from the hallway, landing clean on her feet. She was frantically swatting at the parts of her hair that had caught on fire.

“You know a shout?” Kiir blurted.

Driem didn’t reply immediately, still preoccupied with her hair. “Part of one.”

“Looks like that didn’t work,” Romanda chuckled. She reached over to put out a small flame still burning in Driem’s hair.

“No, because those plates also trigger a gate at the end.” Driem groaned. “I couldn’t get far enough.”

“How in the world do you know a shout?” Nie’mar asked. Her eyes were wide.

Driem shrugged. “Little birdie.”

“You’ll have to introduce us,” Romanda said. She turned from Driem to face the hallway again. “But unfortunately, your little birdie didn’t give us enough to get out of here.”

Nie’mar turned to Kiir. “Do you know that shout?”

Kiir nodded. It had been the one that tossed her off the mountain. “I do. Whirlwind Sprint.”

Driem suddenly looked very interested, “Do you know the whole thing?”

Kiir nodded.

“So,” Driem gestured to the hallway, “take a crack at it.”

“It lit you on fire,” Kiir replied.

“You know all three words.”

“Yeah, I-”

“I almost made it. If two got me that close, three will definitely toss you to the other side.”

“But you said there was a gate-”

“Only after I landed on the plates. If you skip on over them you’ll be fine.”

Kiir stared down the hallway. “Right.” She moved to position herself at the front of the hallway, about twenty feet back. She raised her hands and cast an Ebonyhide spell.

Romanda raised an eyebrow. “Not taking any chances, huh?”

“Not if I don’t have to,” Kiir replied. Taking in a breath, Kiir tried to focus on the end of the hallway.

Wuld. Na. Kest.

Kiir felt her feet lift from the ground. The hallway flew past her and suddenly, she was on the other side.

Her landing was less than graceful. Her foot struck awkwardly on the uneven ground and Kiir stumbled, scraping her elbows on the floor.

“You did it!” Driem called. “Good job! Now find the lever!”

That’s the plan. Kiir picked herself up from the floor and brushed herself off. She turned around. There didn’t seem to be a lever in sight. “If there’s not a lever?”

“There is always a lever!” Nie’mar replied. “Check some of the alcoves! Nordic ruins usually have them there!”

There were few of those in this room. Kiir moved a little further down the hall to her left. “Found it!” The lever was old and rusted, but Kiir finally managed to pull it where she heard a click. “You guys should be good!”

Romanda was the first through. “So. How do you think our friend got through?”

“Without a shout, you mean?” Nie’mar asked.

“Maybe they didn’t,” Driem offered, “Maybe this was where they had to turn around.”

“No. Look there,” Romanda  pointed at another disabled trap, a battering ram style log that had been cut from the ceiling and laid across the hall floor, “They must’ve gone through here too.”

“Then maybe they know the shout as well.”

Kiir didn’t like the sound of that. She had assumed that shouts were a rarity. Just her and the Greybeards. She turned to Driem. “How many shouts do you know?”

“Just that one. And only two words of it.”

Kiir hummed. “I didn’t think anyone else could shout.”

“Well,” Nie’mar said, “There is Ulfric I suppose. I had not thought about it before.”

Driem shook her head. “Anyone can shout, technically. It’s just really hard, and takes a long ass time to learn them.”

“Farkas tried to learn to shout once,” Romanda said. She laughed. “He got bored after a minute or two.”

Nie’mar smiled. “That sounds like him.”

Kiir ran her hand along the walls as she and the others carried on. How many others know shouts? She’d been so sure the Horn would be safe because hardly anyone could use it. But now it seemed the Horn was in far more danger than Kiir had first realized.

Her heart sped up a little. Kiir wasn’t sure she’d be able to face the Greybeards if she failed. They’d asked her for a simple task and she couldn’t even complete that.

“We’re almost there.”

Kiir startled. She looked up to see that she had entered a wide hallway. Lit torches had the whole place glowing orange. At the end, a metal gate stood with a frame ornately decorated with Nordic runes.

This had to be the place.

Nie’mar moved down the hall and pulled the chain beside the gate. It squealed as it ascended upwards.

Kiir had heard the sounds of trickling water earlier and now realized what it was from.

A single, thin path cut through the center of the room, with small pools of water on either side. The pools were each fed by trickles of water coming from the walls. Pillars ran alongside the path, these in much better condition than the ones at the entrance. It smelled like mold, but Kiir was too excited to mind.

At the far end of the room, she could see steps that led up to an altar.

Kiir squinted.

Someone was already there.

Is that-

Driem had already reached for one of the bows on her back. “Looks like we caught up with our friend.”

The person had heard the gate open and turned suddenly towards them. Then, they bolted.

“Shit,” Romanda hissed.

Driem and Nie’mar both fired arrows at the retreating figure, but they were too far away to hit their fleeing mark.

Kiir raced forward. There was no way she was losing the Horn. Not after all this! She struggled to keep her footing on the slick path between the pools.

“Kiir!” Nie’mar shouted.

She heard a splash and a curse as Nie’mar slipped on the rocks.

The altar was empty. There was a single hand coming up from the sarcophagus, curled like it had been holding something.

Something like the Horn.

“They took it!” Kiir shouted. She darted around the altar and started towards the door the thief had gone through.

“Kiir, wait!”

I have to get it back! Frustration bubbled to the surface and Kiir wanted to scream. I did not come all this way to-

Then, the wall exploded.

Chapter Text

Kiir felt heavy. She tried to draw in breath but something was holding her chest down. Her heart rate sped up and her eyes flew open. She tried to move her arm to push off whatever was weighing her down, but she found she couldn’t move that either. She was completely and totally frozen in place.

Her breathing was growing ragged. Kiir shimmied, but the rough rock cut at her skin. She prayed fervently to whichever God would listen. I don’t want to die here! “Help!”

“Kiir?”

Thank Auri-El! The air was still laden with dust; Kiir could hardly see anything around her. “Romanda?”

“Hold on!”

Kiir could barely breathe. Her chest struggled against the crushing weight of the rocks above them. But a wash of relief came when Kiir saw Romanda’s face materialize out of the dust.

Romanda looked to Kiir’s, then at the rocks. “Alright, I’m going to start pulling these off you and you tell me if it starts to hurt, okay?”

Kiir nodded. She just wanted these things off of her. She started to shimmy again, but Romanda placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t move.” Romanda reached forward and attempted to pull the first rock upwards.

Kiir drew in a breath. She coughed as the dust scratched her throat, forcing her chest up against the rocks again. A sharp pain radiated upwards. Did I break a rib?

However, as soon as Kiir had so much as thought of breathing, she felt the rock begin to press on her again. Kiir gasped, the pain in her chest rising again.

“I'm sorry, Kiir.” Romanda shook her hands off. “Stay still, I'm going to find Driem and Nie’mar.”

She says that like I can do anything else. Kiir tried to slow her breathing enough that her ribs didn't ache so much. Her head rested awkwardly on the ground and Kiir had to fight the urge to move.

The minutes passed like hours.

The dust had settled enough that Kiir could see nearly the whole room again. Or what was left of it.

Boulders took up a majority of the room, and what wasn’t turned to rubble now had huge cracks in the wall, threatening to cave in themselves. The cave itself smelled heavily of smoke, the clouds lingering at the ceiling.

In the dim light, Kiir could barely make out Romanda’s figure as she moved further from her. Being alone made her uneasy - Kiir hoped Romanda would hurry.

“You found her? Is she alright?”

“Just come here.”

“You’re worrying me, Romanda.”

Driem materialized first, emerging from the thick dust. Her eyes fell on Kiir immediately.

Kiir offered her a smile. “A little stuck.”

A wry smile fell on Driem’s face. She leaned over to look at the collection of rocks that held Kiir in place.

Kiir could see Romanda and Nie’mar making their way over, too. Kiir squinted, then gasped softly. “Nie’mar, your-”

“Yes, yes,” Nie’mar interrupted. She moved closer and joined Driem in looking over the rubble.

Kiir didn’t speak for a moment. She stared at Nie’mar’s face, trying to make out exactly what she was seeing.

The whole left side of Nie’mar face was matted down with blood. And her eye... there was a mottled dark red mass where Nie’mar’s left eye should have been. From where Kiir was, it still looked to be bleeding.

“There is no way we will be able to move this in our current state,” Nie’mar said. “We need time for your arm to heal, Driem.”

“Like we don’t have enough of that.”

“It only took us a few hours to make it here from the entrance,” Romanda offered. “If we can manage to free Kiir-”

Nie’mar shook her head. “We have to be careful with that. We do not know how settled these rocks are. I do not want to risk another cave in.”

“Well, we’re not just leaving her there,” Romanda said, frowning. “Cave in or not, we-”

“Yes, Romanda,” Nie’mar hissed. She pressed a hand to her forehead. “I was not suggesting we leave her there. I was suggesting we take our time and not make this worse than it already is.”

Kiir squirmed uncomfortably. Her chest protested the slight movement, but staying still was becoming harder and harder as time passed. “We already cleared the place. Someone could go back and make sure we have a way out.”

Driem raised an eyebrow. She looked to Kiir, then to Nie’mar. “You think the blast was strong enough to cause damage elsewhere?”

Nie’mar shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Well, considering I’m the only one who made it out unscathed, I’ll go check.” Romanda put her hands on her hips and sighed. “Pray the Gods didn’t completely fuck us over.”

As it turned out, they had. Romanda returned only a few moments later with the news that the way they had come in was blocked. The blast had crumbled an entire balcony section that fell to block the path upwards.

“But,” Romanda continued, “I think we might be able to clear it. Because it’s just a balcony, we won’t risk another cave in.”

Nie’mar hummed.

Nie’mar had built a small fire near Kiir, who welcomed the warmth. She had also managed to move a few of the smaller rocks away from Kiir’s shoulders - enough that Kiir could now move her arms freely. She reached for a plate where Nie’mar had set a few pieces of jerky. “How do we know there’s not another blocked path further up?”

“We don’t.” Romanda sighed. “But we’re not just going to sit here. Some of us can work on that while others work to free you.”

Kiir chewed on her piece of jerky. Then, she jumped - her chest aching. “Hey, my hands are free now!”

“Yeah,” Driem replied. “They have been for like an hour now.”

“No, no! I mean I can cast spells. Telekinesis, maybe? To lift the rocks?” Kiir placed her hands on the largest boulder she could see - the one that just so happened to be the one crushing her chest. “Maybe if I-”

Nie’mar caught Kiir’s hands. “Wait.”

“For what?” Kiir asked. She tired to twist from Nie’mar grasp. “The faster I’m out of here, the faster we can all get out of here!”

“You should not over exert yourself-”

“So I should just lay here instead?” Kiir tried to free her hands again. Yeah, she was tired but that didn’t matter if she could get out. If she could get this fucking boulder off of her!

Nie’mar held firm. “You want to risk another cave in?”

Romanda leaned forward. “Nie, let her at least try-”

“This one is not dying in here!” Nie’mar spit. She still held to Kiir’s hands so she had to turn over her shoulder to look towards the fire. “Th-I am not risking this!”

Romanda frowned. “And you think we want to?”

“Clearly!” Nie’mar released Kiir’s hands and spun around. She was paused a second before she moved around the fire. “I am going for a walk.”

“You won’t get very far!” Romanda called.

Driem sighed. She pushed herself to her feet. “I’ll go after her.”

Kiir watched silently. She twisted her wrists to try and alleviate the ache. How long had they been in here and they were already getting on each other’s nerves? “Should I try and move the rock?”

Romanda looked up and smiled. “If you think you can do it. We’ve got to move that boulder eventually – I don’t know why Nie thinks time will change that.”

“I think she’s just… worried.”

“Stressed more like it.” Romanda stood and crouched by Kiir’s head. “Haven’t seen her like this since Kodlak died.”

“Who-“

“Harbinger before her. Silver Hand came in and attack Jorrvaskr. It was a mess. Nie about chewed everyone’s heads off for a week after.” Romanda moved so she was behind Kiir’s head. “So I assume you lift, I pull?”

That actually hadn’t been Kiir’s plan. She’d planned to just lift the rock and wiggle her way out. But if Romanda could pull her, Kiir wouldn’t have to move the boulder as far. That, and it would likely be faster and less painful. Kiir still wasn’t sure how responsive her legs would be – she could wiggle her toes, but any more than that was still yet to be determined. “I’ll let you know when.”

“You sure you can lift that thing?”

Kiir shrugged. “I should be able to. At least enough to get out.”

Romanda hummed. “I’m trusting you on this.”

Kiir chuckled, placing her hands in front of her. The positioning of her arms were weird, given how high the rock sat up on her chest. She reached out carefully with a Telekinesis spell, testing the weight of the rock. “Gods, this is heavy.”

“Really?” Romanda laughed. “You of all people didn’t figure that out yet?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kiir replied. She took in as much air as she could without her chest complaining too much. “You ready?”

“Yup.”

Kiir lifted her hands upwards, tensing as she heard small rocks start to tumble down to the sides of her head. She tried to push up and in – keeping the larger rocks on top of the boulder from unsettling.

“You’re fine, keeping going.” Romanda squeezed Kiir’s shoulders.

“Alright…” Kiir tried to keep her hands as still as possible. Her shoulder screamed in protest – this was certainly not the time for it to give out. She could bend her knees just a little now. “Pull!”

Romanda wasn’t as gentle as Kiir would have thought she’d have been. In a single jerk, Romanda dragged Kiir out from the rubble and onto the floor.

Kiir had been ready for the jerk, but the rock hadn’t. The boulder moved quickly enough for the rest of the cave in to start to unsettle. One rock, maybe half the size of the one Kiir was holding, tumbled down and nearly struck Kiir’s side. The rest of cave in shifted down, sending a few more rocks tumbled down onto the ground. Above them, the cracked ceiling sprinkled dust but, within a few minutes, all was silent again.

Kiir breathed out a sigh of relief… and was promptly reminded of her chest. She had wanted to get up and run around, but she’d have to wait a while for that.

“How do you feel?”

“Sore.” Kiir placed a healing spell to her chest. “Very sore.”

“Well, at least you’ve got spells, yeah?”

Kiir shrugged. “It’ll at least take the sting away. Bones are kind tough to heal.”

The sound of distant footsteps silenced Kiir and Romanda’s conversation.

Driem appeared through the doorway. She raised a brow at Kiir. “Well, well.”

Kiir’s attention, however, was pulled from Driem’s comment to her right cheek. The skin was bruised and broken.

Romanda mentioned it first. “What happened to you?”

Driem took a seat by the fire and laughed. “I got punched.”

“Nie punched you?” Romanda asked, leaning forward. “I don’t believe you.”

Driem pointed to her face.

“Point taken.” Romanda chuckled.

Nie’mar did not return until a while later. When she did, she offered Driem a short apology before moving to the corner of the room. She gave Kiir a tight smile and curt nod when she saw her before curling into a ball to sleep.

That night Kiir got hardly any sleep. Their ‘beds’ were just extra clothing spread out on the ground and even if she’d been in her own bed back home Kiir wasn’t sure she’d have slept. Her entire body felt restless, but moving it hurt. She was exhausted but her mind was running at full speed.

Who had taken the Horn? Why? What will I tell the Greybeards? Kiir frowned. Arngeir said they had wanted it to keep it out of others’ hands and now his fear had been realized.

Kiir startled awake to the sound of shifting rocks. She hadn’t even realized she’d fallen asleep. Kiir tossed her head to the side, expecting to see the cave-in ready to collapse. Instead, she saw Nie’mar on her feet.

“You hear it, too?” Kiir asked.

Nie’mar nodded. “I think it’s coming from the other end of the hall.”

“It is,” Driem agreed.

Kiir sat up. She hadn’t realized Driem was awake, too. Both looked alert and ready to go. Romanda was still snoring loudly. Kiir started to stand, but realized her legs felt like jelly.

Nie’mar put a hand on Kiir’s head. “Stay here a minute. We’ll go check it out.”

Kiir reluctantly agreed. She wouldn’t be much help, she knew, but it felt wrong to just sit. All she’d done was stay still.

Thankfully, Driem returned surprisingly quick.

“It’s the Companions.”

Kiir raised a brow. “What?”

“The Companions are clearing some of the rubble. We should be out in no time.”

Kiir had forgotten all about those they left up on the surface. She was sure they would have to find a way up, not that someone would find their way down.

Romanda stirred awake soon after Driem had returned. She sat up, brushing her hair from her face. “How long until they’re through?”

“Not long. An hour at the latest,” Driem answered.

Romanda nodded and stood, moving over to Kiir. She offered a hand.

Kiir took it, letting herself be pulled to her feet. She was still wobbly, but Romanda tossed her arm over her shoulder. “I feel like a newborn.”

“Do you want me to carry you like one?” Romanda asked. A wry smile fell on her lips.

“No, that’s-“ Kiir started.

Romanda didn’t wait for Kiir to finish. Instead, she hoisted Kiir up and carried her like a bride at her wedding. “I’d have thought you were heavier.”

Kiir shook her head, trying to look displeased. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“Sure,” Romanda replied.

When Kiir, Romanda, and Driem reached the cave-in at the other end of the tomb, enough of the rubble had been cleared so that conversations could be carried on between the two sides.

Nie’mar nearly had her entire head pinned against the rocks. “Yes, we’re fine. A little banged up, but fine.”

Kiir was glad to hear Nie’mar having seemingly returned to her normal self. Her voice was calm.

“Any of you bring any food?” Romanda called.

There was a hearty laugh on the other side. Farkas. “Of course that’d be the first thing you’d ask about!”

“Can you blame me?”

Nie’mar waved a hand over her shoulder to silence Romanda. “How much longer are we talking?”

An unfamiliar male voice replied. “Honestly, if we’d brought some explosives we probably could blast the rest of it.”

Kiir suddenly brightened. “What about a shout?”

Nie’mar turned, considering it. Then, she nodded. “Yeah, let’s do it. Hey, guys,” she called over to the other side, “get out of the hallway.”

Romanda set Kiir down in front of the rubble and then stepped back beside Nie’mar and Driem.

Kiir’s legs were still a little unstable, but she figured at least this time she wouldn’t be flung off a mountain. She took in a breath and spoke.

Fus. Ro. Dah.

The swell in her chest pushed against her ribs and Kiir winced. But the sound of rushing air and then crumbling rocks gave Kiir clear indication she’d taken out the cave in. She stumbled back a few steps, but Romanda was quick to clap her on the shoulder.

“Glad we have you around!”

Kiir smiled.

The Companions were quick to cross over, Farkas making a beeline for Romanda and picking her up.

Nie’mar raced towards a man Kiir didn’t recognize. He reached toward her bloodied eye and she batted his hand away. He looked familiar, but Kiir couldn’t quite place him.

She startled a little when Nie’mar kissed him. I thought… Kiir turned her head towards Aela, then shrugged.

“Nie told us you had bad luck,” Farkas said, to neither Romanda nor Kiir in particular. “Looks like you’re back to square one.”

“Yeah,” Kiir said softly. All her work for nothing. “Who the hell would even want the Horn? You can only use it if you can shout!”

Farkas shrugged. “Maybe you should start there.”

“I doubt the Greybeards stole their own Horn.”

“So scratch them off the list. Who else?” Farkas turned to Romanda. “You ever hear about people shouting?”

Romanda looked at a loss. “Besides Ulfric, but I doubt he did this. Maybe we should get into contact with Fish.”

Kiir frowned. “A fish?”

“No, Fish.” Romanda laughed. “Fish-In-The-Water. You might have seen him after the dragon attack. The Argonian with the Bosmer bodyguard. He knows a little about everything. I actually sent him a letter asking about the Horn, but he said he didn’t know anything. Maybe now that something’s actually happened he’ll have caught word about it?”

“It’s worth a shot,” Kiir replied. She actually did remember the Argonian. He certainly didn’t seem the ‘important’ type when she’d seen him. “Should I write him or-“

Romanda placed a hand on Kiir’s back and started to lead her towards the exit. “We could probably make a trip up there.”

Kiir laughed. “Do you remember what happened the last time I travelled with you two?”

“Solitude is already Empire territory,” Farkas replied. “No checkpoints.”

Kiir hummed, but didn’t answer. She followed behind the group of Companions as everyone ascended up to the surface. Kiir relished the fresh air. Aching chest or not, she was going to breath in all the crisp, clean air she could.

Then, she’d worry about Solitude.

Chapter Text

“I am absolutely going with her.” Romanda stood, her arms crossed. “She is not travelling halfway across the country alone.”

Farkas was leaned back in a chair. He warmed his feet by the fire. “To be honest, Nie, you wouldn’t even let one of us travel that far alone.”

“She will have Driem,” Nie’mar countered. “You all have duties here. Kiir will be fine.”

Kiir felt like livestock at a market, watching prospecting buyers loom over her. She shifted from one foot to the other. “I travelled back from High Hrothgar alone and made it just fine.”

Aela scoffed. “You shot yourself off the mountain.”

“It was an accident!”

“And exactly why you shouldn't go by yourself,” Romanda said. She leaned onto the table. “Farkas has duties here. I don't.”

Driem weaseled her way up to the table. She turned to Romanda. “She won’t be by herself; I’m going. The Thalmor aren’t as strict in Imperial lands and we’re both mer. We’ll be fine.”

Romanda was quiet.

Kiir, on the other hand, frowned. She didn't mind someone coming along - the company would be nice. But this sounded more like ‘she needs a caretaker’ rather than ‘she needs a companion’.

“It is still early,” Nie’mar said to Driem. “You two can make good time if you leave soon.”

“I didn't think we were done discussing this,” Romanda snapped.

Kiir wandered over to Romanda and pulled her into an embrace. It was out of character for Kiir, she knew, but it seemed the best way to get Romanda to back down. “I'll come back and visit soon. I promise.”

Romanda sagged, wrapping her arms around Kiir. She squeezed. “Don't think I won't hold you to that!”

“Romanda, you're-” Kiir wheezed.

“I think you're choking her, dear,” Farkas laughed.

Romanda immediately released Kiir from the hug, but replaced her hands on Kiir’s shoulders. “Be safe.”

Kiir felt strange packing her things up. She had been in such a rush back when she’d left the College, worried she might miss the carriage, that she’d had hardly any time to dwell on the reality of leaving. Honestly, now that she thought back on it, Kiir found she preferred it that way.

She was in no rush now. Stuffing her things into a pack, she had time to run her hands along the wall and think back on her time in her room, at Jorrvaskr.  She still had that picture that Uffe had drawn. Being where she was now the picture had taken on a wholly different feeling. She thought she might give it back to the Companions, but with how things had gone down at Gallows Rock, Kiir figured they’d all want to forget about it. She took the picture and laid it alongside J’zargo’s drawing that he’d sent her.

Kiir sat on the bed, silence settling on the room. She looked at her pack - the second time she’d be leaving a place she considered a home. Her business here was done and she likely wouldn’t be coming back. At least, not unless her journey brought her back. I’m a wanderer now.

“Hey!” Driem appeared in the doorway. “You about ready?”

“Yeah, close. Just want to do a double check.”

“Alright, I’ll be upstairs.” Driem started to leave, but stopped. “You still don’t have a horse, do you?”

Kiir shook her head.

Driem sighed. “I’d rather not have to ride double the whole way. I’ll see if I can get the stable hand to rent me one for you. I guess meet me by the stables, then. Sound good?”

“Perfect.”

Kiir waited until Driem had left before she got up from the bed and started doing a once over of the room. She carefully folded her pictures and placed them neatly at the top of her pack. She didn’t want them ruined. She swung the bag up and looked back once over her shoulder.

The room looked just as it had when she’d arrived... until she noticed a book on the bookshelf, black and much larger than the rest. The Book of the Dragonborn.

Kiir walked over and was about to pull the book out, but stopped. She had read the book through, more than once. She knew almost every page. She pulled her hand back.

At the very least, Kiir thought, it will stand as a sign that I was here.

It was a silly thought.

Driem was leading two horses by the bridles as Kiir walked through the gates of Whiterun.

The hole in the wall had been nearly closed. Several guards were up early that morning to finish it and they’d just about reached the top.

Kiir recognized one of the ones without a helmet as Nie’mar boyfriend. He saw Kiir and waved, something Kiir gratefully returned.

“Stablemaster said we just have to make sure she’s returned with the next carriage out of Solitude when we get there.” Driem handed Kiir the reins of a slate gray mare. “‘Said her name was... Lilac, I think. Might have been Lavender.”

Kiir scratched behind the horse’s ears. She hadn’t ridden alone since she’d stolen - borrowed - that horse in Winterhold. She’d forgotten how stocky Skyrim’s horses were. Kiir pulled herself onto the saddle and settled herself in.

“Off we go, then,” Driem said, starting to pull herself onto the trail.

Kiir maneuvered Lilac to follow.

Driem had said they likely wouldn’t be arriving in Solitude until evening, adding in a few stops along the way to rest the horses. Kiir was anxious to speak to Fish-In-The-Water; anytime she thought back to the Horn a knot would turn in her stomach. She had to find it soon.

But it would seem Kiir’s body did not have the same sense of urgency her mind did. They’d only been riding an hour or two, the sun had barely hit the middle of the sky, and Kiir’s back and legs ached. She wiggled, trying to find a more comfortable position.

“Haven’t ridden in a while, huh?” Driem asked.

Kiir shook her head. “I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it is.”

“Do you want to take a break?”

“No, I’m fine. I’d like to get there sooner rather than later.”

Driem pulled her horse to a stop. “It’s only been a few days since Ustengrav - your body probably isn’t fully healed yet. Let’s stop here for a few minutes. You’re going to want to be able to walk when you get to Solitude.”

Kiir had stopped her horse but didn’t dismount. “I’m fine, really.”

“I could use a rest too.” Driem hopped down from her horse and started tying the reins to a low-hanging branch on a nearby tree.

Kiir gripped the reins tighter in her hands. She just wanted to be at Solitude already. Kiir directed her horse near the tree and dismounted.

Driem sighed. “I’m sorry. I do understand how you feel.”

“Hmm?”

Driem moved around the horses so she could see Kiir’s face. “I know you’re ansty. Having the Horn stolen was a blow to all of us.”

“But you all don’t have to face the Greybeards empty handed.”

“If all goes well, you won’t have to either.”

Kiir scoffed. “When has everything ever gone well?”

“Eesh!” Driem laughed. “Pessimism is one thing, but you don’t have to be so bitter.”

“Bitter?” Kiir turned. She wasn’t bitter. She was anxious and disappointed. That hardly counted as bitter.

“Relax, Kiir,” Driem said. She moved to sit by another tree.

Kiir followed, still a bit prickled by the ‘bitter’ comment. She sat beside Driem, stretching out her legs. “I’m as relaxed as I can be.”

“Clearly,” Driem replied. “You seemed fine back in Whiterun. What’s gotten under your skin?”

Kiir shrugged. There was a lot under her skin. “It feels like I’m six steps behind where I should be.”

“Where do you think you should be?”

“Handing the Greybeards the Horn.”

“And then what?”

Kiir shrugged again. “Maybe going to visit a friend, up at the College.”

“And that’s it?” Driem asked. She chuckled. “Just going to visit a friend? What about after that? Do you just plan to say there?”

Kiir had occasionally wondered what her long term plan was. Was she going to stay in Skyrim? Would she buy a house? Get a job? For so long her next move was just to move forward. When did that end? “Maybe. I’m not sure.”

“Then maybe it’s not all bad that someone took the Horn. At least for now you have a goal.”

“I guess.”

The two sat in silence for a while longer. Kiir had considered taking a nap, but just as she’d started to drift, Driem bumped her shoulder.

And off again they went.

They passed through a town called Rorikstead, one Kiir found hard to even call a town. It was barely a village. Driem ran into the Inn to grab them a bite to eat and give the horses a chance to drink.

Kiir saw a few stares directed towards her and, at first, Kiir couldn’t figure out why. Then she remembered Riverwood, the small little town Hadvar had taken her to. People weren’t too fond of her kind. How am supposed to live in a place like this?

They were only in town a few minutes. Kiir had kept her head down - the last thing she needed was another obstacle.

“Don’t worry about them,” Driem said once they’d made it a ways out of Rorikstead. “Small towns are like that.”

Kiir nodded. “I should have expected as much.”

“Not everyone is so wary. Considering the Embassy is up here, you’ll probably see a lot more Altmer in Solitude.”

Kiir wasn’t sure that was such a good thing. “And more Justicars?”

Driem grimaced. “A lot more Thalmor Justicars.”

Kiir hummed. She’d been lucky so far, to avoid recognition. But with the Embassy so close, it wouldn’t surprise her if Elenwen was around - and that was the last thing Kiir wanted.

“You’re not a fan of them either?” Driem asked. “I’d have thought you’d find the idea comforting.”

Kiir would have found it comforting a while ago. But now it was anything but. “I’m not exactly on good terms with them.”

Driem raised an eyebrow. “A Summerset Altmer not on good terms with the Thalmor? That’s rare.”

“It’s not the Thalmor exactly,” Kiir explained. “The Thalmor are just the name for the main political body. The alliance of the Isles and Valenwood. I’m not on good terms with the Dominion. The Thalmor Justicars would just end up being the ones to act on it.”

Driem seemed to consider that. “Do you miss it? Home?”

The question caught Kiir off guard. She startled, staring at Driem.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“No, I just-” Kiir turned to stare forward down the road. “Of course I miss it. I thought it would be easier to forget about it. I thought I’d be able to move on and get past it.”

Driem nodded. “I did, too.”

“You are-”

“- from Valenwood. I left quite a long time ago. I thought I’d just push that part of my life behind me, but it likes to follow you.”

“What do you miss most?” Kiir asked. “Your family?”

Driem shrugged. “Not so much anymore. I was never really that close to my parents - my mom, or my dad. My sister...  well I haven’t seen her in forever.  Like I said, it’s been many years. Sometimes I still miss her, but mostly I just miss the comfort and familiarity of home. It couldn’t ever be the same, if I went back. It’s all nostalgia at this point.”

“You have a sister?”

“Yeah. But...” Driem frowned, her voice dropping in volume. “She could even be dead for all I know.”

Kiir frowned. “I don’t want to sound crass, but it surprises me that you don’t miss your family.”

“It gets easier over time. Even more so when you find new family. I take it you’re close to yours?”

“Very.” Kiir paused. “Well, I was.”

Driem was silent a minute. “Can I ask what happened?”

Kiir wasn’t sure she could. She hadn’t spoken about the incident since it happened. In fact, Kiir wasn’t sure she’d ever said the words out loud. “Do you know a lot about the Dominion’s laws?”

Driem shook her head. “Not really. I know the sort of things the Thalmor used to enforce in Valenwood, and what they enforce here - like the whole Talos thing. But as for how it works on the Isles, I don’t know.”

“They’re kind of strict,” Kiir started. She was speaking slow, still unsure how much she wanted to say. “Nothing too terrible. The Thalmor are very clear on what is and is not acceptable and it’s not hard to avoid anything taboo.”

“Like?”

“Like marrying outside of your race or learning high level destruction magic.”

Driem laughed. “Really? They outlaw that? Where do the Thalmor learn their spells then?”

“Well, the Justicars are our guards. They go through rigorous training. They need that type of magic. But the common citizen doesn’t.”

“So... You shot a fireball?” Driem asked. “Fell in love with an Khajiit?”

“No, not quite.” Kiir chuckled softly and shook her head.  She searched for her next words. “You know, I was actually engaged before I left.”

Driem raised her eyebrows. “Engaged?”

Kiir nodded. “Planned since I was fairly young. His name was Vitrano. He was kind and smart; I was lucky to have him.” Kiir thought back, realizing those memories felt as though they’d happened ages ago. She could remember Vitrano’s face and the style of the dress she’d picked out. Kiir laughed. “And here I thought planning a wedding was the most stressful thing in the world.”  

“You didn’t mind having your spouse chosen for you?”

“It wasn’t really that weird. I trusted my parents. They wouldn’t chose someone I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life with.” Kiir smiled. “I didn’t really get to make many choices as a child. My parents were my guides for almost everything.”

“Sounds terrible.”

Kiir laughed. Sitting atop a horse in the middle of Nord country, not having seen the Isles in at least a year, it did sound terrible. “I thought it was comforting but… It certainly didn’t prepare me for life after I left. I had to figure out how to fend for myself. I’m over two centuries old and I felt like a toddler.”

“Hey,” Driem put one hand up, “I was free to make my own choices growing up, and the exact same thing happened to me. Nothing can really prepare you for life on your own.”

“Agreed.”

Driem put her hand back down on her reins. “So how did you end up on the road? I didn’t think the Altmer exiled people. I thought they, I don’t know, jailed people or executed them. Wanted everyone to stay on the Isles.”

Kiir was quiet. “I messed up and if I stayed my family might’ve been hurt because of it. Everything happened really fast. One minute it’s a normal day, the next minute I’m trying to get on the next boat to Daggerfall. There wasn’t even time for goodbyes.”

“So they don’t know where you are.”

“No. And that was the point. If I left the Isles my family could say I ran away.” Kiir paused. “Not that it looks much better to have a runaway daughter.”

“Well, I hope you get a chance to see them again.”

Kiir nodded. “Me too.”

They stopped for another rest and then made the final stretch up to Solitude. They passed over something Driem had called the Dragon Bridge and she mentioned it was important somehow, but Kiir hadn’t been entirely listening.

Her attention had been drawn, instead, to where she saw Solitude start to manifest. If she had thought Whiterun looked like a fortress before, Solitude made it look like a child’s crude playset. Everything just felt cleaner. It’s no surprise the Thalmor chose this area to live.

Driem stabled her horse and lead Lilac to the nearby carriage driver. She returned to Kiir and they both entered the city.

Solitude was almost entirely stone. Dark gray blocks and cobbled streets. It all looked fresh and new. Even in the chilly mountain air, shops had plants hanging from baskets and small gardens in the streets. There was the floating sound of conversation that hummed in the streets.

“It’s beautiful,” Kiir breathed.

“I suppose,” Driem replied. “Romanda said Fish works out on the docks so we should probably try to find him there.”

Kiir nodded and stuck close to Driem as they weaved through the crowds.

However, where Kiir would’ve assumed the crowds would thin as they approached the coast, the crowds only thickened. They were all packed around the entrance to the docks.

Driem had to dodge more than a few elbows.

Kiir, a good head taller than most of the crowd, could see a man in military regalia trying to direct the crowd away and failing quite miserably.

“We don’t know anything for sure at this time!” He shouted. “Now please, clear a way for the guards!”

“This is ridiculous. Remember when you asked ‘when has everything ever gone well’?” Driem asked.

Kiir looked down. “Yes.”

“Looks like that was a fairer point than I’d thought.”

“I’d have guessed as much.” Kiir looked around and saw a few guards up against a wall. She backed up out of the crowd and walked over, seeing them stiffen as they noticed her. “Excuse me.”

The tallest of the three nodded. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for someone. His name is Fish-In-The-Water. I understand he works at the docks?”

“He runs the docks.” The guard smiled.

Another guard spoke up. “But he’s not here, at least not today. Can’t really blame him.” The guard muttered the last part. “Check his house. He lives north of here, in the residential district.”

“Ah,” Kiir looked behind her at Driem. “What does it look like? Is there a map?”

The taller guard gave her a crooked smile. “Not unless you want to buy one. Two floors, balcony. Second one on the left just past the guard’s training grounds.”

Kiir sighed. 

Driem shrugged instead. “Well, it shouldn’t be that hard to find.”

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Fish’s house was incredibly difficult to find.

Solitude was not laid out like Whiterun or Winterhold. It didn’t have a singular road through the middle, but instead was situated like a series of separate rooms all jumbled together. The high walls made it difficult to see anything around any corner. Kiir and Driem ended up at the docks at least four times, the latter two earning them wary glances from the guards.

They even ended up at what turned out to be the Blue Palace, where the High Queen lived. The guards there gave them more than just wary glances.

The sun had started to set and Kiir was standing amid what she figured was a market center. Most of the shops had closed and owners were locking up their stores.

“The man said it was just passed the armory,” Kiir huffed. “We passed the armory and I still don’t see anything that looks like a red roof or an iron balcony.”

“Maybe it was left at the bakery?” Driem turned around. “Shit, where was the bakery again?”

In the dark the city looked entirely different. The only thing lighting the streets now were lamps, shadows making all of the buildings look more foreign than they had an hour earlier.

“I swear we’ve been here already.”

Kiir shook her head. “No, this is new. I doubt it’s the residential district, but I don’t think we’ve been here.”

“No, we definitely have.” Driem pointed to the side of one of the buildings. “See that rock? I kicked it over there the first time we passed through. Though, I think we were walking the other way.”

“I don’t even see a rock.” Kiir strained her eyes to see whatever Driem was pointing at but all she saw was black. “We should see if we can find a tavern.”

Driem chuckled. “‘Find’ being the issue.”

Kiir turned in a circle - once, twice. Driem might have found where they were familiar, but Kiir did not. Truth be told, they’d been standing there so long that Kiir had forgotten which direction they’d come from.

“Excuse me?”

Kiir startled at the sudden deep voice. She turned, seeing an Imperial guard making his way over.

He had a full face mask, so the light from the torch he carried only glinted off the metal surface. His other hand rested on the hilt of his sword.

“Yes?” Kiir was suddenly nervous.

“It’s nearly curfew,” the guard said as he drew close. “You all should be heading home.”

Kiir looked to Driem. Curfew?

Driem caught Kiir’s eye before looking back at the guard. “There’s a curfew in order?”

The guard nodded. “Streets need to be cleared by eleven.”

“Is that a normal thing here?” Kiir had never heard of a city as large as Solitude, one large enough to get lost in, ever imparting a curfew.

“Lately it is. Vampires,” the guard said matter-of-factly. “There’s been an outbreak of Sanguine Vampiris. Started about a month ago. Anyone out this late is either a vampire or about to become one.”

“Vampires?” Kiir asked slowly. That had been the last thing she’d expected to hear. Dragons, werewolves, and now vampires?

Driem looked equally as confused. “An... outbreak? Like, a coven moved in?”

“Coven?” The guard shook his head. “No, the disease came in on some ships from Gods know where. To make things worse, the cure has to be imported and we don’t have enough for everyone.” He glanced over his shoulder a moment. “It’s getting late. The inn is just up that way. Do you all need an escort, or?”

Kiir nodded. “That’d be lovely.”

“Actually,” Driem held up a hand, “you wouldn’t happen to know where Fish-In-The-Water’s house is, would you?”

The guard paused a moment. He gestured in front of him. “It’s just two blocks up that way.”

“Two blocks...?” Kiir turned to look down the darkened street. What blocks?

“I can still escort you, if you’d like.”

Kiir turned and nodded quickly. “Yes, please.”

Fish’s house did turn out to be just two blocks up the road. But when the guard pointed to the particular door that was his, Kiir realized why they had missed it so many times. It was built into the stone, underneath a balcony Kiir hasn’t even realized was part of the same house.

I loathe this city’s architecture, Kiir thought as she thanked the guard and wished him a good night.

Fish’s house was ornate in every way, a marked change from the more ‘village-esque’ homes that Kiir had seen in Skyrim so far. The door knocker shaped like a crab was a touch Kiir hadn’t expected. She took ahold of it and knocked twice.

A series of footsteps echoed from inside and stopped in front of the door. “Who is it?”

“Uh, I’d like to speak to Fish?” Kiir offered.

“Not what I asked. Who is this?”

“Kiir’Dun,” Kiir replied.

“Last name?”

Kiir froze. She hadn’t thought of a last name. How could she forget to think of a last name! She looked upwards for anything to spur her imagination. “Kiir’Dun... Storm...ir.”

“Stormir?”

“Yes,” Kiir answered quickly. She looked to the side at Driem, who wore a wry smile on her face.

The door in front of them swung open and a stout Bosmer women stood with one hand on her hip and the other on the door. She eyed Kiir and looked about to speak when she then saw Driem.

Then, the door was slammed shut.

Kiir stumbled back a little. She looked to Driem, whose face had turned gaunt. What was that about?

Again, there were footsteps on the other side of the door, but this time when it opened it was an Argonian. His face was partially bandaged, but he smiled when he saw her.  “My apologies,” he said, opening the door further. “Come in.”

Kiir hesitated, looking to Driem, before crossing the threshold into the house. She ducked to keep from bumping her head on the low hanging lights.

The Argonian, who Kiir was assuming had to be Fish, closed the door behind Driem. “I’m sorry about that. Tukara is spirited.”

Tukara! Kiir remembered that name now. She had been at the dragon fight in Whiterun and again at Jorrvaskr afterwards. She had thought the Bosmer looked familiar. “I’m sorry if I did anything to upset her.”

“Nonsense,” Fish replied. He waved over to a table nestled in his kitchen. “Come, sit. I know we have a lot to discuss.”

Did they? Kiir didn’t remember having spoken to Fish, outside their small conversation during the celebration at Jorrvaskr. She followed him into the kitchen and nearly ran into a massive Nord who’d been coming around the corner. Kiir skittered back and out of his way.

The Nord grunted and continued out of the room.

Fish chuckled. “Don’t worry, Chief’s always like that.”

Kiir took his word for it, settling into a chair.

Fish sat across from her. “So, Kiir’Dun, yes?”

“Just Kiir.”

“Well it’s nice to meet you, Just Kiir.” Fish smiled. “If I’m remembering correctly, the last time we met I was quite inebriated.”

“Quite,” Kiir replied.

Fish laughed. “Suffice to say, I wasn’t able to properly introduce myself. Though I’m sure you already know my name so that time has likely passed.”

Kiir nodded, unsure how to answer.

“But, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I’m sure you didn’t come here for a house call. How can I help you, Kiir?”

“Romanda sent me your way,” Kiir started. “We had gone to Ustengrav, this old, Nordic tomb, to find a Horn. The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. But by the time we got there, someone had already taken it.”

Fish nodded along, placing a hand under his head to rest it on. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be in a manhunt.”

Kiir shook her head. “It’s not a man hunt. Not... exactly. The Horn can only be used by someone who can shout. You know, like a Thu’um?”

Fish hummed in agreement.

“I came here because Romanda said you might know, or know someone who might know, about any other people who can use shouts,” Kiir continued. “There can’t be that many right? People seem pretty freaked out when I do it.”

“No, no, you’re absolutely right. It’s not a common skill.” Fish paused. “There are certainly some people I can ask. I’m not sure how much help they’ll be, but I can ask.”

Kiir fidgeted in her seat. “How much would that cost?”

Fish looked surprised. His eyes opened wide, and then he laughed. “For the friend of a friend? Nothing. I think I would catch Romanda’s wrath if I were to ask for coin.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, absolutely. But I won’t be able to do anything until morning. I’m sure you heard about the curfew?”

Kiir nodded. “Vampires?”

“Vampires.” Fish leaned back in his chair. Now that business had been dealt with, he relaxed. “And people are saying it came from a ship that arrived in my docks. That I didn’t vet them properly.”

Driem, who’d been silently leaning against the kitchen’s entryway, spoke up. “I hadn’t realized vampirism was a disease.”

“Yeah, and a nasty one at that. It doesn’t show any symptoms until it’s too late. When people are fully changed, they’ve completely lost their minds and attack anyone and anything.” Fish sighed. “I know some families are locking each other in separate rooms, in case one got sick.”

“I’d think someone would know if they’d been bitten,” Driem said. “That’s kind of hard to miss.”

Fish turned to her. “It’s not just bites anymore. Any bodily fluid exchange can pass it on.”

“Gods,” Kiir murmured. She tried to think back to anything she might have touched. When was the last time she washed her hands?

“Just keep to yourself in the city and you should be fine. The guards have been doing a good job keeping the streets clear and the curfew, however annoying, has been working so far. It’s just sad to know that even though there is a cure, there isn’t enough to fix this.” Fish stood from the table, brushing himself off. “But, enough of that. I have a few extra rooms you each can stay in. I don’t want to send you out after curfew.”

Kiir followed suit, standing and walking behind Fish to a bedroom. He opened the door and Kiir felt her eyebrows raise. She wasn’t even sure this was a guest bedroom. Even with the multiple beds, it looked closer to what she’d imagine the master room would look like.

Long, draping curtains hung from each of the four windows in the room. The ceiling was high, something Kiir hadn’t yet seen outside of the Isles save for a few temples and religious buildings. The room was well decorated with plants and paintings, and the room was lit with delicate light fixtures.

It was almost a perfect mix of simple, rugged Nordic architecture, with the ornate, detailed style of the Altmer.

“Make yourselves at home,” Fish said. He waited by the door until both Driem and Kiir had made it inside. “I hope this is fitting for you both.”

“Absolutely,” Kiir replied. She turned and offered Fish a smile. “This is greatly appreciated.”

Fish returned the smile and closed the door. “Sleep well!”

Kiir sat atop one of the beds, the one Driem hadn’t yet taken, and pulled her bag off her back. She nearly forgotten she was carrying it. There were only a few things she had to her person now, something she’d only come to realize after packing up twice.

Driem had sprawled out on her own bed and was silent, staring at the ceiling.

“You alright?” Kiir asked, turning to face Driem’s bed.

“Not really, no.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “Care if I ask why?”

Driem then sat up, but she didn’t look at Kiir. She kept her eyes trained on the floor. “Tukara is my sister.”

Kiir choked on air, coughing until the moment passed. That had not been what she was expecting at all. “What?”

“She’s my sister,” Driem repeated. She seemed to have missed Kiir’s choking fit or was ignoring it all together. “I haven’t seen her in years, Kiir, and she slammed the door in my face.”

“Maybe she had a bad day?” Kiir offered. “Or maybe it was me.”

“It wasn’t you. She didn’t even say hello. Somehow, after all this time, I didn’t expect she’d still be angry with me.”

Kiir looked down at her hands. The break in Driem’s voice made her hesitant to ask what had happened. She was an only child, she didn’t really know a lot about how siblings worked. “You said you were from Valenwood, right?”

Driem finally looked up. “Yeah?”

“What is your sister doing in Skyrim?” Kiir asked. “Why are you in Skyrim?”

“Your guess is as good mine,” Driem replied. “I have no idea when or why or how she’s here. Me, I’ve been here for a long time now, but it’s not like I came here with a purpose. I wandered around and just kind of ended up here. I probably would have moved on too if I hadn’t met my wife, and now I have my kids.”

Kids? Kiir scrunched her face up. “You have kids? Then what are you doing here, with me? Why aren’t you home?”

Driem shook her head. “It’s not like that. That just isn’t me. My wife knows that. The kids we took in… they had nowhere else to go, and Moira takes care of them back home. I visit a lot. It’s just how our family works.”

“I see,” Kiir said. Still, it was odd to think a mother leaving her children behind. But it would seem families in Skyrim were just different than families in the Isles. And if Kiir ever planned on living here, she’d have to get used to it. “Sorry if that came off harsh. I was just... surprised.”

Driem waved her off. “It’s fine. I know what works for me and my family, but I know how it sounds.”

“I’d love to meet them,” Kiir replied.

“Maybe someday.” Driem smiled in a way that didn’t quite touch her eyes. “For now you should get some rest.”

“Right.” Kiir got up and pulled back her blankets, settling into the sheets. She laid her head back and stared at the ceiling. These beds made the ones at Jorrvaskr feel like stone tablets . Kiir made a small, silent prayer to Auri-El before she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Kiir said. She was standing outside Fish’s house, hands on her hips. “I’m going to remember where this house is.”

Driem was leaning against the house, beneath the shadow of the balcony. “Septims to sweetrolls, even if you memorize what it looks like, it’s just another place to end up right back at over and over again.”

“That what I’m trying to avoid. Besides, it’s not like we have a lot to do until Fish gets back.”

Fish had left early that morning, saying he’d ask around and be home mid afternoon - assuming everything went well. Chief had gone with him.

Tukara, on the other hand, proclaimed she had ‘work to do’ and stormed out of the house without so much of a glance in either Kiir or Driem’s direction. Fish apologized for it, again, but it didn’t really make the situation any better.

Kiir had figured she’d try and keep Driem’s spirits up until she and her sister worked out whatever it was troubling them.

Thus, there they were, outside Fish’s house, with Kiir making note of anything she could.

“How far do you think the fountain is from here?” Kiir asked.

“There’s a fountain?”

Kiir groaned. “Remind me not to rely on you for directions... ever.”

Driem threw her hands up. “I never claimed to be good at them!”

“You could have told me that before I let you lead me all the way to Solitude!”

“We got here okay, didn’t we?!”

“A feat which I’m only now appreciating the magnitude of.”

“It’s not like I haven’t seen maps of Skyrim before!”

“Are you sure you’re a wanderer and not just chronically lost?”

Driem pouted. “Isn’t that half the fun?”

Kiir shook her head and turned from the front of the house. So much of Solitude was stone and Kiir could not tell one stone from the other. Wall stone, house stone, stone stone. It was all the same to her.

“Well,” Driem started, “let’s put you to the test then. I want to see if there really is a fountain.”

Kiir chuckled, turning back. Driem had pushed herself up from the wall and now stood out in the street. “Did you not see it when we came in?”

“I was more focused on finding Fish, honestly.”

“Fair enough,” Kiir said. “Alright, let’s go see if we can not get lost this time.”

The market area was much easier to find in the daytime, mainly in that Kiir could follow the flow of people towards the more busy areas of the city. With a semi-central location established, Kiir had a much easier time orienting herself. She and Driem still got a little turned around in some of the outskirt streets, but at least they weren’t hopelessly lost this time.

When Driem spoke up, Kiir almost wished that wasn't the case.

“It’s a well, Kiir.”

“This cannot be right.” Even staring directly at it, Kiir couldn’t believe she’d thought the old, rickety well was a fountain.

“Then we must be looking at different things right now.”

Kiir turned. Maybe it wasn’t here? “The fountain could’ve been...” Kiir’s voice drifted off as a pair of guards came down the street, a man held between them by either arm.

The market grew eerily silent as attention was drawn towards the soldiers. The man wasn’t struggling, he was going complacently, but the atmosphere had suddenly grown sour.

Kiir turned to Driem. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” Driem didn’t look away, her eyes following the small procession.

A group of civilians started to follow behind the men and Kiir found herself drawn in that same direction. Driem fell into step behind Kiir.

The soldiers moved to a small, partially closed off area to the side of the main gates. The soldiers led the men up a raised area. One of them moved off to the side to drag forward a bucket and wood block.

Kiir paled. This is an execution.

Almost on cue, another man clad in all black began pushing his way through the crowd with an axe nestled onto his back.

“I don’t think I want-”

Kiir’s voice was cut off as one of the soldiers began to speak, projecting his voice for the benefit of the gathering audience.

“Roggvir, you helped Ulfric Stormcloak escape this city, opening the gate to allow him to leave after he murdered High King Torygg.” The soldier, who Kiir now realized was likely a captain, took a few steps forward. “By opening that gate for Ulfric you betrayed the people of Solitude. You betrayed the loyal people of Skyrim.”

Some of the gathered people began to boo and jeer.

Kiir felt her stomach turn.

The captain waved his hand to quiet the crowd. “What say you in your defense?”

Roggvir looked incredibly calm. The audience was eerily silent as he shook his head and spoke softly. “It was no murder, Aldis, you know that. Ulfric bested him in fair combat. He challenged the High King and won.”

The silence didn’t last. The crowd was restless. Kiir couldn’t catch everything they were saying, but many were displeased. Driem, too, was fidgeting. She kept opening and closing her fists - her mouth was drawn in a hard line.

Kiir hadn’t thought back to Helgen for a very long time. It had almost been washed from her mind. The chaos of it all had reduced her memories of the whole ordeal to just a few snippets here or there. But this scene, seeing Imperial soldiers and an executioner and the block... her memories came flooding back in vivid detail.

“Liar!” A man yelled.

“Traitor!” Another man shouted. “Just get on with it already!”

“That is our way! ” Roggvir said, his voice much louder this time. His calm demeanor was breaking. “It’s an ancient custom, to all Nords!”

This threw the crowd into an absolute frenzy. It was a sudden outbreak of noise. People were shouting and pushing. Kiir got knocked into Driem, stumbling forward and nearly slamming her head into the man in front of her.

It was a wash of noise and Kiir, after gaining her balance again, stumbled back from the crowd. Even though she stood above most of the crowd, she felt claustrophobic. She didn’t want anyone touching her.

Driem saw Kiir moving back and followed. “Kiir?”

Kiir shook her head.

On the raised platform, amid the chaos, the soldiers had forced Roggvir down onto the block. One held a hand flat on his back.

“I don’t want to see this,” Kiir said. Yet, her eyes stayed glued to the platform - to Roggvir’s face.

His calm aura before had all but dissipated. His face was scrunched up in anger and fear. He was saying something, but it couldn’t be heard over the roar of the crowd.

The headsman raised his axe and brought it down quickly.

The crowd’s shouts grew to a climax.

Kiir jumped when the axe slammed against the block. She felt a chill run up her spine and she turned away. It hadn’t been this way when she first saw a man beheaded. She’d been indifferent and, at best, relieved he’d gone quickly. It had been surprising and horrible, but how Kiir felt now was something different.

Maybe it was because the man at Helgen had gone so quietly. He didn’t protest. He accepted his fate and took it in stride. Roggvir hadn’t. He spoke out, proclaimed his innocence. He didn’t think he should have to die, he didn’t want to die. He was afraid.

The crowd had cooled to a simmer now that Roggvir was dead. Some had started to leave, others stayed and held murmured conversations with each other.

Kiir still had her back to the platform.

“We should head back,” Driem said. She nudged Kiir’s arm and started forward.

Kiir followed. Her face was hung low, her eyes staying glued to the backs of Driem’s shoes. Why was this bothering her so much? Kiir had certainly seen her fair share of violence in Skyrim, had partaken in some of it, and survived. She’d seen innocent people ripped apart by dragons and attacked by werewolves. She should be used to this sort of thing now... shouldn’t she?

Driem seemed just as surprised, Kiir thought. That made her feel a little better.

Perhaps it had been the crowd, so angry and indifferent, that made the whole situation feel worse.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”

Kiir’s head snapped up. At first she’d thought Driem had spoken, but Kiir followed where Driem was looking and saw it had been Tukara who’d shouted when she saw them.

Their voices are more similar than I’d realized.

Standing under an archway, Tukara had a hand to her forehead.

In front of her, an elegantly tall Altmer man chuckled at her outburst. Kiir had actually thought for a moment that he was Vitrano, the man she’d once been betrothed to. He said something to Tukara and then turned his head towards Driem and Kiir. His smile broadened and he extended a hand to wave them over.

Kiir looked to Driem. “Do you know who that is?”

“No idea.”

That made Kiir uneasy. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Tukara, it was simply that... No , Kiir thought, that’s exactly it. Tukara was still a mystery and she’d been nothing but nasty so far. Perhaps they had only been directed at Driem, but the conclusion still stood.

Kiir hesitated a moment more.

Suddenly, the elf called out across the path. “You needn’t be wary. I only wish to speak with you.”

Kiir audibly gasped. That was Aldmeri. He spoke Aldmeri! All previous unease washed away, which Kiir was sure had been the reason he’d spoken to her in that language in the first place. But ulterior motive or not, Kiir could not believe how happy she was to hear her language spoken aloud again.

Driem frowned. “Did you understand that?”

“Come on,” Kiir motioned for Driem to follow her. As she drew closer to the elf, Kiir realized just how much this elf did look like Vitrano. It hadn’t been a trick of the light earlier - this elf looked like he could have been Vitrano’s brother. The only thing starkly different were his eyes. “Are you from the Isles?”

The elf nodded. “I’m Vingalmo, it is a pleasure.”

“Alright,” Tukara held up her hands. Her face was pulled down in a grimace. “Can we speak in a way that everyone can understand?”

“My apologies, Tukara,” Vingalmo replied.

Tukara then turned to Kiir. She was silent a minute, long enough for Kiir to feel uncomfortable, before she raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing out and about? Shouldn’t you be back waiting for Fish?”

“He said he wouldn’t be back until late.” Kiir glanced over to get a look at Driem, but realized she wasn’t beside her. Kiir did a near full turn before she noticed that Driem had taken up a spot along the wall, hidden beneath a balcony. “I, uh...” Kiir turned back to Vingalmo. “You wanted to speak with me about something?”

“Yes, I did. Tukara was just telling me about your dragonborn abilities. It was entirely coincidence that you happened by, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet you.”

Kiir felt her face flush. That was not what she was expecting. “Uh, thank you?”

Tukara cleared her throat. “I was discussing how odd it was that you would turn up in the same spot as I was twice. First Whiterun, now here.”

“I’m not following you, if that’s what you’re asking,” Kiir replied. To be honest, Kiir had completely forgotten about Tukara until Driem had brought up her name at Fish’s house.

“It’s not,” Tukara clarified. “Just odd. You wouldn’t think our paths would align, considering who we are.”

But I don’t know who you are, Kiir thought.

Vingalmo cut in. “Actually, you just reminded me. Orthjolf had mentioned something about the dragonborn before he left.”

“How could you forget something like that?” Tukara’s voice had risen again. She tossed her hands up above her head. “You didn’t think that was important?

“It simply slipped my mind.”

“‘Slipped your mind,’” Tukara echoed mockingly. “Are you going to tell me what he said about the dragonborn? Or do I have to ask?”

In just a few moments of conversation, Kiir had become completely lost. Her head bounced between Vingalmo and Tukara, trying to keep track of the argument. They were talking about her - well, the dragonborn - but also about some Orthjolf and blood and... the sun?

“I leave for a few days and he nearly throws a coup!” Tukara was pacing now, unable to decide if she wanted her hair up or down. “How in the world am I supposed to find him?”

“Orthjolf isn't exactly the most intelligent Nord,” Vingalmo started.

Tukara held up a hand. “Now is most certainly not the time for your petty squabble, Vingalmo. I don’t care how stupid he is, he’s causing trouble.”

“I had a point.” Vingalmo paused. “Orthjolf likely left something behind, in his room. Maybe he told someone where he was going. My point is, I don’t think he was smart enough to cover all his tracks.”

“That’s all we have to go on?” Tukara asked. “Your assumption that he wasn’t smart enough not to tell someone? He slipped this under my nose - if you hadn’t come, I might not have known until it was too late. It might still be too late.”

Vingalmo stretched his arms above his head. “Then let’s operate on the assumption that it’s not. We can get back to Volkihar in about half a day. I’m sure someone at the castle saw something, at the very least.”

“Then we’ll leave today,” Tukara declared. She turned to Kiir and paused. “And you’re coming.”

Kiir’s eye grew wide. Where in the world had that come from? She’d be lost nearly this entire conversation and now she was going to do Gods knows what with a man Oorth-yalf? “I can’t. I don’t have the Horn.”

“I doubt Fish will have your Horn by tonight,” Vingalmo said.

“I don’t understand. What does this have to do with me? Why do I have to come?” Kiir had barely even been in Solitude a full day. She was tired of travelling - her back and legs were still sore from riding.

Tukara pursed her lips. “Because apparently Orthjolf has plans that might involve you and I'd rather not let him get ahold of you in the first place.”

That didn’t sound good. Kiir frowned. “I’m sure I’d be fine here. I’ve got Driem and Fish.”

Tukara looked ready to speak again but Vingalmo cut her off. “Let’s discuss this over dinner, shall we? I hear Fish is quite the chef.”

Kiir nodded and stepped back to allow Tukara and Vingalmo to slip by. Thank Auri-El, Kiir thought. She waited for Driem to walk up beside her before they both followed back to Fish’s house.  “Do you think we should go?”

Driem shrugged. “Frankly I don't understand what this has to do with you either, but it could be interesting to find out if we have the time. I think it all depends on how things go with the Horn. If Fish can find it, shouldn't that be priority?”

Kiir hummed in agreement. That’s what she’d been thinking, too. The Horn had been her priority and it was staying that way. Whatever Orthjolf was planning wasn’t as important as getting that damned Horn for the Greybeards.

Fish didn’t return home for a few hours after everyone arrived, so Kiir took the chance to sort through her belongings. Besides her necessities, Kiir only had three things to her name. She still had Eithis’ letter - she hoped he wasn’t still sending things to Whiterun - the drawings J’zargo had done, and the drawing Uffe had done of the wolf.

Kiir reached a hand up to her neck and felt for her necklace. She kept forgetting she had it on. She hoped she got a chance to see Hadvar again, to thank him for getting it for her. She wasn’t sure she’d done so in Helgen.

Four things, then. That number sounded so small when she put it that way. But looking out over her belongings it didn’t feel small.

There were a few short knocks at the door and Kiir looked up to when Driem stood in the doorway.

“Dinner’s finished.”

Kiir nodded, slipping her things back into her bag. “I’ll be right down.”

Fish had prepared an elaborate dinner that night. Fish and beef dishes, a myriad of soups and salads, not to mention enough assortments of rolls and breads to feed an entire village. He pulled out some of his finest wines and ales for the evening and, to the displeasure of Kiir’s already full stomach, a spread of desserts. Pies and cakes and pastries.

Sitting at a table like this reminded Kiir so much of home she had to continually stop herself from looking to Fish to see what she could eat. He caught her eyes a few times and she smiled, trying not to seem too suspicious.

“I’m surprised,” Fish said once the table had been cleared, “you haven’t asked once for what I found out about the Horn, Kiir.”

Kiir shrugged. She’d gotten so used to waiting, an afternoon seemed miniscule amount of time. “I figured you’d get around to telling me.”

Fish nodded. “Well, I have good news and bad news. Good news is that I got a number of names of people who have used a Thu’um. Not many, but enough to warrant a search.”

“And the bad news?” Driem pressed.

“Bad news is they are all over Skyrim. Some of them might not even be in the country.” Fish sat forward, placing his arms on the table and interlacing his fingers. “So it will take a while for me to get in contact with them, if I even can, and vet them for information.”

So more waiting, Kiir thought. “Do you know how long?”

Fish shrugged. “Depends on how willing these people are to talk. It’ll definitely be a while. You are welcome to stay here in that time, if you’d like.”

“Actually,” Vingalmo cut in, “Tukara and I have something we could use Kiir’s help for in the meantime.”

Kiir’s shoulders drooped. She looked to Driem who returned her glance with a shrug. “You haven't even told me what you want me to do.”

“Orthjolf wants something from you. If he comes to find you and you're with me, I can more easily deal with him.” Tukara shrugged. “You're bait."

Because that worked out so well the last time I did that. Kiir shook her head. “Can't I play bait here?”

“I'm sure Tukara would agree with me that sitting back and waiting for Orthjolf isn't wise,” Vingalmo said. “If you come with us, we can investigate and, hopefully, get a step ahead. This all while keeping you out of his hands and possibly luring him directly to us.”

“I don't know-”

“We don't know what he wants with you yet, Kiir. We don't know how important you are and I think you coming along is in your best interest.”

Kiir felt her face warm when Vingalmo had used her name. He was staring at her so Kiir switched to look at Tukara.

Tukara stood from the table. “I’d like to leave tonight, if at all possible.”

“It’s dark outside,” Kiir replied. She had meant to allude to the curfew, but she sounded more like a child that was afraid of the dark.

“Less traffic,” Tukara said. She looked to Kiir. “Do you have your things packed?”

I didn’t even say if I was going or not. “I guess, but I don’t know if I should be leaving...”

“I think it’d be better than waiting around here,” Driem said. She stood up from her chair. “I can have my things packed in just a few minutes.”

“No.” Tukara pointed a finger directly at Driem. “You are not coming.”

Kiir scrunched her face up, her brows knitting low. “What do you mean she’s not coming?”

“I mean, she’s not coming. Absolutely not.”

Vingalmo seemed surprised, too. He reached out a placating hand. “Tukara, I-”

“No,” Tukara said again. “Kiir is coming alone.”

Kiir felt herself bristle. “I didn’t even say I was going in the first place. If I'm going, so is Driem.”

“It’s fine, Kiir,” Driem said. She pushed her chair in. “If she doesn’t want me along, I don’t have to go.”

“So I just head out with strangers? What if I don't want to go either?” Kiir had turned her attention back to Tukara and Vingalmo. “So someone mentioned the dragonborn, a lot of people do that.”

“Vingalmo and I already said,” Tukara replied, “he might be targeting you. It’d be easier to keep you with us. Besides, what else do you have to do? Sit around and wait for Fish to return?”

That’s not the point! Kiir thought. She sighed and looked to Fish. “If I do go, how will I know when you’ve got something?”

“I know where Tukara and Vingalmo live,” Fish answered. “I can send a runner.”

“And it would be nice to have the company of another Altmer,” Vingalmo added.

Kiir frowned. She looked to Driem. “Are you sure you’re okay with staying?”

Driem’s eyes flicked to Tukara, then Fish, then back again. “Yes. I shouldn't have invited myself. You'll have to let me know how it goes.” She gave Kiir a small smile and then turned to head up the stairs.

As Driem disappeared upstairs, Kiir turned her gaze to Tukara. She seemed quite pleased with herself. Kiir shook her head.

“Thank you,” Vingalmo said.

“I’ll go get my things,” Kiir replied as she gave him a courteous nod and headed up the stairs after Driem.

Chapter Text

Kiir had never felt more rushed in her life. She still wasn’t even sure she wanted to go, but here she was, bag packed and over her shoulder, following two almost complete strangers out of Solitude to some random castle. I could still go back, Kiir thought. She could feign sickness or something.

But she didn’t. It would seem her curiosity outweighed her nervousness. And, if she was honest, the fact that this Orthjolf had mentioned the dragonborn made her wonder if he wasn’t somehow involved with the Horn.

Kiir also wondered about Driem. She’ll be fine, Kiir reminded herself. She was a wanderer - her natural state was in being alone. Still, the vigor in Tukara’s voice when she'd spoken to her sister wasn't something Kiir has planned for. This was more than a family spat.

The night air around Solitude was chilly, with the breeze flowing out towards the water. Kiir made sure her cloak was buttoned.

Vinglamo started to make his way towards the stables but Tukara stopped him.

“Where are you going?”

Vingalmo scrunched up his face. “To get my horse? I’m not walking back to Volkihar.”

“You have a horse?”

“Yes?” Vingalmo chuckled. “I’ve had her for a while now.”

“Where do you keep her?”

Vingalmo had started walking again, so Kiir and Tukara followed. “You remember Fort Hraggstad? The Empire took it over a couple of months back and I’ve been able to keep her stabled there.”

Tukara stopped walking, her eyebrows raised. “The Empire is letting you keep your horse on their grounds?”

“I know people.” Vingalmo disappeared inside the stables and came out moments later with a dull grey horse. He swung himself up to the saddle. “So who’s Kiir riding with?”

Kiir had been about to mention that Tukara didn't have a horse, but when she turned her heart caught in her throat.

Tukara sat atop an actual skeleton horse.

Kiir went to step back but tripped, landing hard on the ground.  She scampered backwards as Tukara turned her horse.

It whinnied.

The horse was just... bone. With a rippling purple aura around it that felt all too familiar to Kiir.

Necromancy. Kiir had always figured real necromancers to be old decrepit men who wore too many robes and hid in caves. “You’re... that’s...”

“A ghost horse?” Tukara chuckled. “His name is Arvak.”

Kiir didn’t care what it’s name was. She cast a look backwards to Vingalmo. He smiled at her, all too entertained with the transpiring events.

Tukara laughed again. “He doesn’t bite, I promise.”

Kiir felt exposed. She looked around her, making sure there weren’t any guards or witnesses close to her. “That’s necromancy!” Kiir hissed. She scrambled back to her feet, stepping backwards.

“Necromancy?” Tukara raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t necromancy. This is Conjuration.”

“That is a dead horse!” Kiir continued backwards and bumped awkwardly into Vingalmo’s horse. “Raising the dead is the definition of necromancy!”

“This is less raising the dead and more... summoning a soul. You don’t mind atronachs, do you?”

Kiir was baffled into silence. There was a clear difference between an atronach and a skeletal horse. There was barely a comparison, save for that they both were summoned!

“Don’t worry,” Vingalmo said, “there aren’t any city guards or Thalmor on our way to the castle. No one will stop us.”

“I’m not getting on that... horse.”

Tukara rolled her eyes and pulled Arvak back towards the direction they were headed. “Fine by me.”

Kiir started to follow on foot when she felt a hand rest itself on her shoulder. She turned as Vingalmo brought his horse to stand beside Kiir.

“Come on,” Vingalmo said.

“That isn’t-”

“We haven’t time to waste.” Vingalmo extended his hand out to her again and moved his foot from the stirrup. “Come on.”

Kiir hesitated, but ultimately took his hand. She slid her foot into the stirrup and hoisted herself up, sliding in behind Vingalmo. He was terribly cold.

Vingalmo reached back and grabbed Kiir’s arm, sliding down to her hands and pulling them forward so they rested around his waist. “The road is bumpy. Can’t have you falling off.”

“Of... course.” Kiir kept her hands hoisted high so they wouldn’t fall too low in Vingalmo’s lap. She was so close to him now that she could really feel how cold Vingalmo was. The only heat she had now was where her legs rested against the horse’s side. Well, that and the heat from her flushed cheeks. Kiir was thankful neither Vingalmo or Tukara could see her face.

Vingalmo kicked his horse to catch up with Tukara and then both horses dropped into a lazy trot.

There was little conversation between Tukara and Vingalmo as they rode and Kiir didn’t feel it was her place to start talking. Besides, she wouldn’t know what to say.

It was late and Kiir hadn’t realized how tired she was until she felt her cheek resting against Vingalmo’s back. She startled upwards, drawing her hands back up from resting on his legs.

Kiir could feel Vingalmo’s chest thrum as he laughed.

“Awake already?”

“I apologize,” Kiir stammered.

Vingalmo shrugged. “No need for apologies. It’s late, if you need rest you should take it.”

“I’m fine. How long have we been going?”

“Only about a half an hour,” Tukara answered. “Still another two and a half to go.”

There’s no way I’ll stay awake that long, Kiir thought. She had barely lasted a sixth of the way into ride and her eyelids were already heavy, but she also didn't want to embarrassingly fall asleep against Vingalmo again.

It had gotten colder. Kiir drew her arms deeper under her shawl and let her hands rest lazily on Vinaglmo’s hips. She tried to focus on something - the horses breathing, the sound of their feet on the ground, the feel of-


 

Kiir was somewhere she didn’t recognize. It was a valley. Mountains rose up in all directions, completely surrounding the area. There was snow and ice, but it didn’t feel cold. The sky was a blue haze, where the mist from distant waterfalls shot into the air.

“Elandaae.”

Kiir jumped.

Auri-El, a familiar face to her now, stood near the bank of the river. He beckoned her over with a gentle hand wave.

Kiir obliged, drawing closer. When she’d first seen him, she’d been in an expanse of white. Then, she’d been on the mountain. She wasn’t so sure these were dreams anymore.  “Where am I?”

“My home,” Auri-El answered. He bent down to grab one of the flowers at his feet. It was blue and purple. Kiir didn’t recognize it. “Or somewhere I consider as such.”

Kiir had never considered that a God had a home. She knew they had to stay somewhere, but Kiir didn’t think it would manifest physically. “Why am I here?”

“I thought it a nice place to speak.”

“About what?”

“You, of course.” Auri-El turned to Kiir and offered her the flower he had picked. “You’ve become a very important person since we talked last.”

Had she? Kiir felt less important and more unlucky. She’d been given so much responsibility and had been given so little reward. Was she really important or just convenient aid? “Why me?” Kiir asked before she could stop herself. “Why do I have to do this? Why not someone else?”

Auri-El was quiet a moment. “It could never be anyone else. This is who you are.”

“But it isn’t,” Kiir replied. “I was never supposed to be a hero or fight dragons. I was supposed to marry, go to school, maybe go off to research magic, see the world, not... this.”

“Who you think you are and your true self do not always coincide.”

Kiir scoffed. “Right. That helps.”

Auri-El turned and met Kiir’s eyes. “You chose this, Kiir’Dun.”

“What?”

“Kiir?”

“What does that mean?”

“Kiir!”

Kiir startled awake, surprised to find Tukara below her, hitting her arm to wake her. Nearly flush with Vingalmo’s back - again - Kiir was awake quickly and swung herself off the horse, ignoring Tukara’s offer of a hand. Kiir landed awkwardly, a small pain radiating up her leg. She regained her balance and turned.

They had stopped on the shore of a lake. The water looked like black ink and it stretched out almost endlessly. There was a small boat tied to a post - likely all that remained of a dock. It was snowing, Kiir realized, and she adjusted her shawl. “I don’t see a castle.”

“It’s across the jetty,” Tukara explained. She moved to pull the rickety boat closer to shore. “About an hour, give or take.”

We’re still not there? Kiir stared at the boat. “Is that thing safe?”

“Safe enough,” Tukara replied.

Vingalmo was still atop his horse. “I’m going to go to the Fort, drop this girl off, and meet you there.”

Tukara nodded. She waved to Kiir, gesturing for her to get in the boat.

Kiir sighed. The chilly temperature froze the ground, so she didn’t have to worry too much about slipping in mud. She hoisted one leg into the boat and straddled the sides, finally rolling in.

Tukara chuckled. “That’s one way to do it.”

Kiir moved so that Tukara could get the oars out. There weren’t any benches in the boat, so Kiir settled onto the floor. “Why haven’t you gotten a new boat?”

“No one thinks twice about some old boat tied to a broken dock,” Tukara said. She reached out with one of the oars and pushed off the shore. The waves gently lapped against the sides. “Something newer and flashier might draw suspicion or interest. Both of which I’d like to avoid.”

“So this castle is a secret?” Kiir had figured, the way Tukara and Vingalmo had spoken, that the castle would be a massive structure. One that was hard to miss.

Tukara shrugged. “A secret to the people I’d like to keep out.”

The wind had picked up now that they were out in open water. Kiir shivered. “Did you build it out here to keep it hidden?”

“I didn’t build it. It’s been here for centuries.” Tukara stopped paddling, letting the boat glide over the water. “But yeah, the people who built it definitely wanted to be out of the public eye.”

“How come?” Kiir realized the boat had come to a near stop. It bobbed over gentle waves. “Why are we stopped?”

Tukara pulled the oars in so they rested on her lap. “I wanted to give you an idea of what to expect in the castle.”

That doesn’t sound good. “Expect?”

“I’m not sure how to preface this.” Tukara turned her head to look out over the water. She heaved a sigh. “Volkihar is a home to vampires.”

Kiir raised her eyebrows. While she might not have guessed it herself, she found that made sense. The epidemic in Solitude, Vingalmo having been so cold, the distant, hidden castle - now with the definite answer all the pieces seemed to fit. “Then I’m assuming you’re one, too?”

“Yeah.” Tukara was watching Kiir intently. “You seem to be taking this well.”

“I’m not all that surprised, honestly.”

“You’re not worried?”

Kiir was a bit confused herself. Being told she was alone in a boat with a vampire, on her way to a vampire den no less, should have brought with it more panic or worry. But Kiir didn’t feel either of those things. She was more anxious about having to stay with strangers, vampires or not. “Well, if you planned to eat me or drink my blood you’d have probably done it by now.”

“Most likely, yes,” Tukara admitted.

“And Fish trusted you. And the Companions trust Fish.” Kiir smiled. “And you seem alright yourself.”

Tukara laughed. She let the oars slide back into the water and she started rowing again.

Kiir laid her back up against the end of the boat, keeping most of her body out of the way of the wind. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Depends on what it is.”

“You and Driem are sisters, right?”

A beat of silence passed. “Yes.”

“I don’t have any sisters,” Kiir started, “but I don’t think sister’s slam the door in the other’s face.”

“No, they don’t.” Tukara was looking down at the boat’s floor. “But she’s hardly my sister anymore.”

Kiir knitted her brows. “Driem seemed so happy to see you at first. I don’t think she’d agree that you aren’t sisters.”

Driem doesn’t know what she thinks. I’m not sure she does think. She just acts and then skirts any consequences, no matter who it hurts.”

“Driem did something?”

Tukara scoffed. Her hands were white knuckled on the oars. “She completely fucked over her entire family over something so stupid. She lacks any ability to take responsibility for her actions. Someone has to constantly keep her in check or she’ll go and do some dumb shit again.”

“And that’s why you didn’t want her to come along?”

“I didn’t want her to come along because I refuse to let her ruin my life a second time. She got me once because I let the fact that she was my sister cloud the fact that she was a piece of shit.” Tukara shook her head. “I won’t let that happen again.”

Kiir nodded along, not sure she wanted to push for specifics. The person Tukara was describing sounded nothing like the Driem Kiir knew. Driem had gone out of her way to help Kiir. She seemed selfless. “I’m surprised.”

“She’s good at manipulating people,” Tukara explained. “She’s latched onto you for a reason. I don’t know why, but I do know her. She’ll take you down with her.”

“I don’t know what I could possibly give to her.”

Tukara looked up finally. “You’re the Dragonborn, remember? You’re a very important person now.”

Kiir startled. You’ve become a very important person since we last talked. Honestly, Kiir had forgotten. Her last dragon encounter had been a while ago and getting her hands on the Horn didn’t seem like a Dragonborn quest. “I don’t feel important.”

“Well, you are. You should start keeping your guard up. People will want to use you for their own ends.” Tukara paused. “Driem included.”

The rest of the boat ride was mostly quiet. Kiir would occasionally ask how much further. Tukara would ask if Kiir was too cold. But other than those minor conversations, Kiir only had the wind and the waves to listen to.

You should start keeping your guard up. Kiir hadn’t realized how relaxed she’d gotten. When she’d first left the Isles, she’d be wary of everything, everyone. Skittish to anyone who tired to speak with her. But now she was in a boat with an elf she barely knew on her way to some hidden vampire castle.

Maybe I’ve gotten lazy, Kiir thought. She thought back to Driem, to the Companions, to Eithis and J’zargo... Had they all wanted something from her, too? She couldn’t imagine any of them using her. They’d had all been so genuine and kind. They all had truly felt like family.

But, if Tukara’s words were to be believed, even being family wasn’t enough.

Chapter Text

Volkihar Castle was not the storybook setting Kiir had imagined. It was gray and drab, almost disappearing into the fog. It looked worn down and Kiir realized that, despite her previous assumptions, this was exactly the kind of castle vampires would inhabit.

Tukara pulled the boat up to the dock and helped Kiir out onto the grass. She quickly tied it to one of the posts and then took point, leading Kiir up the stairs to the main door.

Kiir fidgeted with her hands. In some ways, the castle reminded her of High Hrothgar. A tall, brooding castle far away from anything else.

The inside of the castle was just as cold as it was outside. Despite the fire’s burning in the hearthes in the main dining hall, Kiir shivered.

“Tukara!”  A young blonde girl scampered in from a hallway. She stopped and placed her hands on her hips. “You said you'd let me go with you the next time you and Dad left!”

Kiir tried to dampen her surprised expression. The girl was clearly human, likely Nordic. She wasn't-

“Your father said no, Runa. Otherwise I'd have taken you.”

“This is the second time he's done that!” Runa stomped her foot and huffed. “Next time I'm stowing away on the boat.”

Tukara chuckled. “Stowing away where?”

Just then, the outside doors swung open. Kiir turned to see Vingalmo striding in, stripping his outer coat and laying it on the back of a chair.

He offered Kiir and smile, moving up beside her and clapping her on the back. “Did I miss anything?”

Runa looked up at Vingalmo, then at Kiir. Her eyes narrowed. “Is this your girlfriend?”

Kiir could feel Vingalmo’s hand spring up off her back.

He mumbled a few words before more clearly stating, “No.”

Tukara was laughing. She moved to pat Kiir on the shoulder, trying to quiet her chuckles. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.” Tukara looked to VIngalmo and smiled. “I’d invite you to come along, but considering Runa’s comment, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

Vingalmo rolled his eyes. “I’ll head up to Orthjolf’s room. Meet me there.”

Kiir followed behind Tukara as she rounded a corner and took them up a staircase. The further they travelled, Kiir realized, the more decrepit the building became. Entire sections of the floor and crumbled and Kiir was suddenly aware of where she was putting her feet. Even parts of the staircase were missing. “This place has seen better days.”

“Yeah, old buildings are like that.”

“Is it even... safe to be upstairs?”

“If it wasn’t, I’d have figured it out by now. Besides, a lot of this damage was done by earthquakes and natural disasters.” Tukara moved over near a pillar and swung back a hand, hitting the stone with enough force that dust started sprinkling down from above them.

Kiir jumped.

“See?” Tukara grinned. “The castle is old and needs a little work, but she’s still holding together.”

A ‘little’ work? Kiir waited for Tukara to turn back around before she shook her head. She didn’t want to dispute it anymore, though, lest Tukara try to hit another wall.

“This is where you’ll be staying,” Tukara said, opening a door along the hall.

Kiir followed Tukara inside. “There are... three beds?”

“Yeah, I know. We haven’t exactly gotten around to clearing up the other bedrooms, so you’ll be staying with Chief and Runa. We can move your bed closer to the side wall if you like. For some privacy?”

Kiir shrugged. I don’t think a few feet will really do anything. “Thanks, but this is fine.”

The room looked like the rest of the castle, grey brick and dusty floors. But, above what Kiir had no doubts was Runa’s bed, the wall was covered with colorful, intricate drawings. Some of the castle, others of people. They were quite detailed and, if Kiir was anyone to judge, well done.

“Runa draws,” Kiir said.

“The only one who does in the whole castle.”

These are better than J’zargo’s. Kiir laughed. She found that oddly fitting. “How long will I be staying?”

“As long as it takes to figure this Orthjolf thing out.” Tukara put her hands up in mock surrender. “I know, I know, that’s not really clear. But that’s all I can give you right now.”

“Alright.”

“And hey,” Tukara strode further into the room, putting herself next to Kiir, “I really appreciate you coming along. I know it was all kinda spir of the moment.”

Kiir turned and gave Tukara a soft smile. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’ll leave you to get settled in, then. Come on down to the dining hall when you’re done. Someone will get either me or Vingalmo.”

“Sounds good.” Kiir laid her bag on the bed and sat down next to it. She pulled out her three drawings and placed them on the blanket. I’ll have to find some way to hang them up. She slid them to the side so she could lay back on the bed.

The room had grown silent and Kiir closed her eyes. Her thoughts drifted back to the one thing gnawing at the back of Kiir’s mind - the Horn. She’d been so close to getting it. So close! If only she’d been a little faster, a little smarter - if they hadn’t gotten so stuck at the one trap... why didn’t she think of using her shout sooner?

Most worrying, though, was the person who had taken it. They had to have known Kiir, or someone else, was going after it. They set that wall to explode, didn’t they? They planned for it.

Kiir felt her chest get heavy. She was back in that tomb, stuck again under all those boulders. Kiir couldn’t feel her legs and her arms will still nestled tight beneath the rocks.

She tried to shout, but she couldn’t draw in enough breath. Her mind started to race. Kiir tired to wiggle free, but the pain that shot through her body said something was broken. Kiir couldn’t tell what.

She was stuck. Kiir’s breathing grew rapid, trying desperately to calm herself. Am I dying?

Kiir pulled at her hands, even as the pain grew in intensity. She wanted out. She wanted out. She wanted-

“Hey, are you okay?”

Kiir startled upwards, drawing in a rasping gasp. She was in a bedroom, in Volkihar Castle. She wasn’t trapped. She could breathe.

Runa was in the middle of the room, eyebrows raised.

“Yes, I’m okay,” Kiir answered.

“That looked to opposite of okay.”

Kiir swung her legs over the side of the bed, running her hands through her hair. It felt knotted and tangled. She needed a bath. “Does this place have a bath house?”

Runa snickered. “A bath house? Yeah, right. You can wash on the shore.”

“It's freezing out there.”

“Yeah, you learn to be quick.” Runa waved a hand over her shoulder. “Come on, I'll show you a spot where there's some privacy.”

Kiir had been about to protest again, but Runa had already started walking. Kiir leapt to her feet to follow. She'd seen how big the castle was when Tukara had led her through and she'd been lost enough times in the past few days.

Runa turned right out of the door, the opposite way Kiir and Tukara had come, and started down a different set of stairs. The halls down this way seemed smaller than the other ones.

Kiir towered over Runa and felt funny following such a small child. While keeping an eye on where Runa was going, Kiir still tried to get her bearing. This hallway has three doors: two on the left, one on the right.

At one point Runa held her hand out for Kiir to stop, before she slipped into a room and returned with a small glass bottle.

“Soap,” she explained.

They’d been walking for at least five minutes before Runa pushed open the door the led outside. A swift gust of air rose goosebumps over Kiir’s flesh. It also made her realize she’d completely forgotten her cloak.

“Over here is where I go.” Runa half-skipped over to a section of the shore that jutted out into the sea. It was surrounded by tall, jagged rocks that obscured most of the castle. “You have to bend kinda weird so not to get your clothes wet. I’ll go get you a towel!”

Kiir watched Runa disappear around the rocks. The wind wasn’t too bad over here, being blocked by the jagged boulders. Kiir crouched down and stuck her hand in the water. It was like ice. What I’d give for a warm bath. Kiir shook the thought from her head – it would only make this entire ordeal even worse.

Setting the bottle of soap down, Kiir bent her head down and flipped her hair up and over so it dangled in front of her. She leaned forward, getting as much of her hair in the water as possible… without losing her balance.

I must look ridiculous. Kiir reached a hand back, patting around for the bottle she’d set down. I swear I set it-

“What in the world are you doing?”

The voice was just above Kiir’s head – a voice that wasn’t Runa’s – and Kiir jumped. She tried to turn to see who it was, but with her heavy, wet hair in the way and her one arm still outstretched behind her, she realized too late that she was falling. She landed on her shoulder, which would have been fine if it didn’t also mean Kiir landed in a good four inches of water.

Kiir righted herself fairly quickly, but the damage had been done. The entire left side of her was soaked and, in a rush to sit back up, her hair had completely drenched her legs. You’ve got to be kidding me.

There was a soft chuckle. The voice was Vingalmo’s. “Are you alright?”

“Fantastic,” Kiir replied. She didn’t move to fix her hair, which still completely obscured her vision, but just sat for a minute. Then, she turned and grabbed the soap bottle and rose to her feet. With a final sigh, Kiir strode directly into the water.

It felt as though the further Kiir waded out, the colder it got, but Kiir was a little too frustrated to care. The water grew deeper faster than Kiir would have assumed. Once it reached her chest, Kiir checked the cap on the bottle, drew in a breath, and completely submerged herself.

The feeling of wet clothes stuck tight to her body was unpleasant, but Kiir found the cold water surprisingly refreshing. At least, now that it wasn’t only half her body that was wet. She stayed underwater a moment.

The last time Kiir had done this she’d been ten… or perhaps eleven. Her father had been given a few days off and he insisted that they go on a trip. It wasn’t often Kiir’s family got to leave the city so it was a memory that stood out amongst the others.

Summerset’s southern beaches were the most popular, being that the land was flatter and allowed for more beach space to be had. More than a few of Alinor’s higher ups had second houses built along the southern shore. The northern beaches, on the other hand, were rockier, with sharp cliffs and jagged shoreline. It was difficult to navigate, both on land and by sea.

There had just recently been a summer storm when Kiir’s family went up to the rocky cliffs. The thin shoreline was littered with branches and, to Kiir’s great amusement, a massive tree trunk.

Her mother had insisted she stay out of the water, but Kiir was young and curious and the thought of running to the waves and collecting shells was worth the scolding she’d no doubt receive when she got home.

Kiir pushed herself back above the surface, immediately feeling the wind chill her face. No longer near the rocks, the wind was back, but Kiir found her body had grown used to it. She pulled the top off the bottle and dumped a small amount of the liquid in her hand, then scrubbing in onto the top of her head.

“Are you insane?!”

Kiir turned to face shore. She’d almost completely forgotten Vingalmo was still there. She raised a soapy hand and waved.

Vingalmo just shook his head. He stepped back and sat on one of the rocks.

Kiir had been about the turn her back again, but a small figure came skipping out from the door leading back into Volkihar.

When Runa’s gaze fell on Kiir, she dropped the towel she’d been holding to throw her hands up in the air. “We’re swimming now?!”

Vingalmo said something to her, Kiir being too far to hear what it was.

Runa, however, was already running full tilt towards the shoreline. She pulled off her boots and dipped a toe in, startling a little.

Vingalmo started to rise, but was too late.

Runa shrugged and started making her way towards Kiir. “It’s freezing!”

Kiir laughed aloud. “Then why did you come in?”

“Dad never lets me go swimming out here!” Runa laid on her back, floating. “At least now I can say that I was helping you.”

Kiir finished kneading the soap into her hair and raised an eyebrow. “Helping me… wash my hair?”

“Why not?” Runa chuckled.

“Blame the new girl, I see,” Kiir replied. She didn’t give Runa a chance to reply before Kiir dunked herself under the water again, scrubbing the soap from her hair.

When she resurfaced, Runa was poised to splash her. She shoved her hands out, sending a torrent of water Kiir’s way, giggling loudly as she turned and moved out of reach.

“What was that for?” Kiir called.

Runa didn’t reply, continuing to scramble for shore.

Kiir shook her head, following. She was tall enough to simply walk back and caught up to the struggling girl quickly. Kiir reached down and grabbed Runa under the arms, hoisting her up onto Kiir’s shoulders.

Runa squealed. “It’s colder up here!”

“That’s what you get,” Kiir replied, continuing on up to the grass.

Vingalmo looked to be somewhere between bemused and entertained. He shoved himself up to his feet and shook his head. “I came to find you for Tukara. She found where Orthjolf might have gone and wanted to leave soon.” Vingalmo’s gaze travelled up to Runa. “But I see that might be difficult now.”

“You’re the one who startled me enough to fall in,” Kiir protested. “If Tukara asks, this was your fault.”

Vingalmo’s lip twitched. “My fault?”

“I’ve got a witness, right Runa?”

“Yup.”

“You know, look awfully dry, Vingalmo.” Kiir reached up to grab Runa again.

Runa didn’t need any direction, as she immediately reached out for Vingalmo, wrapping her arms around his neck. She made sure to press her hair against his face.

Vingalmo tentatively held her up, not wanting to drop her but also wanting to keep as dry as possible. “That was unnecessary.”

Kiir shrugged, turning quickly to grab the towel Runa had dropped earlier and jogging for the door. By the time she’d wrapped her hair up and started back to where she thought her room was, Kiir realized she’d forgotten the soap bottle. Oh well, Kiir thought.

It was foolish for Kiir to have gotten her clothes wet, considering she only had two full sets. Still, Kiir couldn’t believe how relaxed she was. She’d been so caught up with the Horn and dragons and destiny for so long she’d grown used to being stressed. I owe Runa a thanks.

As Kiir was digging through her bag, she heard the door open.

There was a beat of silence.

“Why are you wet?”

Kiir laughed. She turned to face Tukara, grinning from ear to ear. “You wouldn’t happen to have a spare pair of boots, would you?”

“No, I don't,” Tukara answered. Her tone was flat and unamused. “I need you down in the dining hall. We've an idea where Orthjolf might have gone and why he's so worried about the dragonborn.”

“Oh?” Kiir raised an eyebrow.

“Suffice it to say, he's afraid of what you can do.”

Which would explain why he would think he needs the Horn, Kiir thought. “Alright, I'll be down in a minute.”

“And maybe save the swimming lessons for another day?”

Kiir wasn't sure if Tukara had meant that as a joke or not, but she laughed anyway. “Sure thing.”

Chapter Text

“The Forgotten Vale?” Kiir asked. The name certainly sounded mystic enough. “What is it?”

Tukara had her pack tossed up on the dining room table. It was late and the only light in the room was the flow from the fireplaces and torches. She was shoving things in her bag haphazardly, angrily. “It’s less about the place and more about what’s there.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Not any more than the rest of Skyrim,” Tukara answered. “But there’s a weapon there that Orthjolf cannot get ahold of. I had figured it was safe, but clearly I was fucking wrong.”

Weapon? I’ve been through this once with the Staff of Magnus. “What, like a sword?”

“Bow,” Tukara corrected. “The Bow of Auri-El. Damn thing has been a problem since Harkon asked me to get it.”

“Auri-El?” Kiir repeated. She hadn’t ever heard of a weapon like that – a fact that surprised her. Shouldn’t the bow of the head of the Elven Pantheon be with the elves? Or on Summerset in the least? “What’s something like that doing in Skyrim?”

“Fuck if I know.”

Helpful, Kiir thought. “What does this all have to do with me, then?”

“I can answer that,” Vingalmo replied. He sat atop the table near where Tukara was. “He seems to have some vendetta against you, the dragonborn. Orthjolf isn’t exactly the most eloquent writer, but Tukara and I were able to decipher his ramblings.”

“He wrote about me?”

Vingalmo laughed. “Not about you , specifically. But he believes he needs the bow to finally surpass the power of the dragonborn. To finally “best him”, as he put it. Though I guess it is ‘her’ in this case.”

Kiir pressed her thumb into her palm. Tukara had echoed Auri-El’s words to her that being dragonborn meant she was important. People would want her and her ability. She would have to be wary. Still, hearing that someone she had never met had such a hate for her made her gut turn. “So he is targeting me.”

“Abstractly,” Vingalmo added.

“Abstractly or not, Kiir won’t be the only one in trouble when Orthjolf blots out the sun. We need to move.”

Kiir cast a glance towards the door. “Do you think he knew about the Horn?”

Tukara look up, eyebrow raised. “What would he need the Horn for? Orthjolf can’t shout.”

“But doesn’t it feel… weird?” Kiir struggled to put her thoughts into words. It wasn’t like she had a solid lead or anything. “The Greybeards themselves send the dragonborn to fetch a Horn, hidden away in a tomb. Someone steals it out from underneath me, and then I come to find out that there’s a powerful vampire with a vendetta against me? It all seems to fit.”

Vingalmo looked to Tukara, then back at Kiir. “He has been gone long enough that he would have had to time to take the Horn.”

“You think he took it just to keep it out of your hands?” Tukara asked.

Vingalmo laughed. “It would certainly fit his personality.”

Tukara stared down at the table for a moment, paused in thought. “If he did take the Horn, then he’s been at this much longer than I thought.”

If he did take the Horn, Kiir thought, then this just got far bigger than a vampire problem.

“You both should get moving.” Vingalmo’s voice tore Kiir from her thoughts.

“You’re not coming?” Kiir asked.

Vingalmo’s lips twitched. “What, disappointed?”

Kiir’s face flushed and she frowned. “No, curious.”

“Come on,” Tukara whapped Kiir’s shoulder and started towards the front door. “We’ve got a ways to go.”


 

Kir hadn’t been lying when she’d said she wanted nothing to do with the undead horse Tukara rode. It made Kiir uncomfortable to even be around it, let alone ride it.

Yet, here Kiir was, arms wrapped around Tukara’s waist, riding atop the infernal beast.

It was surprising to realize that the horse, while being skeletal, felt as though it had flesh. If Kiir closed her eyes, she could pretend it was a real horse instead. But Kiir was struggling to stay awake as it was – it seemed horseback rides lulled her to sleep – so closing her eyes was not an option.

“So,” Tukara started, “what’s it like? Being dragonborn, I mean?”

“What’s it… like?”

“Yeah, I mean you absorb dragon souls and can push shit with your voice. You have a fucking dragon soul. I’m just curious if it feels any different.”

Kiir shook her head. “I don’t have a dragon soul, I just absorb them… or however that works.”

“Really? I always heard that the dragonborn was special because they were a moral being with the soul of a dragon. Which is why shouts come so easily to them.”

“No.” Kiir shook her head. That can’t be right. “Or I guess... maybe I collect them? So maybe I do have them but... as auxiliary souls.”

Tukara laughed. “Auxiliary souls?”

“You know, like extra souls. That is probably how I’m able to shout. I use those souls... I think.”

“You use them... That almost sounds less likely than just having a dragon soul altogether.”

Does it? Kiir frowned. She felt uneasy talking about this. “I don’t know. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? I mean, the absorbed soul has to go somewhere.”

“It does, yes.” Tukara shrugged. “This sure has you riled up.”

Kiir felt Arvak start walking again. She sighed aloud. “I still don’t fully understand what… being Dragonborn means. I’ve been doing it, but I don’t really get it.”

“Isn’t that what the Greybeards are for?”

“I would assume.” Kiir shrugged. “I’m sure, had I returned with the Horn, I’d have been given more information. But for right now I’m in limbo.”

Tukara nodded. “So that’s why you want the Horn? So you can understand more?”

“I want the Horn because it’s the only goal I have right now. Everything is so messy and unclear and if I didn’t have the Horn to go after I don’t know what I’d be doing.” Kiir leaned back and looked upwards to the sky. She’d grown accustomed to the chill in the air now. “I still don’t get how I could have ended up in Skyrim by pure chance when, as it would turn out, this is where I would need to be.”

“The Gods work in mysterious ways.”

Kiir thought back to Auri-El’s comments, his constant arrival in her mind and her dreams. She wasn’t so sure they were even real – they certainly felt real. “I guess they do.”

“That’s not to say I don’t think we make our own choices,” Tukara clarified, “but I think we all have a purpose. Yours just happens to be more explicit.”

“I didn’t take you as a religious person.”

“I’m not. But with so many powerful forces around us, I just think it’s more likely that we all play into something bigger. Whether that’s nature or logic or whatever, I don’t know. But to imagine us all just running around pointlessly sounds ridiculous.”

Kiir agreed, it did sound ridiculous. And while she was more likely to believe that it was, in fact, a higher power that drove everyone’s purpose, Tukara’s point still stood.

The rest of the ride was silent, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Kiir found herself less and less opposed to the idea of Arvak, too, as the ride went on. Despite his unnatural appearance, the more she saw of him the more she realized he was just a horse. A flaming, skeletal horse, but a horse nonetheless.

Another misconception. Kiir’s mind drifted. How stifled had she been back home? How much had she just come to accept because it was what her parents or people had told her was true? She’d barely been in Skyrim a week and she was nearly killed by a group of justicars, then she’d almost died by the hand of another Thalmor… Kiir could never have imagined such a thing happening had it not happened to her. The threat of learning destruction magic? The threat of other races? My father was wrong.

“Kiir?”

Kiir startled, realizing that Arvak had stopped again. They were in an assuming patch of forest, just outside a grouping of rocks that seemed to lead into a cave. Kiir felt a shiver run up her spine. No one said anything about a cave.

“I can’t get off until you do, Kiir.”

Reluctantly, Kiir slid off of Arvak and onto the ground. Her legs were sore from sitting so long. She stretched, trying not to look too long at the cave’s entrance.

Tukara leapt off and then turned to place a hand on Arvak’s forehead. The horse nuzzled her and then, in an instant, had become just a skull in Tukara’s hand. She turned back around to Kiir. “You ready?”

Kiir paused. “I didn’t think we’d be needing to go through a cave.”

“I didn’t think it was that important…” Tukara raised an eyebrow. “Not a fan of them?”

Not since one nearly killed me . “Are there draugr?”

Tukara laughed. “Not fans of those either? No, there aren’t any draugr. A lot of Falmer, though.”

“Falmer?” Kiir’s voice rang louder than she had intended. “I thought they went extinct.”

“The actual Snow Elves did. Well, most of the actual Snow Elves. What remains of them still linger in these parts.”

“What… remains?”

Tukara strode towards the mouth of the cave, beckoning Kiir to follow. “Hard to describe. I’ll show you when we see one.”

I don’t want to see one! Kiir thought. She hoisted her shawl higher on her shoulders as she followed behind Tukara into the cave.

Like the sun had been swallowed whole, Kiir found that even a few steps into the cave it was impossibly dark. She stopped, holding her hand up to cast a magelight spell. “Tukara?”

Tukara turned. The only thing visible on her were her bright, orange eyes.

Kiir gasped aloud.

“Oh, sorry,” Tukara said. She moved back so that her face was inside the warm blue light. Her eyes still shone. “I forgot you hadn’t seen that yet.”

“A little warning would have been nice.”

“Well, consider yourself warned.” Tukara flashed a smile, before moving outside of the light and down further into the cave.

Kiir kept up, albeit with some trouble. Where Tukara knew to expect a turn, Kiir didn’t. There were more than a few times Kiir almost ran directly into a wall. A magelight spell is usually brighter than this… It was as if the darkness of the cave was actively pushing in on them.

They were about twenty minutes into the walk when Tukara stopped, with Kiir ramming right into the back of her.

Kiir oofed, stepping backwards. “What-“

“Shh,” Tukara hissed. “Put out that light.”

Kiir froze, quickly dispelling the magelight. She listened closely, but heard only the distant sounds of water dripping. She then heard Tukara move around in front of her. Kiir stayed put. A few times she saw Tukara’s eyes flash, until finally they both appeared and moved towards her.

“I’m going to scout up ahead.”

Even though she knew it was Tukara, only seeing two orange eyes in an expanse of black made Kiir uneasy. “And what, I should just stay here?”

“Unless you want to get lost. I thought I heard something ahead and I want to make sure we’re not walking into a nest.”

“Nest of what?”

“Keep your voice down.” Tukara’s eyes narrowed. “And don’t cast another magelight until I come back. I’d rather you not draw anything to you.”

Kiir shook her head. “Why don’t I come with you?”

“You’re blind in here. You won’t be any help and I’ll only be a second.” With that, Tukara turned. Her foots steps faded further away until Kiir only heard the distant water again.

Did she just abandon me here? Kiir wasn’t sure if she was more miffed or more nervous. Sure, it seemed stupid for Tukara to just leave her here, but there wasn’t much Kiir could do about it. She could only move if she cast another magelight and the seriousness of Tukara’s warnings had stuck with her.

Kiir thought about sitting down, but realized that if she needed to move quickly sitting in the dark would be the worst position she could be in. So Kiir stayed standing, trying not to move much in case she lost her bearings.

It was only a few minutes of standing when Kiir realized that something else, some other sound, had started to rise above the cave ambience. It started as a soft scuttle, like small rocks being knocked and tumbled around. Then it was clothes rustling against each other.

Kiir held her breath. She watched closely for the glint of Tukara’s eyes. She wouldn’t have orchestrated this all to just scare me, would she? The claim of having to ‘scout up ahead’ did fall a little flat. Kiir huffed, lighting a magelight spell. “Not funny, Tukara.”

The hall was empty.

Kiir frowned. “Really?” She waved her hand around to try and get a better look around her. The noise was still there, but the subtle cave echo made it difficult to discern exactly where it was coming from. The cave’s tunnel was about seven feet high and six feet wide. Not cramped, but not exactly comfortable either.

Kiir took a few steps forward and waved her hand around again, only this time something caught her eye.

It was white and near the ground.

Crawling around on the ground? Tukara is certainly committed. Kiir lowered her hand to fully illuminate Tukara when she stopped.

The thing on the ground wasn’t Tukara. It was hunched and incredibly pale. Its skin was tight on its thin body – a smaller, more animalistic draugr. It’s long spindly fingers suddenly started reaching up towards Kiir’s face.

Kiir screamed.

Immediately, the thing leapt forward, latching itself onto Kiir’s shoulder as Kiir stumbled back into the wall. Her head cracked loudly against the stone.

Kiir forced a fiery fist into the creatures chest. At least, where she figured its chest was. There was a satisfactory squeal and it let go, stumbling onto the ground.

With a throbbing skull, Kiir backpedaled. She tried to keep a magelight lit long enough to get her bearings. She was grasping at the walls, continually dropping her magelight spell to steady herself.

She could still hear the creature, somewhere, and Kiir tried to keep herself quiet. Part of her was glad she couldn't see - with how her head was feeling she was sure she'd be seeing double.

There was a distant screech and Kiir feared the monster had caught her scent again. She held her breath

Then, an orange light glinted in the distance.

“Kiir? Are you alright?”

Kiir followed Tukara’s eyes as she got closer. “What in the world-”

“I leave you alone for five minutes...” Tukara grumbled. She grabbed Kiir’s arm and hoisted her to her feet. “Just my luck I go looking for the thing and it comes back for you while I'm gone.”

“What was that?”

“Falmer.” Tukara started to pull Kiir forwards. “I'll explain on the way.”

“I thought we had to be quiet.”

“Not anymore. Come on.”

Kiir lit another magelight, seeing the dead body of the Falmer curled up against the wall. She shook her head. As if draugr weren't enough...

 

Chapter Text

The Snow Elves were probably the only race Kiir could think of that the Altmer truly felt akin to. Where Dunmer were the ones who fell to the Daedra, the Bosmer were the lesser cousins - not nearly as civilized, and the man or beast races were never considered. The Altmer were, in their own view, unrivaled. The Falmer were the only ones to even come close to the Altmer’s self proclaimed pedestal.

At least, they used to.

“I can't believe I never knew about this.” Kiir and Tukara had been walking for close to a half an hour now and hadn't seen another Falmer, but the image of the one from before wouldn't leave Kiir’s mind.

“It's not really something people like to talk about,” Tukara said. “It horrific and implicates a whole lot of races who would prefer just to forget about it.”

“Considering what I've learned my own people kept secret, I'm not surprised.”

Tukara turned her head back slightly, her eyes flashing in the blue glow of the magelight. “What you learned?”

“The Thalmor are...” Kiir wasn't sure what word she wanted to use. “I always thought of them like guardians, soldiers at most. Protectors of the Isles. But here they're... warmongers.”

“You just figured this out?”

“I learned it after nearly being slaughtered by some border guards.”

Tukara made a low humming noise. “Yeah, that'll teach you alright.”

“You'd think after more than two centuries I'd have figured something out.” Kiir shook her head. “The Thalmor make it sound like Altmer don't leave the Isles because of prejudice against us everywhere else. They don't exactly let slip that they're the reason the prejudice exists in the first place.”

Tukara hummed again. “The Vale shouldn't be much further ahead.”

Kiir nodded, even though Tukara couldn't see her. She was getting anxious, both to see the Vale and to get out of the cave.

Some light had begun to filter into the cave through a crack in the ceiling. The sound of running water, which before had just been a trickle, had grown.

They turned and Kiir caught sight of a rope bridge which had, unfortunately, broken off. It hung unevenly at the edge of the cliff.

Tukara walked up to the bridge and set down her bag, beginning to remove some of her armor.

“What're you doing?”

“This bag is mostly waterproof, as long as you don't submerge it too long.” Tukara pointed to Kiir’s shawl. “You might want to take that off, don't want it getting wet.”

“Getting wet?” Kiir echoed. She'd already had her fill of swimming.

Tukara motioned for Kiir to give her the shawl. “Come on, hand it over.”

Kiir slowly slid it off her shoulder, extending it out. She then moved closer to the bridge, leaning over to look down at where the sounds of rushing water were coming from.

The drop was a good forty feet, even through the mist tossed up by the waterfall. The river, or whatever it was, toppled down from an opening just under the cliff’s edge. It shot out a good ways before curving down into the pool below.

“Are we jumping?” Kiir asked.

Tukara hand finished tying her bag closed and rolled the top over on itself. She hugged it tight to her chest and grinned. “You bet. See you at the bottom.”

Kiir opened her mouth to protest, but Tukara wasted not a second striding up to the edge and walking clear off it. Kiir tried to listen for the splash, but the roar of the falls drowned out any other sound.

Great. Kiir held her breath and stood still for a moment. She did not want to jump and her body didn’t want to either. But the thought of being alone in the cave again made goosebumps rise on her skin. Just great. Closing her eyes tight, Kiir jumped.

The plummet to the bottom was farther than she had anticipated. When she finally hit the water, Kiir was startled to find the water ice cold. Not that she should have expected any different, but still an unpleasant experience.

The roar of the falls was now all around Kiir as she struggled to right herself in the current. Kiir wasn't even sure what direction she was headed - she could barely open her eyes for long enough to see anything.

Thankfully, the current finally slowed and Kiir was able to situate herself into a more comfortable position. The river here was shallow enough that Kiir could stand and attempt to discern her surroundings. The cave was dark and wet. There were teal mushrooms, glowing quite brightly, the grew along the walls. They seemed to be the only thing illuminating the path further.

Suddenly, a hand reached out and grabbed Kiir’s arm.

Tukara’s orange eyes peered through the darkness. “You okay?”

Kiir sighed, letting her heart settle back into her chest. “Yeah. I just hadn’t expected to fall that far.”

“To be honest, neither did I. It's been a while since I've been here.”

Kiir let her gaze drift upwards to the cave ceiling. “Do you have a plan to get back up?”

“Oh yeah, we can take the long way.” Tukara reached to wring out her hair. “Much drier that way, too.”

“You mean we didn't have to jump?”

Tukara flashed a smile. “Technically.”

Kiir frowned. She reached back to wring out her hair and then fell into step again behind Tukara. All of this for some weapon? Kiir thought. Honestly, she wasn't anyone to judge. She was still on the hunt for a Horn that may or may not be gone forever. She'd be lucky if she even found who took it, let alone get her hands on it.

“There shouldn't be anymore Falmer around here,” Tukara said. “You can use your magelight.”

Thank Auri-El , Kiir thought. The bouncing blue light gave Kiir some comfort in the confined cave. It was unfortunate, what had happened to the Falmer. Kiir had heard of their disappearance growing up, but to think that this is what had become of them. I wonder if the Thalmor knew about this and just kept it secret.

Kiir shivered. “How much further is the Vale from here?”

“Not much further, follow the mushrooms and down a few cramped halls and we’ll be there in no time,” Tukara replied.

A ‘few’ cramped halls seemed to be an understatement. It felt like years had passed since Kiir had been able to stand straight.

Then, Tukara stopped at the end of the room. She crouched near the ground.

“What is it?” Kiir asked. She moved to stand above Tukara and saw the body of a Falmer. It'd been nearly eviscerated. Kiir stared at it and found herself surprisingly calm.

“Orthjolf has been through here.”

“And he felt the need to do that?”

“He must've been thirsty.” Tukara stood. “I'm surprised we didn't find more corpses.”

I'm glad, Kiir thought.

Tukara started down the cave again and pointed upwards. “Watch your head. It gets cramped in here, even for me.”

Kiir scoffed. Like I haven't been cramped this entire time .

As the two moved further in, the cave walls drew in closer. Kiir’s shoulders had started to brush against the rock. Her heart started to pound, almost drowning out the sounds of the cave.

I want out, I want out. Kiir tried to slow her breathing but everytime she felt the wall or the ceiling she was reminded of how close everything was. What if she got stuck? Kiir’s head felt lighter and she wondered if the air down here was somehow thinner.

Kiir was dizzy. Had knocking her head earlier caused some kind of delayed reaction? Her heart beat faster. This is stupid, you're fine, you're-

Then she felt a hand grab her own and pull.

Kiir latched on, being pulled out into an open area. As Kiir’s eyes adjusted, she realized it wasn't the mouth of the cave, as she had hoped, but rather the bottom of a ravine. Above her, sunlight trickled in.

“Come on, this way,” Tukara said.

Kiir could now see further than just her magelight. The air was fresh and cool. Her heart slowed down. “How low are we? I didn’t think sunlight would be down this far.”

“Low enough that no one can find this place.”

Tukara walked into a small creek that split the room in two.

The walls were covered in a thin moss, growing thicker to where the light from above fell. Kiir raised a brow when she noticed candles begin to replace the glowing mushrooms. She'd been about to ask when, instead, her eyes fell on a bright, white gazebo nestled into the corner of the room.

What in the world. Inside were tall, indented arches with their opening covered in a reflective silvery liquid. Upon closer inspection, Kiir noticed she could barely make out landscapes on its surface.

The entire place was humming with magic - something Kiir hadn’t experienced since she found the Eye of Magnus. His place wasn’t quite that powerful, but there were incredible levels of magic flowing through here.

Without a word, Tukara walked through one of the images. The silvery liquid engulfed her until she herself was in the image on the other side.

Kiir ran her hand along the silvery surface, feeling that is was icy cold. She had never seen anything quite like this, even on the Isles. Kiir took in a breath and stepped forward.

“Come on, we’re almost there!”

Tukara was waving over her shoulder and Kiir jogged to catch up.

The frostbitten grass crunched under her feet. Mountains surrounded the valley on all sides and a creek, lower down from where they appeared, bubbled softly. There was a thin fog that hung low over the ground. Blue flowers grew from amongst the purple plants and grass.

Kiir realized she’d seen them before. In her chat with Auri-El. This place is real? Kiir spun in place, trying to see if she could discern exactly where she’d stood. She turned her eyes upwards, placing a hand over her face to shield out the sun.

Then, the light went out.

Kiir thought at first that a cloud had passed overhead, or perhaps she’d stepped into a shadow, but the deep, red color of the sun made clear that wasn’t the case.

A deep, resounding boom echoed out into the valley, one Kiir could feel thrum in her chest.

“We have to move, now. ” Tukara grabbed Arvak’s skull from her pack. She tossed it upwards and the skeletal horse whinnied, casting its head skyward and shifting uneasily.

Tukara leapt onto his back, holding out a hand to Kiir.

So this is the prophecy.  “Are we too late?”

Tukara pushed Arvak faster. “I don’t know!”

Kiir noticed Tukara grabbing tighter onto Arvak’s reigns. Her knuckles were white. “Can we reverse this?”

“I don’t know! ” Tukara hissed.

Kiir closed her mouth.

Arvak raced across the open field towards another gazebo, one Kiir hadn’t noticed right away. This one had one fewer silvery portals than the first one hand.

“That son of a bitch!” Tukara urged Arvak forward through the left most portal.

It was a tight fit, Kiir having to duck to avoid hitting her head.

The air in this new area felt thinner and colder. It smelled of rot. Kiir hoped to Gods it wasn’t draugr.

Kiir was startled at how calm she felt. The landscape was hellish, with a red haze that touched everything and turned midday something fit for Oblivion. She should be panicking but Kiir found something in this place... soothing her.

A temple slowly began to emerge from the fog, rising up into the blood red sky.

Tukara pushed Arvak up the stairs towards the entrance to the temple. She stopped there, leaping from Arvak’s back and running up to the Temple’s doors.

Kiir, however, found herself drawn to the towering statue of Auri-El at the front of the temple. It was humbling, to say the least. It reminded her of the statue in front of the College - a lot of this place reminded her of the college. The statue had aged some, but looked to be incredibly well taken care of. The gold accents and intricate carving were unlike anything Kiir had seen before.

You’ve become an important person, Kiir could hear him say. You chose this.

Kiir still hadn’t quite figured out what that meant.

“Fuck!”

Kiir jumped, hearing Tukara shout from inside the temple. Giving a silent nod to the statue, Kiir ran towards the sound.

The inside of the temple was just as impressive as the outside, but Kiir didn’t have time to admire them. There were bodies of Falmer and hard-shelled bugs scattered about the floor. Blood stained some of the cobbled bricks red.

In the corner of the room, Tukara was crouched low over the body of a man. His incredibly pale skin glittered in the pale light.

“Gelebor,” Tukara whispered. Her hand hovered above his chest.

“I’ll be fine, just give me a moment.”

Kiir met eyes with the man and smiled. She took note of his ears and raised her eyebrows - not man, elf. She leaned over Tukara to see a large stain of red on the elf’s - Gelebor, Tukara had called him - chest. “Here, I can help.”

Tukara sat back, giving Kiir enough room to kneel closer.

Gelebor chuckled. “Brought a pilgrim with you?”

“You could say that,” Tukara replied.

Kiir let a yellow warmth envelope her hands and held them over Gelebor’s injuries. She could feel the slick blood under her palms as she concentrated, listening closely to his breathing. “I’d have assumed you’d know your own healing spells.”

“I’m a little rusty, I’ll be the first to admit.” Gelebor hoisted himself higher onto his hands.

Then, there was the screech of a door opening somewhere in the distance.

Tukara was on her feet in an instant, bow in her hands.

Kiir leaned around Tukara’s legs to try and see what was going on.

There were a few short tongue clicks. “Tukara, what a surprise.”

Kiir could just barely make out a figure striding towards them. The only clearly visible part of him were his eyes, just as vibrantly orange as Tukara’s.

“Oh, and the Dragonborn? It must be my lucky day.”

Tukara hissed. “One step closer, Orthjolf, and I’ll rip your fucking throat out.”

Suddenly, the eyes were gone.

A hand grasped Kiir’s arm, breaking her from the tension.

Gelebor was getting himself up from the ground. “We have to move.”

Kiir nodded, but then felt something whiz by her face. She made the mistake of turning back around.

Tukara and Orthjolf were gone. In their place were green-ish gray monsters moving so fast Kiir was only able to catch fleeting glances of them. They were howling and screaming, though whether it was in anger or pain Kiir couldn’t tell.

Gelebor tightened his grip on Kiir’s arm. “Come on!”

Kiir snapped out of her stupor and helped hoist Gelebor to his feet. “Where are we going?”

“Back this way,” Gelebor said, pointing to a hallway out of the main foyer. “We need to hurry.”

The sounds of battle behind her intensified and Kiir found the pervasive calm from before was beginning to wear off. Her heart was thundering. “Was that-”

“Tukara? Yes.” Gelebor reached out for the wall to steady himself as they reached to inside of the room. “There is a weak brick on the far wall, break it.”

Kiir did as she was told, running her hands along the aged and dusty brick. She didn’t feel anything. “Are you sure it’s on this wall?”

“Positive, keep looking.”

Kiir stood back, trying to see if any of the bricks looked different. She quickly lit a magelight and, with the darkness partially gone, she could clearly see what Gelebor was talking about. She slammed a hand into it, recoiling as a sharp pain radiated into her hand.

The brick looked no worse for wear.

Really! Kiir thought. She placed her hand flat against the brick and cast an Incinerate spell.

The brick blasted inward and Kiir stumbled back, waving off the plume of dust.

Inside the small hole, there was a collection of arrows. Kiir reached in and drew a few out.

Gelebor held his hand out. “Give them to me.”

Kiir obliged.

Gelebor moved so his back was against the wall and began speaking something over them. His words made the arrows glow a pale yellow and, looking up again, he handed them back to Kiir. “Put these in the bow and fire them at the sun.”

“The bow?” Kiir hadn’t even seen a bow. “The Auri-El one?”

“Yes, the Auri-El one.”

Kiir scanned the room, not sure if she’d missed it when she walked in.

“It’s not in here, Orthjolf likely has it.”

Kiir’s shoulder’s fell. She wanted to protest, but in that moment something slammed into the outside wall of the room. Kiir turned and saw the vampire creatures locked together. She caught sight of the bow, latched neatly onto one’s back. It can never be easy, can it. “Can’t I just use a regular bow?”

Gelebor sighed. “If only.”

Kiir tucked the arrows into her boot and cast an Invisibility spell, carefully wandering back out into the foyer.

Tukara and Orthjolf were fast. Their fight moved from corner to corner, one flinging the other with such speed Kiir was only able to discern which was which when they had come to a stop against one of the walls.

Kiir crouched, even though she knew she couldn’t be seen. She’d need to be quick - Orthjolf had the bow strapped to his body. With enough force, Kiir could hopefully yank it free with enough time to fire off an arrow.

Hopefully.

Her chance came when Orthjolf had Tukara pinned to the ground, his back in full view of Kiir.

“And you were the one to defeat Harkon?” Orthjolf laughed. “Disgraceful.”

Kiir let her hands wrap around the bow and she pulled back.

The leather strap held firm.

Shit! Kiir pulled again, but lost her grip as Orthjolf’s form started to turn. She stared up at the hideous monstrosity that Orthjolf was and quickly scamped under his arm as he looked out over the room.

“So the Dragonborn has a few tricks up her sleeve.”

Kiir moved out towards the outer walls. She turned as Tukara leapt onto Orthjolf’s back and tore the bow from him. She tossed it out over her shoulder.

Not a second to spare, Kiir ran for it. She scooped the bow into her hands and raced out of the Temple. She’d forgotten how dark it was, realizing then that Auri-El’s bow cast off a small glow.

Dispelling her Invisibility, Kiir nocked an arrow back and pointed it skyward. The bow’s string was difficult to pull back fully. Kiir could feel her shoulder burning in protest. The glowing tip of the arrow shone brighter as Kiir aimed it towards the sun. Then, she let go.

A flash of light erupted from the arrow and covered the entire field. Kiir shielded her eyes, smiling as she felt the warmth of the sun fall upon her skin.

Kiir looked upwards as the brightness faded back into blue skies. I did it!

“Kiir!”

Tukara’s shout brought Kiir back to reality, turning her attention towards the temple.

The fight seemed to have migrated out to the stairs. Tukara had Orthjolf caught in a headlock, her claws dug deep into his shoulder. Or... was it Tukara who was being held?

Tukara’s form shook her head. “Shoot him!”

“Shoot him?” Kiir echoed. Shooting at the sun was one thing, but there was no guarantee Kiir could accurately shoot a person. And Tukara was so close-

“Yes, shoot him!” Tukara was struggling to keep Orthjolf still. He was hissing and growling, spit flying out from his mouth.

Kiir reached for another arrow, nocking it into the bow and taking a few strides forward. She drew the arrow back, her already sore shoulder struggling to even hold the bow steady. The light at the end of the arrow moved unsteadily between Orthjolf and Tukara’s writhing forms. I’m going to hit-

“Shoot the fucking arrow!”

Kiir let go and, in an instant, her vision was filled with yellow.

Chapter Text

The only thing Kiir could hear was screaming.

At first, she had thought it was herself. But as the yellow light faded and the world around her came back into view, Kiir realized she was silent. She had stumbled backwards onto the ground and the bow was still gripped tightly in her hand. Ahead of her, someone lay strewn across the stairs. Another was hunched over, gripping the wall for support.

Kiir jumped to her feet. Tukara?

“Son of a fucking bitch !”

Kiir, upon drawing closer, noticed that Tukara and Orthjolf had resorted to their more human forms.

Tukara was the one leaned up against the wall. Her hand hovered along her left side. She looked up as Kiir approached. “You can't even aim a fucking bow?!”

“I'm sorry!” Kiir cringed. She could see that Tukara’s skin had been burned. Kiir glanced down at her hands - she knew all too well what that felt like.

“Sorry!?”

Kiir let her eyes drift down to the writhing form of Orthjolf. She had not seen him in his mortal form, and was surprised to see he was a Nord. The arrow she’d shot into his chest was still glowing and the skin around the entry wound was hissing and bubbling. Kiir shivered, she'd seen enough of that with Einar.

Tukara had regained most of her composure and righted herself, whirling to slam a foot onto Orthjolf’s chest. “You stupid mother fucker.”

“Harkon was right,” Orthjolf wheezed. Peeling his face from the steps as he looked at her, flesh still stuck to the marble under him. “You all have become slaves to mortals. You had the power to make us invincible , Tukara.”

“You're insane.” Tukara placed her foot against his throat. “I didn't think you had it in you.”

“You'll regret this. When Miraak comes around, you'll be the idiot who let herself pass on a chance for power because of some deluded belief in decency.” Orthjolf’s face was turned up in a snarl, but for a moment his expression softened. “I had a plan to protect us.”

Tukara pressed her heel into Orthjolf’s throat. “Who is Miraak?”

Orthjolf gargled, trying to draw in breath. He turned his head so he was looking at Kiir. “My brother. I know better than anyone what he’s-”

“Quit it with the fucking mind games, Orthjolf. That works with Vingalmo, not with me.”

The only thing Orthjolf replied with was a short cough, perhaps it was a laugh, before his eyes rolled back and he slumped.

“A brother? Interesting.”

Kiir jumped, not realizing Vingalmo had drawn up close behind them. How Kiir missed him wandering up through the field and courtyard was beyond her.

He flashed Kiir a smile. “Seems I missed the fun.”

Tukara kicked at Orthjolf’s body. “Fuck.”

“I didn’t know Orthjolf had surviving family,” Vingalmo said. He crouched down so he could look over Orthjolf’s form. His body was rapidly flaking off and turning to dust.

Miraak. Kiir was sure she had heard that name before. It was just at the tip of her tongue - enough for her to know she should know it, but not enough for her to know exactly what it was. “Who is Miraak?”

“Probably some bullshit Orthjolf made up,” Tukara spit.

Vingalmo shrugged. “We can do a little research when we get back to Volkihar.”

Tukara shook her head, standing so she was facing VIngalmo. “And what the fuck are you even doing here, Vingalmo?”

“I came to see how things were coming along.”

“And end up here after everything happened.”

“Yes,” Vingalmo chuckled, “it looks like you could have used my help a while ago. A few more scars to add to the collection, hmm?”

Tukara shot Kiir a look. “Perhaps if someone knew how to aim .”

Kiir bristled. Her shoulder was weak, she couldn’t help that!  “I hadn’t meant to hit you.”

“I’d fucking hope not!” Tukara shouted.

Vingalmo stood, holding out a placating hand. “Tensions are high, let’s just worry about getting back, alright?”

“I’m a mage , not an archer,” Kiir continued. She eyed Tukara’s burns. “I’m sorry .”

“Whatever.” Tukara hobbled towards the opening to the Temple. She called out to Gelebor before disappearing inside.

“She gets like that,” Vingalmo said suddenly. He drew to stand beside Kiir, patting her on the shoulder. “Don’t take it too personally.”

How can I not? Kiir wondered. She looked down at her own hands, seeing the remnants of the burns she’d endured at the College. At least Kiir could hide them beneath sleeves and gloves - Tukara’s ran up onto her face. “Right.”

“By the way,” Vingalmo continued, “I also came out here because Fish sent word that he found something. It’s not the Horn, unfortunately, but there’s apparently a search going on inside the Thalmor for a few particular people who could be involved.”

“The Thalmor?” Kiir asked. She had no desire to interact with any Justicars anytime soon.

Vingalmo nodded. “I looked a little into it myself, but they’re being tight-lipped about the whole investigation.”

Kiir deflated. That didn’t sound like good news at all. It just sounded like more running around and traveling for little to no reward. “So, no Horn.”

“No. But I did get us something that might help.” Vingalmo reached around in his bag and pulled out two small slips of paper. He held them up.

“And those are?”

“Invitations.”

“Invitations?”

Vingalmo smiled. “There are parties held at the Embassy every now and again. I still get invited due to my service a while ago and I typically decline. But seeing as they have some information we need, attending could prove useful.”

Elenwen. Kiir shook her head. “No, I can’t.”

“Can’t?” Vingalmo narrowed his brows.

“Elenwen knows me,” Kiir clarified. “She’ll recognize me the minute she sees me.”

Vingalmo’s face stayed poised in confusion. “Important, are we?”

Kiir realized that neither Tukara nor Vingalmo knew much about her past. She’d shared a little with Driem, but even that wasn’t the whole truth. “No, not quite I-”

“I understand,” Vingalmo interrupted.

Kiir smiled, nodding.

On the steps, the last remains of Orthjolf’s body cracked and disintegrated, ashes drifting off in the light breeze that flowed through the valley.

“A fitting end you know,” Vingalmo smirked. He kicked at the pile of dust. “A violent end to a violent man.”

Kiir eyes Vingalmo, surprised to see his expression. He looked so forlorn - it seemed wrong on the face of a man so often poised. She found herself staring at him for a while too long, until the shrill screech of a door broke the silence.

Gelebor hobbled out from the temple. He seemed to be recovering, albeit slowly. His eyes fell on Kiir and he sighed. “Thank, Auri-El. I worried something might have become of you.”

Kiir smiled. “Tukara didn’t say anything?”

Gelebor shook his head. “She barely let me get a word in.” He wandered closer and held his arm outstretched. “If I may.”

Startled, Kiir look down at the bow, having nearly forgotten she still had it in her possession. She held it out. “Sorry.”

“No need for apologies.” Gelebor took the bow and held it up to the light before placing it on his back. “I’m just glad everything and everyone turned out alright.”

“Mostly everyone,” Vingalmo chimed. He leaned forward to look towards the temple doors. “Where is Tukara?”

“She looked to be going to the bridge.”

With a nod, Vingalmo wandered off into the dark temple.

Kiir had started to follow when she felt a hand touch her arm.

Gelebor smiled gently. “I know they didn’t say it, but thank you for doing what I could not.”

Kiir frowned. “I’m guess I’m one for two.”

“Tukara will be fine. It is you I am surprised about,” Gelebor chuckled. “Most have to be trained to maintain the bows power, while you seemed to have a natural affinity for it.”

“Affinity?”

“To put it simply, you very easily could have died. An item this powerful isn’t to be taken lightly,” Gelebor continued. He absently inspected the bow, then turned his attention to Kiir again. “You believe in Auri-El, yes?”

Kiir nodded.

“I think he has blessed you somehow.”

Kiir twisted her sleeve around her arm. Her mind rapidly went through the times she’d spoken to Auri-El... or thought she had. “Thank you.” She turned to look over her shoulder. “Can you show me where Tukara and Vingalmo went?”

“Certainly.”

Gelebor lead Kiir back to where the two should have been, but found it empty. He quietly humphed to himself and started back.

Kiir hardly noticed, her mind was far too caught up in what Gelebor had said. Blessed? She thought. That would certainly explain some things.

They wandered out into the courtyard and Kiir’s eyes drifted up the Auri-El statue again. He looked different somehow in the sunlight. Grander, more powerful, perhaps. The statues eyes were vacant, cold, and unfeeling. She almost wished it would move or speak. Some kind of clue that her visions weren’t just delusions.

“Hey!”

Kiir snapped her head up, realizing Gelebor had turned back and had just finished waving goodbye. She returned the gesture quickly before turning to where the shout had come from.

Tukara and Vingalmo were a ways out into the courtyard, arguing.

“Why are you dragging your ass? Don’t you want to get back?”

Kiir exhaled sharply, continuing towards them.

“We aren’t in much of a rush Tukara. We have plenty of time now that you’ve both killed Orthjolf.”

“I thought you said you had Thalmor information?” Tukara leaned forward. “I’d think that’s important enough to want her back quickly.”

“The Thalmor Embassy meeting isn’t until tomorrow evening. That’s more than enough time.”

Kiir wandered close to Vingalmo, eyeing Tukara warily. “I would also like to talk to Fish if possible. I want to make sure I get everything from him.”

“I agree,” Vingalmo replied. “That will give me time to think of how to sneak you in under Elenwen’s nose.”

Tukara scoffed. “Sneak her in?”

Vingalmo nodded. “Long story.”

Tukara shook her head, but accepted Vingalmo’s vague answer. She started towards the portals and quickly slipped into one, but Kiir stopped.

“Is there,” Kiir hummed, “is there another way out of here?”

“Another way?” Vingalmo questioned.

“I’m not a fan of caves and, if possible, I’d rather not go back through there.”

Vingalmo shook his head. “This is the only way in and out that I know of. I could ask Tukara-”

“No, that’s fine,” Kiir answered quickly. That was exactly the opposite of what she wanted. She drew in a deep breath, walking through the portal.

Once inside, the musty, damp air returned. The squish of water and mud of the cave floor echoed off the cave walls and into the darkness.

Kiir did her best to pay attention to where she was, what she was hearing. The thought of those Falmer made her shiver and the tight walls made it difficult to breathe.

“You alright?”

Kiir looked to see Vingalmo smiling back. “Sorry, I’ve got a lot on my mind right now.”

“As I can tell,” VIngalmo said, walking up beside her. “If you need anything, let me know.”

Kiir felt herself flush, but she smiled. “Thank you.”

Vingalmo gestured towards where Tukara hobbled off to, following the sounds of splashing water. “We’d better catch up.”

The passage was dark and cramped as it was before, but having someone in front of and behind her made Kiir feel safer. The glow of the mushrooms illuminated Tukara up to a small hole in the wall, across from the cramped hallways. Following suit, Kiir entered to see a large hallway leading up into the darkness. “We really didn’t have to get wet.”

“We’d have been too late if we hadn’t.”

Kiir couldn’t tell if Tukara was still unabashedly angry or not, but her sour mood seemed to dissipate within the darkness. “Can I use magelight here or are there more Falmer?”

“Ah, that’s right. You can’t see in the dark,” Vingalmo mused. “The Falmer should be gone for now. Spiders, on the other hand... I’d advise you use it to keep an eye on the ceilings above you, if you do cast.”

Kiir quickly cast magelight, granting her sight of the cobwebs feet above them. They were incredibly dense, it was a wonder to Kiir she didn’t see them the first time around. “Oh that’s comforting.”

Finally appearing on the other side of the mountain, Kiir breathed in deeply. The air on this side was warmer, for sure. But any fresh air was good air. Kiir hoped she never had to head that way again.

Tukara pulled Arvak’s skull from her belt and managed to get onto Arvak’s back as Vingalmo reappeared with his own horse.

Tukara turned so Arvak was facing Kiir. “Who are you riding with?”

“I can ride with Vingalmo, if that-”

“Fine,” Tukara snapped. She pulled Arvak onto the trail and started off.

“I guess you’re with me either way,” Vingalmo laughed. He lifted himself onto the saddle and moved towards Kiir, extending a hand.

Kiir took hold and settled herself in. She wrapped her arms around his waist, careful to keep them from resting on his legs. “How long will she be upset with me?”

“She’ll get over it. It’s still fresh and it might take a day or two, but she’ll come around.”

“I’m holding you to that.”

“I should hope so,” Vingalmo chuckled. He clicked twice and his horse trotted to the path.

Finally in a position to relax, exhaustion hit Kiir like a sack of bricks. She silently groaned, knowing what was bound to happen. “You don’t mind if I... take a nap, do you?”

“Not at all. At the very least, you’ll keep me warm.”

Kiir hummed, absently remembering that she had never taken her cloak back from Tukara. She made a mental note to get it back before she left for Solitude. She gently laid her head on Vingalmo’s back. “Do vampires even need to stay warm?”

“Not really.”

Kiir accepted that short answer, closing her eyes. She was too tired to try and continue a conversation. Still, even in her dazed state, Kiir’s mind drifted back to a single name. Something that rested lightly on the tip of her tongue the whole way back, drifting just at the edge of her mind. So close she could almost grab it.

Miraak.

Chapter Text

Kiir opened her eyes, hearing distant voices grow closer to her ears. She was still on horseback, her cheek rested against Vingalmo’s back. It was still a little uncomfortable, being so close, but Kiir figured things would be better if she just ignored it. She pulled herself back so she was sitting up.

Vingalmo straightened his back. “Sleep well?”

“Well enough,” Kiir replied. She stretched and yawned. “Where are we?”

“About fifteen minutes outside Solitude.”

Kiir hummed in reply. She was actually quite excited to see Driem again. There was still a spot of guilt for having left her behind, even if it had been Tukara who had insisted. “Hey, where's Tukara?”

“She went back to Volkihar to get some rest. More sunlight is the last thing she needs.”

“Right, makes sense,” Kiir replied.

Vingalmo shifted so he could glance behind him. “You're still worried she's angry with you.”

“I'm not worried - I know she's angry.”

“I told you that's how she is,” Vingalmo countered. “She'll get over it.”

Kiir shrugged. That didn't make her feel any better. “I guess it's good she didn't come along though. If we're picking up Driem.”

“Picking up?” Vingalmo asked. “I thought we were stopping by to talk to Fish.”

“I'm not just leaving her here. Driem not coming along to the castle was Tukara’s decision. Driem is coming to the party and that's my decision.”

Vingalmo chuckled. “I'm surprised. It seems having shot Tukara has given you some gall.”

Kiir’s brows knitted low on her brow. What was that supposed to mean? She'd had gall before this! And she didn't shoot Tukara. “So, she's coming along.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so.”

Vingalmo hummed and fell into silence.

Kiir watched as the city of Solitude slowly rose from the soft fog that covered the landscape in the early morning. Somehow, the city looked different now. Sadder, somehow. Perhaps it was just because Kiir had never seen the city this early, but the eerie silence felt out of place and made her uneasy. She just wanted to be inside and speaking to Driem already.

Vingalmo dropped her off at the door, saying he was going to stable his horse and meet her at Fish’s house.

Kiir nodded and slipped through the gates, giving the guards a small wave as she passed.

Just as she’d imagined, the city of Solitude was dead this early in the morning. The only people in the streets were a select few guards and the early rising shopkeepers who were opening their shops. One woman was lighting up the lantern outside her shop, the sign above her read “Angeline’s Aromatics”. It looked like there were already a few customers waiting outside. Were perfumes really that popular ?

It took Kiir a few tries to locate Fish’s house, though this time she had enough of a idea of the town that she was able to turn around when she knew she’d gone too far. When she finally arrived at his doorstep, she realized it was still quite early. Would he even be up? She rapped on the door, half expecting Fish to tell her to go away and come back in an hour.

Instead, the front door swung open and revealed a very awake and cheerful Fish. “Oh, good morning!”

Kiir smiled, relieved. “Morning.”

Fish moved to make room for Kiir to enter. “I didn’t think you’d be back so fast. How did things go with Tukara?”

“Better than expected,” Kiir replied. She moved inside, then turned back to face Fish. “We took care of Orthjolf and saved the sun, so that’s certainly a plus.”

“Where is Tukara?”

Kiir grimaced. “She got a little... roughed up. She’s going to be at the castle until she’s recovered.”

Fish raised a brow. “Roughed up?”

“Long story. I’ll let her tell it when she gets back.”

“Fair enough.” Fish closed the front door behind him with a click. He nodded towards her head. “You get roughed up, too?”

Kiir frowned. “What?”

“You hair?” Fish chuckled. “Come here.”

Kiir followed Fish to the bathroom. He nodded towards the mirror and Kiir stood in front of it. “Oh, Gods,” Kiir groaned. Her hair was an rat’s nest. Typically long and smooth, most of her hair was bunched up in a frizzy knot at the top of her head. I’ve been walking around like this? Kiir was loathed to touch it. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? How am I going to fix this?”

Fish moved behind Kiir, placing his own hands on the top of her head. “Well, you could always cut it.”

“Cut it?” Kiir choked. That was the last thing she wanted. “I can’t cut it.”

“Why not? I think you’d look lovely with short hair.” Fish smiled. “And I bet it’d be a whole lot easier to take care of. I’m surprised you hadn’t cut it already.”

Kiir put her hand up, feeling the knotted mess under her fingers. It would take hours to untangle, if she even could untangle it. Kiir couldn’t imagine herself with short hair; that just wasn’t something Altmer did. Hair was a statement. Only the maids and foreign workers wore their hair short and that was because they had to. I’m surprised you hadn’t cut it already. Kiir was forgetting she was no longer at home. “Where would I go to get it cut?”

“I can do it here, if you’d like.”

Kiir hummed. “How short would it have to be?”

Fish ran his hands through Kiir’s hair, apologizing as he caught knots and tangles. He stopped his hand just below her ears. “About here.”

That’s almost twenty inches of hair, gone. Kiir was surprised at how anxious she was about the whole thing. It was only hair, but it was her hair. She shrugged. “Can we try brushing it out first?”

“We can, but it’s not going to be pretty.”

Kiir sighed.

“I can go grab a brush and see what I can-”

“No,” Kiir interrupted. “Just cut it.”

Fish smiled, a bit surprised. He nodded. “I’ll go grab the scissors. And while I’m doing that, we can discuss what I’ve found out.”

Kiir nodded. She put her hands together, pressing her thumb into her palm. Her worry only increased when Fish returned and set the scissors on the counter beside her.

“Are you sure about this?” Fish asked. “We can always-”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Fish shrugged, running his fingers through Kiir’s hair again, pushing the knots as far down in her hair as he could. “So, what has Vingalmo told you about what I found?”

Kiir winced as Fish tugged at her head. “He said you didn’t find anything out about the Horn.”

“Always the optimist, that Vingalmo,” Fish chuckled. “That’s only partially true. I didn’t find out anything about the Horn, directly. But I do have an idea of some people who might have taken it.”

Kiir sat up straighter. “Who?”

“The Thalmor have the names under lock and key, but there’s talk about how the Justicars in Skyrim are turning their attention from Talos worshippers towards the Dragonborn.”

“What?” Kiir saw Fish pick up the scissors and her fear mixed with worry. “Why?”

“I think they’re worried the Nords will use it - you - as a symbol to bolster their resistance.”

“How ironic,” Kiir mused. “What does that have to do with the Horn?”

Fish lined the scissors up and snipped. “Well, someone other than you has been digging their nose into Dragonborn things. Your Horn being stolen is just the first in a long string of things.”

Kiir watched a chunk of her hair fall onto the floor.

“The maps of dragon burial sites was recently stolen from Dragonsreach in Whiterun and the College reported that their books containing information on the Blades are missing. Neither I, nor the Thalmor, think that is a coincidence.”

“The Blades?” Kiir asked, watching closely as Fish cut off another portion of her hair.

“The Blades used to be the Emperor’s guardsmen, but the Thalmor wiped them out during the Great War. It was assumed they all died there, but it seems a few still remain.”

Kiir narrowed her eyes. She certainly hadn’t learned that in her history classes. Kiir looked to the mirror then, seeing one side of her hair was now finished and Fish was beginning to move to the other side. “Is that... important that a few are still around?”

“To the Thalmor, absolutely. Not only would that mean that Skyrim has the Dragonborn as a symbol, but they’d have him and the Blades as enemies. That, and if I’m right, I think the Thalmor believe the Dragonborn is behind the resurgence of the dragons.”

“But I’m not. ” Kiir put a hand to her face. “I’m not an enemy to the Dominion and I didn’t steal any maps or books.”

“I know, but someone did and the Thalmor think that someone was the Dragonborn.” Fish was running his fingers through Kiir’s hair again, this time without incident. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to find the Horn.”

“No, no, this is all incredibly helpful. I’m just... not too sure what I should do with it.”

Fish hummed, grabbing at the last few pieces remaining of Kiir’s long hair. “I’d suggest finding one of the remaining Blades, assuming they actually are, in fact, Blades. At the least, you can stop them from interfering. At best, you can find out who they’re working with - they certainly seem to be onto something.”

Kiir watched as the last piece of her hair was cut. She shook her head, amazed at how light it felt. She touched it, unsure how to feel. “How in the world am I supposed to do that?”

“Vingalmo said something about an Embassy party?” Fish stepped back to admire his work. “And getting your information straight from the horse’s mouth would likely be the most reliable source.”

That’s right, the party, Kiir remembered. She suddenly felt incredibly self conscious, looking at her hair in the mirror. Would the other Altmer find this distasteful? “He did mention something.”

“Well, on the brightside, you’ve got a lovely new hairstyle to show off. What do you think?”

Kiir was still trying to figure that out herself. It wasn’t bad, it was just so different. Kiir didn’t think she looked anything like herself. “I look... like someone else.”

“I don’t think so. I think you look lovely,” Fish replied. “You should wash it, to get loose any remaining pieces of hair. I’ll go make some breakfast.”

“Yeah, good idea.” Kiir stood, shaking her head out. “And thank you, Fish. For the hair and the information.”

“No need,” Fish grinned. “Now go get clean.”

Kiir nodded. She had forgotten how well stocked Fish’s house was with expensive shampoos and soaps. There were a plethora to pick from and, in all honesty, it look Kiir a few tries to even find which were which. It was a wonderful feeling to be fresh and clean again - it seemed ages since she’d done it last. Kiir took a second to scrub down her clothes, too, leaving them to out to dry. She nabbed one of Fish’s many bathrobes and slipped one on.

The smell of smoked meat and frying egg wafted out to great her as Kiir wandered towards the kitchen. She took a seat at the table, seeing Vingalmo walk out from the kitchen with a mug in hand.  “I didn’t realized you were here already.”

Vingalmo’s gaze fell in Kiir’s direction and he startled. His eyes went wide, but then he smiled, gesturing to her hair. “When did that happen?”

“After you failed to tell me my hair looked disgusting,” Kiir replied.

“What good would it have done to tell you in the Vale?” Vingalmo set his cup on the table and took a seat across from her. “I figured you’d find out eventually.”

“‘Eventually’,” Kiir mocked. She shook her head, still surprised at the lightness of her head.

“Either way, it looks good on you.”

Kiir huffed, ignoring the blush that reddened her cheeks. “Yeah, I bet.”

“And,” Vingalmo continued, “it’ll help keep Elenwen from recognizing you.”

“Do I look that different?”

Vingalmo shook his head, chuckling. “No, not really. But it’s a start. I was thinking over a few illusion spells that we could use that would be subtle enough that the Justicars and ambassadors wouldn’t notice.”

Kiir nodded, then suddenly startled. I haven’t seen Driem! “Hey, Fish?”

There was a mumble from the kitchen.

“Where’s Driem?”

There wasn’t an immediate answer. Instead, there was a collection of clanks and clicks of metal and glass before Fish poked his head out through the archway. “She’s being over at Angeline’s, the perfume shop down the road a ways. Working on something with that Sanguinare Vampiris cure.”

“Cure?”

“Yeah, her and a friend of Angeline’s, Vivyne, figured something out and it’s working.” Fish disappeared from the archway, but continued speaking. “She’s been staying there. I can show you the place once we’re done eating.”

“I’m pretty sure I passed it on the way in,” Kiir said. “It looked like there were already people waiting outside.”

“I’m not surprised. People were getting desperate. I don’t think the solution could have come sooner.”

Kiir hummed. “So does that mean the problem is fixed?”

“It’ll take a while to be sure, but I think the worst is passed.” Fish walked out from the kitchen carrying a single plate, setting it down in front of Kiir. Pancakes, eggs, and sausage. “Now eat.”

Kiir nodded, not realizing how hungry she had become until she cut into one of the pancakes. She finished her plate before Vingalmo did his coffee, earning a quirky grin from him. When everyone had finished, she helped with the dishes and then returned to the bathroom to get dressed. Her clothes were still a little damp, but at least they were clean.

While Kiir insisted she had seen where Angeline’s shop was, Fish decided to head out with her anyway. He said he needed to check up on Angeline and Vivyne, but Kiir figured he just didn’t want to be stuck alone in a house with Vingalmo.

As she and Fish drew closer to the shop, Kiir noticed just how many people were waiting outside the doors. They were loud and rowdy, shouting over each other. Kiir had initially thought they were rioting.

“How do you know my son isn’t sick!”

“Because I know! Now back up so other people can come forward!”

Kiir recognized the voice and, sure enough, was just barely able to make out the top of Driem’s head. Kiir looked to Fish, who just shrugged.

“That’s racist!” The woman in front of Driem cried. “You can’t turn us away! We’re paying customers!”

“I can and I am. Get lost.”

“I’m calling the guard!” The woman cried before turning on a heel and storming off.

Kiir and Fish had forced their way through most of the crowd, drawing near the front. Kiir waved at Driem.

“Whoa Kiir!” Driem’s mouth turned up into a wide grin. “You’re back! And your hair!”

“Trying out something new,” Kiir laughed. “What are you doing?”

“Just a little side work. Go on inside, I’ll meet you in there.”

“Oh sure, let another elf inside!” Someone shouted.

Kiir just nodded, slipping in behind Driem and hearing a chorus of complaints from the people still waiting outside.

The inside of the shop was cozy, definitely not big enough to house everyone outside comfortably. There were a few people inside, surrounding the counter and talking softly. A Dunmer was handing them small vials.

Kiir waited for Fish to take lead again and followed him to where the Dunmer was.

Fish rapped his knuckles on the counter. “Hey, Viv.”

“Gimme a second, Fish.”

“You got it.”

Kiir continued to look around the shop, taking in the sights and smells of the different plants hung up around ceiling. Selling the cure at a perfume shop seemed odd, but Kiir figured there was a logical reason. At the very least, it smelled wonderful.

Suddenly, the front door banged.

Kiir jumped, look to Fish and then to the dunmer, who she assumed was Vivyne.

Vivyne raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound good.”

The door thumped again, followed by a chorus of shouts and screams.

Kiir took a step back readying a spell in her right hand.

The door thumped a third time and swung open, followed by a man stumbling in and nearly falling to the floor. His skin was bright red and blistery. He steadied himself and pointed an accusatory finger towards Vivyne. “Give me the cure!”

Driem was grabbing the man around the waist in an instant, trying to drag him back outside.

“Get off of me, beast!”

“Let go of him, Driem,” Vivyne said slowly, raising her hand above her head.

Driem did as Vivyne asked, taking a step to the side.

The man did not even have a chance to take a step forward before Vivyne had blasted him with a bolt of electricity. His body shuddered in the current, steaming just a little, before he fell face first onto the ground.

Kiir winced, averting her eyes towards Driem.

“He was too far gone to save,” Vivyne explained. She looked completely unperturbed.

“He didn’t want it for himself,” Driem replied. She looked down at the blackening body, shoulders slumped. “I promised to find him a cure and I completely forgot. He wanted this cure for his daughter.”

Kiir felt her stomach twist.

Driem bent down and grabbed the man by the legs, pulling him from the shop before he fully decomposed into ash. She didn’t close the door, and Kiir could see a few of the remaining passerbys flinch as they noticed what was going on.

Kiir shook her head, turning away from where the man had died to instead look back to the plants around the shop. She found she was glad to be leaving Solutide behind her.

Chapter Text

“The Embassy?” Driem leaned onto the table. “The place literally crawling with Thalmor?”

Kiir nodded. She wasn’t too happy about it either, but it wasn’t as if she had much of a choice. If that’s where the information was then that’s where she had to go. “I’m going to be using illusion magic so I don’t look like myself.”

“And they won’t pick up on that?”

“It’ll be subtle.”

Driem laughed. “I don’t know if you know what subtle is.”

“Vingalmo is the one with the invitations. Should anything go south he should be able to vouch for me.”

“And I’ll be outside somewhere,” Driem said. “Just in case you and he need a dramatic exit plan.”

Kiir smiled. Her stomach was twisting and turning at the idea of heading straight into the Thalmor headquarters, but she forcibly shrugged it off. “Hopefully, that won’t be needed.”

“What's that saying? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

“Something like that,” Kiir replied. She reached forward and gathered her dirty dishes from their place on the table, getting up to place them in the sink. Vivyne and Angeline had been kind enough to make everyone dinner after the shop had closed. “I think we’re leaving tomorrow afternoon.”

Driem nodded, turning in her chair. “And Tukara?”

Kiir shrugged. She hadn’t seen Vingalmo since this morning to ask him about her. “She’s probably still recovering at the castle.”

“Recovering?”

Shit . “She, uh, got banged up a little during the fight with Orthjolf. Nothing serious.”

Driem hummed, but didn’t reply.

Kiir returned to the table and took Driem’s plates, putting them in the sink, too. “I should be getting back to Fish’s soon. Are you going to be staying here?”

“No, I think I’ve done all I can here. I’ll meet you back there?”

“Yeah, sounds good.” Kiir gave Driem a nod and exited the kitchen, waving to Vivyne behind the counter. The door to the shop was loose on its hinges and Kiir was careful to make sure it latched behind her.

While it sounded like the cure was working, the curfew was still in place as a precaution. Most citizens were still afraid. Even at this relatively early hour when the sky was only just turning pink the city looked dead, save for the guards.

Fish was quick to answer the door and Kiir suspected he had been waiting for her. Vingalmo was lounging against the counter with an air of amusement, and, most surprising, was Tukara, sitting ramrod straight in a kitchen chair looking like she’d just gotten a whiff of something unpleasant.

“Nice hair.”

Kiir startled briefly before remembering that Tukara hadn’t yet seen her haircut. “Thanks.”

As Kiir approached, Tukara scrunched up her nose even more.  “So Driem is still here, then,” Tukara said,  “I thought I smelled wet dog.”

Fish leaned against the table. “I offered to rent her a room at the The Winking Skeever, but my account was never charged. I think she’s been staying at Angeline’s since pretty much the first night you left.”

Tukara hummed.

The argonian turned his attention to Kiir. “Have you eaten?”

“Oh, yeah. We ate at Angeline’s.” Kiir cast a sideways glance at Tukara. “Driem’s going to be meeting me back here soon, actually.”

Tukara exhaled loudly but didn’t seem surprised.

Kiir tried to change the subject. “I’m glad to see you’re looking better.”

Tukara scowled at that, too. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Speaking of, I have you to thank for me being alive right now,” she paused, looking to the fireplace in the kitchen. “I don’t think I ever said it back in the vale.”

Kiir stood in silence. “You’re welco-”

“I’m still angry because it fucking hurt though.” Tukara didn’t smile, but her face seemed to relax. “But you helped me, so now I owe you.”

Kiir’s brow narrowed. She never meant to hit her. “You don’t o-”

“Yes I do.”

It was Kiir’s turn to scowl. “I don’t want you to have to help me just because you feel obligated .”

Tukara’s brow raised. “Is that the only reason you helped me?”

“Well, no, but-”

“Exactly. So if you’re going to the Embassy with Vingalmo, I’ll be outside in case things go south and you need help getting out of there.”

Kiir snorted. Will I ever get a word in? She shook her head. “Driem said pretty much exactly the same thing.”

Tukara rolled her eyes. “Consider me the backup backup plan for when she flakes out on you then.”

“That said,” Vingalmo spoke up, “I don’t intend to let things go south in the first place.” He sauntered to the table and pulled out a chair for both himself and Fish. “At the very least, I have a reputation to uphold. We’ll spend most of tomorrow morning crafting your illusions. I have a few ideas that should work nicely, especially with that haircut.”

Kiir reached up to brush her fingers across the shortened strands. She felt silly being so nervous about cutting her hair. It was her hair after all.

Vingalmo reached over and placed his hand on her shoulder. “No one will think twice about it. Skyrim is a messy, dangerous place. They may pity you your loss, but they will assume the cause was beyond your control.”

Kiir closed her eyes. Am I that easy to read?

“I know you aren’t used to the idea of short hair, but it doesn’t mean much here,” Vingalmo assured her. “If anyone says otherwise, I would suggest you remind them that they’ve forgotten their manners.”

“Says the one who still has long hair.” Kiir smiled, shrugging. “You don’t think that they’ll find this hair... inappropriate?”

“As my guest your status is above most of theirs. I think I would enjoy watching one of them even attempt to speak poorly of you.”

Kiir chuckled. It was almost amazing how easily he made her feel better.

Rather abruptly the door clicked open and Driem slipped inside, swiftly shutting it and relocking it behind her. She saw everyone turned to look at her. “If they ask, I’ve been here all along.”

Vinglamo shook his head.

“If who asks?” Kiir pressed.

Fish narrowed his eyes. “Did you just pick the lock on my door?”

Tukara’s demeanor darkened. “ Seriously?

“Calm down, I just-”

There was a knock at the door and Driem scurried to the table, leaping into a chair and trying to look casual.

Fish stood up, still eyeing Driem. “It’s after curfew,” he said, voice raised, talking towards the door. “Who’s there?”

“Captain Afkarr, and some of the guard.”

Fish opened the door to a group of four or five guards carrying torches. “Is there something I can help you gentlemen with?”

One of the guards tried to stick his head through the door, searching the room. His eyes scanned right across the table without catching on Driem.

“You might want to let us inside, Fish. We’ve organized a hunting party for the last few vampires and we lost the one we were chasing nearby. We think she might have gotten into someone’s house.”

There was a beat of silence as Fish’s brow smoothed. “I see,” he replied. “Well I wish you luck on your search, but I am quite confident there are no uninvited vampires in my home.”

Kiir groaned internally. She could just barely make out Driem grinning. Her eyes searched further to see Tukara holding her jaw stiffly, scowling at the wall.

The second Fish had returned to his seat, Tukara slammed her hands down on the table. “ Really? For someone who cares so much about stealth and secrecy, you can’t do anything without causing a mess, can you?”

Driem sputtered. “I didn’t know the guards would be out there! They’ve been following the curfew until now too!”

“That isn’t the point!” Tukara spat. “It’s bad enough that you drew their attention, but you did nothing to show you weren’t a vampire and then led them right here .”

Fish placed his hand on the table to draw attention to himself. “Tukara, it’s fine, it’s been handled.”

“It’s fine? What about your lock! She didn’t even have the decency to fucking knock .”

Fish turned to look at Driem expectantly.

“I was trying not to lead them here,” Driem insisted. “Went around the block a few times. But I was afraid they’d hear if I knocked, and then we’d have to do a lot more explaining. It seemed safer for everyone if I just let myself in quietly.” She hesitated, glancing back at Tukara before continuing. “I figured Kiir would tell you I was coming, so it wasn’t like coming in uninvited exactly. I can leave again if I’m not welcome.”

“You’re welcome here,” Fish interrupted, rising from his seat. Tukara shot daggers at him, only for Fish to return with a silencing hand. “Though I would really appreciate it if you could knock next time.”

Driem sank into her seat.

“Now.” Fish cleared his throat. “If you two have more pressing matters to air out, I would appreciate it if you could move it to the basement, and keep it down. Kiir needs her rest for tomorrow.”

Kiir watched Fish leave, heading up the stairs to the bedrooms. Tukara had her hands in fists, Driem looking down at her toes - this would not end well for either of them. The silent air felt tense.

Then, Kiir felt a hand graze her arm, seeing Vingalmo standing next to her again. “I would have to agree with Fish, you need your rest. Not this, ” he gestured to the bosmers. “Shall we?”

Kiir nodded. She moved behind Vingalmo as they both ascended the stairs. Her things were neatly piled by the door - Vingalmo’s work, she assumed. Kiir nudged her bag over and sat on the bed. “When is the party again?”

“Tomorrow night at sundown,” Vingalmo replied. “From my understanding we’ll be discussing where to go next with the war,” he paused. “And you.”

Kiir tensed. “You mean the Dragonborn.”

“Yes, exactly. You.”

Kiir didn’t like the way that sounded. If Fish was right and the Thalmor thought that she was an enemy...

“Don’t look so down,” Vingalmo said, crossing his legs. He bumped a hand into her shoulder. “If we get the information you need, which I’m sure we will, you’ll be on your way to finding the Horn in no time.”

Finding the Horn... Kiir mused. It had sounded like such a simple task when the Greybeards had given it to her.

“And, for what it’s worth, I’m quite sure they only know of you. Not a face. Not a name.” Vingalmo stated. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“On the contrary,” Kiir said, “I have a lot to worry about.”

Vingalmo hummed. “Well, you’ve got nothing to worry about with the Embassy. I’d even venture to say you might have fun.”

“I don’t think I ever had fun even when I was still on the Isles.”

“Oh! That reminds me!” Vingalmo lept from the bed and slipped from the room. He returned a few minutes later with something draped over his arm.

Kiir suddenly realized what it was and she felt her face warm. “You didn’t.”

Vingalmo laughed, laying down a shimmering gold dress. “What, you think I just spent the whole day sitting on my hands?”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“You own one robe, Kiir.” Vingalmo patted the bed. “I just hope it fits well. Taarie used her own measurements and you seem to be about her si-”

A crash echoed from down below.

Kiir jumped.

“Auri-El preserve me.” Vingalmo’s smile faded. “I was hoping to avoid their squabbling.”

Kiir strained to hear what was going on downstairs, but heard nothing.

Vingalmo stood and brushed himself off. He started towards the door, stopping in the archway. “Do try and get some rest. I know nerves make it hard, but if those two downstairs are doing that much to each other, imagine how they’ll be against the Thalmor.”

Kiir laughed. She watched him disappear from the doorway. She picked up the dress, admiring how it glinted in the light, and placed it on a chair in the room. He didn't have to do that. Turning back, Kiir returned to bed and laid back, maneuvering herself underneath the blankets. Kiir could have never imagined a time where she would be nervous to step foot into a Thalmor Embassy. Sure, perhaps she’d have been anxious about looking professional, but never in fear of injury.

It was an odd place that Kiir found herself now. Stuck somewhere between her memories and her reality. It was difficult to tell which was telling her the truth.

Chapter Text

The dress could not have fit more perfect. Kiir had been wearing robes for so long she forgot what it was like to not wear ten pounds of clothing. She felt light and airy - something that brought back a small twinge of homesickness. This was certainly something her mother would approve of.

But the hair? Not quite.

As short as it was, Kiir couldn’t really do much with it. She went to Driem for help, but she sent her to Tukara.

The two of them seemed tolerant of each other, now. There was no longer the outright hostility, but the air still grew tense if they were too close to each other for too long.

How are they going to travel together? Kiir worried she’d have to pick a side. Of course, she’d known Driem longer but... what if Tukara had been right that Driem was only coming along to use the Dragonborn somehow? Kiir had been so adamant with Vingalmo that Driem come along with them, she didn’t want to think that had been a mistake.

Tukara had pulled Kiir’s hair back with a small braid and pinned it in place. It wasn’t anything close to what Kiir was used to at home, but there wasn’t much one could do with short hair.

“You nervous?”

Kiir laughed. “I shouldn't be. I’m going to be surrounded by Altmer. I should be relieved.”

“Relieved to be in a room full of racist war mongers, you mean.”

“Not all Altmer are racist war hungry maniacs.”

Tukara clicked her tongue. “But you’re not going into a room with just any Altmer. These are the Thalmor . Many of whom, by the way Vingalmo talks, are high ranking officers from around Skyrim.”

“I know what the Thalmor are,” Kiir replied. “And I know this party isn’t just for the average soldier. That’s exactly why I’m going in the first place.”

“I’m just saying.” Tukara smoothed down Kiir’s hair with her hands. “Don’t underestimate these guys. The last fucking thing we need is the Dragonborn dying, or worse.”

Kiir raised a brow. “Or worse?”

“Ask Vingalmo.”

Or worse? Kiir shook her head. She reached up to touch her hair, following the braid with her fingers. “Thank you, by the way.”

“It’s nothing special. I just know how to keep hair out of my face.”

“And that’s appreciated,” Kiir replied. She stood, smoothing out her dress against her legs and sighed. “I guess that’s everything.”

Tukara’s face then startled and she held up a single finger before turning from the room. When she returned, she had Kiir’s Khajiit shawl in her arms. “Can’t forget this.”

“I’m glad you remembered!” Kiir took the shawl and draped it over her shoulders. It smelled a little like damp forest and old soap. “I kept forgetting to ask you for it.”

“I was pretty pissed after the fight with Orthjolf, so I’m not surprised.”

Kiir hummed. “Vingalmo told me about it.”

Tukara coughed. “Vingalmo what?”

“It’s fine,” Kiir replied. She gave Tukara a small wave as she slipped outside the room and skittered down the stairs to the dining room.

Fish and Driem were the only ones sat at the table, seemingly engrossed in whatever they each were doing.

Driem looked up as Kiir entered, smiling. “You look lovely.”

“Thank you.” Kiir leaned onto the back of one of the chairs. “Where’s Vingalmo?”

“Who knows. After he did your illusions this morning he disappeared.”

“Aren’t we leaving in a little while?”

Driem shrugged. “I thought so.”

“Vingalmo and I are taking a carriage to the Embassy, how are you and Tukara getting there?”

From the stairs, Tukara answered first. “I’ve got Arvak.”

“Is that such a good idea?” Fish twisted in his chair to look at her.

Tukara leapt down the last few steps and drew up to the table. “Why not?”

Fish chuckled. “You’re leaving in the middle of the day. You think a flaming horse won’t catch a few glances?”

“You have a flaming horse?!”

“Oh,” Fish glanced towards Driem and then back at Tukara. “I just figured she knew.”

Tukara nodded to Driem. “Yes, I have a flaming horse. And yeah, Fish, I guess Arvak might be a little... conspicuous. I guess I’m walking then?”

There was a moment of silence before Driem reluctantly spoke up. “Walking will take forever. You can take Cheshire, as long as you keep her safe. I can take my wolf out for a run and just stay off the roads.”

“That’s your horse, I’m assuming?”

Driem nodded.

Tukara seemed to a take a moment to consider it. “That could work. I don’t know how happy Arvak will be that I’m riding another horse.”

Driem squinted at her. “Will he even know? He’s… a horse.”

“That doesn’t make it any less of a betrayal,” Tukara pouted. She sighed, waving her hand dismissively. “Where is your horse stabled?”

Suddenly, the front door to Fish’s home swung open. Vingalmo strode in, a small canvas bag held in his hands.

“Where have you been?” Fish asked.

Vingalmo held the bag up. “Elenwen would never admit it, but she does expect some kind of compensation for hosting a party.”

Driem raised a brow. “Compensation?”

“It’s considered the polite thing to do,” Vingalmo explained. “She was kind enough to offer her home, or her Embassy, up to a gathering so the least the guests could do is offer something of their own. It’s not required, per say, but it’s expected.”

Kiir pushed off from the chair. “What’d you get her?”

“A small collection of flower vases. I understand the Ambassador has a fondness for flowers.”

That didn’t sound much like the Elenwen Kiir remembered, but as much as Kiir had changed over the past few months it wouldn’t be surprising if Elenwen had picked a few new hobbies, too. “Should we get going?”

Vingalmo nodded. “I’ll go get a nicer bag for these and then we can be off.”

Kiir nodded and had been about to return upstairs for her things when Fish caught her arm.

“Good luck, Kiir,” Fish smiled. “My home is always open to you should you ever come through Solitude again.”

It was just past midday when Kiir left with Vingalmo to head for the carriage he’d arranged for them. Just like everything else in Solitude, the carriage was far nicer than the ones in Whiterun or Winterhold. The seats were plush and the carriage itself had a canopy draped over the top.

“Fancy,” Kiir commented.

Vingalmo laughed, sliding into the seat beside Kiir. “I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I showed up in a rickety old wagon.”

Kiir nodded. She reached for the small drapes that covered the windows and tied them back.

“Are you nervous?” Vingalmo asked.

“That’s the second time I’ve been asked that today.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

Kiir shrugged. She kept her gaze trained outside the window. “Are you sure Elenwen won’t recognize me?”

“I think that entirely depends on how well she knows you. You never quite explained how you knew her, or her, you.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Ah.”

Kiir pulled back from the window and looked back over her shoulder.

Vingalmo was laid back in his seat, eyes trained on hers. His hands were laid in his lap, almost expectantly.

“She’s an old family friend.”

“So you were close.”

Kiir shook her head. “Not really. But I knew of her. She’d been around my home growing up.”

“Then what’s the risk in her seeing you?”

Kiir looked back out the window. She fidgeted with her hands. “We’re not in good standing.”

“Something happened?”

“That’s one way to put it.”

Vingalmo didn’t reply and the conversation lulled into silence. Kiir kept her gaze on the passing scenery. What would she say when she saw Elenwen? If she was too tongue tied she might look suspicious. Kiir’s worry only grew as the Embassy came into sight. It was much... smaller than Kiir expected it to be.

Kiir stretched her legs and ducked to exit the carriage. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.

“You ready?” Vingalmo asked.

Kiir hummed. She fell into step behind Vingalmo as they both made their way up the doors to the Embassy. It felt like every single guard and Justicar’s eyes were on her. Kiir had to remind herself that of course they were, that was their job.

Vingalmo handed the door guard the tickets and he seemed to inspect them for longer than Kiir found comfortable.

Finally, the guard grunted. “Enjoy the party.”

Kiir gave the mer a curt nod and hurried herself through the door.

The minute Kiir stepped into the room she was barraged with familiar smells and sights. The flowers, the banners, the beads... it was like she was home again. The whole place smelled like smoked fish and proscato flowers. Kiir took in a deep breath. “I can’t remember the last time I had slow smoked tearos.”

“Elenwen rarely spares any expense at these events.”

“It would seem that way.” Kiir peered around Vingalmo’s shoulder to see the rest of the guests in the room. She, thankfully, didn’t recognize any. Save for Elenwen who was stood at the end of the room.

Vingalmo looped his arm around Kiir’s. “Let’s get a spot away from the crowds. I trust your magic will hold, but I’d rather not rely too much on it.”

“But we need to be in the crowds,” Kiir protested. “How else are we going to hear anything?”

“I’ve got a few people I can talk to. You, on the other hand...”

“Are going to sit back like a child?” Kiir pulled her arm free from Vingalmo’s. “Was there even a reason for my coming along, then? I might be a little unnerved but I remember how to conduct myself around Thalmor.”

Vingalmo nodded and smiled. “Then you should know how touchy they get when there are unknown faces present during conversation.”

“They trust you,” Kiir replied. “Just introduce me as your wife.”

Vingalmo startled, drawing back. He shook his head. “And what would I say when you aren’t around in a few months?”

“Who would be around to ask you ‘in a few months’?”

“Any one of these people.”

“You said you don’t attend these things anyway.”

“You are underestimating how nosy these people are.”

“I’m well aware how nosy.” Kiir shook her head. If they continued like this they’d draw too much attention. “Alright, I’ll stay here. I don’t-”

“Vingalmo!”

Kiir paled.

Elenwen wore a bright smile on her face as she sauntered across the room. Her hair was done up in some impossibly complex style that looked closer to a jigsaw puzzle than a hairstyle. She reached a hand out for Vingalmo to shake. “You finally decided to attend one of my events.”

Vingalmo looked to be caught just as off guard as Kiir. “I’ve just been terribly busy. My apologies. I’m sure they were spectacular.”

“Have you ever known me to do any less?” Elenwen’s eyes dropped to the bag in Vingalmo’s hand. “Those can go on the table by the bar.”

“Oh, yes,” Vingalmo replied. “I’ll be right back-”

Elenwen caught his shoulder. “You’d leave without introducing me to your...?”

Kiir was sweating. She straightened her back and smiled. At least the illusion spell was working. “Wife.”

Vingalmo choked. He cast a look in Kiir’s direction but quickly recovered. “Fiancé, actually. Haven't quite,” he reached his arm to loop Kiir’s once more, “tied the knot yet.”

“Well, congratulations. I never saw you as the marrying type, Vingalmo.”

“Neither did I.”

“The years change us all, it seems.” Elenwen turned to Kiir. “Your name?”

“Uh.” Kiir suddenly found herself unsure if she should even risk using her fake name. They'd know Elandaae, but knowing that Vingalmo knew Kiir could pose it's own issues. “Tukara.”

Vingalmo hid his choke better the second time.

Elenwen’s face scrunched into a look of confusion. “Do you hail from the Isles?”

“Alinor, actually.” Kiir could feel Elenwen’s eyes burning into her skull. No wonder she was an ambassador. “My parents were fascinated by foreign cultures so much they decided to name me something... unique.”

“It is certainly that,” Elenwen replied. She looked back to Vingalmo. “Well, please enjoy the party. I should speak to you again once everyone has arrived. I'll find you.”

Vingalmo nodded and, as soon as Elenwen was out of sight, pulled Kiir back further in the room. “What was it you had said about remembering how to act around Thalmor?”

“What would you have said?” Kiir was careful to keep her voice down. “Friend? Acquaintance? Colleague? You don't bring them as a guest to a party, they would have assumed I was an escort.”

“Which was precisely why I had wanted you to stay back.” Vingalmo pressed his fingers against his temple and sighed. “No use arguing over it now.” He paused. “And Tukara? Really?”

“She would have recognize my real name and I didn't want them to have my fake name either!”

“You couldn't just make one up?”

Kiir groaned. “So what's our next step?”

Vingalmo scanned the room silently. “Elenwen mentioned wanting to speak to me later. Hopefully it's about something relevant to us.”

“And if it's not?”

“We start asking around.” Vingalmo lifted the bag still in his hand up into his arms. “I'm going to drop this off at the table. Stay here.”

Kiir nodded and moved herself back so she was flush with the wall. She could hear the faint folk music coming from up above her and she wondered if the Embassy had a dance floor. Kiir was sure she remembered the steps to at least a few of the dances.

A swift gust of cold air ran through the room as the front door was opened.

More guests, Kiir thought. She wiggled her way against the wall to try and see who was walking in.

Elenwen, who'd moved back into the foyer, threw a hand up in greeting. “Ah! Our guest of honor!”

The guest chuckled and removed his hood.

Kiir felt her knees go weak. She knew that face, she knew that laugh. The sounds in the room dulled. She'd known than man her entire life. It was a face she was sure she'd never get the chance to see again.

Vingalmo drew close again, turning his head from Kiir to the door. “Kiir? Kiir, what is it?”

Elenwen’s voice still carried over the crowd. “High Councilor. How was the trip over?”

Kiir couldn't find her words.

“Kiir?” Vingalmo asked again.

“It was fine,” the High Councilor replied. He took off his cloak and handed it aside. “Far colder than I assumed it to be.”

Kiir felt tears draw at the edges of her eyes. Why here? Why now? She drew in a single breath. “That's my father.”

Chapter Text

“Your what?”

Kiir didn’t answer. Her eyes was locked on her father, as if waiting for him to disappear. He looked so much older, so much more drawn. He was still the only Thalmor in the room with a beard. Some things never change. The hair around the edges of his face had started to turn white... had it been like that before she left? Kiir honestly couldn’t remember. She watched her father move to join Elenwen in the hallway.

Elenwen smiled. “I didn’t think you’d make it.”

“I was in the area and knew I would never hear the end of it if I didn’t stop by.”

Hearing his voice sent chills down Kiir’s spine.

“In the area?”

Kiir’s father’s face grew grim, but only for a fleeting second. “Thalmor business. We can discuss it later in... different company.”

“Of course.” Elenwen gestured and they both moved further from the door.

“Kiir.”

Kiir’s head snapped back to meet eyes with Vingalmo. She blinked. “What?”

“Your father is a High Councilor?” Vingalmo raised a brow. “You didn’t think that was something we should consider?”

“I never thought he’d be here,” Kiir mumbled. Her voice came out a small whisper. “I never thought I’d see him again.”

Vingalmo clicked his tongue. “You stay here, I’m going to go talk to them.”

Kiir frowned. “What do you mean stay here? That’s my father, don’t you think-”

“Him being your father is exactly why you’re staying here,” Vingalmo interrupted. “Speak to a few of the guests, see what you can get out of them, but we don’t need your father ruining the purpose of this trip.”

“I-” Kiir bit her lip. To be honest, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to speak to her father. Even just being around him again had shaken her. She might not be able to hold her composure. “Alright.”

Vingalmo nodded. He turned and slipped into the crowd.

Kiir could hear Elenwen cry a greeting ‘Ah! Vingalmo!’ before she turned and drifted back to where the bar was. Taking a seat, Kiir figured she could listen in on some of the passive conversation and perhaps pick up on something important, but her mind could not get off the image of her father.

I never got a chance to say goodbye. Kiir’s mind repeated that line over and over. Did he miss her? What did he even know of her leaving? Had her mother told him? Kiir shuddered at the thought of her father knowing what she’d done. Perhaps it was for the best that he was left in the dark. Maybe then he could one day move past it all. Move past his failure of a daughter.

Kiir placed a hand to her forehead. She hadn’t come here to relive everything she’d wanted to leave behind. She had truly started to think of Skyrim as a possible home and now here she was, homesick for a place she could never return to.

“Can I get you anything?”

Kiir looked up.

A bosmer man offered her a weak smile, nodding towards the empty bar in front of her. “It is a party after all.”

“Right, ah...” Kiir let her eyes lazily drift over the brightly colored bottles stacked behind the shelf. She pointed to the tall, green bottle. “That one.”

“The Silver Creek? Not a fan of strong drink then?”

Kiir shook her head.

The bosmer chuckled. He poured Kiir a glass and slid it over to her. “Then I’d say Skyrim isn’t the place for you. Don’t think I’ve found a place with heartier drink.”

Where is the place for me? Kiir thanked him for the glass, bringing it to her lips. It tasted just as she remembered it did. As if she needed any more reminders of home.

“So how long are you here for?” The bosmer continued. “In Skyrim, I mean.”

“I’ve... been here for a while, actually.” Kiir turned her head to see Vingalmo still deep in conversation with Elenwen and her father. “My fiance lives here.”

“One of the officers?”

“Former.”

“I see.” The bosmer’s face quirked a little and he nodded. “Then I guess-”

“Malborn!”

Kiir nearly jumped out of her skin as a Redguard man swung himself into the bar counter. He knocked his empty mug with his knuckles. “So how ‘bouts you give your old friend another fill?”

Malborn’s face soured. “I don’t think Elenwen-”

“Oh fuck Elenwen!” The Redguard shouted far too loud. “What ‘dya have drink for if not to drink?”

Kiir leaned away from the man, catching the eye of a few of the other guests who were equally as stunned.

Malborn looked to Kiir, then grabbed the Redguard’s glass and filled it to the brim with a dark brown liquid.

He hadn’t so much as set it down when the Redguard had the glass to his lips, downing near half the glass in a single swing. “You’re a swell guy, Malborn!”

Kiir sighed as the man departed. She hadn’t realized she was gripping her own glass tight enough for her knuckles to turn white. She looked to Malborn. “I thought this was a Thalmor affair. Why is there a Redguard here?”

“Politics,” Malborn replied. He shook his head. “After the whole mess in Hammerfell, the Dominion is trying to mend bridges.”

“Hammerfell?” Kiir raised a brow. She knew that Valenwood and Elsweyr and joined the Dominion, but had Hammerfall come to join them as well? “Are they part of the Dominion now?”

Malborn choked. “What? Gods no! I’m talking about the war. Where the Redguards beat the Dominion out of Hammerfell? You don’t know about this?”

Kiir was reluctant to affirm that she did not, in fact, know anything about the war. She’d heard bits and pieces over the months and it seemed to more she learned, the less she liked it. “I know the Thalmor were here but in Hammerfell?”

“Yes. But they lost and are now trying to play nice. Stay the line. And Razelan there is the head of a very important trade company. Though you wouldn’t know it looking at him.”

Kiir turned to follow where Malborn was looking, immediately spotting Razelan. He wore a grin from ear to ear - he was enjoying himself. His voice was loud enough to be heard where Kiir sat.

“Elenwen has been... more than accommodating.”

Malborn groaned. “Oh no...”

The Altmer he'd been speaking quirked a bow and replied, though Kiir couldn't seem to hear him.

Razelan laughed. “It would be terribly rude of me to share something intimate.”

Kiir eyes drifted to Elenwen, still stood by Kiir’s father. Her brows were drawn low and she looked about ready to kill.

Kiir could feel herself shrink and she wasn’t even part of the spectacle.

Suddenly, as Elenwen started forward, Kiir’s father put a hand on her shoulder and slipped out in front of Razelan. He cast a spell, effectively freezing the Redguard’s feet to his spot. If Kiir hadn't been watching, she might not have noticed it at all. She held her breath. What is he doing?

Razelan pinwheeled his arms to try and steady himself, and the Altmer he'd been in conversation with drew back. Kiir’s father caught him by his collar. There was a flash of red and Razelan’s face contorted into one that looked like pain.

Fear. Her father had just cast Fear. Kiir looked to Vingalmo who looked just as surprised as she did.

When Kiir’s father finally spoke, it was in a low voice. It couldn't be made out over the murmur of the crowd, who themselves seemed utterly oblivious to what was happening.

“No, I...” Razelan’s voice warbled.

Kiir’s father pulled his face closer to Razelan’s. His eyes were dark.

Kiir had never seen him this angry. She didn't think he could ever get this angry.

Razelan struggled to pull backwards, his voice now too quiet to make out.

In a single move, Kiir’s father dropped the ice spell at Razelan’s feet and let go of his collar, letting him drop to the floor. He humphed, brushing off his hands, before returning again to Elenwen.

Kiir saw Vingalmo slip through the crowd and make a beeline for her. He didn’t waste a moment, leaning in close to her face. “Follow me.”

What in the world? Kiir nodded and looked to Malborn, quickly thanking him again for the drink.

He eyed the glass. “You’re not going to finish it?”

Before she could over think it, Kiir tipped the rest of the glass and downed it all in a single swig. A smile pulled at the edges of Malborn’s lips as Kiir turned to follow Vingalmo to the back corner of the room.

Vingalmo’s face was tight and his frown was deep.

Kiir slid into place next to him. “What the hell just happened?”

“It surprised me, too. Typically Thalmor keep from being so...”

“My father would never-” Kiir cut herself off. She let her eyes drift over to where her father was stood, having gone back to talking with Elenwen. He had returned to normal, but Kiir could not get the look in his eyes out of her mind. Razelan had taken a spot on one of the benches, head in his hands. My father... would never... “Why would he do that?”

Vingalmo was paused a moment. “He’s a High Councilor, Kiir. He’s not going to let something like that slide.”

“But that ...” Kiir shook her head. “Razelan was just joking...” Her thoughts and emotions were all jumbled up and messy. Probably some from the drink and some from her father. She drew in a deep breath. She was here with a purpose. Father or not she had a job to do. Kiir looked back up to Vingalmo. “What did they say? Elenwen and him?”

“Things are worse than I thought.”

“How could things be worse ?”

“They think the Dragonborn is an Altmer.”

Kiir’s mouth went dry. “Shit.”

“And Elenwen is convinced that the Dragonborn is working with the Stormcloaks to bring back the dragons. She worries if they don’t stop them in time, the dragons will be turned on the Isles.”

“What!” Kiir could feel a slurry of panic begin in her stomach. “That’s ridiculous!”

“There’s also the Blades,” Vingalmo continued. “There are at least two confirmed surviving Blades. Delphine and Esbern. It’s believed they’re working for the Dragonborn.”

“Hal daemori!”

Vingalmo smiled. “I’m assuming you picked that up from your father.”

“What?”

“He used that a few times in our conversation.”

Kiir had a fleeting moment of nostalgia, but she quickly shook it off. “So we need to find these Blades before my father does.”

“I think that’s the best course of action.”

“And the horn?”

Vingalmo shook his head. “Nothing. But I’m thinking the Blades might have something to do with it. Elenwen said Delphine had stolen some stone tablet from Whiterun. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think she stole the Horn as well.”

Kiir hummed. “Where would we even start looking?”

“We can reconvene with Tukara and Driem outside. I don’t see a reason to stay.”

Kiir eyes, again, drifted to her father. “Perhaps we can stay just a little while longer?”

“I think the Illusion magic is beginning to fade and I’d rather you not be here when it does.”

Kiir put a hand to her face. She hummed. “Alight, let’s-”

Suddenly, the sound of a woman’s scream chilled the room to silence.

There was someone on the floor, a shattered wine glass near his body.

Kiir quickly scanned the room for her father, seeing him beginning to draw closer to the mer on the floor. She drew a small breath of relief. Elenwen was pushing through the crowd. People began to shift nervously and move towards the door. Kiir took a step forward, but Vingalmo stopped her.

“Now’s the time to go. Come on.”

As if on cue, Elewen suddenly stood up straight, raising her hands and pointing to the front doors. “Close the doors! No one leaves!”

That sent the crowd into a frenzy.

“What do you mean no one leaves!”

“You can’t hold us here!”

“This is ridiculous.”

Vingalmo’s grip on Kiir’s arm tightened.

Kiir’s own stomach twisted itself into a knot. She turned back, seeing that the door to the kitchen was open. She nudged Vingalmo. “The kitchen should have outside access.”

“Then go.”

“You’re not coming?”

Vingalmo shook his head, stealing a glance over his shoulder. “I leave just after an event like this? No, I’ll say you weren’t feeling well and left just before.”

The shouting in the lobby was growing to a climax. Kiir resisted the urge to turn and see what was happening. Her breathing quickened. “Where are Driem and Tukara going to be?”

“Around,” Vingalmo answered. He nodded towards the kitchen. “We’re losing our window. Go.”

Kiir nodded and turned before her anxious mind could argue with her. Her hands were shaking and her shoulder ached. She slipped into the kitchen, but stopped just over the threshold to look back once more into the lobby. She watched Vingalmo crouched beside the fallen man. Kiir looked up and saw her father, there eyes meeting for just a moment. Kiir thought she saw a flash of recognition on his face, but she turned before she had gotten a good look.

The kitchen was empty, save for Malborn. He was stood at on of the pantry shelves, absently inspecting the containers. He caught Kiir’s eyes as she skittered into the kitchen.

Kiir stayed silent. There was only one door, other than the entryway back into the main lobby. She moved towards it, keeping a wary eye on Malborn as he watched her.

“Such an unceremonious exit.”

Kiir’s hand rested on the door’s handle. “Too crowded out in the lobby.”

“Of course.” Malborn drew close. “Stairway to the courtyard in at the end of the hall. Door on the right.”

That was the last thing Kiir expected for him to say. “Why-”

Malborn shook his head, pointing to the other end of the kitchen. “I’d hustle if I were you.”

Kiir nodded. The doorway in the kitchen led to a darkened hallway, the doors likely to the rest of the Embassy’s offices. Kiir paused for just a moment, long enough to cast an Invisibility spell. Better safe than sorry. The area was eerily quiet and Kiir’s ears rang from the sudden shift in volume. She strained to hear any oncoming footsteps or the rattle of glass armor.

The hallway felt small and claustrophobic. Kiir was jogging, trying to keep her breathing as quiet as possible. Delphine. Esbern. Blades. Perhaps if she focused on something other than the narrow hallway-

Kiir reached the end of the hall and yanked open the door, relieved to see that it did lead to a staircase. She wasn’t sure what Malborn would have gained from lying, but was she ever grateful he chose not to.

Breathing in the chilly winter air, Kiir slipped outside. She was silently thankful that she had opted to keep her cloak on. She could make out the entrance area, but it looked to be swarming with Justicars. Kiir’s heart leapt into her throat and she pressed herself against the brick wall that ran around the perimeter. She wouldn’t be leaving the way she came - she’d have to get over the battlement.

There was a set of stairs a ways ahead and Kiir beelined. She scampered up and paused at the top. Where was she even going? Vingalmo had only said Tukara and Driem would be ‘around’, but that could be anywhere. She would have to-

“Freeze!”

Kiir’s breath hitched. She turned just in time to see a Justicar racing across the courtyard. He didn’t see her. He couldn’t see her! There was no-

The fireball that came flying through the air cleared up any doubt.

“They're over here!”

Kiir ducked, hearing the fireball explode on the bricks above her head. Not missing a beat, she grabbed ahold of the edge of battlement and pulled herself up. Her shoulder screamed. Kiir was sure that she’d feel her back light alfame at any moment. The drop was far longer than she had anticipated and Kiir landed hard on the sloped ground. The snow thankfully cushioned most of her fall, but her ankles still screamed as she tumbled onto the ground. She pushed herself back onto her feet, racing into the trees. She ran until the Embassy had disappeared behind the foliage and brush, her lungs were on fire.

When Kiir finally drew to a stop, she wasn’t quite sure where she was. She turned around. “Tukara? Driem?”

The only reply was the sharp tweeting of the winter birds.

Kiir started to dispel her invisibility spell, but she thought better of the idea. She could feel her weight of the invisibility spell starting to weigh on her, but there was no telling if the Justicar would follow her out here. She couldn’t risk it, not yet. There was enough snow on the ground that he could follow her footsteps if he tried. She needed to move.

Whether from the threat of pursuit or the temperature, Kiir shivered. She pulled her cloak closer around her shoulders.

Kiir started a wide path back to where the carriages were. She prayed that the driver that had taken Vingalmo and her to the Embassy had decided to stick around.

Luckily, Kiir quickly spotted the carriage as she exited the trees. Unfortunately, just like the entrance, the entire place was filled with Thalmor officers and soldiers. Kiir didn't see Tukara or Driem anywhere.

One of the officers pointed to the trees and Kiir’s heart thundered.

Her invisibility spell was getting difficult to maintain and there was no question the illusion magic on her face had waned to a point where it was no longer useful. Kiir needed to move and fast. She dipped back into the trees and went around the back of the Embassy, careful to try and leave as few footprints as possible.

She came upon a trail that, as far as Kiir could tell, moved away from the Embassy. It had carriage marks in it so it must've been well travelled. She ran alongside it, finally dropping her invisibility. Kiir hadn't paid much attention to where the carriage had been going - even though she'd stared out the window for a majority of the ride, the most she could do was note which sides looked familiar.

My bag is still in the carriage. Kiir paused. It only had a few of her things - drawings and some clothes - but she would feel better if she had it on her back. Maybe I should wait for someone. Maybe Driem or Tukara or Vingalmo-

The sound of galloping horses pushed Kiir back into the treeline. She bent over, looking out past the brush as a group of three Thalmor raced up the trail.

There would be no waiting. Opting to stay in the trees this time, Kiir followed the road as much as she could. Perhaps she could make it to Solitude before nightfall.

Chapter Text

When Kiir first left the Isles, she had travelled by boat upwards to Gilane in Hammerfell. She had earned herself quite a number of sunburns in just the few days she spent in the city - the sun seemed to bear down harder on the land of the Redguards. Kiir suddenly realized why they always wore those head wraps.

She had planned to continue to travel north, to get as far away from Alinor as she could, to just keep moving, but the expansive Alik’r desert stunted that idea. It had been hard enough for her to find a carriage driver who was willing to take an estranged Altmer, but it was impossible to find one who would face the desert. So Kiir had to go south, along the coast, and into Cyrodiil.

Cyrodiil was kinder to her than High Rock. People didn’t look at her so sourly and she could travel throughout the streets without too many stares. Kiir had actually thought about staying there for a while and she might have, had a few Thalmor officers not recognized her. She hadn’t any plan, so when Kiir ran, she just ran. Ran, it turned out, to the southern edge of Skyrim and directly into the hands of an Imperial ambush.

Kiir shivered. Being out here reminded her how long it had been since she’d walked alone. It was silly, Kiir thought, that she’d spent so much time on her own early in her travels only to find the loneliness now so oppressive.

The evening sun was beginning to set and Kiir pulled her cloak closer around her shoulders. She was sure this looked familiar, but there was a nagging at the back of her head that said she’d been walking for far too long. She should have come to the fork in the road by now.

Kiir sighed, slowing her steps until she was stopped in the road. Shouldn’t she have run into someone by now? A trail of goosebump ran themselves up Kiir’s back.

I should have waited for Driem or Tukara, Kiir chided herself. She turned to look back the way she came, but saw only trees. Shit.

She wouldn’t panic. That would only make things more difficult. Kiir steadied her breathing. She would just have to walk until she came upon a house or village.

Starting up again, Kiir strained her eyes to make out the world around her. It was getting more and more difficult as the sun continued to set. Perhaps it was a stroke of luck or Auri-El deciding to be merciful, but just as the last rays of sunlight slipped below the horizon, Kiir was able to make out a stone structure just inside the treeline. There was a path, but it was worn and overgrown - she likely would have missed it had she not seen the building itself.

Kiir turned, frowning as she realized that it looked like a fort. There was a crumbled wall that likely once surrounded the structure, but was now little more than a set of boulders arranged around the fort. Kiir had been about to wonder if anyone was even there when she heard voices.

Thank Auri-El! There was a new skip in her step as Kiir drew close to the entrance, stopping only when she saw the source of the voices.

There were two figures, lit by a single torch that the one on the right held in his hand. He was a human, but Kiir couldn’t tell what race from where she stood. The other was an elf... a Dunmer, if she had to guess. There was a horse, too, held in place by the man.

The human was portly. His free hand rested atop his stomach whenever he had finished speaking. He was clearly upset about something .

Kiir crept closer.

“-olutely ridiculous! I said I’d give you the horse for 3000 gold and not a single cent less!”

“Then clearly you weren’t listening.”

“I was listening! It’s you who isn’t listening. I know you elves are a sneaky lot, don’t make me look stupid!”

“You’re doing a fine enough job yourself.”

The man huffed, pulling at the lead that was attached to the horse. “Then I guess I’ll just take my business elsewhere.”

“We had a deal.”

“Yes, we had one, but clearly-”

Kiir was crouched just behind one of the boulders when she saw the Dunmer rush forward. It took her a minute to realize that he’d stabbed the man, causing him to drop his torch and the horse’s lead.

The horse reared, but before it could move away, the Dunmer snatched up the lead.

Kiir hesitated. What if that had been her? She’d only made it as far as she had because other people had decided to help her, other people had stuck their neck out for her. Who was she if she just let this happen? “Hey!”

The Dunmer, who had started to calm the horse, snapped his head to the side.

With the torch still on the ground, Kiir couldn’t see much. She had been about to cast a magelight when she saw the Dunmer’s hands flash purple. Shit. He’s a mage, too.

Sure enough, bolts of lightning tore through the air.

Kiir ducked, trading magelight instead for ebonyskin. She threw herself into the dark and crept along the remnants of the wall, remembering swiftly the battle she’d had with Ancano. It had seemed so long ago. Even this Dunmer and his lightning spells had Kiir remembering Eithis and J’zargo. Then Romanda and Nie’mar. And Driem and Tukara. What would they think of her if they could see her?

You’re insane!

Another lightning spell struck the rocks near Kiir. Her mind tore itself back to the present. There was something more pressing to deal with.

Kiir pulled herself above the rocks. The Dunmer caught her movement, but before he could act Kiir took the chance to cast Incinerate, aiming for his feet.

Just as she’d hoped, the fire exploded on impact and the horse startled. It pulled sharply at its lead and yanked the Dunmer back.

Kiir took her chance to leap over the rocks and into the courtyard of the fort. She ran full tilt towards the Dunmer, hoping to catch him before he righted himself. She cast another incinerate.

The spell caught the elf directly in the chest. He flew backwards a ways, landing hard on the steps that led up to the fort itself.

Kiir dropped near the stabbed man, resting a hand on his chest. His shirt was slick with blood. He is still breathing! She immediately cast a healing spell, letting the warm yellow light spill over the man’s wounds. She couldn’t take the blade out, not until-

Unfortunately, Kiir heard the crackle of another lightning spell. She turned just in time to see the Dunmer launch a torrent of purple sparks her way. They hissed and sizzled against the Ebonyskin armor, chipping it away. Kiir looked down at her hands, frowning. The spell wouldn’t be finished for a minute or two.

Another spell blasted against the Ebonyskin.

“I’ll be right back,” Kiir said, as if the man could hear her. She drew to her feet, ducking out of the way of a third lightning spell. She wasn't sure where Vingalmo had gotten her dress, but thank goodness it wasn't difficult to move in.

Kiir cast an invisibility spell, quickly skittering off to her left. She flung a fireball.

The Dunmer danced out of the way.

I have to get closer. Kiir thought. He’d know where she was whenever she casted, so she’d have to keep moving.

Suddenly, a bright white flash emanated from where the Dunmer stood. A cacophonous wind picked up and Kiir paled.

Blizzard. She tried to slide back but the wind caught her dress and pulled her up. Kiir’s shoulder slammed into the boulders of the outer wall. Her invisibility spell dropped. Kiir could feel the protective warmth of the magic drift from her. Goosebumps trailed up her skin. She flung herself behind one of the stones. Part of her dress caught on the rocks and pulled. Kiir hear a loud rip as she tumbled down onto the other side. She could feel the brush of cold air just pass over her head before tumbling full force into the stones.

Stuck hidden behind the massive rocks, Kiir wondered why the Dunmer hadn’t said anything yet. She had expected some kind of taunt, something. Save for the sounds of spells and panicked whinnying, the battlefield was silent.

Hearing the wind begin to wane, Kiir pulled her head up. The Dunmer had lost sight of her and she took her chance. She reached out with her arm to vault over, but a sharp pain from her shoulder caused her arm to buckle. Kiir landed hard on her side. It was loud enough that the Dunmer heard and spun to face her. Shit.

The Dunmer didn’t waste a second. He cast an ice spell, freezing Kiir’s side to the boulder.

A Thalmor trick, Kiir thought fleetingly. She tried to yank herself free but the ice held firm. It would take far too long to melt with a fire spell. She cast a unaimed flame spell, but the Dunmer responded in like with a ward.

Panic pooled in Kiir’s stomach.

As the Dunmer drew closer, she saw that he was well dressed. His clothing was colorful and bright, with fur trim. Save for his bloody hands and manic expression, he looked downright noble. He drew back a hand and cast a lightning spell, which crackled loudly against the Ebonyskin.

Kiir could feel the spell armor begin to weaken and she yanked again at the ice. Auri-El, if you’re-

A loud whinny cut off Kiir’s thought.

The Dunmer dropped his spell for only a second, and turned to look out over his shoulder.

Kiir knew she wouldn’t get a second chance like this again. She cast an Incinerate spell, aimed directly at the Dunmer’s face.

It landed and the Dunmer stumbled back.

Kiir placed her free hand against the ice and blasted a flames spell. She could feel her arm start to free but it wasn’t happening fast enough. She pulled. Her dress ripped and her skin burned, but Kiir forced her arm free from the ice trap and rolled down onto the ground.

The Dunmer still had yet to right himself.

Kiir cast another fireball, knocking him off his feet. She looked over to where the man was, having completely forgotten he was there. The knife was still in his stomach. She reached out with a telekinetic spell, grabbing hold of the hilt, and swinging it to the side.

It struck the Dunmer just below the jaw. He reached up and pulled at it almost immediately. A torrent of blood spilled from the wound.

Kiir had half a mind to stop the bleeding, thinking that perhaps he had learned his lesson, but she kept herself from doing so. Instead, she jogged back over to the man, crouching down beside him. She hesitantly put a hand against his throat, startling at how cold his skin was. He must’ve been hit by the ice storm.

With a sigh, Kiir sat back into the dirt. She’d come in here to help someone and had ended up only killing another. The night air sent goosebumps along her exposed flesh. She reached to slide over the piece of paper the man had been holding. The torch had long since been snuffed out, so Kiir cast a magelight.

It was a deed. There was blood covering most of which, in the already pale light, made it even more difficult to read. It was for a horse, the pale Palomino colored one Kiir had seen earlier.

As if on cue, Kiir felt warm breath on her neck and turned.

The horse nibbled at her hair.

“Long day for you too, huh?” Kiir reached up to stroke its nose. The name of the horse has been obscured on the document, with only the name “Letrush” readable at the top. “You want to come along with me? You'll need a name.”

The horse snorted.

“Would Murder be too bold?” Kiir shook her head. “What about an Altmer word for it? Sidaes?

The horse snorted again.

“Sid?”

The horse’s ears flopped forward.

“Sid it is.” Kiir pulled herself up to her feet. She looked to the man’s body, then over to the Dunmer. It felt... wrong to leave them out here like this, but she couldn't just carry around two dead bodies with her. Maybe she should bury them? Kiir rotated her shoulder, feeling it click. Hell, would she even be able to lift the man?

A cool wind blew through the courtyard.

Kiir’s dress was still ripped and the longer she stood there, the more exhausted she felt. She'd spent so much energy fighting... she'd had hoped to at least find a city by now. But at least she had a horse.

Kiir walked up to the fort’s front doors, knocking. With no reply, she pushed inside.

The air was musty and dry and smelled faintly like rotted meat. There were broken shelves and shattered chandeliers, most of the inner walls looked about ready to collapse.

Kiir turned a corner and saw a bed. Or what should have been a bed. Perhaps it was just her tired mind playing tricks on her, but she swore she could hear the squeal of rats. I'd rather take my chances on the road. Kiir turned back, exiting the fort and returned to Sid.

The horse hadn't moved and, if Kiir was any judge, looked happy to see her.

Letrush, who Kiir assumed to be the man, had thankfully brought his horse fully saddled.

Kiir tried to leap into the saddle, but found the dress constricted her legs too much. So much for easy to move in. She reached down the to bottom of the dress, ripping it from floor to hip. Kiir hated seeing such a lovely outfit destroyed, but she hadn't much of a choice.

Trying again, Kiir hopped up into the saddle with far more ease and settled in. She looked down, seeing the bloodied deed. She'd already stolen a horse once, it might be best to keep some documentation. Kiir’s legs felt wobbly and she’d already gotten up on the horse, so she had no desire to get back down. She cast a small telekinetic spell, drifting the deed up and into her hands before tucking into the folds of her cloak.

She turned Sid down the path she'd been traveling. Both she and her horse were glad to leave that place behind.

Now to only hope she was heading towards better things.

Chapter Text

The city shone like a hidden gem having been chipped from solid stone. The architecture was incredible, a perfect mixture of white stone and shimmering gold. Unlike the dull grey rock that most of the other cities had been made of, Kiir could see designed etched into the stone pillars. The entire place seemed to glow in the moonlight.

It was even brighter for Kiir’s tired eyes, having finally landed on some semblance of civilization. Her legs ached and she wanted nothing more than some warm food and a soft bed. There was a nagging reminder at the back of Kiir’s head that she didn’t have any money on her, but she had figured things out when she’d arrived at Whiterun and she’d figure things out now.

Kiir pointed Sid towards the stables, which too were carefully crafted with white and gold. The stable hand looked half asleep, leaned up against the middle most post, and even as she stopped in front of him he didn’t stir. “Good evening.”

The young boy, an Argonian, bolted upright. He stumbled forwards, nearly running into Sid. “Oh! Uh, sorry. Evenin’.”

“It doesn’t cost anything for me to leave my horse here, does it?”

The boy shook his head. “No. Not, unless you want ‘em fed. We just shelter and water ‘em.”

Kiir nodded. That sounded fair. “Alright, where...?”

“Just, uh, put ‘em in the last stall.” The boy watched Kiri with curious eyes. “What’s their name?”

“Sid.” Kiir did as the boy asked, hopping down and leading Sid into the stall. She pat the horse’s snout and smiled. “What city is this?”

“Markarth.”

Kiir had never heard of it. “Is it nice?”

The boy shrugged. “‘s long as you don’t trouble the guards.”

“I won’t.” Kiir chuckled. At least, she hoped she wouldn’t. She pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders and thanked the boy, moving up towards the city’s gates. She stopped to touch the outer wall, marvelling at the smoothness of the stone. It must’ve taken decades to construct this place.

The front gates to Markarth were unguarded, which was surprising. The doors were gold and ornately designed - a surprise, considering most other doors were exclusively wood. Kiir carefully pulled open one of them and peeked inside.

The city was quiet. A few stragglers still out on the streets looked over as Kiir entered, but quickly returned to whatever they were up to. The city seemed... layered. Kiir could look up and see paths twirling up and around, higher and higher. This wasn’t anything like Dragonsreach in Whiterun - it seemed even the houses were stacked on each other like boxes.

Kiir looked for anything signalling an Inn, and barely made out the sign from where she was. She strode over and pulled open the door, sighing as she felt the warmth of the fire touch her face.

“Good evening,” the elder man behind the counter said, smiling. “What can I help you with?”

“Uh, this is Markarth, right? How far is Solitude from here?”

“Solitude?” The old man scoffed. “About a ten hour ride north. You’re a ways from home, missy.”

Kiir groaned, putting a hand to her head. So she was stuck here, at least for the night. How many months in Skyrim and she was still getting herself lost all over the place. She needed to get herself a map and soon.

“Strong drink or soft beds?”

“The latter,” Kiir replied. She moved closer. “How much?”

“Thirty gold a night.”

Kiir cringed. “Would it be possible for me to pay you later? I have the money just... not on me.”

The man’s smile drifted into a frown. His attitude had gone from cheery to downright venomous. “Didn’t think you elves went anywhere without your coin on you.”

It was a stretch to assume she could forgo payment, but had seemed to Kiir like a good idea to at least try. “My apologies.” Kiir turned and slipped back outside before the man had a chance to say another word. It was humiliating.

Kiir looked around her. If she thought Solitude was difficult to navigate, this place was going to be impossible.

There ran a small stream down the center of the street, so Kiir turned left and followed it down a narrow path and a set of stairs.

At the base there was a wooden structure and, just above it, tumbled a waterfall. Kiir could feel the mist hit her face. She paused there a moment, letting the water cool her face, when she felt someone knock into her back. Kiir stumbled forward, catching herself before she fell into the flowing water beneath the wood.

“Oh, goddess.”

Kiir turned, coming face to face with an incredibly short human women. Her hair was pulled back and she wore more jewelry than clothing. Isn’t she cold? “I’m sorry-”

“No, no, dear, I’m sorry. I should’ve been looking where I was going.” The woman’s eyes trailed down from Kiir’s face to her feet and then back up. “What happened to you?”

“Oh!” Kiir looked down. Where her dress had once been a shimmering gold, it was now a dull, dirty yellow. The ripped portion fluttered lazily at her feet. “I... got into a little fight. That dress was a casualty.”

“Such a shame.” The woman extended a hand. “Ivy.”

“Kiir.”

Ivy smiled. “I like that name. It has a nice ring to it.”

“Thank you,” Kiir offered, though she wasn’t quite sure how to respond to a statement like that. That had been the first time someone hadn’t called it a ‘weird name for an Altmer’.

“So,” Ivy continued, “I have to ask. What’re you doing out in the middle of the night in a ripped up dress?”

“Didn’t have enough coin for the Inn,” Kiir answered.

“Do you need a place to stay?”

Kiir shrugged. As much as she did need a place to stay, it still felt odd to rely on a stranger like this. “I’m sure I’ll find-”

“Here,” Ivy extended a hand for Kiir to grab. “I’ve got an idea.”

Kiir started to protest, but Ivy grabbed her hand and started to lead her over across the wooden platforms and up an incline and numerous stairs to a set of golden doors. It seemed that every door in Markarth looked the same. Lovely, Kiir thought.

Ivy pulled Kiir into the building and immediately she was overwhelmed with the smell of perfume. Kiir couldn't quite place what the smell was, but it was incredibly overpowering and made the back of her throat hurt.

The main room was lit with candles, washing the room in orange. There were tapestries and curtains hung over every wall and draped from corner to corner. They were all colors of purples and reds and greens and the floor was littered with pillows. Kiir would have thought it was some kind of lounge had her eyes not fallen upon the entirely nude elven woman walking out from one of the back rooms.

Kiir immediately felt ill. “This is-”

“A brothel, yeah,” Ivy finished. She continued to pull Kiir back towards and stopped in front of a desk. “Wonder’li?”

Kiir was partly relieved she wasn’t being taken to a back room, but her sudden spike of anxiety did not go away entirely. She looked at the khajiit behind the desk, catching her eye.

The khajiit, Wonder’li, frowned deeply, just as the man earlier had. “What is it, Ivy? Who is this?”

“This is Kiir,” Ivy responded. “I found her outside and she’s needed a place to stay. Is it alright if she stays here?”

“Is she going to work?”

“No!” Kiir blurted. She had planned to let Ivy take the reins for most of the conversation, but there was no way Kiir was letting that answer be vague.

Ivy raised a brow, but didn’t get a chance to reply before Wonder’li did.

“See? What do I look like, a charity? It’s hard enough to keep a roof over you girl’s heads without giving away free rooms. She can find a place on her own.”

Ivy clicked her tongue. “Come on, Wonder, you took in all of us.”

Wonder’li looked up. She refusing to look back over to Kiir. “Yes, I took in all of you. Not her.”

“And if I want to give her my room?”

“Why are you suddenly so interested in this random stranger?”

Ivy laughed, bumping into Kiir’s arm. “She’s cute! And I’d hate to leave someone in need out in the cold.”

Kiir fidgeted in place, pressing her thumb into the palm of her hand. She was grateful that someone had decided to lend her a helping hand, and thankful that’d she’d been lucky enough to twice find someone like Romanda and Ivy when she was lost and alone. But the thought of staying in a brothel made something in her stomach twist.

Her mind drifted back to the College, to Eithis and J’zargo. It felt so long ago that she’d spoken to them, like it was another lifetime. This is just one of those things that’s only embarrassing if you let it be embarrassing, Eithis had said. Kiir shook her head, trying to focus on the fact that Ivy saw her as worthy of a helping hand. That was enough to be joyful.

Wonder’li hummed, turning her attention back down to her desk. “I’m busy, Ivy, and I’ve got things to take care of.” She stood from her chair and pulled her cloak off the back of it, swinging it over her shoulders. “She can stay if she pays for one of you, otherwise I want her out before I return.”

Ivy groaned, not shy about her distaste for Wonder’li’s answer. “Yes, Madame.”

Kiir felt Ivy grab her hand and start to lead her back out. It would be a lie to say that Kiir wasn’t disappointed that this didn’t work out, but the thought of not having to be around Wonder’li any longer was a relief. However, as Kiir reached to open the front door of the brothel, Ivy yanked her hand and pulled her off to the side.

Kiir’s foot caught on a pillow and she stumbled forward, catching herself on the wall and effectively trapping Ivy beneath her. She was so short that Kiir could barely see her underneath the fluff of her cloak. Kiir shoved herself back, cheeks flushed, stammering, “I’m sorry.”

Ivy laughed. “Don’t worry about it. You’d be surprised at how many people are into that.”

“Right.”

Ivy reached over to grab Kiir’s hand, pulling her away from the door and into a back hallway.

It was darker back here than in the front and smelled even stronger of perfume. There were noises echoing out from behind the closed doors, noises Kiir decided she’d rather not place. She also had to be careful of the few low hanging lanterns that just so happened to be sitting exactly at Kiir’s face level.

“Don’t be mad at Wonder’li,” Ivy suddenly said, still navigating the back hallway. “She’s just really protective and choosy with who she trusts.”

“I see.”

“You might have to be a little sneaky until I can convince her that keeping you here is a good idea, but I’m sure she’ll get over it.”

Kiir felt her stomach twist. “I don’t want to be trouble. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something-”

Ivy stopped and turned to face Kiir. “I’m not leaving you out on the streets, alright? This city is bad enough to the people who live here. The Lady asks us to love all and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

“The Lady?”

Ivy had started walking again. “Dibella. You’ve never heard of her?”

“I have,” Kiir corrected. There was no chance she could have avoided the stories of Dibella, though she doubted Ivy would appreciate the tales the Altmer had for the ‘Goddess of Whores’.

“Well, then you know how she is.”

“Is Wonder’li not a follower?”

Ivy shrugged. “She is, but I don’t think she has the freedom to follow the Lady’s teachings like us girls do. She has a business to run you know?”

Kiir nodded, though Ivy couldn’t see her.

They both stopped in front of a door, behind which a chorus of shouts and cheers echoed out of. Ivy pushed it open, waving widely before she’d even completely stepped into the room.

“Hey ladies!”

“Ivy!” One Bosmer girl called. “Who’s this?”

A blonde woman in the corner clicked her tongue. “You know you’re not allowed to bring patrons back here.”

“She’s not a patron, Reba.” Ivy pulled Kiir the rest of the way into the room. “This is Kiir and she’ll be staying with us for a while.”

The room was a bunk area, with beds stacked up atop one another, laid around the perimeter of the room. There were five other girls besides Kiir and Ivy. The Bosmer and Reba, presumably a Nord, stood in the far back of the room. There was an Argonian, an Orc, and another human, though Kiir couldn’t quite place their race. “Hello.”

The Orc raised a brow. “A new girl? I didn’t know Wonder was looking.”

“Not a new girl,” Ivy clarified, much to Kiir’s relief. “Just someone in need of a place to stay.”

Reba scoffed. “When did this place become a hotel?”

“Hush,” the Argonian replied. “We all came out of the streets. The least we can do is return the favor.” She turned to Kiir and smiled. “I’m Gismee.”

Ivy pointed to the Bosmer. “That’s Tae,” and then to the Orc, “and Ushu.”

“And this one is Ar’ji,” the khajiit said.

Kiir gave them each a nod. She pulled her cloak tighter, unsure what to do and uncomfortable standing in the midst of their stares. “I appreciate the kindness.”

“You’ll meet the rest of the girls soon. Everyone’s on call so they’ll be coming in and out.” Ivy wandered over to a chest and started digging. “There’s another Altmer girl here, Asa. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me giving you a few of her things to wear. At least until we get you something of your own.”

“That’s not necessary,” Kiir started. “I’m fine-”

Ar’ji shook her head. “Nonsense. We are all sisters here. We help each other.”

“And besides, Asa has more clothes than all of us combined!” Gismee laughed and leaned over the chest to help Ivy look.

Asa, Kiir thought. It seemed too coincidental that the name sounded an awful lot like the Altmer name for a sweet berry that grew on the coasts. “Thank you.”

“No need for thanks.” Tae smiled. “Like Ar’ji said, we’re sisters.”

Ushu moved over to Kiir and clapped her on the back. “An Altmer in a ripped dress and with hair shorter than mine, you’ve got to have stories. How’d you end up here in Markarth? Chasing your long lost love?”

Kiir chuckled, feeling some of the weight on her shoulder lift. Something in the room had changed. While it was still small and cramped with so many people in it, Kiir didn’t feel so claustrophobic. She smiled. “Well, it all started with an ambush and a dragon...”

Chapter Text

Kiir was under the weight of something. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t hear, only feel that crushing weight on her chest. She tried to reach around to free herself but her arms wouldn't move. She was frozen, struggling for breath.

In the distance, then, she saw a light. It flickered into existence and grew in size, slowly manifesting into a figure. Kiir would have reached out to it if she could’ve, but instead she just watched it swirl and glow in the expanse of black she was in. The figure slowly took shape and, once it had become recognizable, Kiir felt her chest tighten beneath the weight.

It was her father. He was turned to his side, nose upturned and sneering. His eyes would barely land on her for a moment before turning to the side. “Disgraceful.”

Kiir wasn’t sure if he’d spoken or if she’d simply heard him in her own mind, but the word stung deep. She still couldn’t speak, so she just watched as her father began to pace circles around her.

His boots clacked on a floor that wasn’t there. His frown deepened with every circle he made, around and around. She could still hear his voice, sharp and edged, but his words had become garbled and unintelligible. His hands were clasped tightly behind his back, his thumb tapping an unheard rhythm.

Kiir could feel her gut twist and turn. She waited for him to reach out, to crouch by her head and tell her everything would be alright. But breathing was getting more difficult. She still couldn’t move as the weight pressed harder. Black played at the edges of her vision.

And then Kiir sat upright in bed. Her head slammed against the underneath of the bunk above her and she fell back against the pillow, hand pressed to her forehead.

“Ouch.”

Kiir turned her head slowly, letting her eyes adjust to the pale lighting.

Ivy was sat at the dresser, placing the pastry she held in her hand back on her plate. She smiled. “What a way to wake up.”

“I didn’t even realize I fell asleep. What time is it?”

“Morning,” Ivy replied, smirking. “Most of the other girls are up and at-”

Just then, the door to the room swung open, a chorus of laughs following the group of girls as they walked into the room.

Gismee’s eyes fell onto Kiir and she stopped. “Oh shit. I’m sorry, did I wake you up?”

Kiir shook her head, slowly pulling herself into a sitting position. “No, I was up.”

“This one thought you would be asleep all day.” Ar’ji trailed in behind Gismee, taking a seat beside Ivy.

“I don’t even remember falling asleep.”

Ivy nodded. “You were exhausted last night. Your head barely hit the pillow before you were out. Which, speaking of...” Ivy hopped down from her seat and walked to a chest along the wall. She lifted the lid and pulled out a long, white dress. “Gismee and I were able to find you something to wear. Asa so generously lent us one of the few items of clothing she owns that aren’t exceptionally revealing.”

Kiir took the clothes from Ivy’s hands, turning them over. The cloth was a bit... thin, but it would do. Anything was better than the tattered gold dress. Kiir stood and started to leave when a hand on her shoulder pulled her back.

Ar’ji raised an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

Kiir turned. “To find somewhere to change?”

“You can just change in here,” Ar’ji replied. After a pause, she laughed. “You act like we have not seen every type of body the world has to offer. We will not look.”

“Speak for yourself,” Ivy quipped, grinning.

“I’m not sure-”

Gismee moved to usher Kiir back into the room. “I know it’s uncomfortable the first time, but trust me, you’re not going to find a more empty room than this one and we still can’t have Wonder’li seeing you so... this room it is.”

“This one can hold up a blanket for you,” Ar’ji offered.

Kiir eyed Ivy before turning back to the khajiit. “That’d be nice, yeah,” she replied.

Ar’ji reached over to one of the beds and grabbed the top sheet, holding it up. She realized she was a little too short and hoisted her hands over her head. “This one will not peek, promise.”

Kiir nodded and undressed, making sure to be quick about it. Remembering having to wear Hadvar’s aunt’s ill fitting dress made Kiir all the more grateful that Asa’s clothes fit so comfortably. A fleeting thought had Kiir wonder, however, where the robes she'd worn into Skyrim had gone. She had packed a whole bags worth of clothing when she'd left... surely the Empire had no use for it?

“Does it fit?”

Gismee’s question drew Kiir back from her thoughts. “Yes, perfectly, thank you.”

“Good,” Ar’ji said, letting her arms drop. She tossed the blanket back up on a bed and stepped back. “You will fit in just fine, here.”

Kiir nodded. “I shouldn't be staying that long, though. I'm sure my friends will be looking for me and my horse is only set to be watered so-”

Ivy groaned. “Is Delmis being a hardass again?”

“Delmis?” Kiir asked.

“The stable master. Guy just got the job a few months ago and he's been such a stickler. I can't tell you the number of people who are complaining about the ‘water and shelter’ rule.” Ivy shook her head. “I'll stop by the stables and talk to him. Which horse is it?”

Kiir raised a brow, startled at Ivy’s offer. She wanted to protest, but seeing how she'd acted before, Kiir figured it was better just to agree. “The Palomino.”

Ivy gave Kiir a pat on the back. “Why don’t you come with me? To the stables, I mean. That way you can point out your horse and I can give you a tour of the city so you don’t get lost again.”

“I’ll tag along, too,” Gismee said, pulling her shoes on. “I could use some fresh air.”

Kiir nodded. That dream still weighed heavy and some outside air was definitely what she needed.

Ivy insisted that she scout out the place first, to make sure Wonder’li wasn’t around. She did a few loops, three too many if Kiir was anyone to judge, before squirrelling Kiir out through the front.

The mid-morning sun was warm and Kiir realized she probably didn’t need her shawl all that much. The hard cold of the north had her conditioned not to leave without it, but it seemed the weather was much warmer down here.

“So how long are you planning to stay?” Gismee asked, trailing behind Ivy towards Markarth’s front gates.

“Not long,” Kiir replied. “I have friends that are probably worried sick. I should try to make the trek up to Solitude again no later than tomorrow.”

Ivy turned back. “So soon?”

“I’d rather not press my luck, with Wonder’li and all...”

“Don’t worry about her. You can stay as long as you need.”

Yet, in that stood the issue. Kiir didn’t think she needed any longer. She wondered if Vingalmo had made it out alright, if Driem and Tukara were worried about where she’d gone. That wasn’t even to mention that she still had people to find, a Horn to locate, and Thalmor to avoid. The image of her father from her dream rose again and Kiir shook it away. “Still, I shouldn’t be here longer than a day.”

“Pity,” Gismee replied, bumping into Kiir’s shoulder. “I was just starting to like you.”

Ivy led the group down to the stables, motioning for Gismee and Kiir to stay back while she went ahead to the stables.

Kiir distantly heard the clanks and clangs of metal armor and she turned to look at the guards. When she saw they were stood still, backs against the wall, she looked to Gismee. “Do you hear that?”

Gismee nodded towards the trail leading out of town. “We’ve got visitors.”

Kiir followed Gismee’s gaze and saw that ‘visitors’ was right. Dozens of Imperial soldiers clad in red armor began to materialize around the corner towards Markarth. At their lead was a man on horseback, another man walking in tandem beside him. “What are they doing here?”

“I haven’t any idea,” Gismee replied. She looked towards the stables and then back at the approaching men. “The Forsworn, perhaps?”

“Forsworn?”

Gismee didn’t take her eyes off the soldiers. “Reachmen. Tribal men that claim this area as their home.”

Kiir hadn’t realized that Skyrim had a tribal peoples. She had just figured the Nords had lived here since the Elves had been forced out so long ago. Still, did these people really warrant such a military response?

The man on horseback stopped, said something to the man beside him, and the began to lead his horse ot the stables.

The second man turned to the soldiers and shouted something, to which the soldiers replied with by slamming their swords onto their shields and an audible “hoy”. The man waved over his shoulder and started back up towards the city gates.

Gismee grabbed Kiir’s hand and started to pull her closer to the stables. Ivy had just walked out, eyes dancing between the soldiers and the approaching Kiir and Gismee.

“What the fuck is that about?” Ivy asked once within earshot.

Gismee shrugged. “I don’t know, but I don’t think I like it.”

“Reba is really not going to like it.”

“We should get back. Let Wonder’li know.”

Ivy nodded. “I think that’d be best...”

“Excuse me...?”

Kiir turned, seeing that the armor clad man had wandered close. Her gut twisted. He was looking directly at her. “Hmm?”

The man was silent another minute, before he reached up and removed his helmet.

Even beneath the new beard and longer hair, Kiir immediately recognized the man in front of her. All apprehension disappeared and she audibly sighed, smiling. “Hadvar?”

Hadvar laughed. “Gods, how long has it been? I almost didn’t recognize you. You look... older? And your hair.”

Kiir reached up a hand up, forgetting for a moment that her hair used to be longer. “And you have a beard.”

“Not a lot of time to shave recently.” Hadvar turned to nod towards the city gates. “What’re you doing so far south? I thought you were headed to the college.”

“I was.” Kiir could hardly believe how much time had passed since she’d last spoken to Hadvar. So much had happened since Helgen and her time at the college. “A lot has happened since then.”

“I can imagine!” Hadvar chuckled, and then started to turn back towards Markarth. “I should be getting back, but we should catch up. How long are you in town for?”

Kiir shrugged. “Not for long. I need to be getting back to Solitude-”

“I’d wait a bit before heading up that way,” Hadvar replied. His eyebrows creased in thought. “There’s been a lot of Forsworn and Stormcloak activity around here lately. That’s actually why I’m here, Tullius had us expedite everything to make sure we stay ahead.”

Kiir nodded along. “To protect the city?”

“And to strike a deal.” Hadvar’s eyes glanced between Gismee and Ivy before returning to Kiir. “There was a... double homicide at a nearby fort. No one knows if it was the Forsworn or the Stormcloaks, but one of the dead was an important man. And murders so close to cities are worrisome.”

Kiir felt herself pale. Surely there was another fort nearby, another fort in which two men lay dead. It would be far too coincidental... wouldn’t it. She struggled to find her voice. “Well, I guess I’ll be here for a while, then.”

“Not too long. Once we set up a guard rotation and secure a trade route, you should be good to go.” Hadvar slid his helmet back into place. “It was good seeing you, Kiir! I should be at the tavern later tonight. You should stop by!”

“Absolutely!” Kiir grinned, turning back to Gismee and Ivy as Hadvar departed.

Ivy wore a smile that took up nearly her entire face. “And who was that ?”

“An old friend,” Kiir answered.

“Friend? Are you sure?”

Gismee chuckled, placing a hand to her chest. “Gods, Kiir,” she mocked, “I barely recognized you.”

“And your hair,” Ivy continued. “You look older.”

Kiir blushed. “That is not the case at all. He was the one I escaped Helgen with.”

“A love forged dragon’s fire!” Ivy cheered, shaking her head. “If you need help wrangling him around, let me know.”

“And me,” Gismee added. “I have a few perfumes...”

With her face still hot, Kiir rolled her eyes and started moving back towards the gates.

“Kiir, wait!” Ivy called. “Don’t be shy! He’s cute!”

Gismee laughed. “Very cute!”

Kiir pulled open the gates and slipped back into Markarth, not waiting for Ivy or Gismee to catch up. She couldn’t hear their voices anymore, but she knew she wouldn’t be hearing the end of this for a while.

 

Chapter Text

It was early evening, and if Kiir had gotten her way she would have been back at the brothel, figuring out how she was going to find her way back to Driem and Tukara. Instead, however, she was trekking across Markarth towards the tavern with her face powdered and wrists bejeweled.

“You’re leaving in a few days anyway!” Ivy had said, digging through her own pile of clothes. “Have some fun while you’re here!”

Ar’ji nodded. “Ar’ji would hate to see you waste such an opportune moment.”

“Opportune?” Kiir had questioned.

“What are the chances that you’d find him again?” Gismee had asked. She clicked her tongue. “You’d be a fool to pass this up.”

“More than a fool,” Asa had chimed in. The tall, lanky Altmer was one Kiir had only met that night, though she had wasted no time in jumping on the ‘date’ train. She had offered up nearly everything in her closet, from skimpy lingerie to thin floor length dresses. “He’d only be so lucky to catch a girl like you.”

Kiir looked at her feet, her face warming. “Firstly, this isn’t a date. And secondly, I have more important things to worry about than-”

Ushu scoffed, clapping her back with an open palm. “Come on now, with where you’ve been these last few months don’t you think you should have a break?”

“A break isn’t going to help me.” Kiir sighed. Or help anyone else, for that matter. What if Tukara and Driem were in trouble? How would they even know where she’d gone?

“Kiir,” Gismee took a step forward, placing a hand on her arm. “One night out isn’t going to kill anyone. And he’s an Imperial Captain. Perhaps you can get some information out of him, if you really need motive.”

“This one thinks one night out for yourself is not going to make the world end,” Ar’ji chimed in.

“And who knows what could happen,” Asa smiled. “Maybe you’ll be lucky and actually have a good time with him.”

Kiir rolled her eyes, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. Gismee had a point - if she was stuck in the city for a few days, she could at least find out about the war, and perhaps the Thalmor. And learn how close they were on the Dragonborn’s tail. “I highly doubt Hadvar is going to spill to me his secret war plans.”

Ivy erupted into laughter. “You would be surprised what a pretty face can get out of people!”

“Besides,” Gismee nudged her side. “Information or not, you’ll have a story to tell!”

Kiir could feel her face turn hot. These girls were taking this way out of proportion. Of course, they didn’t know that she was the damn Dragonborn , but in either case she hadn’t seen Hadvar in months. They had known each other two days at most. She’d have had a better chance with Vingalmo.

“You’re wearing this,” Asa pushed a short, white dress into Kiir’s hands, “and these shoes,” she placed a pair of gold slippers atop the mass of fabric, “and you’re going on this date.”

Kiir handed Gismee the shoes, her hands nearly full, and held the dress infront of her. “I’m still not sure-”

Ushu chuckled. “If Asa says you’re wearing it, then you’re wearing it.”

Ar’ji clapped, her tail whipping behind her excitedly. “Let Ar’ji see how you look in it already!”

Kiir didn’t want to admit it aloud, but maybe there was some truth to the girl’s words. It wasn’t as if she was going to get anything else done. Slipping on the dress, Kiir could feel hands tugging and pulling on the folded bits of fabric.

Asa hovered, her hands dancing over Kiir’s hair and starting to put it up. “I think I might cut my hair like this...”

“Like you’d ever give up your locks,” Ushu replied.

Gismee knelt, placing the slippers on the ground in front of Kiir. “Don’t worry so much. You’ll be fine.”

“Too bad Tae isn’t around to see this,” Ivy said.

Ushu’s hand met Kiirs, holding her arm up above her head for a twirl, Kiir obliging.

“Wait!” Ar’ji said, leaping to her bunk bag hanging above. “This one has earrings for you to use!”

“Oh my gods,” Kiir laughed. “You don’t have to-”

“Nonsense!” Gismee said. “You’ll look great!”

Kiir smirked. “I think you guys are having too much fun playing dress up.”

Ushu’s lips pursed. “Maybe so. But wait till you see; no one beats Ar’ji’s jewelry collection.”

“This one likes accessories,” Ar’ji shrugged. The jewelry she now held in her hand shimmered in the pale evening light.  “Please lean down.”

Kiir almost laughed again, crouching so that Ar’ji could reach her neck. She felt the warm fur of Ar’ji’s fingers working their way around her ears. The earrings were heavier than Kiir had imagined. Then soon enough a necklace was placed around her neck. “I thought you said earrings?”

A smile spread across Ar’ji’s face. “This one couldn’t resist.”

Ushu took a few steps away from the group, coming back with a full sized mirror large enough for even her to see everything they had done.

Kiir hardly recognized herself when she looked into the mirror. She was sure she hadn’t seen her own bare legs since she’d escaped Helgen, and to be wearing such a fine dress... it reminded her of when she’d gone shopping for her wedding with her mother. The design of this dress was absolutely Altmeri and Kiir chided herself as a wave of homesickness washed over her. She thought about her father, what he might think, seeing her in this. The dream from last night started to sneak its way back into her mind.

“So?” Ivy pressed.

“It’s beautiful.” Kiir shook any lingering thoughts from her mind.

Asa smirked. “Told you she’d like it.”

“Now go!” Gamsee said. She grabbed Kiir’s shoulders and steered her towards the door. “Before you get cold feet!”

Kiir tried to grab onto the door frame, mumbling things about wanting to double check everything, but her fingers grazed by the wood. The butterflies were swarming now.

And then Kiir was shoved out the door, which waves and cheers of good luck. The entire time between Kiir arriving at the brothel and then leaving had only been about twenty minutes. The girls were nothing if not efficient.

Kiir sighed. I can still head back. And she could, but there was a part of Kiir was excited to go. She knew she had so much to worry about, with the Blades and the Horn, but a simple night out felt so... normal. And Kiir hadn’t had normal in a while. Maybe they were right, maybe she did need a night for herself.

The evening air was warm and the girls had been sure to remind Kiir that she didn’t need her shawl every night anymore. Markarth’s weather was far more temperate, closer to the Isles, than to Solitude or Winterhold.

Kiir reached up to fidget with her earrings when she heard a shout from somewhere. She turned, not immediately sure where it was coming from. She had been about to dismiss it as an animal when it happened again. It could have been that Kiir was looking for a reason to delay meeting Hadvar, but she turned towards where she thought the sound was coming from and started walking.

When she rounded the corner, Kiir saw what the commotion was.

A man, dressed in a guard uniform, had a women pinned up against the wall, his hands on either side of her. His face was close to hers, so Kiir couldn’t hear what he was saying, but she could certainly her the girl’s shouts in reply.

As she drew closer, Kiir realized the woman was Tae, the bosmer from the brothel. “Hey!”

Both Tae and the man turned, though the latter looked far less pleased to see her.

“What, another whore come to the rescue?” The man’s face crawled up into a sneer. He pushed himself back up into the standing position and Tae took that chance to run. He reached out to grab her but missed. “Now look what you’ve gone and done!”

Kiir turned to try and speak to Tae as she passed, but the bosmer didn’t stop.

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve, elf.” The man turned so his body was completely facing Kiir. His hand floated above his pocket. He was drunk, his body swaying ever so slightly as he strode forward. “Are you going to pay me back my refund?”

Kiir didn’t have a reply. She hadn’t quite thought this all the way through. She was not dressed for battle, and surely her lighting a guardsman on fire would do her no good.

“I like the dress,” his voice drawled. “Didn’t think your kind were allowed to show that much skin.”

Kiir took a step back. She could try and run, but what if he followed her? She couldn’t fight a guard in the city!

Suddenly, the man’s hand rested on the hilt of his sword. He continued to walk closer and closer.

Kiir took another step back before she drew in a breath. She hadn’t done this in so long, part of her was worried she might have forgotten how.

Fus.

The swell in Kiir’s chest echoed out in a gust of air that pushed the guardsman back, knocking him to the ground. He rolled a few times, before stopping on his side.

Kiir didn’t waste a second turning and hurrying off, back towards the tavern. The butterflies in her stomach had turned into knots now. He was drunk, Kiir thought, he won’t remember my face. It wasn’t until she’d gone and done it that she reminded herself - she was a wanted woman. And she just gone and put a target on herself.

Trying to quell her sudden bout of fear, Kiir took a deep breath, and opened the doors to the tavern. The smell of mead and bread filled the warm air, an aroma she’d become accustomed to since moving to Skyrim. The place was loud, and packed with people. Songs and cheering filled the air. The dinner crowd, most likely. Kiir kept her eyes from lingering on anyone too long, desperately searching for Hadvar’s familiar face.

“You made it!”

Kiir barely heard Hadvar’s voice over the music and chatter. She likely would have completely missed him had he not put a hand on her arm, pulling her attention downwards.

Hadvar sat at a back table, two other soldiers sitting with him. His eyes attempted to stay on her face, but the other glances did not go unnoticed. “You’re dressed to impress. I figured you’d be in college robes.”

“A lot has happened since the college,” Kiir replied, looking to sit in one of the open chairs.

Hadvar turned to the two soldiers beside him. “Give us a minute?”

Kiir had been about to say she didn’t mind them being there, but the two men got up before she could speak. Of course it would be awkward to speak in front of two strangers, but it would be equally so speaking to Hadvar alone. “Who were they?”

“Fleif and Hugo, they’re brothers. They only just recently joined the Legion. Still a little shy.” Hadvar grabbed his mug and tipped it in her direction. “You want a drink?”

“Maybe in a little bit,” Kiir replied. Her hands fidgeted beneath the table, her thumbs pressing into her palm. She stole a glance out into the tavern, fighting with her tongue to find her next words. “How have you been?”

Hadvar took a drink. “Honestly? Exhausted. I wasn’t lying when I said the war has really started to pick up. It feels like I’m always on the move. I got promoted, so that’s nice, but it doesn’t mean I get any more sleep. What about you? You said you ended up making it to the college, yes?”

Kiir nodded. “It was a bit of a hassle, but I made it alright.”

“I heard there was a dragon attack up there too,” Hadvar continued. “You hear about that?”

“I was there,” Kiir replied, perhaps a little too eagerly. Hadvar seemed kind enough, but if his loyalty was to the Legion and, by extension, the Thalmor, she had to choose her words carefully. “It wasn’t fun, but at least we found out we can kill them.”

Hadvar raised his eyebrows. “I still can’t believe they truly exist. I saw the one in Helgen with my own eyes and sometimes I still doubt it.”

Kiir laughed. She almost wished she could doubt the dragons and all that had happened so far. That she could just believe it was all a dream. “There was another one at Whiterun. I just seem to have the best of luck.” Kiir paused, placing her hands atop the table. “I hear that the Stormcloaks might be behind some of the dragon attacks.”

“You heard right,” Hadvar replied. “Apparently the fabled Dragonborn is running around with the rebels, though I don’t know why they would attack one of their own holds. Even more odd is the Thalmor are convinced the Dragonborn is an Altmer. Have you ever heard of something so ridic-” Hadvar stopped himself, a goofy lopsided smile suddenly adorning his face. “Ah... not that that’s a bad thing... It’s just... ah, no offense.”

“None taken.” Kiir smiled in return, though her stomach was still twisting. But was it because of Hadvar’s words or his smile? “It does seem unlikely that a Nord legend would manifest in an Altmer of all races.”

Hadvar nodded. “Exactly. But the Thalmor have us on high alert. Thankfully, there aren’t that many Altmer in Skyrim that aren’t part of the Dominion.” That lopsided grin returned. “I mean, thankful in that there aren’t many we have to investigate, not that-”

Kiir waved a hand at him. “I know what you meant.”

“But I guess that means you’re on the list.”

Kiir choked, sitting up board straight.  “What?”

“No, it was a joke!” Hadvar chuckled, taking another drink from his mug. “Gods, you definitely need a drink.”

“Oh... right.” Kiir slumped back into her seat. “Sorry.”

“No, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. If it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure it’s only the Thalmor that think the Dragonborn’s an Altmer. The rest of us are sure it’s some Nord the Stormcloaks have hidden away.”

Kiir paused. “You also said something about Forsworn when you arrived?”

Hadvar nodded. “The Legion wants a treaty with them. They hate Ulfric almost as much as we do, so it seemed fitting. Though I wonder if that whole Fort incident is going to mess it all up.”

“Right, the Fort.”

“But enough about the war.” Hadvar settled back into his seat. “What are you doing in Markarth? It’s definitely not a tourist destination.”

Kiir hummed. “Would you believe me if I said I was travelling?”

“No.”

“Damn.” Kiir shifted in her seat. “I may or may not have gotten... lost and ended up here.”

Hadvar laughed, nearly spilling his drink. “Why am I not at all surprised?”

“Hey!” Kiir shook her head. “It happens to everyone.”

“Forgive me, I just cannot imagine someone getting so lost on their way from Winterhold that they end up in Markarth of all places.”

Kiir didn’t bother to correct him. “It’s truly a talent.”

“A talent that somehow had us cross paths again.” Hadvar’s smile lit up his entire face. “I feel as though I’ve stolen the entire conversation. I don’t mean to, perhaps it’s the alcohol.”

Truth be told, Kiir was glad she didn’t have to talk much. There was less of a chance she would slip up and say something she shouldn’t have. “It’s fine. I haven’t much to say anyway.”

“I doubt that. You’ve survived three dragon attacks, that’s more than I can say for most anyone. Surely there are stories there. Here, I’ll order you a drink and-”

Suddenly, another soldier appeared and stood beside the table.

Hadvar looked up, nodding. “Yes?”

“One of the guardsmen has reported, er, reported someone using a shout on him, sir.”

“A shout ?” Hadvar echoed.

Kiir felt herself pale. She glanced between the soldier and Hadvar, sure one of them would turn on her any second.

“Yes, sir. He’s a bit intoxicated, but he seems sure of himself. He went straight to Ondolemar, who asked for this to be investigated immediately. Sir.”

Hadvar sighed, turning to Kiir and offering her a small smile. “Sorry to cut the night short, but duty calls.”

“No problem,” Kiir forced out between her teeth. She needed to leave, now.

“But... I’ll see you again, yes?” Hadvar stood and offered her a hand to help Kiir up.

“I’ll be stuck in the city for another day or two, right?”

“Very true!” Hadvar hoisted Kiir to her feet, his hand lingering on hers. “Have a good night, Kiir.”

“You, too!” Kiir turned on a heel and raced for the door. She felt a little bad, leaving so quickly and making it appear like she’d had a terrible time. But she feared if she stayed too long her own nervousness would give her way. Kiir made record time back to the brothel and slipped in the front door, turning towards the back walkway.

The brothel was busier than Kiir had ever seen it, likely because of all the soldiers now in town. She glanced up at Ushu and Ar’ji, who stood along one of the back walls chatting up a group of men. She gave them small smiles as she passed.

Then, Kiir heard a voice that froze her in her tracks. It was loud and echoed down the hallway, a sound she immediately knew the source of. Kiir didn’t turn right away. Part of her wondered if she didn’t turn, then perhaps the problem would go away. The voice would just forget it had seen her.

“You!”

Kiir cringed.

Wonder’li.

Chapter Text

Kiir turned slowly, careful not to make any movement too fast. She held her hands up and frowned the minute her eyes fell on Wonder’li’s face.

It was not only her voice that was harsh. “I thought something was amiss!” Wonder’li stormed forward, grabbing ahold of Kiir’s wrist. “Get out of my building. Get out of my house.”

“Wonder, I-”

“It’s Madame to you,” Wonder’li snapped. She yanked Kiir out towards the front door and would have ripped it open had Ushu not slid in the way.

Ushu held up a single hand. “Wonder’li, listen-”

“To what? Some excuse as to why you girls, who I have done everything for, lied and went against my wishes?”

“This one thinks you are being too rash.”

Wonder’li spun towards Ar’ji, who had come up behind Ushu. “Rash? She’s playing you! She expected you to fold for her and you did! I refuse to play into her hands!”

Kiir startled, her face growing hot with discomfort. What in the world is she talking about? Kiir tried to pull her arm back, but Wonder’li was not letting go anytime soon. She had not come here expecting to be given anything! Ivy had been the one to bring her here! “I wasn’t-”

“Of course you weren’t,” Wonder’li interrupted. She grabbed Ushu’s shoulder to move her aside.

Ushu stood firm. “Ivy brought her here. Kiir didn’t come here of her own volition.”

Wonder’li didn’t reply, more forcibly attempting to shove Ushu out of the way of the door.

Kiir tried to pull her arm back again, but Wonder’li’s grip was right and her claws were dangerously closer to cutting into her skin. In a moment of panic, Kiir cast an Ebonyhide spell, and then wretched her arm free. She stumbled back, nearly slamming into Ivy.

Wonder’li spun on Kiir, eyes awash with anger, but before she could reach for Kiir’s arm again, Ivy stepped around.

“I told her to stay here, Wonder,” Ivy said. “She didn’t just decide to shack up here.”

“It doesn’t matter. I want her out of here. Immediately.”

“Why?” Ivy pressed. “You took all of us in? What’s the harm in keeping her here for a few days?”

Wonder’li shook her head, bewildered. “I told you this when you first asked. This is not a hotel and is certainly not a charity!”

“You’re not paying for anything! We’re letting her stay with us, in our rooms!”

“In my building! Without my permission! If I let one in, I’ll have to let everyone in and we can’t afford that! I have to run a business, Ivy! I have to protect my girls, I can’t be allowing freeloaders take refuge for free!” Wonder’li’s hands were flying around her, her voice rising to a shrill crescendo.

Kiir caught her chance to speak in the short lull in conversation. “If you truly want me to go, I’ll go.”

Ivy put a hand to Kiir’s chest. “You’ve more than proven yourself worthy of staying here.”

“Worthy?” Wonder’li nearly spit the word. “I can think of a few things to call her, but worthy is not one of them.”

“Would you quit being such a slag?” Tae drew up from the back. A small crowd had formed around the fighting and she had to force her way through. “She saved my ass, I think you can give her a few nights on the house.”

Wonder’li was quiet then, her face still drawn in anger. She turned to Kiir. “Why are you even here? Why not go stay somewhere you aren’t surrounded by whores and vagrants? Isn’t that a little low for you?”

Kiir frowned, shaking her head. She wasn’t sure what she had done to anger Wonder’li this much. A bit of guilt rose, for having been so uncomfortable when she’d first arrived at the brothel, but, not only had that changed, Kiir was sure there was no way Wonder’li could have known that’s how she felt. “I lost my coin purse and needed a place to stay.”

“So go sleep in the caverns like the other poor homeless do. What makes you important enough to get free room and board in my house? The golden skin? The tall frame? Or maybe it’s the distinct lack of fur.

“Wonder’li!”

Wonder’li turned just as Asa came around a corner. She closed her mouth, her hands dropping to her sides.

Asa’s face was pulled up in a grimace. “Is there a problem with me being here?”

“No,” Wonder’li replied, quick to recover. “You work here. She does not. That’s the issue.”

Ar’ji shook her head. “This one thinks that is not the only issue.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Wonder’li shouted, throwing her hands above her head. “This is my business and my decision who stays and who does not! Leave!”

Ivy didn’t move her hand form Kiir’s stomach. “Don’t leave.”

“Excuse me?” Wonder’li asked. “I said she is to leave!”

Kiir shifted from one foot to the other. Or maybe it’s the distinct lack of fur. It was strange, Kiir realized, to have her race come back into the forefront of her life. It had happened when she’s first arrived in Skyrim, but that had only been passing comments here and there. This... this sounded like the way some of her uncles spoke about Argonians and Orcs. The sort of comments her mother would make to the Khajiit maids and servers. Kiir’s eyes drifted to Ushu and Ar’ji, who were watching her closely.

“She’s not leaving!” Ivy shouted. “If she leaves, I leave!”

“Agreed,” Asa said.

Kiir was flattered by the shows of solidarity. She knew leaving the brothel was the worst thing she could possibly do. Hadvar had said he was sure the Dragonborn was a Nord man, but if the guard from earlier could identify her then it didn’t matter what he thought. “I can’t leave.”

“You can’t leave now?” Wonder’li scoffed, the smile on her face a sign of frustration rather than amusement. “Pray tell, what in the name of our good lady Dibella could be keeping you from leaving?”

The crowd had grown, but Kiir noticed the people were mainly girls, paused between clients and intrigued by the arguing. Unfortunately, however, Kiir saw a few Imperial guardsmen, their ears clearly tuned into the conversation. Lowering her voice, Kiir replied, “The Thalmor.”

It seemed that was not the answer Wonder’li was expecting. She narrowed her brow. “What do you mean the Thalmor?”

Kiir pushed her head forward, closer to where Wonder’li stood. She nodded towards the soldiers. “I can’t get into it here. But I’m... not in good standing with them.”

Ivy, who still stood beneath Kiir, chuckled. “Who is?”

Wonder’li seemed to relax a little. “What if I don’t believe you?”

“I don’t know.” Kiir shrugged. “I guess you’ll be seeing me arrested within the next few days.”

“And I should care?”

Ivy stood up straighter. “Like you harbor any love for those murderous, supremacist fucks!”

Wonder’li shook her head. “I don’t like this.”

“Excuse me?” One of the Imperial guards had wandered over, his helmet tucked under his arm. He looked between Wonder’li and Kiir, his face pulled taut in a blank expression. “Is there a problem I can help with?”

“No,” Wonder’li answered quickly. She sighed and turned to Ar’ji and Ushu, waving her hand back in the direction of Kiir. “Get her out of here. I don’t want to deal with this tonight.”

Kiir didn’t waste a single moment waiting for Wonder’li to change her mind. She spun around and skittered down the hall, bursting into the bedroom.

Reba was in there, getting ready, and she startled at the door slamming open. “What the fuck?”

Kiir didn’t say anything. She slipped into a chair in front of the mirrors.

Reba raised an eyebrow. “Did something happen?”

Then, Ivy and Ar’ji came trickling into the room.

Ivy took a seat beside Kiir, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about he-”

“How am I not supposed to worry about her?” Kiir interrupted. “I can’t stay here and I can’t- shouldn’t leave...”

“You are not leaving,” Ar’ji said, moving to take the spot to Kiir’s other side. “You are welcome here, Ar’ji promises.”

Kiir shook her head. “I don’t understand why you all are so willing to help someone who isn’t giving you anything. Why everyone is so okay with giving me all the help I could ever want and for what?

“‘Everyone’ does not contain Wonder’li,” Ar’ji chuckled.

Ivy, however, grabbed Kiir’s shoulder and smiled. “Because offering help to those who need it is the most generous gift you can give someone.”

Kiir sighed. “But I’m not giving you anything. I have people willing to risk their lives for me, but I just...”

“You’re talking about those two bosmer girls,” Ivy said. “The ones from your story? Clearly they think of you as a good friend, someone worth fighting for.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Kiir replied. She turned her gaze down from her reflection.

“It does make sense.” Ar’ji leaned so she could see into Kiir’s face. “You helped the one defeat the man in the castle with that heavenly bow. And you have fought alongside them both. You have helped them as much as they have you.”

Kiir would be pressed to find her aiding Tukara in her fight against Orthjolf to be anything like her deciding to stick with her this long. And Driem... Driem had just decided to put herself in harm's way for her. Romanda, Vingalmo, Fish, Eithis, J’zargo, the Companions, Hadvar ... “I suppose.”

“And think about it,” Ivy continued, “we brought you in, and you helped Tae out of a bad situation. We helped you, you helped us.”

Kiir pondered Ivy’s words for a moment. Had she been telling someone else that, Kiir would not have been so reluctant to adhere to its truth. She hummed, and opened her mouth to reply, when another figure moved into the frame of the window.

Ushu hovered in the doorway. “The Imperial Guard is here.”

Ivy turned, laughing. “Yeah, a lot of them are in here.”

“No, I mean the Captain and the guard are here. On business. They’re asking if we’ve seen anyone out late tonight, a drifter. Female. Tall.” Ushu’s eyes fell on Kiir, though she didn’t say anything more.

Ivy groaned, pushing up from her seat. “And they’re bothering us about it? Of course they think the ‘working girls’ know something.”

“Wonder’li is talking to them right now, I just came to see if you wanted to come watch.”

Ar’ji rose, too, and nudged Kiir. “Come on, your Hadvar is here. Surely you’ll want to see him.”

That was the last thing Kiir wanted to do, especially considering what he was here in the brothel for in the first place. Tall. Female. So the man had seen her. There was no doubt in Kiir’s mind now that he would recognize her if he saw her. And she hadn’t seen enough of him to know who to avoid. She’s have to try and slip out of the city and soon, damn the Stormcloaks.

Ivy grabbed Kiir’s arm and pulled. “You could use a pick me up!”

“I wouldn’t want to bother Wonder’li-”

“Then just watch from around the corner.” Ivy pulled again.

Kiir shook her head. “No, I think I’ll just stay here.”

Ivy frowned, but let go of Kiir’s arm and shrugged. “Alright. I’ll just be sure to give you all the deets when we get back!”

The room quietly emptied and Kiir turned back to the mirrors. Kiir’Dun, the ‘legendary’ Dragonborn, stared back at her. That was all a farce. What had that title ever gotten her? She would have have been better off simply staying Elandaae, but Kiir had even messed that up. The thought of her finally being caught and trapped after all this felt so... unfortunate. Kiir was scared, but the utter misfortune of it all overshadowed any immediate sorry.

Pity. Kiir pitied herself. And it was a terrible feeling.

Suddenly, Kiir saw another figure move into the mirror from the doorway. She had barely registered that it was Wonder’li before the khajiit had slammed the door to the room shut and stood, staring at Kiir, her face drawn.

“Why are you running from the Thalmor?”

Kiir raised her brows. “I, uh-”

“Don’t bullshit me,” Wonder’li added. “Why are they after you? Did you kill someone?”

“No, I just... they think I’m someone...”

“The Dragonborn.”

Kiir froze. Fuck! She watched Wonder’li’s face, desperately trying to collect her thoughts. How in the world did she figure it out? Surely if Wonder’li knew, it wouldn’t be long before-

“The Imperials don’t know, if that’s what your sweating about.”

Am I sweating? Kiir put a hand to her forehead and wiped at the wetness there. She suddenly realized how hot she felt, even though Wonder’li had just answered the question that worried Kiir the most. “How did you-”

“Does it matter how?” Wonder’li snapped. “I put two and two together. The Thalmor are looking for the Dragonborn and the tall, female who recently came into town and was out at the time this happened was their number one suspect. I wasn’t 100% sure until I just asked you.”

Kiir nodded quietly.

“I’m assuming you wanted to keep this quiet?” Wonder’li laughed, short and sharp. “Really brilliant idea using one of those... shouts out in the middle of the street.”

“I,” Kiir paused. “I didn’t have a weapon.”

“You’re a mage,” Wonder’li deadpanned. “You’re always armed.”

“I couldn’t just attack a guard in the middle of the street!”

“So you used a shout?”

“Why do you care?” Kiir leaned forward, her frustration threatening to bubble over. “Why not tell the soldiers? The Thalmor?”

Wonder’li clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. “Because the Thalmor are slimy and I’m not going to have Imperial soldiers ransacking this place.”

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“On the contrary,” Wonder’li said with with a sigh, “I do. You protected Tae. You stupidly used a shout to do it, but you stepped in for one of my girls. I at least owe you a shot out of here.”

Kiir hummed in response.

“Not to mention you’re the Dragonborn. You think I want to hand something like that over to the Thalmor? I might not like the Stormcloaks, but just because I prefer the Imperials doesn’t mean I have to like the Thalmor, too.”

“Thank you,” Kiir replied. She looked up and found herself unable to smile, so she just nodded.

“What are you doing in Markarth, anyway? In a brothel with no money? Shouldn’t you be out... fighting dragons?”

“I should be doing a lot of things.”

“And why aren’t you?”

Kiir threw her hands up. “Everything is working against me! Dragon attacks and people stealing ancient horns and walking corpses and-”

“Then you deal with it.” Wonder’li looked utterly perplexed. “You don’t think everyone here has had the world working against them from day one? You push back.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It is that simple.” Wonder’li crossed her arms, her eyes hard. “How many people know?”

Kiir shrugged. “A handful.”

“And they’re helping you?”

“Of course-”

“So why aren’t you out doing what you need to do? Why are you here?”

“I got lost!” Kiir turned so she didn’t have to meet Wonder’li’s eyes.

“You got lost? And you didn’t just turn around?”

“I didn’t know-”

Wonder’li held up her hand again. “I’m going to be honest with you, because I’ve found nothing hits people harder than honesty. This?” She gestured to Kiir. ”This is pathetic. If someone had told me that this is what the Dragonborn looked like and acted like, I’d have told them they had lost their mind. This is not the visage of a hero. This is the visage of a confused little girl.”

Kiir was quiet. Pathetic. Words seemed foreign in her mouth.

“I know what it feels like to be that little girl. But you don’t have the luxury of time to figure yourself out. You have an incredibly important job that no one else can do, and yet here you are.”

“I just don’t know-”

“Then you figure it out.” Wonder’li leaned forward so her face was just inches from Kiir’s. “No one is going to tell you how to do this. No one is going to hold your hand through the shitty, awful parts of this. You need to get yourself together and get your job done, not only for your sake but for everyone else’s. You’ve got the world on your shoulders, and you’re not going to help it being here in the back room of a brothel.”

Kiir fidgeted. She felt like she was being scolded by her mother. “I’ve been meaning to leave-”

Wonder’li scoffed. “Well, you waited a little too long. The Imperials have the city on lock down until they find this ‘dragonborn’. Thalmor’s orders.”

“Shit.” Kiir put her head into her hands. Everything is working against me.

“But, there is a tunnel that leads out of the city.” A hint of a smile played at the edges of Wonder’li’s lips. “The Imperials have set up camp in the building that has access to it, but I’m sure I can figure something out.”

“You don’t-”

“Yes, I do. Like I said, us not dying in a blaze of dragonfire rests on your shoulders, I’m not ignoring that.” Wonder’li paused. “And you somehow won over the hearts of some of my girls and I do trust their judgement.”

Kiir nodded. It seemed that whenever things happened, they happened so fast.

Wonder’li turned towards the door and stopped. “And you should quit letting people interrupt you. The whole thing that makes the Dragonborn special is their voice, don’t let other people silence yours.”

Kiir watched as Wonder’li pulled open the door to leave, only to nearly trip over the horde of girls stacked by the door.

Ivy and Gismee were on the floor, with Ushu, Ar’ji, Tae, and Reba above them. They all stumbled back and would have likely attempted to look natural, had Ushu not pinwheeled her arms and fallen backwards, taking Tae and Ar’ji with her.

Reba started to explain, but Wonder’li simply waved her off and, after weaving her way around the girls, continued on down the hall.

Kiir stared at the gaggle of girls, not sure what she should say. How much did they hear? How long had they been there?

“Well,” Gismee laughed. As if reading Kiir’s mind, she continued, “that certainly explains all the dragons in your story.”

 

Chapter Text

“I seriously cannot believe you left out the best part of your story!”

Kiir pinched the bridge of her nose. That had been the fifth time someone had mentioned the whole ‘dragonborn’ thing since she’d woken up that morning and it was barely noon. Honestly, it had seemed like Gismee had stayed up all night just to be the first to talk to her about it. “I couldn’t just go around telling everyone.”

“Well, of course,” Ivy replied. “But we’re not everyone. We wouldn’t have told!”

“It’s not really something I like talking about either.”

Ivy laughed. “What? You’re a walking legend!”

Kiir cringed. That’s exactly the problem. Her mind wandered to what Wonder’li had told her the day before - she needed to stop avoiding it. She was who she was and no one else was going to take her place if she didn’t do her job. “It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.”

“Ok, but fighting a dragon sounds incredibly glamorous.” Ivy sat down in her chair, pulling her hair back. “Speaking of glamorous, Gismee, Reba and I were planning on heading out to buy some new makeup. There’s this gorgeous new lip tint made from some plant found deep underground and the color is intense.”

“Isn’t the city still on high alert? I don’t think that me heading out is a good idea.”

Ivy’s fingers were still entwined in her hair so she waved her elbow dismissively. “Don’t worry about that. I have a plan.”

“A plan?” Kiir wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that.

Ivy stood up from her chair, her hair now pulled up in a deceptively complex hairdo. She waved to Kiir over her shoulder as she moved out into the hallway.

Kiir followed her until they were outside Wonder’li’s door.

“Hey, Wonder?” Ivy knocked on the door. “Can I come in? It’s Ivy.”

“What do you need?”

Ivy pushed the door open and, when Kiir was hesitant to follow, leaned out and grabbed Kiir’s hand to pull her in. “Kiir’s heading out to town with Gismee, Reba, and I. You wouldn’t happen to have some magic that could make her look like... not her? Like you did with Ushu that one time when she-”

Wonder’li turned. As always, her face was near unreadable. “Does she need to go out into town?”

“You know Illusion magic?” Kiir blurted. While Kiir would consider herself a master in the school of Illusion, even she wasn’t quite sure how to do the face masking spells. Vingalmo had been the first person she’d known to successfully cast it.

“It comes in handy when you’re in my business. But that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I-”

“I asked her to come along,” Ivy interrupted. “We want to see if Bothela has that new lip tint in yet.”

A smile wisped over Wonder’li’s lips. “I doubt it, with the lock down and all...”

“Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport!” Ivy laughed. “Maybe she has a few Forsworn contacts or something.”

Wonder’li rose to her feet and walked over to a large wardrobe. She opened it and pulled out a staff longer than she was tall. A horned skull sat atop its one end. “All of whom are either in jail or out in the Reach.”

Kiir watched the way Wonder’li elegantly swung her staff, letting the end glow faintly with magicka. “That’s an... interesting staff.”

“It was gifted to me a long time ago,” Wonder’li answered absently. She passed it in front of Kiir’s face. “So how do you want this, just so people won’t recognize you?”

“I think that would be best.”

Wonder’li hummed and held her hand over the top of the staff and then moved her now glowing palm over Kiir’s face. When she drew her hand back, Ivy laughed.

“I never get used to that. It’s so weird.”

Kiir leaned forward so that she could see herself in Wonder’li’s vanity mirror. “I look... the same.”

“Not to me you don’t!” Ivy replied. “You look like... like some rich pompous Altmer. A Thalmor’s wife or something.”

Kiir smiled softly, thinking back to the Embassy party. She wondered absently if Vingalmo was alright, if Tukara and Driem had made it out okay. She didn’t doubt for a second that they were capable enough, but she still wondered nonetheless. “So are we ready to go?”

“Yeah, lemme go grab the other two! Thanks, Wonder!”

“Of course,” Wonder’li replied. She looked over to Kiir, giving her a small nod. “Stay safe.”

Kiir followed Ivy out into the main lobby, where she grabbed Reba and Gismee before slipping out into the street.

The day was warm, like most of the days in Markarth were. The sun was hidden behind intermittent clouds with a balmy breeze drifting through the air. Kiir breathed in the smell of warm stone and freshwater. It felt like she hadn’t seen sunlight in days. The lovely weather, however, was tempered by the number of Thalmor and Imperial officers who walked the streets. The only place Kiir was sure she’d seen more Thalmor was at the Embassy.

“They’re really taking this Dragonborn thing seriously,” Gismee commented. “I wonder if they’ll keep it going indefinitely.”

“It’s stupid,” Reba replied. She rolled her eyes, tossing her gaze around at the soldiers. “They’re at war and instead they’re on a wild goose chase.”

Ivy bumped into Kiir. “I don’t know how ‘wild’ the chase is, Reba. They’re in the right place at least.”

Kiir looked out towards the front gates of Markarth, at the large gathering of soldiers. They were huddled in a circle, one of them was on horseback. Kiir nodded towards them. “They seem to be quite busy.”

“I think they’re having that talk, finally. With Madanach?” Gismee stopped to peer down. “Hopefully that works out.”

“It seems like a bad idea all around,” Reba replied. She shook her head. “The Forsworn aren’t exactly known for their trustworthiness.”

Ivy shrugged. “That’s fair. But I trust the Imperials know what they’re doing.”

“They’re desperate.”

Gismee huffed. “I think the Forsworn deserve a shot at redemption.”

Reba turned to Gismee, brows furrowed. “They killed a woman in broad daylight! How do you give someone like that a second chance?”

“The only way we’re going to fix the problem is if both sides come together and talk about it.” Gismee crossed her arms and started walking again. “We can’t just keep fighting each other.”

“If only the Thalmor were open to talking, too,” Ivy said.

Kiir thought of her father; the father she remembered from home and the father she saw at the embassy. “They are open to talking. They’re just not as... apt to compromise.”

“Which is exactly the issue,” Gismee responded. She walked up to a door sunk in stone and pulled it open. “But, enough about politics, we came out for a shopping trip, so let’s try and have fun!”

The inside of the shop, curiously named the Hag’s Cure, smelled like fresh flowers and dirt. The entire inside was covered with plants of all shapes and sizes, looping in and around the beams and lining shelves. A bubbling pot sat over an open flame. Kiir thought of Vivyne’s shop back in Solitude.

“Bothela?” Ivy called, drawing up to the counter. “Hello?”

From a back room, a short, dark skinned woman appeared. Her eyes fell on Ivy and she smiled. “It’s been a while, girls. How are you?”

“Fine, you?”

“I’ve been better,” Bothela sighed. She laid her hands flat on the counter. “What can I get for you?”

“That new red lip tint. Have you gotten anything in yet?”

Bothela shook her head. “I haven’t gotten around to making anything with them yet, but you four must see this plant. It is... exquisite.” She turned around and disappeared into the back room, appearing again with a crimson colored set of leaves. She set them out on the table.

“Looks like nirnroot,” Reba commented. “But red?”

“Yes! Exactly!” Bothela’s fingers drummed on the countertop. “Some cave diver found some growing deep underground. He only brought a few up before he went down for more. I haven’t heard from him since, but the colors I could make with this...”

Kiir reached out a hand to touch the leaves, finding them far smoother than they looked.

Ivy leaned onto the counter. “When d’you think you’ll be able to start using them?”

Bothela hummed. She gathered up the leaves into a nice bundle. “I’ll start on the tint tonight and have it for you by mid-afternoon tomorrow. Does that sound alright?”

“Perfect!” Ivy chimed. “Do you need us to grab any other ingredients for you?”

“No, no!” Bothela laughed. “I have everything here.”

Ivy pushed herself up and clapped. “Then we’ll see you tomorrow!”

Kiir and the girls wished Bothela well, and moved back outside.

Reba insisted they head back inside, before one of the soldier’s found them suspicious, both Ivy and Gismee declared that it was far too nice a day to spend indoors. While Kiir, too, worried about the presence of so many officers and the strength of Wonder’li’s spell, the thought of heading back into the brothel so soon made her antsy.

“You can head back if you want,” Gismee offered. “We won’t be out long anyway. Our shifts start soon.”

Reba nodded. “Alright, I’ll let Wonder know where you are.”

Ivy grabbed Kiir’s arm and pulled her. “Now come on, I want to show you the Dibella temple!”

“There’s a temple?” Kiir stumbled, trying to keep pace with Ivy. Though she was much shorter, Ivy’s fevered walking speed was difficult to match.

“Of course there’s a temple! What’s a goddess if she doesn’t have a place of worship?”

That’s true, Kiir thought. She followed Ivy, twisting through the streets of Markarth, up and up until they reached a building that towered over the rest of the city. She was pulled inside and was surprised at how warm the room was. Warmer than outside.

Ivy pulled her up to a statue of a topless woman cast in gold. Beneath her was a plate with burning incense and candles. Ivy took one and carried it over to the raised platform, setting the stick into the much larger flames there.

“I don’t smell anything,” Kiir said, sniffing the air to be sure.

“They’re unscented. It’s supposed to be symbolic of her eternal burning love being spread by her followers. Kinda silly but,” Ivy smiled, “I find it comforting.”

Gismee followed suit, taking one of the smoldering sticks and placing it in the fire.

Kiir turned to the plate, hand hovering over the smoldering plate. Dibella was not a goddess of the Elven pantheon, that was to be sure. The closest they had was Mara, the goddess of love and marriage, but seeing as so many Altmer marriages were arranged, the idea of Mara was simply tradition. Kiir grabbed one of the sticks and made a small blessing to the statue. There was an entire war going on over the existence and non-existence of certain gods, Kiir figured that the least she could do was show respect to the goddess while in her temple.

The three left not long after, as the noon sun had descended to early evening and the warm, balmy air had turned chilly.

Ivy pushed open the door to the brothel with Kiir and Gismee in tow.

Kiir had been about to turn towards the back room when she stopped dead in her tracks.

Wonder’li was stood by her desk, face drawn, speaking candidly with Hadvar. She saw Kiir walk in and quickly waved her over.

Hadvar turned too, though his face quickly contorted in confusion.

Kiir looked back to Gismee, who only smiled.

“We’ll be around if you need us.”

Chuckling away her nerves, Kiir wandered to where Wonder’li stood. She offered Hadvar a small smile. “What do you need?”

Wonder’li looked to Hadvar. “It’s Kiir.”

Hadvar’s look of confusion quickly disappeared. A quirky smile fell on his lips. “An Illusion spell. Clever.”

“We can’t run the risk of her being spotted,” Wonder’li replied. She sighed, turning back to Kiir. “There’s been a few developments considering your... situation.”

Kiir glanced quickly between Hadvar and Wonder’li, chest tightening. “He knows?”

“Yes,” Wonder’li answered quickly. “He figured it out just as I did. We’ve been discussing how to get you out of here.”

“But-”

Hadvar held a hand up. “Trust me, I know more than anyone how important the Dragonborn is. Your secret is safe with me.”

“But it is not safe should it be overheard.” Wonder’li glanced at the set of soldiers who had just meandered into the brothel. She faced Hadvar. “Take her out of here, her Illusion spell should hold for a few more hours at least.”

Hadvar nodded. “I’ll have her back in no time.”

Kiir felt Hadvar’s hand on her back as he turned her, guiding her towards the front door and back outside. What had Wonder’li said? Developments? The vagueness of her statement made Kiir’s gut twist. Once they had moved far enough away, Kiir spoke. “So... something’s happened?”

The smile that Hadvar had worn in the brothel had waned. “The discussions the Empire had with the Forsworn went well. They’ve agreed to Ally with the Empire on the grounds that they received a large portion of their land back from the State.”

“That sounds like a good thing...”

“It is,” Hadvar replied. “But it has bolstered the confidence of the Thalmor. They’re planning to raze the city until they can find the Dragonborn.”

Kiir shook her head. “Raze? That can’t be legal...”

Hadvar chuckled softly. “You can be sure it isn’t. But they plan on it anyway.”

“So that’s why you and Wonder’li wanted to find a way to get me out.”

“Indeed it is.”

Kiir tapped her fingers against her leg. “How long did you know? About the whole... Dragonborn thing?”

“Soon after I talked to the guard.” Hadvar shrugged, turning up a set of stairs. He turned to face her, his smile meekly returning. “There aren’t very many tall women around Markarth, let alone ones who aren’t locals.”

“Right.” Kiir paused. “And you knew I was in the brothel?”

Hadvar laughed. “No, I heard about the razes and was worried. I checked with the Inn and you weren’t there, so I went to the brothel in hopes that one of them had seen you. I got Wonder’li to fill me in.”

“She told you? Did she tell anyone else? Does anyone else know?”

Hadvar shook his head. “Of course not. I had to explain to her how we knew each other about three times before she relented. And like I said before, besides the Thalmor many think the Dragonborn is some Nord. You’re not even on their radar.”

Kiir sighed silently in relief. She followed Hadvar up another set of stairs, passing by the Temple of Dibella again before continuing upwards. “So what did you and Wonder’li decide on?”

“My men have holed up in the slums, turned it into a base of operations. It also, according to Wonder’li, houses a set of secret passages that should get you out without alerting anyone.”

“The slums?” Kiir asked.

Hadvar hummed in affirmation. “Only place the Thalmor saw fit for us.”

“That’s deplorable.” Kiir shook her head, sighing aloud this time.

“It’s not too bad, honestly. If you take out the skeevers.”

Kiir smiled. “I’d assume many things aren’t too bad if you take out the skeevers.”

“That’s very true,” Hadvar chuckled. He wandered up the edge of what appeared to be the the highest point in Markarth. He looked out over the edge and then back to Kiir. “That Illusion magic is one hell of a spell.”

Kiir placed a hand to her cheek. “Is it? Anytime I look in the mirror, it just looks like me.”

“There are a few similarities, but your smile is undeniable.”

“Yeah, alright,” Kiir laughed, rolling her eyes. The breeze was much stronger up here, now that the high walls of Markarth weren’t there to block them. She was silent a moment. “Do you really think the Thalmor would just... storm people’s homes?”

Hadvar raised an eyebrow. “You don't?”

Kiir shrugged. She honestly wasn't sure what she believed anymore. Part of her wanted to say she could never imagine the Thalmor doing such things, but after all she'd seen them do, seen her father do, could she really say that anymore? “I hate to think that they would.”

“I see.” Hadvar’s shoulder leaned into Kiir’s. “You were from the Isles, right? I'm remembering that correctly?”

“I am, yes.”

“And you ended up in an Imperial ambush. What was it, bad luck and bad timing?”

Kiir nodded. “A lot of both.”

“I guess telling the Altmer that one of their own is proof of the existence of a Nord legend is a bit of a bad idea.” Hadvar turned to look at her. His face was incredibly close. “Is that why you left?”

“No.” Kiir replied. She tried to keep from turning her face too far, she was sure if they did their noses would touch. “I didn't find out I was this until after I got to Skyrim.”

Hadvar nodded along. “So what was it? If... if you don't mind my asking, that is.”

Kiir fidgeted, pushing her thumb into her palm. Did she mind?

Hadvar reached over to put a hand atop of hers. “It's fine, you don't have to answer.”

The silence that fell then Kiir found tense. Not angry tense, but stung so that she suddenly felt nervous. Hadvar’s hands were clammy, and no doubt hers were too. He was looking at her, but part of her was afraid of what might happened should she look over.

Kiir let her eyes drift over the streets of Markarth when they caught on the front gates. There was a swarm of soldiers, their torches moving around frantically. “Hadvar, what's all of that?”

Hadvar looked down and tensed. “There shouldn't be that many guards down there...”

Suddenly, Kiir saw a shadow ripple across the city. It fell over where she and Hadvar were before disappearing over the wall. Kiir felt her entire body tightened. She stepped back to try and see what had cast the shadow, though she already had a solid guess.

Then, the front gates burst loudly open and a stream of blue clad men raced through the opening.

Hadvar gasped aloud, his hand reaching for his sword. “Stormcloaks?!”

Kiir’s eyes, however, were still trained skyward. The moonlight was enough that Kiir could see the dark red beast as it banked for another pass. Her entire body started to shake, seeing the monstrosity twirl above the city like an omen. Finally, it led out a chilling roar. Kiir didn't want to believe it, but there was no denying it. Her voice came out scratchy and low.

“Dragon.”

Chapter Text

This isn’t happening. Kiir wanted nothing more than for her to wake up in the brothel, eyes heavy but mind content that this was all just a nightmare. There couldn’t be a dragon, not here, not now, not again. She wasn’t ready for this.

Kiir finally let her eyes drift down from the sky and she caught sight of Hadvar’s face. She was sure his expression matched hers. “What are the Stormcloaks doing here?”

“I have no idea, I need to get down there...”

Kiir nodded, her heart thundering wildly in her chest. She started to turn. “Right, yes. I’ll deal with the dragon.”

Hadvar caught her shoulder, his grip tight. “On your own?”

“I need to draw it out of the city,” Kiir answered. She smiled, trying to wiggle  herself out of his grip. “You deal with the soldiers, I’ll get the big lizard out of your way.”

Hadvar frowned, sliding his hand and squeezing. His hand lingered there a moment longer. “Stay safe.”

“You, too.” Kiir descended back down towards the city streets, cheeks still flushed, but then made a sharp turn up towards the brothel. She heard the dragon sound off in the distance and she picked up her pace.

The streets were flooded with soldiers, thankfully many of them Imperial. Kiir caught sight of a pack of Thalmor officers and made sure to avoid their gaze. Screams echoed up from the lower streets and the sounds of cast spells and clashing metal were slowing growing in intensity. I have to move, Kiir urged herself.

She slammed open the front door and stumbled in, surprised to see a majority of the girls huddled in the front room... crying. Kiir immediately spotted Ushu and made a beeline for her, seeing that she was with Ivy, Gismee, and Reba. “What’s going on?”

“They took Asa,” Ushu replied. “The Thalmor came and took her, dragged her out screaming.”

“They what?” Kiir was sure she had heard Ushu correctly, but could not contain her shock. They couldn’t have started the razes so soon, could they? Hadvar had made it sound like they were still a few days out. “Why?”

Gismee stood from the floor, where she’d been sat beside Ivy. “Is it true? Are Stormcloaks really in the city?”

News travels fast. Kiir nodded. “And a dragon.”

Ivy paled. She wiped the tears from her face and pulled herself up to stand. “What the fuck is going on? Why all of this? Why now?”

Kiir was wondering the same thing, so she could only offer Ivy a shrug. “Where’s Wonder’li?”

“She went after them,” Ushu replied. “Screamed at them while they were here and followed them straight out the door.”

Had the situation been different, Kiir might have smiled. Her hands were beginning to shake; being inside so long was making her anxious. “We need to get out of here.”

“Out?” Reba asked. “Into a warzone?”

“And a dragon?” Gismee added.

Ivy nodded along. “Markarth is carved from stone, here is probably the safest place to be.”

Kiir had no doubt that dragon would topple the entire city until it was little more than a rock pile. “The dragon won’t burn it, it will crush it. We have to leave.”

There was a moment of silence between the girls as they exchanged glances.

Gismee spoke first. “Where would we go?”

“Wonder’li told me about a secret passage out of the city, through the slums,” Kiir answered. “You all can take that and be out of harm's way.”

“‘You all’?” Ivy asked. “You’re not coming?”

Kiir shook her head, subtly moving towards the door. She could hear Wonderli’s words in the back of her mind. You have an incredibly important job that no one else can do. “No, I have to deal with that dragon, get it out of the city. But I’m sticking with you guys until you’re out.” She paused. “You all... can show me where the slums are, right?”

Ivy laughed, an odd sound amongst the somber atmosphere of the room. “You nearly walked into it when you got here. Yeah, we’ll be able to show you.”

“I’ll get the girls together,” Reba said. “We’ll be ready in just a minute.”

The brothel was nearly full when the dragon, and Stormcloaks, had decided to attack. The few soldiers who had been in attendance had left after the Thalmor and the unwise patrons had chosen to race out at the first sign of danger. Still, it meant Kiir had to maneuver a crowd of nearly thirty people through the chaos of Markarth’s streets.

Most of the Imperial soldiers had moved down to the front lines, which seemed to be centered near the main gates.

Kiir tried to keep herself from looking, but the urge to occasionally look for Hadvar was stronger than her willpower not to. It would be near impossible to tell him apart from the mess of other soldiers in full garb, but she found herself looking anyway.

“Down this way,” Gismee said. She pulled just slightly ahead of Kiir, moving down a narrow path.

Kiir turned, trying to make sure that everyone stayed relatively close. The fighting hadn’t reached that far into Markarth yet, but Kiir had no doubt it would, eventually. And they needed to be out by then. Satisfied that people were moving, Kiir spun to the front when she saw the dark shadow return and soar above her and the group.

The dragon bellowed and banked hard.

“Move!” Kiir shouted. She waved Gismee forward frantically, before turning to the rest of the group. “Run!”

In a deceptively graceful movement, the dragon landed atop the guard tower high above the city. The tower was far too small for the large beast and as it bent to spew flame down into the streets, the stone cracked.

Kiir cast an Ebonyhide spell, before slipping into the middle of the group, turning towards the back half.

Fus.

Better a little scratched up than dead, Kiir figured. She turned to the front half when a massive chunk of the guard tower crashed and fell just a few feet from where Kiir stood.

Kiir stumbled back, hearing the dragon whine and attempt to adjust its grip, only sending more chunks of rock and stone into the streets. She turned and ran, continuing to urge the group forward.

Then, the entire guard tower collapsed.

Kiir turned her head upwards, just in time to see the dragon disappear into the cloud of dust stirred up as an entire upper level of Markarth tumbled towards the ground. We’re going to be hit! Kiir faced forward towards the other half of her group.

Fus. Ro.

Kiir breathed.

Wuld.

The ground disappeared beneath her feet as the cacophony of destruction rang behind her. The minute she landed, Kiir threw her hands up over her head and bent to the ground. Her mind reeled back to the cave and Kiir found herself desperately praying that she wouldn’t be crushed. A gust of air roared past her ears and it wasn’t until that had settled that Kiir dared raise her head.

She had successfully moved herself out of the way of the worst of the destruction. There were a few small pieces of debris that Kiir’s spell had taken the brunt of. The air was filled with dust and Kiir had to wait a few agonizing seconds before it settled enough that she was able to begin making out faces and bodies.

“Kiir!”

Kiir turned, seeing Gismee running at her, full tilt. Her scales shimmered, wet from her tears. “What?”

“Kiir!” Gismee called again. “Ivy’s stuck! I can’t- I can’t get her out!”

The desperate sound of Gismee’s voice made Kiir’s heart nearly leap out of her chest. She ran forward, following Gismee to where the collapse had completely covered the street in rocks and boulders. Were the people on the other side alright? She didn’t have much time to contemplate that question before she saw Ivy.

It was no wonder Gismee couldn’t get her free - Ivy’s entire body was being held beneath the pile of rocks. Only her shoulders and head were free and, by the looks of the blood seeping out from under her body, she hadn’t been as lucky as Kiir had in the cave.

Kiir hands were shaking and her breathing shallow and she drew close. “Ivy?”

Ivy peeled open her eyes and looked relieved. She didn’t say anything. It didn’t look like she would be able to.

“Isn’t there a spell?” Gismee asked, suddenly drawing close. She dropped to her knees and brushed some of Ivy’s hair from her face. “To... I don’t know, fix her? Free her?”

Kiir bent down, too, putting her hand up against the boulder that rested on Ivy’s chest. It was massive, looking to have come from on of the building’s walls. It itself was buried further into the pile... there was no way Kiir would be able to lift that alone and it would be too difficult to find another mage. The sounds of fighting were beginning to filter into Kiir’s ears and she knew they didn’t have much time, let alone the dragon... Kiir turned to Gismeem slowly shaking her head. “I... I can’t, Gismee.”

“There’s got to be something!” Gismee rose to her feet and placed her hands against the wall piece, pushing against it. “I only need... a little! We can pull her out-”

The tightness in Kiir’s chest was almost too much to bear. Tears spilled over and landed on the dusty ground as she looked down at Ivy’s tired face. “I’m sorry.”

Ivy didn’t reply. She just blinked her slowly closing eyes. A small stream of blood trailed out of her mouth.

“Gismee,” Kiir said, wiping her face, “how are the people on the other side?”

“The other side?” Gismee hissed. “We need to worry about our side! Ivy’s going to die-”

“And so is everyone else if we don’t regroup and get moving,” Kiir interrupted. “Now, the other side. Have you heard anything?”

Gismee was quiet. She stared down at Ivy, hands dancing around her face, uncertain of what to do.

“Gismee?”

That question made Gismee pause. Her intense gaze faltered and she stared at the rubble, hands curled into fists. There was a moment again before she spoke. “Ushu, she... Ushu...”

Gods dammit, Kiir thought. She tried her best to ignore the sudden weight in her chest. “Where is everyone else who was on our side?”

Gismee was in no position to answer questions. Her gaze returned to Ivy and she fell silent again.

Kiir took a deep breath. Any longer here and they would be dead, either by dragon or man. “We need to move. Come on-”

“What about Ivy?” Gismee asked. She bent back down, putting her hand on Ivy’s forehead. “We can’t just leave her here.”

Kiir caught Ivy’s eyes, and then stood. “We can’t stay either. I need to get all of you to that passage and deal with that dragon.”

Gismee made no intention to move.

Kiir reached down to grab Gismee’s shoulder, pulling her up to stand. She didn’t protest as Kiir lifted her arm over her shoulder.

Ivy had closed her eyes, her chest unmoving.

It was a somber race to the passage and Kiir could barely keep herself from breaking into hysterics. Gismee was mumbling to herself, saying Ivy’s name over and over, alternating between sobbing and speaking. Kiir had already balled her hands into fists to keep them from shaking and was trying to focus on anything but Ivy, and Ushu.

Ar’ji was outside the entrance and waved as Kiir and Gismee drew close. “This one cannot tell you how happy she is to see you! There are only a few soldiers still in the slums and they do not seem to mind us there.” She paused. “Is it just you two?”

Kiir placed a hand on Gismee shoulder and urged her to walk inside. “Yes, Ushu and Ivy... didn’t make it. What happened to the other group? Did you find the passage?”

“Oh.” Ar’ji placed a hand to her head. “Ah, yes, we did find it, but we were waiting for everyone. Reba and the others showed up just before you and Gismee did. Are... are you sure about...”

Kiir nodded. “Will you all be able to navigate okay?”

“Of course. And you will...?”

“Be fighting a dragon.” Kiir backed away from the door, looking down the path towards the front gates. She hadn’t heard the dragon in a while. That couldn’t be good. “Keep everyone together. If I see Wonder’li, I’ll send her your way. Be safe.”

Ar’ji closed the gap and drew Kiir into a hug. “You, too.”

Kiir offered her a final wave before she slipped down into the streets. Soldiers were running back and forth, swords drawn and shields facing front. A majority of their uniforms were colored red, and anytime Kiir caught sight of blue she made sure to slip off to the side. She raised her hand to cast an invisibility spell when a hand caught her arm.

A soldier dressed in Imperial armor stared back at her.

Kiir raised her hand to cast, when the soldier then removed his helmet. “Hadvar?”

Hadvar looked terrible. His hair was stuck to his face with sweat and his eyes were bloodshot. “Are you alright? I saw the tower fall and I was worried-”

Kiir could not believe how happy she was to see him alive. She almost hugged him when she remembered where she was, what she was doing. She shook the urge from her. Kiir was already behind, having detoured to the brothel, she didn’t have time to spare. “Where’s the dragon?”

“I saw it fly over the gates. It might have left-”

“It didn’t leave,” Kiir interrupted. It probably injured itself in the collapse, Kiir thought. It needed to land. She looked towards the front gates, which were almost entirely obscured in battle. “I need to find that dragon.”

Hadvar followed her eyes and shook his head. “There is no way you’re getting through that. The Stormcloaks came ready to fight. It’s taking our all just to keep them out of the upper levels.”

Kiir cast her Invisibility spell. “I’ll be fine.”

“Kiir. I don’t think-”

“I’ll be fine,” Kiir repeated. She turned to begin down the street again when Hadvar continued.

“Where will you be? When the battle is over?”

Kiir shrugged and then, realizing Hadvar couldn’t see her, said aloud, “I don’t know.”

“How will I find you?”

“I’ll find you,” Kiir replied. Honestly, she had no idea how she’d find him, or even if she’d be able to. But she knew she didn’t have the time to figure out a meeting spot.

Hadvar nodded. “Alright. I’ll see you when this is over. Kick some ass.”

Kiir laughed, a sound almost foreign on her lips. Immediately, guilt washed over her. She thought of Ivy and Ushu and Gismee... there was nothing funny about anything happening. People were dying, the city was in shambles. Kiir moved through the clashing soldiers with relative ease, trying to keep her eyes from staying too long on the dead or dying. There were too many to count and far too many for her to save. Her best chance at doing any good was to take the dragon out before it flew back into town.

A massive plume of flame erupted off to Kiir’s side and she startled, worrying that the dragon had returned.

Then, her eyes fell on a pack of Thalmor soldiers, a number of them dead around their feet. As Kiir moved around the corner of a building to hide, she realized she recognized the tall Altmer in the middle of them. It was... herself? That girl looked similar to Kiir. Not just similar... it looked exactly like her! What in the world-

One of the Thalmor cast some sort of ice spell and the Altmer fell to her knees. Kiir watched another officer plunge a sword into her stomach. The Altmer drew back a hand and in a finally push, flung flames directly into the Thalmor’s face before she fell backwards. Her hand released the staff she was holding, a tall wooden piece with an eerily horned skull perched atop it.

Kiir’s breath caught and she broke from her hiding place, running straight for the gates. She couldn’t look any longer. She didn’t want to look any longer. Her chest burned as she moved, focusing on the outer pain rather than the kind tearing at her insides.

Outside the gates, the horse stable was swarming with Stormcloak soldiers. They were beginning to pull the horses out and line them up, a few of them shouting orders over the roar of battle and the cries of frightened horses.

Kiir saw Sid already in a line, against the far wall. He seemed the calmest amongst the horses, only lightly padding his hooves. Still invisible, Kiir maneuvered herself up near Sid and placed a hand against his side.

Sid startled, sounding a short, sharp whinney.

“Hush, Sid,” Kiir whispered.

Sid turned his ears back and seemed to ease.

Kiir put her hands on his back and hoisted herself up. Her Invisibility spell was beginning to wane. She grabbed ahold of his mane and used her legs to try and steady herself. Even just trying to sit still was a challenge and there was a small voice in Kiir’s head reminding her she was going to be up against a dragon. Alone.

She was quick to silence it.

Kiir waited until the soldiers had created an opening before she abruptly urged Sid forward, kicking her heel into his side.

Sid charged ahead and, while a few of the men attempted to grab ahold of the runaway horse, none of them were quick enough to catch a solid grip.

Kiir looked behind her, silently thankful that none of the soldiers seemed to have given chase. She had never fought on horseback before, let alone ridden without a saddle, but if she had any chance of finding, and killing, that dragon, she needed speed. She kept her eyes peeled and ears open, tumbling along the path out away from Markarth.

It didn’t take long for the beast to reveal itself. It had landed just outside the treeline to a small forest, babying it’s left wing. The stone must have injured it somehow.

Good, Kiir thought. Then perhaps it won’t fly off. She rode Sid closer, surprised he wasn’t protesting as they drew closer to the dragon. He galloped down the path, unfazed.

The dragon heard them and lifted its head. It hissed and turned itself so it faced them.

Kiir dropped her Invisibility spell, ensuring her Ebonyhide still stayed in place. She sent Sid off the path and into the grass, moving him so the dragon sat on Kiir’s left side. She cast a Fireball, hitting the dragon in the chest.

The beast shuddered and readied itself to fly.

Kiir frowned. With its wing like that?

Sure enough, the dragon pushed off from the ground. Its form was sloppy and it wobbled as it took to the sky, but it was flying. It turned to move over the trees, heading towards the distant mountains.

Kiir turned Sid hard in the dragon’s direction. She pushed him faster and faster. Her legs were getting sore from holding so tightly to Sid’s back. Thankfully, these woods were less dense and gave her and Sid more room to move.

The dragon was easy to follow. It’s injured wing meant it couldn’t fly higher than the forest’s canopy.

Kiir leaned back, steadying herself, before she cast a Thunderbolt.

The spell struck the dragon’s injured wing. A howl echoed out across the woods. The dragon pulled upwards and then disappeared beneath the trees.

Kiir heard it crash and directed Sid towards it.

The trees where the dragon fell were crushed flat under its weight.

Kiir leapt from Sid’s back, figuring trying to lead him over broken and splintered trees would only spell disaster. The makeshift clearing certainly made it easier to see the beast, but trying to walk atop the flattened trees would be a challenge in itself.

The dragon groaned loudly.

As Kiir drew closer, she saw that both the dragon’s wings had been pierced by the broken trees. It was tugging back, threatening to tear at the thin membrane. It’s trapped.

Kiir was careful to leave a wide berth between her and the dragon, but made no move to cast anything. She moved to that she could see its face, ready to dodge any of its attempts to cook her alive.

But the dragon didn’t. It watched her with wide eyes, shifting every few seconds.

The beast was surprisingly beautiful, now that Kiir had a chance to look at it fully. It’s red scale shimmered like wet stones and it’s eyes were a vibrant shade of green. She winced a little anytime her eyes fell on the dragon’s wounds. Strange, Kiir thought. That she would feel sympathy for the creature that had reeked so much havok and caused so much death. It was even stranger when Kiir found herself speaking to it. “You know I can’t let you out of here alive.”

The dragon seemed to eye her.

“Why?” Kiir asked suddenly. Her chest felt heavy, now that adrenaline wasn’t there to cloud her thoughts. Sadness welled up in her chest. “Why here, why now?”

Silence.

“What do you get out of this?”

The dragon breathed in, but instead of breathing flame, spoke aloud. “Had it been my choice, we would have waited.”

Kiir froze. She thought she was crazy for even speaking to the creature. In no way had she thought it would ever speak back.

“I doubt Alduin ever expected you to survive Helgen,” the dragon continued. “That was a mistake he paid for dearly.”

Alduin? Kiir wondered how the dragon was even able to form the words it was speaking. When she was finally able to find her voice again, she spoke softly. “Who is Alduin?”

The dragon chuckled, its breath wheezing out from its chest. “You don’t know? Perhaps Alduin should have simply waited until Miraak took you out. Your utter ignorance is almost laudable.”

Kiir frowned. There was that name again, Miraak. The vampire she and Tukara had fought mentioned him, though no one had ever figured who he was. And, now that Kiir thought longer on it, she realized that she’d heard it before then, too, in Saarthal. That ghostly essence in that cave had spoken of him. “I don’t understand.”

“All the better,” the dragon replied. It took in another shuddered breath before laying its head on the ground. “Give Alduin my regards, Dovahkiin.”

Kiir had been about the speak again when she heard her name shouted out from behind her.

“Kiir!”

“Oh thank goodness!”

Through the trees, Kiir saw Driem and Tukara materialize, both stumbling towards her.

When had they gotten here? Kiir turned to look back at the dragon, seeing its form begin to burn away. As always, the dragons warm, colorful essence spun around her and disappeared.

Tukara drew to a slow stop, eyeing the dragon. “Did you kill that? All on your own?”

Driem, however, didn’t stop, wrapping her arms around Kiir’s frame. “We thought something terrible had happened!”

“No, I’m fine,” Kiir replied. She paused. “What are you both doing here?”

“Vingalmo,” Tukara answered. She pulled her eyes from the dragon. “Got wind through the Thalmor that the Dragonborn had been sighted in Markarth. We came as soon as we heard.”

“Where is Vingalmo?”

“Back at the castle, checking up on things.” Tukara moved so she stood beside Driem. “What are you wearing?”

Kiir shrugged, not bothering to answer. Now that things had grown quiet, her thoughts were able to come back to the forefront of her mind. They weighed heavy on her chest and it grew difficult for Kiir to breathe. She wondered if the girls had made it out, if Hadvar was alright, why Wonder’li had-

“Kiir?”

Driem’s voice drew Kiir back to the present. “Hmm?”

“You’re crying...”

Kiir reached a hand up to her cheeks. She hadn’t even noticed the tears, and almost didn’t believe Driem until she felt the wetness on her hand. She wiped at them, shaking her head. “It’s nothing.”

Driem shifted, but didn’t reply.

“Well, I don’t think we should be heading back to Markarth, the place is a mess,” Tukara said. “And Fish gave us a heads up about one of the Blades you’re looking for, Esbern. Apparently he’s holed up somewhere in Riften.”

“Riften?” Kiir asked absently.

“A ways east of here,” Tukara continued, “we can probably make it there in a few days. Unless you wanted to go back for something?”

Kiir shook her head again. As much as her curiosity about the state of everyone wore on her, she knew trying to get back into the city would only be more trouble. There was nothing for her there. She didn’t want to leave Markarth behind, not with so many questions unanswered, but that wasn’t her choice to make. She had a job to do and, if Fish’s info was right, that job was taking her to Riften. Wonder’li had been right.

You need to get yourself together and get your job done, not only for your sake but for everyone else’s.

Kiir looked up, catching both Tukara’s and Driem’s gaze. “Then Riften it is.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until she, Tukara, and Driem had drawn close to the mountain that Kiir realized her Khajiit shawl was still in the brothel. She had forgotten to grab it in her haste to escape the city. There was an ounce of her that wanted to turn around to go get it, along with Sid’s papers and saddle - to have a reason to return - but Kiir did her best to ignore it. There's nothing for me there.

The trio rode in silence, though Kiir was bursting with things to say. So much had transpired in so little time she scarcely knew how to deal with it. So much death and loss and change... Kiir wasn't ready for it. She knew she wasn't ready for it. But Wonder’li had made clear to her that it didn't matter how ready she was, she would have to deal with it either way.

“You're not usually this quiet,” Driem suddenly spoke. She had pulled Cheshire up next to Sid and Kiir had barely noticed. “You okay?”

Kiir shrugged. “Not really, no.”

“Is it something you'd want to talk about? We've got a ways ahead of us and time to kill.”

“I wouldn't even know where to start.” Kiir had been trying to deal with these things one at a time, but everything was so interconnected and so fresh that she could barely take on the smallest of thoughts. “It all just... happened so fast.”

Tukara was sat behind Driem and leaned forward as she spoke. “Then start simple: what were you doing in Markarth?”

“I... I was so worried about getting away from the Embassy I must’ve missed the road back towards Solitude.” Kiir cast a glance at both of the girls. “I tried looking for you both. Vingalmo had said you would be outside somewhere but-”

“But everything went to shit and here we are.”

Driem chuckled softly to herself. “I guess we're all technically fugitives from the Thalmor now.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow, looking between Driem and Tukara. She noticed a few markings and scars she hadn’t at first, wondering now if they were new or old. “Since when?”

“Since that fucking mess of a Thalmor party,” Tukara grimaced. “Remind me not to let Vingalmo convince me Thalmor diplomats are ‘relatively harmless’. Relative to what?

Kiir gestured to the side of Tukara’s neck, where a patch of scarring poked above her collar. “That looks new.”

“Fire is not kind,” Tukara replied. She reached a hand up to touch her neck. “But we were talking about you. And Markarth.”

“Right.” Kiir turned back to face the trail ahead of her. Her legs were beginning to ache, having been riding Sid for so long without a saddle, she was lucky he still had a lead attached. She readjusted herself on Sid’s back, letting her eyes slowly drift up towards the forest canopy.

Kiir thought first of her father, still unsure of her own feelings. He hadn’t been her father at the Embassy, he’d been Ulnmir Caemis, Thalmor High Councilor. But that’s who my father is... Kiir shook her head. It was so easy to dismiss who she’d seen at the Embassy as not him, not her father. It made her feel better, to think that he could never do such terrible things, that he was still the kind, doting dad that brought her home books and trinkets for no reason other than to see her smile. The two personalities seemed too different, to dissonant to ever take home in the same person.

Then she thought of herself. Kiir’Dun. Elandaae Caemis. Dragonborn. Thoughts of her father reminded her of herself before she’d left, before she’d made a mistake that completely changed her life, before she was ever Kiir’Dun in the first place. The innocent, naive, scared little girl shouldn’t have made it this far. Kiir looked down to her hands, at the burned skin that had healed to the point where it was almost indistinguishable from healthy skin. Even her body made it seem like everything had happened ages ago, in another life.

If Kiir was honest, this was an entirely new life.

“Kiir!”

Kiir jumped. Driem and Tukara had their eyes locked onto her.

“You're zoning out a lot,” Tukara said. “What's got you so distant? Did something happen? You know... besides the Embassy and the Thalmor lockdown and the dragon attack and the Stormcloaks.”

“Or, I mean, was it the dragon?” Driem added.

Tukara scoffed, bumping Driem’s shoulder. “Yeah, clearly it's the dragon. Like we haven't met one of those before.”

Kiir fidgeted for a minute, hearing Driem reply and the two start to bicker. She sighed and readjusted her hands on the lead. “Why did the Stormcloaks even show up? I don't... there was nothing for them there. They haven't attacked before, why here, why now?”

Driem laughed uncomfortably. “That was my fault actually.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow and a silence fell between the three.

“After we escaped the prison and couldn't find you, we found Vingalmo,” Driem continued. “He told us Markarth was being locked down by the Thalmor because you were there. Well, ‘the Dragonborn’ was. I tried to recruit a rescue party.”

“I told you it was a bad idea.”

Driem shot Tukara a silencing look. “It was just a small scouting camp. I thought they’d make a good distraction but they didn’t want to move without backup.”

“Gee I wonder why.” Tukara tossed her hands above her head, raising her voice an octave. “Hey guys, let's go storm an Imperial controlled city on the off chance the Dragonborn is there!”

Kiir squinted. “I don't understand... why would you tell them I was there?”

“I didn’t tell them your name or anything. They had to have a reason to want to help me rescue you!”

Tukara clicked her tongue. “Yeah, because that clearly made a difference.”

Driem huffed. “Yes, clearly it did. We thought they turned us down, but word must have gotten back to Ulfric since he sent two entire platoons .”

“And that’s because the only word Ulfric heard was ‘dragonborn’.” Tukara leaned back, placing her hands on Cheshire’s rump. “All you did was cause a mess. The dragon ended up being more than enough distraction on its own, and Kiir got out without our help.”

“It was more than a mess,” Kiir lamented. “With them and the dragon... I can't believe anyone made it out. Hell, if I hadn't used magic, I don't think I would have.”

“I’m sorry. We didn’t know there was going to be a dragon. They were supposed to help us get you out.”

Tukara shook her head. “I'm surprised they were even able to get into the city. Those idiots can barely control their drinking habits, let alone an army. That was just asking for a fucking travesty.”

Driem scowled. “The Empire and the Stormcloaks are made up of the same people, you know. Just because the Stormcloaks have a passion for their culture and way of life-”

“A passion for their culture?  Is that what you’d call it? Turning their backs on the Empire their own ‘Talos’ helped to shape?”

“Talos wouldn’t have let the Empire go the way it’s going in the first place. The Thalmor said ‘jump’ and the Empire turned its back on Talos the minute they nodded their collective heads and said ‘how high?’”

“The Thalmor outlawed one so-called god, is that really a reason to tear apart their empire?”

“The Thalmor outlawed the one god that unified the Nords and really a good chunk of Tamriel. It’s none of their business, and you can’t just outlaw a god .”

“All of this is over a god?” Kiir asked. A long distant memory popped into her head, one of a dunmer Imperial who had pulled her in from the cold. Would you be alright with it? He had asked. Even now, she still wasn't sure of her answer. “It just seems so... inconsequential.”

“It's not even just about Talos, Kiir,” Driem began. “It’s a show of how much power they hold. It's the fact that the Thalmor are doing it in the first place. If the Empire won't stand up to them now, they certainly won't when the Thalmor really start to over step.”

“But they're not fighting the Thalmor!” Kiir’s voice was louder than she had expected it to be. “They're fighting men in cities, where normal people are casualties!”

Driem shook her head. “That happens in war, it’s unavoidable.”

“Unavoidable in war, but there doesn't have to be a war.”

Someone has to stand up to the Thalmor or they’ll keep picking away at every culture until theirs is the only one left! If the Empire is going to lay belly-up, then the Stormcloaks are the only option.”

“The Empire would have an easier time dealing with the Thalmor if the Ulfric didn’t have his head so far up his ass he can’t see straight,” Tukara replied.

“You don’t know that.”

“I know that the Nords are racist pricks who-”

“That can be changed! The Thalmor won’t change, won't listen, they’ll-”

“Why do you keep coming back to the Thalmor? The Stormcloaks are fighting the Empire! They can’t touch the mer until they-”

“Because they’re the real problem! The reason the Stormcloaks have to exist! The puppet masters! If-”

In the midst of the fighting, Kiir’s mind drifted back to Markarth, when she had seen herself in the middle of a group of Thalmor, stabbed and left for dead. The sound of the staff clattering to the ground seemed louder now that she thought back on it. Wonder’li wasn’t the Dragonborn, she had no reason to put herself in that position. She shouldn’t have been forced into that position.

Once again, the words of that dunmer came floating back. This infighting is exactly what the Dominion wants. “The Stormcloaks didn’t do anything to the Thalmor and they won’t,” Kiir said suddenly. “They’re only making things worse.”

“Thank you,” Tukara replied. She turned to Driem. “See?”

“Maybe things have to get worse before they can get better. If they aren't making enough difference yet then that's all the more reason to join in and help ,” Driem countered. “I’ve spoken to Ulfric, my family lives in his city. Their racism isn't set in stone, but it’s only fueled by the Thalmor.”

Tukara laughed aloud. “You live in Windhelm and you’re telling me that you just conveniently missed the hordes of Dunmer and Argonians shoved to the side, into the slums? Maybe they treat Bosmer different, but I don’t want to test how far they’ll go if they win.”

“Why would they treat bosmer different? I'm showing them their racism is baseless and unwarranted. Things are changing! Are you conveniently missing how the Thalmor are acting on their bid to take complete control over everyone who isn't them?”

“But the Empire isn’t. If the Stormcloaks stopped fighting this stupid war and backed the Empire, the Thalmor wouldn’t have it so easy. They’re biding their time while the Empire grows weaker because of the Stormcloaks.”

"The empire wouldn't stand up to the Thalmor though! That's why this splintering happened! Unless the empire shows it will stand up to the Thalmor then you're asking the people of Skyrim to just lay down and take it."

“It doesn't matter! The Stormcloaks won't win. They can't win.”

“But-”

“No, they're disorganized and fueled by anger. Maybe with proper forces and a better leader but under Ulfric it was doomed at the start.”

“He means well, and at least he's trying!”

Tukara shook her head disgustedly. “He has no idea what he's doing. For every man the Empire loses, the Stormcloaks lose two. That's just three dead Nords. I don't understand why you think they should turn on and kill each other when the Thalmor are going to win regardless!”

Driem paused, eyebrows knit and looking displeased, then turned to Kiir. “Maybe she's right about the Stormcloaks, but the Thalmor… I'm sorry, I know they’re your people, and I know it seems right to support those who support-”

“No,” Kiir interrupted. If she was ‘their people’ she wouldn’t be running from them. Surely her father would protect her, should she choose to tell him, wouldn’t he? And there was no guarantee she wouldn’t be manipulated into becoming their tool. There were so many things Kiir would have never even had the inkling to consider had she not come to Skyrim, the Dominion had so effectively constructed her worldview for their benefit. How would they explain an Altmer Dragonborn? How would her father excuse their enemy being his own child?

And then Kiir’s mind moved to Wonder’li. The Thalmor had killed her thinking she was Kiir... they had no loyalty to their own, only to themselves. “The Thalmor aren’t my people. I’m an Altmer, like Asa and Vingalmo. They are my people.”

“Asa?” Tukara asked. “Who’s Asa?”

Kiir pressed her thumb into her palm. She pulled back hard on Sid’s lead, bringing the horse to a sharp stop and earning her a loud whinny in response. “We should make camp.”

Cheshire snorted too in response to Sid’s abrupt stop. The sisters slid off her back and began digging through their things.

It had been some time since Kiir had slept outside. Thankfully, both Tukara and Driem had tents with them. Kiir had but the clothes on her back. Once the tents were up, Tukara began to gather wood to start a fire.

Driem fidgeted. “I'm going to go see if I can hunt us something a little more fresh than what we've got on us.”

Tukara didn't really respond, focused as she was on her own task. Driem looked to Kiir who glanced away, shrugging briefly. Driem hummed, grabbed her bow, and slipped off into the brush.

The bosmer were keeping things going, setting up for the night. Kiir, however, just sat in the dirt. She fiddled with the hem of her clothing.

Once the fire was going strong Tukara joined her on the ground. After a while the silence must have grown too much though, as Tukara nodded towards Sid.

“So is that horse yours?” she asked. She got up to stoke the fire then crouched so she was at Kiir’s eye level. “Or do we have to return him?”

“No, he’s mine... I guess.”

“You guess?”

Kiir shrugged. “I kind of ended up with him. I had his papers, but I left everything back at the brothel in Markarth.”

Tukara startled, a smirk appearing on her face. “A brothel? What were you doing in a brothel?”

“I was just, they let me...” Kiir’s face flushed and she frowned. “I didn’t have any money, as I left that stuff back at the Embassy. The Madam let me stay there.”

“Oh, speaking of!” Tukara turned and moved to where the horses were, returning with a small pack. “Vingalmo gave it to us to return to you. I hope everything is still in it.”

Kiir smiled, accepting the pack and opening it, pleased to see the drawings were still in their place. “Well, that’s half.”

“But don’t think this gets you out of the brothel thing.” Tukara sat down beside her. “I honestly cannot imagine you staying in a whore house.”

“I did,” Kiir replied. It was difficult to know how sore the spot was until she poked it, and Kiir wasn’t sure she was even ready to do that. Part of her knew she would have to deal with it at some point, but the louder portion told her it would be after this entire ‘Dragonborn’ ordeal.

“So Asa was the Madam, I take it?”

Kiir shook her head. “No, she was just one of the girls. She let me borrow a lot of her clothes... hers are actually what I’m wearing now.” Those works spoken aloud stung.

“So you got lucky, huh?” Tukara replied. She paused, then, eyes still on Kiir. “Or not...”

Lucky was the last word Kiir had thought to use. Of course, Tukara and Driem hadn’t been in the city. They had only seen the soldiers about the perimeter and the dragon high above. They hadn’t seen the chaos and the death and the- Kiir’s chest tightened.

A torrent of thoughts were louder than Kiir could ignore. She should have dealt with the dragon first. She had led the girls out into the streets, straight into the fire. Perhaps Ivy had been right, they would have been safer if they had stayed inside. Tears welled in Kiir’s eyes. What kind of hero am I?

Tukara shifted. “Whoa, hey.”

Not to mention Asa... She had only been taken because Kiir had set the Thalmor off on the hunt for an Altmer woman. Her foolish action had cost the life of an innocent. Her choice to take the girls out had led to more death. Her getting lost had prompted Driem to ask the Stormcloaks for help. Her just being there had likely brought the dragon in the first place.

An ugly sob dropped from Kiir’s mouth and it suddenly felt like the entire weight of the world had just collapsed on top of her. “Fuck!”

“What?” Tukara asked. “What happened?”

“I happened!” Kiir shouted. Her voice echoed off into the trees. “I fucking happened!”

Tukara stared. “You...?”

Kiir’s breathing became difficult between sobs. Wonder’li was right, she was pathetic. A pathetic little girl. “Nothing would have happened if I hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t fucked up! The gods are playing a joke and I’m tired of it.” Her hands started shaking against her legs. “I don’t want to do this anymore, I can’t.

“Kiir...” Tukara leaned over, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know this isn’t easy, but anyone would have a hard time. You’re being too hard on yourself.”

“Too hard?” Kiir pulled back, unsure if Tukara was just being kind or if she truly believed that. “All I’ve done is drag people in to help me and then they take the consequences for it! J’zargo almost died, Nie’mar lost an eye, Romanda cracked her skull, you burned an entire side of your body, Wonder’li died, Asa died, Ushu died, Ivy died, Hadvar-”

A sob forced Kiir to stop and draw in a breath. Sihe stood up, pushing her hair back from her face. “And here I am, safe and fucking sound.”

Tukara shook her head. “You weren’t forcing anyone to help you. They accepted, come what may.”

“And some of those things happened when you were helping us.” Driem walked out from the treeline, two squirrels in hand. “This isn’t all your fault.”

“If I hadn’t been there, nothing would have happened!”

“What happened in Markarth was a fluke,” Tukara replied. “Yes, if you hadn’t been there, maybe nothing would have happened, but dragons are attacking all throughout Skyrim. You didn’t cause anything. Other people have free will and just because they react a certain way to you doesn’t mean it’s your fault.”

Kiir shook her head. “I’m the Dragonborn for Gods’ sake. The Dragons know that! I’m bringing them around!”

“They know what, Kiir?” Driem raised a brow. “They’re mortal creatures, they can’t just… know it’s you.”

And yet they do. Kiir leaned her head back and shouted. It wasn’t a Thu’um, just a deeply mortal shriek that made her throat sore. She covered her face with her hands and sunk back down onto the ground. “Why me?”

“Because the Gods know you’re capable.”

“Aes tinsea im meale,” Kiir muttered. Her body felt weak, crying had drained her energy. “I can’t save anyone. This world is fucking doomed because I’m incapable of even finding a horn on my own.”

Tukara moved to pull Kiir into a hug.

Kiir didn’t resist and she was moved to rest her head on Tukara’s chest. Her sobs were smaller and shorter now. She felt a blanket around her, likely from Driem.

They stayed like that for a while. Kiir watched the fire flicker. She could hear Driem and Tukara converse with one another, though she didn’t pay much attention to it. Their voices were soft and calm so distant and muted. They sounded like Kiir was underwater. Her attention was turned too inward. The weight of the world was still there and Kiir knew it wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, but right now it felt a little more manageable.

As if hearing her thoughts, Tukara spoke. “You know, things are a whole lot easier to carry when everyone shares a little of the weight.”

Driem returned with a cup, warm and smelling sweet. “This might help a little.”

Kiir accepted the cup and drank in silence, still leaned against Tukara. The chilly night air felt even colder on her wet cheeks. I have to do better, Kiir told herself. There would be no more room for mistakes. Elandaae was gone and the old Kiir’Dun had changed. She was the Dragonborn and the Dragonborn wouldn’t be a pathetic little girl.

They couldn’t.

Chapter Text

When Auri-El came to her that night, Kiir wasn't surprised to see him. She smiled at him as he approached, the tall grass swaying about his ankles. This place was one that Kiir didn't recognize, the flat plains extended out until they met the horizon. The sky was colored orange and pink at an eternal dawn.

“Kiir’Dun. You're different,” he said. His golden jewelry shimmered at every subtle movement.

Kiir nodded. He had never called her by anything but her Altmeri name. Not to mention, having seen her father again, the similarities between him and Auri-El were more striking. She wondered if this was simply how he chose to present himself to her. “A lot has changed.”

“And there's still a lot to come.”

“Is there a reason why you're here?” Kiir felt a tightness in her chest, realizing how forward she sounded. But it was a question she wanted the answer to. “Why you keep coming to see me?”

Auri-El smiled, one so small Kiir might have missed it had she not been looking. “I told you before, Kiir, you're important.”

Of course, Kiir inwardly groaned. There's not way he would just openly give her the information she wanted. Perhaps he couldn't, perhaps he just chose not to. Either way, it didn't much matter as the end result was the same. “So you're keeping tabs on me? To make sure I don't mess anything up?”

“Perhaps.” Auri-El looked out towards the sun. “But more importantly, you're not the only important person in this set of events.”

“I wouldn't have assumed that.”

“I had spoken before on your path and how obscure it is to me. I've realized that it was because another path parallel to yours exists.”

Kiir paused. “Another one of me?”

“Another Dragonborn,” Auri-El clarified.

“What?”

“That's all I can see.”

“You've never warned me before,” Kiir said. Something in his tone made her uneasy. “What changed?”

“You said it yourself, Kiir. A lot has changed.”


 

Kiir’s eye flew open and she found herself staring up at the oranges and pinks of early morning. Her head was throbbing and her body felt heavy, but she still pulled herself so that she was sitting. The sounds of distant bugs and the horses shifting were the only sounds to meet her ears.

“Bad dream?”

Kiir jumped. She hadn't realized Driem was still awake. “No, just a normal dream. What are you doing up?”

“Werewolf.” Driem shrugged. “We, uh, don’t really need to sleep.”

“Right,” Kiir replied. The quiet morning felt more awkward now that there was another person awake. “Did you ever say why you left your home?”

Driem sat up more rigidly and cast a wary glance in Tukara’s direction. “No, I didn't.”

Kiir got the message. “I don't think I spoke about mine either.”

“You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.”

“I feel like I... should.” Kiir sighed. Seeing Auri-El and being reminded of her father brought back those memories of home. And after talking, or perhaps more like shouting, about everything on her mind, Kiir felt better. There was only one small piece remaining.

“What, I'm not invited to the heart to heart?”

Kiir turned her gaze towards Tukara, who had just rolled over. “I'm sorry, did I wake you up?”

Tukara shook her head. “I'm a morning bird, I'd just be getting up now anyway.” She paused. “But if you don't want me listening-”

“No, I'd like both of you to hear it. If only to just say it aloud.”

“Take your time,” Driem replied.

Kiir knew it would be unpleasant to go back there, but she forced the words from her mouth. “Do either of you know about the laws on the Isles? Regarding magic?”

Driem shrugged. “You’ve mentioned something about it before. That they're very strict.”

“They are. And while the Thalmor Justicars certainly do their part to enforce the law, a lot of it is people policing each other.” Kiir fidgeted, pressing her thumb into her palm. “You watch your friends and neighbors. You think it's for safety, you know? You don't want your children getting hurt, and you want to catch a criminal before they get a chance to do anything. It makes sense.”

“But?” Tukara added.

“But that also means that the people closest to you become like watchdogs. You wonder if you can trust your family, your friends...” Kiir trailed off. “Did Vingalmo tell you about my father?”

Driem and Tukara glanced at one another, sharing a knowing look, but neither spoke immediately.

“He did,” Tukara finally replied.

Kiir wasn't sure if she was relieved that she wouldn't have to explain, or worried now that the two sisters had a piece of her past. “So you know he's... important.”

Driem nodded.

“I’m sure I’ve mentioned something about how offensive magic is controlled by strict laws. Only Justicars can learn it and use it and to break those laws is grounds for punishment.”

“Right, sure,” Tukara replied. “So you accidently shot a fireball?”

Kiir shook her head, unsure how to continue. “There was this Khajiit in the market and she had been selling these beautiful stones. I had wanted to buy something for the maid, her birthday was coming up. I saw this bright pink and purple stone, it was iridescent and shimmered so nice in the sunlight... I think on some level I knew what it was, I just figured I’d be buying it as a gift so it wasn’t... as bad, I guess.”

Driem blinked. “Not as bad?”

“Yes? I mean, if I gave it to someone else then it didn’t matter if I knew. Honestly, I don’t even know how the shopkeep got ahold of a soul gem. Why would she smuggle one in to sell it so openly? Perhaps she didn’t know either-”

“A soul gem?” Tukara echoed. She scoffed a little, smiling. “You can’t buy soul gems on Summerset?”

“No, no. Conjuration is not... it’s a debated subject. And there is no guarantee someone won’t use the soul gem for nefarious purposes.”

Driem squinted. “If you can’t have soul gems, how do you enchant things? Weapons? Armor?”

“There are those who do it for us, should you even need that sort of thing,” Kiir replied. “Most don’t even think to question how they do it, and there is hardly a reason anyone on the Isles would even need a weapon, unless you live far off from the city.”

“That seems so... odd.”

Tukara leaned forward. “So you bought a soul gem. Did someone catch you with it?”

“Someone caught me,” Kiir answered, “but it was... I brought the gem back up with me and checked it against what my books said they looked like. I hadn’t planned on using the gem, I just wanted to try it, see if I could cast the spell. The rat wasn’t supposed to die, it was a total freak accident!”

Tukara let out a short bark of a laugh. “A rat? You ran off because you accidently killed a rat?”

“I ran off because my mother and betrothed walked in on me practicing necromancy.”

“That’s hardly necromancy,” Driem said. “Gods Kiir, I seriously thought you’d had killed someone.”

“I took its soul! It doesn’t matter what or who,” Kiir replied. The moment was still etched in her mind, a place she had avoided going for so long. “The law doesn’t discriminate. Necromancy is necromancy, and especially for the daughter of a High Councilor that was utterly inexcusable.”

Tukara waited a moment before speaking. “But hardly anyone even saw it.”

“My mother saw me.” Kiir felt a wash of guilt and fear, similar to when she had first seen her mother’s face come through her door. Her face was so angry and hurt and disgusted. “And Vitrano... Gods, he was so frightened. He nearly trampled my mother running from the room.”

“I don’t...” Driem paused. “I don’t understand. It was just a rat, though, wasn’t it? I can’t even think of a pettier soul to have taken. They must exterminate vermin on the Isles. What is the life of one rat?”

Kiir put a hand to her forehead. If she was honest, retelling it now after all she had gone through, it did feel lackluster. A rat? Had her family truly cast her out over a rat? So many things she had come to trust on the Isles were becoming dismantled and destroyed the longer she was away. “It may have been ‘just a rat’, but it isn’t about the rat, it’s about the spell. The taking of the soul. That’s how the Thalmor see it. How Vitrano or my mother saw it. And certainly how my father would have seen it.”

“Well, they’re wrong, then,” Tukara said. She shrugged. “Everyone else has no problem with enchantment and soul trapped petty souls. And it seems ridiculous to run off a child on the basis of a mistake.”

Drieme nodded along. “I can’t even wrap my head around that kind of thinking. The squirrels