Actions

Work Header

Ziist Grozein

Chapter Text

Death is a funny thing.

Until, of course, it isn’t. Which is most of the time, really. More like all of the time. Death isn’t great, not even close. But as a general rule, it’s only something you have to go through once. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it.

Except, here Gallus is, a sentinel spirit. Completely and utterly dead, dead as a doornail, dead as dead can be. And he’s worrying about dying a second time.

Worrying is putting it lightly, actually. Understatement of the era—he’s terrified . Even though, if he’s being completely honest, he’s less concerned about dying physically then losing all sense of who he is.

He’s—well, dead. Who he is is all he has left at this point, and even that’s beginning to slip away. His name is Gallus. He is—was—a Nightingale. And he doesn’t know how much longer he can linger here without becoming like the others, and then…

Then, he’ll be really dead. Not that he wasn’t already, of course. Just… more dead. Deader than dead. And he’ll never know what happened after he died, or how long it’s been, or—anything.

Shadows, sometimes he thinks he’s going mad. The rest of the time, he knows he is. He’s trapped here. Can’t leave the Twilight Sepulcher, can’t go further in or the others will kill him on sight. Can’t do anything but wait, and wait, and wait for something that might never come.

He shouldn’t be glad when bandits come, and yet he is. It’s a break from the monotony of just waiting, and even if they make it past him—none do—there’s nothing left here for them to steal. Nothing meaningful, in any case.

But no one has come for what feels like an eternity. And—the odds aren’t great that anyone ever will. Normally, Gallus would be willing to trust to luck.

It’s impossible to trust something when it’s just not there, and you know all too well why.

DOVAHKIIN.

And, to make matters worse, now he’s hearing voices.

DOVAHKIIN. HIN TIID BO.

He’s definitely lost it. Except, if he was just hearing things, if his mind was making things up—wouldn’t it at least do it in a language he understands?

So maybe, he’s not hearing things that aren’t real. But if this… voice, echoing around the chamber like the speaker is right here with him, is real, then what in Oblivion is it? Or… who.

The obvious answer is another god. He’s pretty sure that most wouldn’t intrude on Nocturnal’s domain, though. The Daedra are cryptic, but not this cryptic. And the Aedra… somehow, he gets the feeling they’d want absolutely nothing to do with him. So some other lesser spirit, then. Maybe.

If he could figure out what language the voice is speaking in, he’d have a start. It’s nothing he recognizes immediately, which rules out quite a few choices. And it’s also entirely possible that the voice isn’t actually talking to him.

But if not him—then who? So, quietly, cautiously, he asks, “If you’re talking to me, I sincerely hope you know I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

GEH, MINDOK. FEN MINDOK, AHSOD GEBLAAN.

That sounded like an acknowledgment. Or, maybe it’s just wishful thinking on his part. Regardless: something’s here, it’s talking to him, and it’s probably not in his head. Probably. He frowns to himself, because—he still can’t quite place this, but something about this seems familiar, and he has no idea why.

SAV LEIN AHRK VEHRUKT DAAL. NID NEV ZIIST GROZEIN, DOVAHKIIN.

Dovahkiin. Whatever that word means—it’s been said quite a bit. And that, Gallus swears he’s heard somewhere before. Read, maybe. Or… something.

He doesn’t get much longer to think on that, though. He blinks twice, and—he’s gone.


In the snowfields beyond Windhelm, further than adventurers with more sense than bravado dare to go, there is an ancient Nordic tomb by the name of Snow Veil Sanctum. Twenty-five years ago, this tomb was where a single man drew his final breath. This man was a thief and a scholar, a Nightingale of Nocturnal, respected by many across Skyrim in spite of his particular line of work. And yet, he was betrayed to his death by someone he thought he could trust.

This man's name was Gallus Desidenius, and all that remains of him now is his skeleton. That's about to change.

SLEN TIID VO!

The Shout echoes about the final chamber, and slowly at first, then much faster, the man's body is remade. By the time the echo has faded, he looks almost normal, if one ignores the fact that he's one, still glowing and two, still very, very dead. There's also the small issue of him being stark naked, but beggars can't exactly be choosers, now, can they?

The glow soon fades, and as it does so the man's eyes fly open, and his chest heaves. He breathes his first breath in twenty-five years, although it hurts significantly to do so, and his head hurts, and everything hurts.

I should be dead, he thinks, staring up at the shaft that the light is streaming down through. He isn't quite sure why he thinks that, but he does. It occurs to him that maybe the light is why his head hurts, except that the light doesn't explain why everything else hurts—unless he's a vampire, but he's fairly certain he's not a vampire—and his chest hurts the most, by a long shot. His chest in particular feels like someone skewered him there with a white-hot poker, but as time goes on the pain lessens, somewhat, at least enough to where the man can think semi-clearly.

It's then that he realizes that I should be dead implies that there's an 'I' there to be dead, and while the man is certain that he should know who that 'I' is, who he is... he doesn't. He pushes himself up to a sort of sitting position, and frowns while he thinks on this. He should have memories, that he's certain of, but he doesn't. No family, no friends, nothing, and the man's almost certain this can't be right, because surely he would know someone, or at the very least someone would know him.

With this in mind, he attempts to stand, and fails miserably, because it's then that the exhaustion hits him. He's tired, he's hungry, and most of all—he's cold. He glances down, and realizes that it's no wonder he's cold, because he was lying in a pile of snow. That begs the question why he hasn't frozen to death, but the man really isn't ready to tackle that yet. Maybe once he can stand.

He settles for the rather uncomfortable sitting position again, and looks around. From the looks of things, this is a sort of tomb, which only adds to his suspicion that he really shouldn't be alive. Not that he's complaining, he much prefers being alive to being not. There's a tattered pack next to him, and a sword.

Against his better judgment, he's drawn to the sword, and picks it up. It's cold to the touch, and he nearly drops it, but instead settles for a wince as he studies it. Its hilt is fashioned out of some sort of dark material the man can't quite place, and there's something engraved in the pommel, some sort of symbol that he stares at for a moment, desperately trying to remember something, anything, before giving up and moving on to the blade. It's a lighter color than the hilt, steel, he suspects, although he's not entirely sure how he knows that, and the entire sword glistens with some form of enchantment, and truthfully? It's a beautiful blade, if one can call a sword that. He certainly would try.

Reluctantly, he sets the sword down, and moves onto the pack. It's all but falling apart, and while there's quite a lot of mummified bread in there that the man is most certainly not trying his luck with, there's some other things, useful things. Clothes, for one, that the man wastes no time in pulling on. And boots. He's not entirely sure how the clothes have lasted for... however long they've been here, but he certainly isn't complaining. Once he's decent and not quite literally freezing his behind off, he continues searching for something that's not fossilized food.

As it happens, the vast majority of the pack's contents is a wide variety of fossilized food that the man has no problem whatsoever with discarding, but eventually he does find something worth keeping. A book, that's... somehow lasted this long. He's certainly not complaining, not until he opens it and is greeted with a language and strange pictograms he certainly doesn't understand. He mutters a curse under his breath and continues flipping through the book, hoping for something that he actually can understand, but it's not until he's all but given up and flipped to the inside front cover that he finds them: four words in Tamrielic.

Journal of Gallus Desidenius.

That's all there is, and the man wonders, for a moment, who this Gallus is, and why in Oblivion can't he write his journal in something that's not weird markings. He doesn't dwell on it for long, however, instead attempting once again, successfully this time, to stand. He slips the book back into the pack, then shoulders it, and picks up the sword, testing its weight. As best he can tell, it's not a bad blade, not at all. He slips it into the sheath he found with the clothes—it fits perfectly, oddly enough, and looks around for a way out.

There's the grate he'd been lying under, but that's far too high to reach, and somehow, the man doubts that he'd be able to get out that way. He glances back, over his shoulder, and finds... he's honestly not sure, but it looks like some sort of cipher, puzzle, something. The only issue is, it's clearly meant to be operated from the other side, and the man suspects that he isn't getting out that way, either.

He looks forward, and sees some sort of stairway up—it certainly looks like wood, but would wood last in a tomb for gods know how long?—and a gate beyond them. There's a kind of pull chain next to it, and although the man knows full well—or suspects full well, if that's a thing that happens—that the chain probably will trigger a trap, he still dares to hope. He limps up the steps, trying to ignore the growing hunger within him, and slowly, carefully, pulls the chain, praying to any deity that might be listening that it won't trigger a trap.

It doesn't trigger a trap. The gate opens, and the man is so, so relieved, but he knows he can't stop now. He continues, and he hasn't gone far before he comes across a metal, intricately carved door. It's cold to the touch, which means it's almost certainly freezing outside. Wonderful.

As he prepares himself for the cold, he thinks back to the journal. Gallus Desidenius. He certainly doesn't have any idea who he is, but until he finds out... Gallus isn't a bad-sounding name, and he certainly does need a name of some sort to introduce himself with. Going hi, I can’t remember anything, what’s your name isn’t the greatest first impression to give others.

His decision made, the man—Gallus—shoves the door open, and promptly falls face-first into the snow outside.

It's a start.

Chapter Text

Gallus wakes to the sounds of a crackling fire and raised voices. There's two people talking somewhere close by, a woman and a man. The man sounds rather pissed, and the woman… equally so.

It suddenly hits him that maybe he should try and figure out how he got here before figuring out where ‘here’ is. He remembers waking up in the tomb, and eventually leaving, into the snow, with literally no idea where he was going. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't the greatest idea on his part, especially not once the wind picked up and a raging blizzard resulted...

Well shit, he thinks. That definitely wasn’t a good idea.

He remembers seeing something bright through the swirling snow and struggling on to reach it. He must have reached it, or at the very least come close, because clearly he hasn't frozen to death, not yet. Quietly, he sits up, and looks around. He doesn't recognize this place—then again, he'd honestly be surprised if he did—but it's walled in from the blizzard. From the sounds of things, the storm’s beginning to wind down, which makes him wonder just how long he's been out for.

There's a campfire going on the other side of the place, and two figures next to it. One’s a taller man with dark hair and intimidating-looking war paint. The other is a more slightly built woman with somewhat lighter hair and significantly lighter armor, and both are armed to the teeth.

Gallus wonders for a moment who they are, then realizes that the talking’s stopped. Both of the warriors are looking at him now, and Gallus stares back, more than a little intimidated, because both of them clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to fighting. He wonders if the man he’d been before he lost his memories had been able to hold his own in a fight.

Honestly, what in Oblivion was he up to that had resulted in him waking up in an ancient tomb with no memories of who he’d been, what he’d been, what he’d stood for… nothing.

“Hey, you’re not frozen,” the lass says a little too cheerfully considering the subject matter. Right. He can’t lose himself in his thoughts here, not while other people are around and clearly expecting him to say something… but what? He opens his mouth to say something, then closes it. “So… can you talk, or…?”

“I can talk,” Gallus says quietly. His voice almost hurts from how long it’s been since he’s spoken—and he wonders, not for the first time and not for the last, what he’d been doing. “Did you…?” He gestures helplessly to the area they’re in, some sort of shelter from the snow, and the girl nods.

“Save your life? Keep you from freezing to death? Her idea, but yes,” her companion agrees, looking significantly less friendly. Personally, Gallus suspects that last bit isn’t entirely accurate. “What were you even doing out there, anyway?”

Gallus tries to keep his eyes from going wide, and he’s pretty sure he fails miserably, but he’s got bigger things to worry about.

“I…” He begins, then trails off.

I don’t know.

“...got lost,” Gallus finishes lamely. Neither of them look particularly convinced, and part of him’s rather annoyed at the fact that his bluff didn’t work at all. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a good bluff, but still. “So, who are you?” The lass grins, which would be great except  Gallus may just have gotten in a bit over his head.

“We’re the Companions,” she exclaims, then her grin lessens slightly. “Well, we’re two of the Companions, anyway. I’m Ria, the guy with the permanent scowl over here is Vilkas.”

“I can introduce myself,” Vilkas mutters. “And you’re not a full Companion yet.” Ria’s grin all but fades, but she shrugs lightly anyway.

“No, but I will be when we get back to Jorrvaskr! Right? Besides, you weren't actually going to introduce yourself, so…”

“I was, actually,” Vilkas says, sounding mildly annoyed—not that he hasn't sounded mildly annoyed this entire time, of course, “and it’ll depend on how you do on your trial, which definitely does not involve keeping random people from freezing to death.”

Gallus frowns, and while his gut tells him rather sternly that what he's about to ask is not a good idea in the least, the blizzard is letting up outside and he figures if things get too hairy, he can book it. Or try to, anyway, it's debatable how far he’ll actually get on his own.

“My name’s Gallus,” he offers a little too quietly, “and I’m sorry, who are the Companions?” He's all too aware that both of them, both of the Companions, are now staring at him like he's crazy or something.

Crazy, no. Amnesiac, yes. Not my idea.

“You mean you’re in Skyrim and you haven't heard of us?” Vilkas asks, and Gallus thinks he can detect a hint of incredulity in his voice. “How?” Gallus gulps.

“I, well...”

Might as well trust them, he thinks, hoping to whatever gods might be listening that he won't come to regret this. He certainly doesn’t have any better options right now.

“I can’t remember how I got here,” Gallus admits after a moment, staring intensely at a crack in the stony floor simply so he doesn't have to look at either of them, and hoping fervently that this isn’t a terrible idea that’ll get him killed. “I don't remember anything before that, either. I can't remember anything, and believe me, I've tried. So I likely have heard of you, and I just… can’t remember.”

There’s silence for several seconds, but it seems to Gallus like so much longer than that. While neither he nor Ria nor Vilkas speaks, it’s not completely quiet. The blizzard outside is winding down, but it’s still clearly audible. Something’s dripping, too, within the place. Melting ice, or water. Whatever it is, it fills the silence until Ria awkwardly clears her throat.

“That explains why you’ve never heard of us,” Ria says uncomfortably, “but… you really can’t remember anything? Nothing at all?”

Gallus shakes his head. “For all I know, my name might not even be Gallus.” He shrugs miserably. “It could be… I don’t know, Ragnar or something.”

Vilkas snorts, clearly amused, although by the time Ria glances back at him his usual stoic mask is back on.

“Somehow I doubt your name is Ragnar,” Vilkas says dryly. “Nobody’s named their kid that in decades, at least. Probably because of the song.”

Gallus makes a mental note to look into this song when he can, although he does have better things to do. Like, for instance, figuring out who he was before he lost his memories and why he woke up in the final chamber of a Nordic tomb. And there’s likely a good reason he can’t shake the feeling that he’s supposed to be dead.

“Probably. So, ah… Companions. Who are they?”

Ria’s eyes light up, and Gallus can tell he’s going to be here for a while even before she opens her mouth. Fortunately for the sake of his sanity, Vilkas steps in before she can start.

“Ria, the blizzard’s let up, we need to be going,” Vilkas says firmly, and Gallus can tell pretty easily it’s an order. Ria nods reluctantly, and it’s then he turns to Gallus. “We’ve got business in the area, dealing with a pest problem. You can come with us as far as Winterhold, if you stay out of the way and don’t get yourself killed. Or you can stay here. Your choice.”

It’s clear to Gallus what the smart choice is: going with them. After all, if he couldn’t make it far on his own before, chances are things won’t be any different now—and he doubts he’d be lucky enough to run into other people a second time. It’s probably best to stay with others as long as he can, at least until he knows he can hold his own.

“I’ll go with you,” Gallus says, getting up and trying to ignore how sore he still is. “So… where are we going?”


“This is Stillborn Cave,” Vilkas says as they arrive, likely just as much for Ria’s benefit as Gallus’ own, because it’s rather obvious at this point that she’s new to this whole Companion thing, and he’s almost certain that she’s never been in this area of Skyrim before.

At least, he’s pretty sure Skyrim is what this province is called. He’s not completely sure.

“Farkas and I were here a few months back, had to clear out a group of falmer that decided they liked here better than Dwemer ruins,” Vilkas continues, choosing not to elaborate on who Farkas is. “Turns out there’s more of them where the others came from.” He hefts his greatsword, and looks to Ria, who draws her own, smaller sword and readies her shield.

“So do you want me to just wait out here, or…?” Gallus questions. His hand travels to the sword he’d found just after waking up, and while he doesn’t draw it quite yet, he figures it probably would be a good thing to get some actual combat experience.

“If you want,” Vilkas says with a shrug. “If you think you can avoid getting yourself killed, then go ahead, but stay behind us, and let Ria do all the fighting.”

Gallus nods in understanding. On the way here, Ria had taken the opportunity to explain everything she knew about the Companions, which was… a lot. For example, every new member has to complete something called a trial where a senior member observes to see how they fight, and make sure they’re honorable. Said senior member doesn’t step in unless they have to.

As it happens, this mission is Ria’s trial, and the senior member accompanying her is Vilkas.

“That I can do,” Gallus agrees.

Ria goes in first, Vilkas following surprisingly quietly despite the amount of heavy armor he has on. After Gallus takes a moment to tell himself quite sternly that he is most certainly not going to his death and he needs to stop being such a pessimist, he follows them in, dropping instinctively into a stealthy crouch.

The first enemy within is the biggest spider Gallus has ever laid eyes on, and he doesn’t need his memories to know that. The thing’s an absolute monstrosity, an extremely large monstrosity, but a monstrosity nonetheless. It could easily give the faint of heart nightmares, but Ria dispatches it easily with a shield bash to the mandibles and a stab while it was stunned. Vilkas nods approvingly, and the pair continue on, Gallus following silently behind through icy tunnels and past what Gallus assumes to be falmer things.

“You can go forward or right from here,” Vilkas murmurs so quietly that Gallus can barely hear him from where he is. “However, there’s an alcove to the left with falmer in it. You may want to take them out first.” Ria nods, and turns left. Yelling a battle cry, she charges in, and steel meets something that’s most certainly not steel if the resulting clank is any indication.

By the time Gallus has maneuvered around enough to see into the alcove, there is one very dead, pale-skinned creature with pointed ears that Gallus figures must be a falmer, and the other is fighting Ria rather unsuccessfully, mainly because its only weapon appears to be a bow. It screams something in a language Gallus definitely doesn’t understand and attempts to whack her over the head with its bow.

Gallus can tell even before it tries that it’s not going to work out in its favor. Ria blocks the falmer’s panicked strike with her shield, then slices. It collapses, and Ria looks back to Vilkas.

“Not bad. Which way?”

Ria looks to each passageway, clearly weighing the options in her head, and Gallus does as well. The larger of the two is closer, and has enough room for several people to fit through. The smaller and farther, the one directly across from where Ria currently is, only has enough room for one person to proceed at once.

Ria makes her decision, and starts towards the larger passage. Vilkas follows her. Gallus moves to do the same, then stops, looking again toward the small one. By the time he returns his attention to the Companions, they’re around the bend and out of sight, so he goes for the smaller one just because.

Gallus soon finds that while the smaller way is a dead end, it’s a dead end with a significant amount of loot in an extremely disturbing-looking chest. Truthfully, he’s not even sure how he knows it’s a chest, but he’s not complaining, because some of the things within look like things he could definitely use. There’s some sort of armor, made out of hide or fur or something similar, and he stuffs it in his pack, making a mental note to change into it at some point when he’s not in a place full of homicidal cave elves.

There’s also a pair of decent-looking boots, and these he pulls on, because the ones he’s currently wearing are all but falling apart. The sounds of fighting begin to echo down the corridor, and instead of checking the rest of the chest’s contents, he shoves what he can in his pack, unsheathes his sword, and heads the way the others headed, only to find Ria going toe to toe with some sort of nasty black flying insect thing. Considering that the thing is considerably more agile than her, she’s at least holding her own.

If she was doing too badly, Vilkas would step in, anyway, and while Vilkas does look on edge, he’s not to the point of stepping in. Gallus is seriously considering stepping in himself despite knowing next to nothing about what she’s fighting when a flicker of movement catches Gallus’ eye, and he looks, only to see another of the falmer.

This one’s attempting to sneak up on Vilkas, and seeing as Vilkas is paying close attention to how Ria’s fighting… it’s succeeding. It doesn’t seem to have noticed Gallus, though, and it’s with this in mind that Gallus slips behind it and rather sloppily slides his sword through its backside. It falls, yes, but rather loudly, a little too loudly.

By the time Gallus has wiped the blood off his sword with a grimace, both of the others are looking his way.

“Thought you said you couldn’t fight,” Vilkas says. There’s a grudging admiration in his words.

“Beginner’s luck?” Gallus shrugs.

The rest of Ria’s trial passes without incident, and while Gallus isn’t entirely sure what exactly Vilkas was looking for, if he’d been the one in charge of determining whether she became a Companion or not he would have let her pass immediately.


It takes the rest of the day, but the trio—the two Companions plus Gallus—makes it to what Gallus assumes is Winterhold just before dark, and it’s then that Vilkas and Ria take their leave.

“Not that we have to camp out, of course, but it’s fun and, more importantly, free,” Ria explains with a grin. “And hey, if you’re ever in Whiterun, you should stop by Jorrvaskr and say hello. Who knows? Maybe someone there will have known you before, you know… the memory thing.” Gallus nods, but somehow, he doubts this. He isn’t quite sure why.

“Alright,” Gallus agrees. “Thank you both. For everything.” Ria nods, and her grin only grows.

“Hey, it’s what we do, and—hey, Vilkas, wait for me!”

She runs off after Vilkas, and Gallus watches them leave with the faintest of smiles on his face. He hopes he’ll run into them again, and he hopes he’ll remember more of his past by the time he does. Then again… hoping doesn’t do much on its own, so he heads to the local inn and gets a room for the night—fortunately not that expensive. Ria had insisted on covering at least one night. And after that...

Truthfully, Gallus has no idea where to go from here, and while that terrifies him more than it should… that’s alright. He’ll just take one day at a time, and with any luck, he won’t pass out in any more blizzards.

Then again, he thinks, if I had any luck I wouldn’t have woken up without any memories.

Chapter Text

"Cross the bridge at your own peril! The way is dangerous, and the gate will not open. You shall not gain entry!"

Gallus reflexively takes a step back, because when a dangerous-looking woman shouts that you aren’t getting past her, it’s generally a good idea to get out of swinging range . Even so, he’s curious, because… well, assuming the lad he’d asked gave him accurate directions, shouldn’t this be the… what was it, College?

Oh yes, he’d said with an annoyed sigh, bloody mages are across the bridge at the edge of town, all up in the College. Trust me, you don’t want to cross it. They’ll use you for all sorts of dark rituals, unless you’re one of them, and you seem like a decent sort. Don’t be one of them.

Gallus appreciated the sentiment, but somehow he doubts that these mages, whoever they are, dabble in necromancy—they’d be living in a dark cave somewhere chanting obscure rituals and redefining edginess then. If they do, then he’ll have a problem on his hands, but right now, he’s more concerned with actually getting in. The elven woman standing guard does not look or sound remotely friendly, considering that she just yelled at him for walking up.

“I’m sorry… what?” Gallus stammers, doing his best to look confused. He doesn’t have to try hard. “This… is the College, right?”

She nods curtly. “Yes, this is indeed the College of Winterhold, but I must advise you that if your only purpose in being here is to complain, you would be far better off speaking to the Jarl. Third building on your right when you turn around.”

Gallus frowns, shakes his head. “I’m not here to complain,” he says, and barely keeps himself from adding I’m still not even sure where here is! Instead, he settles for a curious glance. “Do people complain often?”

The woman groans. “Like you would not believe ,” she mutters dryly, and while her gaze is still suspicious, it’s not overly hostile. Gallus is pretty sure that’s a good thing. “So, why are you here, then?”

This… might be the hard part. Instead of attempting a bluff, Gallus decides on something close to the truth, although some things he fully intends to leave out.

“I… was hoping to have assistance with a problem that may be magical in nature,” Gallus tries. She looks thoroughly unimpressed, so he shrugs, and hopes he doesn’t have to tell this woman he doesn’t even know everything. “It’s… complicated, but—”

“If your problem truly is magic-related, then it would seem the College has what you seek,” she says, cutting him off and fixing him with a glare. Gallus tries not to feel too intimidated. “The question now is what you can offer the College. Not just anyone is allowed inside. Those wishing to enter must show some degree of skill with magic. A small test, if you will.”

Gallus mumbles some rather choice words under his breath, and decides that the truth can’t possibly make this any worse.

“I, ah… about that, my problem… it’s amnesia. Two days ago, I woke up in the snowfields north of Windhelm with no idea who I was. I’m hoping that perhaps, if it was magically induced…”

“You’re hoping it can be reversed.”

He nods.

“You… seem quite capable for someone with two days worth of memories.”

Gallus nods again, and only after a moment does he catch the note of suspicion in her tone.

“I try. The thing is, it’s possible I was a mage, but… if I was, I don’t remember any spells. That’s the problem.”

She thinks on this for a moment. “You may not, but your subconscious will. Once you learn a spell, it’s impossible to unlearn it. So all you need to do is relearn how to cast it.”

Gallus winces, because this does not sound easy. He’s probably not a mage, anyway… but it’s at least worth a shot.

“Alright. Show me what to do.”


The gate guardian’s name is Faralda, and she’s apparently the school’s authority on destruction magic. Which—Gallus, apparently, knows nothing of. Same goes for a bunch of other ‘schools’.

“Most mages know at least the basic spells from other schools, so it’s doubtful you know any from this one,” Faralda says thoughtfully. “I suppose it’s possible, though. So let’s give this one a try.”

Gallus nods, and concentrates.

Everyone has a small level of innate magicka. The problem for most is channeling it into useful spells. Some kinds of spells come easier to particular people—that’s why they’re divided into schools. Destruction, for instance, can come more easily to those quick to anger, and Illusion to those who prefer an alternate route of resolving conflict than setting everyone in sight on fire. I’ve never been good with Illusion, personally.

Maybe not—but maybe Gallus is. Or was.

The spell he’s trying to cast is one that sounds particularly useful, one that conjures up a thin blue trail visible to your eyes only and leads to whatever goal you might have in mind at the moment. There are limitations, of course—it can’t lead to people or creatures, and it only works in a certain range. And, honestly, he’s beginning to wonder how Faralda will be able to figure out he’s cast it if he casts it.

But first things first, he has to actually cast it. Or try to.

Fix a goal in mind. An object. A plant, perhaps. Then will your magicka to lead you to it.

The plant he’s thinking of is a small one with dark leaves and a single distinctly purple flower. It’s tucked in a cornerstone of the bridge, hidden from view if he doesn’t lean out to see it. And with that in mind, he does… something.

He’s not sure what. But there’s a distinct feel of something flickering across his left hand, and as he raises it he realizes there is something flickering there. A distinct blue glow, curling around his fingers, looking almost like flame and yet not.

“That looks like it,” Faralda observes. “So can you cast it?”

Right. Casting it. He thinks of the plant.

The glow from his fingers vanishes, only to reappear at his feet. As he watches, a thin line proceeds along the ground, curling around the edge of the steps. He knows without going to the end that it leads exactly where he’d wanted it to.

He lets it fade, whispers, “Gods.”

Faralda claps him on the shoulder and says, “Welcome to the College, ah…”

“Gallus.”


He doesn’t remember half of the stuff he’s supposed to if he’s being honest, which he probably shouldn’t be. Between getting a lot of information from Faralda in ten minutes and even more from someone named Mirabelle in less time, he’s surprised he remembers any of it.

The important part is, he’s apparently an apprentice here now. What that entails, he sure doesn’t know. Probably learning more spells. Which? He’s alright with. The one spell he’s been taught already seems fairly useful and if he can figure out more? It certainly won’t hurt.

Besides—if he really thinks about it, this is a pretty alright place to figure things out from. The College of Winterhold, as best as he can tell, is a place of learning. There are worse places to ask questions that he should already know the answers to. And who knows? Maybe he knew someone here.

The door to the outside opens, but Gallus doesn’t bother glancing up. He keeps reading the spellbook he’s been lent, because damn it, he’s going to figure this out.

“J’zargo doesn’t see what all the fuss is about,” someone mutters, and Gallus looks up this time to see a khajiit dressed in the same robes he is now, his tail flicking back and forth irritably.

“That’s because I’m the only one who’s making a fuss! No matter what we found there, we shouldn’t have been disturbing Saarthal!”

“J’zargo thinks that the dead are dead, and have bigger issues than the College borrowing some of their things.”

“Borrowing? Borrowing? Right, like you were borrowing my spare set of robes last week!”

“J’zargo gave those back!”

“After they were already burned to bits! What were you even doing with them?”

The two arguing are the khajiti mage—J’zargo, apparently—and a furious-looking lad with the beginnings of a beard on his chin and a small overbite. There’s a third, a particularly done-looking dunmer lass, grey-skinned, red eyes, and clearly trying—and failing—to ignore her companions and read something. Finally, she sighs, gives up.

“Both of you, stop it, or I will throw this book at you,” she mutters crossly, closing it and glancing up. Her gaze meets Gallus’ own, and she takes a step back in surprise. “And there’s a new apprentice. Nice.”

While her threat didn’t get either of the others to shut up, apparently a new apprentice did, and Gallus tries not to look too intimidated. These are real mages, even if he’s pretty sure they’re all significantly younger than him. Gallus is just a loser with no memories who can cast a couple of spells. And he doesn’t even know what said spells actually do beyond glowing and looking pretty.

“Hello,” Gallus tries. “My name is… I’m Gallus.”

The dunmer nods. “Brelyna,” she says briskly. “These two s’wits are J’zargo and Onmund. Usually they get along.”

As it turns out, ‘usually’ doesn’t apply when ancient nordic tombs are involved.

Chapter Text

Days turn into weeks, and the weeks drag on. While Gallus still can’t seem to shake the feeling that time is running out (and he’s tried), he’s turned out to be a surprisingly good student of magic, if a reluctant one. With some help from the College’s authority on illusion magic, he’s learned—or rather, relearned—a fair amount of spells, all of them from the illusion school and the illusion school only. Despite everything, he just can’t seem to manage even a simple spell from one of the other schools.

In truth, he’s perfectly fine with this. While Gallus knows that magic is undeniably useful, he’s begun to see it as more of an augment than anything else. He’s rather proud of the fact that, with a quick muffle on his footsteps, he can sneak all the way to the bathroom and back without waking anyone up. That’s definitely a good thing, considering how nosy Ancano is…

Ah, yes, Ancano. It didn’t take Gallus long to learn the Thalmor agent’s name, considering how he’s tolerated at best and despised at worst throughout the College. While he’s still not certain who the Thalmor are, it’s painfully obvious that whoever they are, they aren’t exactly popular in Skyrim, and the same applies to Ancano.

Then again, Gallus can see why. While he never actually says anything, Ancano makes it very clear that he despises anyone in the College who isn’t altmer like him, and dislikes the few that are. There’s also the whole issue with him dividing his time between studying the artifact most have dubbed the ‘Eye of Magnus’ and not-so-subtly spying on anyone and everyone, the apprentices most of all.

J’zargo’s gotten to the point where he’s casting rune traps in the doorway to his room to keep Ancano out, and he’s offered to do the same for the others. Brelyna still can’t tell if he expects her to try and murder him or blow herself up, or a bizarre combination of both. Onmund just tries to stay out of his way, and unfortunately runs into him far more often than he’d like. As for Gallus himself… he’s really not sure, but a few things are clear.

Ancano definitely isn’t an ‘advisor’ to the Arch-Mage, or anyone at the College. It’s quite apparent that he thinks little of the College, elven or otherwise. While nobody’s completely sure what he's up to, he's almost certainly up to something, and it's driving people mad.

Or… more mad than usual, in some cases. Such as certain instructors.


“That Ancano fellow is up to no good, I can tell,” Drevis mutters darkly. “I don't know how Mirabelle does it.”

For a few quick moments, Gallus is a little lost. Then he follows his gaze and sees Ancano arguing with Mirabelle, who looks extremely done with him, and the seemingly random remark no longer seems quite as random.

Drevis Neloren, in any case, is the school’s leading scholar on illusion magic, and while he's a little… strange, to say the least, he knows what he's doing. At least—he does until it comes to invisibility spells. Over the weeks he's spent in the College, Gallus has learned quite a lot from Drevis, and while he's reasonably confident in his magic at this point, he’s found that his reflex is still to go for the sword.

“Does what?” Gallus asks after a slightly-too-long pause. Fortunately, Drevis doesn't seem to notice. As the two illusionists watch, Ancano retreats, with Mirabelle watching him like a hawk. It's quite clear who’s won this battle of wills, just like it was quite clear in the past several.

“Deals with him on a regular basis—Savos Aren, I mean,” Drevis says, switching the topic quite abruptly, and considering that Ancano is rather bad at pretending to not be eavesdropping, Gallus figures out rather quickly why. “You'd think Mirabelle would be the Arch-Mage, wouldn't you?”

Gallus gulps. He’s really not at all alright with being put on the spot here, if not too caught off-guard. “Um, maybe?”

“She does everything around here regardless, she might as well—thank Azura, he's gone. How does Mirabelle do it?”

Gallus shrugs, and decides not to tell Drevis that he asked the same exact question two minutes ago. Instead, he gets up, and grabs his books.

“I don't know,” Gallus says quietly, “but I'd better go find Colette. She said she might have figured something out, with… you know…” Drevis nods.

“Ah, yes, your memory problem,” Drevis says altogether too cheerfully. “Don't look so surprised, Colette couldn't keep a secret if she tried. Off you go!”

By the end, his cheerfulness is sounding more than a little forced. Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that there’s some history there, but he’s not about to dig for it. He’s never seen him angry and would like to keep it that way, thank you very much. So, he wastes no more time in heading off in the general direction of the Arcaneum.

The librarian there is an orc by the name of Urag gro-Shub who, upon meeting Gallus for the first time, both encouraged him to read whatever he wanted and threatened to tear him limb from limb if he so much as dog-eared a single page. Whenever Gallus has entered since, Urag had always kept a watchful eye on him and anyone else who happened to be around, whether apprentice or teacher. Currently, Urag is nowhere to be seen, and Colette is copying something down from one of the several books she has open in front of her.

“Oh! Hello, Gallus,” Colette says brightly, scribbles a final thing down, and glances up. “I'm glad you could come, I've got some good news and bad news.” Gallus nods, not entirely surprised.

“What's the good news?” Gallus asks, then glances toward Urag’s deserted desk. “And where’s Urag?” Colette follows his gaze, and nods sympathetically.

“He stepped out for a bit, to stretch his legs I believe, told me to watch the Arcaneum while he was gone,” Colette says nonchalantly, brushing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “But, ah, please don't touch anything while he's gone.”

It goes without saying why. The fact that Urag trusted her alone with the books speaks volumes of how much he trusts her. That or how harmless he believes her to be. Probably not both.

“Wasn’t planning on it.” He hesitates. “So… good news?”

Colette nods absentmindedly, and scribbles something else down. Gallus wonders, and not for the first time, why almost everyone who’s been at the College for any length of time is a little bit crazy. He hopes that won't be happening to him, or the other apprentices. They’re all a little crazy in their own ways, sure, but—good crazy. And they’re kids, just kids that happen to have a knack for things that most probably don’t. And occasionally set each other on fire.

On second thought, he might be the least crazy person here. And he has amnesia.

“Right. Well, the good news is, your memories aren't gone, I think. As best as I can tell, they’re still in there somewhere. You’re just blocked from accessing them.”

Gallus perks up instantly, asks, “So what's blocking them?”

Colette frowns.

“This is the bad news.”

She nods. “I can't figure out what seems to be blocking them. The best I can tell you is that it's some sort of magic, but nothing I've ever seen before. And if I can't figure out what it is, I won't be able to break it.”

Gallus nods, and tries to hide his disappointment. He'd expected as much.

“Anything else?” Gallus asks, and hesitantly, Colette nods.

“Yes, although… this is mostly speculation here, think of it as… a lock, and it can't be opened without the key, or without someone else using the key.”

“But locks can be picked,” Gallus says suddenly, and is just as surprised by his words as Colette is.

“True,” she agrees after a moment, “but to pick a lock, presumably you need a lockpick. If this were caused by, say, illusion magic, or alteration, I would be able to help you. But I can say quite confidently that this is no magic I've dealt with before.”

Gallus sighs, and wonders why he thought this could help. Now, he only has more questions, none of which Colette can answer.

“Thank you anyway,” he says as he stands, and he means it. Colette nods, possibly more to herself than him at this point.

“I’ll let you know if I find anything else,” she says hopefully.

Gallus appreciates the gesture, he isn't seriously expecting much of anything.

“Thanks,” he says, and leaves, passing Urag on the way out.


“No luck with Colette?” Brelyna guesses as Gallus walks in more than a little dejectedly. He shakes his head. “Damn. Sorry to hear that. If you need some privacy, I can go bother Urag, see if he needs anything.”

Gallus shakes his head, and takes a seat quietly. “I’m alright,” he lies easily, and then realizes something. “Wait… how do you know about that?”

Brelyna shrugs.

“This is the College of Winterhold, my friend,” Onmund says dramatically as he walks in, J’zargo hot on his heels. “No privacy anywhere.”

He gestures to the doorless rooms nearby, although he didn't really need to. Gallus can't say he's entirely surprised.

“You have a point there,” Gallus agrees. “Where were you yesterday?”

“Urag wanted some books on the Eye of Magnus,” J’zargo says helpfully. “Some other apprentice stole them and ran off some time ago, so J’zargo and Onmund went to get them back for him.”

“You still have the books,” Brelyna notes, looking pointedly at Onmund’s bulging pack. “You got something on them, didn't you.”

Both Onmund and J’zargo suddenly look very uncomfortable, and considering the frequency of Urag’s threats with respect to his Arcaneum, Gallus can't say he blames them.

“If Onmund had just let J’zargo do the talking—”

“What, so you wanted me to just hand over Orthorn to that—”

“Yes! J’zargo did! And then while she was distracted—”

“Both of you,” Brelyna says lowly, “what in Oblivion happened?”


As it happens, J’zargo and Onmund had found the apprentice who'd stolen the books relatively quickly, and he’d agreed to help them get the books back. The three of them together had done quite well until they’d come to the leader of the renegade mages, someone known only as the Caller. She’d offered them the books in exchange for Orthorn, the rogue apprentice. In the resulting battle, one of the books had gotten quite a lot of blood on it.

Neither J’zargo nor Onmund mentioned whose blood it was, and Gallus makes up his mind not to ask. There are some things better off unknown.

“We think it’s the book about the Eye,” Onmund says miserably. “We’re doomed.”

“You’re doomed,” Brelyna agrees, closes the book she’d been examining, and rummages around in her pack for something. “Luckily for you both, I might have something to clean that up. Old Telvanni secret. It’ll take time, though, and we’ll need to make ourselves scarce while it works.”

She pulls out a bottle of a silvery liquid, uncorks it, and without hesitating for a second, she pours the contents over the book.

“Why?” Gallus asks, and then the stench hits, and it’s quite clear why. “Never mind… gah! Forget I asked.”

Brelyna quickly vacates her chair and retreats to where Onmund and J’zargo are. Gallus isn’t far behind. It’s at least somewhat more bearable there, although J’zargo seems to be taking it worst.

“What is that?” J’zargo asks indignantly, blinking hard, and likely would be swearing profusely if he hadn’t then broken into a coughing fit.

Right, Gallus remembers, khajiit have a more sensitive sense of smell. He’s not quite sure where he remembers this from, maybe a book of some sort, but he doesn’t remember reading it at all.

Or maybe he just heard it from J’zargo. On second thought, he can remember that.

“Explain once we’re out of here,” Brelyna says, and books it. The other three follow her out the door. “Sorry, I… was expecting it to take at least somewhat longer to activate. It’s a mixture I’ve been working with, was originally developed to get the bloodstains out of clothes. I modified it to work on other things and stains, but…” She trails off.

“It stinks,” Onmund says, summing up everyone’s thoughts perfectly.

Brelyna nods. “That’s House Telvanni’s fault, I’d like to get rid of the stench but for now… it’s still a work in progress,” she says with a shrug. “I’m not very good with alchemy. Yet. So, anyone have anything we can do for a few days?”

Gallus stares at her, dumbfounded. J’zargo’s expression is much the same.

“A few days?” J’zargo repeats, incredulous. “J’zargo cannot go more than a day without sleep. Neither can you.”

Brelyna nods, biting her lip. “I was thinking more along the lines of staying in an inn somewhere. Maybe not the Frozen Hearth, the innkeeper’s nice but Winterhold hates us enough already. Perhaps… Morthal? Onmund, you’re the one who’s grown up in Skyrim.”

“Not up north,” Onmund protests, “but… Morthal…” He looks thoughtful, and J’zargo looks apprehensive.

“Please tell J’zargo this isn’t what he thinks it is,” J’zargo says without much hope in his voice.

“It’s what you think it is,” Onmund mumbles almost inaudibly. With a sigh, he turns to Brelyna. “You remember I’ve been trying to get my… you know…”

“Amulet,” Brelyna supplies, and adds, “no privacy around here, remember? I think everyone knows.”

Gallus actually didn’t, but he’s not about to say as much.

“Fine,” Onmund says considerably less reluctantly, “my amulet. I’ve been trying to get it back from Enthir. He left for some ‘important business’ down in Markarth the other day, and before he left, he said that if I could get back this staff for him by the time he returned, he’d give me back my amulet. I… don’t think he thought I could.”

Gallus frowns, and he’s not quite sure why.

“Let’s go,” he hears himself say, as much to his surprise as the others. “Not sure who Enthir is, but it’s an excuse to get out of the College for a few days. So this staff is near Morthal?”

Never mind that he’s not entirely sure where Morthal or Markarth is, except that they’re both probably in Skyrim somewhere. Never mind that he’s not entirely sure what Skyrim itself entails still.

Onmund nods. “He didn’t give me a lot of specifics, but he said something about someone named… I think it was Movarth? And that he realized after selling him the staff that maybe this wasn’t a good idea… name mean anything to any of you?”

Brelyna shakes her head.

“No, but I’ll come. Might as well.”

J’zargo looks thoughtful for a moment. “Khajiit doesn’t know who Movarth is either, but our rooms are currently uninhabitable, so this one thinks he’ll come too.”

“I’ve got nothing better to do,” Gallus says with a shrug. “And anyway—considering that there’s literally no privacy in the College, you all know what my problem is. It’ll probably be good to get out for a few days.”

Onmund nods, cracks a grin. “Thanks,” he says. “Really.”

Brelyna smiles at him. “If nothing else, we’ll at least get out of the College for a bit.” Then, her grin fades. “On the other hand, we might get ambushed by several dozen couriers on the way there. My family is… interesting, when it comes to keeping in touch.”


While Brelyna’s grim prediction about the couriers does not, in fact, come true, the group consisting of three slightly-crazy kids and their amnesiac chaperone hasn’t been on the road for long when Gallus remembers something important.

“Doesn’t Ancano sleep in there, too?” Gallus asks, and is met with an enthusiastic nod from Brelyna. “You planned this, didn’t you?”

“Perhaps,” Brelyna says with a smirk. “If nothing else, he won’t be messing with our things while we’re gone.”

“You planned this,” Onmund realizes.

Brelyna shrugs as if she doesn’t care, although somehow, Gallus gets the feeling she does. Maybe it’s the fact that her smirk’s only grown.

“Guilty as charged.”

Chapter Text

Morthal, as it turns out, is a town that’s quite inhospitable to mages. Considering the rest of Skyrim, this hostility is quite normal, but to a group of four apprentice mages, three of which haven't spent much time outside the College of Winterhold recently, it's something of a culture shock to run into magic-hating townspeople complaining about, wait for it, another mage.

“You really shouldn’t be surprised, Skyrim isn’t exactly open to magic,” Onmund mutters as they wait to speak with the lone mage residing in Morthal. “And if you think this is bad, try Windhelm.”

Brelyna snorts. “No thank you, I’ve heard plenty. No point in going somewhere like that.”

“This one isn’t allowed in any walled cities, simply because he is khajiit.” J’zargo summons a flame to his grasp and regards it. “Simply because many khajiit are thieves, never mind that there are many other thieves as well.”

He closes his hand into a fist, and the flame goes out. There’s more than a trace of bitterness in his voice, his words, his body language and truthfully, Gallus can’t say he’s entirely surprised.

“Wait,” Brelyna says carefully, “so what you’re saying is, many khajiit are thieves, but you’re not one of them? Really?”

“Irrelevant.” J’zargo shrugs, then adds, “and you can’t prove anything.”

Despite himself, Gallus cracks a grin, because he can, in fact, prove quite a few things. J’zargo isn’t anywhere near as subtle as he thinks he is.

“The contents of your desk would beg to differ,” Gallus says, and J’zargo swears under his breath. “As would the stash of stolen sweetrolls in a bag under your bed. Can’t say I blame you, they are delicious.”

“J’zargo thinks Gallus should mind his own business, and—”

“Hold on, that’s where all the sweetrolls went?” Onmund asks, seemingly incredulous. “I thought Ancano ate them all, or… something.”

J’zargo shakes his head. “Ancano wouldn’t know good taste if his life depended on it. J’zargo, on the other hand…”

“Can I help you?”

It’s a man who’s spoken, a Redguard peering around his slightly-ajar door, and while he is in fact wearing mage robes, albeit tattered ones, he also looks particularly pissed. Gallus looks to J’zargo first, but he shows no signs of saying anything. Neither does Onmund, and while Brelyna opens her mouth to speak, she quickly closes it again and glances helplessly in Onmund’s general direction.

“If you’re with the College,” the man warns, “you’d better leave right now. I have no time for getting involved in your politics again.”

Again? He’s more than a little curious. Unfortunately, none of the others seem prepared to say anything, so chances are it’s all up to him. Because apparently he’s the responsible one here.

Clearly, this can’t go horribly wrong in a whole slew of ways.

“Again?” Gallus says aloud, voicing his thoughts for once. “And yes, we’re with the College, but we’re not looking for you, we’re looking for…”

He glances to Onmund, who looks panicked for a full second at least before nodding and clearing his throat. “A staff,” he manages. “Someone at the College sold it to someone named Movarth, and I need to get it back, or…”

He trails off, and frowns. While Gallus doesn’t see the harm in mentioning Onmund’s amulet, he can’t really blame him for not mentioning it.

“Movarth?” The man asks, somehow even more on edge than before. “Can’t help you. Try the Jarl.”

He slams the door shut in their faces, leaving four even more confused mages wondering what to do now.

“So, this is probably a bad time,” Gallus says after a moment, “but what’s a Jarl?”

Much to his surprise, Brelyna nods in agreement. “I’m guessing a Skyrim thing, because we definitely don’t have ‘Jarls’ back home.”

“So there’s nine Holds, right?” Onmund begins explaining, and Brelyna and J’zargo nod. Gallus, meanwhile, attempts to look like he knows what Onmund is talking about when he really doesn’t. It’s no easy feat. “Okay, I know I can remember them all… Eastmarch, Winterhold—that’s the easy one—Haafingar, Falkreath, Hjaalmarch, Whiterun, The Pale, The Reach, and… uh, the Rift. I think.”

J’zargo groans. “Just let this one handle this. You’re going to take forever, and J’zargo was raised khajiit. khajiit know the lands.”

Onmund glares at him, and crosses his arms across his chest, clearly not budging.

“Khajiit were not born and raised here,” Onmund says, “so. Each of the Holds is ruled by a Jarl. The Jarls swear fealty to the High King—currently High King Torygg—and the High King swears fealty to the Emperor. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it, J’zargo?”

J’zargo narrows his eyes, and mimics Onmund’s stance almost perfectly.

“J’zargo thinks that you should stick to listening to history lessons, instead of giving them.”

“By the Nine—”

“Ladies, ladies, you’re both pretty,” Brelyna deadpans, earning confused looks from everyone present, “now let’s go find this Jarl person. Hope she doesn’t share everyone else’s opinions on magic around here.”

Onmund shakes his head quickly. “She doesn’t. Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone is well known for… well, for being a bit odd, but also for being a seer of sorts. So she should help us… I hope.”

“Assuming she isn’t a hypocrite,” Gallus says, “and there are far too many of those, so let’s hope she isn’t.”

“Agreed,” J’zargo mutters, with a meaningful look in Onmund’s direction.

It’s probably a good thing he misses it.


“So life has brought you to Morthal, and to me. What purpose this serves, we will no doubt see,” the Jarl says, and adds, almost as an afterthought, “welcome.”

Onmund looks to J’zargo, J’zargo looks to Brelyna, Brelyna looks to Gallus, and damn it, this is becoming a pattern, isn’t it?

Of course he has to be the only one of the group with any social skills when it came to non-mages. Maybe it helps that he still didn’t quite consider himself a proper mage. If that’s the case, then maybe he’d better not ever consider himself a proper mage.

“Err, yes,” Gallus begins, bowing his head slightly. “My name is Gallus. My friends are Brelyna, Onmund, and J’zargo. We’re… with the College.” Gallus shouldn’t have been worried that Jarl Idgrod would react the same was as the other mage did, because she didn’t. Instead, she gave him a knowing smile, and leaned back in her throne.

“Are you? Regardless, I must apologize for the rather lackluster hospitality you’ve received thus far,” Idgrod says with a twinkle in her eyes. “That which is unknown can create unease, even fear. Morthal is… perhaps not as accepting as it should be, through no fault of yours.”

Gallus comes to the conclusion that as long as she doesn’t try to have them killed, he likes her.

“Great,” Gallus agrees, mentally cursing all three of his companions for making him do all the talking because gods damn it.

Brelyna always has her nose in a book, so she’s excused. Onmund, on the other hand, goes on and on about how he’s supposed to be a brave and—well—not a magic user, so maybe not that part. J’zargo is a khajiit, so smooth-talking should be in his blood. In fact, Gallus isn’t so sure that it isn’t, considering certain scrolls that he really shouldn’t have agreed to test no matter how much J’zargo pleaded.

He’s never getting those burn marks off his robes. At least they’re not too conspicuous.

“Your presence, of course, still begs the question: what exactly are four College mages doing out here?”

Considering that Onmund just whispered something along the lines of she thinks we’re actual mages! Wait, are we actual mages? to Brelyna, who definitely isn’t helping, and J’zargo seems too amused to say anything, Gallus is still very much on his own.

“We’re looking for a magical artifact, a staff. Sold by someone else from the College to someone named…”

Shit, he can’t remember.

“Movarth,” Onmund supplies, much to his relief.

It’s quite clear from the change in the Jarl’s demeanor that she recognizes the name, but—it’s also quite clear that she’s surprised the group of mages from the College knows it. Fun.

“Movarth, eh?” Idgrod murmurs, and hums speculatively. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time… and while there may be a connection, there also may not be. You may find it prudent to peruse a copy of Immortal Blood, if you have it.”

Brelyna swears a little too loudly, and then blushes as she and everyone else present realize at around the same time that cursing in front of a Jarl might not be the greatest idea.

“I, umm... have a copy,” Brelyna says quickly, “but I never really read it, just skimmed it for the notes on vampirism… and it’s currently inaccessible because it’s in my room.”

Onmund groans aloud, J’zargo looks particularly annoyed, Gallus settles for an exasperated stare, and Jarl Idgrod seems more amused than anything else. Honestly, he’d be too in her position.

“Am I to assume that one of your experiments went wrong, then?” She asks, then shakes her head. “Bah, ignore the ramblings of an old woman. I have a copy somewhere that I can lend to you, but I’ll need you four to do something in return.”

While the way she says it is friendly enough, simply the fact that Idgrod hadn’t specified what this something was sets Gallus on edge, and he’s not quite sure why.

“So,” Gallus says, ignoring the feeling in his gut, “what do you need us to do?” Idgrod holds up a finger, and calls someone’s name. Aslfur, whoever he is, comes in quite quickly.

“Aslfur, I need my copy of Immortal Blood,” she says, and it’s only after he nods and heads off in the direction of what’s likely Idgrod’s room that she returns her attention to the mages. “It’s nothing much, but there will at least be something… what that something is, I can’t see. However. You all saw the burned-down house on your way into town.”

It’s phrased as a statement, not a question, and Gallus can see why. It’s kind of impossible to miss, especially since the locals seem to be avoiding it like the plague and rumors are all over the place about it.

“It used to belong to a man named Hroggar,” Idgrod continues. “His wife and daughter perished in the blaze, and my people believe it to be cursed now. Hroggar claims it was an accident. Many folk think he set the fire himself, and while I’d like to think he wouldn’t do such a thing… lust can make a man do the unthinkable. All would do well to remember that.”

The Jarl clears her throat, then continues, and for some reason, Gallus feels like she’s paying far more attention to him than the others. It’s… unnerving, but before he can comment on it, Jarl Idgrod begins to speak once again.

“The ashes were still warm when he pledged himself to a woman named Alva,” Idgrod concludes.

Gallus thinks there’s more than a trace of bitterness in there. He doesn’t need to say anything, though, because Onmund, for once, has it covered. Surprisingly. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.

“So why haven’t you arrested him?” Onmund asks indignantly, clearly taking this quite personally for some reason or another. “Clearly, he did it.”

Idgrod hums speculatively to herself. “Perhaps, perhaps, but on rumor and gossip, I cannot arrest anyone. However, outsiders like you may find something. Sift through the ashes that others are too fearful to touch. See what you discover.”


While nobody is really sure what they were expecting to find, least of all Gallus—who, as has been established, was and is an amnesiac—he’s fairly certain that the ghost of a little girl who may or may not have died in the fire isn’t it.

“Who’s there?” The ghost asks, clearly scared, and then her gaze finds Onmund. She perks up instantly, for whatever reason. “Is… is that you, Father?” Now it’s Onmund’s turn to look terrified.

“Umm… no, sorry,” he says quickly, not sounding sorry in the least. “Who are you?”

While Gallus figures it might have been easier if she had thought Onmund was her father, deceiving ghosts isn’t something he wants to make a habit of, especially not ghosts that also happen to be little girls that died long before their time. He’s already feeling terrible about this and he just got here.

“Helgi. But Father says I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Are you a stranger?”

“Um,” is all Onmund can get out, and the little girl—Helgi—looks suspicious.

“If you’re a stranger, then go away! All of you!”

She glares at Onmund, surprisingly fiercely for a child, and he backs up quickly. Gallus doesn’t really blame him.

“Go ahead,” Gallus finds himself offering with a shrug. “I’ve got this.”

Onmund doesn’t need to be told twice, J’zargo follows him in a heartbeat, and while Brelyna looks skeptical, Gallus sees her pull out her newly borrowed book before leaving.

“While I’m sure Onmund’s honored that you thought he looked like your father, he’s young enough to be your brother,” Gallus says quietly, offering the child ghost a smile. She doesn’t return it. “And while they might be strangers, I’m not.”

The lie comes easily, too easily. Now’s not the time to wonder what sort of a moral code he’d had pre-amnesia, though. That can wait, and has to.

“Are you sure you’re not a stranger?”

“No,” Gallus lies, and this time it comes even easier. “I’m a friend. Do you know what happened to your house?”

“The smoke woke me up. It was hot, and I was scared, so I hid. Then it got cold and dark. I’m not scared anymore. But I’m lonely. Will you play with me?”

Gallus’s enigmatic smile grows uneasy. Somehow, he gets the feeling that young children are not and never were his strong suit, but he’ll at least try. It’s debatable what ‘playing’ with a ghost will entail, anyway. Hopefully nothing too dangerous.

“If I do, will you tell me who set the fire?” He asks after a moment’s hesitation.

As far as children go, Helgi at least seems reasonable, and rational, which is more than can be said for some. And while Gallus isn’t certain, he’d like to think he’s halfway decent at reading people, and she seems trustworthy enough.

Admittedly, that might not apply to ghosts. But still.

“Okay! Let’s play hide and seek. You find me and I’ll tell you. We have to wait for nighttime, though. The other one is playing too, and she can’t come out until then.”

Nighttime… someone being unable to come out… something about this sounds important and vaguely familiar, but Gallus can’t quite place it. Instead, he files away the information for future reference, and hopes one of the others will be able to figure this out, because he isn’t entirely sure what will happen if he loses but it can’t be anything good.

“The other one?” Gallus asks. Helgi nods, but not with any enthusiasm. “What do you mean? Who’s that?”

“I can’t tell you,” Helgi says with more than a little anxiety in her words, and while Gallus would not have expected to ever see a ghost become a nervous wreck, that’s something he can cross off his nonexistent bucket list, or could have if it had been on there. Or, of course, if said nonexistent bucket list wasn’t nonexistent.

“She might hear me,” she continues in a hushed whisper. “She’s so close. If you can find me first, I’ll tell you.”

With that, Helgi disappears, leaving Gallus doubly confused as to what in Oblivion is going on here. On the bright side, there’s hours left until sunset, so he’s got plenty of time… probably.

Chapter Text

“Based on this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Movarth we’re looking for is almost certainly a vampire, considering that both he and the vampire priest mention a Tissina Gray who—I believe, I’m not certain—died in the Second Era,” Brelyna says. “I don’t have any of my books to cross-reference this, but if the priest didn’t kill Movarth, he almost certainly made him into a vampire… so the hunter became the hunted. Interesting.”

Onmund raises an eyebrow. “Interesting? Movarth the vampire-hunter-turned-vampire is somewhere around here.” He takes a large sip of his mead. “Which is not good at all for anyone involved, especially not us since we need to get that staff back. How are we going to do that if we can’t even find him?”

J’zargo shrugs. “Khajiit doesn’t know, but this one thinks we should focus on this burned house and who burned it before the sun sets, and not while we’re stumbling about in the dark. J’zargo would not be against staying here and letting Gallus do all the work, of course.”

Gallus can’t quite tell if he’s joking.

“I’d appreciate you not, I’d really rather not do this by myself,” Gallus mumbles, nursing a bottle of honestly-quite-shitty mead, and as he takes a sip, it suddenly hits him. “Wait… Brelyna. Vampires don’t come out during the daytime, correct?”

Brelyna nods, although she doesn’t seem to see where he’s going with this, not yet. “No, they don’t. It’s debatable what the true reason is and whether sunlight is only an annoyance or actually has the potential to kill one,” Brelyna says speculatively. All of a sudden her eyes go wide and she gets it. “You don’t mean to say…”

“Hroggar’s a vampire?” Onmund asks, and Gallus shakes his head. “True, it’s widely believed that vampires are sterile, and he has—had—a kid…”

“J’zargo thinks nobody needed to know that, but this is curious… what did the little ghost say?” Gallus thinks back, and tries to put together Helgi’s exact words. It’s harder than he expected.

“She said that we couldn’t ‘play’ until dark, because ‘the other one’ was playing,” Gallus says, and frowns before he can jump to any more conclusions. “Unfortunately, she did refer to this individual as a she, so it can’t be Movarth.”

“Unfortunately?”

“We do need to find him at some point.” Gallus sighs, drains the last of his drink, and stands. “It’s almost dark, and I’d like to get something of a head start. Are any of you coming, or am I doing this by myself? Because I definitely can. And if vampires are involved, I’d rather not get any of you killed.”

J’zargo shakes his head. “This one can see in the dark, without magelight, and is exceptionally good at finding things,” he says proudly, and stands as well. “J’zargo thinks Brelyna can stay behind to keep researching, and Onmund can help her.”

Brelyna shrugs. “Fine by me. Let me know if you find anything.”

Onmund, on the other hand, looks appalled.

“What? No!” Onmund stammers, making a move to get up. “I have to— oof !”

J’zargo and Gallus exchange unimpressed looks. Admittedly, Gallus keeps referring to the others in the group as ‘kids’, and while they are by comparison—in truth, he’s pretty sure they’re all of age to be drinking. Which is probably good, seeing as Onmund is clearly far too inebriated for this or much of anything. Gallus sighs, helps him back up into his chair.

“You’re staying with Brelyna,” Gallus says firmly, with a pleading look in Brelyna’s direction. She nods distractedly, clearly more interested in her book than anything else, and clearly this can only end well but it’s this or taking Onmund into what may or may not be combat with vampires drunk off his arse. “Let’s go.”

Gallus heads out, J’zargo hot on his heels. J’zargo might be a little shit sometimes, but he comes through when it counts. Like, for example, by casting a magelight for him to see by even though J’zargo doesn’t need it.

“So,” Gallus continues once they’ve reached the burned-down ruins of Hroggar’s house, “if you were a child ghost playing hide and seek with a mage that definitely isn’t a stranger, where would you be hiding?”

“If J’zargo was hiding,” he begins with a shrug, then stops, squints at something up on the hill. Gallus can’t see it, at first because the magelight doesn’t illuminate a very wide area and then because J’zargo extinguishes it.

“This one sees movement up there,” J’zargo hisses through his teeth. “Come on!”

He takes off, and Gallus barely bites back a curse because unlike J’zargo, he cannot, in fact, see in the dark.

Fortunately for him, the night’s somewhat moonlit by Masser and Secunda, and after a moment to let his eyes adjust at least somewhat, he continues up the hill—albeit cautiously, and quietly, and kind of wishing he’d brought a torch.

He’s almost halfway up when a woman’s voice cries out in alarm, and a lightning spell crackles to life. Gallus draws his sword and increases his pace as much as he dares.

By the time he gets there, there’s a dead woman collapsed on the ground next to an unearthed coffin, too small for anything save a child, and J’zargo looks visibly disturbed but otherwise none the worse for wear.

“J’zargo swears this isn’t what it looks like—oh, it’s you.” He sighs, relieved. “This one is hoping this isn’t anyone the town knows, although he’s not hoping too hard because she was a vampire.”

Gallus nods, and kneels next to the coffin. “Hiding in her own coffin… not a bad idea,” Gallus muses aloud, before touching it, and Helgi’s voice echoes out.

“You found me!” Helgi cheers, not at all visible, seemingly not at all perturbed by the fact that there’s now a dead vampire lying prone nearby. “Laelette was trying to find me too, but I’m glad you found me first.”

“Ah, that’s… good,” Gallus manages, realizing that the vampire not only had a name, but Helgi apparently knew it, and that means she’s probably a local and there are probably about to be some very pissed off relatives. Great. “So… do you know who set the fire?”

Might as well finish what they’re actually supposed to be doing. Which probably involved vampires from the start, really, but this is the first they’ve actually had to fight something. At least J’zargo had it under control.

“Laelette did. Laelette was told to burn Mommy and me, but she didn’t want to,” Helgi explains. “She wanted to play with me, forever and ever.”

J’zargo makes a disgusted noise, and Gallus really can’t say he blames him.

“Go on.”

“She kissed me on the neck, and I got so cold that the fire didn’t even hurt. Laelette thought she could take me and keep me, but she can’t. I’m all burned up.”

More disgusted noises from J’zargo—the poor kid sounds like he wants to throw up—and while Gallus isn’t certain about what’s going on here, he’s fairly certain of a few things. If Helgi is to be believed—which might not necessarily be a good idea, children do tend to embellish things—Hroggar did not, in fact, set the house fire. This vampire, Laelette, did, on someone else’s orders. And… she tried to turn Helgi into a vampire as well. Clearly, something went wrong there, and Gallus suspects Helgi’s glad it did.

“I’m tired,” Helgi continues in a much quieter voice, apparently not caring that Gallus is currently at a loss for words. “I’m going to sleep for a while now.”

As if that alone wasn’t bad enough, Gallus hears footsteps, and the fact that he can hear them means they’re definitely not J’zargo’s. He rises, not looking forward to this in the least, and turns to find a man who’s staring at the vampire’s—Laelette’s—corpse in shock.

“Laelette… she’s… she’s dead,” he realizes, then realizes something far more disturbing that both J’zargo and Gallus already knew. “Ysmir’s beard, she’s a vampire!” Gallus winces.

“Sorry,” Gallus apologizes, and figures that telling the man who almost certainly was close with this Laelette— married, perhaps? —that she was the one who set the house fire right now is probably a bad idea. “We’re… really sorry.”

J’zargo mumbles something under his breath in a language Gallus doesn’t recognize, but suspects was nothing flattering. Even so, he eventually nods.

“She was… she was my wife,” the man explains, with a pain in his eyes that tells all. “I thought she left to join the Stormcloaks. Ah! My poor Laelette…”

Gallus and J’zargo exchange guilty looks.

“What’s your name?” Gallus asks after a moment.

“Thonnir,” the man supplies. “Ysmir’s… Laelette, a vampire… I hadn’t heard from her, but I thought that was because the Stormcloaks were preparing for—well, war.”

“Well, Thonnir… did you notice anything strange before she left?” Gallus tries. “Anything out of the ordinary?” Thonnir thinks on this for a moment, then nods.

“She… began to spend a lot of time with Alva. Yet just a week before, she despised her. In fact, the night she disappeared, she was supposed to meet Alva.”

Gallus’ frown only deepens. “Alva… isn’t that the woman-”

“The woman Hroggar pledged his undying love to before the ashes of his home were cold, yes,” Thonnir agrees bitterly. “Alva told me later that Laelette never showed up. I never had a chance to say goodbye.”

“This one thinks they may have met after all,” J’zargo supplies, and while this is the logical conclusion, Thonnir reacts like he’s said something more along the lines of ‘the sky is purple’.

“You think Alva… but that means… Ye gods! You think Alva is a vampire?”

“J’zargo thinks —?”

“It’s a possibility we can’t ignore,” Gallus cuts in. “It… would make a lot of sense, actually-”

“No! You’re wrong. You must be wrong. Laelette must have met her fate out in the marsh!” Thonnir says firmly. “Alva can’t be a vampire. You can’t prove anything to the Jarl!”

With that, he leaves, and J’zargo looks to Gallus with a devious look in his eyes.

“J’zargo wonders if the Jarl will accept evidence stolen from Alva’s home in the dead of night,” he says craftily, but Gallus shakes his head.

“If she’s a vampire, she’ll be active during the night, and asleep during the day,” Gallus says. “Besides, if we’re breaking and entering, we’ll need the others to distract the guard.”

J’zargo nods, but he’s looking at Gallus funny, and with a hint of admiration that definitely wasn’t there before.

“J’zargo wonders if you’ve done this before?”

He’s not the only one.

“I don’t know,” Gallus says. Yet, if his gut is any indication, this won’t be his first time breaking the law, and likely won’t be his last either.


“So we’re not only breaking and entering, which is bad enough, but we’re doing it in the middle of the morning?” Onmund says incredulously. “If we’re going to break the law, can we at least do it in a way that we won’t get caught?”

J’zargo smirks. “This one would like to remind you that you are not going to be doing the breaking in. J’zargo and Gallus are going to be breaking in. You and Brelyna will be distracting the guard so we can break in.”

While the plan is far from foolproof, it’s the best they’ve got… even if Brelyna is shaking her head.

“I think it’ll be quite obvious that he and I are trying to distract from something else,” Brelyna says, with a mischievous grin on her features to rival J’zargo’s own that definitely means trouble. “J’zargo, maybe I could switch places with you and you could make sure the guards are looking everywhere but the door to Alva’s house? I think I can handle the lock.”

J’zargo considers this for a moment, then huffs and hands over the lockpicks. Six of them, the only ones they could find between all of them plus another bought from the local alchemist by Onmund, the most reputable-looking of the group.

“If you break them all, J’zargo will steal everything you hold dear when we get back to the College. So, this one wishes you both luck.”

With that, J’zargo heads off to go distract the local guard, Onmund not far behind, and the other two creep around the side of Alva’s house to pick the lock.

“Hang on, I’ve got this…” Brelyna murmurs, then visibly flinches and nearly falls down the steps as the pick she’s using snaps clean in two. “That is not supposed to happen. Let’s try that again…”

It breaks again, and it’s quite clear she’s pissed when she puts in another one, because it breaks even faster. She’s… not good at this.

“Let me try,” Gallus says, and Brelyna shrugs, hands him another pick, and backs off. He crouches next to the door with a frown, and while he’s not entirely sure how to pick the thing, this seems… familiar, somehow.

He angles the pick more to the left, then turns the lock just so, and the lock actually looks like it’s going to go before this pick too snaps. He puts in another one, angles this pick slightly less to the left, and turns it, oh so slowly…

It clicks, and the door’s open. There’s clear admiration in Brelyna’s eyes now, and—actually, something about this is familiar. Too familiar. Not Brelyna, but maybe—someone a fair bit older, someone who didn’t use magic. Someone very different, except—he knew someone. Someone who was dunmer, like her. Someone he was close to, possibly. Maybe.

He can’t place a name, though. Or much of anything beyond the fact that she was a dark elf—whoever she was. And really, this isn’t much to go by. He can’t exactly go up to every dunmer woman and ask if… yeah, not a good idea.

But—it’s something, at least.

“Hey, Gallus?” Brelyna asks, jolting him out of his thoughts. He glances up. “How did you do that? Also, can you teach me?”

“I don’t remember,” Gallus says.

That much is true, except that he’s beginning to get an idea of the kind of person he was pre-amnesia. He’d known his way around a lockpick, he was no stranger to breaking and entering…

His frown deepens, and he makes the decision to not think too hard about the implications of this right now, not until he’s back at the College and has at least some semblance of privacy.

“True, amnesia and all that, but… maybe you were a mercenary of some sort? A sellsword? Or just an adventurer?” Brelyna supplies helpfully, almost hopefully. “It’s not unheard of for people to go adventuring in places that have locked chests that need lockpicking…”

Gallus shrugs. “Maybe.”

The time to reconcile his past with his present isn’t now. It’s later. Now is the time to get into Alva’s house and find some sort of evidence of what she’s done, preferably before the guards figure out that the others are distracting them. Gallus gestures to the door with a somewhat forced smile and says, “After you.”

The two creep in, and everything’s quiet, and Gallus doesn’t have the faintest idea of where to begin looking, but—

“Stay away from Alva!”

This must be Hroggar, although Gallus supposes he too would draw a weapon on people who just broke into his home. He wouldn’t attack immediately, though. He would have given a warning first, and while Gallus quickly moves to draw his own sword, Brelyna shakes her head.

“Vampires can control their victims. Likely he’s not doing this out of his own free will, so… you’re the illusionist.”

“Right.”

He focuses, summons a spell to his free hand. To the untrained eye, it would simply appear as a mass of glowing green light—but to anyone with any experience with magic, it’s a charm to calm anyone hostile. He’s not entirely sure how it works, but—he’d assume it clouds their memory and their judgment, pushes them to listen before anything else.

Hroggar charges, both Brelyna and Gallus step out of the way, and he casts. It’s a direct hit. Hroggar blinks, looks around, confused—and Gallus knows he doesn’t have long. So, he doesn’t waste any more time.

“Out of… curiosity,” he says, “if we were looking for Alva, where would we find her?”

“The cellar,” Hroggar replies automatically. He looks more confused than anything else. “Where’s… where’s Alva?”

Gallus knows he only has a matter of time before his spell wears off, so he acts fast.

“She asked us to tell you that she needs some privacy, and to wait for her outside,” Gallus lies. “Female issues, you know?”

Hroggar nods, although he doesn’t seem to understand in the least. Gallus watches him go, and winces as he stumbles into the doorframe on the way out.

“Seems like he’s still partially under her spell, whatever it is,” Brelyna notes. “I hope it can be broken.”

Gallus nods, and the two head down the stairs.

“Me too.”

Naturally, it’s only once they’re in the cellar that he realizes Alva’s nowhere to be seen. There is a coffin, though, and inside it is a little leather book that looks suspiciously like a journal. After glancing around to make sure Alva isn’t planning to jump on them, he goes for it, opens it, and begins reading aloud. “‘My life is dreary. Where is my prince come to rescue me? Where is my bold nordic warrior to sweep me off my feet?’”

“That’s… juvenile, foolish for certain,” Brelyna murmurs, “but in no way evil.”

Gallus agrees, but he keeps looking anyway, because there has to be something here other than the fantasies of a woman with little to no love life and even less sense.

“‘I met a man today when picking nightflowers. He is exciting and exotic. We kissed in the moonlight. It was so romantic. I'm going to see him again tonight.’”

Brelyna looks mildly concerned. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Gallus nods, and continues reading.

“‘Now I understand the true colors of the night. Movarth has shown me the true black of night and the true red of blood. He has promised me a feast of blood if I do his bidding in Morthal.’” Gallus sighs, shuts the book. He’s read enough. “And she’s a vampire. That didn’t take long.”

“It really didn’t,” Brelyna observes. “Anything more?”

“Yeah, but we should get out of here before—”

“Did you actually think I would let you leave? How cute.”

Gallus realizes far too late that it’s not Brelyna who’s spoken. It’s Alva the vampire herself, who is currently blocking the one and only way out, and they’re definitely not getting out of this one without a fight. Gallus unsheathes his sword, Brelyna summons some sort of spirit wolf from Oblivion, and Alva readies some sort of spell that Gallus is willing to bet she can only use because of her vampirism.

Possibly the same spell she used on Hroggar, probably some very powerful illusion magic if that’s the case—wait. Wait . If he can get his spell cast first...

“Yes, actually,” Gallus says, and all eyes are on him. Behind his back, he calls up the same charm he’d used on Hroggar. “If you kill us, our friends know we’re here and will hunt you down if the law doesn’t first. So you should really let us go.”

He moves to cast, but Alva’s spell—a deep blood red—catches him in the chest first.

His sword slips from his fingers, falling to the wooden floor with a distant clatter. Everything’s distant—he can’t—there’s others here, but who

The fog across his thoughts lifts in an instant, and he sees Alva, knocked to the ground by the glowing blue silhouette of a wolf. A familiar, undoubtedly conjured up by Brelyna.

“Are you okay?” She asks, looking concerned.

Gallus manages a quick nod, moves to pick up his sword—but by then, there’s no need for it. For all her bold words, Alva hadn’t been able to defend herself from something immune to whatever spell she’d used, such as creatures summoned from another world.

“Yes,” Gallus says, stepping over Alva’s body gingerly as Brelyna’s familiar dissipates back into Oblivion, sensing its job is complete. “I think so. Let’s... go find the others. Think they’ll believe that these things are connected?”

He holds the door for Brelyna. As she heads out, she shrugs. “They’ll have to, once we take a closer look at her journal. The Jarl probably won’t be pleased that we stole it, but if worst comes to worst, Alva probably wrote down where we can find Movarth. We can just get the staff and get out.”

Gallus nods. “I’m perfectly okay with pretending none of this ever happened once we get back to the College.”

She sighs. “You and me both.”


 

After everything they had to do to get to Movarth, the battle itself was child’s play between a bunch of kids who knew what they were doing when it came to magic and… Gallus. The amnesiac chaperone who helped, a little, somewhat. Maybe. No one died, at least—and then, they went back to report to the Jarl.

This would have been fine, except that Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone seems a little too interested in Gallus. And—well, he’s not that old. He’s not sure how old he is, honestly, but he’s pretty sure it falls somewhere between the kids from the College and the Jarl. Probably on the younger side. Hopefully on the younger side.

“Regardless of your initial intentions, you have all done Morthal a service, and we will not forget it,” Jarl Idgrod concludes with an enigmatic smile. “But before you go… is it at all possible for me to speak with you, Gallus, in private?”

And there it is. Gallus’ gut tells him to say no, to get out of here before—something, probably something bad. But he’s curious. Apparently, she can see the future. So maybe, just maybe… it’s worth a shot. And if push comes to shove, he’s a fast runner.

“It’s no problem,” Gallus lies. The kids shoot him concerned looks as they file out, but he’s soon alone with the Jarl.

Well, with the Jarl and her steward, Aslfur, and he’s fairly certain the two of them are romantically involved at the very least, quite possibly married.

“Did you see something?” He blurts out. “Involving... me?”

“I have,” Idgrod says grimly.

Gallus should be ecstatic, and yet the manner in which she says it catches him off-guard.

“You do not have an easy path laid ahead of you,” she continues, “that much is certain. While there is much you cannot know, I will tell you this: you will want to find an archer.”

Gallus’ confusion must be apparent, because she smiles knowingly. “Literally… any archer, or someone specific?”

“Someone specific, someone quite specific,” and she’s definitely smirking now, oh dear gods, what he would give to know what exactly she’d seen, or who exactly she’d seen. “You will want to find her sooner rather than later, as she will be quite helpful to you, I think. Of course, it’s equally likely she will find you before you find her. Time will tell, oh yes, time will tell.”

“Idgrod, are you trying to help this man, or confuse him?” Aslfur asks, sighs, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, she can be… eccentric.”

Idgrod’s smirk grows. “That’s not the half of it, husband, and you know it,” she says—wait, they are married, good to know—then returns her attention to him. “I suppose what you need to know is this: the archer is your ally. You will know who I refer to when the time is right.”

Gallus supposes he would, but he’s still very, very confused. “I… alright.” He sucks in a breath, starts edging towards the door. “Goodbye then?”

He leaves without waiting for a response from the Jarl. When the others ask him later what happened, he just shrugs.

“Apparently,” Gallus mutters, “she had a vision involving me. Why she couldn’t explain what it was normally, I can’t figure out, but I suppose I need to keep an eye out for an archer?”

Both Brelyna and J’zargo look at him like he’s crazy, but Onmund, on the other hand, nods solemnly. Granted, he’s the only one here native to Skyrim—Gallus might be, but he doesn’t remember it.

“That’s Jarl Idgrod for you,” he says dryly, and hefts his pack. “We... should probably get going.”

Nobody disagrees. According to Brelyna the stench should be gone by the time they actually get back to the College, and if push comes to shove they could always stay in the Frozen Hearth for a few days.

Chapter Text

As it happens, Brelyna’s cleaning potion worked like a charm, of course minus the whole stinking-for-days side effect. That was… unpleasant, but apparently things like these happen quite often at the College, so nobody got in trouble. In the end, J’zargo bravely volunteered to deliver the hopefully-no-longer-ruined books to Urag.

He hasn't returned yet, but he did say that they’d probably hear the screaming if it didn’t go well, and Gallus at least hasn’t heard any screaming. Yet.

“Shouldn't we have checked if your potion worked before giving the books to J’zargo?” Gallus asks suddenly, glancing up from the spell tone he's currently attempting to learn from. Brelyna’s currently engrossed in a significantly less weathered copy of Immortal Blood, and if the amount of other books around her are any indication, she's researching something that probably has everything to do with the whole Movarth thing. Vampirism, maybe. He thinks he can recognize Alva’s journal, too, but the other books don't look at all familiar or particularly interesting.

“Probably,” Brelyna agrees, sounding more than a little distracted by whatever it is she’s working on. She looks up herself, sees only Gallus, and frowns. “When did Onmund leave? And… what are you doing?”

Gallus closes his spell tome, and stares at the cover, as if doing that will help him learn the contents. Probably won’t, but it can’t be any less effective.

“Not sure, but he said something about going to see if Enthir was back,” Gallus says, tracing a finger along the design on the cover. “And… this is a book on invisibility. Borrowed it from Drevis. Considering that he doesn't have the best of reputations with that particular spell, I thought I might try something different.”

Brelyna nods in understanding. “Any luck?”

Gallus shrugs half-heartedly.

“I'm guessing that's a no?”

“It's a solid ‘kind of’,” he says. “This does seem vaguely familiar, but not to the point where I know how to cast it. I think… I certainly looked into it at some point. The annotations don’t help, in fact I’m fairly certain I could figure it out sooner if I had a different copy…”

He frowns, puts it down, and it’s then that Onmund throws the door to the apprentice hall open, clearly panicked, and so out of breath he can barely get a word out.

“Did you run all the way here?” Brelyna asks curiously, and receives a nod. She sighs. “If you’re going to insist on that, then you should at least exercise more often. You’ll be a lot less out of breath.”

Onmund shakes his head, still breathing so heavily that Gallus is somewhat surprised he hasn’t fallen over yet.

“Did Urag kill J’zargo?” Gallus asks, which seems to him like a vastly more important matter than Onmund’s exercise habits.

“No,” Onmund gasps out, “but Ancano dragged him off to gods-know-where, and he’s looking for the rest of us now, and I—what does he even want?”

“I trust you all are familiar with the Psijic Order?”

Heads turn to see Mirabelle Ervine, the Master Wizard herself, with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face that seems to only be present when Ancano is involved.

“Of course we are!” Onmund says indignantly. “What does that have to do with anything? Where’s J’zargo?”

Gallus actually has no idea what or who the Psijic Order is, but he’s not about to say as much. Someone will mention it eventually. Or, if not, he can figure it out on his own later.

“The Arch-Mage’s quarters. No, he’s not in trouble, and neither are you, although I’m going to need you to come with me, all of you, right now.”

She turns and leaves, clearly expecting everyone to follow her despite the notable lack of an explanation. After exchanging glances, Onmund and Brelyna do so. Gallus only hesitates a little before grabbing his spell tome, stuffing it in his bag, and doing the same.


When the group reaches the Arch-Mage’s quarters, Gallus recognizes Ancano immediately, unfortunately. J’zargo’s standing off to the side, looking particularly uncomfortable and making an effort to keep the others in the room between him and Ancano but otherwise okay. Gallus doesn’t recognize the dunmer in faded grey robes, nor the altmer in an odd-looking yellow. Mirabelle nods to the dark elf, and as he turns to face them, Gallus realizes this must be the Arch-Mage. Which begs the question: who’s the other altmer?

“I’ve brought the others, Savos,” Mirabelle says unnecessarily, with a nod in the direction of the Arch-Mage… Savos? She then returns her attention to their visitor. “Now, what do you—”

Something’s changed in the air around them, and considering that Mirabelle abruptly stopped talking, it’s certainly something big. She, the Arch-Mage, and Ancano appear to be frozen in place, or perhaps frozen in time. Gallus glances around, and while J’zargo seems to be on the verge of freaking out, he and Gallus are notably not frozen. Brelyna and Onmund, on the other hand, are.

The yellow-robed altmer clears his throat, and that’s when J’zargo loses it.

“What did you do to them?” J’zargo asks indignantly.

There’s a dangerous edge to his words that Gallus suspects might not be there if Brelyna and Onmund weren’t frozen in time too. The elf raises his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“I’ve merely given us a chance to speak privately.”

Considering he’s getting a mix of both clueless and annoyed from J’zargo alone right now, he sighs and adds, “I’ve slowed down time for us and us alone. It will resume as normal very soon, so I must be brief. The situation here at your College is of dire importance, and attempts to contact you as we have previously have failed.”

Gallus glances to J’zargo, who suddenly looks very nervous.

“Previously?” Gallus asks, and that’s when the mage presumably from the Psijic Order looks at him, seemingly noticing him only now, and frowns.

“You were supposed to be left out of this,” the mage muses aloud. He shrugs. “No matter. I do not have time to rework the spell, and we cannot contact you otherwise. I believe it is due to the very source of our concern. This object... the Eye of Magnus as your people have taken to calling it. The energy coming from it has prevented us from reaching you with the visions you have already seen. The longer it remains here, the more dangerous the situation becomes. And so I have come here personally to tell you it must be dealt with."

“Dealt with?” J’zargo asks, curiosity in his words. “J’zargo thinks that if it’s that dangerous, the Psijic Order would do a much better job than this one or anyone here.”

“Perhaps, but I'm afraid it's not that simple. You must understand, the Psijic Order does not typically... intervene directly in events. My presence here will be seen as an affront to some within the Order, and as soon as we have finished, I will be leaving your College. I'm all too aware that my arrival has aroused suspicion, especially in Ancano, your Thalmor associate, which is why I asked for all of the apprentices instead of just you. Nevertheless, my Order will not act directly. You must take it upon yourself to do so."

“Sounds like your Order likes watching us suffer,” Gallus remarks, not wanting to steal J’zargo’s thunder but not wanting to remain quiet, either.

“You’re... not entirely wrong.” He sighs. “But I did not come here and bend time itself to complain about my fellows, tempting though the possibility is. The Eye of Magnus… it must be contained, before it is too late for this College. And you… J’zargo, was it? You must be the one to do it.”

J’zargo’s tail lashes back and forth and back and forth, and while he's usually something of an open book, Gallus really isn't sure how he's taking this.

“Khajiit obviously has no problems with saving the College, but why this one? Why J’zargo? Why not Brelyna, or Onmund, or Gallus?”

The fact that he thought of Gallus last doesn't go unnoticed, but Gallus supposes this is to be expected. He's not truly a mage, after all, and he never will be. Whatever he was, whoever he was before waking up with no memory, no sense of who he was… he was no mage. That much, he's certain of.

Of course, if he wasn't a mage, then that begs the question: what is he still doing here, at a College for mages? It's unlikely at best that he knew anyone here, and while Gallus doesn't really know much of anything pertaining to the rest of Skyrim, he's reasonably certain that Winterhold is rather remote, so the odds of him running into anyone who recognizes him are… not good.

If nothing else, he supposes he's curious: about magic, about the region, about learning in general. Something he's noticed, and likely would have missed had he passed up the College, is that learning gives him a strange sort of thrill he simply can't seem to get out of anything else he's tried so far. He genuinely loves learning, although… Drevis, and perhaps some of the other instructors, are far better mages than they are teachers.

Gallus is fine with that. He much prefers reading a spell tone and teaching himself the material than sitting through another of Drevis’ lectures on the Doomstones that literally has nothing to do with illusion magic in the least.

“Conjuration is frowned upon by my order, and your friend Brelyna specializes in it,” the Psijic says. “Onmund… has potential, yes, but I’m afraid he will not unlock the full extent of it before it’s too late. You, and you alone, can do this, J’zargo.”

At this point, J’zargo looks over the moons, and Gallus supposes that if he were in J’zargo’s position, he would feel the same. However, seeing as he’s not, he’s more than a little suspicious.

“Why does it have to be him?” Gallus asks curiously. “I mean… theoretically, anyone here could do it. I could do it, although I’d rather not personally, I'm perfectly happy to leave it to J’zargo, just curious.”

The Psijic studies him for a time, and all of a sudden it occurs to Gallus that he's not the only one who’s curious.

“You have a different path ahead of you, although I cannot say what comprises it,” the Psijic says at last. “I for one will certainly be looking into how you were included in my spell, because you certainly should not have been. However, I am getting off-topic again.”

He clears his throat. “As you may have already learned, this object, this Eye, is immensely powerful. This world is not ready for it. If it remains here, it will be misused. Indeed, many in the Order believe it has already…” He pauses, and amends his words. “Rather, something will happen soon, something that cannot be avoided.”

J’zargo scowls. “This one thinks that if it cannot be avoided, then he’s better off not trying to stop it.”

“You misunderstand. We believe that your efforts should be directed toward dealing with the aftermath, but we cannot predict what that will be.”

“Fine, then,” J’zargo says after a moment. “This one will help, even if this one has no idea what to do.”

He looks to the Psijic hopefully, who shakes his head. “Unfortunately, the future is as obscured to us as it is to you. The overwhelming power of the Eye makes it difficult for us to see.” The Psijic frowns, considering something, and Gallus can tell the moment he makes his decision. He closes his eyes, and sighs. “I fear I have already overstepped the bounds of my Order, but I will offer this: seek out the Augur of Dunlain. His perception may yet be more coherent than ours.”

“Who is the Augur of Dunlain?” J’zargo asks. He glances in Gallus’ direction hopefully.

Unfortunately for him, Gallus is just as clueless as he is.

“He was once a student here. Now, he is… something different, but he remains here, in your College. Where, I cannot say. Surely one of your colleagues must know his location.” He clears his throat. “I am sorry I cannot provide you with further help, but this conversation requires a great deal of effort on my part, and I am afraid I must leave you. We will continue to watch over you, and guide you as best we can. It is within you to succeed. Never forget that.”

With that, the room returned to normal, and so did everyone else.

“—want?” Mirabelle finishes asking, completely unaware of what just took place. The Psijic does a remarkably good job of looking confused.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, “I’m afraid I don't understand.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Ancano demands, crossing his arms and all but getting in the Psijic’s face. The Psijic looks remarkably unintimidated, and the couple inches he has on Ancano in height likely help. “Don't play coy. You asked to see all of the apprentices currently in the College. Here they are. Now, what is it that you want?”

“Would you have preferred it if I asked for a specific member, perhaps yourself?” The Psijic asks, and while his mouth is set in a grim line, Gallus thinks he can detect a hint of mischief in his eyes. Ancano opens his mouth to retort, then closes it. “Regardless, there's been a misunderstanding. Clearly, I should not be here. I shall simply take my leave.”

He nods to the Arch-Mage and Mirabelle, who’s by now taken up position next to him, and turns to leave. Unfortunately for him, the local Thalmor agent is not anywhere near done.

“What? What trickery is this? You’re not going anywhere until I find out what you’re up to.”

The Arch-Mage takes a nearly-silent step forward, but says nothing yet.

“I am not ‘up’ to anything,” the Psijic replies calmly, and then, without a trace of sincerity in his words, he adds, “I apologize if I have offended you in any way. Now, if you would be so kind as to move…”

Ancano doesn't budge. The only indication he gives initially of having heard the other high elf is when he drops one of his hands to his side, and while what he's doing is visibly obscured, the faint crackle of some sort of lightning spell can be heard.

“We shall see about this,” Ancano says with all the confidence of a Thalmor agent stationed at the College of Winterhold instead of somewhere much warmer. He doesn't back down, neither does the Psijic, and it's only then that the Arch-Mage finally steps in.

“Ancano, that is quite enough,” the Arch-Mage orders, and continues, completely undaunted by the scathing glare he's now getting from Ancano. “Assaulting a member of the Psijic Order is overstepping your authority here by far, and—”

“Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary,” the Psijic says, seemingly unconcerned, then returns his attention to Ancano. “Should you continue to obstruct my path, I will not hold back.”

For a few, terse moments, Gallus is quite certain that Ancano will attack first or at the very least not move, but eventually he does so and the Psijic leaves.


“So the Psijic mage actually talked to you and Gallus, and told you to find this Augur of Dunlain?” Onmund asks, for perhaps the fiftieth time or so.

J’zargo nods proudly for the fiftieth time or so. He's certainly enjoying himself.

“That he did,” Gallus agrees, “although he was really only talking to J’zargo. He didn't mean for me to be listening in.”

While J’zargo’s ego really doesn't need any more stoking at this point, it can't hurt to set the record straight. Although, Gallus is still wondering why the Psijic’s spell had included him, when it left out everyone else. Of course, he's not wondering particularly hard, because right now they have bigger problems, like finding the Augur of Dunlain.

“Still, a Psijic …”

Needless to say, Onmund is still a little starstruck, but it's then that Brelyna returns without the armful of books Gallus was expecting. She takes a seat in the vacant chair, and as J’zargo recasts the fire rune in the doorway, she sighs.

“Urag didn't have anything,” she mumbles despondently. “He always has something. Always. J’zargo, are you certain the Augur is somewhere in the College?”

J’zargo nods. “This one distinctly remembers the Psijic saying that the Augur of Dunlain is here, in the College. So he has to be. Somewhere. There has to be somewhere we’re missing.”

“So,” Gallus says quietly, “where do we know he isn't? We can at least narrow things down some.”

“I don't think he's in the Arcaneum,” Brelyna offers. “I think Urag would probably know about him then.”

“He's probably not anywhere in here,” Onmund adds, “unless he’s, you know… invisible?”

“Doubt it,” Gallus says. “He'd have to be continuously re-casting it, and nobody has that much magicka.”

That, and the spell itself is quite difficult, but if the Psijic Order thinks this Augur could help, difficult spells are likely trivial to him.

If that turns out to be the case, Gallus wonders if this Augur would make a better teacher than Drevis, at least when it comes to invisibility. But J’zargo’s mission comes first, at least for now.

“J’zargo thinks he would have known if—”

“What about the Midden?” Onmund asks, and receives blank stares from everyone present. “You know… what's under the College?”

“How have you heard about this place and I haven't?” Brelyna says, clearly questioning this. Usually, it’s the other way around.

Onmund shrugs. “Tolfdir was saying something about… visiting someone down there? It might have been the Augur of Dunlain, but we’ll have to get down there first, and it’s off-limits without written permission after… I’m not sure, some sort of accident.”

“Of course it is,” J’zargo mutters, and Gallus is fairly certain he isn’t the only one exasperated here. “J’zargo is not causing the distraction this time.”

As it happens, he doesn’t have to.

Chapter Text

"Truly, you’ve done what I could not?” Drevis asks, more than a little incredulous. Gallus nods. “Well, then, let’s see!” Gallus nods again, and makes a point of not looking in the direction of the others. It’s a stroke of luck that Drevis is the one making sure nobody sneaked into the Midden, and seeing as Gallus happens to be the illusionist out of the group…

He can’t say he wasn’t hoping to talk to the Augur of Dunlain himself, but that’s beside the point. He’s got a job to do, and he’s damn well going to do it.

“Can we… maybe do this inside?” Gallus asks, shivering a little. It’s not entirely faked, because for one thing it’s the middle of the night, and the College is freezing even in the daytime. At night, you really don’t want to be outside without some form of frost resistance. “P-please? What are you doing out here at this time… anyway?”

Drevis frowns. “Just between you and me, I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on the Midden. There are ice wraiths down there, you know! Of course, I suppose it will be fine if we just step inside for a spell, and my potion is beginning to wear off regardless.”

He seems completely unaware of the pun he just made, and Gallus is honestly too cold at this point to do much other than follow him inside and hope he can actually pull this off. The distraction, not necessarily the spell, although he wouldn’t mind being able to pull off the spell, too.


“So,” Drevis says cheerily, “let’s see it!”

Gallus nods, and focuses his magicka. At this point, he’s fairly certain that the reason Drevis can’t seem to make it work is perception alone, and Gallus hopes his own is different enough to work.

“Just a moment,” he murmurs, and closes his eyes.

Drevis’ goal with invisibility is and has always been to be invisible to others. While the spell tome on the subject was confusing at best, one sentence, scrawled in the margins at the very end by someone who certainly wasn’t Drevis, sticks out to him.

To pass unseen by others, you must first hide from yourself.

With that in mind, he casts. The small gasp from Drevis isn’t what tells him he succeeded. Neither is opening his eyes and holding a now-invisible hand up to his face. Gallus feels different somehow, and while he can’t quite put a name to the feeling, he can instinctively tell what it means.

“Well,” Gallus whispers, not quite believing it himself. He looks down, and finds that he’s completely and utterly invisible.

Of course, the spell only lasts all of two seconds before his concentration breaks and he’s suddenly fully visible again, but all of two seconds is more than enough to render Drevis—and Gallus himself—speechless.

“Well, you’ll need to work on it in order to maintain the spell for longer than that,” Drevis says after a long silence, “but—” He hesitates again, and not without reason. “How did you do it?”

Gallus digs around in his bag, and pulls out the spell tome. Opening it to the final page, he passes it over to Drevis, who studies it appraisingly.

“This helped a lot,” Gallus admits. “The annotation at the end. It’s not the same handwriting as yours. Where did you get it?” Drevis thinks on this for a moment.

“Normally, I get my spell tomes from Urag, but he would have ripped whoever brought this in limb from limb. It’s possible I got it from the Arch-Mage, except that’s certainly not his handwriting. Perhaps Enthir, then. He finds himself in possession of discarded spell tomes quite often, although we all know better than to ask where he found them.”

“Enthir?”

He’s definitely heard the name before… right, the mage who sent Onmund into a vampire conspiracy to get his family amulet back. Still, that’s basically all Gallus knows about him.

“Who’s that?” He asks.

“Ah, yes, you wouldn’t have met him, would you?” Drevis muses to himself, before shaking his head. “No matter. All you need to know is that he is not the kind of mage you should be associating yourself with. The Arch-Mage tolerates him solely because the College is in bad enough shape as it is, and kicking him out isn’t worth the trouble. Now, do you mind if I borrow this?”

It takes Gallus a few moments to realize he’s talking about the spell tome, and he nods.

“It’s yours anyway.”

He’s talking to an empty room. The nod was all Drevis needed as confirmation, and by now he’s long gone. Somehow, he gets the feeling that the Midden will be unguarded for some time, so with his job done, he… could slip down there and meet the Augur himself.

But on the other hand… he’s figured it out. He’s managed to turn himself invisible, and—if he can do it once, he can do it again. He just needs practice, because turning invisible for two seconds is… useful, but not as useful as say, ten. Or twenty. Or a solid minute.

He can do this, and it’ll take them a while to get back in any case.


“So, did you find anything?” Gallus asks. He glances up as the others tramp back in, J’zargo shaking the snow out of his tail with an annoyed hiss.

It's a rhetorical question, because considering that they spent literally all night down in the Midden, they had to have found something.

Onmund nods, then proceeds to head into his room a little too quickly. If the muffled thump from that direction is any indication, he just collapsed onto his bed and proceeded to pass out. He did look pretty tired. They all do, but he seemed the most tired.

“We found the Augur,” Brelyna supplies with a frown. “He was… interesting.”

“Interesting is not how J’zargo would put it. More like confusing.”

Brelyna hums speculatively. She doesn't disagree.

“We need to find the Staff of Magnus,” Onmund says, although he sounds pretty muffled and Gallus is reasonably certain he’s talking with his face buried in a pillow. He was reasonably certain that Onmund had passed out on his bed, however, and clearly he hasn’t, not yet.

“Right,” Gallus agrees. “Remind me what that is?”

Based on the way Onmund referred to the Staff of Magnus, it has to be something important, and while Gallus might have known what it was pre-amnesia, he certainly doesn’t know. He doesn’t even know who or what Magnus is.

“It’s the staff that was supposedly made and used by Magrus himself,” J’zargo says, with an excited note to his voice that Gallus has only heard in the past when powerful magical artifacts are brought up.

“Magrus—most people call him Magnus—is the god of magic,” he adds hastily, solely to help Gallus out—which is much appreciated.

That does sound impressive, it doesn’t explain much about the staff or why J’zargo’s going to need it. But he figures that much can wait.

“Alright. Do we have any idea where it is?”

Brelyna nods. “The Augur told us to ask Arch-Mage Aren about it, so we did, that’s why we were out all night. Of course, we might have gotten in earlier if J’zargo hadn’t stood there for at least twenty minutes stammering about how great it was to actually talk to him.”

J’zargo visibly stiffens, and Gallus suspects that if it weren’t for the fur covering his face, he might be visibly blushing, too.

“J’zargo was being respectful !”

“Last I checked, that wasn’t being respectful,” Brelyna says with the very smallest of smirks. “That, my friend, was kissing arse.”

J’zargo mumbles something under his breath, something that more likely than not is a curse of some kind in… the khajiti language.

Gallus doesn’t quite remember what it’s called. He should ask J’zargo at some point. Maybe not now though.

“So, what did the Arch-Mage say?” He asks instead.

Brelyna shrugs. “Not much, honestly not surprised there, Mirabelle does run basically everything around here, so we went to talk to her next. Apparently a group of mages from the Synod came by not too long ago looking for it, and they went to this dwemer ruin that I definitely can't pronounce the name of but we know where it is. Want to come?”

“Sure,” Gallus says, and adds the Synod to the mental list of things he should know of and doesn't. “Right now?”

J’zargo shakes his head. “Khajiit thinks we all will do much better with some sleep, and J’zargo is fairly sure that Onmund’s already out.”

He waits for Onmund to argue, and is greeted with silence, and then some well-timed snoring that can't be from anyone but him.

“Sleep first,” Gallus agrees. “Right. Good idea.”

It’s then, naturally, that the exhaustion of staying up all night finally hits him.


As it happens, not one of the four had ever been inside a dwemer ruin before—or at least, if Gallus had he could remember it about as well as everything else. Which is to say, not at all. Consequently, not one of the four had any idea what they were getting into or just how dangerous dwemer ruins were, or at least not until they encountered a dying mage from the Synod who muttered something about a crystal before dying completely.

While the group did have strength in numbers, all four were apprentices, and therefore not at all prepared for somewhere that could take down an actual mage. Everyone had their guard up from then on, and kept their guard up, and as it happens… encountering that dying mage might just have saved all their lives.

Falmer showed up every now and then, nasty blind creatures that might have been significantly less murderous snow elves once upon a time, but they never had much of an element of surprise. Between J’zargo’s lightning and Onmund’s ice and fire, Brelyna’s various conjured creatures, and Gallus’ passable swordsmanship, they weren’t doing too badly.

The machinery that showed up far too often to try and kill them in more ways than one was… not pleasant, but between the four of them, even a dwemer sphere wasn’t too difficult to take out once they figured out to keep it from focusing on any one of them.

They’re relatively far in when Gallus decides it can’t hurt to try something new, a spell to detect anything nearby. It might just have saved all their lives another time over, because unless he’s cast the spell wrong—and he feared he hasn’t—they’re surrounded.

Gallus curses under his breath and slowly, quietly, he unsheathes his sword. Then, in a low voice, he says, “There’s too many of them around us to fight. We need to run… actually I’ll see what I can do to distract them, then catch up with you. Sound good?”

J’zargo looks like he wants to argue, but thinks better of it when he sees the spell Gallus is readying in his other hand. He nods, and looks to the others.

“Be careful,” Brelyna whispers.

Gallus silently agrees, and as the others take off further into the ruins, he turns to face the horde that’s gathered behind them, now realizing they’ve lost their surprise. He realizes quite suddenly that the falmer must be significantly more intelligent than he’d been assuming until now, because to amass this many in one place while still remaining concealed…

There’s also the whole issue that they seem to be waiting for something, waiting for him to do something, possibly to run. He takes advantage of their indecision by aiming the spell—one of a deep reddish hue—where it’ll do the most damage and, before he can change his mind, he casts.

Within seconds, at least a dozen falmer begin attacking the other ones, and only then does Gallus run. He doesn’t hear anything chasing him, which is definitely good, and it’s not long before he catches up with the others. Which, considering that there’s a door that J’zargo is currently unsuccessfully trying to pick open in the way of any progression, certainly isn’t a good thing.

“They won’t be distracted for long,” Gallus says as he walks up, sheathing his sword as he does so. “Is this the only way forward?”

Onmund nods. “Looks like it.” He glances uneasily in the direction Gallus came from. “How long do we have?”

“The spell is supposed to wear off in about half a minute. After that, it’s entirely possible the falmer will keep attacking each other, but it’s equally likely that they’ll regroup. Either way, we don’t have long. J’zargo, can I try?”

J’zargo nods, moves from the door, and passes the lockpicks to Gallus. Unfortunately, it’s quickly evident that this lock isn’t remotely easy to pick in the least… and Gallus knows better than the others that if they can’t get in, they’re essentially sitting ducks.

“This isn’t working,” Gallus mutters at last, after breaking an embarrassing amount of lockpicks, and passes them back over to J’zargo, who begins to try again without much success. “There’s got to be another way in, unless you feel like fighting your way out.”

Brelyna shakes her head. “We could try knocking?”

J’zargo shakes his head, then winces as another pick snaps clean in half. “This one thinks there won’t be anyone in there, or if there is, Synod researchers won’t be likely to let Winterhold mages in.” As he says the words, another pick breaks, and he mutters a curse. “But J’zargo also thinks we have nothing to lose at this point.”

Brelyna nods, hesitates, then raps on the door as loudly as she dares.

J’zargo slips the picks back into his bag, stands up, and backs up as the four wait.

“Guess we’re fighting,” Onmund concludes, and as the first of the Falmer rounds the corner, Gallus catches it in the face with a spell designed to make it more afraid of them then they are of it.

It stares at them, its eyes go wide, it flees, and only then does Gallus return his attention to the door. As Gallus realizes that Brelyna’s knock has had absolutely no effect in the least, his heart sinks, and—

“Ah, good! You brought the crystal,” someone calls from within.

Gallus looks to the others, confused. Onmund mouths crystal? while J’zargo just looks completely and utterly lost.

Fortunately, Brelyna, at least, seems to know what the person inside is talking about. She opens her pack, and pulls out some sort of… well, Gallus isn’t at all certain what it is but it definitely looks crystal-like.

“I found it on one of the Falmer near the entrance,” Brelyna supplies under her breath. She doesn’t get a chance to explain further, because it’s then the door opens just a bit.

A middle-aged man in faded blue robes who’s unmistakably a researcher of some sort peers out at them, decides that they’re not Falmer, and opens it just wide enough for everyone to fit through.

“Come in, come in! Hurry!”

Nobody has to be told twice. As the others head in, and a couple more Falmer round the corner, Gallus catches the first of them in the face with another spell, then turns and dashes in.

He’s not a moment too soon, either, because the researcher slams it shut and quickly replaces the broken Dwemer machinery he’d had bracing the door. Whatever it is, it looks heavy, and Gallus figures that even if he or J’zargo had managed the lock, the door wouldn’t have opened. Not with that on the other side.

“Just a moment,” the researcher mutters, having apparently figured out that the group was not, in fact, from the Synod, “who do you think you are? Interfering with official Synod business, are we?”

Gallus wonders what gave it away.

“No, but the Falmer were,” Onmund says first, then winces. “They, uh… killed your assistant?”

The researcher stares at him blankly.

“The… guy at the entrance?” Gallus tries, and receives another blank look.

“He said something about a crystal before dying?” Brelyna offers.

At the word crystal, the researcher’s eyes go wide. Gallus supposes it says something about the Synod that they’re more concerned with items than people, and not a very good something, either.

“Yes, my focusing crystal, or more accurately my focusing crystal replacement,” he says. Brelyna quickly produces said crystal. “Yes, yes, that’s it. I was wondering what was taking them so long.”

The researcher smiles . It’s not necessarily a pleasant smile, though. If Gallus had to pick a word to describe it, he would pick something more along the lines of calculating. It’s unsettling for sure.


All in all, the Synod researcher isn’t particularly helpful, but the group does learn two important pieces of information, despite the researcher’s best efforts to not give them anything.. One, the Staff of Magnus is in somewhere called Labyrinthian… either that or something similarly powerful is there. Either way, Gallus has no idea where it is. Neither does J’zargo. Brelyna can vaguely recall having heard the name before, but all she knows is that the place was in Skyrim. Onmund knows the general area, but he’s never been to the place and doesn’t know how to get there.

This would be a problem if it weren’t for the second important thing learned: something at the College is causing an extreme amount of magical interference, and it doesn’t take a full-fledged mage to know that isn’t good.

For containing something causing an extreme amount of magical interference not two days ago, things seem surprisingly normal at the College. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, and everyone’s practically asleep on their feet regardless. It is the middle of the night. In the end, Gallus volunteers to take the hit and let someone know that they’re back. In all honesty, though, if he’d known what he was getting himself into…

If he’d known what he was getting himself into ahead of time, he wouldn’t have gone alone. He would have woken up J’zargo at the very least, and possibly the others too. Of course, there was no way Gallus possibly could have known what he was getting himself into ahead of time, not until he entered the Hall of Elements and found two of the most important people in the College just outside some sort of magical barrier.

“I don't know,” Mirabelle Ervine is saying as Gallus walks up. “It's like a ward, but who's casting it? Ancano? How?"

The Arch-Mage shakes his head, and Gallus doesn’t need to see his face to tell he’s exceedingly pissed off. “I don't care what it is, I want it down now. I want to know what he's doing in—”

His gaze meets Gallus’ own, and he suddenly stops. Gallus stares back, more than a little confused.

“What are you doing here?” Aren asks, earning an equally confused look from Mirabelle Ervine.

“Savos, that’s one of the new apprentices, Gallus, illusionist,” she explains a little too quickly, then looks Gallus’ way. “I take it all of you have returned from Mzulft, then? Any luck with the Staff of Magnus?”

Gallus nods. “Yes, it’s in—”

“Excellent,” the Arch-Mage—Savos, apparently—cuts in. Gallus tries not to be unnerved by the fact that the Arch-Mage’s gaze hasn’t left his own for some time. “I'd suggest that we go retrieve it immediately, but right now we have more pressing matters. Ancano has somehow locked himself in the hall. He's up to something, and I intend to put a stop to it. Help us get through this, will you?”

Gallus nods, although he’s not entirely certain what he can do to help, especially considering that both Savos and Mirabelle have begun casting spells like lightning and fire at the barrier. He can’t do that, but he can cast other things that might help. Or, they might not.

He shrugs, readies a fear spell, and casts it at the barrier for good measure. Before he can ready another, the barrier dissipates, and the Arch-Mage rushes in. After a moment, Mirabelle heads after him—although Gallus doesn’t think he imagined her eyeroll—and while he isn’t entirely certain what to do here, he figures he might as well do something. So, he draws his sword and goes in as well.

“Ancano, stop this at once!” Savos roars, and the unmistakable crackle of lightning magic is heard. “You’ve overstepped your authority here by far! What do you have to say for yourself?!”

Ancano turns to face him, still casting something at the Eye, and he looks remarkably unruffled. That’s the first clue that not all is as it seems. The second is when the he simply regards him for a moment, then laughs.

“You think you can stop me?” Ancano asks, sounding genuinely amused. He stops casting at the Eye, and readies something himself. The crackling only intensifies, and Gallus instinctively takes a step back. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Savos,” Mirabelle yells, “be caref—”

Something surges out from the eye, magic perhaps, and everything goes white.

Chapter Text

When Gallus returns to consciousness, he’s at first partially aware of his surroundings, and then realizes rather abruptly that he's crumpled against the wall… or a wall, anyway. The tile floor is cool beneath him, but almost everywhere inside the College is tiled, and for a few, terrifying seconds, he can't remember why he apparently passed out on the floor. He opens his eyes cautiously, glances around. From the looks of things, he's in the Hall of Elements. Mirabelle Ervine, of all people, is sitting heavily against one of the pillars and looking away from him, at… is that a—

Ward.

It all comes flooding back, and Gallus swears under his breath. Something happened, Ancano did something, and whatever it was, it was nothing good. He feels like someone threw him into a wall—actually, that’s probably exactly what happened—and the ward, if it's even a ward, is right back up. Ancano’s still in there, although Gallus can't quite make out what he's doing and isn't entirely sure he wants to.

He and Mirabelle were apparently knocked over here, which begs the question: where’s the Arch-Mage?

“Good, you’re awake,” Mirabelle says, looking back at Gallus with an unreadable expression. “Are you alright? Can you walk, at least? I need at least one of us on our feet, and I don't think it's going to be me for some time.”

Gallus nods, and while he's still leaning heavily against the wall when he stands, he's at least standing. Of course, his head immediately spins and he nearly passes out again, but that's irrelevant. The important part is that he doesn’t pass out again.

“I think so,” Gallus says after he's reasonably certain that he isn't going to keel over or lose the contents of his stomach. “How about you?” His head feels like someone knocked it around and then proceeded to drive a dagger between his eyes, but other than that he's mostly alright.

Mirabelle winces. She's favoring her left side, and still leaning quite heavily on the stone column. “We can worry about that later.”

By that she clearly means no.

She coughs, continues, “If you can walk… I need you to find Savos. He was standing closer than either of us, and I haven't seen him since the explosion. He must've been blown clear… and he may be injured. I need you to find the Arch-Mage, and I need you to do it quickly. Get moving!” She breaks into a coughing fit then.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Gallus asks quietly.

“I’ll be fine. I just need a minute to catch my breath,” Mirabelle insists with a quick nod. “Just… please. Find Savos.”

Gallus nods, and while he's definitely not up to running just yet, he manages to limp over to the door and shove it open.

While Gallus had been fairly certain that he'd been passed out for some time, he certainly wasn't expecting it to be daytime, and late afternoon at that.. However, daylight is streaming into the courtyard, and there’s a crowd standing around something… or someone.

Oh no .

His heart sinks, but he goes over regardless. J’zargo glances back, sees him coming, and steps aside. Gallus suddenly has full view of exactly what everyone’s crowded around, and it's a body.

Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that when Mirabelle ordered him to find the Arch-Mage, she didn't mean his lifeless corpse. Colette’s kneeled next to his body, and after a few moments, she shakes her head. She's only confirming what everyone already knows at this point, however.

“Did anyone see what happened?” Colette asks, not a trace of her usual annoyance at everyone and everything in her words. She's taking this quite seriously. So is everyone else, and Gallus really can't blame them. This is serious, and everyone knows it full well.

“I was there,” Gallus says quietly. “I was going to tell someone that we—” He gestures to himself and the other apprentices. “—were back. When I went into the Hall of Elements, I wasn't expecting to run into our Arch-Mage and Mirabelle, and I definitely wasn't expecting… well, the short version is Ancano. He did something with the eye, and… the Arch-Mage was standing far closer than either of us.”

Gallus recalls, briefly, that the Arch-Mage had seemed… extremely surprised that he was an apprentice, which brought up a few questions he really wished Savos Aren was still alive to answer.

Did he know me? Gallus wonders for a moment.

Well, the Arch-Mage is quite obviously dead, so he’s probably never finding out, and he’s got more immediate concerns than wondering about it at this point.

“Where’s Mirabelle?” Drevis asks, and Gallus realizes that true, it might be just a bit concerning that she’s not around.

“Still in there,” Gallus says, and quickly adds, “she’s fine. She said she just needed a moment, and… told me to go find the Arch-Mage.”

Colette sighs and stands. “I’m going to go make sure we don’t lose our Master Wizard, too. I’ll be in the Hall of Elements if anyone needs me.”

With that, she’s gone, and there’s an awkward silence for all of two seconds before someone Gallus can’t quite remember the name of comes running up from the bridge, completely out of breath.

“Arniel, whatever is the matter?” Tolfdir asks, seeming to be one of the few people keeping a level head through this. And oh, alright, this mage’s name is Arniel. Good to know. “Can’t you see that we have a problem on our hands?”

Arniel nods, manages to gasp out, “Faralda sent me. Whatever Ancano did with the eye, it’s unleashed these… things on Winterhold. While they would never left a finger to help us-”

“Khajiit is helping them anyway,” J’zargo cuts in, glancing to the other apprentices. “Whether you’re with this one or not.”


By now, there’s only one undeniable thing here, and it’s that this is a disaster. It’s not the kind of disaster that can easily be fixed, either. The mages of the College were able to take down the initial wave of what someone's been calling magic anomalies—nasty things not unlike ice wraiths, except that they’re made of pure magic and are much, much, deadlier. More are popping up by the minute. Nobody’s seen Faralda in hours, and it’s quite clear to the apprentices at least that something has to be done, or this won’t end well for the College or Winterhold or maybe even all of Skyrim.

All things considered, it’s pretty obvious that someone has to do something, and fighting the anomalies isn’t doing anything. So, the group’s about to leave for Labyrinthian to get the Staff of Magnus, kick Ancano’s arse, and save the College—Onmund’s words, no one disagreed. Technically, they’re led by J’zargo, which Gallus has no problem whatsoever with. Just because he’s older does not mean everyone should look to the guy with no memories for what to do.

There’s just one problem: not one of them knows how to get to Labyrinthian. Actually, two: they got jumped just off the bridge. If you can call being cornered by a group of magic anomalies being 'jumped'.

“Onmund,” J’zargo hisses as he sets a magic anomaly on fire. It dissolves into a glowing blue pile of dust after a few moments, and he kicks said pile for good measure. “J’zargo thought you knew where Labyrinthian was.”

“I know it’s somewhere in Hjaalmarch,” Onmund fires back, and shocks another anomaly to pieces. “I don’t know where in Hjaalmarch!”

“Where even is Hjaalmarch?” Brelyna asks, seeming surprisingly calm considering that the instant the group stepped off the bridge to the College, all Oblivion broke loose. “Is that a city, or a hold, or…?”

“It’s a hold. We’ve been there. Morthal is the capital.”

“Not to interrupt or anything,” Gallus says as he slices a magic anomaly in half, “but can we worry about that after we’re not fighting for our lives just to get out of here?”

He sidesteps an anomaly’s charge, then narrowly dodges another’s. Sure, they might all be mages, but four apprentice mages against at least ten magic anomalies is not good odds in the least.

At least, that’s what Gallus thought before someone casts a spell he’s never seen before. He doesn’t see who casts it, just the lightning bolt leaping from anomaly to anomaly, dispatching each and every one, and within a matter of seconds, it’s four apprentice mages against several glowing piles of what remains of the magic anomalies that were just attacking them.

“That was awesome, J’zargo!” Onmund cheers.

J’zargo looks at him strangely. “Khajiit thought you cast that. J’zargo can cast that spell, but not when this one is already tired and has cast a lot of other spells.”

Onmund frowns, looks to Gallus and Brelyna.

“Not me,” Brelyna says. “I conjure things, remember? That’s obviously the school of destruction.”

Gallus simply shakes his head. They should know by now that the only magic he has any sort of proficiency in is illusion magic and only illusion magic. Last he checked, frying everything in the general vicinity wasn’t his area of expertise, not even close.

“Then who—?” Onmund begins.

Someone behind them clears her throat. Gallus turns first, and is consequently first to see the mage who might just have saved all their lives.

“You didn’t actually think we’d make you go to Labyrinthian by yourselves, did you?” Mirabelle Ervine asks, with the very smallest of smiles crossing her features as she takes the situation in. “I suppose it’s a good thing I showed up when I did. Is everyone alright?”

“J’zargo thinks so. You… know where Labyrinthian is?”

Mirabelle nods. “Savos… the Arch-Mage sealed it off long ago. I’ll explain what I know of why on the way. In the meantime, we need to move. The sooner we get that staff, the better.”

Nobody argues.


As it happens, Mirabelle doesn’t actually know as much about why Labyrinthian was sealed off as Gallus was expecting. In fact, basically all of what she knows can be summed up in a couple of sentences. Back when Savos Aren was an apprentice, he and five others sneaked out to go explore the place. Only Savos Aren returned, and he never quite got over whatever had happened in the ruins. Nobody even knew what happened until now.

“So,” Mirabelle concludes, “I suppose you can see why I insisted on accompanying you. It’s entirely possible that what killed them is still there, and considering that our only hope of stopping Ancano relies on you actually surviving and bringing the Staff of Magnus back…”

“J’zargo wonders how close Labyrinthian is?”

“Just up here,” Mirabelle says, taking the lead as she does so. “Follow me.”

While the exterior of Labyrinthian is large enough to be extremely confusing, it’s clear immediately where they’re supposed to go. Presumably, the ancient nordic peoples of Skyrim really liked their big ceremonial architecture—Onmund mumbles something along the lines of how that hasn’t changed—and there’s one extremely large, extremely obvious door.

Of course, there also doesn’t seem to be any visible way to open it, but that problem is quickly forgotten when six spirits materialize, all wearing mage robes, and all paying no mind to the group of actual living mages standing there as well.

“Come on, we’re finally here,” the first of them says excitedly, and he certainly sounds… familiar. “Let’s not waste any more time!”

Gallus squints at him, and frowns.

Is that… Savos Aren? Arch-Mage Aren? He looks a lot younger, and… different, somehow.

“Are we truly sure this is a good idea?”

This time, it’s an argonian that’s spoken, one of the reptilian people of Black Marsh. Gallus is… a little surprised to see an argonian mage, but then again, J’zargo’s a khajiit and one of the best mages he knows.

“We’ll be back at the College before anyone even knows we’re gone,” says another, a dark-skinned human woman with a grin on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.

From the looks of things, she’s more or less the leader, if there’s one. Then again, this is clearly just a group of friends, who… well, most of them died here.

In retrospect, Gallus isn’t surprised that Savos never got over what went down here. He’s fairly certain that he’d never be able to stop thinking about something like this, if something like this was in his past. And, of course, if he could actually remember it. So, for all he knows, all his friends might be dead.

He really hopes that isn’t the case. At least this situation doesn’t seem too familiar.

“You would care about that,” the bosmer says cheekily, elbowing his friend, “since you’re the Arch-Mage’s favorite!”

Even though they’re all ghosts, spirits, remnants of something that happened long ago, Gallus can faintly see the de-facto leader roll her eyes.

“Don’t forget,” Savos cuts in with a pointed look to her, “this whole idea was Atmah’s to begin with.”

Atmah glares at him, but it’s not a particularly angry glare. It’s more of a… friendly-but-mildly-annoyed glare, the kind you give your friends when they’ve made a particularly bad joke at your expense. Before she can retort, another of the group, one of clear nordic descent—Onmund looks thrilled—crosses his arms and puts his foot down, literally.

“Let’s just get inside,” he says, “see what’s in there.”

They all nod in agreement, and with that, the ghosts dematerialize.

“Well,” Mirabelle says after a long pause on the part of basically everyone, “somehow… I doubt that’ll be the last we see of them.”

She kneels next to the door, sets down her own pack, and begins looking for something within it.

“It will be if we can’t get in,” Brelyna muses aloud. “I wonder how they got in…?” She walks up to the door, and examines the strange formation in the center.

“Likely,” Mirabelle says, “with this.”

She pulls out something, and attaches it to the door. Suddenly, the strange formation in the center doesn’t look so strange. Instead, it looks like… a door knocker.

“I can do the honors if none of you would like to,” she continues.

She’s scarcely finished speaking before J’zargo goes up and knocks. The stone slides away, revealing a passageway into the ruins of Labyrinthian. The ruins that the last apprentices to go through died in.

Or… most of them did, anyway. All but one.

Considering how badly things went for the last people to go through here, Gallus figures he’s more than a little justified in being more than a little pessimistic about how well this will go. On the bright side, at least they know that this could quite possibly kill them all.

That, and they have a Master Wizard named Mirabelle Ervine who definitely knows her way around most—if not all—of the schools of magic.


“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” says the dunmer of the group. Not Brelyna, the one in the group of past mages whose ghosts may or may not be bound to this place to reenact what happened over and over, and the one that’s not Savos Aren.

“Can you imagine the looks on their faces when we come back?” The much, much younger version of Savos Aren asks, grinning.

“You keep talking like you’re sure we’ll find something useful in here,” the nordic mage mutters.

The bosmer shrugs, runs a hand along the stone carvings on the wall. “Given the history of this place, it's more than likely there's still some amount of power here.”

Savos nods. “Enchanted weapons, tomes of ancient knowledge, Shalidor's secrets themselves—who knows what we could find!”

Everyone here looks pretty excited. Everyone, that is, save the argonian.

“And what if…” She begins uneasily, gulps, then tries again. “What if there are things guarding this place?”

Atmah laughs. “Against six College-trained mages? I think we’ll be fine.”

The ghosts disappear again, and the group following in their footsteps glance between each other uneasily. Even Mirabelle, the best mage out of the group by far—nobody’s denying that—looked like she highly doubted things would be fine even for them.

“J’zargo thinks she jinxed it.” He flips a nearby switch, albeit cautiously—and a gate opens.

“Definitely,” Brelyna agrees, probably prepared to conjure something up at the drop of a hat. “We need to be extra careful.”

Nobody’s arguing with her there. The group heads through the gate, single file—it’s pretty small. Gallus takes up the rear, and just as he steps through—it slams shut, and all Oblivion breaks loose.

Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad. However, there’s definitely a small army of reanimated skeletons suddenly in the room with them, and that isn’t even accounting for the dragon.

Chapter Text

Labyrinthian is, simply speaking, a nightmare. Gallus is fairly certain that he and the others would be dead several times over by now if it wasn't for Mirabelle, the ghosts of the past expedition are starting to die off, and to make matters worse, Gallus is starting to hear voices. More specifically, he's just begun hearing a single voice speaking a strange language that he doesn't quite understand.

And something… something about it resonates with him, and he's not sure why.

WO MEYZ WAH DII VUL JUNAAR?

“Did any of you hear that?” Gallus asks after the first time, and gets several confused looks.

“Hear what?” Brelyna asks.

Almost as if responding to her words, both J’zargo’s and Mirabelle’s magelights go out, leaving them in total darkness. Even so, J’zargo can be heard swearing profusely in a mix of both Tamrielic and the khajiti language—Ta’agra, he’s pretty sure—somewhere off to the left.

“Whatever that was, it’s drained my magicka, and I doubt I’m the only one. Does anyone have a torch?” Mirabelle’s somewhere behind the group, but that makes sense. She and Gallus had switched places sometime after the skeletal dragon.

“I do, somewhere,” Onmund says. The sounds of rummaging through a pack can be heard, and then a triumphant ‘yes!’ “Found it… I can't light it without magic, though!” He sounds closer to Gallus than he thought he was, oddly enough, maybe he’s moved.

“I've got some magicka potions somewhere,” Brelyna offers, “they're not much, but they’ll be enough to light it. Here.”

Footsteps, and then a crashing sound. Brelyna mutters something in Dunmeris that Gallus suspects would make everyone here blush if they could understand it..

“I’m alright,” she continues, “but I dropped the potion I was holding. It should be fine, assuming I can find it…”

Suddenly, the cavern’s no longer completely black. Mirabelle’s cast a spell similar to a magelight, but much simpler, and therefore using up much less magicka. If Gallus remembers correctly, the main difference is that this version can't travel far from the caster, and unlike a magelight, it has to be maintained.

“We can’t risk being caught in the dark again,” Mirabelle says quietly.

Brelyna nods, and scrambles for the now very visible magicka potion on the ground that's somehow not broken. She picks it up and passes it to Onmund, who, with a quick cast of flames, lights the torch.

The collective relief at having a non-magic source of light is immediately felt by all.

Mirabelle lets her spell go out as she begins to speak, “Before we go any further, it would be wise to wait for our magicka to fully regenerate. However, it’s quite likely that whatever drained it this time can and will do it again, and if we’re caught in a situation where we can’t wait for our magicka to regenerate, we need to be able to defend ourselves so we don’t end up like the last group to come through here.”

Gallus is… a little surprised Mirabelle actually mentioned the spirits, come to think of it, but now’s not the time to dwell on it. Silently, he catches her eye and points to his already-drawn sword.

“J’zargo doesn’t need a weapon. This one has claws.” He unsheaths them.

Mirabelle nods. “You certainly do,” she says, then looks to Brelyna and Onmund. Brelyna’s familiar has disappeared, and Onmund just looks a little lost—then thoughtful.

“So… I’m your local nordic mage as you all know, and while you all know magic is my thing, I know how to use a battleaxe… somewhat,” he says sheepishly. “I could probably grab one of the ones the draugr were using and make do with that, if push comes to shove.”

Mirabelle nods. “We can’t be too careful here. Brelyna?”

“I have a staff enchanted to summon a familiar somewhere in here, and correct me if I’m wrong, but those work without magicka, correct?” Brelyna asks, and receives a quick nod. “J’zargo probably has some more of those scrolls, but…”

“Let’s not use those,” Gallus cuts in. “Not unless we literally have no other options.” J’zargo might have looked offended, and likely could have looked offended, but instead, he shrugs lazily.

“That’s fair,” J’zargo says. “This one does think he fixed them, but khajiit understands your reluctance. It’s not like you’d want to have a cloak of flames shielding you any time in the near future that’s extremely effective against the undead.”

Reluctance… right.

There’s reluctance, Gallus thinks, and then there’s knowing full well these scrolls work about as well as the last several batches and not wanting to be blown up with the draugr. Bit of a difference. Minor one.


The group hasn't gone far before the voice speaks again, just after a door that had been frozen over up until J’zargo took a firebolt to it.

NIVAHRIIN MUZ FENT SIIV NID AAZ HET.

Once again, Gallus is the only one that hears it, but everyone’s magicka is drained, again. How fun. Conveniently enough, it's then that a suspiciously powerful-looking draugr makes itself known with some sort of magic Gallus doesn't recognize, but is powerful enough to send J’zargo, who'd been taking up the lead up until now, flying into Onmund and both of them into a wall.

Ouch.

“What was that?” Brelyna asks, quickly going for her staff and summoning a familiar. “Does anybody—?”

“I might have some idea,” Mirabelle says as Gallus charges in with his sword at the ready. The draugr’s cold, dead gaze meets his, and it whispers something in that same, strange language that the voice was speaking in mere moments before Gallus’ sword finds its gut and it crumples, hopefully to stay dead this time around. Unslaad krosis. Gallus doesn’t know what that means, and he’s not certain he wants to find out.

“I’m not certain,” Mirabelle continues slowly, “and I can’t be certain because I’ve never heard one used before, but that may be what’s called a Shout. Onmund is likely more familiar than me with the concept.”

Onmund nods from his position on the ground, and quickly gets up.

“If you mean the Thu’um, yes. My ancestors considered it a gift from Kyne… we’d know her now as Kynareth. Only the Greybeards know how to Shout now, and it takes decades of training to master it. Well… the Greybeards and Ulfric Stormcloak. I remember hearing that he was in training to become a Greybeard before the Great War, except that the Greybeards are pacifists.”

“The Greybeards are pacifists?” J’zargo snorts, amused. “Khajiit thinks it’s no wonder Ulfric Stormcloak didn’t get along with them.”

“Yeah… anyway. Shouts are supposed to be in the dragon language. I think it’s called… um…”

“Dovahzul,” Brelyna supplies as her familiar’s time on Nirn expires and it returns to Oblivion.

“Yeah, that,” Onmund agrees. “Also… I remember hearing that if you have the blood of a dragon, if you’re Dragonborn, you can Shout without training. Something like that, anyway.”

“That’s about as much as I know as well,” Mirabelle says, looking thoughtful. “Gallus, you said you were hearing a voice, right before our magicka was drained… was it speaking Dovahzul?”

“Yes,” Gallus says immediately, without really thinking about it. Then, he frowns. “I… think so, anyway. Maybe.”

Naturally, the voice chooses then to begin speaking again, except this time, it’s in Tamrielic.

YOU DO NOT ANSWER… MUST I USE THIS GUTTURAL LANGUAGE OF YOURS?

“It just spoke again, speaking of which,” Gallus says. He attempts to summon a quick illusion spell, and isn’t particularly surprised when it fails. “Not in… Dovahzul, this time. Looks like it still has the same effect.”


 

After waiting a minute for everyone’s magicka to regenerate, the group continues on through the ancient city—or, as J’zargo aptly put it, the ancient death trap with magicka-draining skeevershit in case the death trap part wasn’t enough. The magicka-draining voice speaks several more times before the next time the ghosts appear, this time with another party member dead, bringing their group down to four out of their initial six. Fortunately, the current group is still at five members, and Gallus is hoping it stays that way.

But… gods damn , this didn’t go well for them.

“Come on, we can’t stop now,” the past version of Savos pleads. “We have to keep moving!” Grief is written all over his face, as well as those of the others. And yet, in his eyes and his eyes alone there’s a grim, steely determination that Gallus thinks might be what left him as the lone survivor.

Atmah nods, then realizes something.

“Where’s Elvali?” Atmah asks quietly. In a smaller voice, she adds, “She was right behind me.” , If her tone’s any indication, she already knows the answer.

“Dead,” says the nordic mage grimly. “Something grabbed her from behind. Gone before I could do anything.”

Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that the argonian is going to be the next to go. He doesn’t want to be right. He really doesn’t. But—there’s no changing what already happened.

“This is insanity,” she says tearfully. “We never should’ve come here.”

No one disagrees. Atmah eventually nods.

“You’re right,” she says so softly that it’s difficult to hear her. “This is all my fault. Should we turn around, head back?” She too is grieving, but unlike the others, there’s something else in her eyes: guilt.

And really, figuring out the emotions of a bunch of long-dead ghosts is certainly one way to realize he’s good at reading people. It’s just not a very cheerful one.

“I don’t think going back is a good idea,” the nordic mage says.

Gallus can guess why. From the sound of things, their group had barely survived the room with the skeletal dragon… and going back the way they came would mean most likely encountering the corpses of their now very dead friends.

“Going back would be the end of all of us,” Savos says firmly. “We keep pushing forward, and we’ll make it. We will!”

“Come on, you can make it,” Atmah says encouragingly, and the argonian hesitates, but nods, stands. “Let’s go.”

The ghosts disappear, and there’s silence.

“Savos was lying,” Mirabelle says in a small voice, earning shocked and surprised looks from everyone else. “He… never was a good liar. He knows… knew they all were going to die here.”

She doesn’t mention the obvious follow-up question: how did he survive, if all the others died, and he thought he would as well?

Considering that the strange voice only Gallus can hear has already mentioned Savos Aren a few times, and referred to him once as an old friend, Gallus has a bad feeling that he might just know the answer, and he really, really wishes he didn’t.


 

It’s not long before the current group comes to the penultimate chamber, and a large, imposing iron set of doors with the unmistakable sound of something being cast on the other side. As if that alone wasn’t enough, it’s then that the group of ghosts make their final appearance, now only numbering three.

“We shouldn’t have left her there to die!” Atmah says as the three materialize.

Something within the past version of Savos Aren snaps with that. His gaze hardens, and he turns and glares at her. “What else could we do? Stay there and die with her? She refused to go on, we didn’t have a choice!”

It’s painfully obvious he’s trying to stay strong for the sake of the others, it’s also painfully obvious he’s barely keeping it together. Atmah glares back, and eventually their other companion, who’s been glancing anxiously between his friends and the door, clears his throat.

“This is it, you know,” he murmurs. “Through this door. Can you feel it?”

Atmah nods, barely holds back a sob. “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

Nobody answers.

“We stay together, no matter what. Agreed?”

“I’ll be right with you,” Atmah says immediately.

There’s hesitance—almost reluctance, actually—in Savos’ eyes, and Gallus can tell even before he opens his mouth that whatever comes out isn’t going to be entirely truthful.

“Agreed,” he says, masking his indecision with a glance at the door. “We all stay together.”

All three disappear, and Gallus immediately looks to Mirabelle. She looks… shaken, at best, but she quickly regains her composure.

“Whatever is in there, more likely than not, will be able to kill us easily,” Mirabelle says grimly. “However, we do have one advantage: there are more of us then there was of them. Whatever is in there, it’s most likely what was draining our magicka this entire time, and it would be wise to assume it can and will do the same during this fight. No matter what, we have to get the Staff of Magnus back to the College, and this should go without saying, but be careful.”

Onmund nods solemnly, and hefts the strange magic battleaxe that he’d looted from one of the draugr. Brelyna readies her staff. J’zargo unsheathes his claws. Gallus already had his sword out, so he continues holding it in a defensive position as he casts a quick rallying spell for good measure. Electricity crackles in the air as Mirabelle readies something involving lightning.

COME. FACE YOUR END.

For once, the voice doesn’t drain them—and Gallus can almost feel it laughing at them. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to think they can win. Gallus would much rather prove it wrong, thanks.

“For the College,” J’zargo mutters through gritted teeth.

Before anyone can stop him, he leaps at the door, kicking it open. Gallus figures that’s certainly one way to get in, but… well, so much for any element of surprise. Then again, it’s debatable if they had any element of surprise to begin with, but it’s soon quite clear that they have a problem.

There’s something that looks suspiciously like a draugr—that is, if draugr can fly, are holding something that probably is the Staff of Magnus, and are trapped within some sort of barrier being maintained by… what look like mages, actually, two of them, casting perpetually from above—

Oh gods.

Before coming in here, Savos Aren had two companions. He escaped alone. Gallus had been expecting something along the lines of him leaving his friends to die, but this… this is better in some ways and far, far worse in others. Mostly worse, actually.

“By the Nine ,” Onmund whispers from beside him.

J’zargo’s stopped in his tracks, staring at the enthralled wizards in shock. Brelyna nearly drops her staff. Gallus isn’t certain how Mirabelle’s reacted, not until he looks her way and sees a look of grim determination.

“We can worry about the implications of… that, later,” Mirabelle says. “Right now, we need that barrier down, and we don't have time to figure out how to reverse that spell, if it even can be done.”

“Wait,” Brelyna says, quietly, “are you saying that—”

“We have no choice.” Her gaze hardens. When nobody moves, she adds, “At this point, it's doubtful if they’re still in there. Even if they are, it would be a mercy to kill them. If no one else will do what must be done… I’ll do it. Get ready to fight.”

This time, she doesn't wait for any of the apprentices. Instead, she casts the same spell she’d cast back in Winterhold, and lightning bounces between them. One crumples, then the other, and the levitating draugr is free.

There's just enough time for Gallus to see the poorly concealed horror in Mirabelle’s eyes before their adversary Shouts— FUS RO DAH —and she's sent flying across the room, suddenly bringing their group down to four. It's then that Gallus finally sees the most significant feature of this… whatever it is: a strange mask, with slits for eyeholes and crudely hewn facial features.

“That's a—” Onmund begins, before shaking his head and taking a step back. “That's it, we’re all going to die, there's no way we can beat that. No way.”

“Your confidence in us is appreciated,” Brelyna says dryly, raising her staff.

Onmund shakes his head, whispers, “No, you don't get it,. That's a dragon priest. I've heard stories…”

J’zargo casts a firebolt directly into the dragon priest’s mask—it connects moments before a ward is brought up, and yet doesn’t seem to affect it at all.

“J’zargo would very much like to know if those stories said anything about how to defeat them.”

The dragon priest raises his staff—the Staff of Magnus—and points it at J’zargo. With a panicked screech, he drops to his knees, hands to his side.

“He can only target one of us at a time,” Brelyna realizes. She quickly raises her own staff, conjures up a familiar.

Naturally, it takes one look at the dragon priest and flees.

Brelyna swears under her breath and resorts to an ice spike. It doesn’t connect, but it’s enough to distract their foe, enough that J’zargo can scramble out of the way, breathing heavily.

“If he can only target one of us at a time, we need to attack all at once,” Gallus concludes. “But where ?”

“The mask,” Onmund all but shouts. “It's… got to be the mask. The dragon priest masks were supposed to have powerful enchantments. Maybe… if we get the mask off…”

“J’zargo wonders if you could maybe hurry up a little. This one would really like to not be struck with that beam ever again, thanks.”

“Let’s get that mask off, then,” Brelyna says, and fires her spell.

Onmund does the same, and Gallus catches the dragon priest in the mask with a spell meant to make it try to flee. It doesn’t do anything, except maybe annoy it. The dragon priest is both too powerful by far and undead, but Gallus figures it was at least worth a shot.

J’zargo fires off a spell as well, but by then, the dragon priest has his ward back up.

Gallus can faintly recall hearing somewhere, probably Tolfdir or Colette, that wards are significantly more effective against magical attacks than physical attacks. Suddenly, he gets an idea.

Is it a terrible idea? Probably.

Is it better than nothing?

Definitely.

With little to no warning, he leaps at the dragon priest, sword at the ready. Unfortunately, little to no warning is apparently more than enough warning for an undead super-draugr. It blocks his strike with the Staff of Magnus itself, and with a surprisingly quick swipe considering that its arms are more or less decomposing, it sends Gallus’ sword flying out of his grip. It falls to the ground with a clatter, just out of his reach.

Gallus has just enough time to think oh, shit before he, too, is sent flying courtesy of a FUS RO DAH and hits the wall next to the door they’d come in through. Needless to say, getting thrown against solid rock never goes well for the one being thrown, but at least he hasn’t passed out. Yet.

His head throbs painfully, he’s fairly certain that he’s broken a rib, and it’s starting to hurt to breathe. It’s all he can do not to pass out right there. He’s already all but collapsed against the wall, and in truth, he’s surprised he hasn’t completely.

I don’t want to die, he realizes. He feels like there’s something else there, something else he should be adding, he doesn’t exactly have time to think on it.

J’zargo, Onmund, and Brelyna are circling the dragon priest, all casting spells at it, all fighting for their lives. They’re doing alright for now, but when one of them runs out of magicka? It won’t be good.

Gallus needs to get it together and get back in the fight as soon as possible, and he isn’t sure what happened to Mirabelle.

“We need a better plan,” someone says from not far away, leaning against the same wall, and Gallus realizes a little too late that it’s Mirabelle. She… does not look good, but she does look determined. Gingerly, she sets down her pack and rummages around within. “I… may have an idea, but we both need to be on our feet for it. Those scrolls you mentioned earlier, do you have any on you?”

Gallus manages a nod. “Somewhere, yes.”

Somehow, he makes it to a sitting position. It’s not standing, but it’s not being collapsed on death’s door, either, and he’ll take what he can get.

“You don’t want to use them,” he warns.

Mirabelle finds what she’s looking for—a small red bottle, which she offers to Gallus as she summons the warm glow of healing magic to her other hand. He downs it without hesitation.

“I might have to. In any case, I’m… not as good with healing as I should be, but I can at least keep myself alive long enough to bring this thing down. That’s my last healing potion, by the way. Make it count. Now, what is it that these scrolls of J’zargo’s do?”

“Cast a flame cloak, extremely effective against the undead,” Gallus says.“I should mention that it will blow up in your face, and the more powerful the undead, the more powerful the explosion. It could kill you.” Even as he says the words, he pulls one out and offers it to her, albeit hesitantly.

Mirabelle blinks hard, makes her decision, and takes it. “Unless you’ve got a better idea, that dragon priest can and will kill us all.”

The others are still trying to fight the thing, if kind of unsuccessfully. J’zargo’s retreated behind the others, still hurling spells at the thing where he can. Brelyna keeps summoning familiars with her staff, some of which actually fight and are sent back to Oblivion within seconds, some of which run for the door and dissipate as Brelyna summons another less cowardly one. Onmund’s shielding them all, desperately blocking the Staff of Magnus’ beam with a ward that doesn’t look like it’ll hold much longer.

They’re out of time.

“Alright. What’s the plan?”


 

“Get back!” Mirabelle shouts as she opens the scroll, casting it with the motion and giving her a pale red-orange, flickering aura reminiscent of fire.

The other apprentices quickly oblige.

From behind a pillar, Gallus makes himself invisible, then creeps around the battlefield towards where his sword lies. Mirabelle casts spell after spell at the dragon priest, slowly advancing on her end. Gallus picks up his sword, becoming completely visible as a result. His eyes meet Mirabelle’s.

Good luck, his say.

She drops her ward, and runs at the dragon priest.

The resulting explosion sends both flying, because clearly there hasn’t been enough of that yet. Fortunately, the dragon priest lands near Gallus, and before it can get up, he proceeds to stab it through the chest. Through its rotting, semi-decomposed, honestly kind of gross chest.

With a scream, it goes limp, and—it’s over. Just like that, it’s over.

Gallus pulls his sword out, and tries to ignore the decaying dragon priest guts now covering a good third of the blade. It’s disgusting, but he’ll have time to clean it later, so he sheaths it, and limps over to the others.

“By Azura, that was—” Brelyna shakes her head. “I thought… I thought we were all going to die for a minute there.” She’s on her knees, leaning quite heavily on her quite possibly defunct staff.

Onmund nods, and offers Brelyna a hand. She takes it, stands unsteadily.

“Me too. I can’t believe we actually… fought a dragon priest. And survived. My family would,” he frowns. “They’d actually probably disown me again, if they could. Dragon priests weren’t supposed to be survivable.”

“Well, we showed that one, didn’t we?”

“J’zargo calls dibs on the mask,” J’zargo says far too cheerfully. “And the staff.”

Gallus groans. “I’m not helping you take the mask off. And we should probably—”

“Me either,” Onmund cuts in.

J’zargo shrugs, looks to Brelyna.

“Not a chance,” she says firmly.

“Fine, then, J’zargo’ll just do everything himself,” he says with a huff.

He kneels down next to the newly re-killed dragon priest and proceeds to pry the Staff of Magnus out of its cold, dead hands. It doesn’t come easily, but once it does, the rest of the dragon priest dissolves into dust. Everything, that is, save the mask.

“See?” J’zargo says, picking it up and slipping it into his bag with a toothy grin. “That wasn’t hard.”

“No,” Gallus agrees, “but is no one at all worried about the fact that Mirabelle was just thrown across the room again? And isn’t moving?”

Fortunately, it seems he spoke too soon on that last bit, because while Mirabelle Ervine was, in fact, thrown across the room for the second time today, this time because of an actual explosion and not some voice magic skeevershit, when Gallus glances over there he can distinctly see her shaking her head.

“I’m fine,” Mirabelle says. “You need to get back to the College, now. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Gallus frowns, says nothing.

“J’zargo will see you there.” He looks to the others, grips the staff tightly. “Let’s go.”


 

Everyone else seems quite eager to get back to the College and stop Ancano. The Thalmor agent he sent to assassinate them on their way out of Labyrinthian doesn’t exactly help things. And yet, Gallus can’t seem to shake the feeling that something’s wrong. And so, just before heading back out into the snow and cold of Skyrim, he makes a hasty excuse about leaving something in there and slips back in.

As soon as he’s out of view of the others, he makes himself invisible, and goes back into the chamber where they’d fought the dragon priest as silently as he can manage—which is actually pretty damn quietly, if he does say so himself. It doesn’t take long to find Mirabelle again, and she really does not look good.

“I should have practiced my healing magic more,” she murmurs to herself, completely unaware of Gallus’ presence. “Ah, well… too late for that.”

She’s pressing her hand to her side, and even so, Gallus can see the growing stain of red on her robes. Despite her quip to herself about practicing her healing, somehow, he gets the feeling that no amount of magic could save her now.

Silently, he dismisses the spell. He’s literally standing right in front of her, and it still takes her maybe a second to glance up. Mirabelle looks remarkably unsurprised, considering.

“You know, then,” Mirabelle says.

He nods, wordless.

“You should get going. I’ve only bought myself a matter of minutes at most, and that’s being generous.”

Gallus nods again. But instead of leaving, he crouches across from her.

“Nobody deserves to die alone.”

She raises an eyebrow.

“Are you speaking from experience or something?”

There’s a painfully long pause, and in it—Gallus wonders.

“I don’t know,” he says finally. “I wish I did. But regardless: nobody deserves to die alone. Not me, and certainly not you.”

Mirabelle smiles sadly. “Maybe I don’t, but life isn’t fair. If it was, Savos… would still be alive. And… I don’t know for certain who’s died, but it’ll be something of a miracle if he and I are the only casualties, not to mention ironic.”

“Ironic?”

She laughs humorlessly. “Certainly, although… it wouldn’t be to you, or anyone but me, really. I… when I joined the College, I only cared about my magic. Since then… everything’s changed so, so much. I found love. And… I lost it, too. When you find love, do everything you can to avoid losing the one you love. I… didn’t do enough.”

Gallus nods, then realizes something. There’s only one mage who’s died recently that Mirabelle was close to, and if she and him were… that makes a lot of sense, actually.

“You loved Savos Aren.”

The words sound far harsher than he meant them to be, and yet Mirabelle nods.

“I did. I did, and I never told him. Don’t make the mistakes I have, because I never told him, and I wish I had.”

Someone clears his throat. Gallus has just enough time to realize it’s not Mirabelle and it’s certainly not him before a spirit shimmers into view, a much older version of the only survivor of the previous mission. He looks much like he did before his death, if… more dead, and more transparent.

“You just did,” Savos Aren says softly.

His gaze finds that of Mirabelle’s.

“But… really?” He asks, looking the most surprised that Gallus has ever seen him. “Still… even after knowing everything I’ve done?”

Mirabelle’s eyes glimmer with unwept tears as she nods.

“Always,” she whispers.

Gallus takes that as his cue to re-cast his invisibility charm and slip out.

Naturally, it’s only once he’s almost caught up with the others that he realizes it might have been a good idea to ask Savos Aren what he’d known of him before his amnesia. But on the other hand—did he really want to interrupt that?

It’s fine. If Aren had known him, the odds were someone else at the College had too, someone who’s still alive. Even if he has no idea who.

Chapter Text

“And J’zargo thought it looked bad when we left. This one... hopes no one is still in there.”

The group’s got their first look at the College since they left… or rather, at the maelstrom of uncontrollable magic now surrounding it. It doesn’t look good. In fact, it looks the exact opposite of good. Calling it good would be like calling Labyrinthian easy.

Me too, J’zargo, Gallus thinks without much hope. Me too.

As the group soon finds out, things aren’t actually quite as bad as they look, although that isn’t to say they aren’t still really bad. True, the College is still currently impenetrable, but Tolfdir at least is reasonably certain that everyone got out before Ancano expanded his barrier. There’s still the issue that nobody’s seen Faralda since some time before the group left for Labyrinthian, but J’zargo’s clearly trying to stay optimistic, so Gallus figures he’ll follow his lead.

In truth, he’s not certain when J’zargo started to become a leader, although he knows it was clearly evident once Gallus caught up with the group and broke the bad news about Mirabelle. Onmund all but broke down into a sobbing mess, Brelyna wasn’t anywhere near as emotional but clearly was shaken, and Gallus wasn’t exactly feeling motivated then, either. It was J’zargo who’d taken the initiative, J’zargo who’d urged them all on, J’zargo who’d taken the lead so they’d get back to the College before it was too late.

“J’zargo has the Staff,” he concludes, nodding at the very staff itself currently in his grasp. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to miss, and Tolfdir doesn’t look all that surprised to see it.

“I hoped that was it, but I didn’t wish to jump to conclusions.” Tolfdir strokes his beard thoughtfully, then clears his throat. “However! We still need to get in there. It may be prudent to gather anyone else we can find. If the Arch-Mage fell to Ancano, we will need all the help we can get.”


Gallus himself doesn’t find anyone at first, up until he hears some rather loud cursing and spellcasting and turns the corner to find a very pissed off wood elf casting ice spell after ice spell at a pair of magic anomalies and screaming obscenities at them in the process. Gallus isn’t sure who this is and he doesn’t have time to worry about that. Instead, he acts without thinking, slicing through one magic anomaly and then another.

It helps that his new friend had already weakened the magic anomalies quite a bit with his spells.

“For the love of—I chose the worst time to come back here, didn’t I,” he mutters to himself, kicking a pile of glowing dust that used to be an anomaly.

“Honestly? You’re not wrong,” Gallus replies, sheathing his sword, and gets a strange look.

“Wait. What are—what in Y’ffre’s name—”

“Right, you wouldn’t… I joined the College recently.” He extends a hand and offers a grin. “My name’s Gallus.”

He simply regards Gallus curiously for a moment, before taking it. “Enthir. I’m sorry, you said your name was…?”

“Gallus.”

Enthir slowly nods. “Well... Gallus, can you maybe, I don’t know, explain what on Nirn is going on here and why there are these things attacking everyone?”

“Long story. Could use your help fixing things, though.”

Enthir shrugs. “Might as well, Winterhold’s probably the only hold that hasn’t put a bounty on me at some point. He hesitates, adds, “yet.”


By the time Gallus has more-or-less filled in Enthir on what was going on, he’s definitely wondering why Drevis despises him so much. He seems alright.

“So, the Arch-Mage and Master Wizard are dead, and our local Thalmor spy is responsible for what may or may not destroy the world,” Enthir concludes. “Sounds like fun. I for one won’t mind sending an ice spike between his eyes.”

They make it back to the bridge fairly quickly, and while there’s quite a few people there, there’s two people notably absent: Tolfdir and J’zargo.

“What’s going on?” Gallus asks the first person he can—high elf woman, he’s pretty sure her name’s Nirya but he’s really not sure. Then again, introducing yourself and immediately starting to rant about someone else maybe isn’t the best way to get people to remember your name.

“The cat and Tolfdir were the only ones that got through before Ancano’s ward got brought up again,” she mutters. “It’s… unstable. I’d try to get through, but—”

“But, you’re a coward,” Enthir says dryly. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Nirya glares at him and walks away.

“So what are our odds of getting through?” Gallus asks.

“Not great, but if it’s just an apprentice and Tolfdir against someone who killed the Arch-Mage? They’re going to need all the help they can get.”

“J’zargo does have the Staff of Magnus.”

Enthir’s eyes light up. “He does? You didn’t mention that, my friend. That’s likely what’s causing the instability in the ward, then. We’ll have to run for it.”

Gallus shrugs, looks around. He doesn’t see Onmund or Brelyna anywhere, and even as he tells himself they’re probably helping elsewhere, his gut twists uncomfortably. They need to finish this.

“On three,” he says. “One, two…”

By pure luck, the ward slackens some on three , and they make it through. Barely, and both of them are drained—but they make it.


Getting to the Hall of Elements once they’re inside is easy, and they arrive just in time to witness a flash of light and the unmistakable sound of someone’s body hitting the floor. They must have been out of range, just barely—and yet Gallus finds himself frozen before Enthir drags him out of the open doorway, not a moment too soon.

“You know, old friend, I’m beginning to have second thoughts about this,” Enthir mutters.

Gallus can’t shake the feeling that there’s something in that sentence he should be worried about, but right now he’s got more important things to worry about than the specifics of what Enthir said. Like… you know, not dying. Pretty important. And bringing Ancano down.

Against his better judgment, Gallus lies, “We can take him.”

“Are you sure —”

“What did—what did you do to him?!” J’zargo yells from inside. “Is Tolfdir—”

“Dead?” Ancano says, and laughs harshly. “Not yet. I’ll be dealing with you first… although I must say I am impressed that you did not go down with him. The Staff must have protected you… regardless, I will be taking that.”

“Khajiit will defeat you,” J’zargo replies.

The sound of spells being cast, as well as the distinct crackle of the Staff of Magnus itself, can soon be heard from outside the hall, where Gallus and Enthir are. Enthir, meanwhile, still doesn’t look optimistic, but he doesn’t look ready to get as far away from Winterhold as possible in the near future, either. That’s progress.

“He won’t be able to defeat Ancano on his own,” Enthir whispers. “I’m not sure anyone could if… well, perhaps if… how skilled would you say you are at stealth attacks?”

Gallus frowns. “I can get behind Ancano and… try and take him out quickly. Maybe. I’d only have one shot before he knows I’m there, though.”

Enthir looks at him like he’s crazy. “Have some confidence in your own abilities, please.” Frost magic dances across his hands, and he smiles unhappily. “Otherwise, we’ll really be done for. See that you don’t screw up, I’m rather attached to my life.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Gallus nods, and Enthir heads in almost casually, like he isn’t walking into the middle of a fight between two mages each wielding some really powerful magic.

“Not to interrupt,” Enthir says cheerily, “but by any chance do you need a hand? I mean, I could always just lop off one of Ancano’s, but that would be a little too messy for my liking. Perhaps you’d like to do the honors?”

This maybe isn’t the best time for jokes, but if it distracts Ancano? Gallus is fine with it. So, he takes a deep breath, focuses, and makes himself invisible. Making himself invisible, in all honesty, is the easy part. By now, he can make himself invisible… pretty consistently. The problem, then, is maintaining it for longer than a few seconds.

Ancano is not going to see me, Gallus tells himself as he goes into a crouch, and curses as the spell fails. He re-casts it, and this time it lasts until he’s close enough to the door that he could peek around it, and once he re-casts it again—better safe than sorry—he does so.

Tolfdir’s unconscious, not far from the Eye, and J’zargo’s desperately trying to keep the fight away from him. He seems to be using the Staff on the Eye with one hand, and with the other maintaining a ward spell to protect himself from Ancano. It’s debatable how well it’s working, but J’zargo hasn’t faltered yet.

Meanwhile, Enthir is fighting more magic anomalies, cursing Ancano quite violently all the while, but otherwise seems alright. Either Ancano is too preoccupied with attempting to bring down J’zargo’s defenses to re-cast whatever brought down everyone else… or he can’t do it again.

Gallus really hopes it’s the second option. He ducks back out of view as his invisibility fades again, re-casts it, again—he needs to work on that—and creeps in. He barely makes it behind a pillar within the hall before the invisibility fades again. From there, it almost becomes monotonous. Invisibility, dash for the next pillar as quickly as possible, make sure of being behind said pillar, repeat.

He’s almost at the pillar directly behind Ancano when it happens. While J’zargo’s been using the Staff of Magnus for some time on the Eye, it’s been slowly, oh-so-slowly, returning to what it looked like before Ancano made it open. Now, it’s closed, and as Enthir finishes off the last of the magic anomalies, he casts some sort of ice spell in Ancano’s direction experimentally. Ancano brings up a ward, sure, but not quickly enough. It barely grazes his cheek, and he cries out in pain.

Gallus takes the hint, because he’s fairly certain that Ancano had been all but invincible when the Eye of Magnus was open and he doubts they’ll get another chance like this for some time, if ever. He re-casts his invisibility one final time, dashes out from behind the pillar, and as his invisibility fades, his sword slides cleanly into Ancano’s back.

Just like that, it’s over.

And, the yellow-robed high elf from the Psijic Order is back.


“Yes, I’m well aware that the Psijic mage said J’zargo should be our next Arch-Mage, we were all there,” Nirya protests, “but wouldn’t it be far more prudent to have someone just a tad more qualified? With all due respect, he’s an apprentice.”

“Not like this one is standing right here or anything,” J’zargo mutters under his breath.

Personally, Gallus doesn’t see why this whole thing is even necessary. Almost everyone in the College, barring Nirya and Faralda—who still isn’t anywhere to be found—is in agreement that they should probably listen to the Psijic and let J’zargo be the next Arch-Mage. The same one from earlier had shown up, and after a brief conversation with J’zargo, and a couple of sentences in Gallus’ general direction, two of his colleagues materialized as well. It hadn’t been long before they’d disappeared with the Eye of Magnus.

As for you, illusionist… I believe I may know why you were included within my spell earlier. If I am correct, you have a hard path ahead of you, but one that must be taken, or what has happened here will be the least of your worries.

Of course, every single person Gallus runs into that can see the future—he’s been running into quite a few lately—has to be vague, cryptic, and quite possibly full of skeevershit.

And, of course, even though mostly everyone here is in agreement that J’zargo should be the next Arch-Mage at this point—mainly due to the Psijic saying so before leaving with the Eye—it just so happens that the choice of a new Arch-Mage must be unanimous. Apparently, taking on Ancano and saving the College from certain destruction isn’t enough for Nirya, for some reason. Not even if the Psijics were to be believed and most of Skyrim was in danger, too.

“There’s also the, ah, small issue of my own, personal research materials disappearing when he’s around,” Nirya continues.

J’zargo looks more than ready to set her on fire at this point. In truth, Gallus is mildly surprised he hasn’t already.

“Khajiit would not want your research materials anyway,” J’zargo hisses, glaring at her from across the Hall of Elements. “And if J’zargo did, you wouldn’t know they were gone.”

“And what of Faralda?” Nirya asks. “This would-be Arch-Mage has all but forgotten about her, assuming she’s even still alive at this point.”

J’zargo’s glare only intensifies. “You’re one to talk. Since when did you care about Faralda, anyway? You were going on about how much you despised her just a few days ago.”

He’s right. Gallus hasn’t run into Nirya very often, but all he really knows about her is that she really, really hates Faralda. Judging by J’zargo’s statement, he’s not the only one who got that impression.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still hate her, but I don’t want her dead .”

“That is the most skeevershit I’ve ever heard out of you, and I’ve heard a lot .”

All eyes go to Faralda, and the double doors slamming shut behind her only punctuate her statement. She… does not look good. She’s very clearly favoring her left side, limping heavily, and her robes look suspiciously like they were dunked in icy water with her in them and then frozen from the Winterhold chill. With that in mind, Gallus is surprised she’s not shivering, too.

“Oh, Faralda, how positively lovely to see you!” Nirya’s voice is all but dripping with sarcasm.

Faralda shakes her head. “Save it. I’m done putting up with everything you say about me behind my back, but that doesn’t even begin to compare to what you did. I’m sure you thought you could get away with pushing me off the bridge. It wasn’t like I would survive the fall… except, as it happens, I was lucky enough to fall directly into the water.”

The two mages glare at each other furiously up until Tolfdir awkwardly clears his throat.

“Faralda, this is a serious accusation,” Tolfdir says. “Are you certain of this?”

She laughs dryly. “Quite certain, thanks. What are we doing here?”

“Deciding on a new Arch-Mage. What do you think of J’zargo?”

Faralda looks at J’zargo for a moment, before shrugging. “I don’t want the job, so why not? We could use someone with a new perspective, honestly.”

Tolfdir smiles, claps a hand on J’zargo’s shoulder.

“In that case, we have our new Arch-Mage.”

Everyone pointedly ignores the outraged gasp from Nirya.

“Now, Arch-Mage J’zargo,” he continues, “your first order of business is what to do with her, seeing as she attempted to murder a fellow member of the College.”


In the end, Nirya gets off fairly easily. She’s not outright kicked out of the College, although Gallus suspects that’s because multiple people within want to keep an eye on her. Instead, she’s left on probation, and not allowed to leave the College for some time if she ever wants to be admitted back in. While there are some fairly big changes to the College—like a new khajiti Arch-Mage named J’zargo who’s a little too confident in his skills—things return more or less to normal after a while, and it’s only then that Colette confronts Gallus about something he’d begun to give up on.

“I’ve been corresponding with a Priest of Mara currently staying in Dawnstar for some time now,” Colette tells him. “It’s a bit of a long shot, but he has been begging the College to send someone, and what he’s looking into at least has something to do with memory loss.”

Gallus nods, mentally going over his things in his mind. He figures that it would likely be a good idea to leave most of his things here, and travel light. Perhaps he can pick up some proper armor in… where was it, Dawnstar? —because in all honesty, he’s always felt a little unprotected in mage robes.

“Alright,” Gallus says. “I… might need you to mark where Dawnstar is on a map. But thank you. Who is this friend of yours?”

“His name’s Erandur,” Colette says, “and if he’s anything like he is in his letters to the College, he’ll be rather hard to miss.”

Chapter Text

Enthir’s last few weeks have been… stressful, to say the least. Stressful might not be the right word, but what is the right word for absolutely everything going to shit at once and someone you’d long since given up for dead turning up alive, well, and apparently with a bad case of amnesia. That last part’s a given, because the fact that Gallus didn't recognize him was a rather obvious indication of that. There's also the fact that Gallus looks a little too similar to how he'd looked the last time Enthir had seen him in person, which was over twenty-five years ago.

Gallus should be an old man by now, not to mention very, very dead. Enthir never saw his old friend’s body, but he's spoken to someone who had. Someone who may or may not have had a hand in Gallus’ death. Can’t say for sure, but… he had a bad feeling then, still does now.

After he’d died, his Guild began going downhill almost immediately, almost like something or someone had it in for them. Being a mage himself, Enthir knew a curse when he saw one, and so he distanced himself from the Thieves Guild. They'd only just managed to stay afloat for the past few years, and it’s gotten to the point where Enthir’s beginning to wonder how much longer they could keep this up for.

Of course, if Gallus was alive—amnesia or no—this changes everything. Enthir considered contacting the Guild for a time, except that Enthir doubted it was an accident that the Guild had begun going downhill immediately, and he was reasonably certain that Gallus hadn't trusted anyone there for some time before his death. Personally, Enthir had never trusted most of the Guild or their associates, but the vindication from being right was vastly overshadowed by the tragedy of Gallus’ death.

Except, Gallus isn’t dead. Enthir suspects some sort of magic was involved, because people don’t just come back from the dead. Regardless, someone needs to know, and if no one currently involved…

Perhaps, someone who no longer is.

For a time, Enthir isn’t entirely sure how he would meet with her, or even get in touch with her. After all, rumor had it she'd fled to Morrowind, where she could disappear easily. However, Enthir suspected she hadn’t. If anything about the story he’d been told was wrong—she’ll still be in Skyrim somewhere.

Eventually, Enthir recalls a dead drop just outside Winterhold, one that supposedly, only he and Gallus had known of, and used to communicate occasionally. He’d always been… paranoid, which made the circumstances surrounding his death more suspicious.

Somehow, Enthir suspected that she too knew of it, and with that in mind, he left a letter there in the faint hope that she would actually check it.

The night after Gallus left for Dawnstar, when Enthir had all but given up hope on getting in touch with her, was the night a hooded figure that was unmistakably her stepped into the Frozen Hearth.

Enthir was having a drink with Nelacar, listening to his complaints about the soul gem that had gotten him and others kicked out of the College, when he saw her enter, and take a seat at a table somewhat obscured from the entrance. Enthir hastily excused himself, made his way over, and slipped into the seat across from her.

“Enthir,” she greets evenly, and any doubt Enthir had that this was her evaporates.

It's been years, decades even, but she looks much the same as she did before everything went wrong. The main difference is the grief written all over her face and especially visible in her signature indigo eyes.

She’s still mourning Gallus, Enthir realizes, even after all this time.

“Good to see you, although I wish it were under better circumstances,” Enthir replies in the same, even tone of voice. “I was beginning to think you wouldn't come.”

Her gaze meets his, and he doesn't look away.

“I considered not coming.” Her gaze, already piercing, hardens further. “If this is a trap—”

“This is no trap.”

Naturally, she only looks more suspicious.

He winces. “Look, I am, and always have been, Gallus’ friend first. He trusted you the most, so I will.”

Apparently, that was the right thing to say, as she visibly relaxes. She's still very much on edge, but at least now she doesn't look like she'll disappear on him.

“You know, then.”

Enthir shrugs, and says, “Some. The rest, I can guess.”

She glances to the ground, then back up. “I… as nice as it is to catch up, you said you had something important to discuss.”

“I did.”

“What...?”

Well, Enthir could just tell her outright that Gallus is alive, somehow, but for one thing he has no idea how she’s going to react, and for another…

He takes a deep breath, and his decision’s made. He gulps. While he'd like to think he can keep a level head in any situation, any situation clearly doesn't extend to informing his dead friend’s ex that said dead friend may not actually be dead.

“What’s—?”

“Were you there when he died?” Enthir blurts out.

Her eyes go wide. His don't, even though he definitely hadn’t planned this.

“Yes.” She blinks hard. “If I had been faster, I might have been able to save him.”

Enthir thinks he can see the faintest glimmer of tears in her eyes, even now. Against his better judgment, he asks, softly, “Are you sure?”

Anger blazes in her eyes, replacing the quiet melancholy in them up to now, and Enthir has just enough time to realize he’s made a mistake before she’s stood, and the next thing he knows he’s got a dagger pressed to his throat, angled carefully so as to hide it from the innkeeper. She’s done this before.

“Enough of this. You implied in your letter that you had something important to tell me. Tell it. Now.”

There’s more than a bit of bitterness in her words, and Enthir could guess at why, if of course he wasn’t a little preoccupied with the dagger at his throat.

“Right. You’re not going to believe me. I wouldn’t if I were in your position.”

She narrows her eyes.

“Try me.”

“Gallus is alive.”

She freezes. Anger turns to shock, but swiftly becomes anger again. She doesn’t lower her dagger, but at least doesn’t press it in further—yet.

She’s not the same. He’d always known her as someone quiet, someone careful, someone always thinking before acting—and certainly not the dunmer woman who likely won’t hesitate to slit his throat on the spot if he makes one more wrong move.

Clearly, these twenty-five years have changed her, and it’s debatable whether it’s for the better.

“This isn’t funny, Enthir.”

“I’m telling the truth, I’ll swear on anything you like.” In a last, desperate attempt to convince her, he raises his hands in surrender. “Don’t know how, but he is, I swear.”

For a few terse seconds, she stands there like a statue, apparently thinking on this. She makes a decision. In an instant, she slips her dagger away out of sight, takes a seat like nothing's happened.

Enthir risks a glance towards the bar, and realizes that the bartender’s left, probably when she drew her knife—even if he hadn't seen that, bartenders are generally quite good at telling when tensions are high and something's about to go down. He doesn’t blame the man. As he lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, Enthir makes a mental note to slip a few extra septims into Dagur’s pockets when he gets the chance. He might not be a thief by trade, but he isn’t exactly helpless when it comes to less-than-legal things, after all.

The woman he’s here to meet has been silent for some time now, and eventually, cautiously, Enthir risks a look up at her. Her hood does little to hide the hope in her eyes, although she quickly masks it with skepticism.

“I wish I could believe you. I really do. But, I already told you… I watched him die.”

Enthir nods. “I know. I’m not arguing that. I don’t know how he’s alive, but if you watched him die, then magic’s likely involved. What kind, I don’t know. The closest any conjurer can achieve would be a mindless thrall, and Gallus clearly isn’t that.”

She blinks hard. “So he… Nocturnal’s grace, he must hate me. He’s… here? In the College?”

“He was, until yesterday.” He frowns, thinks on how best to deal with the next bit. “I don’t know that he’d recognize you, however. He didn’t recognize me.”

“What do you…”

She trails off as she realizes just what Enthir might be saying, and her gaze falls to the table. She glances up again, and slowly, he nods.

“Amnesia. Took a bit of asking around, but word is that he showed up some time ago knowing nothing but his name, and hoping to find out more about himself. I was… out, at the time, unfortunately, when he first arrived.”

“Shadows preserve us,” she swears under her breath. “He must be so lost…”

Despite the fact that she’d looked very ready to kill him if need be just minutes before, Enthir offers her a reassuring smile. While the years clearly haven’t been kind to her, she’s still very clearly the same dunmer thief who’d once thought the world of Gallus and he of her.

He hopes, for both of their sakes, that she can figure things out.

“Then you should go find him. He’s left for Dawnstar, in the hope that someone there might be able to help with his amnesia. Even if he doesn’t remember you, he’d be significantly less lost with someone to help.”

She takes a shaky breath, and slowly, carefully, shakes her head. “I couldn’t. After what… what happened, I… don’t think I can face him. Even if he can’t remember it.”

Enthir sighs. “Then don’t. Protect him from the shadows or something. Keep him from dying a second time until he can figure things out on his own. As I said… Dawnstar. If you hurry, you’ll be able to catch up with him.”

She nods, slowly, deliberately, and stands. “I think… I’ll do that. Enthir… thank you. Words can’t express…”

“It’s quite alright.” The corners of his mouth tug up into a smile. “Of course, I’d appreciate it if you’d try not to pull a knife on me in the future.”

She at least has the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry. I—most of the people I knew from back then would kill me on sight. Might be a little on edge.”

“A little?”

She sighs. “I’ll just… get going. Thank you.”

In a flash, she’s out the door. It’s the last Enthir sees of her for a long time.

Chapter Text

As the sun rises on a new day in the northern province of Skyrim, the Jarl of Windhelm slips into the city of Solitude. He arrives unannounced, but he’s not exactly the most inconspicuous figure, and the Shout from the Blue Palace is unmistakable. The Jarl in question leaves the city soon after, and his actions are soon the subject of much debate. Some claim it was an honorable duel to the death. Others claim that the Jarl is a murderer.

Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings on the matter, two things are quite certain. First, Ulfric Stormcloak, the Jarl of Windhelm, killed High King Torygg. A Shout was almost certainly involved. The news of this spreads quickly, and Skyrim will soon be left reeling with the loss of its leader and its king. In the Blue Palace, a recently-widowed Queen Consort quietly grieves, mourning what could have been and now never would be.

The second thing that’s quite clear is that, while tensions have been high in Skyrim for some time, things have been more or less peaceful. That’s about to change. Regardless of the respective honor or lack thereof involved in Ulfric’s act, it was an act of war, and the Empire will respond in kind.

The Civil War is about to begin for real. However, the vast majority of Skyrim (and Tamriel too, come to think of it) is still unaware of what Torygg’s death and the Civil War will bring to fruition. Soon, the Dragonborn will come, and even he’s as clueless as anyone else. He wouldn’t have known of his inner power even if he hadn’t been an amnesiac.

Currently, the individual who will soon be revealed as the Dragonborn is on the road to Dawnstar. The trip so far has been relatively uneventful, and he hasn’t even needed to unsheath his sword save to deal with a pack of wolves. Those wolves had decided that, apparently, this lone traveler would make an easy meal. After one of their pack took a blade through the snout, the other two quickly fled… although that might have been due in part to the Fear spell their attacker had cast.

As the soon-to-be Dragonborn arrives in Dawnstar, it’s quite clear to anyone who might have been watching that he’s exhausted and near collapse from walking through the night. He quickly heads into the inn, and before doing anything else, proceeds to pay for a room and pass out within it. In retrospect, traveling at night maybe wasn’t the greatest idea he’d ever had.

Elsewhere, the woman from his past follows, perhaps a day behind, perhaps less. If the man spends any significant amount of time in Dawnstar, she will almost certainly catch up, although nothing will happen between them. He won’t recognize her, although he might have an oddly strong sense of deja vu, and she will pretend not to recognize him, for reasons that span many things but mainly involve a crippling kind of guilt over the events of that fateful night, twenty-five years ago.


It doesn’t take Gallus long to find the priest of Mara. In all honesty, it probably helps that said priest of Mara is, very obviously, a very religious man of some kind. Sure, he’s a Dunmer, and while Gallus remembers hearing somewhere (probably Brelyna or Drevis) that Dunmer tend to revere the Daedra more than the Aedra, he’s not particularly surprised to find that this particular one is an extremely steadfast worshipper of Mara once he opens his mouth.

As it turns out, he’s also a healer himself, which explains how he began corresponding with Colette of all people.

“I’m glad you’re here,” the priest confesses across a table in the corner, nursing a bottle of mead. Maybe it’s not the most priestly thing to do, but considering that 1) this is Skyrim, where everybody drinks and 2) it’s plain to see that he’s extremely stressed, Gallus isn’t about to point fingers. “I was beginning to think the College wouldn’t send anyone.”

Gallus decides not to tell him that the College hadn’t exactly sent him to help, and in fact Colette had only mentioned him due to the whole amnesia thing. Gallus still isn’t sure how to bring up that, although it might be easier once he helps the priest with… whatever it is he needs.

“We’ve been… busy,” Gallus says, completely aware of how that’s the understatement of the era. “My name’s Gallus. I’m… an Illusion mage.” The priest nods.

“Erandur, priest of Mara,” the priest introduces, then frowns. “Why on earth Colette thought I needed an Illusion mage, I don’t know, but we’re running out of time. More specifically, the people of Dawnstar are running out of time.” Gallus raises an eyebrow, and nods for him to continue. Erandur leans back in his chair, closes his eyes, and sighs.

“The entire town is being plagued by horrible nightmares, and has been for some time,” Erandur says. “They’re in serious danger, but I’m afraid I could do nothing about it alone. With help, however… how skilled are you with that sword?” Gallus shrugs. Everyone’s been asking that lately, to be honest, and while his actual knowledge is limited to where to stick the pointy end, the blade he’s been using feels… almost familiar.

“I can hold my own in a fight,” Gallus says. Erandur eyes him with more than a little skepticism, but eventually nods.

“Good. You’ll need to,” Erandur says. “I can answer some of your questions now, but the sooner we get moving… the better.”

“Alright,” Gallus agrees, then pauses, and thinks for a moment. “So… Dawnstar is in danger. How so?”

“The dreams are manifestations created by the Daedric Lord Vaermina,” Erandur says. Gallus sucks in a breath, because while he’s heard of several Daedra during his time at the College, Vaermina was not one of them. “She has an awful hunger for our memories. In return, she leaves behind nightmares, not unlike a cough marks a serious illness. I… we must end her terrible influence over these people before the damage becomes permanent.”

“Vaermina… got it,” Gallus says slowly, silently cursing his amnesia. “Remind me who that is again?” Erandur looks mildly surprised.

“You’re from the College and you don’t know who Vaermina is?” Erandur asks.

“It never came up,” Gallus says. “I haven’t been at the College long.” Erandur groans, and setting his mead aside, he buries his head in his hands.

“Great, they sent me an apprentice,” he mutters, although his voice is muffled by his hands. “We are so dead.”

“I can cast Expert-level Illusion spells,” Gallus counters. “So who’s Vaermina?”

“Daedric Lord of dreams and nightmares,” Erandur says, glancing up with remarkably little hope in his eyes. “Or Daedric Prince, I suppose, but Vaermina has always been referred to as female, much like a few others… Nocturnal, for instance.”

“Nocturnal?” Gallus asks, his curiosity piqued, although he's not certain why. Erandur shakes his head.

“Daedric Lord of thieves and darkness, among other things… Look, if you want to learn about other Daedra, I am not the one you want to be talking to,” Erandur says. “The only one that's a problem here is Vaermina.” Gallus nods. While a part of him wants to know more about Nocturnal, duty calls. He supposes it's some consolation that Erandur likely doesn't know all that much about this Nocturnal, anyway. He is a priest of Mara, after all… how much could he possibly know about the various Daedra?

“So what should I know about Vaermina?” Gallus asks after a moment. Erandur smiles wryly.

“She resides in a realm of Oblivion known only to us as Quagmire, a nightmarish land where reality shifts upon itself in seemingly impossible ways. From her citadel at the center, she reaches forth to collect our memories, leaving nothing in return apart from visions of horror and despair.” Gallus’ eyes go wide at this, and for good reason.

“Hang on,” Gallus says in a small voice, clearly taken aback. “You said… Vaermina can take our memories?” Erandur nods.

“That is correct,” Erandur says. “Why do you ask?” Gallus frowns, trying to think of how best to phrase this.

“Would Vaermina be able to cause amnesia?” Gallus asks, both hopeful that he might have finally figured it out and terrified that he might have finally figured it out. Who would have known all he had to do was head out to Dawnstar and meet up with a priest of Mara? Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Erandur shakes his head.

“I highly doubt it,” Erandur says thoughtfully. “The amount of memories Vaermina would have to take would be more likely render an individual insane, catatonic, or dead first. However, I may be wrong. That, in fact, is why this town is in danger. Its proximity to one of her artifacts makes its inhabitants particularly vulnerable. You've heard someone complaining of recurring nightmares already, I suspect.”

Gallus nods, and says nothing besides. After a moment, Erandur polishes off his mead, stands, and looks Gallus in the eye.

“I know how to put an end to the nightmares once and for all,” Erandur says, “but I’m going to need some help. Are you with me?” He hesitates, frowns, and adds, “I’m sorry I can't explain much.”

It might be a negative reflection on the company Gallus has been keeping lately that he's somewhat used to not getting much in the way of explanation. That doesn't necessarily mean he likes it, but seeing as Erandur is currently his only lead on his amnesia… he doesn't exactly have much of a choice. Well, he does, but it's this or continuing to wander aimlessly in the hope he’ll find something.

Gallus really would rather not wander aimlessly any more than he has to, thank you very much.

“I mean… I don't have anything better to do,” Gallus says, and Erandur’s features light up. “So… how do we solve the problem?” Erandur grins.

“I'm glad you asked,” he confesses. “I need to return to the source of the problem, to Nightcaller Temple. Perhaps you’d be willing to assist me in that regard?” Gallus nods. That, at least, doesn't sound too terribly difficult.

“I’d be willing,” Gallus says, getting to his feet with a determined look in his eyes. All of a sudden, something Erandur said doesn't seem quite right. “Hold on… return? Did I hear you right?” Erandur suddenly looks distinctly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation, and Gallus makes a mental note of that.

“I've… already said too much,” Erandur says, clearly dodging the question. (He could have just said no…) “If anyone overhears what we're saying, it could start a panic. I would simply ask that you trust me and help me end Dawnstar's nightmares.” Gallus frowns, but nods.

“I'll trust you until I have a reason not to,” Gallus says, despite the nagging feeling in his gut that trusting someone, anyone like that is a bad idea. After all, Erandur’s a priest, and not only that, but a priest of Mara. Besides… even if this turns out to be another dead end on the memory front (which it very well might), Gallus doesn't think he'd be able to forgive himself for walking away when people are clearly in danger.

If worst comes to worst, Gallus decides, I can get directions to Whiterun and look into the Companions. Perhaps I can get some actual training on how to use a sword. That would be helpful.

“So,” Gallus continues, getting up and offering Erandur what he sincerely hopes is a reassuring smile, “where are we going?”


“The locals call it the Tower of the Dawn,” Erandur says as the two trek up the admittedly-steep hill. The tower in question looms above them both, at the very top. Gallus glances up at it again, and unconsciously shivers. The place does not look welcoming in the slightest. “I prefer the name Nightcaller Temple.”

“That actually sounds more fitting if you ask me,” Gallus remarks. “So why is this tower… temple… thing so dangerous?” Erandur chuckles humorlessly.

“It's not the Temple that's dangerous, I'm afraid,” Erandur says. “Many years ago, it was home to a group of cultists who followed Vaermina.”

“So we have to kill the cultists?”

“...not exactly,” Erandur says with a wince. “You see, there was a band of orcs passing through the area not long ago. They suffered from the very same nightmares that the people of Dawnstar now are undergoing. Somehow, I’m not certain how, they learned of the cult, and of the artifact housed here.”

“Remind me what artifact that was, again?” Gallus asks. “The name may have slipped my mind.” Erandur shakes his head.

“No, I never mentioned it,” Erandur says. “I may have gotten a little ahead of myself there… regardless. The artifact is called the Skull of Corruption, and it steals the memories of those in proximity to it and replaces them with terrible nightmares.”

“Got it,” Gallus says. “Orcs had nightmares, attacked to make them stop. I'm guessing things didn't go so well for anyone involved?” Erandur nods, and for a moment Gallus thinks he can see a hint of sadness in the older Dunmer’s eyes.

“You’re absolutely right,” Erandur says. “The cultists were quickly overwhelmed, but in order to protect the skull, they released a gas they called ‘the Miasma’ which… for lack of a better description, put them all to sleep, cultists and orcs alike.” Gallus frowns.

“That's… some undying loyalty right there,” he mutters, staring out into space. Had he been looking at Erandur, he would have seen the priest visibly flinch. Fortunately for Erandur, by the time Gallus glances over again, the priest has more or less composed himself. “Why didn't they just take this Skull thing and flee?”

“I… am not certain,” Erandur says quietly. “Perhaps the Skull was - is - immobile. Regardless, we must destroy it before it destroys the people of Dawnstar.”

“Alright,” Gallus says. “I wasn't arguing that. I'm just wondering… how long has it been since they released this Miasma thing? Wouldn’t they all be dead by now?” Erandur shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “The Miasma was said to have been created by the priests of Vaermina for their rituals. Because the rituals would take months, even years… the Miasma was designed to slow down the aging process.”

“That sounds like something people would like, not aging,” Gallus remarks dryly. Erandur nods.

“It does indeed,” the Dunmer agrees. “But it’s not.”

“I figured as much,” Gallus says. The two are coming up on the Temple, and it looks even more bleak against the early summer sky than before. Gallus can’t say he’s looking forward to this, but a promise is a promise, and Gallus intends to keep his. (Also, Erandur might be more willing to help him out with his own… problem after this.) “What’s the catch?”

“Madness, frequent blackouts after waking up, not waking up at all, simply dying in your sleep… take your pick,” Erandur says. Gallus winces. “I fear that if we enter the Temple, and unseal it, the Miasma will dissipate, and everyone within will awaken and attack indiscriminately.”

“That’s why you need someone to back you up,” Gallus says, stopping in front of what he assumes is the entrance to Nightcaller Temple and glancing back at Erandur.

The priest nods, and says, “I sincerely hope you know how to use that sword.”

“I know where to stick the pointy end,” says Gallus. “So far, that’s been enough.”

“Well, if it isn’t, I suspect we’ll both find out quite soon.”

Gallus makes no move to enter the tower at first. After a moment’s respite, Erandur reaches to push open the door, then hesitates slightly. It’s only a second, but it’s more than enough for Gallus to notice, and wonder. When he speaks again, it’s not in voicing the questions he’s beginning to have about what Erandur’s own connection to this place is.

“How dangerous can they be, if they’re just waking up?” Gallus asks in an attempt to lighten the mood. He follows Erandur in, past what he assumes is Erandur’s makeshift shrine to Mara, and only when they come across something blocking their progress forward does Erandur acknowledge him.

“Very dangerous,” Erandur says so seriously that Gallus can’t help but believe him.

Chapter Text

“Now I can show you the source of the nightmares,” Erandur says quietly, sheathing his mace for now, heading over to a barred opening, and pointing down through it. “Over here.” Gallus heads over, and looks down. He can’t quite make out what’s down there, save a reddish force field surrounding… something.

“Is that the Skull of Corruption?” Gallus asks, squinting at it through the bars preventing them or anyone else from jumping straight down.

“Yes,” Erandur says in an even softer tone. A quick glance over at Erandur reveals to Gallus that there’s something deeply personal about this to him, or maybe Gallus is just reading too much into it. Maybe he imagined the guilt-ridden look on the priest’s face that was there for moments at most. “Behold, the source of Dawnstar’s woes. We must reach the inner sanctum and destroy it. Come, there’s no time to lose.”

As it happens, Erandur was right to be worried. Both cultists and invaders alike are awoken as he and Gallus proceed into Nightcaller Temple, and they attack friend and foe alike indiscriminately. Fortunately, the cultists aren’t all that good of fighters, but the orcs, on the other hand… they bring to mind the relentless savagery of the Falmer. Gallus really, really hopes he never has to go into another Dwemer ruin, although he’s not particularly optimistic about that one. He just hopes he has someone he trusts at his back for the next one.

Speaking of someone he trusts… Gallus isn’t quite certain that Erandur can, in fact, be trusted. Certainly, he’s a priest, but priests are generally pacifists. Priests don’t generally go charging in with a flame spell in one hand and a well-worn mace in the other. Erandur, on the other hand, does. There’s also the fact that he knew how to open the barrier to the Temple, although Gallus supposes that he could have learned that in preparation for his task here.

Regardless of this, Gallus doesn’t voice his concerns. Instead, he tries to let Erandur take the lead through the strange, purple mist in the air (probably the Miasma, actually) as much as possible, and tries to keep an eye on where he is at all times. In all honesty, he isn’t sure why his instincts are leading him to be this wary - after all, this is just a priest. But they are, and he is, and he hopes he won’t come to regret being too overly cautious about this, about Erandur.

He wonders, momentarily, as they come to a strange sort of barrier, if maybe he’d been betrayed before. Maybe there was a reason he was reacting this way… but Gallus certainly doesn’t know what it is, and the thought slips his mind as he hears Erandur swear in a most un-priestly fashion.

“The priests must have activated this barrier when the Miasma was released,” Erandur explains. “It’s… difficult to breach. Impossible, actually.”

“Really?” Gallus asks. “You mean we came in here for nothing?” Erandur frowns, and after a moment, shakes his head.

“There may be a way to bypass the barrier, but I must check o-” Erandur coughs hurriedly. “The library. I must check the library to confirm it can be done.” Gallus caught him that time, and Erandur knows it, too. The scholar and the priest regard each other cautiously for a long moment, before Gallus clears his throat awkwardly.

“You… weren’t about to say our library, were you?” Gallus asks innocently, not taking his eyes off Erandur, not sheathing his sword, and silently preparing a Calm spell behind his back for if worst came to worst and the priest attacked him. “Because you do seem to know an awful lot about this place, even for someone who’s been tasked by their goddess to destroy it.”

Erandur lowers his gaze, staring intently at the cracked floor of the hall they’re in.

“I was not tasked by Lady Mara to destroy this place,” Erandur whispers, so softly that Gallus can barely make out his words. He looks up, and looks past him. “I took on this task myself, as a way to atone for what I’ve done in the past.” He still doesn’t meet Gallus’ gaze, and it suddenly clicks for him.

“You don’t mean to say-”

“I do,” Erandur says, shoulders sagging. “I suppose there’s no point in concealing the truth any longer. My knowledge of this temple comes from personal experience. I… was a priest of Vaermina, long ago.”

Gallus bites back a sarcastic remark, because now really isn’t the time unless he really does want to need that Calm spell. Sarcasm, unfortunately, is not the solution to everything. Instead, he says, quietly, “Why keep it a secret?”

Erandur laughs humorlessly. “When the orcs invaded the temple, I fled,” Erandur explains, and Gallus doesn’t think he’s imagining the sorrow in his eyes. “I left my brothers and sisters here to die. I’ve spent the last few decades living in regret and seeking redemption from Mara. And by Her Benevolence, I will right my wrongs.” His expression is full of resolve, and Gallus can see his determination. He can respect that.

“Sounds good to me,” Gallus says. “Anything else I should know, or… well… would now be a good time to mention that I’m an amnesiac?” If Erandur’s shocked expression is any indication… no. Not at all.

“You do a good job of pretending otherwise,” Erandur says solemnly. “I take it that’s why you’re so interested in what’s going on here?” Gallus nods.

“Yes,” says Gallus. “You wouldn’t happen to have any idea on how I can get my memories back, would you?”

“If Vaermina took them, you wouldn’t be getting them back,” says Erandur after a long pause. “However, as I said earlier, you would not be walking around if Vaermina had taken that many from you. I’m afraid I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but once we’re done with the Skull, I can help you look into it.”

Gallus nods, and says, ‘Thank you.” There’s another long pause, interrupted only by whatever is going on within the barrier with the soul gem powering it, but this time, it’s less uncomfortable, somewhat.

“To the library, then,” Erandur says. “I still have my key, from...” He lapses into silence, clearly less than comfortable with the subject. Gallus nods, and lets Erandur lead the way, this time because he actually knows where he’s going. He still doesn’t quite trust Erandur, not completely… but he’s at least not expecting the priest to stab him in the back, or take a mace to his skull. That’s progress, he supposes.

“Be careful,” Erandur warns as he turns the key in the lock. “We’re certain to find more of the awakened within.”

“I could… try to keep them from attacking us?” Gallus offers. With his free hand, he readies a Calm spell, then looks to Erandur. Erandur sighs, and shakes his head.

“The gesture is appreciated, but… I fear they will be too far gone even for that,” Erandur says sadly, pushing the door open with one hand and readying his mace with another. Gallus lets the Calm spell dissipate, and then summons a different kind of Illusion spell to his free hand.

“Courage spell it is,” Gallus mutters as Erandur charges in. “Not that you need it.” He manages to catch Erandur square in the back with the blue-ish spell, and the priest charges in.

“Feel the Benevolence of Mara!” Erandur shouts as he runs for a group of cultists and orcs alike. He proceeds to bash the face in of one, and Gallus doesn’t actually have to do anything. He just stands back and watches as Erandur takes down four enemies, two of which are trained warriors, in a matter of seconds. Granted, they were just waking up, but still…

It’s mildly terrifying. Gallus sincerely hopes not all priests in Skyrim are like this, but then again, this is Skyrim.


“Barring any more interruptions, perhaps we can locate the information I need,” Erandur says, sheathing his mace. Gallus nods. They both make a point of not looking at the new corpses adorning the library’s floor, two orcs and two cultists, a Breton and another Dunmer.

“What am I looking for, exactly?” Gallus asks.

“We’re looking for a book of alchemical recipes called The Dreamstride. The tome bears the likeness of Vaermina on the cover.” Erandur frowns, surveying the destruction of the library. “It… should be here somewhere, assuming it’s still intact.”

“If it’s not… how big of a problem will we have?”

Erandur winces. “Big,” he says and looks around wistfully. “This library used to be filled with arcane volumes, and now… Now look at it, almost everything’s been burned.” He sighs, and returns his attention to Gallus. “I’ll check the bottom, if you look up on the balcony shelves?”

As it happens, the ‘balcony shelves’ are significantly more precarious than the area below, but after some extremely cautious maneuvering around a collapsed portion of the ceiling, Gallus finds it. The Dreamstride is a heavy book with vaguely blueish covers and the likeness of something… that Gallus definitely would not have guessed to be Vaermina on the first guess, or the second and third for that matter.

“Found it,” Gallus calls, and after eyeing the drop cautiously, he slips back down to the ground level, the book tucked under his arm for safekeeping. He wastes no time in passing it to Erandur, who wastes no time in leafing through it until he reaches the page he’s looking for. Eventually, he finds it, and nods to himself, satisfied.

“Mara be praised! There is a way past the barrier to the inner sanctum,” Erandur exclaims, looking to Gallus with the same steely resolve from earlier. “It involves a recipe for a liquid known as Vaermina’s Torpor.” Gallus knows he hasn’t heard of it, at least not since his amnesia happened, but if The Dreamstride is an alchemical book, and Vaermina’s Torpor is a liquid…

“Is that… a potion?” Gallus asks cautiously. Erandur nods. “I didn’t read the book. What does it do?” Wordlessly, Erandur passes the book over to him, and Gallus quickly looks through the section on Vaermina’s Torpor, and the titular Dreamstride. He quickly gathers that while this will very clearly be very dangerous, it also seems extremely interesting, and his curiosity quickly overshadows his hesitations.

Of the numerous potions that have surfaced to date, Vaermina's Torpor is perhaps the most impressive. A single sip of this viscous liquid places the imbiber in a state known as "The Dreamstride." This condition allows the subject to experience the dreams of another as if they were actually there. The subject becomes an integral part of the dream, behaving as if they belong. To any other entities in this dream state, the subject will be mistaken for the dreamer; the subject will even find his mannerisms, speech patterns and knowledge expanded appropriately.

To an observer, after the subject has imbibed the potion, they will appear to vanish. As the subject traverses distances within the dream, they will also be traversing distances in the actual world. When the Torpor's effect has expired, the subject will fade back into reality in the exact location projected within the Dreamstride. Some Dreamstrides have transported their subjects a few feet, and some have appeared thousands of miles from their origin in a matter of minutes.

It's to be noted that the Dreamstride is highly dangerous and presents the subject with numerous pitfalls. In certain dreams, subjects have been exposed to life-threatening scenarios such as sicknesses, violence and even death. In most cases, the subject simply fades back to our world without harm, but in some instances, the subject never reappeared and was assumed to have expired or the subject reappeared deceased. It's also quite possible that the subject could reappear in a precarious or hazardous location in reality, even though that location appeared safe within the Dreamstride.

Vaermina's Torpor is as mysterious and elusive as the priests that created it. It's unknown whether this unique transport mechanism is a result of the Torpor itself or simply the odd machinations of Vaermina, but the potential for using the Dreamstride to penetrate seemingly impassible obstacles certainly outweighs its mysterious nature.

“So… if I drink this potion, I’ll be able to travel past the barrier. Through a dream,” Gallus concludes, offering the book back to Erandur. He doesn’t take it, but nods, and eventually Gallus just slips the book into his bag for safekeeping. “Does this… really work?”

“As far as I’m aware, it should,” Erandur says. “Yes, the Torpor grants the ability we… they called the Dreamstride, and yes, it allows you to use dreams to travel distances in the real world.”

“That’s… honestly pretty amazing,” Gallus says. After a moment’s hesitation, Erandur smiles slightly.

“Quite amazing, yes,” Erandur agrees. “Alchemy and the blessings of a Divine distilled into an ingestible liquid.” After a moment, he adds, “Sadly, I have yet to see it function in person.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m going to be your test subject,” Gallus says bluntly. Erandur visibly winces, but nods.

“Well… yes, but also no,” Erandur says. “If there was another way, I would gladly take it. You see, as a sworn priest of Mara, the elixir won’t work for me. The Torpor will only work for sworn priests of Vaermina, or the unaffliliated.” He looks pointedly at Gallus, who gulps.

“Sounds dangerous,” Gallus remarks. “How can you be certain?” Erandur sighs.

“I’m not,” Erandur admits. “I will not lie to you, there is some risk involved. The last time the Torpor was imbibed could have been decades ago. But I swear upon Lady Mara that I will do everything within my power to prevent any harm from befalling you.”

Gallus hesitates, but nods. He’ll take Erandur at his word for now.

“Do you know where we can find the Torpor?” Gallus asks.

“Not for sure,” says Erandur. “However, there used to be a laboratory adjourning the library. If we proceed there, we should be able to obtain an intact sample, Mara willing.”

Several more dead cultists and orcs later, they’ve found it, along with a lot of other alchemy ingredients that Gallus honestly has no clue how to use. Erandur’s more than happy to take the assorted ingredients off his hands, but the Torpor stays with Gallus. He looks at the tall bottle, staring into the depths of the dark liquid within that has to be Vaermina’s Torpor. If only staring at it could give him the answer’s he’s so desperately seeking.

“I’m relieved you discovered a bottle intact, but Dawnstar’s fate rests in that bottle. The longer we wait, the more damage Vaermina could be doing to those poor people,” Erandur says, putting a hand on Gallus’ shoulder and meeting his gaze. Fiery red eyes meet a stormy blue-grey, and Gallus really wishes he could say he isn’t terrified of this. He is. He definitely is. “I understand your hesitation, but I promise you that it works.”

Gallus nods, slowly, and lifts the bottle.

“Bottoms up,” he says, and downs the contents before he can change his mind.

Chapter Text

Vaermina’s Torpor takes effect almost instantly. One moment, Gallus is draining the last drops of the potion - which doesn’t taste particularly terrible, but doesn’t taste particularly good, either, it’s actually kind of tasteless - and the next, he’s standing beside two Vaermina cultists who seem to think he’s one of them. Apparently, he’s wound up in a Vaermina cultist’s dream or something.

He figures he can work with this.

“The orcs have breached the inner sanctum, Brother Veren,” one of the cultists, a Nord with a full beard and not much else in the way of hair, says to another, presumably Veren. Veren is a Dunmer with red hair, a goatee, and a distinctive-looking mohawk, not to mention a scowl.

“We must hold,” Veren says grimly. “We can’t allow the Skull to fall into their hands.”

“But… no more than a handful of us remain, brother.”

Gallus figures now would be a good time to ask if maybe they could just move the Skull, but his mouth doesn’t work. His body is not his own right now, and he’d be worried (well, more worried) if he didn’t distinctly remember Erandur mentioning this might happen.

You’ll be viewing the memories of another through your own eyes and with your own body, Erandur had said, paraphrasing the book. Those around you will perceive you as normal and you will find the words you utter may not be your own. Thanks to all of these odd principles, there is quite a lot of debate as to whether this is really a dream or just the machinations of Vaermina.

Well, whoever’s dream he’s in currently clearly isn’t about to suggest moving the Skull elsewhere. Damn it.

“Then we have no choice,” Veren intones, even though Gallus knows full well he does indeed have a choice and is currently screaming at him (mentally) to move the Skull, damn it, it’s the obvious thing to do! “The Miasma must be released.” The Nord, predictably, looks shocked.

“The Miasma?” The Nord asks uneasily. “But, brother…”

“We have no alternative. It is the will of Vaermina,” Veren says, sounding suspiciously like he’s trying to convince himself as well as the others. He looks to Gallus - well, whoever Gallus is supposed to be. “And what about you, Brother Casimir? Are you prepared to serve the will of Vaermina?”

Well, Gallus has a name for who he’s supposed to be, at least - Casimir. By the time he remembers that Veren asked him a question, he - well, Casimir - has already begun answering.

“I’ve made my peace,” Casimir says, and the voice definitely isn’t Gallus’ own. (It sounds vaguely familiar, oddly enough, although he can't quite place it.) “I’m ready.” Veren nods, satisfied by this answer.

“Then it's decided,” Veren concludes. “Brother Casimir, you must activate the barrier and release the Miasma. Let nothing stop you. Brother Thorek, we must remain here and guard this Skull with our lives if necessary." The bearded Nord, Thorek, nods.

“Agreed,” Thorek agrees, although there’s a hint of sadness to his words. “To the death.” If he were any other Nord, Gallus would be expecting something along the lines of ‘victory or Sovngarde’ to be coming out of his mouth right about then. Apparently cultists of Vaermina didn’t believe in Sovngarde. Then again, Gallus himself still isn’t completely sure what or where Sovngarde even is, other than it’s presumably some sort of Nordic warrior heaven… so that would be another thing he probably should ask about at some point.

He’ll add it to the list.

“Then let it be done,” Veren says, completely unaware of Gallus’ thoughts. “Farewell, my brothers!”

While Gallus is still trying to figure out just what’s going on here, Casimir sprints out of the central chamber. It’s quite clear he knows exactly where he’s going, and Casimir, whoever he is, barely spares a glance for the chaos and carnage unfolding around him. He books it through the Temple so quickly that Gallus can hardly keep up, and by the time he reaches the giant pull chain, Casimir - and Gallus by extension - is so, so winded. He stops, just for a second, to catch his breath, and then reaches for the chain. It takes both hands to pull it, and as the Miasma is released, Casimir glances towards the exit, and suddenly the scene changes.

Instead of seeing through Casimir’s eyes, Gallus has no idea where he is, mostly because there’s absolute darkness around him. He can move again, but he definitely can’t see, and Gallus is… reasonably certain this isn’t supposed to happen.

“My, my, what do we have here? A Nightingale returns, from beyond the grave? Ah, but it’s not that simple, now, is it? Oh, no, of course it's not. It never is, is it?"

Gallus opens his mouth to speak, to ask this voice who in Oblivion she(?) is, but he can’t seem to get the words out. He’s still not completely in control, much to his chagrin. The voice, whoever she(?) is, laughs.

“You actually don't know...? Well, well, well. I suppose this will be quite interesting, if nothing else," the voice says, sounding particularly amused (but Gallus isn't entirely sure what at). "We shall see how this turns out, won’t we? Until then… farewell, Nightingale. But first, a warning: do not let your Oath remain forgotten.”

Just like that, the scene changes again. He’s back in Nightcaller Temple, back where he was when the Dreamstride left off with Casimir, except this time, he’s staring at the soul gem powering the barrier. Heart pounding, possibly as an aftereffect of the Dreamstride, possibly because he’s so damn confused at this point, he takes the soul gem, and shoves it into his pack. If nothing else, he can sell it or use it to power his sword’s enchantment or… something. He'll figure it out.

The barrier dissipates, and Gallus turns to see Erandur rushing through the space that was formerly blocked by the soul-gem-powered barrier. He looks positively thrilled.

At least one of us is happy about this, Gallus thinks to himself, still very confused. That first bit of the dream seemed like what Erandur said would happen, but the second bit… it almost seemed like that voice was talking directly to him.

That, of course, can’t be possible. Regardless, Gallus still can’t help but wonder… what in Oblivion is a Nightingale?

“You vanished after drinking the Torpor, and reappeared on the other side,” Erandur explains, sounding at least somewhat in awe of the whole thing. “I have never seen anything quite like it.” Gallus nods, and despite himself, he grins.

“It was remarkable… almost like I was really there!” Gallus exclaims. Erandur’s excitement must be rubbing off on him, but when the priest nods for him to continue, Gallus has no problem whatsoever with obliging. “At first. I was one of the cultists… someone named Brother Casimir, and I had to release the Miasma. Did you… know Brother Casimir?”

When Gallus mentions the name, Erandur freezes. Slowly, sadly, he nods.

“I did,” Erandur says quietly.

“Have we… run into him yet?” Gallus asks. Erandur frowns, but eventually nods.

“In a sense… yes,” Erandur says softly, then clears his throat, and leaves it at that. “So Casimir released the Miasma… then what?”

“That’s when it got weird,” Gallus admits. “Everything got dark, and a disembodied voice that sounded distinctly female started talking to me, or… whoever I was taking the place of then. It mentioned something called a… Nightingale. Do you know what that is?”

“I’m afraid not,” Erandur says, “but I can help you look into it later, if you wish. In the meantime…” He hefts his mace, and sets his jaw into a grim line.

“Let’s finish this,” Gallus says, drawing his sword. Erandur nods.

“Let’s finish this,” Erandur agrees. “The inner sanctum lies ahead. We must reach the Skull and put an end to Dawnstar’s troubles. Lead on, my friend.”

Gallus does so in a heartbeat. While the fact that Erandur easily could stab him in the back doesn’t miss him, he chooses to ignore it. He chooses to trust Erandur. He’s got a dark past, certainly, but he’s trying to make up for it and Gallus can definitely respect that.

(Besides, for all he knows he might have an even worse past.)


It’s not an easy fight between there and the Skull, but between one amnesiac with a knack for Illusion spells and one priest of Mara, Erandur and Gallus do alright. As it happens, it helps a lot with certain enemies that are exceptionally good at bashing brains in with warhammers when you have an ally to circle behind the enemy currently attacking you and set them on fire. As it happens, even the most disciplined of orcs freak out when they’re set on fire from behind… although part of that might be the aftereffects of the Miasma.

Gallus actually thinks they might be able to work this out, right up until he and Erandur are approaching the Skull and two cultists step out to protect it, two cultists that Gallus remembers very well from his brief trip into Brother Casimir’s memories: Veren and Thorek. Gallus quickly takes a step back, looking to Erandur on this at least.

“Wait… Veren… Thorek… you’re alive!” Erandur exclaims, very clearly recognizing them as well and very clearly glad to see them. Unfortunately for him, the sentiment isn’t returned.

“No thanks to you, Casimir,” Veren spits, and suddenly, another piece of the puzzle clicks into place for Gallus. Erandur didn’t know Casimir, Erandur is Casimir… or was, anyway. When Erandur speaks again, it’s plain to see (well, hear) that he’s choosing his words carefully. Gallus suspects it won’t help things any, but he supposes it’s at least worth a try.

“I no longer use that name,” Erandur says, and hesitates. He hasn’t put away his mace, so Gallus hasn’t put away his sword. It’s probably a good thing, because both Veren and Thorek have their weapons out and look very ready to use them. “I’m Erandur, Priest of Mara.”

“You’re a traitor. You left us to die and then ran before the Miasma took you.”

Suddenly, Casimir’s glance at the way out makes sense. Perhaps, if Gallus had remained in those memories for a few moments longer, he would have seen him running. It explains how Casimir survived to become Erandur, and… well, Erandur looks badly shaken, to be completely honest, but he’s keeping it together, somehow.

Gallus really hopes he doesn’t wind up in a situation like this, where he has to fight his friends, because that’s… definitely what’s going to happen here, for Erandur. It’s only a matter of time. Erandur knows this, too, perhaps better than Gallus himself does.

“No,” Erandur says quietly. “I… I was scared. I wasn’t ready to sleep.”

“Enough of your lies!” Veren exclaims, despite the fact that Erandur hadn’t actually said any lies. “I can’t allow you to destroy the Skull, Priest of Mara!”

Erandur sighs. Gallus glances over just in time to catch him blinking hard, and it’s then Erandur resigns himself to what he has to do. With surprising fervor, he shouts, “Then you leave me no choice!” Erandur leaps into battle with Veren, leaving Thorek for Gallus, who finds rather quickly that Thorek, while devastating with his shock spells, has next to no defenses against a blade in the gut.

Thorek falls, and Gallus turns to see Erandur has finished with Veren as well. Erandur looks crushed, and this time, he doesn’t bother trying to hide it. He looks to Gallus and says, quietly, “I… knew Veren and Thorek. They were my friends. Is this punishment for my past? Is it Mara’s will to torment me so?”

“We had no choice,” Gallus says quietly, hoping he can reassure the priest at least somewhat. Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “They… were trying to kill us.”

“And had they succeeded, Dawnstar’s fate would be sealed,” Erandur says grimly, then remarks, “You… have a unique way of looking at things, my friend.” Gallus shrugs.

“It’s the way things are, isn’t it?” Gallus says, and sheathes his sword as he does so. Erandur nods.

“It is,” Erandur says. “And I believe it’s time. The Skull must be destroyed. If you’ll stand back, I’ll perform the ritual granted to me by Lady Mara.” Gallus takes a big step back, then another. He does not want to get in the way of this Skull-destroying ritual. If it’s capable of destroying a Daedric artifact, it’s definitely more than capable of destroying him.

“Go right ahead,” Gallus says. “I won’t stop you.” Erandur nods, and goes up the steps. Just before he reaches the Skull, he looks back to Gallus with a smile.

“Thank you,” Erandur says sincerely, then returns his attention to the Skull. “First, an incantation to remove the barrier…” By now, he’s talking to himself more than anything else, and Gallus takes the opportunity to take another big step back. Where magic’s concerned, you honestly can’t be too far back from things.

As Erandur begins chanting, Gallus looks on, perfectly content to do so, because why wouldn’t he b-

“He’s deceiving you,” someone says, a sort of disembodied voice that Erandur can’t hear, and while this voice too sounds distinctly female, this one sounds… different, somehow, from the one in the dream. Possibly not in a good way. Discreetly, Gallus looks around, and his suspicions are confirmed. Whoever’s speaking right now, is most certainly not in this room.

“What do you mean,” Gallus whispers tersely. The voice pays him no heed.

“When the ritual’s complete, the Skull will be free, and then Erandur will turn on you.”

Gallus looks between Erandur and the Skull, and frowns. Erandur certainly looks like he’s performing a ritual to banish the Skull to the depths of Oblivion… and why wouldn’t he be?

Several reasons immediately come to mind, not least of which that Erandur might be lying about his affiliation with Mara and might just want the Skull for himself. After all, Erandur needed Gallus’ help to get here. Who’s to say he won’t just turn on him as soon as he has the Skull? Unless…

“Quickly! Kill him. Kill him now, and claim the Skull for your own,” the voice orders. For a few, tense seconds, Gallus almost obeys. His hand goes to his sword, and he begins to pull it out of its sheath, but hesitates. It’s then, when he’s hesitating, that the voice says one last thing that, while probably meant to sway Gallus in favor of murdering Erandur on the spot, actually only hardens his resolve not to.

“Vaermina commands you!” The voice orders, and as Gallus realizes it’s Vaermina speaking, he shoves his sword roughly back into his sheath, takes another step back, and shakes his head slowly.

“Not a chance,” Gallus says quietly. "If you want him dead, it won't be by my hand." He watches from afar as a distinct pink glow envelopes the Skull entirely. It dissipates into nothingness, and as the glow from Erandur’s hands fades, he hunches over, suddenly looking much older or at least much more exhausted.

“Forgive me if I don’t appear relieved...” Erandur says quietly as he shuffles down the steps. “This temple has taken its toll on me.” Gallus nods.

“I can see that,” Gallus says, and offers Erandur a friendly smile. “I’m just glad it’s done, to be honest.” Erandur laughs humorlessly.

“You and me both,” Erandur says, returning the smile. “Thank you for trusting me… I’ll admit I didn’t exactly make it easy in the beginning.”

Gallus’ smile disappears.

I nearly attacked him, Gallus realizes in horror. I nearly killed him when he was defenseless, and why? Because a disembodied voice that was most likely Vaermina herself told me to.

Gallus makes a mental note not to listen to disembodied voices in the future, especially not where Daedra are involved. It still doesn't stop him from feeling like shit over it.

“But in all seriousness,” Gallus continues, forcing the smile back on, “you look like you could use a drink. Want to go imitate the local Nords?” Erandur simply stares at him for a long moment, so long that Gallus wonders for a time if he accidentally broke some sort of priestly taboo, before nodding.

“Sure,” Erandur says. “You look like you could use one as well, actually... are you alright?"

"Fine," Gallus lies.

Chapter Text

“We drink to our youth, and to days come and gone,” sings the local bard, “for the age of oppression is now nearly done.”

As the bard sings the song of the Stormcloaks (not per anyone’s request), a priest and an amnesiac are currently taking full advantage of the on-the-house mead offered by the innkeeper. As it happens, the entire town was relieved to hear that there wouldn't be any more nightmares. Gallus was expecting that. Gallus wasn't expecting free drinks, although he certainly isn't complaining.

Initially, the inn was crowded with the townspeople asking question after question about what happened. Gallus let Erandur do most of the talking, and didn't correct him on certain details left out, like the real reason he was in Dawnstar to begin with. The inn’s not particularly full now that the last of the townspeople went home. The only patrons left at this point are Erandur, Gallus, and a hooded figure in the corner nursing a bottle of Honningbrew Mead that casts glances in the other patrons’ direction every now and then.

Gallus isn't particularly bothered. He'd be curious about himself and Erandur, too.

“I'm going to be completely honest with you here,” Gallus says after a swig of his mead, “I think I'd rather go through another temple like that one than deal with that crowd again.”

“Not a fan of social interaction, I take it?” Erandur asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Well… not necessarily,” Gallus shrugs. “I just happen to prefer books. Books, as a general rule, won’t talk your ear off and you can close them when you’ve had enough. People… not so much.”

Erandur looks at him for a moment or two like he's crazy, then actually bursts out laughing.

“I can't say I blame you,” he says, “although Lady Mara may. She does preach kindness to all people, not just the ones you like.”

“I know, I know,” Gallus waves a hand dismissively. “And I am kind - well, civil, to most people. At least, until they give me a reason not to be.”

“Well said,” Erandur nods, and raises his mug at his words.

The two sip at their drinks in silence for a time, neither quite drunk but neither quite sober. The bard turns in for the night and, finally, Erandur speaks.

“So… now likely isn't the best time to ask you about this, but how is, you know, the amnesia?”

“Same as ever,” Gallus shrugs. “Still can't remember anything before waking up in…” He trails off, realizing that maybe it isn't the greatest idea to advertise the fact that he'd woken up in an ancient Nordic tomb, of all places. Unfortunately for him, now Erandur looks interested. Or more interested, in any case.

“In… where?”

“Some sort of Nordic tomb,” Gallus continues, in a lower voice than before. The only other person within earshot is the hooded figure from earlier and, as far as Gallus can tell, the figure’s paying far more attention to the mead than them, but he figures it can’t hurt any to be cautious. “Not too far east of Winterhold. I'm not sure I could find the place again if I tried, to be honest. I nearly died getting out of it.”

“I can imagine, those snowfields will freeze anyone who’s not a Nord if you’re not prepared for them,” Erandur says.

Gallus doesn’t respond verbally, but takes a larger gulp of his mead. He certainly wasn't prepared. If he hadn’t run into Ria and Vilkas when he did--well. He likely wouldn’t have been around to talk about it.

He looks at his mug and frowns, appreciative. He’s heard liking mead is an acquired taste, but clearly it was an acquired taste he’d had before his amnesia. Mead isn’t a common beverage outside of Skyrim, so he thinks (or at least hopes) he might at least have the right province.Of course, Skyrim is a big province, and he can’t exactly go door-to-door and ask people if they’d ever met him before. Now, that would be an awkward conversation.

“So you can’t recall anything of your life before waking up there?” Erandur asks.

“Nothing,” Gallus says softly, shaking his head. The priest’s gaze fills with pity. “For all I know, my name might not even be Gallus. It probably isn’t, actually.” Erandur nods, but before either can speak again, the sound of glass shattering causes Gallus to turn and look.

Apparently, the hooded figure from earlier dropped her mead, and made a mess when the bottle shattered on the floor. She stands, and while Gallus can’t quite make out what she’s saying, it’s clear from her body language at least that she’s apologizing profusely for dropping said mead. Gallus notes the bow and quiver strapped to her back, as well as the odd-looking armor, and assumes she must be some sort of adventurer or mercenary.

After a few moments of this, she slides a few septims on the table and goes for the door without a sound. Something about her seems… familiar, almost, but Gallus doesn’t think much of it at the time, and as the door swings shut, he returns his attention to Erandur.

“Well, she didn’t need to leave, although I can see why a Dunmer would be careful in one of the Old Holds,” Erandur remarks with more than a hint of bitterness to his words. Gallus is confused for a moment as to how he knew, before realizing that he must have seen her face. Gallus didn’t. “I suppose it could be worse. I’m fairly certain it is worse in Windhelm. Possibly Winterhold, as well.” Gallus shrugs.

“In the actual town, definitely,” Gallus says, recalling his one encounter with the Jarl of the Hold in question. “The Jarl had out a reward for anyone who could find and return this ancient ceremonial helm, or something. One of my friends and I went out to find it, and he almost didn’t give us the reward simply because we were mages.”

Erandur visibly winces.

“What changed his mind?”

“Part of it was definitely Onmund offering to just keep the helm if he wouldn’t give us the reward,” Gallus shrugs. “It helped that my friend was a Nord himself. Considering that our other friends are a Khajiit and another Dunmer, we might not have gotten the reward if they’d been with us. J’zargo might have stolen it if he’d had the opportunity, though.”

“A Khajiit mage? That’s a first, even for me,” Erandur laughs. “Does he specialize in Illusion magic, too?”

Gallus shakes his head.

“J’zargo and Onmund both specialize in Destruction, and Brelyna prefers Conjuration,” he says. “Although, if you think a Khajiit mage is surprising, you might want to be sitting down for this next one.”

“I am sitting down,” Erandur deadpans, and Gallus groans.

“It’s a figure of- never mind,” he says, sighing a little too dramatically. “Somehow, and by somehow I mean that it was partially due to the Psijic Order intervening and partially due to everyone more qualified either not wanting the job or dying, our resident Khajiit Destruction mage somehow became our resident Khajiit Destruction Arch-Mage.”

He was expecting a dramatic reaction from Erandur. He wasn’t quite expecting a spit-take, or for Erandur to start choking on his own drink.

“Wait, really?” Erandur asks once he’s more-or-less recovered. Gallus nods. Erandur whistles lowly. “Good for him.”

The two sit in silence for a time, until Erandur eventually finishes his mead and clears his throat.

“Well,” he continues after a moment, “anyway. I do have a few theories about your amnesia. While I sincerely doubt Vaermina had anything to do with it, it’s possible another Daedric Lord may be involved. There’s an old friend of mine at the Shrine of Azura- even if Azura in particular isn’t involved… my friend may have some insight.”

“Remind me who Azura is?”

“Daedric Lord of Dusk and Dawn… possibly other things, one of the more benevolent ones,” Erandur says, “although this is a Daedric Lord we’re talking about. She’s one of the three Daedra most revered by my people, and my friend as well as some others maintain a shrine to her. My friend, and the others for that matter, have been known to swear up and down that Azura sends her visions of the future so, if she doesn’t know anything, it’s possible she’ll know where to go to find someone who does.”

“Sounds pretty good to me,” Gallus says. “It probably isn’t a good idea to leave in the middle of the night, so… if we set off in the morning, will we be able to get there by nightfall?”

“Possibly,” Erandur says. “It may be a better idea to stop overnight in Winterhold.”

“True, we can stay in the College,” Gallus nods. “Much cheaper and much less hostile than the inn.”

“Good idea,” Erandur stands. “Well… I think if I drink any more I’ll have a particularly nasty hangover tomorrow morning, so I’ll call it a night for now.”

Gallus nods and, after polishing off his bottle, he does the same.

He never noticed the return of the hooded figure from earlier, partially because he’s been buzzed at best for some time and partially because she’s still remarkably quiet. Had he been less tired and more sober, he might have wondered how someone could be that quiet- but it was not to be. Not yet.


The trip from Dawnstar to Winterhold goes significantly faster than the trip from Winterhold to Dawnstar, partially because Gallus and Erandur actually know where they’re going and partially because Gallus doesn’t stumble into a bandit hideout this time.

(He’d much rather forget that happened, although he doubts Erandur missed his wince when they passed the now-deserted place from the road. At least Erandur was nice enough to not mention it.)

The duo opts to spend the night in the College and, while Gallus suspects J’zargo’s warm hospitality is motivated more by a desire to piss off the Jarl of Winterhold than actual friendship, it does the job. Gallus stops by to say hello to Drevis, and is proud to show that he can now reliably maintain the Invisibility spell for about ten seconds (and occasionally for longer, if he’s extremely focused and extremely lucky). Drevis is proud to show that he’s finally figuring it out for himself, which is probably a good thing. It’s honestly a little embarrassing to have an Illusion master who can’t turn himself invisible.

There’s still a lot of empty rooms within the College and Arch-Mage J’zargo makes it quite clear that, if either of them come across anyone who’s decent at magic and wants to learn, they should send them in the general direction of the College. Especially if they’re non-Nords, and Gallus suspects that last bit is entirely motivated by a desire to piss off the Jarl of Winterhold. (J’zargo does add at some point that, if they do come across any other Nord mages that are interested, to please also send them to the College, if only to shut up Onmund. Gallus says he’ll do his best.)

The next morning, Erandur and Gallus set out for the Shrine of Azura. It’s almost directly south of Winterhold, but, of course , it’s located on top of a mountain. (Then again, this is Skyrim, where anything of any consequence is located on top of a mountain.) By the time they actually reach the place, it’s late morning… or at least, Gallus is pretty sure it’s late morning. It’s hard to tell through the snow.

There’s a lone woman there, a Dunmer wearing dark blue robes. She does not seem to have noticed them, although the fact that her back is turned to them might be part of that. Gallus looks to Erandur, who shrugs. Eventually, he clears his throat.

“Hello?” Gallus asks. The woman turns, and recognition’s quite evident in her eyes. Gallus’ eyes go wide. He takes a step back.

Is this it? Did I finally find out who I was? Or at least someone who knew me?

“Azura has seen your coming, traveler,” the woman says. “It was not curiosity, but fate, that led you here.”

“Um,” is all Gallus can manage. He’s more than a little disappointed on the reason why she recognizes him, but also, what in Oblivion is he supposed to say to that?

“Aranea,” Erandur says evenly from behind Gallus, raising a hand in greeting and thereby rescuing the situation. The Dunmer woman - Aranea, apparently - nods.

“Erandur,” Aranea greets. “I take it your quest went well, then?”

“In some ways, yes. In others… well, I’m alive, at least,” Erandur nods to Gallus. “This is Gallus. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Aranea nods, and extends a hand that Gallus takes.

“A friend of Erandur is a friend of mine… Gallus, was it? Aranea Ienith, priestess of Azura, at your service.”

“Nice to meet you,” Gallus says automatically, then frowns. “What did you mean by… ‘seen my coming’? I didn’t even know this place existed until a few days ago.”

“Azura has given me the gift of foresight,” she says with a warm smile. “I had a vision of you walking up the steps to this altar long before you were born. I’ve… had a lot of time to plan this.”

“The other priests left?” Erandur asks.

“They did,” Aranea confirms. “Azura’s visions tested everyone’s faith. One by one, they left. Afraid to know their own future. But I refuse to abandon the shrine. The visions are a gift. Azura warns me of tragedy, war, death before it happens. I won’t leave her guidance.”

She returns her attention to Gallus, then.

“Now, you have been chosen to be Azura’s champion,” Aranea says solemnly. “I know not why, only that it is. I know this is unexpected, but do not worry. It will all unfold as she has predicted. It always does."

Honestly, calling this unexpected is a bit of a huge understatement. Gallus did not sign up to be another Daedra’s champion. He literally just came here to see if she knew anything about his amnesia… and from the sounds of things, he won’t be getting anything on that for a while, or at all.

Fantastic.

Chapter Text

“Couldn’t Aranea have been any more clear about what we were supposed to do?” Gallus asks as he trudges through the snow back towards Winterhold. The snowy weather is little more than a minor nuisance at this point, but it’s still a nuisance, and Gallus does not want to be outside when it inevitably picks up.

“It’s… possible she might not know,” Erandur says with a shrug.

“Possible, sure,” Gallus mutters, “but it’s entirely possible she knows exactly what we’re supposed to be doing and just chose to be cryptic about it.” He glances at the sky, and frowns. He really hopes it doesn’t pick up enough to become a blizzard before they’re back to Winterhold. A blizzard, now, when they’re out in the open, would not be good.

“True.”

“Why are people who can see the future always so… so cryptic about it?” Gallus complains, fully prepared to go on a rant in the middle of nowhere with snow falling and an priest of Mara that hopefully has the patience to deal with said rant. “The Jarl of Hjaalmarch said something about an archer in my future, and now Aranea says to… go to Winterhold and find a mage that studies stars? At least she’s a little more specific, but stars? What in Oblivion are we supposed to do with stars?”

“I have no idea,” Erandur says. “If this means we’re going back to the College, though… I can’t say I’m complaining. I’d always wanted to spend some time there, but never had the chance to go, between… well, everything.”

“You could stay there, you know,” Gallus blurts out. “After all this is over. They could use more Restoration mages, considering that the only one currently is, well, perhaps not the most social of people.”

Erandur laughs.

“Not the most social of people, eh? Like you?”

“Colette makes me look like a social butterfly, trust me on this one,” Gallus shakes his head.

“If you say so...” Erandur snorts, then looks down.. “And… I’ll think about it. I can’t promise anything beyond that.”

“That’s good enough for me, ” Gallus nods. “I do know one thing, though: spending some time at the College would definitely be a lot better for you than going back to Nightcaller Temple. Which you weren’t planning to do, were you?” He looks meaningfully in Erandur’s general direction, despite already having a pretty good idea of the answer.

“I… might have been,” Erandur admits. “But we’ll see. In the meantime, we have a mage who studies stars to find, don’t we?” He nods to the town of Winterhold coming into view just up ahead, and just in time, too. The wind’s beginning to pick up, and Gallus has a bad feeling that a blizzard is well on its way. They'll be stuck in the College for some time, most likely. Plenty of time to ask about the mage, who studies stars, for some reason. At least it's not exactly a common field of study.


“Studies stars?” Tolfdir asks. “Why, there hasn’t been anyone studying anything relating to stars since… oh. Well, it’s a… minor stain on the College’s reputation, one of many, unfortunately. You should go to the Frozen Hearth, speak to Nelacar. It’s his story to tell, and I wouldn’t want to discredit him by talking about it behind his back.”


“Why specifically stars? Wait, you aren’t referring to… no, there’s no way you’d know about that,” Faralda says. “It was a few years ago. A few of the mages got overconfident and got exiled. They had no talent, anyway, although I hear one of them still hangs around the Frozen Hearth. I guess he has nowhere else to go, poor thing.”


“J’zargo has no idea what you’re talking about,” says J’zargo. “Perhaps it would be better to try someone else? Although, if you find this mage who studies stars and he happens to be skilled in magic, by all means send him here… wait, was he one of the ones who got kicked out? Drat.”


“Oh, that,” Enthir mutters, not bothering to glance up from his book. Even so, he frowns. “Nasty business, that. Few years ago, a group of mages were doing something with soul gems and… I think stars were involved? One of them got killed by another, so Aren cast out the whole lot when no one took the blame. Good riddance, I say… although one of them came slinking back to the Frozen Hearth and has been harping on about his ‘star’ to anyone willing to listen. Might have lost it. His mind, I mean, not the star, although I think the star’s lost too.”


By the time the blizzard clears up, it’s quite clear the evidence points overwhelmingly in the direction of the Frozen Hearth. Gallus and Erandur waste no time - well, maybe a little time, but that's not important - in heading down into town and into the inn to find this mage. As it happens, there are no rooms currently available, so it’s probably a good thing that the two of them stayed in the College.

“We don’t get a lot of non-College related traffic, you see, and most people involved with the College stay up there, save one,” the innkeeper, Dagur, says with a shrug. “Nelacar’s been renting one of my rooms for years and, while I keep the other open for travelers like you, you’re not the only one passing through. Any more traffic, and we might be sleeping down in the cellar. Surprising, I know.”

“Sounds like it,” says Gallus. “Do you mind if we talk to Nelacar?”

“Up to him, not me,” Dagur shrugs. “Best knock first.”

Gallus nods, and heads over to a closed door. Before he can knock, Dagur quickly clears his throat.

“Not that room, and the girl staying there said she’d be turning in early. Best not to disturb her, she paid in advance.”

Gallus really doesn’t follow Dagur’s logic, but he’s not about to wake someone up on accident. He follows Dagur’s gaze to the room across from it, and heads over, wasting no time in knocking on that one.

“It’s open, come in,” someone says from inside, presumably Nelacar. Gallus quickly does so, and while he doesn’t turn to look, he can hear Erandur following him in. Nelacar, as it happens, is an Altmer wearing faded apprentice robes and sipping some sort of drink from a tankard. As Gallus comes in, he sets it down and regards him cautiously. “So…”

“Hello,” Gallus says, offering Nelecar a friendly smile. He doesn’t return it. “My name’s Gallus. This is Erandur. Do you have a few minutes to spare?”

Nelacar looks Gallus up and down skeptically for a time, before shaking his head.

“I don’t deal with any College applicants these days, so don’t bother asking,” Nelacar says.

“College applicants?” Gallus raises an eyebrow. “No, sorry. I mean--I’m a student at the College, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re not here on behalf of the College. We’re here for… other reasons. Yes, that’s it.”

Nelacar looks particularly unimpressed and has crossed his arms across his chest. Despite being tall and thin, as high elves typically are, he doesn’t look particularly intimidating.

“Spit it out, then,” Nelacar raises his tankard to his lips, and sips whatever’s within slowly , “I don’t have all day.”

“We’re looking for an elven mage who studies stars,” Gallus says, paraphrasing Aranea exactly, and Nelacar chokes on his drink.

“Who sent you?” Nelacar asks, glaring at Gallus with a fury in his eyes that’s contrasted by how level he’s keeping his voice. “Was it the College? The Jarl? We agreed there would be no more questions.”

Gallus looks to Erandur, now confused, because this sounded like something big. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it), Erandur took the opportunity to step forward and meet Nelacar’s glare with one of his own.

(Gallus is… a little surprised. After all, Erandur had risked his life defying one Daedric Prince, why would he be so invested in helping out another one? Then again, Brelyna had explained a while back that Azura, along with a couple of others, were what Dunmer considered to be the Three Good Daedra. Erandur is a Dunmer, so… maybe that’s it? Or maybe it’s something else. Gallus sure doesn’t know, but he makes a mental note to ask Erandur himself later on.)

“We didn’t agree to anything,” Erandur says in a low voice. “Talk.”

Nelacar regards him cautiously for a moment, then laughs.

“Do you think muscling me is going to work?” Nelacar asks, sounding almost amused. “I’m a wizard. An old elven wizard . Think about it.”

Erandur wisely takes a step back, and Gallus internally winces, because this is not going well… unless… well, the truth can’t hurt that much, can it?

(It likely can hurt that much, but Gallus hopes this isn’t one of those situations.)

“A priestess of Azura sent us,” Gallus says, and Nelacar chokes on his drink for the second time that day. He recovers quickly, fortunately.

“Azura?” Nelacar asks, eyes wide. “Gods, it’s all coming back to haunt me.”

He stares into the depths of his tankard for a time, clearly making some sort of decision, and finally, he sighs, his shoulders sag, and he continues, “Fine. What do you know about soul gems?”

“They’re used in enchanting,” says Gallus. Unconsciously, his hand finds his sword. If Nelacar notices, he doesn’t say a word about it. “Both to enchant things initially and to recharge enchanted items when the enchantment begins to fail.”

“They are,” Nelacar agrees. “Except the gem is always consumed. They’re frail, except for one: Azura’s Star. It’s a Daedric artifact that allows any number of souls to pass through it. Some of us wanted to find out how,” he says, then takes a long sip from his tankard, which Gallus is beginning to suspect has some fairly strong alcohol within. “I was working under Malyn Veren, then. If only we knew what he was really planning.”

“What did Malyn do?” Gallus asks, partially because he’s curious and partially because he has a bad feeling this has everything to do with the reason he (and Erandur by extension) was sent here. After all, chances are there’s a connection between the Daedric Prince Azura and a soul gem called Azura’s Star...

“Malyn wanted to alter the Star. He was dying. Disease. He thought he could store his own soul inside. Become immortal.” Nelacar makes a pause, takes a deep breath. “It drove him mad. Students started dying. Eventually, the College exiled him. He took a few loyal disciples to Ilinalta’s Deep and vanished.”

Gallus frowns, dumbfounded (becoming immortal? Students dying? Where was all this going?),  but Nelacar doesn’t seem to notice and sighs, taking another long sip from his tankard.

“Look, I don’t care who asked you to find the Star, but don’t take it back to Azura. The Daedra are evil. They’re the reason Malyn went insane.”

There is a moment of silence. Gallus shifts his weight from a leg to another uncomfortably, eyes set on the mage.

“Alright,” he says at last. “How does this Azura’s Star work, exactly?”

“I mentioned how the Star is a soul gem, only it never gets depleted? Well. There’s another rule the artifact follows, the one Malyn was trying to break,” Nelacar says. “You can only store white souls in the Star, belonging to the lesser creatures. Azura’s magic won’t allow black souls to enter it. As a mortal, Malyn's soul was black, so part of his work was breaking past Azura's rules. He was close before... well, I already told you.”

“I’m guessing Azura had something to do with his insanity,” Erandur says, speaking for the first time in some time. Nelacar nods.

“Azura is no ordinary Daedra. She’s a Daedric Prince, ruling over an entire realm of Oblivion. The more Malyn worked on the Star, the more Azura was able to damn him. It started slowly at first. Malyn would see things that weren't there. Then, he would yell at students over words they hadn't said. Then, one day, I walked in and Malyn had... killed a student and, in a horrific moment of inspiration, he started using her soul for his work.”

Gallus whistles lowly.

“Sounds like he got what he deserved, at least,” he says after a moment.

Nelacar shrugs.

“The College would agree with you, but do you have any idea how many innocent lives were cut short, just so Azura could have revenge?” (Gallus suspects quite a few.) “We're nothing to the Daedra. Pawns to move around, praise, and punish as they see fit.”


Erandur seemed distinctly uncomfortable with the subject at the time, but he says nothing until the two are well on their way to Ilinalta’s Deep… which, naturally, is on the other side of Skyrim, because of course it is. As the two travelers pass the significantly-less-traveled path up to the Shrine of Azura, Erandur stops, and looks up the mountain.

“We should see if Aranea will come with us,” Erandur says. “Or, at least, let her know what we’ve found. Perhaps she will have some insight on the Star.”

“Good idea,” Gallus says, but he doesn’t move to begin the trek up. After a moment, he looks Erandur in the eyes, and says, “Erandur. Tell me the truth.”

“On… what, exactly?” Erandur asks.

“What’s the difference between Azura and Vaermina?” Gallus asks. “They’re both Daedric Princes. They both rule over realms in Oblivion. They both are extremely dangerous to piss off…” He trails off as he realizes Erandur is staring at him incredulously.

“You’re serious?” Erandur asks, and apparently realizes as he speaks the words that Gallus is, in fact, quite serious. He sighs, and continues walking. “This is going to take a while, we might as well start heading up.”

Gallus hesitates, but follows him, eventually. Neither speak for a time.

“Let’s see… how to put this…” Erandur muses aloud. “Say you have… two thieves. One of them slips into people’s houses at night, steals all their valuables, and slits the throats of anyone who gets in his way. The other slips into people’s houses at night, but only takes what he knows the inhabitants can live without as well as stealing from the rich and undeserving, and would only knock out people in order to escape at the very most. What would you think?”

“I think that if the two thieves met, things would not end well between them,” Gallus says. “What does this have to do with Azura and Vaermina?”

Erandur shrugs.

“Well, maybe not Azura and Vaermina exactly, but back to the two thieves. Both would be frowned upon by society and, I don’t know about you, but I’d say the second thief would be a good person, in his own way. Am I right?”

Gallus nods slowly.

“I’d be annoyed if he stole from me,” Gallus says, “but I’d much rather have a visit from him than the first thief.”

“You’re getting it,” Erandur says. “While the parallels aren’t perfect, they’re there. Vaermina takes, and takes, and takes, and rewards her followers by leaving them to die. Azura, on the other hand, does demand a certain level of respect, but she does care about her followers, far more than most other Daedric Lords do. I may be a priest of Mara, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge Azura as one of the more benevolent Daedric Lords, if not the most benevolent. Worship of both is frowned upon by society, but the difference between Vaermina and Azura is perhaps bigger even than the difference between the first thief and the second. All Daedric Lords are different, just like all people are different.”

Erandur stops, turns, and meets Gallus’ gaze with his own.

“A few are benevolent, like Azura,” Erandur continues. “A few are unarguably evil, like Vaermina. Most, as far as I’m aware, are somewhere in the middle.”

The two continue up the mountain, but as they go, Gallus can’t help but wonder…

Where does Mara fit into all this? And what made Erandur choose Mara over, say, Azura?

He wishes he knew.

Chapter Text

When Gallus and Erandur reach the Shrine of Azura, Aranea’s sitting on the steps waiting for them. She glances up as they approach, gets up, and smiles in greeting.

“You found the mage?” Aranea asks, although it’s clear from the way she asks it that it’s something of a rhetorical question. Gallus nods anyway. (Then again, she can see the future, apparently, so…) “Good. While you were gone, you should know that I received a vision from Azura.” The way she says that gives Gallus pause, but not Erandur.

“What was the vision about?” Erandur asks, quietly. Aranea smiles again, although this time sadly.

“Azura requested for me to accompany you on this quest, when you returned,” Aranea says in a small voice. “She assured me that the Shrine would not come to any harm while I was gone, but I…” She trails off.

“I know what you mean,” Erandur says, stepping up and offering Aranea a comforting smile. (Actually, come to think of it, they’ve been smiling a lot while they’re around each other… but Gallus figures that could be just because they’re close friends. There might be nothing more going on. And Gallus might be a Restoration mage, while he's at it.) “After Nightcaller Temple was cleansed, I had no plans to move on. But I’d agreed to help Gallus with something, and here we are.”

“I will come,” Aranea says with a sort of finality in her words. Even so, she sounds partially excited and partially miserable. Gallus couldn’t say which one’s more evident if he tried. “I just- I  need some time. This will be the first time I’ve left the Shrine since escaping Morrowind.”

Erandur nods.

“Take as long as you need, Aranea,” Erandur says gently. “We’ll wait down the path a bit.”

She nods, gratitude in her eyes before she turns. As she takes the steps back up to the shrine, Erandur and Gallus go back down the path just far enough for the Shrine of Azura to pass out of view. Erandur takes a seat on a rock, and after a moment, Gallus takes a seat next to him.

Later, Gallus might come to regret getting involved in his friend’s love life but, considering that it’s painfully obvious that these two have feelings for each other and he highly doubts either of them are going to make a move, he might as well try to help things along. Assuming priests of Mara and priestesses of Azura are allowed to have love lives.

(Well, considering that Mara is one of the two goddesses of love in the Imperial pantheon, and Azura is widely considered to be one of the more benevolent Daedric Princes, Gallus thinks there’s a pretty good chance this could work.)

“So,” Gallus begins, glancing Erandur’s way with a knowing look crossing his features. Erandur meets his gaze with one of confusion, and Gallus realizes far too late that maybe he was far too vague. He quickly adds, “You like her, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, she’s a close friend of mine and I…” He trails off as he realizes what Gallus actually means, and groans. “Damn. Is it really that obvious?”

“I’m pretty good at reading people, so it might not be,” Gallus shrugs.

“That’s encouraging,” Erandur mumbles, then glances back the way they came. “She’s coming.”

Fortunately for Erandur, she is indeed coming, but this is not going to be the end of this, not if Gallus has anything to say in the matter.

(He’s not actually sure why he cares so much about someone else’s love life, to be honest.)

(Maybe it’s because he can’t remember what his own was like, or if he even had one.)

(Maybe it’s because they remind him of someone, subconsciously, although it’s not like he would have any idea who.)


By some unexpected stroke of luck, the group - now comprising of Gallus, Erandur, and Aranea - makes it back to Winterhold just in time to catch the carriage heading back to Whiterun. The driver’s not particularly happy about taking passengers from Winterhold, and says as much, but a little extra coin as well as some well-placed flattery on Gallus’ part helps to improve his disposition quite a bit.

(Gallus isn’t at all certain why he’s so good at influencing people when he actually wants to and actually tries to - which isn’t actually all that often - but considering that he’s been at least decent at getting on people’s good sides as long as he can remember, and there’s certain other skills that come a little easier than they should… he can take a guess.)

He'd hoped they'd be able to keep making  as good of time, but unfortunately they'd just missed the outgoing carriage to Falkreath, and the Winterhold driver seemed to be getting antsy.

“Look, I like you lot, I really do,” the driver says. “But taking you three back to Whiterun with me when I'm already going that way is one thing. Falkreath is not just way out of my way, but it's on another driver’s route. You’re going to have to get off here.”

“We understand,” Gallus says smoothly. He gets up, then looks to the others. “Erandur, Aranea?”

Erandur nods, then leans over to shake Aranea’s shoulder. Her head’s buried in her arms, and she's clearly asleep. Gallus wishes he was that relaxed.

“Aranea?” Erandur says gently. Aranea lifts her head, blinks back sleep, and looks particularly confused until her gaze falls on Erandur. “We’re here.”

“I- right,” Aranea stutters, and offers Erandur a smile. “Thank you.”

Gallus is the first out. While Erandur quickly turns and helps Aranea down - not that she needs it, but he hears her whisper a thanks - Gallus walks around to the front of the wagon.

“I really can't thank you enough for helping us get here,” Gallus says genuinely. The driver doesn't say anything in return, not yet, but Gallus catches a hint of a smile as he leans over and pats his horse on the flank. “But we’ve still got a long way to go. You have any advice?”

“Well,” the driver still doesn't meet Gallus’ gaze, instead reaching into the saddlebags and pulling out an apple, which he promptly gives to his horse, “you lot do look like you can take care of yourselves. Am I wrong?”

“No.”

The driver smiles, “Mages?”

“Kind of,” Gallus shrugs. “They are. I know a little magic, but I mostly use it as a backup.”

“A spellsword, then. Nothing wrong with that.”

“Well, I- sure, I'm a spellsword,” Gallus says, despite having no idea what a spellsword even is. He’ll ask Erandur about it later. “What does this have to do with-”

“Right, right, just curious,” the driver says. “Well, if you follow the road and stop overnight in Riverwood or Helgen, it’ll take you about a day and a half to make it to Falkreath. The carriage would take only half a day, but I doubt it’ll get back for a few days, there's not a lot of traffic on the Falkreath route.”

“So you’re saying we’d be better off walking.”

“If you’re careful, and if you don't mind tangling with the bandits that tend to target travelers. There's three of you, so you might be okay, but keep your guard up once you’re past Helgen.”

The driver grins crookedly, and adds, “Of course, you didn't hear it from me.”


Getting to Falkreath, as it happens, is the easy part. Getting directions to Ilinalta’s Deep is significantly harder, and while Gallus pretends not to be unnerved by the prevailing local belief that the place is cursed, he's… definitely unnerved by it. He sincerely doubts that the place is actually cursed, but considering that travelers passing near have been known to disappear without a trace, there's definitely something going on.

“Necromancers,” Erandur concludes as they draw close to the shores of Lake Ilinalta. He sounds disgusted, and it's not hard to see why. “It all adds up.”

“Sounds like our friend Malyn Veren is continuing his ‘work’,” Gallus agrees. Before he can say anything else, Aranea whispers something under her breath in a language Gallus doesn't recognize - Dunmeris? Daedric? - and rushes forward.

“This is it,” Aranea says when the others catch up, although Gallus isn't certain if she's talking to him, Erandur, both of them, or maybe just herself. She turns to Gallus, and adds, “I've seen this place before, although I didn't realize its significance at the time. It's mostly dry inside, there should be a trapdoor somewhere on top.”

Ilinalta’s Deep, as it happens, is what results when an Imperial fort is built on the shores of a lake and part of the fort inexplicably collapses into said lake. The Imperial Legion abandoned the fort long ago, but as the group soon discovers, the interior is still very much intact. Aranea’s right, there is a trapdoor on top that they could use to get in, and did.

Unfortunately, Erandur’s hunch is also right: the place is crawling with necromancers.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, rushing headlong into a semi-collapsed fort full of necromancers may not have been the best idea. It isn’t even close to the best idea Gallus has ever had, not that he keeps track of those. If anything, it’s close to the worse idea he’s ever had, which he does keep track of - for some reason. Now, however, is not the time to question his current life decisions. Granted, it never is the time to question his current life decisions, but right after he’s been unceremoniously sent flying into the wall by an atronach really isn’t the right time. It isn’t even close. In fact, he probably should be focusing a bit more on the fact that if he’s not careful, he’s going to die.

Gallus rolls out of the way of the frost atronach’s punch just in time - its fist gets stuck in the wall where his head was moments before, ha - and shakily stands. His ears are still ringing, because of course they are, and his sheath is empty. Considering that his sword isn’t in his grip, it has to be somewhere nearby. At least, he hopes it’s somewhere nearby. If it’s not, then… he’s definitely got a problem, and a big one.

But first things first.  Even if the atronach currently has one fist, or whatever it’s called, stuck in the wall, it can still pack a punch with the other. So, Gallus wisely takes a couple of big steps back, readies a Courage spell, and uses it on himself to take the edge off the pain for now.

Fuck atronachs. He needs to remember for future reference that necromancers were conjurers first, and can still conjure plenty of nasty things from Oblivion if there aren’t any corpses handy.

The atronach roars, whether in anger or in pain, Gallus can’t tell. In truth he’s not sure he wants to know, and as long as it’s stuck, he has other things to worry about. He quickly focuses on his sword, casts Clairvoyance, and-

Are you kidding me, Gallus thinks to himself, because the spell very clearly leads to the rather pissed off frost conjuration still stuck in the wall. He can see his sword under it now and, while it would be easy to take down the atronach if he used fire, he couldn’t manage a Flames spell if he tried.

And he has tried.

So this is how it is: he needs his sword to fight the atronach, but he needs to deal with the atronach to get his sword back, because of course he does.

A cry from behind him draws his attention, and he sees Erandur and Aranea facing off against a pair of necromancers: one of whom conjured the frost atronach, the other - oh gods that guy reanimated his friend! In any case, dubious morality of the necromancers aside, Aranea took a rather nasty hit to her side, but is otherwise okay. So’s Erandur, and, once Gallus is satisfied they’ll be fine for the time being, he looks around for something he can use to fight the frost atronach.

He could try punching it but, for one thing he’s not optimistic about his hand-to-hand skills, and for another, it would be like punching an iceberg - a really big, really pissed off iceberg. Or a wall, except unlike the atronach, Gallus is pretty sure he’d just break his hand. A Calm spell might work long enough for him to get his sword, but his spells tend not to work on atronachs, for whatever reason. It’s probably just that he needs more practice.

His gaze finds a torch, dropped by one of the necromancers and somehow, despite the exceedingly damp conditions, still alight. He grabs it, and holds it between him and the atronach as he advances, slowly and cautiously.

“Nice atronach,” Gallus tries, looking it where he figures its eyes would be if it had any. Naturally, he doesn’t get any further, because the atronach roars and swings wildly with its free fist. Clearly, it’s not in the mood for small talk. Gallus sidesteps it, stumbles a little, but manages to jab the atronach with the flaming end of the torch.

Gallus would be a lot more satisfied about the fact that the thing’s now starting to melt into a messy little puddle of icy hatred if his ears weren’t still ringing and his head didn’t hurt far too much. He shakes his head quickly in the hope that the ringing will get better. It doesn’t. It actually gets worse, much to Gallus’ chagrin. Oh well. He’ll ask Erandur about it when he gets a chance.

As the atronach finishes melting, Gallus dashes forward to grab his sword from underneath a pile of disgusting, melted frost atronach goop. He wipes it off on his mage robes - he really needs some better clothes than this, because it’s a pain to fight in these - but now that the atronach’s dealt with, he can worry about Erandur and Aranea.

Fortunately, what Gallus keeps forgetting is that they’re competent fighters too. Probably more so than him, considering they don’t have amnesia and about a month’s worth of memories. The necromancer that summoned the atronach is down, the other necromancer reanimated within seconds of his death is down, and Erandur is fixing up Aranea as Gallus comes over.

“Maybe a stealthy approach might be better from here,” Gallus offers, and leans a little bit heavier than maybe he should on the wall. “I don’t think anyone other than those two heard us, thankfully. Probably because of the noise from the water.”

“Yes, it is on the loud side in here,” Erandur agrees. He nods to Aranea, stands, and heads over to Gallus. That’s when his face falls. “Mara’s Mercy, Gallus, you look terrible. We were fighting different enemies for five minutes.

“In my defense,” Gallus grins sheepishly, “I wasn’t expecting an atronach.”

“Necromancers are still conjurers,” Aranea says, maybe a little too matter-of-factly, but Gallus isn’t particularly bothered. “Granted, they are the worst kind of conjurers, and there are those who consider necromancy to be its own school of magic, so it’s not a hard mistake to make. Just be careful.”

“When have I not been careful?”

Erandur clears his throat. “I can name several times when I’ve been with you, and I’m willing to bet that your friends back at the College of Winterhold can name twice that easily,” he smirks.

“Twice that is… honestly being generous,” Gallus shrugs. “Also, my ears are ringing, that might be a problem?”

Erandur’s smirk disappears, and he groans, “Your ears are ringing? That’s not good.”

“I figured. Definitely did hit my head somewhere, that still hurts.”

Aranea looks to Erandur with a frown, “Do you think-?”

“Concussion,” Erandur agrees. “Not a severe one, or he wouldn’t be walking, never mind fighting. Still a problem.”

“I’m fine, really,” Gallus shrugs. “We’ve got a necromancer and a Daedric artifact to find, don’t we?”

Both Erandur and Aranea look skeptical, but the group continues deeper into the semi-flooded fort, albeit with a lot more stealth this time, and with a lot less major injuries. It helps that Aranea, at least, can heal herself, although Erandur’s the Restoration mage here. Aranea’s more of a jack of all trades, when it comes to her magic. (Although, Gallus notices with a hint of pride, he hasn’t seen her or Erandur cast an Illusion spell yet. Ha.)

It’s when they’re nearing what Gallus sincerely hopes is the final chamber that they hear voices, one of which might possibly/hopefully be Malyn Veren himself. Gallus stops just outside the doorway - his stealth skills are pretty good, but there’s being sneaky and being in plain sight - and listens.

“More souls are needed for the Star. The last one died before he could be harvested.”

“We can’t take another villager from the surface so soon. I told you to prepare everything properly.

“We can just sacrifice another disciple. Apprentice Haerlon will be no great waste.”

“Yes. He’ll do.”

Both are clearly necromancers, and both are clearly talking about Azura’s Star itself. One of the voices is clearly a woman, so definitely not Malyn. The other… possibly. Maybe. The knowledge that whoever these two necromancers are, they’d be more than willing to sacrifice one of their own… it makes Gallus sick to his stomach. Or maybe that’s the concussion.

He glances back to Erandur and Aranea, only to realize that Aranea isn’t there. By the time he figures out where Aranea is, she’s halfway inside the chamber, a plain-looking dagger in her hands and murder in her eyes. Which,  well. Considering what he knows about the Dunmer people’s thoughts on necromancy, and seeing as these particular necromancers have stolen Azura’s Star, he can see why Aranea’s pissed.

Gallus watches, silently, not trusting himself to follow without tripping over something, as she sneaks up behind the closer of the two and slits his throat. He falls, and his partner stumbles back, shouting something, but whatever it was she doesn’t last long. A fireball from Erandur catches her square in the chest, and the second necromancer falls.

“We still have a bit to go,” Aranea says shakily, slipping her dagger back where it came from. “And I’m not certain what we’ll find.”

“Neither are we,” Erandur points out. “Let’s go.” He looks to Gallus, who nods, and the trio continues through Ilinalta’s Deep, offing necromancer after necromancer as they go. And then, in the final room, they find Malyn Veren.

The only problem is, he’s not exactly alive. His skeleton is sitting on a throne, looking completely relaxed, not to mention quite obviously dead. Azura’s Star - or at least, Gallus hopes that’s Azura’s Star, although it really doesn’t look to be in the best condition - lies at his feet, and to the side there’s a book with a bloodstained cover.

Aranea immediately goes for the Star. She picks it up gingerly, examines it and, while she’s frowning and looks vaguely horrified at how outright broken it looks, she nods, silently. This is definitely it. Erandur, meanwhile, kneels next to the bloodstained book - a journal, maybe? - and begins leafing through it. Gallus finds himself staring into the cold, dead gaze of Malyn Veren himself.

Pity you’re already dead, Gallus thinks to himself. I was almost looking forward to killing you myself.

“This is it,” Aranea whispers, “but I- something’s gone wrong. I don’t know what. I wish I did. Lady Azura may have some insight, but… we’ll have to return to the Shrine to ask her.”

“It looks like he at least thought he was succeeding,” Erandur nods to the necromancer’s bones with a scowl. “It’s quite clear from this that he lost it some time ago, but other than that… it seems almost like he’s put his own soul into the Star, but that can’t be right.”

“No, it can’t,” Gallus agrees. He still hasn’t torn his gaze away from Malyn’s empty eye sockets. “Why would he do that? Also- how?”

“Maybe if he had one of his followers cast a Soul Trap on him,” Aranea muses, “but I’m not certain the Star is even functional in this condition. It’s all but falling apart as we speak.” She’s cradling Azura’s Star to her chest gingerly, like she’s afraid it’ll disintegrate if she lets go of it. Which, granted, it very well might.

The most intact-looking part of it - the black soul gem inlaid in the middle, which probably isn’t actually supposed to be there, come to think of it - has some nasty looking cracks in it, one of which is so deep that any significant jostling might break the Star in two.

Once, before Malyn Veren got his hands on it, Azura’s Star might have looked a lot like a stylized eight-pointed star, much like the one Azura’s typically depicted holding. He’s pretty sure the statue of Azura at the shrine is holding something quite similar to this, actually.

“That’s probably his fault,” Gallus concludes. “And if we need to get Azura’s input, we should probably get back to Winterhold.”

He can figure out his own position on Azura and Daedric Princes as a whole later. Even so, Nelecar’s words echo in his head.

“Look, I don’t care who asked you to find the Star, but don’t take it back to Azura. The Daedra are evil. They’re the reason Malyn went insane.”

Maybe, but… was it really a smart idea on Malyn’s part to piss off a Daedric Prince who was capable of driving him insane in the first place? Gallus glances down at Erandur as he climbs up the ladder to a trapdoor and, hopefully, a way out. Their gazes meet, and Erandur’s own words on the subject come to mind.

“I may be a priest of Mara, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge Azura as one of the more benevolent Daedric Lords, if not the most benevolent.”

If all Daedric Princes were evil, Erandur would know that better than anyone, considering his history with Vaermina. And, if he’s on-board with helping out Aranea, assuming it’s not just because he’s quite clearly head over heels for her, then Gallus supposes he can be, too.

Speaking of Aranea, her words too come to mind as Gallus pushes open the trapdoor and climbs out into the open air of Falkreath Hold.

“The visions are a gift. Azura warns me of tragedy, war, death before it happens. I won’t leave her guidance.”

Aranea seems to think of Azura in an almost personal way, although it’s quite clear she reveres Azura just as much as Erandur reveres Mara, if not even more. Her entire way of life revolves around Azura and, while Gallus can’t imagine himself being happy that way, she certainly seems to be.

With that settled, it’s almost dark, and the trio has just enough time to get back to Falkreath before night falls. The carriage driver there outright refuses to take them back, and no amount of flattery or gold can change his mind. So, they stay at the local inn, which is named the Dead Man’s Drink for some reason. And they say necromancers are morbid.

Fortunately, there’s enough rooms for everyone to get one of their own and, while the innkeeper does mention something about how there’s been a lot of traffic through Falkreath lately and something about a lot of Dunmer, too, Gallus doesn’t pay much attention.

He’s far too tired, and concussion be damned, he’s going to sleep and nothing is going to stop him.

(In retrospect, that may not have been the best idea on Gallus’ part, but it’s not like he has a history of making terrible decisions and having to figure out how to deal with the aftermath of them later.)

(Oh. Wait.)

Chapter Text

It takes them a week to make it back to the Shrine of Azura, between getting lost, missing the carriage to Winterhold, and getting even more lost. Someone might think that between Gallus, Erandur, and Aranea, at least one of them would have some idea where they were going. That someone would also be very, very, horribly wrong.

Gallus has amnesia, and outside of the general vicinity of Winterhold, he really isn’t sure where things are. Aranea’s quite literally been living on top of a mountain for the past two hundred years or so. While Erandur’s probably the most well-traveled out of the three, even he hasn’t exactly gotten around much, mainly due to being a priest of Vaermina for a lot of his life and staying put and then being a priest of Mara for the rest… and also pretty much staying put up until he traveled back to Dawnstar.

So, it takes a week, and considering how they nearly wound up in Windhelm instead, Gallus figures it could have taken much, much longer. Regardless, it was a week of Aranea wrapping up the Star in anything she could find, stuffing it in her bag, and clinging to it like it was her lifeline or something. In all honesty, Gallus thinks she might have made an extremely tempting target for pickpockets, although there probably weren’t a lot of pickpockets who would care about Azura’s Star, and they spent the entirety of said week on the road anyway.

It was also a week of Erandur’s feelings for Aranea becoming more and more painfully obvious, to the point where Gallus was beginning to wonder as the group trudged up the path to the Shrine of Azura how in Oblivion Aranea hadn’t noticed.

(Well, it was entirely possible that she had noticed, and she was just ignoring it because she didn’t reciprocate, but Gallus really hoped that wasn’t the case. He thinks he would know if she didn’t reciprocate, anyway.)

As soon as they’ve made it back, Aranea wastes no time in unwrapping the Star and setting it very gingerly on the altar, like she’s afraid it will break. Which, in all honesty, Gallus can see why. The thing somehow looks worse than it did a week ago, and it’s been wrapped up and handled carefully since then by Aranea herself.

“I will commune with Azura,” Aranea says, likely more for his and Erandur’s benefit than anyone else. Gallus nods curtly. Erandur offers a smile.

“Go ahead,” Erandur says encouragingly. Aranea returns his smile, and places her hands on the altar, one on either side of the Star. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and begins chanting.

Meanwhile, Gallus is wondering for maybe the hundredth time how she can be so damn oblivious. Was he ever like this? Gods, he hopes not.

“Azura. Mother of Roses. Goddess of Dusk and Dawn. Your chosen champion has returned your Star to you.”

Aranea’s silent for a moment, then her eyes open, and she looks to Gallus.

“Lady Azura… wishes to speak to you herself,” Aranea says solemnly, and even though Gallus is pretty sure he’s done nothing wrong, it’s still a bit of an oh shit moment for him. “Please. Place your hands on the altar, and you will hear her voice.”

“I, ah… got it,” Gallus says. She steps away, and Gallus mimics her pose as best he can. He takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes.

“Hello?” He asks, and realizes far too late that he’s not speaking, not verbally. He can’t speak, for some reason. He can only think. In fact, Gallus is pretty sure he can’t move, or even open his eyes. Great.

“Greetings, mortal,” says a voice that can only be Azura. “You have followed my guidance through the veils of Twilight and rescued my Star from Malyn Varen. But his soul still resides within, protected by his enchantments. Until he is purged, my artifact is useless.”

“How did his soul get in there?” Gallus asks curiously, then frowns, mentally. He’s not sure if his face is listening to him right now. “ And… why are you telling me this? Can’t you purge it yourself?”

When Azura speaks again, she sounds almost amused, “I can see why my sister likes you,” she says, and Gallus’ mind draws a blank. He didn’t even know Daedric Princes could have sisters. Or maybe they can’t, maybe it’s a figure of speech, but still. “Eventually, the Star will fade back into my realm in Oblivion, but I doubt you have the hundred or so years to wait. No, only one option remains. I will send you inside the Star. You will banish Malyn’s soul there.”

“Great,” Gallus probably sounds about as unenthusiastic about this as he feels. “Why me, exactly? It’s your Star, can’t you go inside it?”

“If you must know… no. I cannot. And as to why you… that is a question I will not answer at this time. Tell me when you are ready to enter my Star. When you have cleansed it, then we will talk.”

Gallus’ eyes fly open, and he mumbles a curse under his breath the likes of which J’zargo would be proud of.

“That was… something,” Gallus says. “Alright then. So… apparently I’m going inside the Star to fight Malyn myself. Any tips?”

“Don’t die,” Erandur offers helpfully.

Aranea slowly shakes her head, “I’m sorry. I have… no insight on this. I wasn’t even aware you were to find the Star until it happened.”

“Got it,” Gallus says. “Well… I’ve got nothing else to do. I’ll see you on the other side.”

He wipes his now-sweaty palms off on his robe - he really needs to get some more mobile clothes, or armor, but in all honesty he kind of prefers clothes, just clothes he can actually move in - and puts them back on the altar, closes his eyes, and focuses.

“I’m ready,” Gallus says.

“Have faith, mortal. I will be watching over you.”

That's encouraging.

Gallus opens his eyes to find that he’s most definitely not at the Shrine of Azura anymore, or even in Skyrim. Not even in Nirn, if he’s actually inside Azura’s Star. Somehow. He’s not sure how that works without him dying, and he’s not sure he wants to know how that works without him dying, to be honest. He kind of likes being alive, thanks.

He takes a moment to look around. The interior of Azura’s Star, as it happens, is a odd shade of blue that could be most closely described as turquoise, if anything. The ground looks like a patchwork of turquoise gemstones, with strange, otherworldly crystalline formations sticking up through it here and there. The roof is of the same color, but is constantly moving, turning, shifting.

Considering that everything else is the same bright blue, it doesn’t take long for Gallus to locate Malyn in his dark, stereotypical necromancer robes. In fact, the necromancer finds him first.

“Ah, my disciples have sent me a fresh soul. Good. I was getting... hungry.”

Gallus doesn’t know what his expression looks like, but it’s probably a mixture of disgust and… actually, no, it’s just disgust.

“First off, that’s disgusting,” Gallus says. “Second, I didn’t get sent here by your disciples. They’re actually all dead. Funny how that works.”

“They- what? Wait… there is something different about you.”

Gallus shifts his position slightly, letting his fingers drift to his sword, and he knows Malyn’s figured it out when he lets out a scream.

“You- you’re alive!”

“Yes, and I’d like to keep myself that way, thanks,” Gallus smiles diplomatically, and tries to think of what would unnerve the mer most. He eventually settles for, “You can’t escape your fate, Malyn.” It’s a little more ominous than he would have liked, but it does the job.

“And who are you to challenge me? I have conquered mortality itself. I’ve spat in the eyes of the Daedric Lords and lived to tell the tale.”

“Um, actually-”

“I don’t care who you are, or what you have to say. This is my realm now, mine! I’ve sacrificed too much to let you take it from me!”

“Like your sanity, for one thing,” Gallus remarks dryly, and it’s then that Malyn summons not one, but two dremora. Right. Necromancers are conjurers, but dremora? Seriously? And two of them? Is that even possible? He sighs, and draws his sword. The dremora approach, and Malyn flees like the coward he clearly is. Damn it.

“Hey,” Gallus tries, “can we maybe talk about this?”

The dremora answer by attacking with fireballs, because of course they do. They’re dremora, and they’re extremely deadly, as Gallus soon finds out. He manages to deflect a fireball, then block the second and, seeing as there’s quite literally nowhere to hide inside the Star, stealth isn’t an option here. Great.

Illusion magic, on the other hand, is - assuming he can get it to work, that is. He’d better, because if he doesn’t, Azura might just have to get someone else to clean up Malyn’s mess because he’ll be a goner. And he’d rather not be a goner, thanks.

Gallus calls a Fury spell to his off hand, and sends it hurtling towards the pair of dremora. The reddish ball of magic catches one in the face and, after a few, tense seconds, when Gallus is beginning to think he’s definitely dead, or soon to be anyway, the dremora attacks the other.

He watches silently as the two fight and, when one dremora brings down the other, Gallus wastes no time in finishing off the last one standing with a clean swipe of his sword. It doesn’t take Gallus long to catch up to Malyn then, and compared to the dremora he’d hidden behind, he’s almost pathetically easy to disarm and dispatch.

“No. Not like this!” Malyn whimpers as Gallus holds his sword to his neck. He almost pities the mer. Almost, except he doesn’t..

“No hard feelings,” Gallus pauses, and glares at Malyn. His grip tightens on his sword. “Actually, no. All the hard feelings. You’ve had this coming for a while, from what I gathered.”

He swings, and as Malyn falls, his corpse turns white. Gallus’ eyes go wide, and he wisely takes a quick step back. Better safe than sorry.

“The Star is free to purify itself. Don’t worry, mortal. I will return you before you are cleansed.”

Before Gallus can respond, or even think of a response, his vision goes white and he’s suddenly back at the altar, back at the Shrine of Azura. His sword’s still drawn, and Gallus quickly sheathes it as Azura begins to speak again. This time he’s not frozen, although he still gets the feeling that only he can hear her at this point. Great. He always wanted to have voices in his head.

“My Star has been restored and Malyn’s soul has been consigned to Oblivion. You have done well, mortal.”

“Well, that’s good,” Gallus responds, although still not verbally. He doesn’t turn to look at Erandur or Aranea, instead staring off into the distance. “So, ah… any reason you chose me to be your... Champion, was it?”

Azura’s silent for a time, for some long that Gallus is beginning to wonder if she’s completely given up on him before she finally speaks again.

“You are more powerful than you know,” Azura says. “But you are also mistaken. I did not choose you to be my Champion. I chose you to help my Champion become who she is meant to be, and you have performed that duty admirably.”

“Aranea,” Gallus guesses.

“Yes. As devoted as Aranea is, she does misunderstand from time to time. This was one of those times. You are not, and never will be, my Champion. I am merely… borrowing you, for a time.”

“Borrowing me? From who?”

Azura laughs, “That is something you will have to find out on your own. Until then, I would advise you to follow your heart. The heart sees what is concealed from the mind.”

“That’s… specific,” he says, “but alright. Sure.”

“Such is the nature of prophecy.”

“Of course it is,” Gallus mentally groans. Azura doesn’t speak again. Gallus takes a deep breath, prepares himself, and turns to face his friends… and only then does Azura speak.

“Oh, and Gallus? Do try and help things along. Aranea is a sweetheart but, like all mortals, she can be utterly clueless at times.”

Suddenly, Gallus can speak again, but he won’t realize until much later that Azura, the Daedric Prince Azura, somehow knew his name. He always seems to have a delayed realization when it comes to those things, funnily enough.  This time, though, there’s a reason that’s not just him being far too unobservant.

Namely, that Aranea lets out a sob, and sinks against the altar, the no-longer-broken Azura’s Star hugged tightly against her chest. Unlike before, the Star is no longer missing pieces, and instead of being dark shades of black and blue, it’s made up of the same brilliant turquoise that filled the inside, dispersed between bands of a light grey.

But at the moment, that’s irrelevant. At the moment, he’s got more important things to worry about. Like the fact that Aranea, apparently the actual Champion of Azura, is currently all but breaking down against the altar and Gallus for one has no idea why. He takes a step back, and nods to Erandur.

His mental monologue at the moment is something along the lines of gods, Erandur, now’s your chance so go talk to her and figure out what’s wrong before it’s too late. There’s no way she doesn’t like you back, you’re great, but it quickly grinds to a halt once Erandur actually does something. He steps forward, takes a seat against the altar, and hesitates. Gallus flashes him what he really hopes is an encouraging smile and not a grimace.

Erandur puts his arm around her, and Gallus mentally cheers. Physically, he takes another step back. While he’s definitely curious, somehow he gets the feeling that they’re going to need some space.

He takes yet another step back for good measure, and listens.

“Aranea,” Erandur begins softly, “what’s-”

Aranea barely holds back a sob, and buries her head in her arms. Her shoulders are shaking, Gallus is fairly sure she’s a complete wreck at this point, and also that he might be intruding. But he’s trying to ignore that last bit, he’s barely close enough to hear them already.

Aranea says something inaudible, muffled by her robe, and while it’s entirely possible that Gallus just wasn’t close enough to hear her, Erandur looks confused, too.

“I’m sorry,” Erandur frowns, “but I didn’t… quite hear that.”

She lifts her head just enough that Gallus can make out the tears in her eyes, and says, “I said, Azura… Lady Azura said that… that she- She sent me a vision. A-and she said it was to be her last.”

Aranea looks utterly distraught, and Gallus can’t say he blames her. He hasn’t even known her two weeks, and he knows full well how much Azura’s visions meant to her. Although… hadn’t Azura said something about Aranea becoming Azura’s Champion? He was pretty sure he hadn’t misheard that, although at the time he was slightly more concerned with how Azura made it quite clear that he was not her Champion, and also pretty happy about that. He’d rather not get roped into being a goddess’ champion when he barely knows who or what said goddess is, thanks.

“Oh, Aranea…” Erandur looks at a loss for what to say or do, and eventually settles for rubbing her back. “It’ll be okay. I’m sure Lady Azura hasn’t just abandoned you.”

“No, no, she hasn’t! That’s… that’s not,” Aranea sighs, wipes her eyes, and tries again. “She said… I needed to be the wielder of her Star. She said it was up to me to be her Champion. I-I thought her Champion was Gallus. I didn’t… I-I didn’t think it was me!”

Erandur looks shocked, but shock quickly gives way to something quite different. He smiles, “Aranea, that’s amazing!”

“No it isn’t,” Aranea whispers. “I can’t do this. I’m a priestess of Azura. I’m not… I can’t be her Champion.”

“What do you- sure you can,” Erandur says firmly. “And would you like to know why? Because you are Aranea Ienith. You’re the most devoted follower of Azura I’ve ever met, and you’re a gifted mage, and you are amazing.”

So Gallus didn’t have to help them along after all… or, he might, but maybe not as much as he’d initially thought. As Aranea looks at Erandur, really looks at him, with wonder in her eyes, Gallus almost forgets that she’s been here since before the Red Year, which was almost two hundred years ago, and he doesn’t even know how old Erandur is. He’s never thought to ask.

He really doesn’t know how Dunmer relationships work, but from the looks of things, these two might just ( finally! ) hit it off. About damn time.

Gallus takes that as his cue to leave, and he waits for them at the bottom of the steps. He doesn’t have to wait long.

“I’m… taking you up on your offer of joining the College,” Erandur says as a way of greeting. Gallus couldn’t keep himself from breaking into a grin if he tried. “Do you think they’ll mind if Aranea joins too?”

“Not at all,” Gallus’ grin only grows. “I probably won’t be around much myself, but I doubt anyone else will mind the company.”

“It’s… lonely up here,” Aranea says, glancing back at the Shrine. She smiles. “And I suppose… if I’m going to be Lady Azura’s Champion, it would make more sense to be somewhere at least a bit more populated.”

“A bit is right,” Gallus agrees. He nods to their intertwined hands, and to their credit, neither of them blush too deeply. “And as for that? I just have one thing to say.”

“What’s that?” Aranea asks, completely oblivious. Erandur, meanwhile, knows exactly what’s up, and groans. Gallus could definitely spare him… but, on the other hand, no. This is what friends are for, after all.

“Erandur, are you still going to call that close friends, or are you finally going to admit you’re head over heels for her? Because it’s adorable.”

Erandur’s extremely deep blush and Aranea’s snickering makes it all worth it, although in the end, Gallus still can’t help but wonder about a lot of the things Azura said.

Clearly, he hadn’t been involved with Azura in the past, but maybe with another Daedric Prince? But who? And… why? Well, if he sold his soul to a different Daedric Prince, he probably did it for a good reason. At least, he hopes he did it for a good reason, and he really hopes it wasn’t one of the really nasty ones, although he’d think he’d remember if he sold his soul to… say, Molag Bal. That would be bad.

In the meantime, he still hasn’t found anyone who remembers him and, while he’s certainly not given up… he’s come to realize that he relies on his Illusion magic a bit too much, and his instincts only do so much when it comes to swordplay. He needs training, actual, formal training - well, something other than being self-taught, anyway - and he thinks he knows where to get it.

He wonders, as they head down the mountain with his decision made, if Ria actually expected him to take her up on the offer of coming by to see the Companions. Gallus sincerely doubts Vilkas did… well, one thing at a time.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Aranea asks softly. She pulls her hood down a little as some of the local Nords pass, but Erandur meets one of their glares with one of his own, daring them to mess with him, or Aranea for that matter. “You know how they are.” Erandur would gladly demolish them so that there was nothing left to bury if they tried anything with Aranea.

Erandur mentally dares the Nord in question to say something, because he would honestly love an excuse to pull the ‘Priest of Mara’ card (as in: how dare you, I am an ordained priest of Mara, have you no shame? ) but that Nord doesn’t rise to the bait. Surprising. Instead, he mutters something to his friends, and they hurry off. Probably something particularly insulting involving magic but, unlike the Nords of Winterhold, Onmund and Tolfdir not included, Erandur has standards. He won’t stoop to their level.

“You’re absolutely right,” Erandur agrees, “but Arch-Mage J’zargo swears up and down that the inn likes getting business from the College, and I’m inclined to believe him. You might want to steer clear of Nelacar, though.”

Aranea frowns, “Nelacar? I don’t-”

“Your elven mage who studies stars,” Erandur says, and Aranea makes a face. “He’s got a permanent room here, mainly because the College didn’t want him back after his association with a certain necromancer. He also may not like me, because I may have said something he didn’t like when Gallus and I were talking to him to begin with.”

“You? Said something he didn’t like?” Aranea grins mischievously, and Erandur’s heart skips a beat. “Now I have to know the details. Spill.”

“Fine, but let’s get inside first.”

They reach the door to the Frozen Hearth, and Erandur holds it open for Aranea. She ducks her head in thanks, smiles, and heads in first. Erandur takes the opportunity to look around.

No Nelacar in sight - good, probably in his room - and the bartender seems to recognize him. He takes one look at Erandur and Aranea, then breaks into a grin.

“Need a room?” The bartender asks cheerfully. “I’ve got one free at the moment, although if a certain visitor keeps coming back I might just ask her to do what Nelacar’s doing.” He nods at a table in the corner, where a hooded figure is sipping at a bottle of mead. Erandur can’t quite make out the label, not that he wants to, although the figure seems vaguely familiar.

“No thank you, not at the moment,” Aranea says in an equally cheerful tone, and Erandur feels his face heat up. “We’re staying at the College in any case.”

“True,” the bartender agrees, now quite solemn, “but a little birdie told me that the rooms there don’t have any doors.”

“They don’t,” Erandur sighs. “It’s… not fun. The Arch-Mage is attempting to make everyone use curtains to cover up the doorways with, but it’s slow-going and most people just set runes in the doorways when they don’t want to be disturbed anyway.”

“Well, if you two need a room…” The innkeeper waggles his eyebrows suggestively and, while Aranea somehow still has a straight face - how does she do that? - Erandur’s face feels like it’s on fire at this point. “Name’s Dagur, by the way. Always a pleasure to get visitors from the College, to Oblivion what the rest of town thinks. You’re always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” Aranea says genuinely. The two Dunmer order their drinks, then retreat to a table near the door. Normally, Erandur would go for one near the back, but the hooded figure looks like she(?) wants to be left alone, and who is Erandur to deny her that? Although… she certainly does look familiar.

As Dagur brings their drinks, Erandur glances over again, and happens to catch the hooded figure’s gaze. Red eyes meet… purple, much to Erandur’s surprise. She’s a Dunmer, like them, except she has purple eyes. Erandur thinks he would have remembered a girl with purple eyes, but-

Mara’s mercy.

Erandur’s eyes go wide as he remembers exactly where he’s seen her before. Erandur didn’t see her eyes then, her hood was pulled down too low and it was a bad angle, but… yes, she’s still got a bow strapped to her back along with a full quiver of arrows, she looks just as on edge as she did in Dawnstar despite Dagur’s much warmer hospitality…

“Who’s that?” Aranea asks, and Erandur forces himself not to blurt out I don’t know and be done with it. It’s the truth, sure, but… he thinks he might have an idea of who she is, and if he’s right…

“I’m… not sure,” Erandur says, quietly, “but I might have some idea. Aranea, can you do me a favor?”

“We’re dating,” Aranea deadpans, “but sure.”

“I don’t think she’ll talk to me if I’m not alone,” Erandur says in a low voice. He’s pretty sure the purple-eyed girl can’t hear them over here, but better safe than sorry. After all, she heard them in back in the Windpeak Inn - or at least, Erandur refuses to believe that was a coincidence. “Aranea, I wish you could be here for this, but I need you to meet me back at the College.”

“Erandur-”

“I swear on Mara and Azura both that I’ll tell you everything when I return,” Erandur whispers. Aranea frowns, but nods. She gets up and leaves, taking her own drink with her, and Erandur waits a bit before risking another glance in the purple-eyed girl’s direction. If she wasn’t paying attention to him before, she definitely is now, although he’s fairly certain that’s because Aranea abruptly left and not because she heard what they were talking about. Hopefully.

To Oblivion with it, Erandur thinks. He drains his bottle, gets up, and forces himself to make the short walk to the purple-eyed girl’s table.

“Hello, my daughter,” Erandur greets. Her head snaps up, and she looks him up and down suspiciously. “Do you mind if-?”

“I’m not your daughter,” she says quietly. She’s right, obviously, but she certainly would be the right age. If, of course, Erandur had a normal life, and hadn’t been brought into a cult worshipping Vaermina, of all the Daedric Lords he could have been brainwashed into worshipping, when he was still but a mere child.

“Of course not,” Erandur says. “My apologies. Old habits. I’m a priest of Mara, you see.”

He slips into the seat across from the purple-eyed girl, and while she still looks incredibly on edge and very, very suspicious, she doesn’t look quite as suspicious.

“Are you?” She asks, still quietly. Erandur wonders if she’s naturally that quiet, or if it’s something he’s doing. She certainly seems like a sweet girl, if… a little on the shifty side, and definitely suspicious of everything about him. “Really. What would a priest of Mara be doing in Winterhold?”

“I was assisting a good friend of mine with some problems of his,” Erandur says. “Not love-related. However, he plans to continue alone, to Whiterun I believe.”

The purple-eyed girl does an exceptionally good job of appearing uninterested, and Erandur would almost have been fooled if he hadn’t guessed correctly at what to look for. She hasn’t taken a sip of her mead since he sat down, and she’s gripping the bottle a little too tightly.

“That’s… nice.”

“Indeed. I believe he’s attempting to get better with the sword. An admirable goal, although I’ve always preferred the mace myself, as well as my magic.”

The purple-eyed girl studies him for a time, silently, before taking a sip of her mead. Her eyes don’t leave his, and after a moment, she says, “I know you want something from me, and I’m not here for small talk. What is it?”

“I’m a priest of Mara,” Erandur repeats, “and I know someone who’s pining over another when I see them.” In all honesty, he was guessing, but it’s clear he hit the nail on the head when the purple-eyed girl visibly stiffens.

In an even smaller, quieter voice, so quietly that Erandur can barely hear her, she asks, “How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” Erandur says, offering her a smile. “But I remembered you from Dawnstar. How long have you been following him for?”

She doesn’t have any reason to tell the truth, but when she says, “Two weeks,” Erandur gets the feeling that she isn’t lying.

“You knew him. Before he lost his memory.”

“Yes,” the purple-eyed girl sighs, and looks past Erandur. It’s the first time she’s taken her eyes off him since he sat down, which is… progress, he thinks.

“You loved him.”

“No,” she says, and Erandur nearly falls out of his chair. She hastily clarifies, “I love him. Present-tense. I never stopped. Sorry, that... came out wrong.”

“Then why don’t you talk to him?”

The purple-eyed girl laughs humorlessly, “And what would I say?” Her eyes glimmer with unshed tears. “I thought he was dead. He should be dead.”

“He’d be thrilled to know there was someone who actually knew him,” he offers, and she shakes her head.

“No, you don’t get it,” she says. “I watched him die, and I don’t know how he’s alive, but… if he learns of his past, the first thing he’ll do is go back there and get himself killed. I’m protecting him by keeping him in the dark.”

Erandur frowns, but nods, “That’s fair. But how long do you plan to do this?”

“As long as I need to.”

“It’s already tearing you apart,” he guesses, and judging by the way she tenses up, he’s guessed correctly, again. “You can’t do this forever.”

“I know. It’s just,” she takes a deep breath. “It’s just… he’s been dead for twenty-five years.”

If Erandur had been drinking something, he would have done a spit-take. As it is, he chokes on his own spit.

“What,” is the only thing at all coherent he can manage.

“You heard me right. Look, I… get that you’re trying to help,” she says, “and I appreciate that. I really do. But… please, please don’t tell him about me. He’s not ready.” She smiles sadly, then, almost as an afterthought, adds, “And if you can, keep him well away from Riften.”

“What’s in Riften?” Erandur asks, a little unnecessarily. Everyone knows what’s in Riften: the Thieves Guild, for one thing. And the Temple of Mara, but Erandur’s never made the pilgrimage. Mainly because he doesn’t trust the city itself.

Erandur figures it’s possible Gallus was involved with the Thieves Guild. That would explain a lot of things, like his knack for stealth. That would also bring up a whole lot of other questions, none of which Gallus can answer at the moment.

“His past,” she hesitates for a long moment, “and his murderer.”

At that, Erandur mutters something particularly un-priestly under his breath. The purple-eyed girl cracks a smile at it, quite possibly because of how un-priestly it was… Mara’s mercy. Well, regardless. He’s an ordained priest of Mara, even if he’s never actually served in a temple. Being a priest, any priest, entails a certain amount of trust. Erandur isn’t going to be the one to break that trust.

“I swear on Lady Mara that I will not tell him anything you told me,” Erandur vows, “unless it becomes something he needs to know.”

“That’s… probably the best I’m getting,” she mutters, then shrugs. “I suppose it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t want me dead… and whatever you do, don’t tell him what I’m about to say: Karliah.”

Erandur raises an eyebrow, but nods, “Got it. And… what’s-?”

“My name,” she says. “It’s Karliah, and I would advise you not to mention it to anyone you wouldn’t trust with your life. The only reason I’m trusting you with it is because Gallus trusts you, and if you betray that trust…” She doesn’t have to finish the sentence. Her meaning’s perfectly clear.

“I will not,” he swears. “However, if you need to talk to someone, and you’re in the area… my name is Erandur, and I don’t intend on leaving the College anytime soon.”

“Thank you,” Karliah smiles gratefully. “You have no idea how much that means, but… thank you.”

Later that night, when Erandur finally finishes explaining everything to Aranea, he pulls her into a tight hug. He can’t imagine what it would be like to forget someone like her, nor what it would be like for her to be forgotten… but it wouldn’t have taken a priest of Mara to tell that Karliah was barely keeping things together on her end.

He prays, both to Lady Mara and Lady Azura, that things turn out well for them.

Chapter Text

Gallus has been to Whiterun once before, although he never actually set foot inside the city walls. The last time he was here had been with Aranea and Erandur, when they were on their way to Ilinalta’s Deep for what Gallus has been referring to lately as simply that whole mess with Azura’s Star , much to Erandur’s amusement. The group had bypassed the city on the way back, which was probably a good idea, in retrospect, considering that the goal at the time was to get back to the Shrine of Azura as fast as possible.

Now, though, is a different story entirely. From what he’s heard of the Companions - which was almost exclusively from one person, but still - they’re rather selective about who they let in. Gallus is fine with that, he understands perfectly. After all, if they let in every random warrior who walked through their doors,  they wouldn’t have anywhere near as good a reputation.

He’s changed out of his mage robes, for several reasons. One, he’s not a mage, he just happens to have a knack for Illusion magic. Two, Nords tend to distrust mages, if Onmund’s ranting about his family to anyone who’ll listen is any indication. Three, mage robes are really, really hard to move in, and he likes being able to move around, thanks.

While he probably could have gotten quite a bit of money for them maybe enough for a decent set of armor, he didn’t sell them. Why, he’s not entirely sure, although he could hazard a few guesses if he really wanted to. So, the mage robes stayed folded up in his pack and, for the time being, Gallus is wearing an admittedly-crappy set of armor that he knows he needs to replace at some point. After all, he did find it in a cave full of Falmer.

It’s still better than the mage robes.

“Hello,” Gallus says, a little awkwardly. One of the guards eyes him suspiciously, even if Gallus really isn’t sure how he can tell when the guard is wearing a helmet. The other one looks more bored than anything else. Probably about to be done for the day or, at the very least, wanting to be.

“What business do you have in Whiterun?” The suspicious guard asks. Gallus shrugs.

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, actua-”

“Oh, lay off it, you snowback, he’s even less likely to answer you than the Dark Elf earlier,” his partner mutters dryly, then looks to Gallus. “You don’t actually have to tell us, he’s just been trying to compensate lately. Took an arrow to the knee in training and won’t shut up about it. Don’t indulge him.”

“Fair enough,” Gallus says after a moment. “I’m… actually coming to visit someone I met out near Winterhold. Companion. Her name’s Ria, you know her?”

“Ria? That’s the newest one, if I remember correctly. You’ll probably find her in Jorrvaskr, with the rest of them. Start heading up to the Cloud District, then turn right at the Shrine of Talos. If you climb all the way up to Dragonsreach, you’ve gone too far.”

The less hostile guard steps aside, nodding for him to go in, and it’s only when Gallus is already inside the city and there’s no going back that he realizes something particularly important.

He has no idea where any of those places are.

“No lollygagging,” a nearby guard says, and Gallus resigns himself to the fact that this is definitely going to take a while. How fun.


It takes Gallus a good couple of hours to actually find Jorrvaskr, although it only takes him a good couple of minutes once an old woman in the marketplace takes pity on him, asks what he’s looking for, and quickly directs him to the building made from an upside-down boat. It’s probably a testament to how long Gallus has been wandering the streets of Whiterun that he knows exactly the building she means once he actually gets a description.

Gods damn it.

In any case, Gallus really wasn’t at all sure what to expect when he quietly pushed the doors open and slipped inside, but he never in a million years would have expected an impromptu drinking contest going on in the middle of the main room. (At least, he figured it was probably impromptu, since most of the people involved were, in fact, Nords.)

Seeing as nothing seems to be changing, and the two main competitors (neither of whom are Ria, or Vilkas for that matter) are still draining their tankards, Gallus takes the opportunity to look around. Jorrvaskr looked big from the outside, but on the inside, it’s even bigger. There’s one long table down the middle, and most of the people in the room are gathered around one end, where the, ah, fun stuff is happening. There’s a couple of stairwells heading… well, downstairs, presumably, although Gallus wouldn’t have guessed Jorrvaskr had an underground part. Clearly, he would have guessed wrong.

Gallus looks again, looks for anyone he recognizes. He doesn’t see Ria anywhere, or Vilkas… actually, wait. At the edge of the crowd, nursing his own tankard and looking surprisingly excited about the drinking contest is… well, he doesn’t look exactly like Vilkas, his hair’s a little different and he’s wearing different armor, but yeah, that’s definitely Vilkas. So Gallus heads over to Vilkas, and taps him on the shoulder. Vilkas turns, and suddenly looks very confused.

“Vilkas, right?” Gallus asks. “It’s me, Gallus. From Winterhold. Ria said I should stop by, so… I did. You know where she is?”

“Well, uh,” Vilkas begins a little too cheerfully, considering that this is Vilkas, “I don’t recognize you, but that’s ‘cause I’m not Vilkas. That’s my brother. I’m Farkas. Sorry.” Vilkas - no, Farkas, apparently - grins sheepishly. Yeah, definitely not Vilkas. In Gallus’ (admittedly limited) experience, Vilkas wouldn’t smile if his life depended on it. That… probably should have been a red flag from the beginning, to be honest.

“Oh,” Gallus freezes as it really sinks in. “Shit. Sorry.”

Farkas shrugs, “Not the first time someone’s mixed us up. Won’t be the last. Friend of his?”

“I… wouldn’t call it that. Looking for Ria, in any case. Is she downstairs, or…?”

“She’s out,” Farkas punctuates his statement with a nod towards the doors. “Vilkas is downstairs, if you want to talk to him.”

“I… right. I’ll do that,” Gallus says, and smiles. “Thanks.”

Farkas flashes Gallus a grin, then returns his attention to the drinking contest. While the two competitors had seemed pretty evenly matched to begin with, now it’s clear one of them is pulling ahead, and the other looks ready to hurl.

As Gallus slips downstairs, he hears the sound of someone barfing. (Who is he kidding, he knows exactly who, he just doesn’t know his name.) Gallus does his best to ignore it, and in doing so, he hears a conversation not far away.

“But I still hear the call of the blood,” someone says, just around the corner. Possibly Vilkas, although Gallus didn’t spend enough time around him to say for sure just from the man’s voice. Gallus, meanwhile, stops in his tracks, and listens.

“We all do,” someone else says, someone quite different. An old man, maybe, although there’s still a certain strength to his voice that’s probably matched in his combat skills. “It is our burden to bear. But we can overcome.”

“You have my brother and I, obviously,” Vilkas says - because this is definitely Vilkas, Gallus realizes. “But I don’t know if the rest will go along quite so easily.”

The old man chuckles. “Leave that to me,” he says.

By now, Gallus has realized that whatever they’re talking about, he wants no part in it. So he sneaks backwards until he’s back at the doors to upstairs, then opens one of them as loudly and obviously as he can. Both Vilkas and the old man shut up, and Gallus takes the opportunity to walk forward, around the corner, like he didn’t just accidentally eavesdrop on something that’s probably rather private. Nope. Of course not.

“Hello,” Gallus greets as he rounds the corner and comes across Vilkas and an old man (because he is an old man, Gallus was right) sitting at a table. His gaze meets the old man’s, then Vilkas’ own. “Vilkas. Good to see you.”

Vilkas groans, “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” Gallus shrugs, “Ria said that if I was ever in the area, I should stop by. So I did. Your brother said she was out, and sent me down here.”

The old man, whoever he is, cracks a smile, and says, “You mixed up Farkas and Vilkas, didn’t you?”

“No,” Gallus says a little too quickly. He sticks out a hand. “I’m Gallus, by the way.”

“Kodlak,” the old man takes it, and shakes with a surprisingly firm grip for an old man with long-since-greyed hair.. “Kodlak Whitemane. Now… tell me. How do you know Vilkas and Ria?”

“I… ran into them near Winterhold,” Gallus says. He doesn’t exactly want to advertise the fact that he was running around outside in the middle of a blizzard like an idiot, of course. Not that he thinks Vilkas won’t mention that. “There’s not much to tell, honesty. They did save my life.”

Vilkas coughs, and while the cough sounds suspiciously like something along the lines of notmyidea, Kodlak doesn’t acknowledge it, so neither does Gallus. Gallus probably wouldn’t acknowledge it, anyway. In his experience, the best way to deal with people like him is to just ignore them when they’re being egotistical pricks and treat them the same as anyone else the rest of the time.

Hang on, Gallus thinks suddenly. What experience?

He thinks he might have known someone not unlike Vilkas, at least in terms of how they acted towards other people, or at least most other people. He can almost remember a face, and a name’s at the tip of his tongue, but… no. He’s not remembering. Not today. Damn it.

“It was kind of your own fault for being outside in that,” Vilkas says, and there it is.

“In my defense,” Gallus almost smiles, “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time.”

“That’s changed?”

“Yes, actually. I know much better now, but thanks.”

Kodlak looks between the two of them, and raises an eyebrow. “I feel like I’m missing something here,” he says. “Care to enlighten me?”

“Amnesia,” Gallus says. “I have amnesia. I’ve been traveling around Skyrim trying to find someone who recognizes me, and that hasn’t exactly been going well. Funny thing, Skyrim’s really rather dangerous.”

Kodlak looks very much like he’s holding back a laugh at that last remark, and Gallus decides he likes him. Kodlak’s amusement, however, is a direct contrast to Vilkas’ possibly-permanent scowl. His loss.

“Actually,” Vilkas begins, but Kodlak raises a hand.

“Let him continue, Vilkas,” Kodlak says. “I want to hear what he has to say.”

So, apparently Kodlak Whitemane is some sort of leader, or at least someone extremely well-respected in the Companions. Gallus can see why. He files away that information for future reference, takes a deep breath, and goes to the hard part.

“I’m really not great when it comes to combat,” Gallus admits. “Which is bad when you can’t run or hide. So… I’m not saying I’d necessarily be the best warrior there ever was, but I’d like to learn from you, all of you. If you’d let me.”

“Lad, with all due respect, you might be a better fit in the Bards College or the Thieves Guild,” Kodlak smiles, and shakes his head slowly. “But yes, perhaps… you do have a certain strength of spirit, one I don’t see often outside these halls.”

“Master, you’re not truly considering accepting him?” Vilkas cuts in. He doesn’t look at Gallus, which is probably a good thing considering that Gallus is currently trying not to glare daggers at him and also not exactly succeeding. Bastard.

“Well, thanks,” Gallus mutters under his breath. “Good to know you think so highly of me.”

Kodlak, for his part, either doesn’t hear or pretends not to hear Gallus at that point. Instead, he lays a hand on Vilkas’ shoulder, looks him in the eyes, and says, “I am nobody’s master, Vilkas.”

So much for him being in charge, Gallus thinks, and makes a mental note to ask someone about what exactly Kodlak’s position is later. He knows full well that this someone is probably going to be Ria.

“And last I checked,” Kodlak continues with a smile in Gallus’ direction, “we had some empty beds in Jorrvaskr for those with a fire burning in their hearts, especially those willing and ready to learn.”

“Great,” Gallus says. “So when do I start?”

Chapter Text

Gallus’ first day of training with the Companions went pretty well. Vilkas was, unsurprisingly, even more of an egotistical prick when it came to his teaching style, but Gallus was willing to admit he did know what he was doing. (Of course, he wasn’t at all willing to admit that to Vilkas, or really, anyone other than himself.) But seriously, was footwork really that important? Gallus doubted it. He just wanted to actually use a sword at some point in the near future.

Gallus’ second day of training with the Companions was a complete and utter nightmare, mainly because everything hurt. It hurt to move, it hurt to stand, and it definitely hurt to do anything remotely physical. He got a few sympathetic looks from some of the less experienced members and Farkas, but overall, that day was a nightmare.

The third day was better because he was significantly less sore and Vilkas finally told him to start using his actual sword to practice before eventually deeming him ‘not bad’ and sending him off to the smith working the Skyforge to get some better armor. By better, Gallus suspected Vilkas meant heavy, which he definitely wasn’t on-board with. Not only was heavy armor more expensive, but it was almost as hard to move in as the mage robes, and unsurprisingly, extremely heavy.

The smith working the Skyforge, one Eorlund Gray-Mane, was surprisingly friendly and a nice contrast to Vilkas being… well, Vilkas. He apparently just happened to have a new set of leather armor lying around that he’d made for no reason, and said Gallus could have it for a significantly cheaper price than it was worth if he made the cut for the Companions.

From the fourth day on, the days began blurring together, if only because there wasn’t much variety in them. In all honesty, if Gallus had known getting better with his sword would entail getting shouted at by someone whose ego is perhaps a bit bigger than it should be far too often, he probably would have looked elsewhere. But he made a commitment to at least give the Companions a try, and he’s going to see it through.

If nothing else, there’s a lot of positives to training with the Companions, too, even if he doesn’t remain with them for long. Aside from the obvious exception of Vilkas, most people are nice or at least somewhat sociable when he tries to start a conversation. (With… a couple of exceptions, but he’s been told that Aela hates everyone and Skjor is… Skjor, and that’s apparently enough justification for everyone else.) Even if he gets nothing other than an increase in his sword-fighting skills, he’s already improved a lot. And the mead’s good.

Weeks pass without much event. Sun’s Height turns to Last Seed. Gallus trains, and trains, and trains, because he damn well wants to figure out who he was before his amnesia happened and he’s not going to let a little thing like the many deadly dangers of Skyrim stop him. Although he’s still definitely running as fast as he can in the other direction if a giant’s involved, because he’d rather not get whacked into the sky anytime soon. And, in a lot of situations, running as fast as he can in the opposite direction is the smart thing to do, never mind that most of the Companions never do it, because victory or Sovngarde, that’s why.

Gallus supposes there’s probably a reason he hasn’t seen very many elderly Nords, and that whole victory or Sovngarde thing is probably why. Even so, he distinctly remembers something he overheard Kodlak Whitemane tell one of the newer Companions not too long ago.

To be getting on in years as a warrior, one must be either very strong or very cowardly, Kodlak had said. You tell me what the older warriors here are, lad.

He’d been talking to Torvar at the time, a Nord who was probably the only Companion Gallus thinks he could hold his own against at this point without any Illusion magic, or as the Companions would likely call it, cheating. Honestly, Gallus isn’t sure how Torvar’s lasted as long as he has, because he hasn’t seen him sober yet.

Granted, he hasn’t seen him fight, so maybe he’s got some hidden depths. Very well hidden depths, if most of the other younger Companions - whelps, the Circle calls them, and him for some reason - are to be believed.

Back to Kodlak, though. Presumably, he’s something called a Harbinger, which isn’t actually the position of leader in the Companions, but is the closest thing they’ve got to one. A Harbinger is the one that holds the Companions together, and it’s not hard for Gallus to see that Kodlak’s a damn good one. Then there’s the Circle, comprised of Farkas, Vilkas, Aela (the Huntress) and Skjor, who apparently advise the Harbinger on things .

Gallus may not have been around long, but he’s reasonably certain that Vilkas is avoiding Aela and Skjor, and they’re avoiding him in turn. Why, he doesn’t know, but he’s pretty sure it has to do with the one time he did nearly walk into a shouting match between the entirety of the Circle and Kodlak.

Well, okay, maybe not the entirety of the Circle. He only heard shouting from three people, but considering that he couldn’t seem to find Farkas or Kodlak anywhere else, it’s quite likely they were there and just were being a bit more mature about… whatever the issue was. Gallus tried not to pay too much attention, but he heard something about wolves and something about blood and that was when he left before they could notice him.

(Of course, he’s not entirely sure they didn’t notice him, if the suspicious looks he was getting from Aela the next day were any indication. In his defense, he wants absolutely nothing to do with whatever they’re arguing about. Damn it, he just wants to learn how to fight with a sword, he doesn’t have time for their drama.)


“You wanted to see me?” Gallus asks, although unnecessarily. Kodlak’s sitting where he always is, or at least seems to be. Actually, that’s a little concerning, that he’s always sitting in one place or another, but Gallus pushes those thoughts to the back of his mind for the time being. It’s not his business, in any case.

“Yes,” Kodlak nods. “I did. So, Gallus. You’ve been with us for some time now, correct?”

“Yes?”

“While many of the others seem to have forgotten this,” Kodlak says, “when you first came to Jorrvaskr, you said you did not wish to become a Companion, but merely to train. Am I wrong?”

“No...”

Gallus thinks he knows where this is going now, and while nothing Kodlak can say or do will change his mind at this point, he might as well humor the man. Even if he suspects his past had nothing to do with the Companions by now, and likely his future will have little to do with them, either, he does respect Kodlak. If it’s for nothing else, it’s for the way he’s been able to keep all the exceptionally immature warriors living in Jorrvaskr from killing each other. Not an easy feat.

The man’s got leadership skills, even if he claims not to be one. This, Gallus knows for certain. He’s not at all certain why he knows leadership skills when he sees them, but that’s something less concerning than his apparent talent for breaking and entering. So he might actually look into that one, if he can.

“I understand perfectly if you haven’t changed your mind,” Kodlak says softly. “In fact, I can’t say I blame you.”

“I haven’t changed my mind,” Gallus agrees. “I just came here to learn how to protect myself, and… well, I think I’m making progress?”

“You certainly are. Vilkas might not be telling you this, of course, but he’s quite impressed with how quickly you’re picking things up,” Kodlak smiles, and his eyes twinkle mischievously. “He doesn’t need to know I told you that.”

“No, of course not,” Gallus agrees. “But… yeah. I don’t mind helping out with jobs and things, and I wouldn’t mind outright joining except that I’m not so sure I could leave.”

“You’re right about that. Once you’re in, you’re in for life,” Kodlak frowns. “Which, in normal circumstances, is absolutely fine. But you, lad, have a different path ahead of you. I would have liked to have had you as one of us, but I’m not one to intervene when fate is involved.”

Gallus is, understandably, confused. Very confused. He must look it, too, because Kodlak quickly adds, “Ah, ignore the ramblings of an old man. I really called you here to ask if you would mind accompanying Ria and Farkas on a job.”

“It kind of depends on the job,” Gallus shrugs, “but to Oblivion with it. What’s the job?”

“Retrieving a shard of Wuuthrad from a tomb not far from here known as Dustman’s Cairn. It should, theoretically, be easy enough that any one of us should be able to do it alone, but I fear it will not be that easy in the least. Shards of Wuuthrad are always heavily guarded.”

“Got it,” Gallus says, deciding to ask what Wuuthrad is later. The name sounds vaguely familiar, in any case, so he’s probably heard about whatever Wuuthrad is from Ria at some point or another. It’ll come to him eventually. Hopefully. “I can do that, sure.”

In retrospect… it probably was a bad idea. Of course, Gallus couldn’t have known then what was coming. Neither could anyone else.

Getting there went alright. Gallus certainly didn’t mind getting paired up with Farkas, who didn’t talk much and was nice when he did, and Ria, who could ramble on and on about obscure parts of Companion history for hours if not days on end but was still probably one of the friendliest warriors in Jorrvaskr.

Initially, once the trio got into Dustman’s Cairn, things were great! Sure, there were draugr everywhere, and draugr were supposed to be long-dead ancient Nords who were cursed to be undead in their tombs, or something. But seeing as they weren’t that hard to deal with even when Gallus was on his own, either being dead for long periods of time had screwed over their combat skills or they just had never been particularly good at fighting. A lot of people Gallus knew would probably insist it was the former. He suspected the latter.

Regardless of draugr combat skills, everything went to Oblivion pretty soon after they entered, and it wasn’t even the draugr’s fault.

Chapter Text

Flipping the very obvious switch might seem like something you never should do, but then again, it isn’t like there are many other options here. Nothing else looks like it’ll actually open the gate to proceed further. Even so, there’s something in Gallus’ gut that tells him flipping it might be a bad idea, so he stays back when Ria goes for it. There’s no point in telling her it’s probably a trap, none of the traps they’ve come across so far were particularly dangerous in any case.

Ria flips it, and another metal gate comes crashing down behind her. Gallus probably shouldn’t be surprised - but hey, at least it wasn’t an arrow trap. She groans, and wastes no time in heading up to the bars.

“Are you kidding me,” Ria mutters. “What else was I supposed to do, there’s no other switch-”

“There’s probably one somewhere,” Gallus says. “I’ll go find it. Or Farkas. Didn’t he say he was right behind us?”

Even though Ria’s face is at least partially obscured by the bars, Gallus can clearly see her frown.

“Yeah. He did. I guess I’ll wait here, then…?”

“I’ll be right back,” Gallus nods, and leaves the room. It doesn’t take long for him to find Farkas, he was, in fact, right behind them.

“Where’s Ria?” Farkas asks.

“Flipped a switch and got stuck,” Gallus says. “There’s got to be a release switch somewhere. I’ll look this way, I think I remember seeing a switch somewhere over here. Earlier. I’m not sure what it does, but maybe it’s the release?”

Farkas shrugs, says, “Sure,” and lumbers off back into the trap room. Meanwhile, Gallus searches, and searches, and searches. He doesn’t find anything. Unless he somehow missed it, which he doubts, the release switch must be somewhere in that room, or maybe if it did release the other gate, it’s past that.

Gallus feels like an idiot now for not checking, but he can’t remember if the switch did open the gate to proceed or not. He’s pretty sure it didn’t, he’s pretty sure he would have gone through if it did, or at least noticed it… but still.

Seeing as there’s clearly nothing this far back, Gallus figures it’s probably time he headed back to see if Farkas found anything, or if Ria managed to release the switch on her own. So, he does. It’s when he gets close that he starts hearing voices that definitely aren’t Farkas or Ria, and are speaking Tamrielic so they’re definitely not draugr.

“-is that one of them?”

“Think so. He’s not wearing the armor, but he looks like one of the ones who does. So he dies.”

“Killing you will make for an exciting story to tell!”

“None of you will be alive to tell it,” Farkas growls. Gallus doesn’t hear Ria anywhere and, for now, he assumes she’s still stuck behind the gate. Which means Farkas is, apparently, facing off against at least three enemies who definitely aren’t draugr at once.

It doesn’t take Gallus long to decide to even the odds. He draws his sword, considers readying some sort of Illusion spell but quickly decides against it, and charges in.

...well, that’s not quite right. A more accurate description would be that he was going to charge in, and would have if something, someone, hadn’t grabbed him from behind in a chokehold, causing him to drop his sword. Gallus’ eyes go wide, and he struggles to break free, but to no avail. He can’t breathe. He can already feel his vision beginning to darken, and he knows full well he’s getting weaker with every second that passes, but he can’t give up. He can’t let himself get killed by (he’s assuming) a bandit or something.

“Are you a werewolf?” His captor asks, quite seriously, and releases the chokehold just slightly, so he can speak. So he can answer the question, probably. He can still barely breathe, but he can at least focus a little, enough to ready a spell.

Gallus readies a Fear spell, and hopes against hope that his enemy here isn’t looking at what he’s doing with his hands right now, or expecting him to know magic and therefore use it against him.

“Of course… I’m not,” Gallus replies, with a mixture of annoyance and fear in his words. He’s not even sure why the other person’s asking, but he’s guessing it’s got to be for some important reason. Why a common bandit would even care about that, he doesn’t know, but he’s definitely not expecting his opponent to release him.

Gallus drops to his feet, still gasping for breath. He’s still turned away from the other guy, which means he hasn’t seen the spell he has prepared.

“Do yourself a favor, and leave while you still can. Many of your shield-siblings are savage werewolves, and are bringing dishonor to the name of Ysgramor.”

A lot of things in that sentence are concerning, not least of which how much this individual sounds like a Companion himself, but Gallus suspects there’s something going on here he isn’t aware of. Still keeping the spell in his off hand hidden, he asks, “Which ones?”

“The entirety of the Circle,” he says. “And your Harbinger.”

That… explains a lot, actually, although there are some individuals out of that he’d suspect more than others. Like, say, Aela (the Huntress) and Skjor. He couldn’t see Kodlak Whitemane being a savage werewolf, or Farkas for that matter. If anything, Farkas would be the kind of werewolf that’s about as utterly un-savage as one could get. Vilkas… well, Gallus is pretty sure he’s royally pissed off at Aela and Skjor at the moment, but on the other hand he could see him moonlighting as a savage werewolf.

Moonlighting … ha. Don’t werewolves transform under a full moon or something? But enough about that. From the sound of things, these guys consider Farkas to be a ‘savage werewolf’. Somehow, Gallus doubts they’ve actually met the Nord off the battlefield, because if they had, they’d know that savage is literally the last word anyone would use to describe Farkas.

In any case, presumably this person would let him go if he’s not a werewolf, but for one thing Gallus doesn’t quite trust im not to stab him in the back. For another, he legitimately felt like he was going to die for a few moments there.

For a third, he’d really rather not make enemies of the Companions or whoever their apparent enemies (or maybe rivals) are. So, he turns, meets the other guy’s gaze, and says, “You’re wrong about one thing, though.”

“What?”

“I’m not a Companion. But some of my friends are.”

Without letting his eyes leave his opponent’s, he hurls the Fear spell into his chest.

The effect is immediate. The guy’s eyes go wide, first in surprise, then in fear. Come to think of it, he does look an awful lot like a bandit, but Gallus gives him the benefit of the doubt for now. Gallus reaches down for his sword in full view of the bandit who’d choked him and, by the time he glances back up, his opponent’s fled. Good, he doesn’t want to kill anyone unnecessarily today.

Gallus slides his sword back into its sheath and returns to the trap room. Ria’s still there, still stuck behind the bars. Farkas is nowhere to be seen, and there’s at least three - no, at least four - corpses lying about the room that look very, very torn up, to say the least. That, along with Ria looking particularly shaken but otherwise okay, leads Gallus to think that maybe, just maybe, the one who’d tried to choke him was onto something.

“Farkas did this?” Gallus concludes. Ria nods quickly. “So he is a werewolf, then.” She nods again, and Gallus’ heart sinks.

“Yeah,” Ria says. “How did you know?”

“I… may have run into one of them-” (Gallus nods to the bodies strewn about, and tries not to look at them too closely or really at all) “-just outside. He said that…” Despite himself, Gallus hesitates.

“Are you okay?” Ria asks.

“Yeah, now,” Gallus shrugs. “The guy sneaked up on me and put me in a chokehold from behind before asking if I was a werewolf. I obviously said no, but… apparently Farkas isn’t the only one.”

“Vilkas probably is one of them, too,” Ria guesses. “And if Farkas and Vilkas are… maybe the rest of the Circle?”

“That’s what he said. The Circle and Kodlak.”

The gate goes up, but Ria doesn’t step out. Instead, she glances at the tunnel leading further in, the one that’s now unblocked, and Gallus puts two and two together. After all, he hadn’t passed Farkas or a werewolf on the way in from the other way.

“I guess he found the release switch, then,” Gallus says. Ria nods. “So he went that way?” Ria nods again.

“What if he’s still a werewolf?” Ria asks, sounding vaguely horrified by the thought. Gallus isn’t sure why she would be, minus the whole ‘savage werewolf’ thing, up until she clarifies.  “What if he attacks us?”

“I wouldn’t,” Farkas says. Gallus never would have thought someone wielding a greatsword and wearing heavy armor could be that quiet, but he certainly hadn’t seen or heard Farkas come in. “I don’t know what it’s like for others, but we’re always in control. Sorry you had to find out like that.”

Well, that directly contrasts with anything Gallus can remember hearing about werewolves, but then again, he probably would know a bit more than that they transformed under the full moon, and- wait.

“You transformed right here, right now?” Gallus asks. Farkas nods. “But it isn’t a full moon…”

“That’s regular werewolves,” Farkas says. “We’re different. Not sure why. Ask Vilkas.”

“Somehow, I doubt Vilkas would tell either of us anything if we asked…”

“You’re right. Ask Kodlak.”

“So are you going to make us werewolves?” Ria asks, with a strange sort of look in her eyes that Gallus can’t quite place. Farkas shakes his head.

“Only the Circle,” Farkas says. “Aela and Skjor might make an exception for you if you want the beast blood.”

“I don’t,” Gallus says automatically, at the same time as Ria says, “I don’t know.”

“Aela and Skjor might make an exception for you if they know you know,” Farkas warns after a moment. “And by that, I mean you might not have a choice. I won’t tell them.”

While Gallus most definitely does not want to become a werewolf himself, he can’t help but be curious. So, even as the group continues through the rest of Dustman’s Cairn, having to deal with far more members of the werewolf hunters (‘the Silver Hand ’, according to Farkas) in addition to far too many draugr, Gallus finds himself asking question after question about lycanthropy. Farkas answer them as best as he can, and Ria remains silent.

What’s it like being a werewolf?

Not bad, most of the time. You don’t sleep well. It’s not a bad price to pay for the extra power in a tight spot, according to Farkas, and apparently you can’t get sick.

How often can a werewolf transform?

Farkas can’t speak for any others, but he can confirm that the strain of lycanthropy (or “beast blood”) that the Circle has lets them transform once a day at most, and not at all if they wish. He, Vilkas, and Kodlak have been trying to not transform unless absolutely necessary, and he knows it’s harder on Vilkas than him and Kodlak.

Who are the Silver Hand?

All Farkas knows is that they’re werewolf hunters that seem to exclusively go after one group of werewolves: the ones in the ranks of the Companions. Kodlak or Vilkas might know more, but somehow, Gallus doubts he’s asking either of them.

Farkas might not know much about the Silver Hand, and Gallus knows even less himself, but he can guess at a few things from the one who’d attacked him. He’d known the correct terminology for a lot of things that Gallus definitely wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t spent some time with the Companions himself, for other thing.

For now, it’s just a hunch… and besides, Gallus would really rather not get any more involved than he already is in a feud between two rival groups of sweaty Nords, thanks. (Never mind that they’re not all Nords, but the point still stands.)

Chapter Text

“Hey, Gallus,” Ria says a few days later, and just when Gallus has stopped feeling on edge around the Companions he knows to be werewolves, too. Gods damn it. “You should come with me on a job in Darkwater Crossing.”

“Sure,” Gallus says, and shrugs. “Any particular reason, or-?”

“Because we need to talk,” she says. The confusion must have been quite evident across Gallus’ features, because Ria quickly adds, in a much lower voice, “About what happened in Dustman’s Cairn. And I don’t want to risk anyone overhearing us.”

By anyone, Gallus is pretty sure she meant Aela and Skjor. Skjor was out on a mission near Windhelm with Athis and Njada - and considering how much those two visibly despised each other, he couldn’t say he envied Skjor having to deal with both of them at once - but Aela was around here somewhere. He’d guess sleeping, except that werewolves, apparently, don’t sleep.

“Sounds good to me,” Gallus says. “I guess… I haven’t exactly been down in the Rift really at all. Maybe I was from there, who knows?”

Ria grins cheerfully.

“That’s the spirit!”

Despite Ria insisting that the entire reason she wanted him to come with her was to talk about what went down in Dustman’s Cairn, she doesn’t actually bring it up for a while, not until they are almost to Darkwater Crossing.

Then, right as they’re coming up to the town, she says, “I’m pretty sure Aela knows that I know they’re all werewolves. I’m… not a good liar.”

“And I am?” Gallus asks.

“Yes, actually, but that’s not the point. I might as well just tell her, and… I don’t know, I think I might give the beast blood a try. What about you?”

Gallus stops in his tracks. Surprised doesn’t even begin to cover how he feels at this point, but then again, while he’d interpreted her silence back when he was asking Farkas about basically every single aspect of lycanthropy he could as being uninterested… maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she was seriously considering it, and thought he was seriously considering it, too.

“I mean, it’s your choice,” Gallus says. “Tell Aela I wasn’t there when Farkas transformed if she asks. I’d really rather not deal with that.”

“Wait, what?” Now it’s Ria’s turn to look surprised. “I thought-”

“I’m interested in how it works,” Gallus says, “but that doesn’t mean I want to become a werewolf. Besides, I’m not even an actual Companion.”

“Why not?”

Gallus shrugs, and says, “I’m not really sure. I just don’t want to.”

(In truth, there’s a nagging feeling in his gut that becoming a werewolf would be an extremely bad idea for him specifically, and he doesn’t know why. Maybe he’s a vampire, and becoming a werewolf would trigger something bad.)

(Well, he’s pretty sure he’s not a vampire, but his point still stands.)

“That’s fair,” Ria says, “but I was talking about being a Companion. I mean, why not become one? I know it’s not that you’re not strong enough, you are, and-”

“Because I don’t want to be tied down to Jorrvaskr forever,” Gallus says, and takes a deep breath. This next part might not necessarily be a good idea to say, but to Oblivion with it, he needs to say it to someone and out of all the Companions, Ria’s probably one of the least likely to eternally shun him for it. “That, and I’m a mage.”

Ria doesn’t speak again for some time, and in that time Gallus decides to continue walking. He can hear her footsteps behind him after a few moments, which is honestly unsurprising. Most of the Companions aren’t much for stealth, and Ria herself is no exception. On the other hand, Gallus… has always been naturally quiet, for some reason or another.

He suspects that whoever he was, before his amnesia, had spent quite a lot of time practicing being stealthy, because being quiet shouldn’t come this easy in light armor or mage robes. That, combined with his knack for lockpicking and influencing people… well. He’s not sure he wants to know the truth, but he has a bad feeling he might already know.

“Being a mage isn’t that bad,” Ria says after a moment. Gallus sighs.

“My point exactly,” Gallus says. “Listen to yourself. ‘Being a mage isn’t that bad.’ It’s almost funny when you consider that one of my friends back up in Winterhold, when I said I was going to go find the Companions, said almost the same thing: ‘Being a warrior isn’t that bad.’ There’s something called moderation, and nobody in Skyrim seems to use it. Not the Companions, not the College of Winterhold, nobody.”

Ria doesn’t speak again, not until they reach Darkwater Crossing. The job is an animal extermination because, apparently, a bear had gotten into someone’s house. Gallus still isn’t sure how that happened, and he’s not sure he wants to know, but it doesn’t take long to bring down the bear.

However, it could have gone a lot worse. The bear focused on Ria, for whatever reason, and was prepared to maul her to pieces, or try to, anyway. Considering that she was and is wearing decent armor, it probably wouldn’t have done a terribly good job, but Gallus reacted fast with a Calm spell from his off hand.

The bear turned around, looked him in the eyes with that confused-but-happy look that Calm spells always resulted in. Gallus met the bear’s gaze, and cut its head off with one clean slice. Clearly, his practice had been paying off.

He probably was never going to be able to forget how he’d met its eyes before killing it, and the fact that he was able to do that was concerning in itself. At least he’s pretty sure he couldn’t do that if he had to kill a person. Illusion magic is… not fun, when you consider its effects.

Either way, Ria could have died there. They both could have died there. And Gallus wasn’t about to let her forget it.

“This is why I need to become one of them,” Ria explains over a freshly-purchased mead in the local tavern. “I need to be strong enough to not depend on others. I need to be strong enough that others can depend on me.”

“Fair enough,” Gallus says. For whatever reason, he doesn’t feel like drinking, so he doesn’t buy one today. Maybe the fact that it’s the middle of the afternoon has something to do with it. “Are you sure you can keep me out of this?”

Ria gulps down her mead, and that’s answer enough. Even so, she says, in a small voice, “No.”

“Maybe… I can make myself scarce for a few weeks,” Gallus offers. “There’s a fairly big city in this Hold, isn’t there? Riften? Maybe I was from there.”

“I hope not,” Ria says. “That’s where the Thieves Guild is.”

Gallus frowns, but doesn’t voice his suspicions. Instead, he says, “It’s at least worth a shot.” He offers Ria a smile, stands, and pushes his chair in.

“I’ll see you around,” Gallus says.

“See you,” Ria nods, and Gallus heads out, past the hooded figure by the door.

One of the locals is more than happy to give him directions to Riften, along with a warning to not take anything he doesn’t want to lose there with him. That’s more than a little concerning, but probably nothing to be too worried about. The city can’t be that bad, can it?

Unfortunately for Gallus, he never makes it to Riften. Maybe if he’d stuck to the roads, he would have been alright, but Gallus very quickly got very, very lost. Just being lost would have been fine, if he hadn’t stumbled into the middle of a skirmish between the Stormcloaks and the Imperials.

Gallus would have been fine if he’d sneaked away immediately, but he was just a little too curious. There’s an old saying (that may or may not have been made up by J’zargo on the spot a while back) that goes, curiosity killed the Khajiit. Gallus might not have been a Khajiit, but he stuck around just a little too long.

When he turned to leave, something or someone hit him on the back of the head, hard, and it all went black.

Chapter Text

The first thing Gallus is aware of upon waking is a distinct sort of swaying motion underneath him, almost like a horse-drawn wagon or something similar. That, coupled with the feeling of being pressed up against wood, would heavily imply that he is, in fact, in a wagon, but he definitely doesn’t remember getting in one. Why would he even-

The carriage hits a bump, and Gallus shoots up far too fast. It’s far too bright, everything’s far too bright, and blurry- gods, what happened? There’s other people in the wagon, he thinks, but he can’t make out any faces, and trying to doesn’t work, so he squints and can almost make out the man in front of him-

Gallus shakes his head in an attempt to clear his vision, and that clearly is the absolute worst thing to do, because bile bubbles up in his throat and before he knows what’s happening he’s hurling the contents of his stomach right into someone’s lap.

“That is disgusting, ” someone’s saying - Gallus would agree, if he wasn’t particularly nauseous at the moment - and Gallus squints, trying to see him. He’s a Nord, he thinks, dark brown hair, doesn’t look particularly strong, so maybe not a Nord, most Nords are fair-haired anyway, so maybe an Imperial like him?

“Be nice, he just woke up,” someone else mutters, probably the someone he’d thrown up on. The first guy laughs.

“You? Tell me to be nice? You’re a bloody Stormcloak !”

Gallus forces the remaining bile down, hopes to whatever gods might be listening that he doesn’t hurl again, and looks up. Everything’s far too bright, still, and blurry, but he can at least kind of make out the face of the blond Nord directly in front of him, wearing some sort of odd blue tunic he doesn’t recognize, and looking surprisingly concerned. Despite apparently being both a Stormcloak and the guy Gallus threw up on.

“Sorry,” Gallus apologizes. The Nord shakes his head.

“Don’t be,” he says. “You’ve been out for hours, looks like you took a nasty hit to the head. Are you alright?”

Gallus frowns, and squints. His vision’s very, very slowly becoming clearer, which is good. But he still feels like he’s about to throw up, which is the exact opposite of good. The swaying motion of the carriage, of course, isn’t exactly helping things. Neither does the sudden bump they hit.

Before he can throw up on the guy in front of him again, Gallus turns and empties his stomach off the side of the wagon. There’s another annoyed groan from one of the other occupants of the cart, and rather indisposed or not, Gallus thinks he knows exactly who it was.

He turns back and nearly falls off his seat, mainly because when he reached out a hand to steady himself, said hand wouldn’t move, and the dull chafing on his wrists that’s been there since before he woke up increases just enough that he notices. He raises his hands to his face, and notices with a look of horror that his hands are tied together. His feet aren’t, but…

Honestly, escaping is the last thing he can do in this condition. And maybe his gut’s wrong, maybe there’s a perfectly rational explanation for this, maybe he’s just dreaming this. The only problem with that is, he’s pretty sure he’s far too nauseous for this to be a dream.

So, he’s a prisoner, for some reason. He’s not sure why he’s a prisoner, but it can’t hurt to ask. And- shit, he asked a question, didn’t he?

“Yeah, I’m alright,” Gallus lies. Somehow, he gets the feeling the other guy doesn’t believe him. Somehow, he gets the feeling it’s directly related to his apparent inability to keep anything down.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Gallus frowns, and decides to change the subject. His vision’s still not great, but at least he can make out that apparently, everyone else on the wagon is tied up, too. “Where are we? And I- what’s going on?”

“So there was a skirmish between us and the Imperials near Darkwater Crossing,” the Stormcloak says heavily, “except we were heavily outnumbered, not to mention ambushed. I’m guessing you two were caught up in it as well.”

“I’m… guessing,” Gallus agrees. He actually has no memory of anything after leaving Darkwater Crossing, and he can only faintly remember Darkwater Crossing, which is… concerning. But hey, it could be a lot worse. He could have completely forgotten everything, again, and that would not have been good.

“Trying to cross the border?”

“Um. No…?”

The other, dark-haired Nord, who had been quiet up until now, glares over at the Stormcloak soldier and says, “Damn you Stormcloaks. Skyrim was fine until you came along. Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn’t been looking for you, I could have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell.”

“I doubt it,” Gallus says, and is soon on the receiving end of that glare himself. He means what he says, though. “If you were a good thief, you wouldn’t be this overconfident.”

“And who are you to call me overconfident? You’re just a damn Cyrod.”

Gallus doesn’t know what that means, but he suspects it has something to do with his own race (Imperial) and if the way the thief said it was any indication, it’s not exactly a nice term. He glares back, and makes up his mind to throw up on the thief if he needs to again. He hopes he doesn’t need to… but you never know.

“Hey, hey, ” the Stormcloak soldier says, “let’s not call names. No need to live up to our stereotypes. We’re all brothers in binds now, in any case.” He offers Gallus a friendly smile, although Gallus is more than a little concerned about how final that sounds. “Name’s Ralof. You?”

“Gallus. So… where are we going?”

Ralof shrugs. The thief, unfortunately, chooses then to pipe up with a question of his own.

“And what’s wrong with him, huh?” The thief nods to the fourth person in their cart, another Nord that Gallus had somehow missed initially. He’s gagged, and wearing clothes that Gallus would almost describe as regal. Almost, because in all honesty, whoever had decided that looked ‘regal’ was trying too hard.

Of course, neither Gallus nor the thief was expecting Ralof to get so fired up about that.

“Watch your tongue. You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King.”

Really? Huh.

“The one who killed the last High King?” Gallus asks curiously, looking between Ulfric and Ralof. Ralof nods enthusiastically. His commanding officer(?), on the other hand, almost looks annoyed. In fact, Gallus could have sworn he heard a muffled sigh through the gag.

Then again, Gallus thinks, I’d be annoyed too if all anyone knew me for was for killing a king. Or for killing anyone, really. Not just for killing a king.

“Yes, that Ulfric Stormcloak. The only Ulfric Stormcloak.”

“Fair enough,” Gallus begins, “but-”

Before he can say or do anything else, the thief interrupts him by saying, “That greyskin keeps looking our way. Probably glad to see you lot in binds, but… Divines, she’s unnerving.”

He glances anxiously towards another cart, this one in front of theirs. Gallus follows his gaze. There’s several other Nords, all in Stormcloak uniform, all in binds… and a lone Dunmer girl wearing a strange sort of armor Gallus doesn’t recognize. Her hood’s down, and she’s looking their way, so Gallus can clearly make out at least some of her features - well, as clearly as he can, his vision’s still not normal and that is not okay , but that’s not the point here. She’s got dark brown hair just long enough to tuck into her hood, ashen skin, and… purple eyes, a distinct shade of purple that he’d personally refer to as indigo. Indigo eyes that, as soon as they meet his, quickly look away.

Gallus furrows his brow, confused - don’t all Dunmer have red eyes? - and only then does he realize that the thief is continuing his pattern of being a racist bastard. He turns back, very ready to tell him off but not expecting much to come of it. Fortunately, Ralof’s beat him to it - and while Gallus is fairly certain that Stormcloaks that aren’t horribly racist are the exception, not the rule, if there’s a decent amount like Ralof he could actually get on board with this.

“For the love of Talos, stop calling her a greyskin, let’s not be racist,” Ralof says tiredly, almost like he’s had to deal with this before… which, actually, considering that Gallus only woke up a few minutes ago, he probably has. “She’s a Dark Elf. It’s not that hard.”

“You’re telling me Stormcloaks don’t get off on calling names?”

“Well-” Ralof sighs, “That really shouldn’t matter, and whether it’s true or not, that’s still no excuse.”

“Dunmer,” Gallus cuts in, earning confused looks from everyone, including Ulfric Stormcloak himself. Good.

“What?”

“They call themselves Dunmer,” Gallus explains. He’d know. He has more than a few Dunmer friends at this point with Erandur, Aranea, and Brelyna among them. “Not Dark Elves. And… honestly, would you want to be called a Dark Elf?”

“Good point,” Ralof winces. “Very good point. I’ll try to remember that in the future… well, that’s assuming we have a future outside of Sovngarde. And… wherever Imperials and Dar… Dunmer go.”

That’s the first time Ralof’s openly admitted that they’re probably going to die. Ulfric Stormcloak doesn’t look surprised, and considering that he’s here, the thief really shouldn’t be. Neither should Gallus, but even so… he kind of really is. The thief’s visibly breaking down at this point, and Gallus can’t quite blame him.

“So we are going to die?” Gallus asks, maybe a little too bluntly. Ralof sighs, and nods.

“We’d need a miracle to survive at this point,” Ralof says. “And in my opinion… Sovngarde awaits.”

“General Tullius, sir!” Someone calls, presumably one of the Imperial soldiers. “The headsman is waiting!”

That’s certainly one way to confirm their impending doom. Ralof sighs sadly, apparently resigning himself to this already. The thief buries his head in his hands. Ulfric Stormcloak doesn’t make eye contact, and what little of his face isn’t covered by the gag is unreadable. And Gallus, on the other hand…

Gallus just doesn’t want to die. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have any say in the matter.


The next few minutes pass in a sort of daze for him. He’s dimly aware of sympathetic looks from Ralof, and a bit more aware of how the Dunmer girl seems to be looking at him every time he happens to look in her general direction, but none of it really registers, not even when the wannabe horse thief tries to make a break for it and is shot dead on the spot. Nothing registers for Gallus, not until the Imperial soldiers have called every name on the list, and there’s two prisoners remaining.

Gallus, and the Dunmer girl with the indigo eyes.

“Are you actually going to give us your name, or are we going to have to dump your corpse in an unmarked grave?” The Imperial captain shouts in her face. To the girl’s credit, she doesn’t visibly react, and says nothing. Even so, Gallus can’t shake the feeling that this is wrong, and that he should be a lot more angry at the captain than he already is. Which is, admittedly, pretty damn angry. She’s a prime example of why people don’t like the Empire.

“Look… please tell us your name,” her subordinate tries, the one with the list. He’s a lot nicer, and in Gallus’ opinion, he really should be the one in charge here. “We’ll try to make sure your remains are returned to your family.”

The girl’s so quiet that Gallus can barely hear her when she whispers, “That won’t be necessary,” and goes over to the block herself, but not before glancing in Gallus’ direction with more than a bit of anxiety in her eyes. That, and… what looks almost like tears. Clearly, she isn’t supposed to be here any more than he is.

“What did she do?” Gallus asks, and while he tries to keep it out of his words, he’s… more than a little pissed off. But hey! He’s heading to his execution! He’s completely justified in being extremely pissed off at the moment!

“Obstructed justice,” the captain says thinly, and glances to her subordinate. “Who’s this?”

The soldier with the list looks over it, and shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “He’s not on the list. Who are you?”

“My name’s Gallus,” he says, “and I’m not-”

“I don’t care what you have to say,” the captain hisses, now all up in his face. “You’re going to the block.”

“But captain, he’s not on the list-”

“Forget the list, he goes to the block!”

Gallus’ heart sinks, and for good reason. He isn’t expecting a miracle, after all. Even so, if he’s going to the block for sure… he might as well make the captain feel like shit first.

“Real mature of you,” Gallus says. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Bullshit,” the captain says. “Now get over with the rest of them.”

There’s a burning anger in Gallus’ heart now, one that doesn’t seem to go away, but anger turns to concern when he turns and sees the girl from earlier, with the strange eyes. If she looked ready to cry earlier, she’s definitely crying now, if silently, and Gallus… really can’t blame her. But clearly, most of the others around are, because of course they are, they’re Nords. Crying is seen as weakness by Nords… and, honestly, by most races, as far as Gallus can tell.

Well, fuck them, he’s surprised he’s not crying. Probably, part of it is his anger at this whole situation. He can faintly remember hearing somewhere that anger is what keeps you from being overwhelmed by sadness, and although he can’t for the life of him place where he heard that particular fact, it makes sense.

But really, they’re all about to die. So crying is very much justified here. He still feels bad for her, though. So even if they’re both going to die in the very near future, he might as well do something. Before he can change his mind, Gallus goes over, and hesitantly places a hand on the girl’s shoulder. She visibly flinches, then looks up at him, shock in her eyes.

“It’ll be alright,” Gallus tells her, even though it’s a lie and he damn well knows it. She does too, if her unimpressed look is any indication. Even so, she wipes her eyes, and meets his gaze.

(In any other situation, Gallus would ask her about her eyes, because he won’t deny it, he’s curious. But this isn’t any other situation, and that would probably be about as awkward as asking her who she’d fucked in the last few years. Which he definitely isn’t doing.)

“No,” she says, “it won’t.” She’s still speaking quietly, maybe so the other prisoners can’t hear them. Kind of unnecessary, but whatever makes her feel better.

“You’re… probably right,” Gallus admits. He sighs sadly. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she says. “I just- look, if we’re both going to die here, there’s something you-”

“Shut up over there!” Some random Imperial yells. The girl quickly does so, much to Gallus’ annoyance.

“There’s something I… what?”

She shakes her head. “You’ll find out soon,” she whispers, and returns her attention to where someone clad in some more important-looking gilded armor is currently telling off Ulfric Stormcloak himself. Real mature, telling off someone who can’t defend himself. Even if said someone is… controversial, at best.

“Some here in Helgen call you a hero,” this officer(?) continues. “But a hero doesn’t use a power like the Voice to murder his king and usurp his throne.”

Ulfric Stormcloak’s only response is a bunch of very, very muffled grunts through the gag. Why is he gagged, anyway? Do they actually think he can escape by yelling at them? Because that would be… paranoid, to say the least. Words can’t get someone out of an execution, no matter how good the speaker is.

(And what in Oblivion is the Voice, anyway? Somehow, he doubts he’d get an answer if he asked now, so he doesn’t.)

“You started this war, plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down, and restore the peace.”

The officer in question looked like he was going to say more, but it was then that something roared nearby. Something… that Gallus definitely hasn’t heard, ever, in his life. But something about it does seem almost… familiar, for some reason. Nobody else seems to think that, of course. Everyone else is looking to the skies and looking concerned. Everyone else, that is, save the girl with the indigo eyes.

“Do you know what that is?” Gallus asks her. She shakes her head.

“No,” she says, “but if whatever it is comes this way… we might just be able to get out of this alive.”

Gallus wishes he shared her optimism. Quietly, he says, “If that happens, I’m buying you a drink.”

“Thanks,” she smiles slightly. “We’ll both need one if we somehow get out of this alive.”

Chapter Text

“What was that?” One of the soldiers asks, although it’s really a rhetorical question. Nobody really knows what that roar was… and in all honesty, nobody really wants to know, either. Although the Dunmer girl next to Gallus seems hopeful that it might actually help, if it attacked.

He doesn’t follow her logic, but that might be because he’s a little bit more concerned with the fact that his execution is apparently coming right up. How fun.

“It’s nothing,” the officer (or maybe a general, because he certainly holds himself that way) says. “Carry on.”

“Yes, General Tullius,” the captain says, and hey, what do you know, Gallus was right. Not that it matters at this point. As General Tullius walks past her, she turns to a nearby priestess and says, “Give them their last rites.”

The priestess’ words honestly go in one ear and out the other. Gallus has never been one for sermons or lectures, at least not that he can remember, and he doubts it was much different for him before. One of the other Stormcloaks, however, seems to be even more bored than he is.

“For the love of Talos, shut up, and let’s get this over with,” the soldier says, even going so far as to take his place at the block first. The priestess sighs.

“As you wish,” she says, and steps back.

The Stormcloak soldier glances around impatiently. Eventually, he shouts, “Come on! I haven’t got all morning.” His words might just have actually helped things along, because within a matter of moments, he’s kneeling at the block, staring up at the executioner. Gallus can’t see his face, but he doesn’t doubt there’s a fire in his eyes.

“My ancestors are smiling at me, Imperials,” he says proudly. “Can you say the same?”

Those are his last words, and Gallus can’t help but wince as his head falls into the waiting bucket, now no longer attached to his body. The Imperial captain kicks his body aside, and calls for the next prisoner.

For a few tense moments, Gallus is wondering who in Oblivion the ‘renegade from Cyrodiil’ is, until he’s elbowed in the side by the Dunmer girl, and realizes that apparently, she can’t even call him by his name when he’s about to be killed. Once again, real mature.

Before he goes, he looks to her, even if he’s not quite sure why. She doesn’t look at him, so he takes a deep breath, lets it out, and begins walking to his death.

(He could have sworn he heard her whisper something under her breath, but whatever it was, she was too quiet and he was too far away to actually hear it.)

It’s when he’s actually reached the block, and is staring the captain in the face, that he realizes this is his chance to make her look bad. After all, he’s going to die anyway, right?

“Would it kill you to actually call me by my name?” Gallus asks, meeting her now-furious gaze. “And just for the record, I’m actually from Skyrim, I think. It’s complicated.”

Her response is to shove him into a kneeling position, and then down over the block. It’s then, when he’s looking the executioner in the eyes, that another roar’s heard. This time, it’s closer, and even as Gallus unconsciously shivers… something about it resonates with him, and he really has no idea what. What even is it, anyway?

“Did you hear that?” One of the Imperial soldiers asks another. The second one nods, and the captain clears her throat. The headsman raises his axe, and despite all his instincts protesting to the contrary, Gallus doesn’t close his eyes.

If he’s going to die here, right here, right now…

He’s going to face it with his eyes open.

At quite literally the last second, something lands on the tower, and the headsman stumbles to his knees, dropping his axe. Someone (Gallus’ money is on the Imperial general) yells, “What in Oblivion is that?

Gallus damn well doesn’t know, but whatever it is, it’s definitely what was roaring earlier. He should move, he needs to move, now is his chance to escape, while everyone’s focused on that! But, for whatever reason, he can’t. Quite simply, he can’t, because he’s transfixed on the… whatever it is.

The first thing he’s aware of are its eyes. They’re like rubies, the sole bits of color among the mass of dark scales that the… whatever it is, is. It’s got wings, it’s got scales, and even though it’s clearly not human in the least, the murderous look in its eyes is unmistakably so. Its eyes meet his, and Gallus unconsciously shivers.

“Dragon!” Someone shouts, and Gallus mentally agrees. He’s never seen a dragon, nobody has… well, until now. Because this? This is definitely, unmistakably a dragon.

Damn.

The dragon opens its mouth, does something that definitely isn’t breathing fire but definitely is… something, something that knocks everything in its path back. Gallus staggers to his feet, and remains standing for a grand total of two seconds before he collapses. For what seems far too short a time, he’s blissfully unaware of the carnage going on around him.

Then, someone’s tugging at his arm, pulling him to his feet, and Gallus is suddenly far too aware of everything going on at once.

“Hey, get up! Come on! The gods won’t give us another chance!”

It’s Ralof, and Gallus couldn’t be more glad to see a friendly face at this point. He gets up, or tries to, anyway, and his head spins.

“I just… I just need a moment,” Gallus manages. Ralof shakes his head.

“We need to go now. This way,” Ralof says, and then he looks to the tower and his eyes go wide. “Oh gods…I- look, if you want to live, follow me!”

He runs. So much for that legendary Nord courage Gallus has heard so much about. He doesn’t see where Ralof runs to. Instead, he turns, looks where he’d been looking, and sees the dragon come to alight on the tower once more. By now, the whole town’s burning… gods, how long was I out for? He doesn’t know, but it can’t have been long, otherwise he’d be doing a lot less thinking and a lot more throwing up.

His gaze meets the dragon’s. For a few moments, he swears he sees recognition in those glittering, burning red depths, and… something else. Hostility, maybe… and… the dragon opens its mouth. Probably to either eat him or roast him alive. How fun.

Oh shit, Gallus thinks, but his legs won’t move. Nothing will move. All he can do is stare at the dragon, transfixed, and knowing full well that this is it. The dragon’s going to set him on fire, and he is going to die.

And he still can’t move.

At the last moment, as the dragon’s fire comes sailing towards him, someone slams into him from the side, knocking him out of the way just in time. Whoever it is, it’s not Ralof, because she swears under her breath as both go sprawling.

This time, Gallus manages to get to his feet without incident, and his gaze meets the one of the Dunmer girl. Relief floods her eyes, then a certain steely resolve.

“Come on!” She shouts, leaping to her feet, and before Gallus can fully register what’s happening, she’s looped her arm around his and is dragging him away from the dragon… which then takes to the skies. Great.

Gallus suddenly notices her hands are untied… and his definitely aren’t. Also great.

“How did you get free?” He asks when she pulls him close to the wall and drops into a crouch. She flips her hood up so it covers her hair and pulls out a dagger.

“Old trick I learned from- someone I- yes. Not... ah, anyway. Hold out your hands, I’ll cut you loose, it’s faster.”

Gallus gratefully does so, and within a matter of moments, his bonds fall to the ground and he’s free. He rubs his wrists reflexively.

“Thanks,” he says automatically. After a few moments, he adds, “You didn’t have to do that.”

The Dunmer woman smiles sadly and says, “You’d be surprised. Now, we need to get to the keep, that’s where they’ll be keeping our gear, and it’ll be more protected from the dragon than the rest of the town.”

“Right,” Gallus agrees. Somehow, he gets the feeling that there’s something she’s not telling him, possibly several somethings, but that can wait until they’re not in immediate danger of dying. Besides, he owes her a drink if they make it out of this alive. Speaking of which… “But wouldn’t everyone else be headed there?”

“You’ve got that right,” she says, “which is why we need to get there-”

The wall shakes, and Gallus realizes a split second too late that it’s because the dragon has landed on top of the wall, directly above them. Fortunately, it can’t actually get them from there, and the girl’s quick thinking in shoving herself and him as close to the wall as possible might have saved both their lives.

“-first,” she continues once the dragon’s taken off. “We need to get there first, or we’re pretty much dead. Can you run?”

Gallus grins uneasily. “I hope so.”

“That’ll have to be good enough for now. On three.”

On three, the two take off running. The girl, at least, has some idea of where she’s going, so Gallus has no problem whatsoever with following her and hoping he doesn’t trip. That’s no easy feat, considering the town is in ruins and there’s all sorts of debris on the ground.

As it happens, he does not, in fact, trip.

However, when they’re nearing what Gallus assumes is the keep, two things happen in quick succession. First, Gallus hears someone shout “FUS RO DAH!” and when he looks up, there’s nothing visible save the dragon.

Second, whatever the dragon did hits, and Gallus goes flying. Granted, he doesn’t go flying far, and he’s lucky that he only gets the breath knocked out of him from the impact. The dragon lands directly in front of him, and cranes its neck to regard him with… yes, that’s definitely contempt, he can recognize that look anywhere.

“DOVAHKIIN! HIN SIL FEN NAHKIP BAHLOK!”

So, Gallus is definitely hallucinating, because dragons don’t speak, or shout things for that matter. Right? Then again, dragons aren’t even supposed to exist, and if he doesn’t get his shit together now, he’s going to die to one. Quickly, Gallus begins to crawl backwards, fervently wishing he had something, anything to defend himself with - and where did that girl go?

Suddenly, an arrow sprouts from one of the dragon’s eyes. It roars in pain, and takes to the skies, and only then does Gallus look back to see the girl, with a suspiciously charred-looking bow, which she promptly discards in favor of running for him.

“Are you hurt?” She asks, and Gallus shakes his head. Relief floods into her gaze, and she offers him a hand. “Let’s go. We’re almost there.” She’s not wrong. A few, chaotic minutes later, the pair stumbles into the keep, both very much alive and… mostly unhurt. That’s more than can be said for most everyone else.


“Here,” she says, and passes him his sword, still in its sheath. He’s so relieved to see it again that he doesn’t even realize what’s strange about that until after it’s already buckled back at his hip, and she’s slipping what looks like a more stylized Ebony Bow and a quiver of black-feathered arrows onto her back. Then, it hits him.

“How did you know that was mine?” Gallus asks, frowning. He could have sworn she jumped when he voiced the question, but her back was turned to him, and when she looked back his way she looked more confused than anything. So probably he imagined it.

“I didn’t, actually,” she says. “I just knew it didn’t belong to one of the Stormcloaks, or that other thief for that matter. And it’s not mine. So it’s yours. I'm assuming. Right?”

Gallus nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Thanks.”


By the time the two emerge from the thankfully very structurally sound keep into the ruins of Helgen, the dragon’s long gone, and so is everyone else. There’s bodies everywhere, Imperial, Stormcloak, and civilian alike, and every single one of them appears to have been roasted alive. Some are unrecognizable, but Gallus does look a little closer at the Stormcloak corpses.

He doesn’t see Ralof, which is… a small relief. He wasn’t bad.


“So,” Gallus says as they exit into the wilderness, “I don’t think I ever got your name. What’s-?” He turns to where the Dunmer girl was just moments ago, only to find she’s disappeared without a trace. She’s gone, and Gallus frowns, but accepts this, and moves on. Never mind that something about her did seem oddly familiar, and maybe…

No, if she’d known him, she would have said something, wouldn’t she?

Regardless. If he’d been in Helgen, he’s pretty sure there’s a road going north to Riverwood, and then Whiterun. It doesn’t take him long to find a surprisingly unburnt signpost pointing him in the right direction, and he continues on from there.

If there’s an actual, legitimate, living dragon flying around Skyrim, burning up towns, someone needs to know about it. If nobody in Riverwood listens, well… he did tell Ria he’d avoid Whiterun for a bit, but that was before a dragon showed up.

He just hopes that nobody dismisses him as crazy. He won’t be surprised if people do.

Chapter Text

As it happens, Gallus wasn’t the only survivor of Helgen to make it to Riverwood. One of the legionnaires, the one with the list as a matter of fact, had family here. He’d arrived a few hours before Gallus did, sporting some particularly nasty-looking burns but otherwise okay, and proceeded to tell anyone who’d listen about the dragon.

No one believed him, of course. Not until Gallus came along and confirmed his story. And while this particular soldier hadn’t exactly done much to keep him from getting executed… well, his relief at seeing Gallus alive told a much different story.

“I’m glad you got out,” Hadvar, the soldier, says over his second or third bottle of mead. Gallus has his own, that Hadvar insisted on paying for. It’s almost like Hadvar feels guilty over what his captain ordered… oh, wait, that’s exactly what’s going on here. “You shouldn’t have been in there. That girl shouldn’t have been either, for that matter. Did you see her?”

“Yeah,” Gallus says. “She got out.” He doesn’t elaborate, but that’s evidently enough for Hadvar..

“Good,” Hadvar nods, and smiles slightly. The two sit in silence for a time. The innkeeper’s clearly side-eyeing them for not actually staying in said inn at this point, but she says nothing, just judges them silently from across the room while pretending to sweep up. Gallus’ gut tells him she’s not all she seems, and he’s inclined to believe it. But soon, he’ll be out of Riverwood, and it won’t be his problem.

“What did she do?” Gallus asks, almost hesitantly. Because he is curious, but asking almost feels like an invasion of the mystery girl’s privacy. But then again, it’s not like Hadvar would know more than him. He’s pretty sure. “The captain said ‘obstructing justice’, but I- what does that mean?”

Hadvar must be a lightweight, because he grins drunkenly, claps Gallus on the shoulder, and says, “You aren’t going to believe this.”

Gallus initially thought that Hadvar was just saying that because he was, well, drunk off his ass. But Hadvar quickly recounted how, when the captain had made the decision that he and the thief definitely were criminals worthy of execution and ordered him thrown in the cart with the others, this girl - who had been just a civilian hunter in the area who’d actually done nothing wrong and was about to be let go - straight-up attacked her, with her bow, and nearly killed her before some of the other legionnaires dragged her off.

Hadvar was wrong, though. He does believe it. Whoever this girl is, she’s either someone from Gallus’ past or just… really got pissed off for some reason. With Gallus’ luck, she probably has nothing to do with him, but… he does wonder. And if he ever runs into her again, he’s not letting her leave before asking some questions, starting with do you know who I am?

He frowns, and amends that statement to do you know who I was?

“But really,” Hadvar laughs, “you seriously don’t know this girl? I thought you and her were, like, this.” An elaboration really isn’t necessary, and Gallus shakes his head.

“No,” he says, “I don’t know her.”

But… she might know me.

And, of course, she might not, it wouldn’t be the first time that he’d gotten his hopes up for nothing. Even so, he glances at the door, in the faint hope that she’ll walk in, but she doesn’t. She didn’t the last several times he did, either. Sure, there’s a hooded figure having a drink in the corner, but whoever they are, they’d been here since before Gallus got here, and he’s pretty sure Hadvar would have recognized her if it is her.

Even so, he’s almost made up his mind to go over and check, go over and ask, when the figure stands, pays for their drink, and leaves. Gallus realizes as she steps out - because he’s fairly sure the figure’s a she, although he’s not certain how he knows that - that she doesn’t have a bow strapped to her back. She doesn’t have the bow that the girl with the indigo eyes had, and had been willing to fight her way through a keep of hostile soldiers to get back. So it’s probably not her, unless she left the bow outside, but-

She probably doesn’t know me, Gallus concludes. He chooses to ignore the nagging feeling in his gut that he’s missing something here.

“Sounds like she has it bad for you, then!” In the meantime, Hadvar certainly isn’t helping.

Gallus frowns. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe it was something the captain said.”

Hadvar swears under his breath.

“That was it,” Hadvar says, “she’d just called her something… particularly rude, I’m not going to repeat it. I hope the captain didn’t get out of Helgen alive, she was... not a shining example of Legion behavior.”

“You and me both,” Gallus says. “You and me both.”


Gallus hears, later, that Ralof actually was from Riverwood too, and his sister still lives here. Even though he’s heard nothing about him, after he’s told Hadvar that yes, he’s leaving for Whiterun to go warn the Jarl that there’s a dragon around, go back to Solitude, he stops by the woman’s house.

“What do you want?” She asks suspiciously. Her door’s only opened enough that he can see one of her eyes and about an inch-wide area of the rest of her body.

“Did Ralof make it out?” Gallus blurts. She looks at him strangely. “I know you’re related to him, and I’m guessing… if he made it out, he would have come here. Did he make it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ralof’s sister says, and begins to close the door.

“Look,” Gallus tries again, “if you see him… well, I’m just glad he survived, if he did. I hope he did. Tell him that.”

The door’s only open a sliver by now, but the Nord woman’s stopped closing it, and only a sliver is more than enough for Gallus to hear her reply.

“I will,” she says, and closes the door. It’s not much, but it’s enough for Gallus.

With that, he decides it’s high time he set off for Whiterun. He wonders how Ria’s doing, if she’s taken the beast blood yet but, well, he needs to talk to the Jarl first, then go check on her. In that specific order, because dragons are… a bit worrying. Just a bit.


“What business do you have in Whiterun?”

That sounds vaguely familiar, and so does the person saying it. Gallus couldn’t tell for sure but, unless there’s two distinctly pissy guards assigned to gate duty, he might have somehow run into the exact same guard from the first time he came to Whiterun.

“Do we really have to go through this again?” Gallus asks instead. The guard hesitates, and Gallus guesses, correctly, that he doesn’t even remember him.

“What do you mean, again? ” The guard asks slowly. His partner definitely isn’t the same guard from earlier, because his partner last time was a short woman with a mace at her hip. This one’s a tall man with a greatsword strapped to his back, but anyway.

Gallus sighs, and says, “Forget it. If you have to know what my business here is, I was in Helgen two days ago. Funny thing about that, Helgen doesn’t actually exist anymore. It’s been wiped off the map entirely, by a dragon. Yep.”

Even with the helmet that all guards wear, Gallus can tell that he’s taken aback. It’s then that his partner (definitely not the same one from earlier, he’s even more sure of that now) speaks up.

“A dragon?” He asks. “Truly?”

Gallus nods. “At least, I’m reasonably sure that’s what it was. All I can say is that it was big, black, could fly, and set the entire town on fire within a matter of minutes. I don’t know what else it could be.”

“The Jarl needs to know about this,” the second guard says finally. “Do you need directions to Dragonsreach?”

“No, I’ve been here before,” Gallus can’t resist looking pointedly at the first guard, the one he’d run into just a few short weeks ago. He still doesn’t seem to remember him. His loss. “But thanks.” He unlocks the gate, and Gallus steps inside. Unlike the last time he was in Whiterun, he actually knows where he’s going, and soon finds himself heading up the steps to the Jarl’s palace.

It’s called Dragonsreach, and Gallus can vaguely recall hearing something about how it was reputedly used to catch a dragon long ago, back when dragons were an actual thing. Supposedly, that was where its name came from. Before Helgen, he and probably a lot of others had dismissed that, but now…

Regardless of whether Dragonsreach was actually used to capture a dragon in the past or not, the first thing Gallus notices upon stepping inside is the skull mounted above the Jarl’s throne. It looks suspiciously like a dragon’s, so maybe there is some truth to the rumors. The second thing he notices, however, is the concerning amount of wood incorporated in the great hall’s design. Wood burns and, while that might have been a more recent addition, it might not have been.

The third thing he notices, which is honestly kind of hard to miss, is the Dunmer warrior blocking his path forward with her sword drawn, shouting for him to halt.

“What’s the meaning of this interruption?” She asks, a dangerous glint to her eyes. “Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving visitors.” Of course he isn’t, that would be too easy. Gallus refuses to let himself be intimidated, and meets her gaze with his own.

“Does that have something to do with the dragon attack on Helgen?” Gallus asks, a hint of curiosity in his words. The warrior scrutinizes him cautiously, then sheaths her sword without taking her eyes off him.

“You know about Helgen?” She asks. Gallus nods. “The Jarl will want to speak to you personally. Approach.” Gallus does so, although he’s also well aware that her gaze doesn’t leave him for even a moment. Fair enough, he wouldn’t trust himself either.

Jarl Balgruuf the Greater of Whiterun is a somewhat-elderly Nord who might have been an impressive warrior once upon a time, but has since spent a little too much time sitting around and consequently gained a bit more weight than he perhaps should have. Regardless, Gallus doesn’t doubt that he could hold his own in a fair fight. Most Nords can.

Well, there’s no such thing as a fair fight, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that he’s got the Jarl’s attention and, while he highly doubts anything will actually be done about the dragon, it’s worth a shot. Besides, he did say he’d tell the Jarl what went down. He never said anything about getting the Jarl to do anything.

“So. You know about Helgen?” Jarl Balgruuf asks.

“I was there,” Gallus nods, “so I’d hope I’d know what went down there, yes. There was a dragon, it destroyed the town, I didn’t see where it went from there.”

Balgruuf frowns, and asks, “Anything else?”

Gallus is very, very tempted to mention something about how the Imperial Legion apparently decided to sentence him to death for literally no reason other than that the commanding officer thought he seemed suspicious. However, he doesn’t know how this particular Jarl stands on the Civil War. He vaguely remembers hearing somewhere that Whiterun Hold is the one hold in all of Skyrim to still be neutral at this point, so he should be safe…

But it’s still probably not the best idea to admit that he was sentenced to death, regardless of the circumstances. So, instead, he thinks, and says something that the Jarl will hopefully be interested in.

“Ulfric Stormcloak was there,” Gallus says cautiously. “The Imperials had captured a group of Stormcloaks, including their leader, and were about to execute the lot of them when the dragon attacked.”

The Stormcloaks, he silently adds, as well as me, the thief, and that girl. But the Jarl doesn’t need to know that. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, and Gallus highly doubts there’s any  record of him being slated for execution anywhere at this point. If there ever was, it’s probably been burned up with Helgen, so he’s a free man at this point. Minus the obvious issue of amnesia, but hey, small mercies.

“I should have known Ulfric would be mixed up in this,” Balgruuf mutters, and Gallus takes a mental note of the fact that he leans more Imperial. Of course, a few moments later he adds, “But I bet fighting a dragon knocked the Imperials down a peg, don’t you think, Irileth?”

The Dunmer woman (who’s since taken her place beside him, maybe a bodyguard, or - no, the word’s housecarl, isn’t it) shrugs, but there’s a hint of a smile playing across her lips.

“With all due respect, my Jarl,” Irileth says, “if that dragon comes here, we’ll have more trouble than the Imperial Legion, I think.”

“True,” Balgruuf says, and his own grin quickly fades.

Gallus, at this point, is more than a little confused, and eventually says, “So are you for the Imperials or the Stormcloaks?”

“I am for Whiterun,” Balgruuf says, and any hint of warmth in his voice is very much gone. “Now, what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Gallus.”

“Well, Gallus… you’ve seen firsthand what a dragon can do. How would you like to help make Whiterun safe from it?”

Personally, Gallus would rather run for the hills. He’d like nothing more than to never see that dragon again… but he is curious. Not necessarily about the dragon, but what Jarl Balgruuf thinks will protect Whiterun from it. And if all else fails… he has been getting better at Invisibility.

“Depends,” Gallus says. “What do you have in mind?”


One trip to an ancient Nord barrow full of draugr, traps, and all sorts of other nasty things later, Gallus comes to regret saying yes, if only because the Jarl’s court mage, Farengar, is an insufferable prick that definitely doesn’t appreciate him taking another couple of days out of his time to go find a stone. Granted, it’s a stone that’s apparently a map of ancient dragon burial sites, but still.

He really regrets saying yes when he gets roped into fighting the dragon due to unfortunately not having left before a guard ran in screaming about a dragon. It’s partially due to being in the right place at the right time, and partially because apparently, surviving a dragon attack qualifies him to fight it. Never mind that he spent that entire time running and trying not to die.

Somehow, he gets the feeling that won’t be an option here.

Chapter Text

“I get that we don’t really have time to make a decent plan,” Gallus says as he (reluctantly) follows Irileth out of Dragonsreach, “but how does me having been lucky enough to get out of Helgen alive count as experience when it comes to actually fighting it? I spent that entire time running away.”

“Because you survived, and that’s more than most can say,” Irileth huffs. “Now shut up, and come on.”

Gallus quickly does so. Irileth is not someone who’s bad side he wants to get on anytime soon, thanks. Even so, if the dragon supposedly sighted at the ‘Western Watchtower’ (wherever that is) is the same one that was at Helgen, this might just be a suicide mission, and he’d be better off running now, while he still can. He’s not going to, of course, because he did give his word and he’s damn well going to keep it.

(That, and he’s curious, and reasonably confident his Illusion magic can get him out of there in one piece if worst comes to worst. Probably the city of Whiterun will be doomed if he does that and nobody else is still fighting, of course. And, while Gallus would like to think he’d just do that without a second thought… he won’t do that unless he truly has no other options.)

(He wonders if the person he’d been before he lost his memory would have done that, chosen to flee instead of standing and fighting. True, it’s probably suicide… but he has to try. He’s not so sure he would have done that before, but then again, he can only guess at who he was pre-amnesia.)

Irileth soon meets up with a small group of guards just within the city walls - probably the only ones they can spare to fight a dragon, Gallus realizes - and, while she proves to be excellent at motivating Nords to go fight things (not that it takes much to motivate Nords to go fight things) Gallus still privately agrees with the sentiment one of the guards had muttered to himself earlier:

We’re so dead.

If this dragon is anything like the one at Helgen, or - oh gods - is the very same dragon, which it probably is actually, what are the odds of there being two of them... Whiterun might just be next. As the group heads out, Gallus tagging along as he doesn’t have any idea where this watchtower is, Gallus realizes far too late that it might have been a good idea to stop by Jorrvaskr. He might not like some of the Companions, sure, but fighting a dragon is the sort of thing that would be right up their alley.

Unfortunately, he only realized this once they were already a ways out of the city, and within sight of the now-smoldering Western Watchtower. (Why is it called the Western Watchtower, anyway? Gallus is fairly certain there isn’t an Eastern Watchtower somewhere east of Whiterun, but he might be wrong.) Irileth swears under her breath, then looks to the others and drops into a crouch. The rest, Gallus included, follow suit.

“Well, I don’t see any dragon now, but it sure looks like it’s been here,” Irileth mutters. “Spread out. Look for survivors, and be careful.

Gallus doesn’t have to be told twice. He creeps up the now-ruined staircase to the watchtower, because the interior at least looks intact and if he remembers anything from Helgen, it’s that dragons are a bit easier to survive if you’re in a building made of stone, like the keep in Helgen, or this particular watchtower. He’s expecting (well, hoping) to find someone inside, at least. Someone who knows what happened.

Someone who can confirm whether the dragon is the black-scaled, ruby-eyed monster from Helgen, or a different one.

Gallus isn’t sure he wants to know the answer, to be completely honest. On the one hand, if it’s the same dragon from Helgen, then they’re all probably very, very dead. But on the other hand, if it’s a different dragon… well, that means there’s more than one dragon flying around, for one thing, and it could be just as strong as the other one, if not stronger. If this dragon’s somehow stronger than the one that leveled Helgen… well, they’re all dead for one thing. They’re all so dead, there won’t be anything left to bury, or anyone left to bury it for that matter.

We are so dead, Gallus thinks to himself, right as someone grabs his arm and he’s unceremoniously jerked out of his private thoughts.

“You have to get out of here!” The someone says, who Gallus quickly identifies as a guard without his helmet. There’s a nasty-looking, fairly fresh gash across his forehead, and if he looks that bad… Gallus figures his helmet must be outright decimated. “It just grabbed Hroki and Tor when they tried to make a run for it! It’s still here somewhere!”

Gallus hears a roar, a dragon’s roar, and his eyes go wide. It does sound at least a little different, but it’s still unmistakably a dragon’s roar, and it’s still unmistakably very, very close. He fortunately has the sense to glance upwards, and sees a too-large pair of wings bearing down on them. So he doesn’t waste time thinking. He just acts.

As the dragon swoops down with its claws outstretched, Gallus shoves the guard down out of the way, and ducks. It’s not a moment too soon, either, because Gallus can feel it pass just a few inches overheard. It's so close that the wind ruffles his hair.

Heart pounding, Gallus returns his attention to the other guard, and offers him a hand. He takes it, and Gallus pulls him to his feet, noting with some concern that his gash is still bleeding fairly badly.

“Get inside the tower, you’re in no condition to fight and it’ll be safer than out here,” Gallus tells him. As an afterthought, he adds, “And bandage that gash, unless you want to bleed out in the near future.” The guard hesitates, but nods.

“Who are you?” He asks.

Gallus shrugs. He’s tempted to say something along the lines of I wish I knew, but instead he settles for, “Just an adventurer that got roped into helping here.”

“Well, I’m damn glad you did,” the guard says, before scurrying for the cover of the tower. He sounds familiar, almost, but Gallus doesn’t think anything of it at the time. Instead, he returns his attention to the dragon.

Irileth’s gotten it to focus on her, which is probably a good thing. She’s definitely the most capable fighter here, and her Destruction magic is keeping the dragon from getting too close. The guards are hammering it with arrows from the sides. From Gallus’ admittedly-limited perspective, it looks like the dragon’s cornered, except for one, small detail.

The dragon doesn’t look like it’s cornered. It doesn’t even look annoyed. It looks like it’s having fun , despite the blood beginning to stream down its scales in more places than one, and it’s that small detail that clues Gallus in to what’s about to happen before it does. The dragon (which, Gallus notes with some small bit of relief, has tawny brown scales, not the dark ebony of the one from Helgen) takes to the skies once again, and shouts.

No, it doesn’t shout, because dragons can’t talk. Even so, Gallus hears words in a language he damn well doesn’t understand, and he hears them from the dragon.

“YOL TOOR SHUL!”

The blast of fire shoots for the unfortunately rather grouped-up guards, who scatter. Irileth manages to absorb the worst of it in her direction with a well-timed ward, but at least two of the four guards stumble, and another falls to the ground, swearing profusely. The dragon swoops down again, and wastes no time in finishing him off.

Gallus silently resolves that if this dragon can be killed, he’ll be the one to kill it, and leaps over a piece of debris, drawing his sword in the same motion. Irileth’s nearby, nursing a badly burned arm with some Restoration magic, and as he makes it over, she looks to him.

“This isn’t the dragon from Helgen,” Gallus says. “That one was black, and… a lot bigger, I think.” Resolve fills Irileth’s gaze, and she nods.

“Then we might have a chance,” Irileth says. “But it’s far too powerful in the skies. We need to ground it if we want to do any damage.”

Gallus frowns, squints up at the dragon now circling ahead, waiting for another chance to set them on fire, and he says, “Its wings look like they might tear easily.”

Irileth nods. Instead of going for her usual sparks, she summons what looks like a frost spell to her off hand.

“It uses fire,” she says in way of explanation. “Frost magic tends to work well against creatures that use fire, and even if it doesn’t, an ice spike through its wing should ground it nicely.”

“Why haven’t you been doing this the whole time?”

“Because,” Irileth squints up at the dragon herself, as if daring it to come within firing range, “ice spikes are not my area of expertise. Generally, I can manage, but they’re also a bit more difficult to aim. Do me a favor, distract it for a bit.”

Gallus nods. Preparing a Fury spell in his off hand, he leaps up and fires it. He’s not actually expecting it to hit. Luck seems to be on his side today, however, because it does. As the dragon’s already royally pissed off, the Fury spell doesn’t really do much other than make it madder.

However, the dragon does look to see where the spell came from, and that’s what Gallus was counting on. As the dragon roars, this time a bit angrier-sounding than before, Gallus books it. He doesn’t turn to look at the dragon, mainly because he’s fairly certain he’ll either freeze up or trip if he does. Instead, he keeps running, back towards the watchtower, hoping against hope that the dragon does get lower to set him on fire.

“YOL TOOR-”

Gallus turns, and sees that the dragon looks just as shocked as he is that his fire breath was actually cut off, somehow. Namely, by an ice spike in the throat. Irileth had been aiming for the wings, supposedly, but an ice spike in the dragon’s throat worked too. It coughs, splutters, and crashes to the ground.

Unconsciously, Gallus passes his sword from one hand to the other as he approaches the dragon cautiously. It almost looks pitiful at this point, and as he gets closes, it flaps its wings wildly, tries to take to the skies again, but to no avail. Gallus would almost feel bad for it, if it wasn’t for the fact that it had just eaten at least two guards and would have no problem whatsoever with killing everyone here.

The dragon’s chest heaves. It visibly wheezes, and somehow, Gallus gets the feeling it’s not having fun anymore. He might as well end it. So, before he can change his mind and chicken out, he raises his sword-

“DOVAHKIIN, NO!”

-and brings it down. With a single slice, the dragon’s head is lopped clean off, and Gallus’ complete and utter exhaustion fully registers. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to travel all night to get back from Riverwood. Then again, the inn had been closed due to the innkeeper being ‘out’ or something, so that hadn’t exactly helped either.

At this point, Gallus wants nothing more than to go pass out in a bed somewhere, but his curiosity gets the better of him, as usual. After all, he definitely heard this dragon (and the one at Helgen, for that matter) shouting things. Or… Shouting things, because this was definitely more than the average shout.

He wonders, momentarily, what the word dovahkiin means. It almost sounded like the dragon here had recognized him, but… that couldn’t be right, could it? Why would a dragon recognize him? And for that matter, the same thing had happened back at Helgen, he distinctly remembered that dragon addressing him as dovahkiin, as well.

So what does-

The dragon’s corpse begins to dissolve, and everyone present and on their feet, Gallus obviously included, takes a couple steps back. It almost looks as if a fire is eating away at it, and soon, nothing remains of the dragon save its bones - and several arrows that had made it between its scales and stuck. Oddly enough, most of them look to be black-feathered, and perhaps if Gallus had not very quickly been distracted by something else, he might have wondered which of the guards was using the same arrows as the Dunmer girl from Helgen.

As it is, he's very quickly distracted by something else. Namely, that the fire (or whatever it is, anyway) remains in the air for a few, tense moments… and then heads straight for Gallus. His mouth falls open in horror. He freezes, braces himself for an impact… but there’s not one. Instead, there’s a certain… warmth, almost, in his chest. It’s strange, but it’s not entirely alien, and some small, long-buried part of him likes it.

It’s then that Gallus realizes all the remaining guards are staring at him like they’ve seen a ghost. (Irileth, meanwhile, looks just as confused as he feels. At least he's not the only one.)

“You- you’re Dragonborn,” one of them says.

Gallus looks at him strangely, and says, “I’m what ?”

“Dragonborn, like in the old stories. You must be, you absorbed that dragon’s soul!”

“Legends say that the Dragonborn can put an end to any dragon, like old Tiber Septim himself!”

“I never heard of Tiber Septim killing any dragons…”

“That’s because there weren’t any back then, idiot! But now they’re back, for the first time in… well, forever!”

“What do you think, Irileth?”

Gallus is, understandably, still very confused, like most people would be. Irileth, meanwhile, looks very done with this entire situation.

“I think that the lot of you are putting far too much stock in old prophecies and ancient traditions,” Irileth says flatly. “Here’s a dead dragon. That’s something I definitely understand, because now we know we can kill them.”

“You wouldn’t understand, housecarl,” one of the guards says. “You ain’t a Nord.”

“Excuse me?” Irileth exclaims. “I’ve been all across Tamriel. I’ve seen plenty of things as outlandish as this.”

“Also,” Gallus offers helpfully, “I’m not a Nord either. Funny thing, that.”

“True. Maybe you’re not Dragonborn, then?”

“No, he’s got to be! Try Shouting! Legends say the Dragonborn can Shout without training!”

Gallus frowns, but thinks carefully. The meticulously carved wall in the final chamber of Bleak Falls Barrow comes to mind, and he remembers feeling… something from it. Something odd, but not necessarily bad. He also remembers a single word, in a language he didn’t understand, coming to mind. He hadn’t been able to speak it then, but now…?

He takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, and without warning, he Shouts, “FUS!”

The guards wisely shut up after that, and the remaining group (plus the surviving guard from the tower) soon began heading back to Whiterun. Once inside the city, most of the group dispersed, most heading to the Temple of Kynareth to get their wounds tended to. Gallus followed Irileth, mainly because he had nothing better to do at this point.

Of course, that was before the ground began to shake, and someone, somewhere (or perhaps several someones) Shouted something so loud that it could be heard all across Skyrim.

“DOVAHKIIN!”

Chapter Text

“So, what you’re saying is that you fought the dragon?”

“Yes. We all did.”

“And you killed the dragon?”

“Yes. I was surprised too. It wasn’t the same one from Helgen, though.”

“Truly a pity… did anything else happen?”

Gallus takes a deep breath and decides that, if anyone would know something about all this Dragonborn business he has no idea about, it’ll be the Jarl. Or possibly his court mage, that guy seemed rather obsessive over dragons to begin with. So, if the Jarl doesn’t know anything, he’ll try the overconfident bastard court mage. Possibly.

“Yes,” Gallus says. “I… think I absorbed the dragon’s soul.”

It’s so quiet within the main hall of Dragonsreach that one could hear a pin drop. Everyone’s staring at him, and everyone seems to be wearing a different expression. The Jarl looks incredulous. The Nord warrior beside him (who, if past interactions are any indication, has at least some relation to him by blood) looks shocked. The steward, meanwhile, looks particularly skeptical. At least someone isn’t immediately accepting that he’s some ancient Nordic legend. Irileth would definitely be looking rather bored or as extremely skeptical as the steward, if she hadn’t excused herself as soon as they’d reached Dragonsreach to stop by the Temple and get herself patched up.

“By the gods, you’re the one the Greybeards were calling!” Jarl Balgruuf exclaims. Gallus files away the information that whomever had shouted - well, Shouted - loud enough for the entire province to hear, they were, apparently, called the Greybeards.

Gallus wonders if they by any chance have grey beards.

“I… guess so?” Gallus says, rather unsure. “Who are the Greybeards and, while we’re at it, what’s this Dragonborn thing about? I’m… not exactly well-read on ancient Nordic legends.”

He supposes he might have been, once. Before. Before doing whatever he’d done to give himself amnesia. Before waking up in an ancient Nordic tomb, of all places. Come to think of it, he’s probably rather lucky that he hadn’t run into any draugr while waking up in said ancient Nordic tomb.

(...still, he wonders. Why there? )

“The Greybeards are masters of the Voice, which, as I understand it, is the language of dragons. They live in seclusion at their monastery High Hrothgar, on the slopes of the Throat of the World. There’s no refusing their summons, although I can’t see why you’d want to. It’s a great honor.”

Somehow, Gallus has even more questions now, but he thinks he might have a basic idea of what’s going on here at this point. Apparently, he’s some extremely important figure from prophecy, which… explains quite a bit, actually. People’s words from the not-actually-very-distant past come back to him, and suddenly a lot of how vague people are makes more sense.

You have a different path ahead of you, although I cannot say what comprises it.

You do not have an easy path laid ahead of you, that much is certain.

Gallus, you said you were hearing a voice, right before our magicka was drained… was it speaking Dovahzul?

As for you, Illusionist… I believe I may know why you were included within my spell earlier. If I am correct, you have a hard path ahead of you, but one that must be taken, or what has happened here will be the least of your worries.

I would have liked to have had you as one of us, but I’m not one to intervene when fate is involved.

Those are just the ones he can remember off the top of his head, but he knows there’s a lot more. So, he’s definitely Dragonborn. Come to think of it, he can faintly remember Onmund talking about that at one point, while they were going through Labyrinthian… and for whatever reason, only he could hear the magicka-draining voice that was, supposedly, speaking in Dovahzul. Mirabelle had known something then, or at least suspected. But she’d died before she could give Gallus a heads up that he was, apparently, Dragonborn.

Well, amnesia or no, maybe he’d known he was Dragonborn, before. Maybe that was what he’d been doing in an ancient Nordic tomb. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, it most likely is just a coincidence, and yet… somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that it’s not.

“And… the Dragonborn can use this Voice thing without training?”

“Yes,” Balgruuf nods in agreement. “Legend holds that the Dragonborn is a mortal born with the soul of a dragon,” he adds.

“That’s… certainly something,” Gallus says, because he’s really not sure what to say to that. Unfortunately, it’s then that the Jarl’s steward decides to speak up.

“Are you sure we’re not all just overreacting?” The steward (Imperial, middle-aged, Gallus forgot his name already) asks. “Sure, our friend here is certainly a formidable fighter, I’ll give you that, but I don’t see any signs of him being this… Dragonborn.”

Bold of you to assume I’m your friend, Gallus thinks privately, because the steward is the last person in here he’d want as a friend, excluding perhaps the court wizard. They should start a club for assholes. Vilkas could be the president.

The Nord warrior who may or may not be related to the Jarl visibly scowls, and says, “You puffed-up, ignorant-! Those are our sacred traditions, you bastard!”

“Hrongar, peace,” Balgruuf says firmly, although Gallus suspects he privately agrees. “Proventus didn’t mean any harm.”

“Actually-” Proventus ( that was his name!) begins, but quickly silences himself upon realizing that Gallus has him fixed in his gaze, with a grin across his face that’s a little too big.

“Actually,” Gallus says, “would you like a demonstration? I’m pretty sure I’ve Shouted once already, I can probably do it again.”

Proventus looks ready to disagree, but both Hrongar and Balgruuf look excited, so Gallus takes that as a yes. Hopefully he can actually do this again. Earlier, it was pure instinct, and Gallus isn’t sure that’s going to happen. Regardless, he damn well has to try. So he closes his eyes, sucks in a breath, and Shouts.

“FUS!”

In retrospect, it may not have been the best idea on Gallus’ part to Shout directly at a group of presumably very important people in Whiterun. Does Shouting constitute an assault? Gallus damn well doesn’t know, but seeing as two of the three people in the group - both of the Nords, naturally - look almost dangerously excited, he’s going to take that as a no.

“Ysmir’s beard, it’s true!” Balgruuf exclaims. “You must go to High Hrothgar, Gallus. The Greybeards will understand if you do not go immediately, however. The Seven Thousand Steps are not an easy journey, but the pilgrimage is one every Nord should take.”

“Right,” Gallus says. Instead of asking about the journey (which presumably constitutes of far too much mountain climbing, because apparently everything important in Skyrim just has to be on top of a mountain) he opts for something different. “I’m surprised you remembered my name.”

The Jarl smiles wryly, and says, “Someone who would willingly fight a dragon is someone to be remembered.”

Gallus nods quickly, but his mind’s reeling.

I had a choice? Gods damn it.

He suspects saying as much wouldn’t go over well, though, so he quickly excuses himself and exits Dragonsreach. Seeing as he’s apparently some prophesied figure from legend, he’s got work to do. Never mind that he has no idea what he actually needs to be doing, but High Hrothgar might be a good place to start. And to think, he never would have known this if he hadn’t gotten roped into fighting a dragon…

...well, okay, he could have theoretically used a certain Invisibility spell to run away at any time, but still.

Of course I had a choice, Gallus thinks as he heads down the steps from Dragonsreach. Just like I have a choice here. I could do what I’m supposed to do and go to High Hrothgar, or I could just… not.

But then again, what other options do I even have? I’ve been to most of the major settlements in Skyrim by now, and nobody knew me. All that’s left is Solitude, Windhelm, and Markarth.

Well. And Riften.

While he’s lost in his thoughts, he maybe isn’t paying quite as much attention to where he’s going as he should, and accidentally bumps into someone. Only one problem: the someone’s not just anyone.

“Hey, watch it!” The Redguard says indignantly. “What is the likes of you even doing in the Cloud District? You shouldn’t be here.”

Gallus can’t remember the man’s name, but he can remember hearing just about everyone in the Companions complaining about him at some point or another. He talks down to everyone, claims to be a close advisor to the Jarl despite having never actually set foot inside Dragonsreach, and is generally an asshole. Forget Vilkas being president of the Asshole Club, this guy can have the position. Unfortunately, he’s more or less untouchable.

So, Gallus smiles, tells himself quite sternly that strangling this bastard is not an option here, and says, “Funny you’d ask. I’m busy saving the world, actually. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to do than deal with the likes of you.”

He keeps walking with a shit-eating grin on his face, leaving the other man sputtering and trying to form a coherent sentence in his wake. Clearly, he’s not used to taking the shit he tries to push on everyone else.

Well, fuck him.

Gallus’ gaze travels to Jorrvaskr as he passes it, and he frowns. It hasn’t been too long yet, but on the other hand, Ria might know something about this whole Dragonborn business. And anyway, he doesn’t really feel like going up thousands of steps just yet.

His decision made, he turns left and heads in the double doors. Surprisingly, he doesn’t see Aela anywhere, or Skjor for that matter. That’s… weird. He doesn’t see Ria anywhere, until a hand grabs his shoulder and he realizes she’s sitting next to the door.

“Gallus? Thank the gods,” Ria says, sounding extremely relieved. “We need to talk. And I kind of need your help.”

Gallus takes note of the dark circles under her eyes, the more rugged look to her and, if he’s not mistaken, there’s a distinct smell of wet dog in the general vicinity, one he only noticed around individuals he knew to be werewolves before. All signs point to her definitely being a werewolf, and he has a bad feeling that whatever she needs help with has everything to do with that, Aela, and Skjor.

“No problem,” Gallus says. He glances across Jorrvaskr, to where Athis and Njada are currently arm-wrestling (Athis is winning, by a very, very small margin) and quite a few of the other Companions are currently gathered. “Can we… maybe take this outside? They’re a little loud.”

“Probably a good idea anyway,” Ria shrugs, and stands. “Gods, am I tired. Farkas wasn’t kidding about the lack of sleep.”

Chapter Text

The full story is honestly about what Gallus was expecting, with one obvious exception: Skjor is apparently dead. (He was surprised, too.) Ria had become a werewolf the night after she got back to Jorrvaskr, and she, Aela, and Skjor had gone off to, in Ria’s own words, go mess with the Silver Hand. It… hadn’t exactly gone well, for anyone involved. Skjor had made the mistake of going in alone, and from the sound of things, Aela had absolutely flipped out when they found his body.

“I mean, I’m not surprised, I would have done the same in her position,” Ria says miserably, “but I- we killed everything in there, Gallus. She’d already shifted that night, and so had I, but that didn’t keep us from tearing them all apart. We killed them, Gallus. We killed them all.”

Personally, Gallus can’t say he’s surprised, but an I told you so isn’t what she needs right now.

“Maybe, but they would have killed you both without a second thought,” Gallus points out. “And… anyway, where’s Aela? I’m guessing there’s a reason I didn’t see her anywhere around.”

Ria sighs, and says, “Killing everyone in Gallows Rock wasn’t enough for her. She’s still out there somewhere, hunting them all down. Alone. I’ve been… trying to cover for her, but I think Kodlak knows something’s up, and I can’t leave to go look for her.”

Why do you care? Gallus wonders. After all, Aela never seemed particularly nice… but I guess she is a Companion. And you probably know her better than I do at this point.

“You could take a job and go looking for her instead,” Gallus offers, albeit half-heartedly. Ria frowns, and Gallus quickly amends the statement to, “Or you could take a job and go looking for her on the way back. Say you got lost on the way back.”

“I could, but it would be really obvious I was lying,” Ria says. “You’re way better at it. So…”

“So you want me to make up an excuse for you to go out looking for Aela,” Gallus sighs. “Fine, but I’m coming with you, and it’s a good thing I actually do have something that might work. Come on, let’s go talk to Kodlak.”


“You’re Dragonborn? You’re the one the Greybeards were calling?” Kodlak asks incredulously. Ria looks just as shocked as he does, and in retrospect, maybe Gallus should have given her a heads up on just what his plan was. It’s too late now, so Gallus instead settles for a nod.

“Um… yeah,” Gallus says. “I know, I was surprised too.”

But maybe I did know something, Gallus thinks to himself. Maybe I did know something before I lost my memories. Not like that would be any help at the moment.

“I’m not,” Kodlak says, and leans back in his chair with a sigh. “I knew when I met you that you had a hard path ahead of you. But this… was not what I was expecting.”

“Personally, I don’t think it was what anyone was expecting,” Gallus says. “I know I wasn’t.” Kodlak nods, then looks to Ria.

“Regardless,” Kodlak continues, his eyes not leaving Ria’s gaze, “this isn’t about you being the Dragonborn, is it, Gallus?”

Gallus doesn’t have to look at Ria to know she’s practically given it away already, because she really wasn’t kidding about being a bad liar. That usually expands to being really bad at hiding it when someone else is trying to lie for you. Oh well. Too late now. Time to try something different.

“To be fair,” Gallus says, “the whole werewolf thing is kind of giving everyone mixed messages.” All eyes are on him now, and he continues, “Not a good time to mention I know? Sorry.”

Kodlak sighs, and says, “It’s a good time, actually, because I was about to ask you to step out.”

“Really? Huh.”

“Seeing as you know, I may as well ask both of you this. I have been looking for a cure for our beast blood for some time, and… I believe I’ve finally found it.”

“Good for you,” Ria says, “but what if I don’t want to get cured? I mean… it’s not like I’ll ever be seeing Sovngarde, anyway.”

“It’s not for you,” he says after a long pause, with a certain sadness to his words. “If you and Aela wish to remain werewolves, that is your decision, not mine. However, I wish to die clean, and… I don’t have much time left.”

There’s a silence in the room as the gravity of Kodlak’s statement sinks in. After a few moments, Ria blurts out, “You’re dying?

“Yes. As I’ve said, in the end it’s your decision, but… neither Farkas nor Vilkas know. Therefore, they do not see the urgency in finding a cure. That’s why, if you go after Aela… please, do an old man a favor first.”

“Sure,” Gallus says with a shrug. “What’s the harm?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but somehow he gets the feeling he might have just jinxed it. Oh well.


Several days later, Gallus is beginning to get antsy. Sure, he doesn’t mind helping out a friend, but this is taking… a bit longer than he would have liked, even after completing Kodlak’s errand and murdering a bunch of witches in their sleep. (Also, their heads stink. ) It’s not like the cure for lycanthropy could have possibly involved something less disgusting like flowers or anything. Gods damn it.

“You’re both werewolves, right?” Gallus asks eventually. “Can’t you, I don’t know, track her or something?”

Ria sighs, and says, “What do you think I’ve been doing this whole time? Or… trying to, in any case. It’s a bit easier in beast form, but tracking people is Aela’s thing. Because, you know, Aela the Huntress?

Gallus nods, and silently admits she has a point there.

“Anyway,” Ria continues, “we’re close. Assuming that this is, in fact, an actual Silver Hand base and not another bandit camp. Not that taking out bandits is a bad thing, they’re just not what we’re looking for.”

She’s right about one thing: they keep mistaking bandits for the Silver Hand. Not that there’s much of a difference, in Gallus’ opinion… even if he does suspect there’s more to the Silver Hand than just slightly better morals.

Regardless of that, they’ve got work to do. Ria’s naturally light on her feet, but Gallus is far better when it comes to stealth, so he takes the lead with his sword in one hand and a Calm spell in the other. He slips up behind the lookout, sticking to the shadows, and briefly considers just killing him now and being done with it.

Instead, he sends the spell flying into the back of the man’s head. The lookout stiffens, then relaxes, and gets up. Gallus doesn’t need to meet his gaze when he turns to face them to know that he’s wearing that usual unaware expression that’ll last about as long as the spell does.

“Who are you?” He asks, clearly confused. Gallus hears Ria coming up behind him, and silently, slowly, he shakes his head. He can handle this himself, and in all honesty, he doesn’t want to know how much anger it takes to break through a Calm spell.

“That doesn’t matter,” Gallus says. “You’re one of the Silver Hand, right? Werewolf hunters?” The guy nods, and Gallus allows himself a mental sigh of relief before he speaks again.

“Yeah, that’s us, why?”

“My friend and I are looking for a werewolf. Redhead Nord in human form, kind of a bitch…”

(Gallus can feel Ria glaring daggers at him without looking, even though he’s not exactly wrong. Aela is kind of a bitch, although he typically wouldn’t say as much.)

“Oh, yeah, her, ” the lookout says, with more than a little distaste. He turns, and spits on the ground. “She’s what they’re calling Companions these days. Disgusting, is what it is.”

“Really? I never would have guessed,” Gallus says dryly. One thing he’s found is that, while under the influence of any kind of Illusion magic, sarcasm doesn’t really come across well. Or, in some cases, it doesn’t come across at all. So, the lookout doesn’t catch his sarcasm, and nods like he’s agreeing with him.

“Really, though… Companions, werewolves? What is this world coming to?” The lookout mutters to himself. His gaze meets Gallus, begins to focus, and his brow furrows. “Hold on… do I-”

Gallus has another Calm spell cast before he can finish the sentence, and quickly says, “The redheaded werewolf. Where is she?”

“You think I know? Because I don’t. All I know is, she took out half the fort before one of the mages managed to put her under. That was three days ago.”

“Shit,” Ria says, and before the lookout can fully process that there’s a werewolf right here Gallus hits him with another Calm spell.

“We’re going now,” Gallus says to the very, very confused-looking lookout. “Thanks for all your help.” The lookout, to his credit, acts like he knows what he’s talking about and nods slowly.

“No… problem?”

Gallus slips away, once again sticking to the shadows, and stops to meet up with Ria again just outside the entrance to the main area of the fort. As he waits, his thoughts go, inexplicably, to that Dunmer girl from Helgen with the pretty purple eyes. He wonders where she is now… probably on the other side of Skyrim, in all honesty.

Then again, he wouldn’t have survived Helgen if it wasn’t for her. That, he’s certain of. So, he’s fairly certain she can take care of herself. Even so, his thoughts go to her a bit more frequently than he thinks they should, unless…

No, it’s probably coincidence. He thinks he’d remember if he knew someone that distinctive.

“So, calling Aela a bitch was uncalled for,” Ria mutters, “but anyway.”

“It would have been suspicious if I hadn’t,” Gallus points out. “You’re right, though.” Ria still doesn’t look happy, but right now he’s got more important concerns. Like bailing out Aela, assuming she’s still alive. Here’s to hoping.


A fair amount of sneaking around through the fort later, they do, eventually, come to where the Silver Hand’s apparently keeping quite a few werewolves prisoner. Ria looks carefully at each and every one, but while they all look the same to Gallus, Ria shakes her head each and every time.

“I’m not sure,” Ria says after the first time, “but I’m pretty sure that most of these wolves… aren’t exactly stable. Once we’re out, I’m all for letting them go. They might attack us now. Or at least you, since you’re not a wolf.”

Gallus nods, and says nothing. He makes a mental note to either pick the lock on the way out or try and find the key at some point. Sure, they might have a different key for every one, but they also might not, and probably don’t. It’s a lot more convenient to have one key for all the cells.

Naturally, Aela’s cell is the furthest in, and the only one with an actual guard. While visually, she does appear the same as the rest, Ria finally nods. She slips over to deal with the guard, and Gallus goes for the lock. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a particularly difficult one, and the lock goes within a matter of seconds.

Gallus pulls the cell door open, and is greeted by a growl and what’s unmistakably a glare from the werewolf that’s apparently Aela (the Huntress).

“Hi,” Gallus says uneasily. “Um… Aela, right?”

The growling grows louder, and Gallus wisely takes a step back.

“He’s with us, Aela,” Ria says from behind him. He hears her let the guard’s body fall. “We can trust him.”

“Yeah,” Gallus agrees, “so uh… if you want you can change back, or…?”

Aela stares him down, looking about as unimpressed as she can (and it’s a remarkably human-looking expression, too) before Ria coughs hurriedly, and he glances back at her.

“When we shift back… we kind of, uh… don’t have any clothes on?”

Gallus takes the hint, and turns around entirely. After a few moments, Ria grabs what looks like some sort of armor out of her pack and tosses it over Gallus’ head like it’s nothing. There’s a shuffling sound, and Gallus can’t help but wonder how often this happens.

“Thanks,” Aela says. “Not my usual armor, but it’ll do for now. You can turn around now, or don’t, I don’t really care.”

Gallus turns around, and his gaze meets Aela’s.

“So,” she continues, “you’re on our side. How much do you know?”

“Honestly,” Gallus shrugs, “not much. Although that kind of goes for a lot of things.”

Chapter Text

Aela took the news surprisingly well that someone who was not a werewolf and had no intention of ever becoming one knew the Circle’s secret. That is, of course, if by well one means she only threatened to kill him once, and it was at least somewhat justifiable. Somewhat.

(Gallus still doesn’t trust her entirely, but she’s at least a capable fighter and Ria seems to trust her. Ria, as far as he can tell, is a halfway decent judge of character, and most of the hostility from Aela is probably over the fact he’s not a werewolf. Besides, stabbing him in the back wouldn’t be her style.)

Naturally, Aela flat out refuses to head back to Jorrvaskr until they’ve dealt with the Silver Hand in this particular area at the very least. Ria certainly doesn’t mind. At the time, Gallus doesn’t either, but that’s before they return to Jorrvaskr and find things have gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Namely, the Silver Hand attacked Jorrvaskr itself not a day before, killing Kodlak and stealing all the fragments of Wuuthrad. Every single one. Everyone was devastated, for obvious reasons, some more than others. Vilkas decided they needed to strike back, and he disappeared to the north for a few days. Ria went with him. Gallus did not, partially because Vilkas didn’t ask and partially because he wasn’t a Companion, it really wasn’t his place.

(That’s not to say that, of course, he wouldn’t have said yes if Vilkas had asked, because as if jumping Farkas in Dustman’s Cairn wasn’t bad enough, they murdered an old man who wanted to be cured. Real nice of them. Clearly, the Silver Hand are the heroes here.)

Gallus can’t help but feel that he should be doing something, of course. Well, to be fair, he knows exactly what that something is. He should be figuring out what this whole Dragonborn thing means, and going up to that monastery. Never mind that he still can’t remember a thing of his past, and who he was before he woke up in that tomb without even a name.

Even so, he stays in Whiterun for Kodlak’s funeral, at least. He stays put while Ria and the other remaining members of the Circle head off to Ysgramor’s Tomb, for something that he didn’t ask about, but suspects has everything to do with the beast blood. When they return several days later, it’s with a new Harbinger: Ria.

(He would be surprised, but in all honestly he’s more relieved that it’s not Vilkas. If Vilkas had been in charge before, half of the Companions wouldn’t have been let in, including the current actual Harbinger.)

Gallus knows he can’t - or rather, shouldn’t - stay put any longer. He’s got to figure out what’s going on with being apparently some hero from legend, and also the only one who can kill dragons. But he’ll at least say goodbye. So, with that in mind, he waits until he has a chance to speak with Harbinger Ria privately, and then does so.


“You’re leaving,” Ria guesses, before he can even speak. Gallus nods. She’s getting more perceptive. “Honestly, considering that you’re Dragonborn, I can’t say I blame you. Not that I would anyway, but you know.”

“I’m still not sure what’s up with that,” Gallus admits. “But I should probably get going up to that monastery at some point. High… something-or-other.”

“High Hrothgar,” Ria smiles slightly. “This is me you’re talking to, remember? The one obsessed with all kinds of Companion lore? That… kind of extended to Nord culture in general before I joined up. It’s home to the Greybeards.”

“Right. Who are the Greybeards, again?”

“They can Shout,” Ria says, “but they’re pacifists, so they don’t unless they have no other choice. The leader of the Stormcloaks, Ulfric? He was in training to become one, but he never completed it. I guess he felt like he had to go fight. I can relate.”

“I met him,” Gallus says, suddenly. Ria raises an eyebrow. “The Imperial Legion decided they had to capture everyone in the area, which included me and a couple others who had nothing to do with the Stormcloaks, but they did capture their leader. He was gagged for some reason.”

“Probably because of the Voice. I guess they didn’t want him Shouting his way out.”

“Well, he didn’t, to be fair. The dragon did. And… correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Shouts just words in the dragon language?”

“I think so, yeah. Why?”

“I heard the dragon at Helgen… talking. Maybe because I’m this Dragonborn thing, I don’t know. And I do want to figure this out, I just…” Gallus sighs. “I just want to figure out who I was first.”

“Well,” Ria frowns, “I don’t know how much help I can be there. Where have you not been?”

“Markarth, Windhelm, and Solitude,” he says. After a moment, he adds, “and Riften. I was going to go there after Darkwater Crossing, but… well, stumbling blindly into an Imperial ambush is not good if you want to go places, I can tell you that.”

“Alright. So if you’re from Skyrim, that’s four places left to check. You’ve got to be from one of them, right?”

He shrugs, and says, “I hope so.” The two sit in silence for a time, Ria clearly trying to figure something out, Gallus honestly just not sure where to go at this point.

“You said you woke up in a tomb near where Vilkas and I found you, right?” Ria asks after a moment. “That would be near Windhelm, so maybe you’re from there?”

“Maybe,” Gallus says. Eventually, his hand drifts to his sword, and his eyes go wide. He carefully pulls it out, and lays it on the table.

“I found this near where I woke up,” he continues. “It might not have been mine, but I guess it’s worth a shot. You have any idea where this came from?”

Gallus is, honestly, expecting a no. Sure, it’s a distinctive-looking sword, but it’s not that distinctive. He’s definitely not expecting Ria to grasp it by the hilt, carefully trace the design at its pommel with her fingers, and, after a few moments’ hesitation, give him a nod.

“The sword itself, no,” Ria says. “But a few weeks before you came by, I was on a job in Riften, with… I think Farkas and Athis. I think I saw that symbol somewhere outside the city. It was on this… standing stone, I think. I couldn’t give you directions but it wasn’t that hard to find on my own.”

She passes the sword back over, hilt-first, and Gallus takes it. He takes the opportunity to study the odd-looking symbol himself, because while he’s noticed it before of course, it’s never really registered. The design looks like some sort of stylized bird with its wings outstretched around some sort of circular… thing. He’s not sure what the circular thing is, but if the bird’s color is any indication, it might be a crow, or a raven, or… honestly any kind of black-feathered bird, there’s a few.

The symbol itself, however, is definitely rather distinctive. It’s the kind of symbol that you would remember if you saw it somewhere before. So there’s a pretty good chance that Ria is, in fact, onto something. Which means… Riften is probably a good idea.

Gallus sheaths his sword once again, and stands.

“I guess… I’d better get going, then,” he says. “I think I’ll check out Riften first. Maybe someone there will actually know who I am.”

Ria offers him a smile, although it’s almost sad. “Be careful,” she says. “And you know, if you change your mind about being an actual Companion…”

“Got it,” Gallus agrees.

(He doesn’t think he’ll ever change his mind, to tell the truth. It’s nice to have friends that are Companions, sure, but he’s definitely not one of them. Ria knows this, but she’s still being friendly, and he does appreciate that.)

“If I don’t find anything in Riften,” he continues, “I’ll head up to High Hrothgar. Ivarstead’s not far from Riften, and I can only put off whatever being Dragonborn means for so long.”

To tell the truth, Gallus’ life might have taken a very different path if he’d chosen to follow his destiny before searching for his memories. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know this. All he knows is that someone might have known him in Riften, and that it’s at the very least worth a shot.

Chapter Text

Being Harbinger of the Companions really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, it’s amazing to have everyone - everyone! - actually look up to you, even Vilkas. But on the other hand, being Harbinger means you have to deal with every little thing the Companions can’t resolve on their own. Which, unfortunately, is every little thing. And it’s exhausting.

Ria figures it’ll get easier with time, but even so, her respect for Kodlak has increased dramatically. She kind of does wish she could see him again, one last time, even if it’s just to tell him that she understands now, why he was always so stressed. Because she’s definitely stressed, at least a little. Maybe a bit more than a little.

But she’s Ria, Harbinger of the Companions, and if someone had told her she’d wind up as the Harbinger of the Companions a year ago, she would have laughed. Partially because a year ago, joining the Companions was just a dream that would never come true, and partially because her? A Harbinger? That wasn’t going to happen.

But… it did. It did, and it’s amazing. Even if she has to deal with everything the other Companions can’t handle on their own, which is… far too much. Like this Dunmer girl Farkas says wants to talk to her, for some reason. Probably because she’s the Harbinger, and because the Harbinger is the closest thing they have to a leader, but still.

“Yeah, I’m free,” Ria lies, shoving her very much unfinished paperwork (another thing about being Harbinger that really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: paperwork ) under her chair. She can do it later. “Who’s this, again?”

“She says she knows Gallus,” Farkas says with a shrug. “She wouldn’t give a name. Just said she needed to talk to you.”

Ria frowns. On the one hand, whoever this is could just be wasting all their time. From what she knows of him, most of his friends outside the Companions are mages, and this girl doesn’t sound like a mage. On the other, maybe this is someone who actually knew Gallus before his amnesia. Either way, she knows she won’t get any sleep tonight if she doesn’t agree to talk to this Dunmer, so she sighs, and nods.

“Alright,” Ria says.

(Granted, she won’t get any sleep tonight regardless, but that’s because of the beast blood. Farkas and Vilkas have already cured themselves. Aela’s made it quite clear she never will, and Ria’s honestly leaning towards doing the same. Being a werewolf is certainly a nice backup plan, and she never liked Vigilants of Stendarr anyway. Nobody does, to be fair.)

Farkas heads over to the door, and the first thing Ria notices about the Dunmer girl is her eyes. They’re purple, although they’re a deep shade of purple with enough blue in them that Ria’s mother would have called them indigo - to be fair, Ria’s mother liked using different words for things a little too much, to the point where everyone else smiled and nodded and pretended to understand. The second thing Ria notices is the faded, well-worn leathers she’s wearing. It’s some sort of armor, to be sure, but it’s not any kind she’s seen before.

“So, I’m the closest we have to a leader, unless you count Ysgramor, but he’s long dead,” Ria offers with a smile. “I’m Ria.” The Dunmer girl nods, and remains standing, despite the chair opposite Ria that’s clearly there for a reason.

“You know Gallus, correct?” She asks softly, in barely above a whisper. Ria frowns, and nods.

“Well, kind of? I mean, I’d consider us friends, yes. He’s not here right now, though. Why?”

The Dunmer girl’s eyes go wide for a split second, but she’s back to normal so quickly that Ria might have imagined it. She’s pretty sure she didn’t, though.

“There’s something I have to tell him,” she says. “It’s important. Do you know-?”

“On his way to Riften,” Ria says. She’s not expecting the other woman’s look to turn vaguely panicked, or for her to swear under her breath. “I’m guessing you knew him before he lost his memories?”

“You know about that?” She sighs, and shakes her head. “Yes. I did. And if he’s going to Riften… that’s not good. I can’t- shadows help us, this is bad.”

Shadows help us? Ria raises an eyebrow at that, but says nothing. The Dunmer meets her gaze, and takes a shaky breath.

“I- thank you,” she continues, taking a step back, and then another. “But I’ve got to- never mind.” She turns, and sprints out the door.

Ria frowns, and meets Farkas’ gaze. Farkas shrugs.

“That was… something,” Ria says.

“Yeah,” Farkas agrees.

“Should we be worried about Gallus?”

Farkas shrugs again, and Ria takes it as a no. Gallus can take care of himself, after all.

Chapter Text

Riften is a rather seedy-looking city by all accounts, and there’s something about it that makes Gallus uneasy, although he can’t quite place what. It’s this feeling that makes him wait a bit before approaching the gate. It’s this feeling that gives him pause… and he’s not even sure what it is. Apprehension? Nostalgia? He’s pretty sure it’s not nostalgia, but he definitely didn’t feel this way when nearing any other city, so that, at least, is fairly promising.

He spent a good few minutes searching for the standing stone Ria had mentioned, but he didn’t find it, and it was getting late, so he figured he should be getting into the city before it got too dark. Which he is doing, now. Or would be doing, if there wasn’t some nagging feeling at the back of his mind that he’s missing entirely.

He has almost made up his mind to approach the gate when someone taps him on the shoulder. Gallus whirls around, ready to fight, only to realize it’s just a regular, relatively harmless-looking Nord with his hands held up in a gesture of surrender.

“Whoa, easy! I’ve been looking for you. Got something I’m supposed to deliver - your hands only,” the Nord (a courier?) says. “Let’s see here…” He holds up a hand, sets down his pack, and after some time spent digging through it, he pulls out what looks like a letter and passes it to Gallus.

“It’s a letter,” the courier says. “Not sure who from, she wouldn’t say. Just that it was urgent and that you’d be near Riften.”

Gallus moves to open the letter, but hesitates. After a moment, he asks, “How did you know who to deliver it to?”

“She gave me a very, very detailed description of you,” he says with a shrug. “Imperial, about this tall,” he puts his hand at a height that is, in fact, about Gallus’ height, “dark brown hair tied back like that, grey eyes, leather armor… honestly, about the only thing she didn’t tell me was your name!”

“And hers,” Gallus says. The courier nods.

“And hers,” he agrees.

“What did she look like?” Gallus asks, although he has a sinking feeling he already knows who it’s from. The courier shrugs.

“Well, she was wearing a hood, so I didn’t get a good look at her face,” he frowns. “But she was speaking real quiet-like, and she was wearing leathers - not the kind you’re wearing, mind you - and she did have a bow and a bunch of arrows with her. Know who that is?”

“Yes,” Gallus says, because he knows exactly who the courier’s referring to, even if he doesn’t know her name, either. “Thank you.”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” the courier grins, “although she did pay me quite a pretty sum to find you before you got into Riften, so that certainly helped. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got other deliveries to get to, several of which are on the other side of Skyrim. Be seeing you!”

With that, the courier sprints off, leaving Gallus with an unopened letter in his hands and a lot more questions that only the woman who wrote this letter can answer. He figures it’s probably too much to assume she’s actually answered some of said questions in the letter, but he’s definitely going to check what she wrote. So, he unfolds it, carefully, and begins reading.

I wish I could have told you this in person, but we have no time, and I’m fairly certain that this courier can get to Riften faster than I can. So, I’ll be brief. Don’t tell anyone you have amnesia. Don’t use your name. And don’t trust anyone. If all goes well, you’ll understand soon.

Gallus simply stares at it for a few, long moments. The woman with the indigo eyes has surprisingly neat handwriting, although it’s clearly rushed. Not only that, but there’s several lines worth of letter above the part he can actually read that are crossed out so vigorously that Gallus couldn’t tell what they say if he tried.

So, apparently, he either made an extremely good decision in coming to Riften, or an extremely bad one. Clearly, his friend from Helgen both thinks it’s an extremely bad decision and might have known who he was before his amnesia, too, but… he’d already been suspecting that.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that this is from some other hooded, soft-spoken archer-

Wait.

She’s an archer.

Jarl Idgrod’s words come back to him then, or at least some of them do. The important bit, anyway.

The archer is your ally, Idgrod had said. Well, yeah, Gallus is pretty sure he wouldn’t have survived Helgen without her, but, well, it would be nice to have a little more specifics. Like, the archer is someone from your past. Or, conversely, the archer is not someone from your past.

Unfortunately, as Gallus keeps finding out, individuals who can see the future are always far too cryptic, and Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone of Morthal is definitely no exception. Gods damn it.

Either way, the message had warned him to hide who he was and to not trust anyone in Riften. It hadn’t warned him to stay out of the city entirely. So, with that in mind, Gallus folds the note up, slips it into his pack, and finally heads for the gate to enter the city. He’s hoping he won’t have as hard a time getting in as he did in Whiterun.

He is sorely disappointed.

“Hey, you’re going to need to pay the visitor’s tax if you want into the city,” one of the guards says as Gallus walks up. “For you, it’s- let’s say, fifty septims.”

“What’s the tax for?” Gallus frowns, because nobody mentioned a visitor’s tax. Apparently this was the wrong answer, because both guards suddenly look a lot more hostile.

“For the privilege of entering the city,” the other guard says, holding out a hand. “Does it matter?”

Gallus eyes them both skeptically, and takes a step back.

“This is obviously a shakedown,” he says, “and it’s not one I’m going to pay. You must not get a lot of traffic here, if you can get away with outright extortion like that. I wonder what your captain would say?”

There’s a flash of fear in one of the guard’s eyes, and Gallus knows he’s won. The other looks as skeptical as Gallus does, but says nothing as the guard rummages in his pocket for the keys. The other guard just puts his outstretched hand away, and looks to his companion.

“Fine, fine, keep your voice down,” the guard says hastily as he moves to unlock the gate. “Welcome to Riften, traveller.”

Gallus nods, although without respect, and steps into the city. Now that he’s got that out of the way, he’s not at all sure what to look for. So he looks around, spies a Nord in steel armor leaning against a post, and heads over.

His gaze meets the Nord’s, and the other man’s eyes go wide. So wide, in fact, that he almost looks like he’s seen a ghost.

“Hello,” Gallus says cautiously. The other man bobs his head in greeting, although he looks equally cautious. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I can find a room for the night, would you?”

“Bee and Barb,” the Nord says after a long moment, jerking his chin in the direction of a building across the road from him. He sounds oddly on edge, and Gallus really isn’t sure why. He doesn’t look that intimidating, does he…? Or maybe… well, he’ll have time to think about that later, it’s getting dark.

“Thanks,” Gallus says, and heads on into the inn. It’s run by a pair of Argonians, whose names he quickly learns are Keerava and Talen-Jei. He’s a little surprised to see an inn owned by Argonians, or honestly any business owned by Argonians, in Stormcloak territory - because he’s pretty sure that’s what Riften is. Regardless, he wastes no time in paying for a room for the night and a drink. He intends to continue his search in the morning.

Of course, his plans are quickly interrupted by a quick tap on the shoulder. Gallus turns, and his gaze meets that of a redheaded Nord.

“Shor’s bones, Maul wasn’t kidding, it is you!” The man exclaims. His eyes light up, and Gallus, unsurprisingly, is very, very confused (but also a little curious). “We all thought you were dead!”

Gallus is generally pretty good at hiding his emotions but, right now, he sees no harm in appearing as confused as he is.

“I’m sorry, do... we know each other?” He asks after a few moments of giving this Nord that apparently recognized him the most confused look in the history of confused looks.

The man stares at him. Gallus stares back, and notes that he’s wearing relatively fine clothes - but they don’t fit him at all. So, he’s someone pretending to be someone he’s not, possibly. Or he just found (or possibly stole) some noble clothes somewhere and wanted to wear them.

“I-” The man visibly deflates. “No, I guess not. Sorry, lad. You look a lot like someone I used to know. What’s your name, then?”

Gallus opens his mouth, then closes it. His instinct is to say Gallus, but the letter said to trust no one, to tell no one his name. In retrospect, he probably should have thought of an alias before he entered Riften, but it’s too late, now. Damn. His eyes dart around and, when his gaze finds the man’s very, very red hair, he blurts out the first name that comes to mind.

“Ragnar,” Gallus says, and the man raises an eyebrow. “It’s Ragnar.”

Well, Gallus thinks, it’s such a bad name that they won’t think I’m making it up, at least?

(He’s not entirely sure who he means by they yet, either. Possibly everyone in Riften. Possibly a smaller, more specific group of people that he used to know, but wouldn’t now.)

“Ragnar, lad? You’re kidding.”

“I wish I was,” Gallus laughs dryly. “My father was a Nord, but he died, so my mother thought I needed a, and I quote, good Nordic name. Apparently shitty drinking songs are the only criteria she used. But you’re not interested in my life story.”

(The lie comes easily, too easily. But now isn’t the time to feel guilty over lying to someone who probably is actually harmless. Now is the time to use those lying skills to keep anyone from finding out he’s just Gallus, an amnesiac with a knack for Illusion magic and swordplay.)

“I might be, lad,” the Nord shrugs. “How would you like to help me out with something? There’ll be coin in it for you, and you’re looking a little light on the pockets.”

Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that the something the Nord is mentioning isn’t exactly legal, but he’s right about one thing: Gallus is pretty light on the pockets when it comes to money. He’ll be able to afford maybe another night in the Bee and Barb if he’s lucky, and then he’ll need to find more money or get out of Riften.

And there’s at least one person here that’s recognized him already, possibly two, because that would explain the reaction of the guy outside. He can’t leave now, not before learning who he was- even if he might not be entirely comfortable with that. So, he can’t leave Riften. Not now.

“Sure,” Gallus says. “What do you have in mind?”

A couple of drinks later, Gallus has learned that the redheaded Nord’s name is Brynjolf, the job is definitely not legal in the least, and he’ll need to meet him in the Riften marketplace tomorrow morning.

He can work with this.

Chapter Text

“Gather ‘round, everyone! I have something amazing to show you all, the likes of which you’ve never seen before!”

Gallus crouches nearby, looking hopefully inconspicuous, and watches with a mix of grudging respect and apprehension as Brynjolf continues rambling on, attracting the attention of literally everyone in the general vicinity, guards and all. More importantly, he’s even gained the attention of some of the nearby merchants, making them step away from their stalls.

Brynjolf wasn’t kidding when he said he’d make a distraction, although in all honesty Gallus was expecting something a little less… distracting. Which may have been a mistake on his part, as clearly, the man had meant it in every sense of the word.

Clearly, lying - or at the very least bending the truth - is something that comes easily to him. Gallus can relate, which is more than a little concerning. He isn’t certain, but Brynjolf is at the very least a con man of some sort, possibly even a career thief - and he recognized him.

Briefly, he peers above the low wall surrounding the courtyard. Nobody’s watching; not the guards, not the merchants, no one. No one’s watching, except for Brynjolf. Briefly, his gaze meets Gallus’ own, as if to say, well, lad? What are you waiting for?

Gallus wishes he knew. He sucks in a breath, and before he can change his mind, he’s over the wall in a flash. The only problem is, the drop down to the other side turned out to be a bit further than he’d thought. He bites back a curse as he stumbles back to his feet, praying that nobody noticed.

He glances up, and finds that either he was much quieter than he thought he was or the citizens of Riften are just that unobservant, possibly both. Not a soul is looking his way, and he’s conveniently right behind the jeweler’s stall. Madesi, Gallus remembers, even though putting a name and a face to someone he’s robbing is maybe… not the best idea on his part.

Just get the ring out of Madesi’s strongbox, and plant it on Brand-Shei. It’s not hard, lad.

Privately, Gallus disagrees. As he takes out a lockpick and gets to work on the lock, his thoughts wander, which may not be the best thing considering that he’s not entirely okay with this.

This isn’t right, he knows that for sure. He shouldn’t be doing this, and yet he is. This isn’t right, but it’s the best lead he’s got on who he was before.

This isn’t right, but…

The lock clicks, and Gallus puts his unbroken pick away. His fingers find the lid, but before he can slip it open, he hesitates.

Do I really want to do this? Gallus asks himself. Is it worth it?

Brynjolf had said there’d be a reward in this for him, but it’s not even about that anymore. In truth, it never was, at least not for him. It’s about what he’s willing to do, how far he’s willing to go to find out the truth of who he was.

Do I want to know who I was…?

After all, it’s quite clear between this and other things, little things, that he was perhaps not the most moral of individuals himself. Things like his inexplicable knack for talking his way out of things that most would not. Things like how he can sneak up on people without trying particularly hard, and how he has done so in the recent past.

Maybe that’s why the woman with the indigo eyes, the archer, warned him not to use his name. Maybe she knew what he’d be getting himself into, and helped, somewhat. After all, if he doesn’t use his real name while in Riften, few will be able to connect Gallus the Spellsword with Ragnar the Thief.

To be fair, there’s probably another name somewhere in there, the name he’d had before. But he doesn’t know it, not yet. Chances are he likely never will if he doesn’t do this.

So is it worth it?

Gallus sucks in a breath and shoves the lid open.

Yes.


Gallus tries not to look at Brand-Shei as the guards drag him off in the direction of, presumably, the local prison. Part of it’s because some small part of him’s terrified that the mer will just know who it was that framed him. Part of it’s because he doesn’t want to see the look in his eyes.

He doesn’t see the look in Brand-Shei’s eyes, but he can’t miss the one in Madesi’s. The Argonian looks more hurt than angry, and the devastated slump in his shoulders as he circles back to his stand says it all.

Gallus remembers seeing those two standing together in the crowd, an Argonian and a Dunmer laughing and joking with each other, and now… well, Brynjolf had said Brand-Shei would only be in prison for a couple of days, but...

Who am I kidding, Gallus thinks miserably. I’ve ruined them, haven’t I?

A prison sentence only lasts a few days. Madesi will never trust Brand-Shei again.

“Well, lad, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Brynjolf asks, coming up from behind. He looks around Gallus’ age, maybe a little younger. Gallus sighs, and nods sadly.

“It wasn’t hard,” Gallus says. “I just wish… there had been another way.”

Brynjolf offers him a wry smile.

“If it helps, let’s just say that he pissed off someone very important around here, and she just wants him spending a few days in jail. He’ll be out soon and, with any luck, he’ll be fine. The alternative was the Dark Brotherhood, and nobody wants that.”

Gallus unconsciously gulps. He makes a mental note to avoid crossing whoever ‘she’ is in the near future. Getting involved with the Dark Brotherhood is the literal last thing he needs right now.

“Anyway, lad,” Brynjolf continues, “you’ve definitely got a knack for thievery. Where’d you learn?”

“I-” Gallus reminds himself that he can’t say I don’t know, and settles for an, “I’m self-taught. Trial and error. All that fun stuff.”

“Well, you’ve definitely got what it takes.”

“For… what?”

“The Thieves Guild, of course,” Brynjolf says. “Did you seriously think we were doing that for shits and giggles? No, lad, that was a test to see if you had what it took. And you passed with flying colors.”

“Alright,” Gallus says. He’s still a little confused (and still feeling pretty guilty over what he just did) but Brynjolf, at least, seemed to recognize him. “So… what now?”

“You make it to our headquarters in the Ragged Flagon, and you’re in. Call it an initiation rite. Personally, I’m convinced, but some of the others might not be. And, well, one more thing…”

“What?” Gallus asks.

“Never mind,” Brynjolf shakes his head. “I’ll tell you when you get there, lad. Be seeing you.” He leaves the stall, and Gallus doesn’t move to follow him or to even look where he’s going. It takes a few seconds for the fact to fully register that Brynjolf seemed quite sure he could make it to the… Ragged Flagon, wherever that is.

Well, one thing’s for sure: Gallus has a lead, and it looks like a bigger one than any of the others he’s followed before. He just needs to remember to answer to Ragnar while he’s in Riften. It can’t be that hard.


Almost an hour’s worth of sneaking through the sewers later, Gallus thinks he’s finally almost there. The place looks kind of like a tavern, if a much grimier one than the Bee and Barb. There’s a bartender wiping down the bar, and a group of three or four hooded figures conversing quietly in the center. As Gallus creeps closer, he can begin to make out voices.

“-telling you, Delvin, this lad looks exactly like Gallus!

That’s definitely Brynjolf. Gallus stops in his tracks to listen, but also really because he’s reeling inside from that statement alone.

So I wasn’t warned against using my name because I needed to hide who I was here, Gallus deduces silently, I was warned against it because I chose a name that had some significance to these thieves.

And… because that might actually be me.

Oh gods.

“Bryn, Gallus is dead,” someone else says tiredly. “I’d love to believe you, really. But he’s dead, has been for-”

“Fine, then, he’s his kid or something! He said something about his da being a Nord, but he didn’t sound too sure. I’m betting he never knew his da.”

“No, I didn’t,” Gallus pipes up, partially because it’s convenient and partially because while he’d like to go back and pretend he heard none of this, he’s a lot more likely to make an impression on a group of thieves by sneaking up on them. All eyes go to him, and he straightens up.

“I’m Ragnar, by the way,” he offers after a moment. “Who’s Gallus?”

“Nobody you need to know about,” says the third member of their trio. She looks between the other two, and says, “Come on, you’re both overreacting.”

“Vex,” the other figure says, “love of my life-”

“Delvin,” Vex says evenly, “you’re on thin fucking ice.”

Gallus raises an eyebrow, and looks to Brynjolf, confused. Brynjolf shrugs helplessly.

“I’ll explain once you’re in,” Brynjolf promises. “Follow me.” He looks to the other two, and says, “Don’t forget, this isn’t the Dark Brotherhood. We don’t kill anyone here.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t-” Delvin begins, but is cut off by a look from Brynjolf.

“I wasn’t talking to you, lad,” Brynjolf says dryly, before heading into the back of the tavern. Gallus glances at the other two thieves. Delvin’s a somewhat-balding Breton who looks completely at ease here. Vex, meanwhile, is a particularly annoyed-looking Imperial woman with what looks like white hair under her hood and a scowl on her face that looks semi-permanent.

When Gallus looks back to Brynjolf, he realizes that he’s opened a cabinet up, for some reason. The reason for this becomes quite clear when he hits a switch, and the back panel slides in to reveal a tunnel. That’s… actually really impressive.

“Now,” Brynjolf says, “I should mention now that our Guildmaster is irritable at the best of times, but he’s a damn good Guildmaster and we’re lucky to have him.”

“Okay,” Gallus says, frowning. “What does this have to do with me?”

“The Guildmaster gets the final say on who gets to join up,” Brynjolf says. “And you look an awful lot like someone we-”

“Gallus,” he guesses. “That’s who I look like. He was a part of the Thieves Guild?”

Brynjolf laughs uncomfortably, and says, “More than that. He was our Guildmaster, before he got murdered.”

No, Gallus thinks. There’s no way, I couldn’t… right? RIGHT?

“Oh,” he says after a moment.

“Yeah,” Brynjolf agrees. “Gallus and Mercer - that’s our current Guildmaster, lad - were good friends back in the day. So, just… let me do the talking. You just stand there and look pretty.”

At that last bit, Gallus looks at him strangely, and says, “What?”

“Just making sure you were paying attention, lad,” the Nord says with a wink. “Let’s go.”

Gallus only nods this time and, when Brynjolf continues, he follows without a word. To all outward appearances, he looks relatively calm, if a little anxious. On the inside, however, is an entirely different story.

On the inside, he’s got so, so many questions, even now that some of them may have been (finally) answered.

Well, Gallus thinks, I guess… I found who I am? Either that or I accidentally committed identity theft.

Even if he is the Gallus that the Thieves Guild knew, the Gallus that apparently led the Thieves Guild at some point, he was murdered. Or, at least, everyone thought he was. So maybe he had died, or maybe he’d just been left for dead and woken up with amnesia. Either way, it’s screwed up.

Either way, someone had tried to kill him. Probably the Thieves Guild knows, but that’s not the sort of thing he can just go around asking random people. Probably this Mercer guy knows, but…

Something stops him from going to ask Mercer who killed him. Part of it’s the letter. Part of it’s the fact that, unless he can prove to his (apparently) old friend without a shadow of a doubt that he is Gallus, he won’t be getting any answers. And part of it’s a nagging feeling in his gut that his murderer (or… attempted murderer?) might still be here somewhere.

But who is it?

Chapter Text

When they arrive, Mercer briefly glances Gallus' way, completely uninterested, as if he’s used to meeting a lot of people he doesn’t give two shits about. Almost instantly, though, he does a double take, recognition painted all over his face as his mouth falls open. For a few, terse moments, he can’t seem to meet Gallus’ eyes, but eventually manages to hold Gallus’ gaze with a confused, borderline angry stare of his own.

“How the fuck are you alive?” He blurts after a moment. Clearly he doesn't recognize him at all.

“Um,” Gallus begins awkwardly and fortunately, it’s then that Brynjolf comes to the rescue.

“He’s not Gallus, boss, though I reacted the same way,” Brynjolf says. “Might be his kid, though. Never knew his da, and he looks about the right age.”

“Gallus didn’t sleep around,” Mercer says flatly. His gaze travels between Gallus and Brynjolf, and then back to Gallus. “But fine . Who are you, then?”

“My name’s Ragnar,” Gallus offers, but Mercer only shakes his head.

“No, I mean who are you. What can you offer to the Guild that we don’t already have?”

Gallus opens his mouth, then closes it. He isn’t sure what to say, and he doubts anyone here would be impressed by his extremely limited magic abilities, so that’s definitely a no.

“He’s got talent, boss,” Brynjolf says. “And with the right training, he could easily become an asset to the Guild.”

Mercer scrutinizes Gallus, then shakes his head.

“Brynjolf, I’m not in the mood for jokes.”

“I’m not a joke!” Gallus bursts out, and remembers too late that Brynjolf had told him to let him do all the talking. Whoops. Too late, now. He takes a deep breath, and continues, “Give me the hardest job you have. I’ll do it. Will you let me in then?”

“You think you can do Goldenglow? ” Mercer scoffs.

“Lad-” Brynjolf begins, a warning in his words, and something within Gallus snaps.

“Yes, I can do Goldenglow! I’ll do anything you throw at me.”

“Well,” Mercer says, looking to Brynjolf with an unreadable expression on his face, “you heard him. He can do Goldenglow. And he damn well will do Goldenglow, or I never want to see his face again. I’ll be back tomorrow, and I expect to hear he’s either succeeded or died.” He grabs a bag lying next to his desk, slings it over his shoulder, and heads over to what looks like a ladder heading up and out.

Gallus looks to Brynjolf, sees the horrified expression on his face, and realizes far too late that he might just have screwed up really, really badly.

“What’s Goldenglow?” Gallus asks hesitantly. Brynjolf sighs, and shakes his head.

“Bee farm. You’re better off leaving Riften entirely, lad,” Brynjolf warns. “Our best infiltrator couldn’t get in, and barely made it back alive. Goldenglow is basically suicide.”

Gallus frowns. Fine, then, he thinks. So the odds are against me. Well, I doubt that whoever their best infiltrator is can use Illusion magic, so I’ve got that on my side, at least.

Besides, the alternative is just giving up, and Gallus isn’t going to do that. He can’t just give up, not now. Not when he’s so, so close.

He knows—or at least has a pretty good idea—who he was, now. He was a thief, apparently, and not just any thief, either. He was the leader of a group of thieves and presumably everyone thought he was dead. Chances are it wasn’t an accident.

If it wasn’t an accident… that’s likely why the Dunmer woman warned him. He’ll figure this out, eventually—he has to. But he has to get into the Thieves Guild first.

“I’m going to do it,” he says, much to Brynjolf’s visible disappointment. “But I’m going to need to know what I’m up against first. How is a bee farm dangerous?”

“I’ll tell you what I know,” Brynjolf reluctantly nods. “If I were you, I’d ask Vex, too, although she might take a little convincing to tell you anything.”

“Right. Remind me who Vex is?”


It doesn’t take Gallus long to find himself back in the main room of the Ragged Flagon, with a drink in his hand and a nagging familiarity in the back of his mind that assures him he’s in the right place, even if he doesn’t remember it, or anything. Certain individuals, of course, are more familiar than others. Based on this, it’s quite likely he knew both Brynjolf and Delvin, if not Vex.

As Gallus soon finds, Vex is the light-haired Imperial woman from earlier, and it doesn’t take long for him to discover exactly why they call her that. She certainly lives up to her name. Even so, clearly she has to be at least somewhat competent, otherwise no one would put up with her. It’s also entirely possible that she’s somewhat less verbally abrasive once you’re actually in the Guild.

“Listen, let’s get one thing straight,” Vex takes a sip of her mead, “I don’t like you.”

“Really?” Gallus asks dryly. “I never would have noticed.”

“Keep that sense of humor and that might change,” she replies. “Let’s hope for your sake that Brynjolf’s right about you being a natural at this.”

“He’s good, alright,” Brynjolf says. He offers Gallus a friendly smile, and claps him on the shoulder. “Even if he’s named after a crappy drinking song.”

It occurs to Gallus, suddenly, as he raises his own bottle to his lips, that if his name was actually Ragnar, he’d probably be a bit more offended by comparisons to the song. With that in mind, he lets out a long-suffering sigh, like he’s heard this one far too many times.

“Can we not bring that up,” Gallus mutters into his mead. “It’s not my fault my mother had terrible taste in names.” Never mind that he can’t remember if he even had parents, but nobody needs to know that.

(Well… he must have had parents, once, although it’s anyone’s guess whether they’re still alive or not, or if he’d even cared. If they’d even cared. Briefly, he considers this possibility, but he dismisses it quickly. Unlike the familiarity he feels with the Guild, the concept of parents who would have missed him when he was gone is completely alien.)

(That’s… kind of sad, actually, but he doesn’t dwell on it any longer than that.)

“On the contrary, lad—your mother had exceptional taste in names, if I do say so myself.”

It takes Gallus a bit to realize that Brynjolf is joking, but when he does, he grins and nods.

“Right,” Gallus says. “So… Goldenglow. How screwed am I?”

“Very,” Delvin says quite seriously. “If our little Vex couldn’t get in-”

“Call me that again,” Vex cuts in, “and you’ll have a lot more to worry about than your fetching curse.”

“What, Bryn can call you that and I can’t?”

“Bryn hasn’t been trying to get into my pants—unsuccessfully, I might add—for the past decade. It’s high time you grew a pair, Delvin.”

This, of course, sparks a bit of an argument between the senior members of the Guild. By that, Gallus means that it’s mostly between Delvin and Vex, with Brynjolf watching from the sidelines with a vaguely amused look in his eyes. At any other time, Gallus would be paying more attention to their argument, except there’s something he can’t quite get out of his head. Sure, Vex had only mentioned it offhandedly, but…

“The Guild’s cursed?” Gallus asks Brynjolf.

“Depends who you ask, lad,” Brynjolf shrugs, and gulps down some of his mead before speaking again. “Certainly seems like it sometimes. It started around the time Gallus died, and only got worse as time went on. These days, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.”

“That… does sound like a curse.”

“Delvin swears up and down that it is. I try not to think too hard about it, but… well. Let’s hope that you’ve got the skill to take on Goldenglow, lad, because we could sure use it. When our luck’s this bad…”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Gallus says, because he highly doubts Brynjolf would appreciate him admitting that most of what he’s managed to do thus far did involve luck. After a moment, he takes the opportunity to continue, “You keep mentioning someone named Gallus. Who was he?”

“As I said already, he was our Guildmaster, and one of the best thieves I’ve ever known. It’s a damn shame what happened to him.”

Gallus tries not to sound too eager when he asks, “What happened to him?”

What happened to… me?

Brynjolf looks at him strangely, and for long enough that Gallus begins to worry he’s asked too much too soon, before he smiles sadly and finishes his bottle.

“Told you, he was murdered. Now—we’re thieves, sure, so we don’t have a lot of rules. The only real rules here are, don’t kill unless you’ve got no choice, and you never, ever betray your guildmates. His killer broke both of those by killing him.”

“Who was his killer?”

Gallus isn’t able to keep his interest out of his words this time, and Brynjolf squints at him suspiciously before being interrupted by none other than Vex. Taking a seat on the table between two people is certainly one way to break up a conversation.

“Nobody you’d know,” Vex says firmly, “and you’ve got a job to do, don’t you?”

Gallus takes the hint. He drains his drink before standing and moving to leave.

“Hold your horses, lad,” Brynjolf says before he can leave. “Normally you wouldn’t get this until after you’re in, but on a job like Goldenglow, I’d say you need it.”

“Need what?” Gallus asks.

Brynjolf nods to a Redguard woman having a drink at the bar, her back to him, and calls, “Hey, Tonilia! Can you get the new lad outfitted before he goes?”

“Sure I can,” Tonilia says dryly, “although I hope for your sake that he’ll be paying for it up front. I don’t need another new kid putting it on his tab and then disappearing off the face of Nirn within a month.”

Gallus visibly pales, although he’s not entirely sure why. Brynjolf takes one look at him and says, “I’ll cover it, lass. He can pay me back later.”

Chapter Text

In the dead of night, Gallus crouches just beside the bridge to the island Goldenglow is on, and mentally reviews what he knows. It’s on an island—obviously. There’s at least ten mercenaries guarding the place, all of whom are carrying torches and deadly-looking weapons. What he needs to do is burn three beehives—and only three beehives, no more, no less—and clear out the safe. It seems simple enough, until you take into account that the place is crawling with the kind of mercenaries that Gallus strongly suspects have no code of honor whatsoever and wouldn’t hesitate to murder him on the spot.

Brynjolf had certainly tried to dissuade him from taking the job but, once Gallus made it quite clear he was going to do it no matter what, he proved to be extremely helpful. Apparently, the Thieves Guild had been paid by someone named Maven Black-Briar to keep the honey from Goldenglow flowing to her meadery, among other things.

(Personally, Gallus thinks it says something about this Maven Black-Briar, that she’s so underconfident in her own business skills that she has to pay others to keep a monopoly going. But at the moment, he’s got a job to do, and he’s damn well going to do it.)

He’d taken the opportunity to ask around the Ragged Flagon before leaving, which unfortunately didn’t net him much in the way of what happened to him. At least he has some idea of who he was, now. At least he hasn’t slipped up when introducing himself so far. As far as anyone in the Thieves Guild knows, his name’s Ragnar and he has no connection to Gallus whatsoever.

(It’s slow-going, getting information on the man he once was, and he has to be careful. He can’t be too careful now, because one mistake might easily end up with him dead. The stakes are high, but manageable. He can do this, as long as he treads carefully, doesn’t ask too many questions, and doesn’t die .)

Stroking Vex’s ego a bit more than he would have liked resulted in an extremely detailed description of a secret entrance to Goldenglow, albeit one that involves more sewers than Gallus would like. With any luck, the mercenaries still don’t know about it. More importantly, he now has some new armor in the form of faded brown Thieves Guild leathers that Brynjolf insisted he take—with a promise that he’d pay him back as soon as possible—and, personally, Gallus wishes his old armor was this good. It’s not as heavy as regular armor, but it’s decently protective, and most importantly, he can actually move in it.

But enough about the armor. Never mind that it looks and feels far too familiar to be an accident. If he was still searching for who he was, that would have been a red flag—but it’s not. He knows who he was, now, and he knows that he was supposed to be murdered. That’s why he has to be careful, and go by a name he now knows isn’t his own. He’d rather not die anytime soon, thanks. Or… die again?

He’s honestly not sure about that part. Logic dictates that he couldn’t have actually died, because people who die don’t just come back, with amnesia or without it. But if he hadn’t actually died, than how had he survived? Luck? And actually… what had happened to him?

Gallus frowns, and makes a mental note to think more on this later. He calls a stronger version of his usual Calm spell to his off hand—he thinks it’s called Pacify, but he’s not sure—and uses the faint glow from the spell to search the ground. He finds what he’s looking for fairly quickly. Carefully, he picks up a rock, squints into the darkness, and throws it as hard as he can.

In retrospect, throwing it as hard as he could might not have been the best idea on his part, because he very nearly loses his balance and falls into the water in the process. That would have been bad. Gallus really would rather not get soaked today, thanks. Fortunately, he recovers just quickly enough to hear the rock hit the side of the main building with a loud smack.

Gallus can’t see very well in the dark, unfortunately, but he can see some of the mercenaries’ torches congregate near where he assumes the rock landed. Silently, he casts his spell in their direction, then stands, and forces himself to walk over like he’s supposed to be here. He’s not sure how good of a job he’s doing, and he’s fully prepared to book it if he has to, but surprisingly, he doesn’t have to.

Even as Gallus offers the group a casual wave, his heart’s pounding, and he’s mentally counting down to when the spell will wear off. When it wears off, he needs to be gone, or at the very least out of sight. Maybe there’s some truth to that old saying out of sight, out of mind, and maybe there isn’t.

Regardless.

Forty-five seconds.

“Hello, friends,” Gallus begins, and receives a bunch of those confused-but-happy looks that people under the effects of that spell always have. Internally, he’s both cringing at himself and terrified that this won’t work, but it has to work. It has to. He nods to the torch one of them’s holding with a smile, and says, “You mind if I borrow that for a moment?”

Twenty-nine seconds.

The mercenary in question shakes his head, and says, “No, not at all.” He passes it over, and Gallus grabs it maybe a little too quickly. Shit.

Sixteen seconds.

“Thank you,” Gallus says, also a little too quickly. He turns and walks as quickly as he can to the beehives. There’s six of them, and three are closer than the others.

Nine seconds.

The first two go easily. The third, unfortunately, just doesn’t want to go up, no matter what Gallus does to it. If he thought his heart was pounding earlier, it’s really pounding now, because he needs to set it on fire and run.

Five seconds.

He jabs the torch at it helplessly, again, and again, and again, until-

“Hey! What in Oblivion are you doing?!”

Zero seconds.

The third hive catches fire, and Gallus throws the torch back at the mercenaries without looking, One of them lets out a yelp, so he can assume he hit at least that one somewhere. He doesn’t wait around to find out. Instead, he sprints for the water and, without a moment’s hesitation, he dives in. At least two arrows whistle over his head before he’s underwater, and possibly more after, he just can’t hear them.

So much for not getting soaked, but he’ll take soaked over the alternative.

Gallus holds his breath and swims. He swims under the bridge, around the island, and hopes to whatever gods might be listening that Vex’s directions to the sewer passage were accurate, because somehow he doesn’t think he’s getting into the main building through the front door, and that spell took most of his magicka.

By the time he comes up, his lungs are gasping for air, but it’s paid off. The torches (and by extension, the mercenaries holding them) are all on the other side of the island. From the looks of things, they’re desperately trying to put out the hives on fire, without much success. Now, if he can just find that sewer entrance…

Silently, he summons a less powerful spell to act as a light, draws his sword, and begins searching.


It takes Gallus a fair bit longer than he would have liked to find the trapdoor, and, in the end, he only finds it by tripping over it. It’s well-hidden and, if it’s so well-hidden that he had to literally stumble upon it, he suspects the mercenaries wouldn’t be able to find it if their lives depended on successfully doing so. Even so, he’s cautious as he hefts the probably-rotting wood and slips into the darkness below, and he’s careful, and he’s quiet.

He realizes too late that there’s a ladder, and he probably should have climbed down said ladder instead of just blindly jumping in. The drop’s a fair bit further than he thought it would be. While Gallus does manage to land on his feet, it takes all the willpower he can muster to keep from crying out in pain. Instead, he blinks hard, bites his lip, and forces himself to count to ten until the worst of the pain is over.

Fortunately, he can still walk and sneak after cautiously stretching a bit, so he got off scot-free this time. He really shouldn’t make a habit of jumping into holes of indefinite depth, though. With that in mind, he crouches, creeps forward, and peeks around the corner. Oddly enough, the sewer is, in fact, well-lit by torches. Maybe Vex left them there. He makes a mental note to thank her once he gets back to the Flagon, and keeps going.

He edges over a badly-hidden tripwire and dispatches a pair of skeevers before either can catch his scent. The other side of the sewer passage comes out relatively close to the front door of the main building. Normally, Gallus wouldn’t want to go in the front door but, considering that all the mercenaries are on the other side of the island, it’s probably his best shot. So, he sneaks over, picks the lock, and slips in.

How hard can it be to find the safe, anyway?

As he soon finds out, he didn’t even have to voice his thoughts to jinx it. Evidently, it’s in fact very hard to find the safe when the interior layout of the complex is confusing to an extreme, there’s even more mercenaries than there were outside roaming the halls, and Gallus has no clue where to even start looking. Starting a fight here would be suicide if any of the others heard the clash of blades meeting, and he’d have to fight to kill. He’d really rather not have to kill anyone today if he can avoid it, so he sticks to sneaking around.

Stealth does come naturally to him—which isn’t that much of a surprise anymore—but even so, it’s difficult to slip past completely unnoticed when there’s this many guards. So he creeps by where he can, casts a spell or two where he can’t, and silently curses whoever thought hiring all these mercenaries was a good idea in the first place.

He’ll grudgingly admit, at least to himself, that hiring this many guards is an effective tactic. It would make passing unseen difficult, if not impossible, had the one in charge not made a critical mistake.

Gallus doesn’t remember the name of Goldenglow’s owner, but he distinctly remembers someone— Vex, perhaps? —saying he was a Bosmer, and some particularly rude things besides. Regardless, where he screwed up was in expecting only a thief. Learning Illusion magic had, evidently, been a good idea on Gallus’ part.

When people expect thieves, they often don’t expect them to be anything more than a thief—but that’s certainly not the case with Gallus, and he doubts it’s the case with most others, either. To be fair, not everyone would think to do what he’s doing. He wouldn’t have, if it had not been somewhat instinctive on his part.

It takes time, stealth, and a healthy amount of caution, but he eventually finds two stairwells in an interior room: one leading down, one leading up. Gallus can’t tell for sure how long he’s been sneaking around the compound at this point, but it has to be close to dawn. He needs to be long gone by dawn, and assuming that the safe is either up or down…

Where would I keep my safe if I was a paranoid Bosmer? Gallus wonders. He doesn’t get much time to wonder, though, because there’s footsteps nearby.

Going with his instincts, he darts for the stairwell down.

He finds the safe within the hour.

Chapter Text

Once Gallus made it to the basement, finding the safe was the easy part. Getting to it was significantly harder, even more so than sneaking through the ground floor of the Goldenglow complex. Picking the lock was much worse, and it got to the point where Gallus was worried he’d run out of lockpicks before it finally clicked on his second-to-last.

He takes a moment to ensure he is actually alone before slowly, carefully, pulling the safe’s door open, hoping it doesn’t creak. It creaks, and rather loudly too. Gallus freezes here for a few, terse seconds before realizing that the creak of the door opening sounded an awful lot like the wooden floor creaking on the floor above, and considering that the guards on the upper level were constantly moving around when he was up there, the ones down here would think nothing of it.

The guards here aren’t moving around, either. Evidently, none of them think someone would actually make it this far, and Gallus isn’t one to not take advantage of that opportunity when he can. Assuming he doesn’t make too much noise, and doesn’t catch any attention, he’s essentially got all the time in the world.

With this in mind, he reaches in, finding a bag of coin atop a single folded paper. He leaves the coin and takes the paper. Quietly, he leans against the safe and begins to unfold it. The first thing he notices is how neatly it’s written, although it does look rushed. Whoever had written this hadn’t had a lot of time to do so, which means they must have been afraid of something.

The Guild?

The second thing he notices is the odd symbol at the top of the paper. It looks vaguely like a dagger, with a dark circle inked in behind it. That, at least, is definitely something he’s never seen in his life. The symbol, not the handwriting. He’s undecided about the handwriting. There’s something about it that seems almost familiar… perhaps he knew the individual who wrote this letter?

As he begins to read, the ends of his lips unconsciously tug downwards into a frown, and if he was aware of the action he wouldn’t be at all sure of why.

Aringoth,

This document acknowledges the sale of Goldenglow Estate and all property, assets, and materials contained within. Payment on the property has been made in full by Gajul-Lei as an agent on behalf of the buyer. All dealings with the Thieves Guild in Riften are to cease immediately. To deter possible retribution for this act, you are to take immediate steps to protect our assets in any way you see fit. I think you’ll find that the Thieves Guild is far more bark than bite and will likely avoid Goldenglow Estate rather than thin their already-dwindling numbers.

Good luck and may this be the start of a long and lucrative partnership.

Naturally, the note’s unsigned—Gallus supposed it would be too much to ask for it to be that easy—but he can guess at a few things from this, at least. For one thing, whoever bought Goldenglow Estate is directly targeting the Thieves Guild. That’s concerning, to say the least. For another, whoever this mysterious person is, they don’t have a very high opinion of the Thieves Guild.

Most importantly, there’s two names listed in the letter. One of them is Aringoth, the Bosmer running the place that Brynjolf mentioned earlier. The other… Gajul-Lei… Gallus can’t say he’s heard that name before (or if he has, he obviously can’t remember it) but it sounds vaguely Argonian, and he’s sure someone from the Guild will know who that is.

He stands, slips the paper into a side pocket, and heads into a nearby trapdoor. This time, he actually climbs down the ladder instead of jumping in feet-first. Somehow, though, he’s got a hunch that the trapdoor might just connect up with the sewers.

It does, and Gallus finds himself slipping back into the darkened streets of Riften just before dawn. While he hasn’t let his guard down entirely in… some time, not since he came here, now that he’s not in immediate danger he can do some much-needed thinking on… a lot of things.

He knows who he was, finally. He was the former Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, and his name was in fact Gallus. That or it’s a coincidence to put all others to shame, but somehow he doubts that’s the case. There’s too much for it to be a coincidence, too many places and people that seem eerily familiar.

If he’s right, then a lot more than just his memories are at stake. He needs to know who tried to kill him, and keep one step ahead. That’s of course assuming that whoever had tried to kill him hadn’t succeeded. It’s a distinct possibility, just not one he wants to think about.

People don’t just come back from the dead, do they? Gallus supposes that he might know for sure what happened to him if he could actually remember something of his past, something of who he was. Regrettably, he can’t seem to recall a thing—and he’s tried. His only guide, then, is based on whatever feels familiar, and whatever he can figure out without asking too many questions.

No matter what, he hopes he wasn’t anything like the current lad in charge is now. Mercer… Frey, right. From the sound of things, they were friends. Gallus wouldn’t have thought he would have been friends with someone like that, so that leaves two possibilities.

One, that Mercer Frey is actually a lot nicer to people he actually knows and not random strangers like him who happen to look a lot like someone who’s supposed to be dead.

Two, that he was like that, once. He’d like to think he never was that much of an ass, but it’s a possibility. It’s a distinct possibility, and he couldn’t ignore it if he tried.


In retrospect, it might have been a better idea to wait a bit before returning to the Ragged Flagon and the Thieves Guild, although Gallus hadn’t known that initially. How was he supposed to know that Mercer had a completely unreasonable rule in place regarding sleeping during the day?

“That’s ridiculous,” Gallus mutters, not bothering to try and hide his exhaustion at this point. “We’re a group of thieves, aren’t we? Thieves generally work best at night, so it would make a lot more sense for people to get some sleep whenever they can.”

“Gallus said much the same thing once,” Brynjolf says dryly. If he notices Gallus stiffen slightly, he doesn’t comment on it. “I don’t know what Mercer’s logic is, but trust me, lad—you do not want to be passed out anywhere near here when he gets in.”

Gallus frowns, blinks back the sleep in his eyes, and asks, “Why is he the leader?”

“What?”

He hears the warning in Brynjolf’s tone, but chooses to ignore it, saying, “Leaders are supposed to make decisions that are good for everyone. Rules are supposed to be there for a reason, and not because the leader doesn’t like something.”

“Mercer probably does have some sort of a reason, even if he’s not telling us it,” Brynjolf says after a moment. “And look—lad, I like you, so I’m going to give it to you straight. Mercer might be a bit of an arse-”

“A bit of one?” Gallus asks innocently. Brynjolf sighs.

“You’re right,” he says, “but you shouldn’t say it. The thing you’re missing is, the Guild wouldn’t exist without Mercer, and that’s just the truth of the matter. Sure, we’re not doing as well as anyone would like now, but we’d be doing a damn lot worse without him.”

“He’s still an arse.”

“Yeah, alright. If Mercer doesn’t show up soon, just go ahead and pass out somewhere that’s not too obvious. I’ll get someone to wake you before Mercer notices.”

Mercer doesn’t show up soon. In fact, Mercer doesn’t show up at all for the better part of the morning, so Gallus takes the opportunity to sleep off at least some of his fatigue in a darkened corner of what he assumes to be the training room. It seems like he’s barely closed his eyes when someone’s shaking him awake.

“Hey, Brynjolf told me to go find you, said that Mercer was here,” someone says. Gallus finds himself looking at another, younger Imperial, with a genuinely friendly look on his features and much more worn Guild leathers. “You awake…?”

“Yeah,” Gallus says. After a few moments, he gets to his feet. “If anyone asks, I was awake the whole time.”

The lad cracks an easy grin.

“Of course,” he says. “So you’re the one who did Goldenglow? Ragnar, right?”

“Yes.”

Gallus’ response is a little too curt, a little too clipped, but thankfully the other thief doesn’t pick up on it.

“My name’s Rune. Yeah, rune... just like you’re thinking.”

Gallus raises an eyebrow at that one. While he’s curious, he figures he can ask about that later. Instead, he says, “Well, I’m named after an exceptionally shitty drinking song, so…”

Rune snickers, and nods. “Yeah, I didn’t think anyone would ever be able to top mine. Then again, at least yours is a proper name.”

“You’re right, but I’m reasonably certain my mother is the only person in the past fifty years to name her kid Ragnar.

“Probably,” Rune says. “Hey, when Mercer lets you into the Guild, come find me. You’re pretty cool, even if you’re named after a drinking song.”

Gallus can’t help but crack a grin, but it fades when part of what Rune said fully registers. Confused, he repeats, “When Mercer lets me into the Guild?”

“Well yeah, he’d be a fool not to after you pulled off Goldenglow.”

They part ways at the door of the training room, and as Gallus heads over to where Mercer and Brynjolf are evidently discussing something (that may or may not involve him), he thinks that even if he was like Mercer once…

If there are thieves like Rune and Brynjolf in the Guild, he can live with his past. Even if he still can’t remember a thing.

Chapter Text

The look on Mercer’s face was completely and utterly priceless, and that alone could have made Gallus’ exhaustion worth it. Of course, that also meant that he clearly hadn’t expected him to come back alive—or at all, for that matter. Or, maybe, he’d expected Gallus to just skip out of Riften entirely. Either way, Gallus still can’t help but feel a small rush of pride at proving him wrong.

“So you actually pulled it off,” Mercer mutters.

“It was mostly-” Gallus realizes mid-sentence that telling the guy he needs to impress with his skills that it was mostly luck is probably a really, really bad idea. “I… yes. I did.”

“Very well, a deal’s a deal.” Mercer clears his throat, and says, “Before we continue, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. If you play by the rules, you walk away rich. You break the rules and you lose your share. No debates, no discussions... you do what we say, when we say. Am I clear?”

Gallus frowns, but eventually nods. He doesn’t like the part about him getting no say in the matter but, if worst comes to worst, he can probably work around that. He also has a sinking feeling that when Mercer says ‘we’, he means ‘I’. He’s an ass, true, but he has to have some redeeming values somewhere if he was friends with him at some point, before waking up without memories. Assuming that he is actually the Gallus that everyone here knows, which is pretty damn likely, in his opinion.

“Yes,” Gallus says after a moment, albeit unnecessarily. “I understand.”

Even if I don’t necessarily agree.

“Good. Since you somehow managed to pull off Goldenglow, you’re in. Welcome to the Thieves Guild…” He trails off, and looks at Gallus meaningfully.

“Ragnar,” Gallus says. The lie’s a little harder, which is… odd. He’s been telling so many people that his name is Ragnar lately that it should come easier at this point, if anything.

Mercer nods, “Welcome to the Thieves Guild, Ragnar. Now, if you’ll give that to me,” he holds out his hand for the paper from Goldenglow, which Gallus passes over with some reluctance, “You’re free to go.”


It takes Gallus some time to find Rune, and when he does it’s in an alcove slightly separate from the rest of the Cistern. There’s a couple of tables, what looks like a cooking pot, and an alchemy table, among other things. Of course, that’s all Gallus can take note of before Rune exclaims a greeting and he’s suddenly swept up in the conversation himself.

“So you made it in?” Rune asks. Gallus takes a seat next to him and offers what he hopes passes for a grin to the other thieves nearby. There’s a Nord woman with dark hair, light eyes, and a scowl that mirrors that of the only other woman in the Guild, a Bosmer looking a little too interested in him (and Gallus suspects he knows exactly why), and a couple of others whose features are difficult to make out.

“Yeah,” Gallus says. “Is it… normal to send recruits on the hardest jobs immediately?”

“Course not. Mercer probably just doesn’t like you.”

“Mercer doesn’t like anyone,” the Nord woman cuts in dryly. “I’m Sapphire. People started calling me that ‘cause I like to steal them, and it stuck.”

“Ragnar,” Gallus offers in return.

“Oh, I know,” Sapphire says. Her scowl’s still very much present, but there’s a hint of mirth in her eyes. “Rune wouldn’t shut up about the fact that there’s finally someone with a stranger name than him. Real name, anyway. The better thieves among us don’t use them.”

As amusing as it would be to inform Sapphire that Ragnar isn’t actually his real name, that would be defeating the purpose and completely undermining himself, so Gallus bites his tongue and watches as Rune quickly jumps to defend himself.

“Hey, I like my real name,” Rune cuts in with no real malice in his words, “and I mean—you’re forgetting a lot of people, Brynjolf for one. He’s good. Then there’s Delvin, Cynric, Mercer...”

“Come on Rune, let me have this. And anyway, can we really count Mercer? He’s an arse.”

That seems to be the prevailing sentiment among most of the Thieves Guild. Gallus wonders, not for the first nor last time, how Mercer Frey came to be the leader of the Thieves Guild if nobody liked him.

“He’s an arse,” the Bosmer says, “but he’s good at what he does. Not as good as Gallus though.” His gaze doesn’t leave Gallus’ as he says this. It’s likely a good thing that Gallus has a lot of practice with looking confused, even if he’s more curious than anything else now.

“Who are we talking about?” Gallus asks.

“Guildmaster before Mercer. Less of an arse, but maybe that’s why he got murdered.”

Gallus tries not to look too interested, but his thoughts are racing at a pace almost too fast for him to follow. From what he can tell, everyone that knew him had gotten on with him… except evidently someone hadn’t, because he’d gotten murdered.

More likely is the possibility that he’d survived and escaped, but evidently it’s been some time between then and now. It’s possible he hadn’t thought it safe to come back, but Gallus won’t know that for sure unless he starts remembering things and soon. Seeing as he hasn’t yet, he has to consider the possibility that he won’t remember, even if he doesn’t like it. He does want to remember, even if he’s not so sure he likes the person he was. If worst comes to worst, he could always just leave. He might still do that.

But on the other hand… he can see how this could be a good thing, a Guild of Thieves. There are some things that those in power could change, but choose not to; some things that nothing can be done about—legally, that is.

In the Guild’s current iteration, Gallus highly doubts Mercer would care, especially not coming from the newest thief in the Guild, but as himself—as Gallus the Guildmaster—he could change that. It wouldn’t be easy, but he could do it. It would take time, but he could do it. Regaining his memories would certainly make things easier, as then he’d be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt who he really is, but he could do it without.

His first priority, then, is figuring out who tried to kill him and ensuring it can’t happen again. He can’t ask too many questions, because he’s essentially stumbling around in the dark with regards to his own fate. He needs to know what happened to him to avoid it, and the longer he can keep anyone from learning that his name is not in fact Ragnar, the better.

“Hey, Ragnar, you listening?” Rune cuts in, unceremoniously pulling Gallus out of his thoughts. He quickly shakes his head.

“Sorry, I should have been paying better attention,” Gallus says, a little sheepishly. “What did I miss?”

“Not much, but I’m Niruin,” the Bosmer says. “These two are Ravyn and Vipir the Fleet —”

“Niruin, by Shor , that was one time, ” the closer of the others mutters, presumably Vipir. “I panicked, okay?”

“The vast majority of thieves wouldn’t run from Windhelm to here because they panicked, ” says the last. Gallus catches a glimpse of grey lips quirked up in a wry smile, and between that and his name, he figures that Ravyn is Dunmer.

“As I said,” Vipir repeats, “One. Time.”

“Oh, really? That’s where it’s from? Huh,” Sapphire deadpans. “And here I was thinking you were named after your bedroom prowess.”

It’s a damn good thing Gallus wasn’t drinking anything, because if he had been he would have done a spit take. Some of the others weren’t so lucky, most notably Rune, who nearly choked on his drink.


Days pass without incident. Gallus begins to settle in with the Guild, but he doesn’t dare to let his guard down. Asking too many questions is a risk he’d rather not take, so he doesn’t, instead listening closely whenever the conversation turns to the man he was. He takes jobs—incidentally, he hasn’t gotten a single one outside of Riften yet, and he doubts that’s an accident, just another reason he needs to be careful because someone’s keeping an eye on him—makes friends, and all the while tries to figure things out.

He doesn’t make much headway until Brynjolf pulls him aside one night and informs him that a woman by the name of Maven Black-Briar wants to meet with him the next morning. Something about that name unnerves him, and it wouldn’t be entirely strange for the new kid to be curious about someone he’s never heard of, so he asks.

“Why me?” Gallus says, although he has a bad feeling he already knows why. It has to be either that she’s suspicious of who he really is—despite having not actually met him yet, oddly enough—or something to do with Goldenglow. Or, possibly, both.

“Well, I’d say it was because of Goldenglow,” Brynjolf says, “but she did ask for you by name.”

Gallus frowns, “Is that bad?”

Brynjolf’s poorly hidden grimace tells him all he needs to know.

“Just be careful, lad,” he says. “Personally—and you didn’t hear this from me—I can’t stand the woman, but she’s one of the last people you want to cross.”

“And we haven’t told her to piss off why?”

“Several reasons,” Brynjolf mutters, although it almost looks like he’s hiding a smile for a few moments there. “Let’s see… she’s the only person of any influence that hasn’t given up on us entirely, she’s got connections with the Dark Brotherhood, she’s far too friendly with Mercer, and I could keep going. Do you really want me to?”

“No,” Gallus says after a moment. Brynjolf doesn’t catch the lie.

Chapter Text

Things had been going relatively well so far, even if they were particularly slow-going. Gallus is all but certain of who he was now, even if that brings up even more questions that he doesn’t know the answers to.

Since he’s still trying to figure that out, when Brynjolf mentioned that someone named Maven Black-Briar wanted to see him, Gallus had agreed immediately—after all, she might have known him. Of course, once Gallus actually meets the woman, he sincerely hopes he didn’t know her, although the calculating look in her eyes when he slides into the seat opposite her clearly suggests otherwise.

Maven Black-Briar—or Lady Maven Black-Briar, if you feel like kissing her arse—is a rather short woman who might have been attractive once. The years have clearly taken their toll on her appearance, though if the cruel glint in her gaze is any indication, her mind’s only grown sharper with time. She’s a Nord who clearly prefers trickery to outright fighting, which might sound like an impossibility but certainly isn’t in her case.

“So you’re the one,” Maven says dryly, somehow managing to look even less interested than she was before. “Hmm. You don’t look so impressive.”

Gallus briefly considers countering that with something equally demeaning to her own particularly unimpressive appearance, but it’s probably not a good idea to piss her off. Especially not since Brynjolf mentioned she’s the Thieves Guild’s biggest (and at the moment, possibly only) client.

“How about we skip the conversation?” Gallus says instead. It comes out a little harsher than he intended, but he doesn’t take it back. Instead, he meets Maven’s gaze, and hopes that he didn’t just screw himself over.

(She does nod after a moment, and he thinks he can see a hint of respect in her eyes for a few seconds after, so maybe he didn’t.)

“It’s about time Brynjolf sent me someone with business sense,” Maven mutters. “I was beginning to think he was running some sort of beggar’s guild over there.”

Gallus frowns.

“Mercer’s in charge, isn’t he?” He asks, looking at her strangely.

“Well of course. My mistake, Gallus.”

“Also-” Suddenly, he realizes she called him by his name, not his alias. Either she knows, or she’s trying to catch him in a lie. Smart, but it’s not going to work.

“It’s Ragnar, actually,” he continues after a brief pause. “Long story that I highly doubt you’re interested in hearing. We wouldn’t want to waste your valuable time, now, would we?”

“Of course not,” she agrees. “I have an important job for you, Ragnar, and you’d better hope for your sake that your work in Goldenglow wasn’t a fluke.”

“It wasn’t. What do you want me to do?”


If I didn’t know any better, Gallus thinks to himself, I’d think she was trying to get me killed.

Initially, he’d thought that bringing down Honningbrew Meadery would be an easy job. After all, everything was already planned out so Gallus ‘wouldn’t have to improvise’, to quote Maven herself. The brewmaster, a particularly irritable Nord by the name of Sabjorn, wasn’t exactly the type Gallus would feel bad about framing, anyway.

The plan was simple: get a jar of pest poison from Sabjorn by posing as someone who wanted work, slip the pest poison into the mead vats while clearing out the skeevers, and watch as everything falls apart. Naturally, executing said plan was nowhere near as simple, and could have gone south very, very easily. The skeevers had been bad enough on their own; there were far too many of them and had, somehow, become venomous.

Somehow, both Maven Black-Briar and Mallus Maccius had neglected to mention  that there was a very pissed off, very insane alchemist living in the meadery’s basement—and, evidently, attempting to breed an army of skeevers. Venomous skeevers, as if the regular ones weren’t bad enough.

If not for a few well-placed illusion spells, Gallus could have very well have died there.

He doesn’t think he caught anything from the many, many skeever bites the job resulted in, or at least, he hopes he didn’t. He does feel a little more stiff than normal, which could be something bad or could just be his imagination. Either way, if he gets a chance he’ll get it checked out. Preferably sooner rather than later.

At the moment, though, he’s got to report back to Maven Black-Briar with the good news that the job was, in fact, a success. Once he’d actually made it through the mead vats and poisoned them, the rest of the job went off exactly as planned. The Whiterun captain of the guard was quite disgusted, and then proceeded to haul Sabjorn off to jail.

(Gallus is pretty sure the man wouldn’t recognize him as that spellsword training with the Companions not that long ago, but even so, he kept his head down when they were in the same room. Better safe than sorry.)

Mallus, meanwhile, was thrilled at the outcome, and eagerly agreed to let Gallus search the premises for anything of interest. He didn’t find much, but that he did find was concerning, to say the least. Apparently, whoever had sabotaged Goldenglow was also helping Sabjorn.

Before Gallus steps around the corner to where Maven’s undoubtedly waiting, he pulls out the letter he’s found once again and studies it one last time.

Sabjorn,

Within the enclosed crate, you'll find the final payment. As we discussed, Honningbrew Meadery should now begin brewing mead at full production. In regards to your concerns about interference from Maven Black-Briar, I can assure you that I'll do everything in my power to keep her assets and her cronies at bay. This is the beginning of a long and successful future for both of us.

Once again, it’s unsigned, save by that mysterious mark at the top. Gallus frowns, folds the note up, and keeps going. Within a matter of moments, he slips once again into the seat across from Maven Black-Briar. She looks down her nose at him.

“Well?” She demands. “I trust you have good news for me.”

“Honningbrew Meadery won’t be a problem anymore,” Gallus says, “and I found this.” He slides the note across the table. She picks it up, unfolds it, and begins reading.

“This doesn't tell me much,” she says to herself after a long moment. “The only thing that could identify Sabjorn's partner is this odd little symbol.”

“It’s the same one from Goldenglow,” he says.

“I wasn’t talking to you. Now, whoever this mysterious marking represents, they’ll regret starting a war with me.” Gallus frowns, but says nothing as she continues, “You should bring this information to the Thieves Guild immediately. There’s also the matter of your payment. I believe you’ll find this more than adequate for your services.”

It really isn’t, but it’s at least enough that, if he did catch something from the skeevers, he can get it checked out and (hopefully) cured.

That aside, clearly Maven Black-Briar had known him before his amnesia and, if his immediate dislike of her is any indication, they weren’t exactly friends. He considers, briefly, the possibility that she might have had a hand in his death, but quickly dismisses it. After all, if she’d wanted him dead, the odds were that she wouldn’t have put one of his friends in charge, right?

Either way, he still doesn’t trust her.

Chapter Text

“Ah, there you are,” Mercer says without glancing up as Gallus approaches him. “I've consulted my contacts regarding the information you recovered from Goldenglow Estate, but no one can identify that symbol.”

“Whoever it is has it in for Maven Black-Briar,” Gallus says, and passes Mercer the paper from Honningbrew. His eyes scan it quickly, and his scowl deepens. “Possibly us as well.”

“So it would seem. If that is the case, then they’re attempting to take us apart indirectly by angering Maven. Very clever.”

Gallus nods, and mentally takes note of the fact that apparently, he and Maven Black-Briar are on a first-name basis. Interesting.“Maybe we should recruit them,” he says sort of as a joke but,when Mercer’s gaze lifts from the paper and meets his own, he realizes he’s quite serious.

“You jest,” Mercer says, “but they’ve been able to avoid identification for years. They’re obviously well-funded, driven, and patient.” He folds up the paper again, opens a drawer in his desk, and slips it inside.

“Just, don't mistake my admiration for complacency,” Mercer adds after a moment. “Our nemesis is going to pay dearly.”

“You’ve found them?” Gallus asks, partially out of curiosity, and partially because he has a pretty good idea that when Mercer does find whoever their nemesis is, he won’t be getting any sleep for a while.

“No, but we will, soon,” Mercer shakes his head. ”Even after all their posturing and planning, they’ve made a mistake. The parchment you recovered from Goldenglow mentioned a ‘Gajul-Lei’. According to my sources, that’s an old alias used by one of our contacts. His real name is Gulum-Ei. Slimy bastard.”

From the sound of the name, Gallus can guess that Gulum-Ei is an Argonian, but honestly not much else. Silently, he nods for Mercer to continue.

“Gulum-Ei is our inside man at the East Empire Company in Solitude. I'm betting he acted as a go-between for the sale of Goldenglow Estate and that he can finger our buyer. Get out there, shake him down and see what you come up with. Talk to Brynjolf before you leave if you have any questions.”

Gallus nods, and heads for the Ragged Flagon. He doesn’t have any questions, but he could use a drink before he gets going again.

Alright, maybe he has a few questions, but his point still stands. He needs a drink.


Gulum-Ei isn’t particularly hard to find, partially because at the time he’s the only Argonian in the tavern in question, and partially because when his eyes meet Gallus’, he nearly falls out of his chair. As Gallus approaches, he can faintly hear him whisper, “By the Hist…”

“Hello,” Gallus says pleasantly. “Do you mind if I sit here?” He nods to the empty seat

Gulum-Ei narrows his eyes, and says, “I told Mercer I wouldn’t deal with you lot anymore. Sending a ghost won’t change that.”

That’s all the confirmation Gallus needs that Gulum-Ei did, in fact, know him. Huh. Figuring that out can wait, however, because he’s got a job to do and he’s damn well going to do it. So, he pulls out the empty chair across from Gulum-Ei anyway, and takes a seat, folding his hands on the table before meeting the Argonian’s gaze.

“Look,” he says after a moment, “I know I look like someone from the Guild, some guy named… uh… Julius?”

“Gallus,” Gulum-Ei corrects immediately. He still looks hostile, and quite skeptical to boot.

“Right, Gallus. Look, that’s not me—”

“Of course you’re not him, Gallus died twenty-five years ago!”

Gulum-Ei’s words hit him like a punch to the gut, and not a light one, either.

Twenty-five years.

He’s been missing at the very least for twenty-five years. Who knows, he might have actually died, although that begs the question of how he’s alive now, and with amnesia no less. He might actually know the answer to that, and several other things besides, if he could remember something from before waking up in that tomb. Which… may very well have been his own, if he actually died. Which he might have, if he’s been missing for twenty-five years and somehow looks the same, or at the very least similar enough that anyone who did know him recognized him instantly.

Still. Twenty-five years.

No wonder he’s had such a hard time finding people who knew him. Probably some of them are dead, and any others (like the Thieves Guild) must have long since given up on any hope of seeing him again. And someone killed him, because somehow he doubts his death was an accident. He suspects Maven Black-Briar was involved, although he highly doubts she did it herself. Which means someone else did the job… but who?

Okay, he can figure that one out later. Right now he’s got a job to do.

“Right. Obviously. That obviously means I’m not him,” Gallus says after a pause that’s just long enough for Gulum-Ei to start eyeing him even more suspiciously. “I’m Ragnar, anyway.”

“I don’t care,” Gulum-Ei says.

“Fair enough,” Gallus’ eyes don’t leave Gulum-Ei’s, and after a much briefer pause he says, “So. Goldenglow Estate. Who was the buyer?”

Gulum-Ei hesitates just a moment too long before saying, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Bullshit,” Gallus says. “I know you know something about it, because you helped sell it.”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t,” Gulum-Ei says. “I can’t be expected to remember every deal I handle, can I?”

Brynjolf’s words back in the Flagon echo in his thoughts. Gulum-Ei only responds to one thing, and that’s bribery, lad. Whether it’s by finding dirt on him or paying him off, just make sure you can do it.

Gallus sighs, pulls out a few gold pieces, and slips them across the table. Gulum-Ei laughs roughly, and shakes his head.

“You’re going to have to do better than that,” he says. “If you’re the best the Guild’s got—well, they’re in worse shape than even I thought!”

“Fine,” Gallus takes his gold back, because thank you very much he’s keeping that if Gulum-Ei doesn’t want it. “What would it take for you to remember this particular deal?”

Gulum-Ei’s wide, toothy smile reminds him of a slaughterfish’s maw.

“I’m glad you asked,” he says.

One stolen case of expensive-looking wine later, Gulum-Ei finally caves, somewhat. (Really, though, he barely caves at all, much to Gallus’ annoyance. He did not nearly screw up and get a price on his head for this.)

“I was approached by a woman who wanted me to act as the broker for something big,” he says. “She flashed a bag of gold in my face and said all I had to do was pay Aringoth for the estate. I brought him the coin and walked away with her copy of the deed.”

“That’s it?” Gallus asks. “You don’t know anything else.” He stares the Argonian down, daring him to lie.

“No,” Gulum-Ei says with the fakest smile Gallus has ever seen plastered on his face. He drums his claws on the table, and continues, “I tend not to ask too many questions when I'm on the job. I'm sure you understand. However…”

“However?”

“I did notice she was quite angry, and it was being directed at Mercer Frey.”

Honestly, I can’t say I blame her. Lad’s an arse.

Gallus sighs, and says, “I don’t suppose you got her name?”

“No. I did not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe that concludes our business.”

Gulum-Ei gets up and leaves in a hurry, which would be suspicious enough even if he hadn’t heard from multiple sources that this particular individual cannot, under any circumstances, be trusted. So, Gallus slips outside, and follows him. He follows him through a warehouse belonging to the East Empire Company (and, while he briefly considers grabbing some of their goods while he’s here, he’s got a job to do). He follows him into a cave and slips past the bandits holed up within.

It’s when Gulum-Ei finally relaxes, lets down his guard, that Gallus clears his throat. He’s got his sword out, mainly because he was expecting to have to fight some bandits. He was pleasantly surprised in that none of them were at all observant when it came to someone sneaking past.

“Xuth!” Gulum-Ei swears as he whirls around. He quickly raises his hand in the universal gesture of surrender, and takes one step back, then another. “There’s no need to do anything rash, this isn’t as bad as it seems—I was going to tell Mercer everything, honestly! Please… he’ll have me killed!”

Gallus sighs, and reluctantly sheaths his sword.

“Not if I have any say in the matter, he won’t,” Gallus says. He could, of course, tell Gulum-Ei exactly how important he is to the Guild at the moment, but his ego doesn’t need any inflating and that wouldn’t work. “Now, talk.”

“Karliah!”

Gallus looks at Gulum-Ei strangely. That sounds like a name, and somehow, it feels like one he should know. He doesn’t, needless to say.

“What do you mean,” Gallus asks after a long moment.

“Karliah. She’s the one who bought Goldenglow. I’m—I didn’t know it was her until after, otherwise I never would have agreed to the deal!”

“Who’s Karliah?”

This time, it’s Gulum-Ei’s turn to look at him strangely, and he exclaims, “You don’t know?

“Let’s assume I don’t,” Gallus says. “Who is she?”

“She’s the thief responsible for murdering the previous Guild Master. Now she’s after Mercer, and I—speaking of which, I’m surprised he never told you about her, considering—”

“I look like him,” he concludes. Gulum-Ei nods, and another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Well, I guess I know who tried to kill me, or—to Oblivion with it, maybe she did actually kill me, I don’t even know at this point, Gallus thinks. And, if I’m not careful, she might try to finish the job… gods, this isn’t good.

“She’s after Mercer,” Gulum-Ei says, “but if she sees you? You’re dead, no matter who you actually are. You are so, so, so dead.”

“And you’re helping her?”

“What…? No, no! Look, I didn’t even know it was her until after the deal was made. Please, you have to believe me!”

“I believe you,” Gallus says, although he highly doubts he’s telling the truth about not knowing. He likely knew all along, but for now? He’s worth leaving alive, unfortunately. “You wouldn’t happen to know where she is now, would you?”

Gulum-Ei swallows nervously, and says, “When I asked her where she was going she just muttered, ‘Where the end began.’ I—here, take the deed as proof.” He shoves a paper at Gallus, who quickly takes it. “And when you speak to Mercer, tell him I’m worth more to him alive!”

I think he knows, Gallus thinks to himself, but I’m not about to tell you as much. Aloud, he says, “I can do that.”

Chapter Text

“So. Did Gulum-Ei give up any information on our buyer?”

Gallus nods, and takes a deep breath. He’d attempted to give the information to Brynjolf, asked him to relay it along to Mercer, but Brynjolf had refused and sent him to Mercer himself. So, he probably isn’t getting any sleep tonight. It’s too bad, he’s been feeling a bit down lately.

“Karliah,” Gallus says, and for the first time Gallus can recall, for a few, short moments, Mercer looks genuinely afraid. “He said it was a woman named Karliah, who…”

“Murdered Gallus,” Mercer finishes. “No, it… it can’t be.”

Gallus wordlessly offers him the deed to Goldenglow Estate. Mercer doesn’t take it. Gallus eventually just puts it on his desk and continues standing there awkwardly.

“I haven’t heard that name in decades,” Mercer says after a long silence. “This is grave news indeed, she’s someone I’d never hoped to cross paths with again. Karliah destroyed everything this Guild stood for. She murdered my predecessor—Gallus—in cold blood and betrayed the Guild. After we discovered what she'd done, we spent months trying to track her down, but she just vanished.”

“Why would she come back now?” Gallus asks, although he has a sinking feeling he might know exactly why, and it might just have everything to do with him.

“She’s been doing this for years if this is her, she’s not just coming back now,” Mercer says. “Did Gulum-Ei give up anything on what she wants now?”

“He said she was after you.”

Mercer swears so loudly and so violently that a couple of the thieves hanging out on the other side of the Cistern glance up. Gallus raises an eyebrow, and privately files away that particular curse for future use. Possibly for the next time he gets roped into fighting a dragon.

“Of course she is,” Mercer says bitterly. “If she kills me, there will be no one left who could possibly catch her, and she knows it. I know her techniques, her skills… So. I don’t suppose you got any information on her current whereabouts?”

“Gulum-Ei said, ‘Where the end began.’ Do you…?”

“Snow Veil Sanctum,” Mercer concludes. The name sounds vaguely familiar, like one he should know, but doesn’t. Almost like a lot of things have lately. “The last place I saw her, and the last place I saw Gallus alive. We have to go out there before she disappears again.”

Gallus nods, and says, “So how do I get there?” Suddenly, another part of what Mercer says clicks, and his eyes go wide.

“Hang on,” Gallus continues, “did you say we?

I’m not getting sent alone for once? Huh. That’s… surprisingly helpful.

“Are you deaf? Of course I did,” Mercer says. “I’m going with you, and together we’re going to kill her. Prepare yourself and meet me outside the city as soon as you can. We can’t let her slip through our fingers.”

Gallus nods automatically, and says, “Got it.”

(Even so, something about this feels… wrong, almost, and he can’t quite put his finger on why.)


The two thieves begin riding for Windhelm in a tense, heavy silence, and Gallus quickly discovers Mercer Frey is not one for small talk. Even so, he tries.

“Where did you get the horses?” Gallus asks, genuinely curious.

Mercer glares, and says, “Don’t ask dumb questions, Ragnar.

Gallus takes the hint and shuts up, at least for the time being. He probably either stole the horses or got them from Maven Black-Briar. Speaking of which, Gallus would ask what exactly is going on between Mercer and Maven, if anything—but that probably would get an even icier glare than before. Few things wouldn’t, actually, Mercer isn’t exactly the friendliest sort.

And yet, presumably he was friends with Mercer at some point, before he was murdered. Mercer’s got to have some redeeming values. It probably doesn’t help things that he’s definitely reminding Mercer of his supposed-to-be-dead friend.

It’s me, Gallus! He wants to scream. I mean, sure, I can’t remember us being friends because I might have amnesia for some reason, but we were friends, right?

In all honesty, Gallus is sorely tempted to just tell him and be done with it, but there are a few things stopping him. The note he’d received just before entering Riften, for one. Clearly, the woman who’d written that had his best interests at heart, even if he doesn’t know who she is. If he had known her, once, probably Mercer would have as well.

“Hey, Mercer,” Gallus says after a while.

“What is it now,” Mercer says with a long-suffering sigh.

Gallus opens his mouth, then closes it. There’ll be plenty of time to ask Mercer about the woman who’d saved his life once he’s no longer in any danger of dying, possibly for a second time. So, instead, he asks, “What was Karliah like? Before… you know…”

“She was a stubborn little Dunmer,” Mercer says finally. “Always had to do everything her way. But she was the best, bringing in more coin a month than some thieves heist in a year. Gallus trusted her too much and I let them get too close.”

Dunmer…

Gallus’ thoughts go instantly to a certain Dunmer woman, one with distinctive indigo eyes who had always changed the subject when he’d asked her name. She had seemed oddly familiar, in more ways than one, but…

If his gut feeling is right, if she’s Karliah, then why wouldn’t she have just left him to die in Helgen—or, even better, killed him herself?

Gallus frowns, and thinks on the second part of what Mercer said—that he let them get too close. It doesn’t take him long to put two and two together, and when he does, he asks, “They were... lovers?” He’s honestly going out on a limb here, and yet he’s not particularly surprised by Mercer’s curt nod.

“If you want to call it that, yes,” Mercer shrugs carelessly. “Me, I think she was softening him for the kill. He would call her his ‘little nightingale’, you know. He was absolutely smitten by her.”

“Gods,” Gallus breathes, still trying to take this all in. He briefly considers asking Mercer what color her eyes were, but decides against it. He’ll have plenty of time to see for himself once it’s all over, and if it is her, he fully intends to get some answers of his own. “Why did she kill him?”

Mercer shrugs again, and answers, “Greed? Jealousy? Spite? Who can say what drove her to such an iniquitous act. One thing's certain, I intend to find out before she draws her last breath.”

He doesn’t speak again, leaving Gallus to think on what he’s learned with more than a bit of horror at Karliah’s actions.

How could she...?

Gallus frowns, shakes his head to clear his thoughts and help some with his headache—it doesn't help, he really should know better by now—and presently looks to Mercer again.

“So how far are we from… Snow Veil Sanctum?” He asks.

“Not far,” Mercer says. “We’ll get there before nightfall.”


They do, indeed, reach Snow Veil Sanctum within a couple of hours. As Gallus dismounts, and gives his horse a few pats and a whispered thanks for riding so hard, an intense, almost overwhelming feeling of nostalgia hits him.

I’ve been here before, Gallus realizes, and since I lost my memories, too.

Even so, he can’t quite put a finger on when. As far as he can remember, he’s only been in a few ancient Nordic ruins, all of which he knew the names of. Labyrinthian. Dustman’s Cairn. Bleak Falls Barrow.

Minus that one he woke up in, which—wait. Wait.

Gallus’ eyes go wide as he realizes that, apparently, he’d woken up in the same place he’d died. Possibly. Maybe. Assuming that he did, in fact, wake up in Snow Veil Sanctum—but if he remembers his Skyrim geography at all, the place he woke up in would have been in the general vicinity of this ruin, and there can’t be too many Nordic ruins in the area. So maybe, yes. It’s a little ironic.

With this in mind, he cracks a grin, and scratches his horse under its chin. It nickers softly, and nudges him as if asking for treats. He sighs, and shakes his head. It nudges him again.

Fine, once all this is over, he’s definitely asking Mercer where he got this horse and if he can keep it because this one is a sweetheart.

Of course, he’s barely decided that before a scream splits the air. It’s not human, and actually, it sounds suspiciously like a horse’s whinny. Gallus and his horse exchange confused glances, because Mercer’s horse looks fine, and actually- wait. Where’s Mercer?

“Stay here,” Gallus tells the horse unnecessarily, and leaves.

He finds Mercer next to the still-cooling corpse of a third horse. When Gallus walks up, he turns, a sword still in his hand—Dwemer make, Gallus happens to notice—and mutters, “Karliah’s horse. She won’t be using it to escape.”

“Good idea,” Gallus nods, even though he feels kind of really bad for the horse. It’s not like it was the horse’s fault that Karliah…

That... Karliah…

Gallus swallows, blinks hard, and returns his attention to Mercer, who doesn’t seem bothered by the situation at all. It’s a little odd, actually, but Gallus thinks nothing of it at the time. Evidently Mercer’s been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.

“Of course it is, it’s my idea. Now, let’s get moving. I want to catch her inside while she’s distracted. Take the lead.”

Gallus simply stares at Mercer for a moment, because—what? Why?

Do you… know?

“You want me to lead?” He asks, unable to keep the sheer curiosity out of his words if he tried—not that he tried very hard this time, to be fair. “Why?”

Mercer levels a cold glare at him, and says, “I’m sorry, I was under the impression I was in charge. You’re leading and I’m following. Is that clear to you or not?”

Gallus simply nods, and does his best to ignore the new questions he has.

Chapter Text

Even as Gallus is incredibly on edge, and for more reasons than one, he can’t help but notice that he and Mercer work surprisingly well together. Or… maybe not surprisingly, since they had been friends at one point in time. Presumably they’d worked together more than once or twice in the past, right? Maybe?

It’s only when they’ve gone some time without coming across any Draugr that Gallus dares to say, “We make a good team.”

“Really?” Mercer sets his sword against the wall momentarily, and cracks his knuckles before picking it up again and slipping it into his sheath. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“No, really,” Gallus says. “We work… really well together.”

Mercer shrugs, and says, “It happens. Don’t get used to it, Ragnar.”

Gallus, or ‘Ragnar’, frowns. After a few moments, he makes up his mind, and says, “Look, there’s… something I need to tell—”

“Save it for after we catch Karliah,” Mercer interrupts. “We’re close, I’m sure of it—and shut up, I need to concentrate.”

Evidently, he didn’t have to concentrate very hard, because it’s only a few moments until the door begins to sink into the ground with a surprisingly quiet rumble. Mercer’s evidently bypassed the puzzle somehow, because Gallus distinctly recalls him saying something about how the doors were normally impenetrable without the matching claw.

Two birds and a snake, Gallus thinks idly as he notes the combination. As the door slides down into the floor, Mercer takes a big step back, then another, and draws his sword surprisingly quietly. Gallus considers doing the same, then decides against it for now.

“After you,” Mercer says, gesturing with his sword. Despite his apprehension, Gallus nods, and steps over the threshold. He has just enough time to realize that this looks exactly like the place he woke up in before it happens.

The quiet twang of a bowstring echoes throughout the chamber, and there’s suddenly a sharp, burning lance of pain in his upper leg. He’s left with just enough time to glance down and realize, with some horror, that there’s an arrow sticking out—a black-feathered one. His eyes go wide, and his lips part in a wordless scream before everything blurs, and his legs stop working, arms too—and he falls.


When Gallus blinks back to consciousness, there’s a dull throbbing in his leg, and he really doesn’t want to know how bad it is. As he slowly becomes more aware of his surroundings, the throbbing increases, painfully so. He sees two figures: Mercer, and a hooded figure with a bow that must be Karliah. Despite the fact that he literally can’t move, relief floods his thoughts. Mercer might be an arse, but he won’t leave him to die. He trusts him.

“Do you honestly think your arrow will reach me before my blade finds your heart?” Mercer asks dryly, almost completely unperturbed. He doesn’t even have his sword drawn, which is… worrying. But he wouldn’t have put it away if he didn’t have a plan. He’ll be fine.

“Give me a reason to try,” she says bitterly. When Karliah speaks, it’s not with the triumph of a murderer, a killer. It’s with grief in her words, anguish. Loss. Not at all what Gallus was expecting.

What in Oblivion, Gallus wonders. If he could move, he would have frowned, thought on this. He’s still thinking on this, but his head hurts and he suspects most of it’s from the pain.

“You’re a clever girl, Karliah. Buying Goldenglow Estate and funding Honningbrew Meadery was inspired.”

Gallus’ vision is still vaguely blurry, but he can make out Karliah putting her bow away. Her hand instead goes to something on her belt, something that he can’t quite make out but the light glints off of… a potion?

“‘To ensure an enemy’s defeat, you must first undermine his allies,’” she says. “It was the first lesson Gallus taught us.”

Her voice cracks a little on Gallus’ name, his name—which can’t be right. She murdered him, without remorse if Mercer is to be believed.

“You always were a quick study.”

“Not quick enough, otherwise Gallus would still be alive.”

Mercer laughs. It’s a harsh sound, befitting the harsh realization that hits Gallus at that very moment. Karliah didn’t kill him. Which means…

No, it… it can’t be.

And yet it is. It has to be. Too many things add up, and he’s a fool for not realizing this sooner. He knew everything he needed to figure this out since they arrived at Snow Veil Sanctum, he was just too blind to see it. And now…

Now, Gallus suspects, it’s far too late for him to do anything. The fact that his body isn’t responding to anything or doing what he wants it to only supports that conclusion.

“Would he now? Perhaps you should take a closer look at who you did shoot. Ironic, really.”

Karliah turns her head just enough that she can see him, and he can finally see her eyes, clearly now. They’re indigo, and with that realization, the final piece of the puzzle falls into place. It’s too bad he’s going to die before he can act on it.

“Shadows help us,” she swears, horror quickly filling her gaze. It’s then that Gallus feels a boot jabbing rather roughly into his ribs, and considering that Karliah hasn’t moved…

Mercer.

It’s painful, and he grits his teeth. He doesn’t dare to cry out. He won’t give Mercer the satisfaction.

“When he showed up, I thought I was a goner,” Mercer says. “That’s when I realized—luck has truly forsaken the two of you, hasn’t it? Gallus doesn’t remember you, he doesn’t remember me, he doesn’t remember anyone. And he never will, but you’re welcome to try and save him.”

Karliah hesitates. Her gaze meets Gallus’ again.

Please, Gallus tries to say with his eyes, help me.

I don’t want to die!

Not... again.

Gallus sees it in her eyes when she makes her decision, or more accurately he sees her lower her eyes, guilt quite evident in them. She takes a step back, and firmly grasps the bottle—it is a bottle, then—on her belt. Within a matter of moments, she’s drained it, and fully disappeared from sight. It’s then, once Karliah’s truly gone, that Gallus loses any remaining hope that this wouldn’t end in death for him.

“I’m no fool, Mercer,” she says bitterly. Her low voice echoes almost hauntingly through the chamber. “Crossing blades with you would be a death sentence. But mark my words: the next time we meet, it will be your undoing.”

Gallus hears rather than sees her run for the exit. The gate slides up, and she’s gone. The gate, incidentally, is quite familiar too—as if Gallus needed any more confirmation that this was where he’d woken up, that he’s been here before. More likely than not, he’d died here the first time. And unless some kind of miracle happens… he’s about to die here a second time.

“How interesting,” Mercer drawls in a tone that conveys just how uninterested he is as he comes into view, then crouches directly in front of Gallus. There’s a roguish smirk on his face that could have been charming, if not for the current situation. “It appears your history has repeated itself, Gallus. You trusted me, you actually trusted me, again. Even if Karliah hadn’t provided me with the means to be rid of you for good, you weren’t going to make it out of here alive. You never were.”

Gallus fixes him with the most icy glare he can muster—which admittedly isn’t much, seeing as he’s on the ground and his face seems to be the only part of him responding. Mercer either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, and while that’s plenty unnerving, that and even the knowledge of his imminent death pale in comparison to something Gallus only just noticed.

He’s absolutely, positively terrified of what’s coming, even though he has a sinking suspicion he already knows what it is and it’s death. Logically speaking, that means his heart should be pounding away in his chest, but it’s not. If anything, it’s beating more slowly than usual, and that only adds to Gallus’ internal panic. It would be external, if not for an instinctive desire to not give Mercer the satisfaction.

“Well, Gallus,” Mercer says eventually, “Do you know what intrigues me the most?”

“Don’t care,” Gallus lies through gritted teeth. “Just get it over with.”

“I don’t think I will,” Mercer drawls on. “Whether you actually remember me or not, it doesn’t matter anymore. What does matter is that this was all only possible because of you. And now, because of you, I can finally rid myself of Karliah as well. So I should be thanking you, really. How ironic.”

Gallus opens his mouth to tell Mercer exactly where he can shove it, only to change his mind. Instead, with all the energy and force he can muster, he spits at Mercer’s feet. Mercer looks almost amused.

“On second thought,” Mercer says, “I do need to get back to Riften. After all, I would be doing our Guild a disservice by not informing them that Karliah’s struck again.”

Gallus wishes he could have thought of something, anything to say—but for once, he’s at a loss for words. Truth be told, he is at a loss for everything. Even the agony in his leg seemed detached, somehow, from him, as his fingers and toes begin to feel too cold for comfort.

In the absence of any dialogue, Mercer draws his sword once more, and continues, “Farewell, Gallus Desidenius, for the last time. I’ll be sure to give Karliah your regards when I cut her heart out of her chest.”

Mercer stabs. Dimly, Gallus is aware of a blinding pain in his chest as things begin to fade, and then everything goes black once more—except this time, with what little consciousness Gallus has left, he knows he won’t be waking up again.

Chapter Text

Biting her lip is all Karliah can do to keep herself from crying out when Mercer strikes, and she certainly wants to. But she can’t cry out, she can’t attack. The only thing she can do, now, is to remain silent and unnoticed. Otherwise, Mercer will discover she hasn’t actually left, and will strike her down on the spot. And then, where will Gallus be?

Dead, her thoughts whisper, and she can’t let that happen. Not again. So, she clamps both her hands over her mouth and leans against a nearby pillar for support. Her eyes begin to swim with tears that she doesn’t dare shed. She watches as Mercer stands, satisfied, and steps gingerly out of the slowly-growing pool of blood beneath him, beneath Gallus. Gallus, who couldn’t fight back if he tried at this point. Gallus, who might already be…

Dead, her thoughts whisper, but she has to believe that this will work. She has to believe that this will buy her enough time to save him. Her poison was designed to paralyze, yes, but it does so—well, did so, that was the last dose—by slowing the heart. The pool of blood—Gallus’ blood—is growing, yes, but not as fast as it could be. And it’s a somewhat good sign that it is still growing, contradictory as that might seem, because that means his heart’s still beating.

That, or she’s just telling herself that.

Karliah grits her teeth. By Nocturnal, she has to hope there’s at least some luck left for them. She can’t watch him die again. So, with that in mind, she returns her attention to Mercer, the murderer. Mercer, who briefly considers taking Gallus’ sword as a trophy, but evidently decides otherwise. Which is good, because if—no, when —he gets better, he’ll need his sword.

Mercer silently creeps up the steps and heads for the exit. He does a strange sort of gesture with his hand as he heads out, and the gate slams shut behind him. Likely something involving the Skeleton Key, but that’s not important. The important part is, Mercer is out and he clearly doesn’t intend on coming back anytime soon.

(In any case, he hadn’t been completely fooled by Karliah’s ruse, he had suspected she’d come back because he’d made it difficult for her to slip back in the way she’d supposedly left. What he hadn’t suspected, with any luck, was that she had, in fact, never actually left. But she’ll still need to be careful. She can’t risk screwing this up further.)

Karliah takes her chance, and runs for Gallus. She kneels beside him, doing her best to ignore the blood, and leans in across his prone form. Karliah presses her cheek to his, listening for something, anything. She could have cried from the sheer weight of her relief when his breath, although far too faint, was still there. He’s still breathing. He’s still alive.

He’s still breathing, thank the shadows, and Karliah wastes no time in going for her bag. She’s so, so glad that she’d had the foresight to have first aid supplies ready for if things went horribly wrong. She’ll likely need all of them in the near future.

“It’ll be okay, Gallus,” she whispers. He can’t hear her, but that isn’t about to stop her. “I’m here. And I—” Karliah’s voice cracks, and she has to swallow the knot in her throat. “I won’t let you die. Not again.”

He’s badly injured on several accounts, but the most pressing matter at the moment is where Mercer stabbed him. Karliah doesn’t consider herself to be much of a healer, but she is an alchemist, and she supposes she does know more than most. It’s been years, decades even since she’s had to perform first aid on anyone besides herself—twenty-five years, to be exact—but it doesn’t take much for her to fall back into the practiced motions of undoing a strap here and a buckle there.

It doesn’t seem so long ago since the last time she’d had to do this, nor so different. Except that Gallus’ armor as well as her own had been the darker leathers of senior thieves, and he hadn’t been anywhere near as close to death. He hadn’t even been unconscious, and he’d kept making her laugh with his dumb jokes and goofy grins.

She isn’t laughing now. Karliah’s already lost him once, and spent the next couple decades and then some regretting everything that led up to the end. The last thing she wants is to lose him again, and it’s with that in mind that she hastily empties about half of one bottle of healing potion on a folded bandage and presses it onto his stab wound before bandaging it up. Her potion—blue mountain flower and wheat, if she remembers correctly—is unfortunately much less effective this way, but it’ll be enough to keep him alive for now. Even so, Karliah frowns, makes a mental note to get his armor washed and patched up at some point or another, and moves on to the arrow sticking through his leg.

Her arrow. Not for the first time, and not for the last, she’s extremely relieved that she hadn’t shot to kill but to injure. Had she not intended to take Mercer alive, Gallus would be dead now, and it would have been her doing. Karliah unconsciously winces as she examines it. She hadn’t meant for the arrow to go all the way through, but the good news is, it’ll be easy to cut out.

The bad news is, there’s going to be a lot of blood going everywhere even with her poison slowing things down. She’ll need to patch both sides up quickly.

Karliah takes a deep breath to brace herself, pulls out her dagger, and lops off the arrowhead as close as she can. That’s unfortunately the easy part.Then, she makes sure she has everything ready to do this quick, and sucks in another breath as she pulls the rest of the arrow out. It’s for the best that Gallus isn’t awake for this—she knows from experience that it hurts. It also bleeds a lot, which is why Karliah rips a bandage in two, drenches them in potion, and packs both sides of his wound before wrapping it as tightly as she dares.

Once she’s reasonably certain that he won’t be bleeding out on her, Karliah takes a moment to survey her work. Gallus isn’t in the best shape, but once he wakes up—because he will wake up, she has to believe that—they can figure things out from there.

He’ll want answers. Anyone would, in these circumstances. It’s the right thing to do here, without a doubt, and yet Karliah finds herself dreading that conversation.

Even so, it’s a conversation they have to have sooner rather than later, and if they’d had it sooner, Gallus wouldn’t be here on death’s doorstep. Karliah had convinced herself to tell him not too long ago, only to find that she was too late and he was already well on his way to Riften. She could have caught up with him, but she hadn’t tried. Instead, she had written a note that, clearly, hadn’t done any good.

Karliah could have warned him exactly who to be wary of. She could have told him everything--but she’d trusted that he’d be fine on his own. He would have been fine on his own, if he had known. But he hadn’t, and because of that… because of her…

She shifts her position some, cradles Gallus’ head in her lap. Silently, she brushes his bangs out of his face, traces a single finger along his jawline, blinks back her tears. He’s got his hair tied back in that way he always does, always had, except for his bangs. He’d always said he liked having his bangs a little shorter than the rest of his hair, always thought it made him look more dashing, like the roguish heroes in children’s stories. He was right.

He was right about everything, just like he always was. For a few moments, with him lying there in her arms, Karliah can almost pretend that nothing’s changed at all. That they’re home, in Riften. That he’s still the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, and she hasn’t been exiled for his murder. But his breathing is a little too shallow, and his features are a little too pale, and that’s his blood still drying on the ground.

Karliah doesn’t want to have this conversation. She doesn’t want to have to tell him how everything went wrong, but… he needs to know. For once, he’s not the one with all the answers, and her lips almost quirk up in a grin at the sheer irony. It’s only almost, however, because while Karliah has more of the answers than him at this point, she suspects that he’s just as clueless as she is with respect to certain questions.

“How are you alive?” Karliah whispers, even though he can’t hear her, and even if he could he wouldn’t know the answer.

If Enthir is to be believed—and Karliah is long beyond doubting him at this point—Gallus didn’t know anything except his own name early on. He definitely wouldn’t know how he’s here now. But that’s alright. They can figure that out. Gallus is alive, and he’s going to stay that way. Mercer will certainly be in for a nasty surprise when the time comes. Gallus just has to wake up first.

Silently, almost hesitantly, Karliah plants a kiss on his forehead, tucks a stray strand of hair behind his ear, and whispers, “You’ll be okay.” She desperately hopes it’s the truth.

Chapter Text

Gallus knows this place well, perhaps better than he should. He’s standing near the entrance to an ancient Nordic ruin—deserted, with the notable exception of the draugr. He’s been here for hours, and he’s starting to wonder if Mercer’s coming to… wherever this place is.

Snow Veil Sanctum, his thoughts whisper. The name’s fitting, considering that a blizzard looks to be picking up around him, because of course it is, he can’t seem to catch a break these days when the weather’s involved. He rubs his arms reflexively, and shivers. Evidently his armor wasn’t crafted with blizzards in mind because he’s cold, tired, and quite honestly miserable.

“Mercer?” He calls, but receives no answer save the howling of the wind and the biting chill in his bones. He should be here, and he should be in the right place—Mercer’s directions had been quite clear.

Meet me outside Snow Veil Sanctum, his message, sent by courier, had read. We need to talk.

The note had been unsigned, but Gallus knew Mercer’s handwriting when he saw it. And so, despite his misgivings, he’d borrowed a horse and ridden north to Windhelm, then gotten more specific directions from the locals.

And now, he’s here—and Mercer Frey is nowhere in sight.

Gallus suspects that Mercer’s true motives in drawing him out here were, perhaps, less than noble. Perhaps he will die here, or perhaps Mercer will. Perhaps Gallus is wrong about all this, and Mercer is still his friend and companion. He sincerely hopes he’s wrong because, even if all the evidence points to the contrary, he doesn’t want to believe that Mercer’s done what he fears he’s done.

Gallus’ hand travels to his sword, and he briefly considers drawing it. If Mercer has led him here to kill him, then he might as well face the end with a sword in his hand. Eventually, he decides against it.

If Mercer hasn’t yet betrayed them, then having his sword at the ready would only push him further away. And if he has… if he’s taken the Key…

If Mercer has the Key, then Gallus suspects that being prepared to fight won’t buy him any more time. Perhaps a couple of seconds at most. But he can hope that Karliah will have seen the signs, and can escape when he cannot.

“Mercer?” Gallus calls, one final time. If Mercer still doesn’t show, he’s heading home, the Key be damned.

There’s still no answer, and the blizzard’s picking up even more. So Gallus sighs, resigns himself to the fact that Mercer’s not coming, and—

Gallus doesn’t get a warning. The next thing he hears is a soft, wet sliding sound, unmistakably metal tearing through flesh—but it’s not his own. He turns, just in time for Karliah to collapse into his arms, her ashen features already paling.

Her blood—it’s everywhere.

His eyes widen in horror, but it’s too late. She’s already gone. Glassy indigo eyes stare up at him sightlessly, and it doesn’t take long for Gallus’ shock to turn to grief. Cradling her body in his arms, he looks up to find Mercer, slowly and deliberately wiping her blood off his sword.

“You…” Tears well up in Gallus’ eyes, and he makes no move to wipe them away, nor draw his sword. Instead, he holds Karliah’s body close, burying his face in the crook of her still-warm neck. Her soft hair burns against his skin, but he cannot move, broken by her death and his betrayal. “How... could you?”

Mercer doesn’t answer. Gallus hears rather than sees or feels his final swing.


Gallus’ eyes fly open, and he awakens to his heart pounding in his chest. It hurts more than it should, burning with each breath he takes. He tries to move on instinct, but his arms feel heavy, and a sharp pain in his leg makes him gasp and stay still. He swallows, trying to bring some moisture to his parched throat, and notices that a chilly breeze is blowing, ruffling his bangs with a vengeance.

He’s not dead.

That can’t be right, because he has to be dead, he remembers that quite clearly. He remembers Karliah, the Dunmer woman with the indigo eyes, shooting him with an arrow. He remembers far too well Mercer, getting rid of him for good.

(Unfortunately, while he can remember back to waking up in Snow Veil Sanctum quite clearly, anything before that still isn’t coming—except, perhaps, in dreams. Although to be fair, he’s fairly sure that dream couldn’t be accurate. Clearly, Karliah hadn’t died there. That, he knows.)

In any case, he really should be dead. Which isn’t what he’d necessarily want, but that’s just how it is. People don’t just wake up from being dead—even if he did, once. It’s complicated.

So, maybe… he’s not dead? Being alive would be nice, he’s just not sure how, exactly. But he can figure that out later. Right now, he grits his teeth and focuses on propping himself up on his elbows. If he’s alive, then where is he?

The answer presents itself quickly: he’s just outside Snow Veil Sanctum, tucked into a bedroll to help stave off the cold. He knows he couldn’t have gotten out here on his own, not in his state. So, evidently, someone had gotten to him before he could bleed out, patched him up, and carried him out here. Whoever it was, they had— she had—saved his life. After all, there were only two people who had known he was there, and Mercer definitely wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of saving his life after attempting to take it again.

His gaze quickly finds the other potential individual and, while he really shouldn’t be surprised, it’s still a shock to see Karliah sitting nearby. She’s sitting cross-legged with her bow in her lap, and she’s leaning heavily against a nearby boulder with her eyes shut tightly. By all appearances, she’s fast asleep, and Gallus takes this opportunity to study her at last. Finally, he can put a name to her face.

Karliah.

Asleep, she looks more at peace than Gallus can ever recall seeing her before, although he does note, with some worry, the dark circles under her eyes. They’re a stark contrast to the much lighter ashen grey of her face, and would likely make an even starker one to her eyes.

Gallus briefly considers waking her, then decides against it. She looks like she could use the sleep, and he could certainly use some more time to wrap his own mind around all this. Unconsciously, he smiles slightly, then begins to edge his way out of the bedroll. Once there, he takes a deep breath, sits up—and suddenly, the only thing he can feel is pain .

With a strangled cry, Gallus falls back to the ground, arms around his midsection. His head spins, he can barely breathe, and darkness is creeping back into his vision. But no, he can’t go back to sleep, he can’t pass out again, so he fights it—as much as he can fight it when collapsed in a heap. Which, admittedly, isn’t much.

He tries rolling to the side, desperate to alleviate the pain, but the only thing he manages that way is making the pain from before seem trivial compared to now. He wants to scream, but all that comes out is a muted whimper. He can’t focus, he can’t even cry out for help, and so he curls up into a shaking pile of pain and misery.

Suddenly, someone’s there, pressed up against him, and her presence grounds him. Gallus melts into her touch, more out of instinct than out of anything more concrete, prompting a tired groan from his companion.

“Come on, Gallus, work with me here,” mutters a low, almost sleepy voice. After a moment’s hesitation, she pulls him up into a slightly less painful sitting position. Slightly, because everything still hurts and he can barely focus. He’s only dimly aware of something being shoved into his hands. It nearly slips through his grip. Fortunately, he manages to tighten his grasp just in time, and it doesn’t take him long then to realize it’s a bottle of… something. A potion, perhaps?

“Drink,” Karliah orders, and with her helping him, Gallus finds the strength to pull off the cork and swallow the contents. Almost instantly, he feels better, somewhat. His chest is still killing him, the leg still hurts like Oblivion, but he can focus better, and he doesn’t feel like he’s about to pass out anymore. That’s definitely a good sign.

“Now listen to me,” she continues. “You are going to stay like this for a while. Don’t try to stand up, you’ll pass out from the pain alone. Understand?”

Gallus bobs his head in agreement, and within a matter of seconds, he’s looking at a Dunmer woman he feels he should know much better than he does. Her eyes are filled with concern, and something else Gallus can’t quite place.

“How are you feeling?” Karliah asks, then crouches in front of him. Gallus attempts to shrug carelessly, but this only results in a pained wince on his part.

“Could be better,” Gallus says, “but considering that I’m not apparently not dead…?”

He looks to Karliah for confirmation. She nods, albeit with a pained look in her eyes that Gallus strongly suspects isn’t physical, and… that’s guilt, isn’t it? In all honesty, he’d thought that she’d left him to die back in Snow Veil Sanctum. Evidently, she hadn’t and, while Gallus still isn’t sure how he’s alive, evidently she’d had something to do with it.

“I’ll take what I can get,” he finishes.

“If you’re not in any immediate danger of passing out anymore, and it sounds like you’re not,” Karliah says, and receives a quick nod in confirmation, “then what. In Oblivion. Were you thinking?”

“Mostly that my chest hurt, honestly,” Gallus says with a much more cautious shrug.

Karliah sighs, and says, “That’s really not what I meant. Good to know that your humor’s intact, though.”

Chapter Text

“So what did you mean?” Gallus asks, genuinely curious. Karliah’s shifted into a cross-legged sitting position across from him, and is currently searching for something in her pack. She doesn’t answer at first, to the point where Gallus begins to wonder whether she heard him at all, or if she’s ignoring him.

“By you know,” he continues, “what I was thinking. Also when. I’m a little lost.”

“I told you,” Karliah says as she pulls out a large, dark-colored potion. The murky liquid within swirls slightly as she sets it down between them, and Gallus raises an eyebrow. It… doesn’t exactly look appealing, to put it lightly. Even the potion Erandur had insisted he drink back in Dawnstar had looked better than this.

“You want me to—”

“I know you received my letter,” Karliah continues, ignoring that for now, “because you listened to everything inside, except for one thing, and possibly the most important: trust no one.

“Well, I didn’t,” Gallus protests. “Mostly.”

“Mostly?” Karliah’s gaze meets his, and she says, flatly, “You trusted the worst person you possibly could have trusted, Gallus.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Which is why I warned you not to trust anyone,” Karliah says, “but what’s done is done. Now, drink.”

Gallus couldn’t stop his features from forming into a grimace if he tried. “That looks… rather disgusting if I’m being honest.” And while he’d been a bit more focused on not passing out for the last potion to worry about the taste, there’s a bad aftertaste in his mouth that definitely wasn’t there when he woke up. It’s almost as bad tasting as this potion looks, actually.

“I’m well aware, I made it. Do you want to be able to walk in the near future or not?”

Gallus frowns, weighs his options, then decides (or rather hopes) it can’t possibly taste as bad as it looks and uncorks it. He’s quickly proven wrong.

“Are you aware of how disgusting it tastes? ” He asks momentarily, eyeing the potion like he would a rabid skeever. Karliah sighs, and nods.

“It should help enough that we can get you to Winterhold,” Karliah says. “I know at least one actual healer in the general vicinity, and we can figure things out from there.”

Erandur immediately comes to mind, although Gallus doubts she’s referring to him. He’s not the only healer in Winterhold. Who knows, maybe she means Aranea, although he’s not certain how Karliah would know either of them. Even with that in mind, he examines the potion dubiously.

“You can stop stalling, you know,” Karliah says dryly.

Unconsciously, Gallus goes red, and stammers, “I wasn’t—”

“Of course you weren’t.” Karliah sighs, bites her lip, and her gaze softens some. “Look, as long as you’re drinking that, I’ll answer any questions you have. Anything. I know you must have a lot by now.”

“You’re right about that,” Gallus says. Cautiously, he takes another sip, and makes a face. “I just... don’t know where to begin.”

“Drink while you’re thinking. It might help jog your memory.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Gallus raises the potion to his lips. He finds, after a few reluctant sips, that Karliah might have been into something. (As already mentioned, the potion doesn’t exactly taste great, either, so Gallus basically blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.)

“How am I alive?” Gallus asks. “I thought…” He frowns, trails off, but he gets the impression Karliah knows what he‘s thinking.

I thought I was going to die.

Again.

Not that I would remember the first time, but still.

“The short version is the side-effects of the poison I’d planned on shooting Mercer with and a fair bit of luck,” Karliah doesn’t meet his gaze. “It was a paralysis poison, but in order to keep someone—you, for example—from moving it slowed your heart. That kept you from bleeding out long enough that I could get to you once Mercer left.”

Gallus nods. That makes sense, and it’s something of a relief to know that she hadn’t just left him to die.

“And if you hadn’t made it look like you were leaving, he would have been suspicious,” he concludes.

“Truth be told, we’ve been strangely fortunate,” Karliah agrees with a quick nod. “Mercer believes you to be dead, so he won’t be looking for you. Even so… things could have gone much better.”

“They could have gone much worse,” Gallus points out. “I could actually be dead.”

“And I’m still not certain how you aren’t.”

Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling she’s not talking about anything recent, not if the pained look in her eyes is any indication. In fact, he suspects he knows exactly what she’s thinking of, even if he can’t remember it.

“All I know is that I woke up in there—” (He nods in the general direction of the ruins.) “—without any memories. I couldn’t give an exact date, but it was in the late days of Second Seed.”

Karliah frowns, hums speculatively to herself.

“If you couldn’t remember anything, how did you know your name?”

“Partially luck,” Gallus admits. “Mostly because—where’s my pack?”

Karliah reaches behind her and passes it over. It takes some time and some digging, but he eventually finds what he’s looking for and tosses it to Karliah. It lands in her lap, and her eyes go wide as soon as she lays them on the odd symbol on the cover.

Come to think of it, it’s the same symbol that’s on his sword. That should have been a clue to him, in retrospect—because clearly Karliah recognizes it. Maybe it was something to do with the Thieves Guild.

“It’s written in something I don’t recognize,” he continues. “But I noticed the name on the inside front cover, thought Gallus could work for a name until I found my own. That’s why I kept it.”

“I’m glad you did. This might be what we need as proof against Mercer,” Karliah hesitates. “But we’ll need to figure out what it’s written in and who can translate it first. Much easier said than done. Good news is, we might know someone in Winterhold who can help.”

“We?”

“You were good friends with him, even if you don’t remember it. He and I were only acquaintances until recently, although I do have him to thank for learning you aren’t… well…”

“Dead.”

“Yes. There’s no way you should be alive—shadows, there’s no way you could be alive.”

“None?”

“None.”

Gallus’ heart sinks. It’s with a chilling finality that he realizes that there’s no avoiding it—he died. He actually died on that day long ago, and Karliah’s one of only two people who knows the truth of what happened to him. While he doesn’t want to dredge up bad memories, this is something he needs to know. He can’t exactly ask Mercer in any case.

So, quietly, Gallus asks, “What happened that day?”

“Keep drinking. I know it tastes like shit but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective otherwise.”

“Of course it is,” he mumbles to himself, but there’s a ghost of a smile on his face. He’s not sure where it’s from. It’s certainly not from the potion—saying it tastes like shit is being generous.

He returns his attention to Karliah, who looks almost as unsure as he feels.

“Before we get to that, you need some background,” she says. “You and Mercer… were friends, once. That much is true. I’d like to say that I never trusted him, but I did. We both did. Looking back, the signs are obvious. He got greedy, to put it bluntly, and at some point before the end, he began to see you as an obstacle to his goals, metaphorical or otherwise.

“It wasn’t long then before he lured you out here, alone. Or at least you were supposed to be.”

Karliah smiles humorlessly, and Gallus immediately understands.

“You were there too,” he says. She nods.

“I’m not certain, but… I think you knew, somehow, what was going to happen,” she says. “Because the last thing you told me sounded far too much like a goodbye.”

“So you followed me.”

“You’re damn right I did, how could I not?” Karliah looks pointedly at him, and adds, softly, “Even though in the end, it didn’t help any.” She definitely regrets something, and Gallus suspects he’d know exactly what it is if he could actually remember. Unfortunately, he can’t. Funny how that works.

“So I came all the way out here to meet with Mercer for… some reason,” Gallus says, “despite the fact that I knew something was going to happen between us, possibly something deadly.”

Karliah nods silently.

“What kind of an idiot was I?” Gallus mumbles under his breath.

“One that at least can admit he’s an idiot every once in a while,” Karliah says with a hint of humor in her words. “Also…”

“Also… what?”

“You know what, we’ll get to that later. So. You arrived without incident. I wasn’t far behind, but I was definitely close enough to see that Mercer was nowhere nearby. That was, of course, before the blizzard picked up.”

“Mercer can control the weather?”

Gallus means his query as a joke, some small attempt to lighten the mood, but Karliah evidently takes it quite seriously. She shakes her head.

“Directly, no,” she says, “but—let’s put it this way: Mercer wasn’t simply being petty when he said luck had forsaken us.”

Of course, she means something important by this. Unfortunately, Gallus doesn’t know what it is, and it takes her a moment to figure out that he’s clueless.

“We’ll get to that later, too, I suppose,” she continues with a frown. “The blizzard certainly didn’t help things, but I’m not entirely sure either of us would have seen him even if it had been clear.”

“He’s that stealthy?”

Karliah actually laughs at that.

“Not even close,” she says, which somehow surprises Gallus—and yet, it doesn’t. After all, Mercer hadn’t exactly done well on the stealth front while they were going through the ruins. He’d literally ran screaming at more than a few draugr even though they had not even seen him yet.. And then, he’d had the gall to get on Gallus’ case for giving up on being sneaky himself when Mercer wasn’t.

In retrospect, Gallus really should have seen him for the traitor he was much earlier.

“So,” Gallus says, after taking another big gulp of the potion and trying not to wince too much at the taste, “I’m guessing that’s when he stabbed me?”

She doesn’t answer immediately, and a quick glance in her direction proves it’s because she’s staring at him like he said something wrong.

“How did you know you were stabbed?” Karliah whispers. Her eyes are wide—and rather beautiful, actually. That’s irrelevant at the moment, however, because she’s onto something here. How does he know? He damn well can’t remember what happened and, while it’s a fairly logical conclusion to come to, he shouldn’t be able to know for sure.

And yet… somehow, he does, even if his memories aren’t cooperating. Her eyes glimmer in the mid-morning light, and something knots in his chest that has nothing to do with his injury, for once. Even though she’s staring at him like he’s gone mad, her small frown and her slightly-parted lips are absolutely adorable.

“I—I don’t know,” Gallus stammers, and forces himself to take a big gulp of the potion. The horrible taste seems to bring some clarity to his mind, but she’s still really pretty, much more than the last time he saw her, even if that makes no sense whatsoever.

If Mercer’s words had any truth to them at all, he fell for her hard at some point. He can certainly see why he did.

“Karliah,” he says, suddenly. If she’d been willing to go this far for him, despite the passage of years, decades even… maybe, perhaps… “What were we to each other?”

She’s evidently been expecting this question, if her lack of a tangible reaction is any indication. Even so, she smiles, not entirely in happiness, but not entirely in unhappiness, either. If Gallus had to put a name to the feeling, he’d go with a quiet, melancholic nostalgia.

“I figured it was only a matter of time until you brought us up,” Karliah says. Absently, she fiddles with a lock of her own dark hair, twisting it around and around her fingers as a means of distraction. “We were… well. It’s... hard to put the feeling into words, but imagine that there’s... someone who means so, so much to you, that while you remember life... before them, you… don’t want to imagine life without them. And... you’d gladly spend the rest of your days just being with them.”

Gallus nods. He can’t remember her, but it sort of makes sense: the pain in his chest, this odd familiarity and old instinct… She looks sad, now, in a quiet, serene way, and he imagined spending decades alone would do that to anyone. Decades of believing he was gone forever.

Even though he’s fairly certain at this point, he has to ask. So, quietly, he whispers, “We were lovers?”

“Yes,” Karliah says in an even softer voice. For a few moments, it looks like she’s about to embrace him but, instead, she slowly stands, and continues, “I’ll be back soon. Finish that potion, and we’ll see if we can’t get you back on your feet.”

Gallus nods. He watches her go, pass around the ridge and out of sight, and it’s some time before he remembers the bottle in his grasp. He does his best to drink it. Strangely enough, without her there, it’s a lot harder to get the bitter liquid down.

Even so, he manages to gulp down the last of it shortly before she returns. They exchange no words, then. Instead, Karliah helps him to his feet. Once she’s packed up the remnants of the campsite, leaving no trace behind of their presence, the pair set off for Winterhold—albeit with Gallus limping and leaning heavily on Karliah to walk.

They make slow progress, and few words are exchanged between them during it. Despite this, the silence isn’t a tense one, at least for Gallus. It’s oddly comforting, he supposes, just to have Karliah there.

Or… well. In the light of what he knows now, perhaps it’s not as odd as he would think.

Chapter Text

The Frozen Hearth isn’t particularly busy at the moment, but that’s probably only because it’s extremely early in the morning. In all honesty, Gallus wouldn’t even consider it morning, the sun’s not up yet—although he suspects it will be soon. It’s been... a long night, to say the least, and a long day before that. Karliah’s been fairly insistent that it would be more trouble than it’s worth to stop for the night. Considering that the ache in his chest has been slowly returning, and his limp has gradually become more and more pronounced, she’s likely right.

Speaking of Karliah, she has her hood up again. Considering everything, a fair bit of caution on her part is very much justified.

Mercer blamed me for all that he’d done and slandered my name so much that for the first few months, I couldn’t risk sleeping in the same place twice, she’d said in way of explanation, just outside of Winterhold. It’s not quite as bad now, but I suspect Mercer will be looking for me now that I’ve shown my face. We can’t risk him finding out he failed to kill you again, and in any case I don’t exactly look forgettable. It’s for the best.

Maybe so, maybe it is for the best, but it’s still horrible. It’s with this in mind and a slight frown crossing his features that Gallus glances around the Frozen Hearth. The inn isn’t just not busy, truth be told—it’s nearly deserted. Nelacar’s door is closed and, even from across the inn, Gallus can hear faint snoring coming from within. The innkeeper’s fast asleep in a chair behind the counter, with a hastily written note left in front of him. Gallus doesn’t bother to read it, partially because he can already guess at its contents, and partially because the only occupant Gallus is concerned with at the moment is on the other side of the inn, with his back to the door.

In the dying firelight, there’s a priest reading with his back to the door. Erandur looks good, if a little exhausted at the moment, and completely absorbed in his book. He glances up as Gallus slips into the seat across from him, and breaks into a tired grin.

“It’s good to see you, Gallus,” Erandur says sincerely, closing his book. It’s got the mark of the Restoration school on the cover, so chances are it’s a spellbook. Gallus supposes some things never change. “Have you made any progress with your memories?”

“Memories, no,” Gallus says, “but I might have found out a bit more than I’d bargained for. It’s… been a while.”

Wood scrapes against the floor as Karliah pulls a seat over from one of the other tables. Erandur takes one look at her, then raises an eyebrow.

“I can see that,” he says, looking to Karliah. “It’s good to see you, too.”

She nods in way of greeting. It occurs to Gallus, then, that they evidently know each other, if perhaps not well. Come to think of it, his initial hunch as to the identity of the healer Karliah had in mind might just have been correct. He wonders, briefly, how they do know each other.

“Thank you,” Karliah smiles faintly. “But we’re not here for a social visit. You are a healer, correct?”

“Yes, why?”

Karliah looks pointedly at Gallus. He grins uneasily, and says, “I might have gotten stabbed.”

She sighs, “There’s no might about it. You were stabbed, shot, and came far too close to bleeding out entirely.”

“But I didn’t—”

Karliah’s exasperated look says it all. Gallus takes the hint and shuts up. Erandur, meanwhile, appears to be thinking to himself on something entirely different.

Eventually, he nods, and says, “I’m assuming you’ve already done some first aid, seeing as he isn’t bleeding out currently.”

“Yes,” Karliah says. “I’ve given him some basic health potions, too, but they only do so much.”

Erandur raises an eyebrow, “No magic?”

“I can’t… no,” Karliah says a little too quickly, almost defensively. Gallus couldn’t keep his interest from being piqued if he tried. “Does it matter?”

“No, but it explains why the two of you need me,” Erandur says. “You’ve done a good job from what I can see. I wouldn’t have known.” She smiles thinly, but says nothing.

With that, he returns his attention to Gallus, and continues, “I can’t guarantee how much help I’ll be at this hour of the night, but let’s see what I can do. If worst comes to worst, Colette can fix what I cannot in an hour or two. Hold still.” His free hand lights up with the warm glow of Restoration magic.

“Thank you,” Gallus says. As the warm, fuzzy feeling that always accompanies Restoration magic seeps through him, he can’t stop himself from thinking about something entirely different. More specifically, he can’t stop thinking about Karliah’s reaction to being asked about magic.

He’s reasonably certain that most, if not all Dunmer, are supposed to have at least a little natural talent with magic. Karliah might not and, the more time he spends thinking about this, the more certain he is that he’s right. He hasn’t seen her use a spell once, not even in situations where it would be better to. That would explain why she’s focused on other things, like alchemy, but… gods.

That can’t be easy and, if he’s right about this, it’s likely a touchy subject. So he won’t ask. Unlike his own past, this isn’t really his business. Even so, a long-buried part of him wants to tell her it’s alright. That, and quite a few other things.

But, as already mentioned, it’s none of his business.

“And, I think we’re done,” Erandur says, tearing Gallus from his thoughts. Gallus glances up, and sees a smile from the priest. “How do you feel?”

“Better, I think,” Gallus says. He stretches experimentally, and is pleased to find that his chest’s fine, his leg doesn’t hurt to move anymore, and even the headache that never goes away anymore has subsided somewhat. “Thank you, Erandur.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Erandur says, waving a hand dismissively. He picks up his spell tome again, and leafs through it to the page he’s marked. Before he continues reading, he glances up, and says, “By the way, Karliah? Magic or no magic, you did an excellent job. I hardly had to do anything.”

Karliah ducks her head silently in thanks, then stands.

“We’re leaving already?” Gallus asks.

“Just the inn for now,” Karliah says. “There’s someone within the College that’s probably our best hope of finding what to do next. You knew him, before—anyway.” Her voice cracks a little. “I’d been hoping we could find him here, but we were unlucky in that regard,” Karliah continues with a shrug. “To be fair, it is the middle of the night—so if he’s around, he’ll be somewhere in the College. I’m assuming you can get us both in.”

Gallus nods, and stands.

“I’ll see you around, Erandur,” Gallus says. Erandur nods. He doesn’t respond verbally, instead once again engrossed in his book—so Gallus stands and follows Karliah out.


In retrospect, it probably should have been obvious who it was that Gallus had known at the College. After all, there aren’t a lot of people that haven’t joined the College fairly recently, and there’s only one older member that’s… well, sketchy enough, to put it bluntly. Gallus had actually met him a couple of times, and talked to him a couple of times, and he hadn’t acted like he had recognized him then.

To be fair, he shouldn’t be at all surprised that a mage associated with the Thieves Guild would be good at lying.

“I have to say, it’s a little surprising to actually see both of you in the same room at the same time these days,” Enthir says dryly. Karliah laughs humorlessly. “Mead?”

“No, thank you,” Karliah says softly.

Gallus shrugs, and says, “Sure.”

Enthir passes him a bottle, looks to Karliah, and says, “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down? You look about ready to fall over.”

“I’m fine,” Karliah says. Even so, she does in fact take a seat after a few moments.

Between the three of them, well—it’s a slightly odd group, to be sure. A Dunmer thief. A Bosmer mage. An Imperial spellsword. Both of them knew him, and in all honesty? He feels like he should know them, and not just because he knows he should. Karliah’s definitely familiar, he’s sure of that. And Enthir? Nowhere near as much as Karliah, not by a long shot—but yes.

In any case, he’s not at all attracted to Enthir the way he is to Karliah, or really, to anyone else. His heart skips a beat whenever she smiles. His mind inexplicably goes blank when their fingers brush even momentarily, and his breathing quickens.

The signs all point to one thing: even if he can’t consciously remember it, he’s still very much in love with her.

Gallus isn’t sure how he feels about that, truth be told. Feelings like these for someone he’s just met aren’t exactly normal, although to be fair this whole situation isn’t exactly normal. Deep down, she’s so, so familiar. He’s hopelessly in love, and he can’t remember any of how or when or why. That alone would be bad enough, except…

Is he the same? What if he’s not? What if he can’t live up to who he once was? From what he knows of his past self, he’s a far cry from the suave, confident Gallus Desidenius of decades past. People change, and losing one’s memories is a particularly effective way to set that change into motion.

What if he’s not good enough?

What if Karliah remembers him differently?

What if he disappoints her?

None of those are possibilities that Gallus wants to entertain, and yet, he does. If he’s changed this much over the course of a few short months, it’s a distinct possibility that Karliah will soon see him for the disappointment he is. Perhaps she already has, and she’s only sticking around for the sake of what they once had. That, and she’s chasing revenge against Mercer.

Gallus doesn’t want to accept this, but it’s more than likely that whatever they once had, they’ll never have it again. It’s with this in mind that he returns his attention to Enthir, who seems just as lost in thought, although over something very, very different.

“So,” Enthir says eventually, looking between the two of them, “I’m guessing you’re not just here to catch up for old time’s sake, although I wouldn’t be against that. What can I do for you?”

Gallus opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it. He honestly doesn’t know. Karliah kept saying that they needed to get to Winterhold, but she never actually mentioned what they were going to do there besides find a healer (done) and find his friend (also done). Actually, come to think of it, she didn’t mention anything afterwards, either.

That’s when Karliah pulls out his old journal, and Gallus understands—the plan, that is. The journal, unfortunately, is a bit harder to figure out. She passes it over to Enthir wordlessly.

“We need to stop Mercer,” Karliah says, “and, unless you start remembering sometime very soon…” She looks pointedly at Gallus, although it’s not with much optimism in her gaze.

“Ha, I wish,” Gallus grins unhappily.

“Then we need to get this translated. Neither of us know what it’s written in.”

Enthir opens the journal, glances at it briefly, then snaps it shut with an annoyed sigh.

“Falmeri,” he says, “and I hope for all our sakes that you only transliterated the rune system.”

“You understand it?” Gallus asks, and is quickly disappointed by a quick, curt head shake.

“I know enough to identify it—which, I might add, is something that very few in Skyrim can do, so you’re lucky you know me. Unfortunately, there are even less that can read it, and we can’t count you.”

“Guess not. That would be too easy.”

“So where do we need to go?” Karliah takes the journal back from Enthir, and stuffs it back into her pack. Enthir doesn’t exactly look optimistic about this although, to be fair, he never looks optimistic.

“You’re not going to like this,” Enthir warns.

“Where—”

“Markarth.”

Karliah murmurs something under her breath involving a species of animal native to Morrowind and several particularly vile swears. Gallus frowns, slightly lost.

“Is Markarth really that bad?”

“Yes,” Karliah says flatly.

Enthir simply nods, and says, “If you’re lucky enough to not know why Markarth is a cesspit rife with hypocrisy and corruption, then that’s great for you, but it’s not helping here. I’d really hate to send you into that, but we don’t exactly have any better options unless your memories magically show up overnight.”

Gallus shrugs. With a straight face and an even voice, he says, “You mean there isn’t a spell for that?”

Enthir snorts, but Gallus’ focus is quickly diverted to Karliah when she laughs. She actually laughs, and for a few moments it’s the most genuine he’s ever seen her.

“Good to know you’ve still got a sense of humor,” she says with a grin, and for a few moments things almost feel right, normal.

It doesn’t last long.

Chapter Text

“So this is Markarth,” Gallus murmurs, half to himself, half to Karliah. He glances over briefly and receives a quick nod. “It’s certainly… something.”

“Not a good something,” Karliah says under her breath. She stops walking, so Gallus does too, and turns with some confusion in his gaze. She offers him a tight smile. Almost immediately, his heart starts pounding so loudly that he wonders, and not for the first time, how she doesn’t hear it. “We can’t stay here long without drawing suspicion, but you need to know at least a little going in.”

“Right,” Gallus sincerely hopes he doesn’t look as distracted by her smile as he feels. Then again, if he did, she would probably be the one asking the questions. “So, Markarth. Why is it a… what did Enthir call it? Something like a cesspit?”

“Calling Markarth a cesspit is being generous. I haven’t been here in… a long time, but if the rumors I’ve heard more recently have any truth in them, it’s only gotten worse. Officially, the city is run by Jarl Igmund, and still swears allegiance to the Empire. Unofficially, it’s owned by the Silver-Blood family. Think Black-Briar but with silver instead of mead.”

Gallus visibly winces. He’d really been hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with the likes of Maven Black-Briar again for a long time.

“Then, there’s the Forsworn,” Karliah continues. “We’d be here all day and all night if I told you everything I know about them, so I won’t. The short version is, the native people here—Reachmen—took advantage of the Empire being distracted by the Great War to take back their land. It went better than anyone thought it would, until it didn’t.”

“I feel like I should know this, but what was—”

“Empire against Aldmeri Dominion, Empire won but Dominion essentially got exactly what they wanted. Enough about that, though. The Reach remained independent for upwards of two years and was even reaching out to both the Empire and the Dominion to be recognized as such.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not certain. You were reaching out to their king yourself near the end, but then… you know what happened. I was somewhat preoccupied at the time, but I know the Reach was absorbed back into Skyrim and the Reachmen were killed or driven out. Now they call themselves the Forsworn, and while there’s been rumors swirling about their influence in Markarth for years, they’ve only increased with time. There’s a lot more, but I think the guards are getting suspicious. One of them’s staring, we need to get inside.”

Gallus is still confused, and very much so, but that’s normal for him these days. So he nods, and heads up towards the city gates. His feet tread a path that he can’t remember, and yet one that he’s certainly taken before. That, he’s sure of, and more than once or twice.

He doesn’t need to look behind him or listen for her quiet footfalls to know that Karliah is there, and that’s reassuring in a way that few things are. However, he’s quite certain that if she wanted to be completely silent, she would be—and she isn’t. Gallus would ask about it, if it weren’t for the fact that the guards are definitely in earshot and definitely looking a little too interested in the both of them.

“Welcome to Markarth, travelers. Safest city in the Reach,” one of them says in way of greeting. Despite himself, Gallus finds his brow furrowing, because that’s… certainly one way to welcome people passing through. That, and he’d assume automatically that since Markarth is the biggest city in the Reach, and possibly the only one, that it’s the safest. Or would he?

Gallus realizes, suddenly, that his gut is telling him that Markarth is quite possibly the exact furthest thing from safe. His gut and Karliah’s rushed explanation seem to agree on that, then. Maybe he should listen to his gut more often. Evidently, it knows quite a few things he doesn’t.

“First time in Markarth, lad?” The same guard continues, noting Gallus’ visible confusion. Gallus nods cautiously. “Take my advice. You see anything, don’t get involved. The city guard will take care of it.”

Gallus desperately wants to ask what he means by anything, or what the city guard will do to take care of whatever that anything is. Two things stop him, the first of which is a nagging feeling in his gut that now is a terrible time to ask questions, and this is a terrible choice in where to ask them.

The second, then, is Karliah. She’s closer behind him than she initially thought, or maybe she’s just stepped closer. Regardless of that, Gallus is all too aware of just how close she’s standing, so much so that when she whispers something under her breath, he nearly misses it.

“Don’t,” she breathes, and Gallus’ resolve—in this matter, at least—is further hardened.

He offers the guard a smile that looks much more confident than he feels, and says, “We’re just passing through—won’t be here long. A couple days at most.”

“You’re our favorite kind of travelers, then. The market area is just inside the gate. Go on in.”

Gallus doesn’t relax until the gate grinds to a close behind them, and even then he couldn’t keep himself from remaining on edge if he tried. Karliah lets out a breath he didn’t realize she was holding.

“That was too close,” she murmurs. Then, despite this, she smiles. “You did good, though.”

“I—that’s good,” Gallus manages. For a few moments, he entertains the thought of telling her of feelings old and new, but before he can seriously consider it, he’s already talked himself down. It’s not the time, not the place, and is he really still the man Karliah loved without his memories? He’s still not sure, and his gut twists uncomfortably at the thought of that.

(Even though he’s only known her for a couple of days that he can remember, evidently some part of him remembers her and is trying desperately to help along the rest—and for whatever reason, it isn’t working. That’s the saddest part of all, and he only knows some of why.)

“Yeah,” she agrees after a pause that could have only been a few seconds, but to Gallus felt like a lifetime or two. “So. It’s still fairly early in the day, so our best option now is to get a room and—”

Any comments Gallus might have had on the fact that she’d said a room, one, singular, are quickly overshadowed when a woman screams somewhere up ahead. Even though the scream clearly came from a fair distance away, Gallus immediately looks to Karliah. Relief floods through him as their gazes meet, although that quickly gives way to horror as both soon realize what’s going on—or, rather, what just happened. At this point they’re both far too late, and would be even if they were far closer and knew what was coming.

On the cold, grey flagstones of the city marketplace, directly in front of some kind of jewelry stall, lies the still-cooling corpse of an auburn-haired woman in a dress that might have been blue. That was, of course, before her throat was apparently slit, and blood quickly turned the blue fabric a deep red. As best as Gallus can tell, she died quickly, at least—though certainly not painlessly. Gallus winces at the thought.

“The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!”

Gallus glances up, following Karliah’s horrified gaze, and sees a man in rags with a pickaxe at his hip and a bloody dagger in his grip charge at a guard. The guard promptly runs him through with his sword. It happens so quickly that it would be almost comedic if not for the fact that a woman was just murdered and from the looks of things, her murderer is soon to follow.

The man in rags chokes and coughs up blood as another guard draws his own sword like he’s got all the time in the world. The killer manages to sputter out the words, “I die for my people,” right before he’s beheaded like there’s nothing to it. The guards don’t even look fazed. It’s almost like they were expecting this... but they couldn't have been. Could they?

“Does this normally happen?” Gallus asks under his breath, glancing to Karliah. She frowns, and her hesitation alone gives part of an answer.

“We need to get out of here, we don’t need the guards remembering we were here,” she pauses, bites her lip, “but no. This is worse than I feared. At least we won’t be here long.”

It’s a relief to hear that—Gallus would really rather not get involved in anyone else’s business anymore, thanks. He’s got enough to deal with on his own. He’s got to avenge himself, he’s got to stop Mercer, he’s got to figure out how to remember if he can and figure out his feelings if he can’t. Actually, unless he starts remembering in the very near future, he’s going to need to figure out his feelings regardless.

(And in case all that’s not bad enough, he’s still got the whole Dragonborn thing to deal with. Recent events had left that the furthest thing from his thoughts, but for whatever reason it crosses his mind now. Dragons are likely a pretty big problem, and probably something he should be worrying about.)

(On the other hand, he’s got to deal with Mercer. Aside from the one at Helgen and the one at Whiterun, and rumors swirling around, Gallus hasn’t heard much about dragons lately. So they can take a backseat until the next time one of them decides that an amnesiac would make a tasty snack.)


“Do you really think this will work?” Gallus asks, absently adjusting his ill-fitting helmet as he does so. Considering that they can’t risk him being recognized, he’d opted for borrowing a full-face helmet from the local smith and slipping it over his hood.

(And yes—he is, actually, just borrowing it, he fully intends to return it. He just… sort of borrowed it without consent. Technically not stealing.)

“Honestly? No.”

He glances over, more confused than anything else, and his eyes meet hers. Karliah’s sporting his old mage robes, the sleeves of which are a little too long. Seeing as she’s going to be playing the part of a scholar, she at least needs to look the part, and their options were fairly limited. Even so, even in dusty old robes—quite possibly the most unflattering clothing choice in Tamriel—she looks gorgeous. As usual.

“Wait, really?”

Gallus finds in speaking that his throat’s dry, and he swallows a couple of times to at least try and help with that. The last thing he needs right now is to screw this up. It’s the last thing either of them need right now.

“From what you told me, he won’t exactly be cooperative even if we stroke his ego far more than he deserves, but it’s at least worth a try.”

While she sounds somewhat resigned, there’s a mischievous glint in her eyes that gives Gallus pause. After a moment, he asks, “Is that all?”

“No,” she says. Her lips curve up into a grin. “Let’s just say I’m curious to know just what Calcelmo did to piss you off as much as you were.”

“Me too,” he agrees, and finds that he means it. Karliah offers him a smile, one that makes his heart go wild, then turns and leaves. He follows, and tries not to stumble over the rocks that are apparently everywhere on the ground here. It doesn’t help that he can’t see his feet through the helmet.

Then again, Markarth was built by the Dwemer—so of course it’s going to be needlessly inconvenient for everyone involved. That’s just how literally anything of Dwemeri make is: either extremely inconvenient, extremely deadly, or both. He’d really rather not deal with anything deadly at the moment, so he’ll settle for inconvenient.

“Look, I’m very busy, so this had better be important,” mutters someone in faded blue robes without turning to greet them. “What do you want?”

This, Gallus decides, must be Calcelmo. Considering that he isn’t even glancing up to see who’s coming up on him, he’s evidently absorbed in either himself or his work. Gallus strongly suspects it’s the former, and the bored tone of his voice only supports this.

Karliah glances his way with a look that seems to say, watch this!

She clears her throat, and begins, “Calcelmo, correct?”

“Yes, that’s me. I am Calcelmo. What can I do for you, and please do make it quick.”

Gallus dislikes him already, although he can’t say he’s surprised by that realization.

“You’re really him? The Calcelmo? The renowned Dwemer scholar?”

Flattery gets the wizard to actually turn. He’s tall, taller than both of them, and it’s plain to see once his face is visible that he’s very much an Altmer. He looks intrigued at first, and possibly—no, definitely—proud to be recognized.

Gallus gets the feeling he doesn’t get a lot of visitors. He couldn’t imagine why.

“Oh yes, and the Falmer, too.”

Karliah perks up a little, likely unintentionally, but Gallus doubts her sudden spike in interest hurts anything. “You study the Falmer?”

“Yes, much of Dwemeri history is intertwined with the Falmer, and vice versa. Primarily I have focused on the Dwemer in my writings prior to now, so I can forgive your error here. You see, I am on the cusp of completing my magnum opus on not the Dwemer, but the Falmer. I’m calling it, Calcelmo’s Guide to the Falmer Tongue. I can assure you, it will revolutionize the way we view those ancient beings.”

“Could I possibly take a look at it?”

Calcelmo’s demeanor, which up until then had been that of a teacher or perhaps a mentor, quickly turns sour. 

“That’s preposterous! That research represents years of personal toil in some of the most dangerous Dwemer ruins in Skyrim! You must be mad to think I'd allow anyone to see it before it's completed. Not even a fellow scholar such as you.”

So much for that plan, Gallus thinks, but evidently Karliah isn’t done yet.

“But I’m a great admirer of your work,” Karliah says plaintively. “Of course I understand that you must keep some things private, naturally. Perhaps I could offer some insight?”

Calcelmo opens his mouth, then shuts it again, and evidently makes a decision. He fishes around in his robes for something, then passes something over to her, much to Gallus’ surprise.

Well—actually, no. He should be surprised, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that he isn’t surprised in the least. Somehow, he knew she could do it. It helps that she looks like more of a scholar than some actual scholars Gallus knows in Winterhold.

“What kind of a mentor would I be if I denied a potential student a glimpse of the master’s ingenuity?” Calcelmo declares in a manner that suggests he doesn’t want that question answered.

(Gallus can think of several ways he could answer it, but he isn’t about to screw this up. He settles for smirking to himself behind the helmet.)

“That key will grant you access to the museum itself,” Calcelmo continues. “Feel free to browse for as long as you wish, within reason of course. However, I must insist that my laboratory remain strictly off-limits. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Karliah says, smiling coyly. “Thank you.” She dips her head in further thanks, then turns on her heel and begins walking. Gallus hurries after her, and does his best to look like just a bodyguard who doesn’t give two shits about any of this. It’s only once they’re out of earshot that he comes to realize that she never actually said she wouldn’t go into the laboratory, only that she understood.

An odd sort of familiar feeling comes over him then, and suddenly, he recognizes it as something he hasn't felt in a long time, and certainly not since he can remember: pride. He's proud of her, or at least his subconscious is.

"That was amazing," Gallus blurts out, and finds he doesn't mind.

Chapter Text

“That really was amazing,” Gallus continues, and offers Karliah a grin. Sure, he’s still wearing the full face helmet, but she probably gets the sentiment. Probably. Hopefully. (Gods, he hates the helmet.)

“It really wasn’t that impressive,” Karliah says softly, “but alright.”

“It really was. You’re...”

Really the most capable person I’ve ever met, and I don’t need my memories to know that. You’re strong, smart, really cute, and while I seem to have no choice in the matter when it comes to falling in love with you, I’m completely okay with this. I just want to believe I’m good enough for you, that I can live up to who I was, and I—

“Really good at this,” Gallus says instead, because saying what he wants to suddenly seems a more daunting task than facing down a dragon. Evidently it worked, though, because she does return his grin with a more genuine one than she’d had the entire time she’d been working on Calcelmo.

“Thank you, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Let’s go.”

Within a matter of seconds, she’s adopted the air of a slightly-overconfident scholar once more, and marches up to the guard at the door they’d passed on their way in. (Gallus is assuming it’s the Dwemer Museum.)

“Excuse you,” the guard says, and Gallus nearly has a heart attack on the spot. Fortunately, Karliah’s got it far more together than he does, and he’s wearing a helmet.

“Excuse me,” she says indignantly. “I am a scholar, given explicit permission by Calcelmo himself to peruse the contents of this museum. Would you prefer I bring him here to confirm? I strongly suspect he wouldn’t be too happy with you wasting his—and my —valuable time.”

All of a sudden she sounds a lot more than slightly overconfident, dear gods . It’s already impressive, she’s already impressive, and that’s made even more so by the fact that Gallus knows she’s actually nowhere near this arrogant. Arrogant is literally the last word he’d use to describe her. If anything, she could use more self-confidence.

To be fair, watching your lover die probably isn’t good for your self-esteem, especially not if you’re framed for his murder. Once again, and not for the first time, Gallus desperately wants to take her in his arms and tell her that it’s alright, it wasn’t her fault, and he doesn’t need his memories to know that much. And yet, he can’t. Currently that’s because they’re in the middle of something, but there was nothing stopping him the last few times save his own fear that he can’t live up to the man she loved.

“Of course not.” The guard squints suspiciously at Gallus, but evidently thinks better of arguing and proceeds to unlock the door. Gallus doesn’t relax until they’re inside, and Karliah doesn’t for a fair bit longer. Even then, she waits until they’re well out of earshot of the guards within before ducking into a shadowed corner and grinning, slightly.

“That went better than I thought it would,” Karliah whispers, “but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Suddenly, it hits Gallus just what her plan is, and he frowns.

“So… we’re going to steal his notes now?” Gallus guesses. Karliah nods.

“Unless you’ve got a better idea, yes. We’ll get in, get the notes, and get out. We’ll be long gone before he knows anything was stolen.”

It’s a good plan—and even so, Gallus’ frown only deepens. Sure, there’s always something that can go wrong, and something always goes wrong, that’s how plans work, but…

“What if,” he says slowly, “we just take the opportunity to scout out this place now, and return after dark? Calcelmo will remember you—it’ll be suspicious if the place gets robbed immediately after he gave you the key.”

“We’ll have to stay in Markarth longer, but that might be worth it if he doesn’t suspect us and we can make a clean getaway.” She hums speculatively for a bit, thinking on this. Eventually, her eyes light up and she nods. “Let’s do it. You should keep a lookout for anything that might be a problem late at night, two pairs of eyes are better than one.”

As it turns out, there’s quite a lot that could and would likely pose a problem late at night, not least of which being that there seems to be no windows in the main area of the museum, and the only definite exit is the way they came in. So, only one way out, and no natural lighting. No lighting at all, actually, save the torches carried by each and every guard.

After they pass another pair of guards—there are a lot of them, gods—Gallus says, “Should we be worried about the fact that the only light in here is with the guards?”

“It won’t help with tripping over things, but I’m a bit more worried about the notable lack of exits.”

He grimaces. “You and me both. Then there’s all the traps—I sincerely hope they’re completely deactivated. I wouldn’t put it past Calcelmo to have rigged them against intruders.”

“True. Not to say we can’t do it, of course, just it won’t be easy. It’ll be a challenge.”

“I like being challenged,” Gallus says automatically. His gaze meets hers, and she grins.

“I know,” she says cheerfully. “You’re not the only one.”


The pair linger in the Dwemer Museum a bit longer than Gallus would have liked, considering the potential lethality of literally everything within. Considering that it would have been much worse to stumble upon things for the first time at night, it’s likely for the best.

Even so, there’s still a few hours until sunset, plenty of time to figure things out—well, some things. Not others. They’re still both avoiding the horker in the room, and in any case it’s easier to discuss what they’ll be doing in the future than what was between them in the past. Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that this isn’t the first time they’ve had to pull off something like this, and with any luck it won’t be the last.

“I wish we could have scouted out his laboratory too,” Karliah says eventually. “But as it is, we’ll have to assume it’s got a lot of guards and little to no lighting as well. Which is both good and bad.”

Gallus can tell why a lack of lighting would be both good and bad—the shadows would help hide them, but also could lead to tripping every five seconds if there was anything on the floor—which, if the Dwemer Museum itself was any indication, there most certainly will be things scattered about. Calcelmo evidently isn’t the most organized. However...

“A lot of guards are good?” He asks. Karliah shrugs.

“As I said, good and bad. If there’s a lot of them, they’ll be making quite a bit of noise. Chances are they’ll just assume it’s one of their buddies messing around unless we make it very, very obvious that there’s an intruder around.”

“Which we won’t do.”

Karliah shrugs helplessly, and says, “Shadows willing.”

Lately, Gallus has come to notice that while the vast majority of people swear by some kind of deity, Karliah does not. For whatever reason, with her it’s always shadows this and shadows that. Briefly, he considers asking about it, then thinks better of it, for several reasons. Likely the most significant is that, even though she’s evidently trying to hide it, she looks exhausted. It shows in the dark circles under her eyes, and in how heavily she’s leaning against the wall.

“We still have a few hours,” Gallus says. “You should get some sleep.”

“I don’t—”

Karliah lets out the biggest yawn Gallus can recall hearing from anyone, ever, quickly rendering her point moot.

“I’m not tired,” she says uselessly.

“Of course you aren’t.” He frowns. “I know you’re a better liar than this.”

“I’m not lying.”

“Sure you aren’t. Have you seen yourself lately? If you’re anywhere close to being as tired as you look, you really need the sleep. Besides, at this point, there’s not much left to plan for.”

Karliah looks like she wants to argue. She also looks even more exhausted at the mere mention of sleep. Gallus’ gut twists uncomfortably, and he strongly suspects he knows why.

“Please,” he says, and maybe that’s what finally sways Karliah. Silently, she nods.

“I doubt it’ll help much,” she says quietly, “and you do know the beds here are made of stone , right?”

“They what?

In the end, Karliah just lays out her bedroll on the slab of stone that apparently counts as a bed here. After extracting a promise that he’ll wake her before the sun sets, she passes out almost immediately. Gallus winds up sitting against the wall, knees tucked up against his chest, and waiting for the sun to set. When he glances over at Karliah, he finds that she’s smiling in her sleep.

That’s good. She deserves to be happy.

Chapter Text

Immediately after the sun dips below the mountain range that makes up Skyrim’s western border, two hooded figures slip into Understone Keep. From there, they sneak into the side area that the rather egotistical court wizard’s essentially taken over. They pass unnoticed by the guards at the doors to the Dwemer Museum and, as Gallus works on the lock, Karliah distracts the guards with a well-placed arrow in the dark.

Her arrow clatters against the stones on the other side of the Keep. It’s more than loud enough for the guards to hear, and both predictably go to investigate. That gives Gallus more than enough time to pick the lock—even if he breaks rather more picks in the process than he would have liked—and the pair slip in without a sound save the faint creaking of the double doors.

(Admittedly, Karliah still has the key, but it’s not worth preventing evidence of a break-in when they’ll be stealing Calcelmo’s research. It’ll likely be quite obvious, seeing as he’s actively working on it—or at least that’s what she said. In truth, Gallus suspects that she wants him to get more practice, and he decides not to argue.)

Getting through the Dwemer Museum turns out to be significantly easier than expected—it’s Calcemo’s laboratory that proves the real challenge. Once they arrive, Gallus begins picking the lock like normal, but it just won’t click. It usually comes easily to him, both from instinct and from recent practice but, tonight, he just can’t seem to get it right. He frowns, takes a deep breath. Nothing. He squints, twists his wrist just enough—and another pick breaks, much to his chagrin.

Damn it. Picking the lock to the museum hadn't been as easy as it should had been, but this was getting ridiculous, and they just didn't have the time for it.

With a frustrated sigh, he moves back and looks at Karliah.

“I can’t pick it,” he whispers.

“Are you sure?” She looks confused, almost, and he cannot blame her. He hadn’t found a lock he couldn’t open, until now. It’s disappointing.

“No, but…” Gallus shrugs. “Can you try?”

Karliah wordlessly pulls out her own picks, and Gallus edges back to give her room to work. Considering how hard the lock was for him, he figures she’ll need it. Except, she doesn’t. The lock clicks almost immediately, and the pair soon share identical looks of confusion.

“Are you feeling alright?”

Actually, no. He’s not. His head aches, and things keep slipping, and he keeps slipping up. But to be fair, it’s late, he’s tired and, in retrospect he probably should have gotten some sleep when Karliah did.

“I’m just tired,” Gallus smiles slightly. “Let’s get this over with, some sleep tonight would be nice.”

Karliah shoots him an amused smile back. “Says the one who insisted on not sleeping.”

“That’s fair.”


There’s not much in the way of conversation after that, for several reasons. The increase in guards, while annoying, isn’t anywhere near as bad as the traps. Gallus would be almost impressed that Calcelmo managed to replicate some of the traps engineered by the Dwemer, if it wasn’t for the fact that said traps were currently being used against them. Calcelmo’s ego doesn’t need any boosting, either—it’s large enough as is.

Fortunately, between the two of them they manage to get past them more or less unscathed. Even so, Gallus is still coughing into his fist from the hall filled with literal poison gas and trying to keep it as quiet as he can when they slip into the final chamber. The first sign that something’s wrong is Karliah swearing under her breath.

“Look,” she says softly, once he’s more or less recovered. If he’d looked at her, he would have found concern gracing her features. Instead, he looks up ahead, and his face falls.

There’s a large stone tablet sitting in the middle of the room. It’s impossible to miss the tablet itself, and it’s even more impossible to miss the Falmeris runes chiseled into it. Closer inspection reveals letters in Tamrielic, too, and Gallus finds himself internally echoing Karliah’s sentiment.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Gallus mutters. “That’s his translation guide?”

“Certainly one way to guard from thievery.” Karliah walks up, and lays a gloved hand on the tablet with a frown. “This looks... time-consuming, to say the least.”

“Time-consuming is putting it lightly.”

A few moments pass, and eventually, Gallus continues, “So we definitely can’t steal that. Any ideas?”

“There’s got to be some paper around somewhere, this is a laboratory, but it would take us all night to write all that out.”

Even as he hates saying it, Gallus says, “Then, I guess we’d better get started. I’ll start at the top left.” He doesn’t wait for an answer, instead heading over to a nearby table to grab some paper and a stick of charcoal… wait.

Charcoal.

Suddenly, a much better solution hits him, and Gallus could have laughed at the sheer simplicity of it all.

“On second thought,” he says, “what if we did a charcoal rubbing? The letters are engraved into the stone, so maybe if we’re careful and use a lot of paper...”

“It wouldn’t be easy, and it would still take a while,” Karliah frowns, “but it could work. Let’s do it.”


It’s something of a miracle that nothing happens until after they’re done, that no one shows up until after they’ve finished stuffing the rubbings into Gallus’ (comparatively empty) pack. Even so, what little luck they had was going to run out sometime, and the timing could have been a lot worse.

Of course, he notes with some horror as the tramp of booted feet becomes louder on the stones nearby, it could have been a lot better.

“Search the area,” someone commands. “They have to be here somewhere.” Whoever he is, he doesn’t sound like Calcelmo—but that’s still not good.

Gallus exchanges looks with Karliah, and in the face of being discovered with little to no time to spare, both dive behind the great stone tablet itself.

“There’s nobody here,” someone else (likely a guard) mutters. “We’re all wasting our time.”

“The locks to both the Museum itself and my uncle’s quarters were picked, and nothing was taken up until now. They are here , I can assure you, and I don’t know about you but I do not want to get on his bad side.”

There’s a murmured assent, and Gallus’ heart sinks as he thinks he hears at least two others besides the leader, self-identified as Calcelmo’s nephew. He looks to Karliah, and makes a decision.

“I’ve got an idea,” he whispers, as loudly as he dares, then focuses. He hasn’t exactly done this for some time, but he should be able to hold it long enough that he can get a better read on who’s here with them.

Without any ceremony, he turns himself invisible, and peeks out around the tablet. There’s four people in here with them: a noticeably younger-looking Altmer in robes that must be Calcelmo’s nephew, a couple of generic-looking guards, and someone else, possibly the captain of the guards or something. Either way, four to two isn’t exactly good odds, although they most likely believe it to be four to one.

Gallus ducks back behind the tablet, lets the spell fall, and is greeted by a look of shock from his companion.

“You shouldn’t be able to do that,” she whispers, and that only adds to Gallus’ confusion.

“What? Why not?”

“Because—”

Whatever she was going to say is quickly cut off by one of the guards yelling, “They’re over here!”

Karliah mumbles a curse, then looks to Gallus and says, tersely, “We need to split up. Don’t get caught.”

“Are you—“

“I’ll be fine, I’ll meet you back at the—you know. Don’t wait for me.”

With that, she vaults over the tablet and sprints for the door the guards came out of. Gallus sprints for the other. He doesn’t waste time worrying about Karliah—she can take care of herself. Instead, he flings the door open, slams it behind him, then ducks to the side and makes himself invisible. It pays off—the guard after him and Calcelmo’s nephew race past, and he suspects they would have done so even if he hadn’t taken extra precautions on his part.

With that taken care of, he slips back through the Museum itself, and from there back to their room in the inn. Karliah isn’t there, but he isn’t worried.

Well, alright, to say he’s not worried at all is a lie, but he dismisses it fairly quickly, or tries to anyway. If she’s been able to evade Mercer and the Guild for decades on her own, she’ll be fine here. The only reason she isn’t back yet is because she’s just being extremely careful so she doesn’t get caught.

Gallus tries to keep his internal worry under control, but even after he quite sternly tells himself that she’s fine , she’s just taking a while, there’s still the tiniest bit of doubt within him. Once he’s back in their room, it’s not long before he’s out like a light.

He doesn’t dream, at least not that he remembers—but an outside observer would have thought otherwise. To all appearances, the thief curled up on the stony excuse for a bed looks to have been crying in his sleep.

Chapter Text

Gallus begins to suspect something’s gone horribly wrong when he awakens alone. There’s no sign of Karliah, nothing to suggest she’s returned, and it’s with this hollow finality that he begins to fear that she may not have gotten out at all. He doesn’t want to believe it, but if she isn’t back…

What if…

What if she’s…

No, Gallus tells himself. She’s not dead. She can’t be dead. She’s probably just laying low to avoid the guards. She’s probably fine.

Even as he thinks this, he can’t keep himself from worrying, and he tries. He soon finds himself pacing the length of the room anxiously, glancing at the door every time he thinks he hears something, which is… fairly often.

Eventually, he’s had enough. He grabs his gear, leaving the room with a particularly not lived-in appearance, and heads out.

A quick glance at the door, propped open for some reason or another, reveals the faint early morning light of just after dawn. Relief floods Gallus, because if it’s this early, then Karliah probably just isn’t back yet. It certainly explains why he doesn’t feel rested in the least—the stars were already beginning to fade when he’d slipped back in. So, with at least some measure of confidence, Gallus heads over to the innkeeper.

“The woman who was with me earlier, have you seen her?” He asks. The innkeeper shrugs.

“Not lately,” he says. That alone makes Gallus’ heart sink. “Hey, lad… are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah,” Gallus lies, although he’s really not sure what prompted the question. “Why?”

“Because you haven’t come out of there for over a day. I won’t ask what you were doing the night before, but it must have been exhausting if you were asleep all that time.”

The illusion of things being remotely okay shatters with that, and Gallus says, faintly, “Yeah, it was.”

Truth be told, he’s still exhausted, but at the moment he’s got a slightly more pressing issue. Karliah hasn’t been here in some time, since…

“It’s... Sundas, then?”

“Yeah.”

...since Fredas night, which was when they left for the Museum. He hasn’t seen her since early Loredas morning, when it was still dark out.

Don’t wait for me, she’d said.

I’ll be fine, she’d said.

Gallus is beginning to fear that wherever she is, she most certainly is not fine. Otherwise, she’d be here now. The smart thing to do would be to leave Markarth now. To leave without her. He has the rubbings of Calcelmo’s notes, he could just head back to Enthir now and be done with it. But without her?

He hates himself for even thinking of the possibility.

Leaving without Karliah isn’t an option, not if she’s still somewhere in the city, and not if she’s—if she’s not—Gallus’ gut twists uncomfortably at the mere thought of leaving her behind. He has to believe she’s alive, and that she’s somewhere in Markarth.

The prison immediately crosses his mind, and it’s with some horror that he excuses himself and heads out into the city.

We can’t risk being caught, Karliah had said. No one’s ever escaped Cidhna Mine, and while normally I’d be pretty confident that we could, this is Cidhna Mine we’re talking about.

Gallus doesn’t go there immediately, because that would be assuming close to the worst. Instead, he ducks behind a stone column and pulls on the mage robes over his armor. It’ll look a little odd, but as long as no one looks too closely—and he’s pretty sure he can pull off the haughty mage impression, he just needs to avoid Calcelmo himself—he’ll be fine.

What stops him in his tracks, then, is that the robes smell distinctly like her. Unbidden, an image of her grinning mischievously appears in his mind. Gallus blinks hard, and finds he’s gripping one of the sleeves like a sort of lifeline. He forces himself to let go, to mask his true emotions with physical composure, and to continue.

I’ll find you, he promises himself. And when I do, I’ll tell you the truth about how I feel. I’ll finally tell you that I…

I don’t need my memories to know I’m in love with you, and I—

Gods, please be alright.


“Here for the Dwemer Museum?” The lone guard at the door asks. Gallus nods quickly. Not for the first time, he’s incredibly glad that it’s not unheard of for mages to wear hooded robes. In all honesty, it’s actually rather common. “Can’t let you in, there’s been a break-in and Calcelmo’s still trying to figure out what was taken.”

Gallus manages to look remarkably surprised, and asks, “There was a break-in? Did you catch the one responsible?”

“Well, there were at least two. I was chasing one—almost caught her, too, but she was fast . Gone the instant she was out the door. Shouldn’t be telling you this, of course—”

“I heard nothing.”

“You heard nothing,” the guard agrees. “Now, if you want to speak with Calcelmo, you’ll have to wait. He’s in there somewhere, but his nephew’s somewhere that-a-ways. Nice lad.”

“I’ll come back later,” Gallus says. He almost thanks the guard for his time, but remembers just in time that he’s playing the part of a presumptuous scholar. It would be suspicious to thank the guard, so he doesn’t.

As he walks off, it’s with some confusion, and more questions than answers. Evidently, Karliah hadn’t gotten caught on her way out, because that guard wasn’t lying. He’s sure of that. But if she didn’t get caught immediately...

...then where is she?

(Gods, he hopes she’s alright, although at this point he’ll settle for alive.)


Before anything else, he stops back in the inn, on the off chance Karliah’s returned. She hasn’t, and Gallus doubts he’s imagining the sympathetic looks from the innkeeper himself. He can’t wait any longer, though—so it’s with that in mind that he sets off for Cidhna Mine. He doesn’t have a plan, which in retrospect may not be the best idea on his part.

On the one hand, Gallus doesn’t know where else Karliah could be, if not Cidhna Mine. (Well, there’s one other option, but he doesn’t want to think about that possibility.) On the other hand, he doesn’t know Markarth very well, and there’s a crowd gathered around the entrance of the tallest building in the city. It’s a tower of some sort, and Gallus slips into the crowd naturally.

“Do you know what’s going on?” Someone asks beside him. It takes Gallus a moment to realize that someone’s talking to him, and when he does he shrugs.

“No,” Gallus says faintly. “You have any idea?”

The man who’s spoken is a reddish-haired Breton that’s significantly shorter than Gallus and looks suspiciously like he wouldn’t be able to hold his own in a fight. He’s got odd, distinctive-looking warpaint slathered across his features, but that doesn’t keep Gallus’ attention for more than a moment, not once he begins speaking again.

“Rumors. Military officer was killed, and people are saying the Dark Brotherhood was involved. But get this—he was plotting to kill the Emperor himself! You think maybe the Dark Brotherhood got tired of him, offed him themselves?”

Gallus shrugs. At the moment, he’s only half paying attention, but that’s about to change.

“Half the guards witnessed him arguing with a Dunmer woman, apparently, before she stabbed him,” the man continues, and Gallus is suddenly far more interested in him than in trying to see over the crowd. “I heard they actually caught her. That’s a first, huh?”

For his part, Gallus is too shocked to answer for a good few moments. Eventually, he manages to choke out, “How did they know she was the assassin?”

“Not a lot of Dunmer women in the area, my friend. It wasn’t hard to track her down, especially when she was skulking about in the night regardless.”

They think Karliah is…

Oh gods.

“Fair enough,” Gallus says eventually, but the other man isn’t done.

“Of course, that’s what they’re saying. You know what I think? I think… oh, I think you dropped this. Some kind of note. Looks important.”

The man offers him a crumpled-up piece of paper.

“No, I didn’t,” Gallus says slowly, only to receive a shrug.

“I figure you’ll have a better chance of finding who did drop this than I will. Be seeing you.”

With that, the other man shoves it into his grasp and leaves, and Gallus cautiously unfolds the paper. He soon finds a very, very hastily written note, so hastily written that it takes him a bit to decipher the lone sentence scrawled across it.

Meet me at the Shrine of Talos.

He finds himself squinting suspiciously at the man’s backside, because this is too much of a coincidence for it to not be from him. Also, needless to say, Gallus hadn’t actually dropped the note himself.

Even so, it turns out the Shrine of Talos isn’t far, so he goes in. He’s not remotely surprised to find the man from earlier standing there.

“I would have continued this near the Guard Tower,” he says apologetically, “but if I’m right I can’t risk anyone else overhearing. You’re an outsider, dangerous-looking, a little too interested in things. You’ll do.”

“For what.”

“This is going to sound crazy,” he grins sheepishly, “but there’s a conspiracy going on here, and it’s gone on long enough. I’m sorry to drag you into Markarth’s problems, but after this…”

Alright, so Gallus has inadvertently wound up involved with someone’s far-fetched conspiracy theories, which likely won’t end well. Conspiracy theories rarely do. Barring that, he might know something about Karliah, or have some idea of how to get her out.

“Before you led me here,” Gallus says slowly, “you were going to say something about what you thought. And is this really the safest place? Considering…”

“Safest, no, but it’s leagues better than the street. I’m Eltrys, by the way. If you were wondering.”

He wasn’t, actually, although it’s good to be able to put a name to the face of this quite paranoid individual. Gallus briefly considers offering his name in turn—that’s clearly what Eltrys is hoping for—but on the other hand, does he really want to be linked with this man’s conspiracy theories?

“Keep going,” he says. “I’m here for answers.” Currently, he can’t be bothered to be polite—Eltrys is starting to get on his nerves here, and it doesn’t help that he’s already on edge because of Karliah being nowhere to be found (and possibly in Cidhna Mine). Eltrys, fortunately, isn’t at all deterred—even if he isn’t any less insufferable.

“You’re not the only one that wants them. I want them, everyone else in this damn city wants them. A few days ago, a man went crazy in the market, killed a woman. Everyone knew he was a Forsworn agent. Guards did nothing, except clean up the mess.”

Gallus would think Eltrys is crazy, except that he was there. He and Karliah both were, it happened just after they arrived. The man in question had screamed something about the Forsworn before being killed as well. Come to think of it, the guards had seemed awfully nonchalant about the whole thing, which they wouldn’t, unless…

Unless they’d been expecting it. Maybe Eltrys is actually onto something, as skeptical as Gallus finds himself.

“Go on.”

“Then, what happened yesterday. They say it was the Dark Brotherhood, but I’m skeptical. The Dark Brotherhood wouldn’t have gotten caught, and while I don’t know how yet, I’m thinking there’s got to be someone that benefitted from his death. From both of their deaths.”

“What happened to the woman they said killed him?” Gallus asks, hoping desperately that it’s not what he fears it is.

“Cidhna Mine, probably. They didn’t kill her, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Gallus couldn’t hide his visible relief if he tried. Cidhna Mine… isn’t good, but it’s a lot better than the alternative. It’s still bad, though.

“Friend of yours?” Eltrys asks.

“I was hoping not, but,” he winces. “Considering that I can’t find her anywhere, and as you said there aren’t a lot of Dunmer in Markarth…”

“So they’ve framed your friend for murder? Damn. This sort of thing’s been going on for years, but lately it’s been getting worse. That’s why I needed to meet with you in private—we really can’t risk being overheard, not if there’s a conspiracy going on.”

Reluctantly, Gallus nods. He’s really too tired for this, but it’ll be worth it. He can catch up on his sleep once he and Karliah are out of Markarth.

Chapter Text

To say that Gallus is skeptical about how well this will work is an understatement. Even if he trusted Eltrys—which he doesn’t—the lad’s plan isn’t exactly foolproof. Rather, Gallus doubts it will work at all. It doesn’t help that while Gallus strongly suspects Eltrys isn’t lying outright, he’s definitely leaving something out.

On the other hand, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of options here. Gallus doesn’t have time to try something different, and he needs to get Karliah out of Cidhna Mine as soon as possible. So if, maybe, the plan doesn’t go entirely as… planned, that’ll be alright. It’ll be alright, in the end, so long as things don’t go too badly.

Besides. He’d rather finish this sooner rather than later. He doesn’t know what it’s like in Cidhna Mine—and he doesn’t want to—but imagining Karliah trapped anywhere makes his gut twist uncomfortably.

Now, he’s back at the Silver-Blood Inn, although this time it’s to investigate something else within, not to check if Karliah’s back. He knows far too well that she won’t be. The innkeeper, however, doesn’t.

“I haven’t seen her, lad,” the innkeeper says apologetically as Gallus walks in. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Gallus says, turns, and has to remember to force a smile. Even so, it’s more of a grimace. “I… didn’t think she’d be here, anyway.”

The innkeeper frowns, and says, “If you need a drink, just between the two of us, I can give you one on the house.”

Briefly, Gallus gives the possibility some serious thought, then shakes his head.

“No, thank you. I’d like to keep a clear head for the time being.”

The innkeeper nods in understanding, although Gallus sincerely doubts he actually understands why he needs a (more or less) clear head, or at the very least not the specifics. After all, he definitely wouldn’t approve of Gallus rifling through the room rented by the woman who’d been murdered. In all honesty, he’s probably pushing it by not hiding his worry.

Markarth is a dangerous city, perhaps even more so than Riften—for anyone besides him or Karliah, that is. Actually, comparing the two is pointless. Each has its own dangers, but Gallus supposes the big difference here is that he’d felt somewhat at home in Riften, if on edge around certain people. Markarth, while not entirely alien, has a cold, unforgiving feel to it. If the city were sentient, he suspects it would want him out just as much as he wants out, and he’s only partially sure of why.

Instead of heading into his room once he’s around the corner, Gallus leans against the side of the hallway and settles in to wait. He couldn’t say exactly how long he’s waited, but it’s some time before he gets his opportunity in the form of the innkeeper’s wife coming in and beginning to argue with him. Gallus doesn’t bother listening in. He takes a deep breath, casts his invisibility spell, and creeps back the way he came.

He doesn’t actually know which room was the murdered woman’s, but there’s only so many. It can’t take that long to—

“Are we ever going to clean out that room?” The innkeeper’s wife asks, and nods her head in the general direction of where Gallus had come from. Actually, come to think of it, there is another room further down there, and if that’s the right room…

Well, it’s convenient, to say the least. Gallus wastes no time in heading back down there, only to realize as he comes to the door that it’s locked (because of course it is, why wouldn’t it be) and a locked door means he needs to pick the lock, or get the key. Normally, he’d be fine with picking the lock, but lately…

In all honesty, he’s not sure what’s wrong. He probably just needs to get more sleep. Fortunately, luck seems to be on his side here, because the lock on the door breaks easily and without a sound, and he slips in.

The room’s mostly barren, with the exception of a couple of books. Gallus only glances offhandedly at the title of the first one, and sets it aside in favor of the second. The second book is a well-worn, leatherbound journal with the name ‘Margret’ written carefully on the inside.

That, Gallus supposes, must have been her name.

He tries not to think too hard about how the woman—how Margret —died, but isn’t particularly successful. Unconsciously, his grip on the book tightens. If this is her journal, she likely would have preferred it to stay private. Of course, she likely would have preferred to not die as well. So, Gallus flips to the last couple pages, and begins reading.

It doesn’t take him long to realize that Margret, whoever she was, was no innocent victim. From the looks of things, she was working for the Empire, and apparently tasked with making sure that Cidhna Mine, of all places, wouldn’t continue to belong to a family of Stormcloak sympathizers.

Maybe I've played my hand too soon by rushing the confrontation with Thonar, Margret had written, likely shortly before her death. There are shadows around every corner in this city, and I know I'm being watched.

Innocent or no, what happened to her had been coincidental at best and conspiratorial at worst. Gallus had thought that the Forsworn would despise the Stormcloaks, after everything he’s heard. Yet, even so, here was a self-proclaimed member of the Forsworn conveniently attacking someone that could have and would have made life very difficult for the Silver-Blood family, all of whom are apparently very wealthy Stormcloak sympathizers.

Perhaps, Gallus grudgingly admits, Eltrys is onto something. There’s definitely something not right here, and whatever it is, that’s probably what got Karliah thrown into Cidhna Mine. So, he takes the journal—it’s not like its owner is going to be using it anytime soon.

Before he exits, he looks back for the smallest of moments, and his gaze again finds the other book on the desk. The title is… odd, at best, and for a moment he wonders about the contents. He’s curious, but curiosity can wait. Chances are he can find it again elsewhere, but then again, it isn’t like he goes to many bookstores, and this one is too intriguing to pass up, even if he doesn’t have the time to read it at the moment.

Nightingales: Fact or Fiction ends up in his pack, partially because he’s curious, and partially because something about the title sticks with him. He’s not sure what.


“So, you’re saying she was investigating the Silver-Bloods right before she died?” Eltrys asks. Gallus nods. “Damn. Can’t say I’m surprised that they’re involved, they’re involved in everything around here, but that makes our job that much harder.”

Briefly, Gallus considers correcting him, as he’s literally done no work on this so far. At least, none that he knows of.

“So what now?”

“I’ll look into Weylin’s room in the Warrens, see if I can find anything. It’ll be less suspicious if I go there, I… live there myself.”

If Gallus remembers correctly, Weylin had been the murderer’s name. Eltrys had said that he’d known him at least a little, enough to know that he definitely hadn’t gone mad. What he’d done had been completely purposeful, and there had to be a reason why. Makes sense.

“What are the Warrens?” He asks after a moment, because he can’t recall having heard that name before. Eltrys fails to hide a grimace.

“You could call them Markarth’s slums, although calling them slums is fairly generous. I’m hoping to get my family out of there soon—but that’s not important right now. I’ll go check the Warrens. You should look into the Treasury House. It’s run by the Silver-Bloods, and, um…”

Eltrys grins uneasily, and continues, “Say hello to my wife while you’re there. Or… actually, don’t, she’ll try to talk me out of this. Too dangerous, she says. But… I don’t know about you, but I need answers.”

Gallus nods. “I just need to get my,” he hesitates, “ friend out of Cidhna Mine.” Eltrys evidently catches his lie, and raises an eyebrow.

“Anyway,” Gallus continues briskly, “I’ll meet you back here in… an hour.” That should prove more than enough time to slip into the Treasury House, steal whatever evidence he can find— a journal, perhaps? Everybody and their mother seem to be keeping one —and get back to the Shrine of Talos. Eltrys nods.

“Be seeing you.”


The Treasury House is nearly deserted, and evidently the woman at the counter (Gallus assumes this is Eltrys’ wife) doesn’t get anywhere near as much sleep as she should, because she’s obviously quite drowsy. It’s a simple matter to slip past her, and the lock on the door to the interior proved surprisingly easy, considering how paranoid the Silver-Bloods were supposed to be. (Or… are, if they’re anything like the Black-Briars.)

It’s slightly harder to slip past the man that Gallus would guess is Thonar Silver-Blood himself. While he’s got his back to the door and is absorbed in reading some kind of book, he’s clearly quite alert and Gallus can’t risk being caught. So, he casts a spell to muffle his footsteps, then another to hide him from view entirely, and stays silent for good measure as he creeps up behind the man.

If he were an assassin, this would be a great position to slit his throat from. However, Gallus isn’t an assassin and despises even the thought of becoming one, so he kneels, grabs a similar-looking book to Margret’s journal, and before leaving, he cautiously opens it.

It’s Thonar Silver-Blood’s journal, and flipping through it soon gives him all the information he needs. Eltrys evidently was spot-on with his guess that there was in fact, a conspiracy going on here, and it had everything to do with the Forsworn. Apparently, it has everything to do with the Silver-Bloods, too.

Gallus briefly considers leaving it here, but soon decides against it. If Eltrys’ plan is what he thinks it is, he’ll need the journal as evidence. So, he grabs that and slips out, completely unnoticed, and returns to the Shrine of Talos.

Unfortunately for him, he soon finds out that while things went quite well on his end, they went as badly as they possibly could have on Eltrys’ own.

Chapter Text

Gallus might not have much in the way of memories, but even with amnesia he can tell that a group of guards standing around a dead body is a bad sign. He can’t tell who it is from here, not for sure, but considering the location and the timing… he has a bad feeling about this.

Briefly, he considers slipping away, but he can’t. If he gives up here, that means essentially abandoning Karliah, and he can’t do that. He won’t do that. So he has to try, even if he suspects that this may not end well for him. He doesn’t bother sneaking up, not this time, and it’s just as the guards turn that he recognizes Eltrys’ distinctive warpaint.

It likely says something about how optimistic Gallus is feeling at the moment that he hadn’t been expecting anything different. Gods—Eltrys hadn’t deserved this, he’d had a family, a wife and a baby on the way. He never should have gotten involved with this, and yet he did, and here they are.

Regardless, from the looks of things he’s got two options. Well—three, but running away isn’t one he’s willing to consider. Either he fights, or… he tries to convince them to throw him into Cidhna Mine instead of just killing him on the spot. That could possibly work.

Sure, Cidhna Mine is supposed to be inescapable but, if Gallus doesn’t let on that he knows magic, he could possibly use it to his advantage. Not only that, but he recalls that the leader of the Forsworn is stuck in Cidhna Mine as well. One person acting alone may not be able to escape, true, but more people might change that. And Gallus knows, from both experience and what he doesn’t remember, that he’s pretty persuasive.

However, he has to survive this first. Gallus puts on a shocked expression, and exclaims, “What the—?”

“So you’re Eltrys’ accomplice, then,” one of the guards says dryly. “You did a much better job of going unnoticed than he did, that’s for sure. Wouldn’t have caught you if you hadn’t come back.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” Gallus says, ignoring the way his heart’s pounding in his chest. He’s only got one shot at this, and if he screws up here… he’ll never see Karliah again, one way or another.

“It wasn’t. You just had to go and cause trouble, didn’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did. Not that it matters at this point—you’re just going to kill me too.”

Silently, he hopes against hope that they take the bait.

They do, when one of the guards sheaths his axe, and the rest soon follow suit.

“Now that you mention it, we do need a scapegoat, and you’re the perfect candidate. It’s off to Cidhna Mine with you.”

“No, no! I—” When Gallus speaks again, he lets the very real fear in his heart seep into his voice. The source isn’t where they likely think it is, but they don’t need to know that. “You can’t. Please. Not Cidhna Mine.”

Gallus continues protesting right up until one of the guards threatens to knock him upside the head if he doesn’t shut up.

He shuts up.


Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling that he won’t be released from Cidhna Mine legally anytime soon or, perhaps, ever. It’s with this in mind that he begins searching the tunnels for either Karliah or… Madanach, was it? Something like that, anyway.

He doesn’t find either of them, but a quick conversation with one of the other prisoners reveals that she’s definitely here, and the last he saw her—about an hour ago—she had gone in to speak with Madanach. Who, apparently, has a private cell, and the orc leaning against the wall next to the door is apparently his bodyguard.

“So this Dunmer lass… she a friend of yours?” The prisoner, who’d introduced himself as Uraccen and seemed surprisingly friendly considering everything.

“Something like that,” Gallus says. He’s only half paying attention, as he’s currently trying to figure out how to get past Madanach’s bodyguard, preferably without any bloodshed because he’d really rather not alienate the apparent leader of the Forsworn. However, he’s soon quite aware of Uraccen chuckling to himself.

“Something more, mayhaps?”

“Well… kind of,” Gallus admits. “Not really. It’s complicated.”

“Maybe,” Uraccen says, “you should make it less complicated.”

That’s easier said than done, and Gallus briefly considers saying as much, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says goodbye (at least for now) and heads over to talk to Madanach’s bodyguard. Uraccen hadn’t sounded particularly optimistic about that, and as soon as he opens his mouth, Gallus can see why.

“What do you want,” the orc says sourly.

“I need to see Madanach,” Gallus replies, barely managing to keep his voice even. He really, really hopes that Uraccen was exaggerating when he said that he ripped off a man’s arm and beat it to death with it.

“You? Need to see Madanach? Pah. No you don’t. Serve your time and mine like the rest of us.”

“Yes, I do.”

The orc crosses his arms over his chest, looks Gallus up and down skeptically. It’s quite clear he doesn’t believe him. Before he can say no, Gallus takes a deep breath.

“It’s important,” he continues, and sincerely hopes that he sounds more confident than he feels. The orc squints at him, then sighs.

“Fine,” he says, and Gallus almost dares to believe this will be easy, right up until he holds up a finger. “But first, you have to pay the toll.”

There’s a toll? (Of course there’s a toll.)

“You let the Dunmer lass in, earlier,” Gallus tries. “She’s a friend of mine.”

“Then you can wait until she gets out. She’s got business with the King in Rags. It’s more important than yours.”

Gallus sighs, resigns himself to however long this is going to take, and reluctantly asks, “What’s the toll?”


Quite a bit of running around the mine later, Gallus has what he needs.

“Here you go,” Gallus says. He almost instinctively goes for his pack, only to remember that they took that away, along with everything else. Instead, he just hands the... shiv(?) to the bodyguard. “One shiv. Can I go in?”

The orc waves a hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Don’t cause any trouble or you’ll be answering to me.”

Gallus nods, and steps through the gate cautiously. It’s only once he’s well on his way down the tunnel to where the King in Rags, and Karliah, are waiting that he mumbles under his breath, “I wasn’t planning on it.”

Any lingering bitterness doesn’t last long, though, because he hears voices. One distinctly accented that sounds vaguely familiar, but it’s not someone he can place, and one…

One that’s unmistakably Karliah.

Relief floods through Gallus as he continues closer, and turns the corner. There’s an old Breton man discussing something with her. He’s sitting on the bed, and has his back to Gallus. Karliah, on the other hand, doesn’t. His movement attracts her notice, and she glances up.

Indigo eyes meet grey, and hers widen in shock.

“Excuse me a moment,” she murmurs in the direction of the old man, then steps forward. “Gallus, I—shadows, what are you doing here?”

“Technically, I got framed for murder, but I think we both know I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be,” Gallus jokes, but his face falls as he takes in her disheveled appearance. “Normally I’d say the same for you, though… are you alright? What happened?”

His first question, at the very least, isn’t entirely unwarranted. She looks just as exhausted as he feels, the dark circles under her eyes are back with a vengeance, and—most concerningly—there’s what looks suspiciously like dried blood under her nose. Like someone punched her there, hard. Actually, upon closer inspection, she might have a black eye, which…

Well. Let’s just say that Gallus would have no qualms whatsoever about making whoever did this to her suffer, although his bet is on one of the guards. They’re, unfortunately, rather hard to tell apart, but that doesn’t stop him from being angry about it.

“What… oh,” she raises a hand to her face, wipes off some of what’s definitely dried blood. “I’m fine, I promise it’s worse than it looks. I’m… fairly sure they thought I was part of the Dark Brotherhood. I don’t know where they got that from.”

“Some officer from the Legion or something got murdered, and apparently the assassin was a Dunmer woman. Evidently they didn’t bother checking if they had the right woman.”

“Apparently not. That explains quite a bit, though… you didn’t have to come after me.”

“Yes,” Gallus says firmly, “I did.”

The two were still standing a fair distance apart when he said that, so Gallus had to have taken a few steps forward himself, but he isn’t fully aware of the motion. He does, however, make a conscious decision to take that final step and pull her close.

Karliah wraps her arms around him, too, and they remain like that for what could have been moments or minutes, a few seconds or an era. She doesn’t break away. She doesn’t pull away. A small part of Gallus is filled with relief at that, while the rest is just glad she’s here, glad they’re together. For some reason, though, it’s a bittersweet joy, and Gallus isn’t certain why.

Well, no. Gallus knows exactly why.

It’s because he can’t remember.

“Gallus,” Karliah whispers suddenly, “are you… crying?”

He realizes then that his shoulders are shaking, and his eyes do feel watery, although that might be from his distinct lack of sleep. He could make an effort to check, but doing so would mean having to break away, and he doesn’t want to let go.

That, he’s certain of.

“I wish I could remember,” he murmurs, leaning against her, breathing in her scent. The words are barely audible, but Karliah must have heard them, because she only holds him tighter.

“I’m just glad you’re here.”

“Me too.”

They could have stayed like that forever but, unfortunately, while Gallus and Karliah weren’t the only ones in the room, they were the only ones that had any idea what they were talking about.

“I really hate to interrupt,” the old man says suddenly, “but what in the name of the Old Gods are you talking about?”

Gallus hastily breaks away, and from the similarly surprised look gracing Karliah’s features, it looks like she’d forgotten they weren’t alone as well. The old man, a white-haired Breton with a wild look in his eyes, is standing now, and is doing a remarkably good job of not looking as confused as his question makes him sound.

This must be Madanach. Gallus looks to Karliah briefly, who nods.

“We can trust him,” she says softly. Gallus recalls something she’d said before entering the city—only a few days hence, but it seems like so much longer now—about the Forsworn. Rather, who the Forsworn had been prior to the Markarth Incident, and being driven out.

If he’d been reaching out to the native Reachmen, and probably to Madanach himself, then evidently he hadn’t thought them too abhorrent. Not to mention that it’ll be hard to explain away this as anything but the truth, at this point. Madanach and the Forsworn could prove a powerful ally, and the rest of Markarth hasn’t exactly appealed to Gallus lately.

Besides, if nothing else, he trusts Karliah’s judgment.

“I have amnesia,” Gallus says. The words sound hollow, now. He’s spent some time now pretending that he didn’t have amnesia, and just admitting it now feels… off. Even so, Madanach frowns, but nods in understanding.

“That’s… something,” Madanach murmurs. He seems to be at a loss for words. “Well. Old Gods keep you, lad—that can’t be easy to bear.”

Gallus smiles uncomfortably and nods.

It’s not.

Chapter Text

After everything it took to get here, getting out of Cidhna Mine seems almost deceptively simple. Madanach had been planning a jailbreak for some time, and was just waiting for the right moment to put everything in motion. The city of Markarth is still on edge, but it always is. Since (as far as anyone knows) both the assassin and Eltrys’ murderer are in Cidhna Mine and staying there, nobody will be expecting a breakout.

No one, except for those in the mine. From what Gallus can tell, the jailbreak would have happened regardless of his own involvement. Karliah would have been out of Markarth within a matter of days even if he’d done nothing. If he’d gone back to Winterhold on his own, chances are she would have found him again sooner rather than later.

That might have been a better option, ignoring the fact that he would never have been able to look her in the eye again after that. Looking back, he never could have done that, and never would have.

Regardless, she’s definitely happy he’s here, which almost makes what happened on the way worth it. In retrospect, he never truly had any good options, but the outcome here is certainly better than he’d feared, for him at least. For Eltrys, on the other hand…

Gallus is fairly certain that if he hadn’t agreed to help Eltrys, someone else would have, eventually. He’s all but convinced himself that there was nothing he could have done, and even if there was, there’s no going back. So instead, he’ll forge forward, and while he prefers not to kill, if any of the city guard get between him and the city gates… he won’t hesitate.

They should be breaking out shortly after sunset, when resistance should be minimal, with any luck. Here’s to hoping Gallus’ own holds.

“So,” Madanach concludes, “we’ve still got a few hours until dark. It’ll be up to you whether you split off once we’re through the gates or continue on with the rest of us to Druadach Redoubt. Either way, if you can get some sleep, do it. It’s a long walk to Druadach, and you’ll want to be as far away from Markarth as you can get when the sun rises.”

“Where… is Druadach Redoubt, exactly?” Karliah asks. Madanach shrugs.

“I don’t know exactly where, but it’s almost directly between Markarth and Solitude, close to the mountains of the same name. Can’t give you better directions than that, I’m afraid—being in prison for a couple decades does that to you.”

She looks to Gallus, who frowns unconsciously.

“We need to get back to Winterhold,” he murmurs. “That’s not on the way, is it?”

“No,” Karliah agrees. She glances to Madanach, and says, “We’ll have to split off fairly quickly.”

“Of course. You’ll both be welcome in the future, at least where I am. As for the other camps… it may take me some time to get word to them. I would advise staying away for the time being. Any other questions?”

There’s been something, a niggling feeling at the back of Gallus’ mind that he can’t quite shake since this conversation began. Slowly, he nods.

“You aren’t doing this just to be nice, are you?” Gallus guesses. “You want something from us. Might as well get it out of the way now.”

“Perceptive as ever, I see. Are you sure you have amnesia?”

“Not being able to remember doesn’t impact my abilities. That’s never been an issue.”

He’s exaggerating a little—well, alright, perhaps a bit more than that. Madanach doesn’t call his bluff, though. Instead, he nods, and strokes his chin thoughtfully.

“Very well. Before you joined us, Karliah took the liberty of informing me of your current situation with regards to the traitor currently in charge. In return for this, and any other assistance you require to take back your Guild, I only request one thing: that you aid my people in retaking the Reach when the time is right.”

For a few moments, Gallus sees Madanach as not the kind old man stuck in prison, but as a ruthless leader, willing to do anything and everything it takes to win where he’d formerly lost.

He’s suddenly very glad that Madanach, and by extension, the Forsworn, are more or less on their side.

“Sounds reasonable,” Gallus says. Madanach smiles, and the kind old man is back.

“Then get some sleep. It won’t do anyone any good if you get yourselves killed on the way out of here.”


Madanach had hastily excused himself after that, muttering something about having to deal with someone before filling the other prisoners in, although if Gallus were less distracted he might suspect ulterior motives. As it is, he can barely think straight.

This is the first time he’s been alone with Karliah since… well…

You promised you’d tell her, Gallus reminds himself sternly. Now’s the perfect time.

And yet, he can’t seem to get the words out. When he tries, it’s like there’s something caught in his throat, or an invisible hand clapped over his mouth.

Get it together, Gallus.

“You look tired,” she says softly. “How are you holding up?”

Gallus shrugs, takes a seat on the bed next to her. He’s all too aware of how close he is to her. His mouth feels dry, and it takes him a moment to gather his thoughts.

“I’m doing alright, now.” He yawns. “Definitely tired though. You?”

“Can’t remember the last time I wasn’t, truth be told. I’ve learned to live with it.”

Gallus sighs. Words again fail him. Karliah’s head dips a little, but she quickly raises it again, blinks back the sleep in her eyes in a last ditch attempt to stay awake. He opens his mouth, then closes it, and takes her hand in his.

He’s not confessing anytime soon, it seems.

“Get some sleep,” he says instead. She gives him a small smile, clearly exhausted, before leaning back and—is she leaning on him?

“Do you mind…?” She asks halfway, clearly hesitating to come closer.

“Of course not.”

Gallus shifts his position slightly as she leans into him and closes her eyes. Her breathing slows, goes deep and even. To all appearances, she’s asleep.

Gods, she’s beautiful.

He shifts his position a little more, carefully so he doesn’t wake her. With a sigh, he brushes some of her hair out of her face. She’s smiling, which is definitely good, even if he wishes she’d have more reason to do so when awake. He still can’t find the confidence to admit how he really feels, not while she’s listening. But she’s asleep, now,  and Gallus can’t help himself. Not when in hours they’ll be running for their lives again.

“I love you,” he whispers, stroking her hair softly.

She says nothing, and he’s relieved. If she had heard him—well. He does not know what he would do. Listening to his own words lifts a burden from his shoulders and makes his heart ache at the same time. He hates it, and he’s not sure he can confront her about that particular just yet, not when he does not understand it himself.

He let go a long breath and leans his head on the wall. Her warmth and the knowledge that she’s safe and by his side make exhaustion impossible to fight, and he allows his eyelids to droop at last.

It’s when he’s nearly asleep that he hears her say, so softly he might have imagined it, “I love you too.” He would have thought he’d imagined it if she hadn’t given his hand, still in hers, a faint squeeze.

Chapter Text

When Madanach sends someone to wake them, it’s nearly dusk. Or at least, Gallus is pretty sure of that—it’s impossible to tell for certain in the depths of Cidhna Mine, where the only light comes from lanterns or, occasionally, the faint glow of magic.

(Gallus would think that, considering that the Forsworn are primarily made up of Bretons and Bretons are generally very, very good at magic of all kinds, that the guards would have been a little smarter about preventing magic use. Perhaps they were, initially. But after decades without a breakout, perhaps security became more and more lax.)

Uraccen takes one look at the two of them, casually states that it’s getting late and anytime they’re not busy, they should head out to the main area, and leaves with the ghost of a knowing smile on his face. Evidently, he thinks he knows something about what’s going on here. To be fair, there’s one very obvious reason why a couple of people would fall asleep on each other, and if that’s what Uraccen’s thinking of, it’s not entirely wrong.

“I guess we’d better head out,” Karliah says eventually. “No point in keeping them waiting any longer.”

“Yeah,” Gallus agrees. Even so, neither of them move. In his case, it’s because even after everything, there’s still a tiny seed of doubt within him. He could have dreamed it. He probably dreamed it—after all, he can’t possibly live up to who he was. Not without his memories.

And he has no idea how he can even begin to get those back.

“You’re not getting up,” she notes. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I’m fine, I just…”

“Gallus. Look at me,” Karliah puts a hand on his shoulder. “What is it?”

He takes a deep breath and turns towards her. Their eyes meet, and he holds her gaze. There’s something in her eyes, some deep sadness that finally makes the words come spilling out.

“I’m not the same as I was. I should be, but I’m not. Maybe if I could actually remember something, but I can’t. I can’t—gods, everything’s so familiar, you’re so familiar… I’ve known the whole time that you mean so much to me, and I just can’t remember anything I know I should. But I’m… I’m not the same.”

Gallus is only dimly aware of it at this point, but he’s full on sobbing. He doesn’t know how Karliah’s reacted, and in all honesty, he’s not sure he wants to know.

“No, you’re not,” she says finally. Her arms wrap around him. “But neither am I. And that’s alright. It’s been so long, I’d be worried if either of us were the same as we were back then. We’ve both changed a lot—shadows, I know I have. Everything’s gone to Oblivion and then some. But there’s one thing I know for sure, and it’s that you’re the same Gallus I fell in love with, memories or no memories.”

Gallus tries to wipe away his tears, but more come. He’s at a loss for words.

“Listen,” she continues, and her grip tightens some. “I love you, Gallus. I love you so, so much. Whatever’s going on, we’ll get through it together, like we always have. I’ve lost you once already—I’m not losing you again.”

His eyes water, although the tears aren’t so much from sadness this time.

“You mean it?” He manages.

“Everything.”

“...you still love me?”

She actually laughs. “Of course I do, you idiot. I know you can’t remember this, but… shadows, it took you a long time to finally tell me what was up the first time. I’m glad it didn’t take you any longer this time.”

It’s almost like a weight’s been lifted off his chest, like he can finally breathe again, except he hadn’t been quite aware that he couldn’t until now. Being close to Karliah has a rightness to it, the kind that makes him feel like things are normal, or at the very least not as screwed up as they were.

Gallus smiles, and says, “Me too.”


“Glad you could join us,” Madanach says as the pair walk out. Much to Gallus’ embarrassment, every denizen of the mine turns to see them: Uraccen, the orc, the lad with the skooma…

Actually, no. There’s someone missing, come to think of it, and that someone’s the someone he’d gotten the shiv from. Gallus suspects he doesn’t want to know what happened to him, so he doesn’t ask.

“Had to work out something,” Gallus offers in way of explanation, without any intention of explaining what that something is. “What did we miss?”

“Only the entire plan, lad. We’re about to head out. Just stay close and stay alive—and this goes for all of you lads. Remember, we’re not here to fight, we’re here to get out as fast as possible and regroup at Druadach.”

The group, sans Gallus, Karliah, and the orc, all nod.

“Borkul,” Madanach continues, addressing the orc, “stay with me or one of the others for now, the sentries won’t know you’re with us otherwise.”

The orc—Borkul, apparently—grumbles, but bobs his head in agreement.

“Gallus, Karliah. Stay with us until we’re out of the city, and from there? Old Gods be with you.”

“And with you,” Karliah says softly. Gallus isn’t entirely sure what or who the ‘Old Gods’ entail, but he nods regardless.

“Let’s go. Moonlight’s a-wasting.”


Getting out of Markarth, as it happens, is simple—almost deceptively so, looking back. The group meets no significant resistance once they’re out of the mine itself, and as for the escape tunnel… well… nobody died, everyone was still able to run, the Dwemer as usual had to make everyone’s lives more difficult millennia after their disappearance. Overall, it went fine, although there were a couple close calls.

From there, it’s on the road to Winterhold. There’s still some awkwardness between them, but much less silence. Karliah can’t seem to stop talking, and whether it’s about the past, the present, or the future, Gallus finds he much prefers anything to the hopeless silence.

Gallus shares some stories of his own, too. He doesn’t exactly have much, but he can guess at what Karliah was around for, what she wasn’t, and what she could only assume. He tells her of the kids at the College, Aranea and Erandur, the Companions…

Eventually, the subject turns to the Thieves Guild, which… is rather inevitable, actually.

“Do you think we’ll ever be able to go back?” Gallus finds himself asking.

“Once we get your journal translated. Or, once you remember enough that we can prove it’s you. Seeing as… you didn’t go by your name in Riften, did you?”

“No, I came up with something that… may not have worked as well as I’d have liked,” he winces. “I panicked. When we go back… I’m never living that one down, that’s for sure.”

“There’s no way it could possibly be that bad.”

Gallus laughs, “Trust me, it is.”

“What is it, then?”

“Bad,” he says. “Let’s save it for when we get back. What do you miss about the Guild?”

She shrugs. “A lot of things, but honestly… I miss being able to just walk into places and not have to worry about who’s there, who’s seeing me, who’s going to get word back to Mercer that I was there. It’ll be nice, to not have to constantly have my guard up. I guess… I miss a lot of things about Riften, too. Is Vekel still running the Flagon?”

“Yeah. He doesn’t look like he’s that old.”

“He had the best home-brewed mead. Stopped making it near the end, though—times were getting tough. Maybe we can get him to make it again once we’re back.”

Gallus cracks a grin, and says, “I do still owe you a drink from Helgen.”

He can almost ignore how, despite having just gotten quite a lot of sleep, his head hurts far too much, he can’t focus, he can’t concentrate. Even looking at something for too long makes things difficult, unless he’s distracted. It’s probably a good thing that Karliah’s very distracting.

Even so, he has a bad feeling that something wrong’s here, and it’s not a lack of sleep. There has to be some reason that sleep isn’t helping, because he’s been getting a lot lately. Or, at the very least, he’s been getting a lot more than usual. As the pair trudge on, the College barely visible in the distance, his unfocused stare finds the night sky.

Stars glimmer above them, and for whatever reason, a particular constellation catches his eye. He can’t think of the name. Briefly, he considers asking Karliah about it. He glances her way. She catches his gaze, and smiles.

Naturally, it’s then, and only then, that an earth-shaking roar splits the air, and something big and dark-colored flies overhead. It blots out the stars as it passes, and keeps on in the direction of Winterhold.

“Oh no,” Gallus says unnecessarily.

Chapter Text

“So what you’re telling me,” Karliah mutters, “is that we’re fighting that thing?

“You don’t have to come with me,” Gallus replies. He draws his sword, and squints up at the dragon.

“Trust me, I’m coming with you. If you’re fighting a dragon again , someone’s got to have your back. Why you’d be crazy enough to want to fight it again, I can’t imagine, but—”

“Believe me, I don’t want to fight it again.”

“Then why—”

“Because I’m apparently the only one who can kill it, absurd as that may sound.”

Above them, the dragon keeps circling the town, apparently undecided about where to land. Nobody in the town seems to have noticed it yet, mainly because anyone with any sense is probably asleep, which is… probably not good. Nobody in the College is coming, either. Faralda should be on gate duty, but it’s the middle of the night—if she hasn’t begun taking it on already, she has to be asleep at her post.

“You were there outside of Whiterun,” Gallus continues.

“I know. You killed the dragon then—but I can’t believe… you’re telling me you’re the only person who can kill one of these things?”

“As far as I know, but I don’t think I can do it alone,” Gallus frowns. “Between the two of us, we could likely bring it down, but it would be far too close for comfort. We have to get to the College, get help there.”

Karliah sighs, and in one swift motion, she’s got her bow off her back and and a lone black-feathered arrow fitted to the string.

“Let’s go, then. I’ll be right behind you.”

Gallus nods, takes a deep breath, and runs. He runs like he can’t recall having ever run before, until he’s gasping for breath and his legs are burning, but he can’t stop. Not until he reaches Winterhold.

“What’s the rush?” A guard asks, eyeing his sword cautiously.

“Dragon,” Gallus says breathlessly. The guard laughs.

“Son, I think you’d better go easier on the—”

The dragon roars again, and even in the dark of the night and with most of the guard’s face obscured by a helmet, Gallus can see how pale he goes.

“—mead. Gods, I— dragon!

The guard rushes off somewhere, and Gallus keeps running, through the town, and right up to the bridge. He looks back, once, to look for Karliah, although there really was no need. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d said she’d be right behind him. In fact, she looks less winded than he is.

Faralda’s nowhere in sight—probably went in the inn for a drink, actually. After all, what could possibly happen in the middle of the night?

Well—a dragon attack, for one. The ground shakes as the dragon alights atop the inn, and begins to breathe fire. Except, it doesn’t. Now that Gallus knows what to listen for, he can hear it yell something, hear it Shout. He can’t quite make out the words, and anyway, he’s slightly more concerned with the fact that the dragon just set a quarter of Winterhold on fire.

From the looks of things, only the Jarl’s longhouse is burning, which… honestly, Gallus couldn’t care less. But this dragon needs to be stopped sooner rather than later, before it’s too late for the parts of the town that he actually is worried about.

“Karliah,” he says, “I need you to run for the College, get anyone you can, and get back out here as quickly as possible. I’m going to draw it out.”

“You’re sure about this?”

Gallus grins humorlessly. “No.”

He runs again, this time for the dragon. He doesn’t look back at Karliah. She’ll be fine. She’s got this. He just has to do his part. So he stumbles to a stop near the outskirts of Winterhold, looks up at the dragon, and does the only thing he knows will get its attention for sure.

He Shouts.

“FUS!”

The dragon cranes its neck over to see him, instantly drawn to the sound. It’s exactly what he wanted—now he just has to survive. Easier said than done. His heart pounds. He can barely think, barely move, barely breathe.

“DOVAHKIIN! DRUV KROPAH?”

It’s phrased as a question. Not one he can understand. Unconsciously, he’s annoyed by that, briefly. But he’s got bigger things to worry about. Like the dragon. Keeping the dragon occupied until he can kill it. Or just killing it. That works too.

“So you want a fight, you big, ugly serpent?” Gallus taunts. He’s hoping he sounds more confident than he is. “You’ll get one.”

“DIR.”

Again, Gallus can’t understand, but the meaning is quite clear as the dragon takes off again, only to swoop down for him. He ducks. Not a moment too soon. He can feel it pass overhead. He jabs up then, but it’s too late. The dragon’s already moved on. It won’t fall for the same trick twice.

“YOL TOOR SHUL!”

Gallus dives behind a snowbank. Where he’d been standing is obliterated in a blast of fire. He sucks a breath in, ducks again as the dragon makes another pass. This one’s even closer. He can’t win this. Not by himself—he just has to hope Karliah can get help, and fast. If it would just land…

“SAHLO DOVAHKIIN, NID KRIF!”

That’s a taunt, Gallus can tell that much even in the middle of battle. Except it doesn’t swoop down again—it flies in the wrong direction, back towards Winterhold. It can’t go that way.

So, he takes a deep breath, prays, and Shouts again. By some small miracle, it catches the dragon in the wing. It nearly falls. Before it can hit the ground, it rights itself, and circles back around, murder in its eyes. He’s made it angry.

Good.

“DUZIIR JOOR!”

It flies low this time. Too low for him to duck. Gallus’ instincts tell him to do it anyway. He doesn’t.

Instead, he jumps to the side. He doesn’t land well. Pain explodes everywhere, most notably where he hit the ground. Gritting his teeth, he rolls down the slope. He can barely see, barely breathe, barely think. Even so, he looks up—only to see the dragon hovering above.

“NEH VIIK.”

It flies up, up, up. Out of his vision, not that it’s very good. Time seems to slow down as it charges back down towards him, clearly intending to crush him to death if nothing else.

Some hero you are, Gallus thinks—and it’s then that the dragon cries out in pain. Dimly, he’s aware of a fireball catching one of its wings, then an ice spike through another. The air crackles with shock magic.

The College is here, and if Gallus could move he would have smiled. Instead, everything catches up to him at once. The exhaustion, the pain from the landing, everything.

The snow must be cold, but he doesn’t feel it. There must be others around, but he doesn’t see them. One side or another must be winning, but he can’t hope to guess at which. He hopes it’s the College. It needs to be the College. They can’t lose.

We... can’t lose.

He wants to get up, he has to get up, and yet his body’s stopped responding. He can barely move anything, let alone coordinate himself enough to get up. Even so, he tries. It doesn’t go well.

If he could, he’d scream. But even his voice isn’t working now. His head swims, and his vision dims. Vaguely, he’s aware of someone there, holding him, screaming his name, but it’s far away at this point.

Through no fault of his own, Gallus slips away into the dark waters of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

He’s somewhere he doesn’t recognize, he knows that for sure. Although to be fair, that’s mainly because he can’t see a thing—and a lingering feeling in his gut makes him think otherwise of the place’s unfamiliarity.

He squints, and finds he can just barely make out a figure. Hooded, so maybe…

“Karliah?” He asks hesitantly. The figure turns. It’s impossible for him to make out her features when her face is shadowed, but he can barely make out the glimmer of eyes, eyes that aren’t a distinct indigo. “You’re not—”

“What? No, you are… particularly far off in that assumption,” she mutters, shaking her head in what looks like disbelief. “Although I can see how you would make the mistake, I would advise you not to make it again, Gallus.”

A shiver runs up his spine. She knows who he is, for sure. Unfortunately, the knowledge isn’t mutual.

“My apologies,” he says. “But in order for me not to make it again, I would need to know who you are first.”

“Hm. I see your lack of memories has not impacted the rest of your mind, at least. There is no need to inform you of my identity, however—I suspect you will find out shortly after waking up.”

“I’m asleep?”

“No, you’re dead. Of course you’re asleep, and I did not come here to discuss petty trivialities such as your current state of being.”

Gallus wouldn’t consider whether he’s dead or alive to be a ‘petty triviality’, personally. But whoever this is, he gets the feeling this is important. And something about this is familiar, so she’s probably not too full of shit.

“Then what—?”

“Do not attempt to take back what is yours. Not yet. You will fail. Fulfill your terms with the dragon god, and you may yet be useful to me again.”

The hooded woman disappears, and Gallus finds himself drifting off again into the blackness of before.


When Gallus blinks back to consciousness, it’s with some measure of relief that he’s still alive, and quite a bit of lingering sleep in his eyes. For once, he doesn’t have a headache, which is… promising. But where’s—

“—Gallus?”

He finds himself squinting to make out her profile. It’s too bright in here, it must be daytime, and while he’s still tired, he’s nowhere near as exhausted as he was. That’s something, at least. He’s also definitely not where he passed out.

(In truth, he’d thought it was, perhaps, something more than that. It’s a relief to know he’s not dead. And neither is she. Then again, he supposes the hooded woman from his dream might have told him if that were the case. That still begs the question: who—?)

“Thank the Shadows,” Karliah whispers, and her arms are around him. He’s in a bed, somewhere in the College. Most likely the one he’d been using in the past. “You’re… you’re okay.”

“More or less,” and as the owner of this voice comes into view, Gallus quickly identifies him as Erandur. “I have to ask—what were you thinking?”

Gallus gulps. His mouth feels dry, but he forces the words out anyway, “I’m not sure I was.”

Well, he was thinking, because of course he was, he had to have been, but his thoughts hadn’t been clear for some time before the fight, and especially not during. Erandur and Karliah exchange knowing looks. Somehow, Gallus gets the feeling he’s missing something.

“I’ll leave you for now, then,” Erandur continues. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Gallus, I sincerely hope Karliah will know better than to let you, but don’t try to get up yet. Give it a little longer.”

“Alright,” he agrees. He’s almost relieved that he doesn’t have to, actually. He’s still tired, but it’s with the sleepiness of having just awoken, and not—he’s pretty sure—with the pure, unadulterated exhaustion of sleep deprivation. Or whatever it was. If nothing else, he isn’t hurting anywhere, which is fairly novel these days.

Erandur steps out, and it’s then that Karliah turns on him.

“You,” she mutters, “are somehow both the smartest and dumbest person I’ve ever met.”

Gallus winces, “That’s fair.”

“Really? ‘That’s fair’? You came this close to dying and all you have to say is that’s fair ?”

“There’s a lot I would do differently if I had to again,” he says after a painfully long pause, “and believe me, I do not want to do that again. Preferably ever, but I’ll settle for anytime in the near future. What happened?”

“I got to the College like you asked, managed to round up Erandur, Enthir, and a couple of others I definitely didn’t recognize. By the time we got back, where were you? Practically on death’s doorstep anyway with the dragon about to roast you alive.”

There’s a distinctly accusatory note to her voice, and it’s not entirely unwarranted, not in the least. Not after the stunt he pulled.

“You’re right,” he says softly. “I’m sorry. I could have been—and definitely should have been—a lot more careful. I think I might have been able to pull it off if…”

He hesitates, but continues, “If I hadn’t been so tired.”

“You weren’t—it wasn’t—” Karliah looks like she’s ready to scream, briefly, but apparently thinks differently and takes a deep breath instead. “I suppose you wouldn’t know what the signs of ataxia are, would you?”

A chill runs down his spine. “Of… what?”

“Ataxia. It’s… simultaneously one of the most deadly diseases in Tamriel, and one of the easiest to cure. If, of course, you catch it early enough. The usual signs of it include a loss of coordination, headaches, and fatigue.”

She looks meaningfully at him, and it suddenly clicks. Gallus nearly laughs.

“Gods, that’s it? I was sick? ” This time, he actually does laugh. “And here I was thinking that I was just getting unlucky. Or not sleeping enough.”

Despite herself, Karliah cracks a grin.

“No, that’s something completely different. Honestly, I should have figured it out earlier myself—but between that and the dragon… we’re lucky you were so close to the College and had a healer on hand to begin with.”

“But I’m fine now.”

“More or less—we’ll see what Erandur says. He’s… the expert here, after all. Since I—you know...”

Her smile turns slightly sad. Gallus doesn’t stop himself this time from hugging her (or, in this case, hugging her back).

“We don’t have to talk about that if you don’t want to,” Gallus says softly, and Karliah visibly relaxes.

“Thank you,” she says, and leans into him some. They stay like that for some time, until Karliah hurriedly clears her throat and breaks away.

“Anyway,” Karliah continues, “I already gave the translation notes and your journal to Enthir, to see if he could get started on translating. He sends his regards. They did take some time to find, though, and when I was looking through your bag, I found this.”

She sets a dark-colored volume on his lap. Considering that the only other book (of that color) that he carries with him is with Enthir at the moment, there’s only one thing it could be.

“It looked interesting,” he says with a shrug. “I don’t know why I grabbed it—it’s probably nothing important, probably just a children’s book or something. I mean, what kind of an idiot would think nightingales don’t exist?”

Karliah laughs at that. She actually laughs, and Gallus can’t seem to figure out what’s so funny.

“It’s not talking about the bird,” she says, amusement tugging at her lips. “You should read it.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah. Believe me, a lot of things about… a lot of things, will make a lot more sense after.”

Gallus frowns, but flips open to the first page regardless.

Mention the word "Nightingale" to any thief worth his salt and he'll laugh in your face. He'll tell you that the supposed avengers of the Daedric Lord Nocturnal are nothing but fictional characters who live nowhere else but within tales designed to scare young footpads into doing what they're told. But are they fictional or simply misunderstood?

Chapter Text

Almost two weeks since Mercer and Ragnar left to hunt down Karliah, Brynjolf returns to a familiar sight in the Cistern. The Guildmaster’s sitting at his desk, nursing a bottle of swill Black-Briar Mead, and generally looking rather pissed off. That’s normal. What’s not normal, then, is that the new lad is nowhere to be seen. Ragnar’s nowhere to be seen, and even though he could just be around elsewhere… Brynjolf has a bad feeling about this.

(Truth be told, every time Brynjolf so much as looks at the lad, he wants to call him by a different name. But Gallus is dead, has been for a long time. And he has to remind himself of that every single time, because Ragnar certainly hasn’t made it easy for him.)

“Hey, boss,” Brynjolf says. Mercer murmurs something unintelligible under his breath without looking up—probably the closest thing to a greeting he’s going to get. “Where’s Ragnar?”

Mercer sighs. He looks up then, meets Brynjolf’s gaze with one of a man who’s tired of the question.

“Dead,” he says bluntly, and Brynjolf’s heart stops.

“What?”

Brynjolf can’t have heard him right. Mercer can’t be right. The best luck the Guild’s had in ages can’t have just… no. He can’t be dead, can he? But… he’d thought the same of Gallus, and he’d never come back either.

“He’s dead,” Mercer says. “Karliah ambushed us—went for him instead of me. I tried to fight her off, nearly died. Would have died myself if it hadn’t been for him.”

Brynjolf’s heart sinks. This sounds just like the sort of thing Ragnar would have done. He didn’t actually know the lad as well as he would have liked—but he did know Gallus. And as far as personalities went, Ragnar was a dead ringer for Gallus. Incidentally, this was just the sort of thing Gallus would have done, sacrificing himself to save his friend.

“You’re sure,” he asks hollowly.

“Karliah made sure of it. She killed him quickly, at least.”

“And you killed her?”

Anger fills Mercer’s gaze then, and Brynjolf instinctively takes a step back. He’s learned by now that it’s a bad idea to be within a certain range—or even in the general vicinity in certain cases—of Mercer Frey when he’s angry. It’s… not ideal, but then again, doesn’t he have a right to be? He’d failed to keep Gallus from being murdered, and nearly died himself. That can’t be fun to live with. Hello, guilt complex.

“I tried,” Mercer growls. “She fled when she realized I had the upper hand, and disappeared from there. I tried to press our contact in Solitude—not that he gave anything up. She’s done it again.”

It took you two weeks to interrogate Gulum-Ei?

Sure, Gulum-Ei is a slimy bastard, but two weeks is excessive. To say Brynjolf is a little skeptical would be the understatement of the era. However, Mercer is the Guildmaster, and that position warrants some amount of trust. Even if Mercer hasn’t done much to deserve it lately.

“How did she kill him?” He asks instead.

“What?”

“You said she went for him instead of you, but then he saved your life?”

Mercer lets out a long-suffering sigh, like he’s having to explain the simplest of things to a particularly stubborn child.

“When we entered the final chamber, she shot him in the chest, in what she thought would be a killing blow. I attacked her in retaliation. She nearly killed me. Ragnar took the fatal hit and was dead before he hit the ground. Any questions?”

Plenty, but none that Brynjolf dares to voice. Something here doesn’t add up. Mercer wouldn’t have any reason to lie about this, but he’s lying about something. Brynjolf nods, excuses himself, and retreats to the Flagon while he’s thinking on this.

What would Mercer lie about?

Who killed Ragnar isn’t an option—Mercer might be prickly at the best of times, but he’s no murderer. The method of death is possible, but unless Mercer wanted to exaggerate the danger, to cover up why he hadn’t put an end to Karliah. That makes sense. After all, they’ve all been victimized by bad luck lately—even Mercer.

That has to be it, because what else could it be?

Chapter Text

Karliah was right. Reading that book did help him make sense of quite a few things, although this didn’t come without more questions. In all honesty, Gallus suspects he won’t be out of questions until he gets his memories back—assuming that he does at all.

“So I’m going to go ahead and guess that these… Nightingales do exist,” Gallus says slowly. “And we’re them?”

“Sort of. The author of that book was able to get a lot of things right solely by guessing, but she got most of the details wrong. It’s for the best—a lot of these details aren’t exactly things you want to share.”

“Makes sense.”

Gallus shuts the book, and leans over to shove it back into his pack. Then, he glances back up.

“What did she get right?” He asks.

“Well, for starters—the symbol she mentioned? You’ll find it on your sword. Both your sword and my bow have been passed down through the Nightingales for… a lot longer than I know of, for certain. There may have been a third weapon once, but I don’t know of it.”

“Why would there be—?”

“There can only be three Nightingales at a time, and we’re… not supposed to have any less. Of course, that tends to change when… let’s say one Nightingale murders another, and frames the third for it.”

It takes a moment for what she’s implying here to fully register. It’s not because he doesn’t understand, but because some small part of him still doesn’t quite want to believe that Mercer tried to kill him twice, and succeeded once.

“Mercer was a Nightingale too,” he concludes. Karliah nods. “He didn’t just ruin us, did he? There’s something else.”

“There is. But to understand that,” she sighs, bites her lip, “you need to understand what our purpose was. Normally, the Nightingale Trinity gains powers such as… invisibility, for instance, and in exchange for protecting a place called the Twilight Sepulcher, we can use these powers any way we see fit.”

“The Twilight Sepulcher’s important to Nocturnal?”

The place’s name is a mouthful, and even so it rolls off his tongue, just as Nocturnal’s name does. Then again, it makes perfect sense that he would have been quite familiar with both, since he’d been a Nightingale. This, he knows for certain—and it explains why he was drawn to the book’s title.

And somehow, he gets the feeling that Nocturnal might have just paid him a visit. It’s… a little overwhelming, to know that at least one god is actively keeping an eye on him. Possibly two, if what she said had any merit.

Fulfill your debt with the dragon god.

Assuming that’s literal—which it might not be—then there’s some dragon god he should be concerned with, too. Chances are, it’s no accident that he’s Dragonborn if there’s a dragon god involved. Maybe that’s what she means, or maybe…

Maybe that’s why he’s alive now, if without amnesia. Maybe if he does what he’s supposed to, ‘fulfills his debt’, so to speak, he’ll get his memories back. It’s a long shot, but maybe...

“Important is putting it lightly. It’s the source of her influence on Tamriel. Lady Nocturnal is quite possibly one of the most powerful Daedric Princes in Oblivion, since she controls luck. Without luck on your side…”

Karliah doesn’t finish. She doesn’t need to—Gallus has seen firsthand how fickle luck can be. Good luck can save your skin if you’re in way over your head. Bad luck can screw you over even if you thought you were as prepared as you could be.

Briefly, he considers bringing up Nocturnal again, then decides against it. He could use a bit more background information first, and Karliah certainly seems willing to give it.

“Technically, the Twilight Sepulcher is just a temple, but it contains the Ebonmere,” she continues. “That’s what links our world to Evergloam, Nocturnal’s realm, and it’s kept open by what we call the Skeleton Key. If the Skeleton Key is removed, most if not all of Nocturnal’s influence can’t get through.”

Gallus has a bad feeling that he knows where she’s going with this.

“Why would anyone remove it?”

“Few know of its existence, and fewer still know of its location—but those that know both generally know how to use it. The Skeleton Key is best known as an unbreakable lockpick, but it’s much more powerful than just that. It can unlock hidden potential you didn’t know you had. Really, it’s only limited by what you think of as unlocking. As if all that wasn’t enough, if it’s not holding the Ebonmere open, whoever is holding it enjoys all the luck that would normally go elsewhere—until they lose it, that is.”

“And Mercer stole it,” Gallus says. She nods. “He still has it now?”

“He’s had it for the past twenty-five years at least—I couldn’t say for sure when he stole it. The last time I used my own Nightingale abilities was over a month before… you know. But that’s why he killed you and framed me. Out of greed, at the very least.”

Gallus doubts that’s the only reason, but there’s no denying that was part of it. Likely, it was a very big part of it. He couldn’t imagine metaphorically stabbing someone in the back over riches, let alone literally—and yet, Mercer had done a lot more than imagine.

It had to have been planned. He hadn’t thought Mercer was much for planning, upon meeting him for the first time since it ended. Evidently, he’d been very, very wrong—both times.

“So since Mercer stole the Key…”

“Currently, none of us are active Nightingales. Him because he betrayed us both and stole the Key, and us because the Key isn’t where it needs to be. It’s possible we could be reinstated in name at least before we take on Mercer, but to do that… we’ll have to go to Riften, or at least very close by. It’s extremely risky, and chances are word would get back to him about us being nearby. Or at least, me.”

“Hold on,” Gallus frowns, because something here isn’t adding up, “we’re going back soon, right? Once Enthir gets my journal translated?”

Karliah doesn’t answer immediately. She fiddles with her hair absently, then bites her lip.

“Karliah?”

“That’s the problem,” she says. “He said he’d get back to us on how long it would take, but… he didn’t sound too optimistic. His guess was at least a month.”

Gallus’ jaw drops. “A month?

“That’s if you only used the Falmeri writing system, and transliterated exactly. If you actually translated your journal into the Falmeri language, he said it’ll take half a year at best, assuming he doesn’t strangle you for it first.”

He raises an eyebrow at that last bit, and Karliah quickly adds, “I’m repeating what he said word-for-word. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t actually strangle you. And he wouldn’t get very far if he tried.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Gallus agrees with a wry smile. Even so, it’s not with much humor or happiness in his eyes. “I guess we aren’t finishing this anytime soon, are we?”

“Maybe not. We can ask Enthir soon. But for now…”

Gallus sighs. “This is about the Dragonborn thing, isn’t it?”

“...the what?

It looks like bringing up Nocturnal’s visit will definitely have to wait.


By the time Erandur returns, Gallus has more or less explained what’s going on there. Or tried to, anyway. As it happens, it’s particularly difficult to explain something when you barely know what’s going on yourself.

“Let me see if I have this correct,” Karliah says. “Because you’re this… ‘Dragonborn’ thing, you can kill dragons? Or I guess other people can kill dragons as long as you’re nearby, since… you know.”

“As far as I know, yeah,” he agrees. “Convenient, isn’t it?”

“Very.”

Erandur clears his throat, attracting the attention of both. Gallus goes a little red.

“If you’re done,” Erandur says cheerfully, “you’re free to go. However, Gallus, I would advise against letting anything go for this long in the future.”

“I know,” he mumbles, and the faint dusting of red goes a little darker. “In my defense, I thought I just wasn’t getting enough sleep.”

“Well, that is important too. Just be careful.” He looks to Karliah, and adds, “Keep him out of too much trouble, alright?”

“That’s the idea,” she agrees. Erandur smiles, nods, and leaves.

“I guess we’d better go see Enthir, then,” Gallus says. “I… have to ask, though. How badly was I injured?”

“From the dragon? Not badly. You didn’t even break anything, somehow. The main issue was your ataxia.”

“So I might have been fine if I hadn’t been sick?”

“Maybe.” A grin plays across her lips. “Just let me know if you’re planning anything that crazy before you do it next time, alright?”

Even though she’d grinning, there’s a certain weight to her words.

“Of course,” he agrees. “Do you think you’ll join me or try to stop me?”

“Honestly? Depends on the level of crazy.”

She helps him up (although she doesn’t actually need to, Gallus realizes—much to his own relief) and passes him his pack.

“Let’s go talk to Enthir,” she says.


“Assuming you only need the last few pages translated, it’ll take me at least a month, and that’s if I cut into my sleep,” Enthir says flatly. “It’ll take me at least two otherwise, and if you want the whole thing dealt with, you’re doing that yourself.”

“I just need the last few pages,” Gallus replies. “That’s where I would have written down anything incriminating.”

“Then, you’ve got a couple of months to kill, and considering that Mercer’s probably looking for you—” (He nods to Karliah.) “—more than ever, I wouldn’t recommend spending it in one place. Do the two of you have nowhere else to be?”

Gallus and Karliah exchange glances. While he hasn’t actually mentioned High Hrothgar yet, dealing with the Dragonborn thing is probably a good idea. Evidently she thinks the same. It’s with this in mind that Gallus says, “No, we’ve got somewhere to be.”

“Good. Any hope of me finding out where?”

“I’m not completely sure where it is myself, but… have you heard of a place called High Hrothgar?”

Karliah evidently has, and looks about as thrilled as Enthir did at the prospect of translating his journal. Which is to say, not at all. She probably has a fairly good idea of why he wants to go there, if she knows where it is. Enthir, on the other hand, is staring at him like he’s sprouted a second head.

“Why in Oblivion would you want to go there?”

Gallus sighs. “It’s a long story.”

Chapter Text

“How in Oblivion do people live up here?” Karliah exclaims. Her teeth are chattering so loudly that he can hear them from several paces away. “It’s freezing!

“It’s probably not that cold,” Gallus says, “but the wind has to be making it worse.”

Even as he says the words, he finds he’s barely cold at all, which is… odd. He and Karliah are wearing the same armor, although, to be fair, hers is significantly more worn than his. That’s probably it—twenty-five years worth of wear and tear probably isn’t helping. Neither is the snow.

Gallus makes a mental note to make sure they’re more prepared for the next time they have to climb the mountain, or any mountain, really. It’s not exactly a walk through town.

“And why in Oblivion does everything important have to be on top of a mountain?”

“Beats me,” Karliah shrugs. “You’re going to love the Twilight Sepulcher, though. It’s in the middle of the woods. Not everything’s on top of a mountain, or somewhere freezing for that matter.”

Despite himself, despite the wind whipping across the slopes and through the spaces between them, Gallus finds himself laughing.

“Sounds like fun,” he says, then glances over to the left. The path ends in a steep drop-off there, but even so Gallus finds himself taking one step closer, than another. As he takes in the view, his breath catches in his throat. “Hey, Karliah! Take a look at this.”

Even in snow, her footsteps are so quiet that he can barely hear them—without knowing what to listen for, that is. She takes a couple steps, coming up next to him, then sucks a breath in appreciatively.

“Whoa,” she murmurs. “This just made climbing the mountain worth it.”

From where they are, Gallus can just barely make out the golden-leaved trees of the Rift, and there, next to a lake…

“Is that Riften?” He asks. She nods.

“I think so. I—wow, I think I understand part of why Nords obsess over this climb so much. It looks so small from up here.”

Gallus finds himself squinting, trying to pick out individual people, but to no avail. They’re too far away and too high up to make out anything save the city walls, the keep, and some of the bigger buildings. Like the Bee and Barb, for instance, and the Meadery. Black-Briar Meadery.

He’s had his suspicions about Maven Black-Briar for some time. It was clearly Mercer that took the final step in getting rid of him, but would Maven have been in a position to benefit from his death?

From what he knows, yes.

“Maven Black-Briar was fairly influential back in the day, wasn’t she?” Gallus asks. Karliah frowns, but nods.

“Not as much as she is now for certain. You made sure she knew that it was the Guild supporting her, not the other way around. You were good at that.”

“It’s the other way around now, isn’t it?”

“I couldn’t say for sure. You’d have a better answer than me.”

Gallus frowns.

“Was she ever involved with Mercer?”

“Romantically, or…?”

“Anything, honestly. Although I wouldn’t have pegged either of them for the romantic type.”

Karliah laughs. “Neither would I. But there’s been rumors going around about them for a long time, and that kind of rumors don’t tend to last long without some substance behind them. I do know that Mercer was usually who you sent to deal with her near the end. I vaguely remember you saying something about how Mercer was actually getting along with someone for once.”

She frowns, staring out at the Rift, and says, softly, “You think she was involved?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Gallus says. “I’ve only met her twice since then, just before heading out to Honningbrew Meadery and just after getting back—sorry about that, by the way.”

“Sabjorn had it coming,” Karliah says with a shrug. “Nobody’s losing any sleep over him.”

“The first time, she spent the entire conversation trying to catch me in a lie. The second, she seemed almost disappointed that I’d survived. Snow Veil Sanctum might have been the last time they tried to kill me this time around, but I doubt it was the first.”

“Wait a minute, you mentioned Honningbrew, but what happened with Goldenglow? I’d thought Aringoth could handle things for at least a couple weeks.”

“Mercer decided I needed to ‘prove myself’ and sent me in there alone. To be fair, I wasn’t helping things, but—”

“You’re right. They were trying to kill you.” She reaches over, takes his hand in hers, and gives it a squeeze. “I for one am really glad they didn’t succeed.”

“Me too,” Gallus says. He squeezes back, then glances up, at the peak of the mountain. Someone in Ivarstead had mentioned that it was always storming up there, and he can’t help but wonder if the Greybeards of High Hrothgar have something to do with it. Probably.“I can’t say I’m looking forward to going into that.”

Karliah follows his gaze, and visibly grimaces. “Agreed. We still should get moving.”

Much to their relief, it’s only a matter of minutes before they reach High Hrothgar itself—whatever’s going on at the peak of the mountain, Gallus doesn’t have to deal with it. At least not yet. Preferably not ever, he’d rather not get blown off the mountain entirely anytime soon.

Even so, it’s still windy out, and the cold’s beginning to get to them both—so it’s with this in mind that Gallus takes a deep breath, steels himself for whatever he might face, and pushes open one of the extremely heavy stone doors. Except, it doesn’t open, because it doesn’t budge.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Karliah mutters. She joins in, but even that doesn’t help. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

“Has to be,” Gallus says. “We didn’t pass any other ancient stone monasteries, and there isn’t any way forward from here.”

He’s right. There isn’t any way to climb higher, except through the doors—and they aren’t budging. Gallus finds himself wondering if perhaps the first one is just stuck, and tries another, and another. All of the doors are stuck.

“Is this some kind of test?” Karliah asks curiously. Gallus shrugs.

“Maybe,” he says. “Although I don’t know what kind of test would relate to forcing the door—”

Force. That sounds a lot like fus , doesn’t it? And even if they don’t mean the same thing, fus definitely would force open the door. Hopefully.

“You just figured it out, I’m guessing.”

“I think so. You should… probably get behind me, I don’t know how well this will work.”

Karliah looks skeptical, but takes a quick step back, then another. Gallus stares at the door, stubbornly unmoving. With a deep breath, he closes his eyes, reaches for that place deep inside him, and finds the force he needs.

He Shouts, “FUS!”

The door opens. Not a lot, of course—just a crack, but Gallus can work with just a crack. With a grin, he looks back at Karliah, who’s staring at him with some kind of awe.

“Shadows,” she murmurs. “That’s definitely new. Can you do anything else?”

“Not right now. Maybe talking to the experts will change that.” He nods to the doors. “You heard what they Shouted right after the first one.”

Her jaw drops. “That was the… Greybeards?”

Gallus nods in confirmation, and Karliah says, softer than normal, “There’s no point in keeping them waiting, then.”

“Let’s go,” he agrees.


The interior of High Hrothgar seems to be deserted, although it’s already significantly warmer than outside. Karliah glances at Gallus as he pushes the door shut again behind them. Gallus looks to Karliah then, and the two share nearly identical expressions of confusion.

“Where do you think they are?” Karliah whispers. Gallus shrugs.

“I don’t know,” he murmurs back. The situation is… ominous, to say the least, and Gallus nearly turns around and leaves. He doesn’t. Instead, he clears his throat, and calls, “Hello…?”

His greeting echoes through the halls, and yet there’s no answer—at least not immediately. Soon, movement catches his eye, in the form of four grey-robed elderly men. Nords, to be sure—and while all of them nod respectfully as they take positions surrounding them, not a single one speaks. Gallus notices then, idly, that the Greybeards do, in fact, have grey beards. Long ones, too.

One of them steps forward, and clears his throat.

“Dragonborn,” he greets, looking Gallus in the eyes. He nods reverently, but by then the Greybeard has already continued speaking. “I am Master Arngeir. I speak for the Greybeards. Now, tell me—why have you come here?”

“I’m guessing you want the short version,” Gallus jokes, but his expression quickly turns somber. “It’s…”

He looks to Karliah, who offers him a reassuring smile.

“Some months ago, I woke up in an ancient Nordic ruin with no memory of who I was, and I have reason to believe being Dragonborn may be connected to this,” Gallus says. “I know who I was now, but… I want to remember. And it would be nice if dragons stopped showing up and trying to kill me.”

Arngeir frowns, “This has happened frequently?”

“Twice,” Gallus says.

“Three times,” Karliah corrects softly. “Helgen.”

“Right. I wasn’t able to fight back the first time. And the second and third times, I wouldn’t have survived without help.”

“Am I correct in assuming that by this, you mean you wish to learn the Way of the Voice?” Arngeir asks after a moment. He looks a little baffled, truth be told.

“That’s… Shouting, correct?”

“Much like what you did to enter, yes.”

“Then yes. I do,” Gallus says. “I probably could have just said that, couldn’t I?”

Arngeir seems to be vaguely amused when he nods.

Chapter Text

“Before we are to teach you anything new,” Arngeir says, “let us taste of your Voice. Show us what you have already learned.”

“I only know one Shout,” Gallus says.

“We heard you use it, the first time. I would very much like to witness you in person, however. It has been… some time, since a Dragonborn has graced these halls.”

“Right. Do you want me to Shout at you, or…?”

“I would prefer if you did not.”

Gallus nods— why did he even ask that? —and angles himself away from anyone. Shouting’s supposed to come naturally to a Dragonborn, and while it comes fairly easily to Gallus, it’s still not effortless. Maybe practice will help with that.

This time, he doesn’t close his eyes, and focuses anyway. It takes him a little longer to find that inner force, but he does. Practice should help, then. But for now…

“FUS!”

Despite his efforts to aim away from any people, the Shout catches on the edge of Arngeir’s robe, and the old man stumbles a little. Regardless, when he rights himself shortly after, his eyes are shining.

“Dragonborn,” Arngeir says respectfully. “It is you.”

“Great,” Gallus says breathlessly. “What does that mean, exactly?”


There are, generally, two types of people. Those that don’t speak much more than they have to, for whatever reasons, and those that can go on and on for hours about one topic. Gallus knows intuitively that he’s the second type and, while Karliah’s fairly quiet, he suspects that’s mainly due to circumstance. From time to time, even she’s gone on and on for a long time about various things, and that’s only happened more often as he gets to know her better… again. It’s complicated.

Arngeir, as it happens, is almost certainly the latter. Then again, if he speaks for all four of the Greybeards, there’s likely a good reason for that. Perhaps he’s just the most extroverted, or perhaps there’s something more to it.

Regardless, Gallus has somehow managed to learn more in a few hours than he can ever recall learning before, and, well, it’s interesting! Arngeir’s just a little wordy. But, if what he’s saying is true, if the Greybeards were founded to guide Dragonborn individuals on their respective paths, and a Dragonborn tends to show up once a century, if that… Gallus can’t really blame him.

“Arngeir can certainly talk, can’t he?” Karliah murmurs with a wry grin. “Reminds me of someone else I know.” She’s sitting on one of the few extra beds that the Greybeards have (and by few, Gallus means that more than half of them are vacant). He’s borrowing one of the others at the moment.

Gallus glances up from the book Arngeir lent him, and shrugs. “I’m not going to even try to deny that one,” he says. “Mainly because I can’t actually remember what you’re referring to.”

“Falmeris,” she supplies. “You could go on and on for hours about the intricacies of that language—grammar this, verb tense that, constantly complaining about the lack of any spoken material to compare your pronunciation to—and even before that… let’s just say that for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always thrown yourself into new things and stuck with them for a lot longer than you planned. It’s part of what I love about you, how passionate you are.”

Gallus cracks a grin. “Why did I start learning that, anyway?”

“We were going to go on a heist, go after a treasure called… I believe it was the Eyes of the Falmer. Basically, big diamonds. Extremely big diamonds.”

“And I needed to learn an entirely new language to research for this?” Gallus says. Her eyes light up, and she nods. “That’s… wow.”

“I mean, you went entirely overboard. You only needed to translate a few things, but I’m convinced that if you’d wanted to, you could have rivaled that s’wit Calcelmo with how much you learned.”

Gallus lets out a low whistle. “How did the heist go?”

Her face falls, and he knows the answer before she says it.

“It never happened,” she says softly. Karliah bites her lip, forces a smile, and comes over to his side of the room. “So what are you reading?”

“Some kind of beginner’s guide to Dovahzul,” Gallus says. “That’s the dragon language. It’s what Shouts are in. Arngeir wanted me to look through this, see if there were any other Shouts I’d come across somewhere, so we could start there. Some of them seem vaguely familiar.”

She peers over his shoulder, squints at the book, then leans back as he turns to the next page.

“Which ones?”

“This one for sure,” he says, pointing at a group of runes on the page. “It’s pronounced… yol, I think. It means fire. I’ve definitely seen this one somewhere before, probably on one of those word walls. But also…”

“Hm?”

“Both of the dragons we fought so far Shouted something like this, right before they started breathing fire. Hang on, I think this has a section on Shouts…”

He flips back to the front, then to to the section on Shouts, then to the back of the section on Shouts.

“I don’t see it.”

“Yeah, me either. I guess it’s not organized alphabetically by Dovahzul… maybe Tamrielic?”

He turns to F, and grins as he finds it.

“This is it,” Gallus says, and takes care not to accidentally Shout at the book. “ Yol toor shul. Fire, inferno, sun.” Evidently, he hadn’t needed to be careful, because for whatever reason the Shout just isn’t there. Likely because he hasn’t learned it yet.

“And it’s called Fire Breath ,” Karliah murmurs, resting her chin on his shoulder. “I wonder what it does?”

“Me too,” Gallus jokes. “I guess… I can breathe fire? Theoretically? Because that’s really kind of amazing. Wow.”

“Kind of? Trust me, it’s amazing. I never would have guessed this in a million years, but if the Dragonborn’s supposed to be some kind of hero, you’re definitely a good choice.”

Gallus cracks a grin. “Good to hear.”

“So,” Karliah says eventually, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she does so, “what else can you do?”

“Let’s see… this one looks vaguely familiar, too, or at least this word of it does, I’ve seen that somewhere. Viik . Defeat. It looks like part of… Disarm? That could be useful. And this one… Nus . Statue. It’s part of something called Ice Form. I’m… not sure what that one does.”

“How about… Throw Voice?”

Gallus frowns. “Doesn’t look familiar, but definitely sounds useful. Maybe not so much in a fight, though. And I’d need to be able to use the Shout without… you know, shouting. Otherwise that would defeat the purpose.”

“That’s possible?”

He shrugs. “I’ll ask Arngeir tomorrow.”


Gallus hasn’t dreamed in some time, but from the look of things, he’s in the same place he was last time. Last time, the dream had very quickly become a nightmare, and if he’s not careful…

No. He knows what’s going on this time. Mercer is somewhere around here, as is Karliah. Last time… he’d been powerless to stop her from dying. She’d stepped in front of the blow meant to kill him, and even though this time, he knows ahead of time that whatever happens isn’t real, he can’t let her die. Not again. Even if it’s only in a dream.

Perhaps… between the two of them, they could take Mercer on. But how to let her know without alerting Mercer, if it’s even possible? Is it worth the risk of alerting Mercer to her presence as well? Then again, if he just does nothing, allows it to happen the same way it did before, it’ll just… happen again. So he has to try something different.

It’s with this in mind that he looks around furtively, draws his sword, and calls, “Karliah?”

Movement catches his eye, and with no small amount of hope, he turns. Mercer would likely be invisible, which means visible movement could only be her. His hopes, however, are quickly shattered.

Karliah’s there, but her eyes are filled with terror because Mercer’s there too, with his blade held up against her throat. Even the smallest twitch of his blade would be disastrous for her.

Mercer’s gaze quickly finds his sword. “Drop it,” he orders.

“Gallus, no ,” Karliah murmurs, “you have to get out of here—”

Mercer presses his sword in the tiniest bit further, effectively silencing her. A thin line of blood appears, and while Karliah looks like she wants to speak, she doesn’t dare try for fear of slitting her own throat.

“I said drop it!

Against his better judgment, Gallus obeys. The sword falls from his grip, landing in the snow with little to no sound.

“Let her go,” Gallus says softly. “This is between you and me.”

“Is it? I don’t believe so. This is between all three of us, as well as a certain Daedric Lord. I had hoped to deal with you first, then Karliah later, but since you’re both here? I think I’ll kill two birds with one stone.”

Karliah crumples to the ground, soon to bleed out. Gallus scrambles for his sword, then runs for her. If he can just get to her in time…

A thrust from Mercer comes out of nowhere, and Gallus barely blocks it in time. The metallic clang of blades meeting rings through the air, and as Gallus continues fighting, trying desperately still even though he must already be too late, Mercer parries and strikes back effortlessly.

The fight doesn’t last long. Mercer gets in a lucky strike, and it’s all over for him from there.

Chapter Text

Gallus wakes in a cold sweat, and it takes him a moment to remember where he is. He’s not bleeding out outside Snow Veil Sanctum, he’s in High Hrothgar, staying the night on the Greybeards’ insistence. Mercer doesn’t know he’s still alive. Most importantly, Karliah isn’t… she’s not…

He takes a shaky breath, tries to compose himself somewhat, before whispering, “Karliah…?”

“Over here.” He sits up, glances over in that direction, and sees her working on her bow. Their gazes meet, and hers immediately filling with concern is a sure sign that he isn’t anywhere near as composed as he’d hoped. “Gallus, are you—?”

“No,” he manages, answering her unfinished question. Gallus blinks hard. He’s dimly aware of her taking a seat next to him, wrapping an arm around him.

“Nightmare?”

He doesn’t audibly answer, just turns and hugs her with everything he’s got. His shoulders begin to shake. She just holds him.

“Do you want to talk about it?” She asks eventually.

Gallus takes a deep breath, and says, “He killed you.”

“Mercer?”

“...yeah.”

Karliah sighs, only holds him tighter. “Well,” she murmurs, “I’m here now. And I’m not going anywhere.”

“Thank you,” Gallus smiles. “I think… I’m okay now. Let’s go talk to Arngeir.”


"Whispering a Shout? It is possible, yes, but very difficult,” Arngeir says. “At least, it is for us. For you, perhaps, may be a different story. What Shout were you referring to?”

“Throw Voice,” Gallus says. “I’m… fairly sure that’s what it’s called.”

“It is. However, it may be best for you to master the basic Shouts before that one.”

“Like Unrelenting Force.”

“Yes.” Arngeir pauses briefly, then continues, “I have conferred with the others, and we have agreed that we will teach you one word each of the Shouts you have already some experience with, as well as one entirely new. After this, you will face a test.”

“Alright,” Gallus says. “What kind of test?”

“The kind where you will require at least one of these to pass. First, I will teach you the second word of Unrelenting Force— ro , balance. Use it wisely.”

Arngeir dips his head, and closes his eyes. Gallus finds himself doing so as well. Whatever Arngeir is doing, it fills him with that same euphoria that he’d felt the first time, with the dragon at the watchtower, right before he Shouted for the first time.

When he opens his eyes, Arngeir continues, “With the second word, this Shout will be vastly more powerful. Now, Master Einarth will teach you the first word of Fire Breath. Do not Shout it at anything you do not wish to burn.”

Or anyone, is the unspoken continuation, although Gallus suspects Arngeir would much rather he didn’t Shout at anyone with anything, ever. He doesn’t know about ever, but Shouting could make for a very, very good last resort if nothing else. He thinks, if it came down to it, that he’d choose a less lethal Shout like Unrelenting Force to gain a few more moments to make a decision.

One of the other Greybeards turns to him then, and whispers, “ Yol. ” Gallus already knows what it means, and while Unrelenting Force made him feel like he could move the whole world, if he only Shouted loud enough, Fire Breath tells him he could burn it all down.

“Master Borri will teach you the first word of Disarm. Use it prudently.”

A third Greybeard smiles kindly, and says, “ Zun .” Gallus feels certain that if he’d been holding a weapon of any kind, it would have been ripped from his very grasp. As it is, his fingers tingle slightly as if from a shock, and his sword seems to weigh heavily in its sheath.

“And Master Wulfgar will teach you the first word of Ice Form.”

The fourth looks vaguely skeptical (of what?), but regardless, he murmurs, “ Iiz .” A chill passes through Gallus’ very bones then, and for a moment, he feels frozen—metaphorically or literally, he can’t quite tell.

“And now, a gift. The first word of Whirlwind Sprint, wuld —whirlwind.”

For the briefest of moments, Gallus feels like he could run forever, and fast, and far. It passes as quickly as it comes, leaving just Gallus—except he’s not just Gallus, is he? He never was just Gallus. On the one hand, he’s Gallus Desidenius, former Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild. On the other…

He’s Dragonborn. And he’s still not entirely sure what that entails, although he vaguely remembers hearing something about Dragonborn individuals showing up in times of trouble. So there’s got to be a reason he’s here now, instead of lying dead in the depths of Snow Veil Sanctum. He needs to figure out what that reason is.

For now, the Greybeards are his best bet for doing so.

“Thank you,” Gallus says genuinely. “Now what’s the test I need to complete?”

“Go to an ancient ruin called Ustengrav. Getting there is not the test—if you have a map, I will mark it for you. It is northwest of here, and not far northeast from Morthal. You must retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, our founder, and bring it back here. Only then will we formally recognize you as Dragonborn.”

Chapter Text

Getting to Ustengrav isn’t particularly fun. Part of it is the fact that neither Gallus nor Karliah have a very good idea of where they’re going—Arngeir’s directions weren’t particularly specific. Then again, if he’s been up on a mountain for a few decades meditating, Gallus should probably be glad he has any sense of where Morthal is. At least, they’ve got a general idea of where to find the ruins.

The rest is that, after they’ve already been sloshing through the swamps near Morthal for half an hour searching for it, an earsplitting roar splits the skies above them, and Gallus freezes. There’s only one thing that could be, and it’s the last thing he wants to deal with right now. Or, really, ever.

“Are you kidding me,” Gallus mutters. “Maybe it hasn’t seen us yet?”

“YOL TOOR SHUL!”

Both of them duck, reflexes kicking in. The heat of the dragon’s fire passes close above. Too close. Gallus begins to sweat. He’s not sure what from, and right now he’s got more important things to worry about. Like getting his sword out of its sheath and into his hand so he can use it at some point, assuming the dragon ever actually lands.

“That’s a no,” Karliah says unnecessarily. She draws her bow and turns in the same motion, then fits an arrow to the string carefully. Even so, Gallus notices—with some worry—that there’s some well-hidden fear in her eyes. “Shadows help us, we just fought one of these! I don’t suppose you learned anything new that could help with this?” She fires off an arrow.

It doesn’t miss, but it glances off its scales harmlessly, and she swears under her breath.

“Can’t disarm a dragon. Don’t know what Ice Form does, I should have asked. Running away won’t help anything, and I doubt Fire Breath would do much since this is another—”

“VOREY!? MEY, DAAL KRII!”

The dragon actually sounds offended, if that’s possible. Glittering eyes gaze upon him with disdain and poorly concealed fury. How he can pick out human emotions on a dragon’s face, he damn well doesn’t know, but—

As it alights on the ground in front of them, his gaze finds the partially-healed scorch marks on its wing, and Gallus goes white as newly fallen snow.

“Karliah,” he whispers, “what happened to the dragon at Winterhold?”

“What do you mean? We killed it.”

“I was out for much of the actual fight.”

“You were close by for the entire fight, we couldn’t move you until it was dead. You said that worked.”

“I thought that would have, but—”

Without warning, Karliah tackles him to the ground. Above her head, he can make out the dragon swooping up from an attack made with claws and teeth, and without Shouting. She scrambles off him within a matter of seconds, and in any other circumstances he’d be more hesitant to break contact. Instead, his heart’s pounding for an entirely different reason.

“Thanks,” he manages. He’s unaware of it, but his eyes are wide. Mainly because he’s all too aware that he just came this close to being gobbled up in one bite.

“So you're saying that’s the same dragon."

“I’m almost certain. Which means…” He squints up at the dragon now circling warily overhead. “It’s favoring one of its wings. The right one.”

“Enthir grounded it by sending an ice spike through one of its wings. Might be that one.”

“Probably. Do you think you can—”

“Way ahead of you. Just distract it for a bit so I can aim properly.”

Gallus nods, and the two split up. He’s not surprised when the dragon focuses on him. This time, things are different. He notes, with some surprise, that he’s actually confident they can win this. He’s not tired, he can think perfectly straight, and he doesn’t have ataxia anymore. He’s got some new Shouts in his arsenal.

Most importantly, he’s got Karliah here with him. There’s no one he’d rather have at his back.

“So,” Gallus yells in the general direction of the dragon, “I take it you want a rematch?”

The dragon dives. Just when Gallus thinks it’ll smash into the ground, it catches itself. Powerful wingbeats keep it hovering in the air almost directly in front of him, and its eyes glitter with malice.

“NIKRIIN,” the dragon growls. “MEYVITAAN. SAHLO DOVAHKIIN. ZU’U FRINAHVIING, AHRK ZU’U KRII. ALDUIN THURI URID.

“I didn’t get any of that,” Gallus deadpans, “but sure. Alright. Can we maybe talk about this, though?”

“NID.”

Gallus doesn’t understand much in the way of Dovahzul, not yet anyway. He can’t quite remember what nid translates to, so he decides to hope for the best and keep going (and look that particular word up once this is over and done with).

“Look, I really don’t know anything about any of this Dragonborn business, alright? And personally, I’d rather not fight you again, so maybe we could just go our separate ways and not do this again?”

“KUZ DAARZ.” Ever so slowly, the dragon shakes its head, and then, without warning, Shouts— “FUS RO DAH!”

Currently, Gallus only knows two words of Unrelenting Force, fus and ro . Fus alone is enough to stagger even a dragon, and ro will make almost anything trip and fall. The third word of the Shout, then, must be dah . Whatever it is, it sweeps him off his feet and sends him flying.

He lands hard, unlucky enough to land on one of the few dry patches of land in the swamp. For a few, terse seconds, he can’t breathe—but he can move. Even as he’s gasping for breath like he’s been sucker-punched in the gut, Gallus scrambles to his feet just in time to see the dragon crash-land much harder than he did. There’s a nasty looking tear in one of its wings now, one that looks suspiciously like it was caused by—

“Gallus!”

He looks, sees Karliah already fitting another arrow to her bow.

“Are you okay?”

Fine, he wants to say, minus the fact that he can’t seem to get any air in. He can’t seem to force the words out, so he settles for meeting her gaze with a quick nod. We can do this.

They charge. It’s over within a matter of minutes.


“Are you sure you’re alright?” Karliah asks. “That landing looked like it hurt.”

“Yeah, now,” Gallus says with a grin. He doesn’t look at her, mainly because he’s by now grabbed the book out of his pack and is flipping through it with an inner intensity almost matching that of the dragon’s fire.

“Weren’t you supposed to give that back?”

He freezes, swears under his breath.

“Would you believe me if I said I completely forgot?” Gallus asks sheepishly.

“Actually? Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. Wouldn’t be the first time. So what are you looking for?”

“Some of the words the dragon said. Like this one— nid . It means… oh.

“Not what you thought it did?”

“No.” Gallus closes the book and stands. “I mean, it actually means no. I assumed the opposite.”

They face each other for a moment. The beginning of a grin plays across Karliah’s lips.

“I really should be more surprised,” she says, amusement clearly evident in her eyes. “I really should. But let’s go find this ruin, we shouldn’t be too far from it.”

Gallus nods, and the two set off again. Behind them, the skeletal remains of a dragon lingers, smoldering still, and likely hot to the touch—but never to fly again. Willingly or not, Gallus made sure of that.

This time, he won.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t hard to find Ustengrav after that, although the skirmish going on between bandits and necromancers at the entrance probably helped things. Sure, Gallus and Karliah could have gotten involved, but on the other hand... why do that when they could just sneak past? So, to the surprise of absolutely no one, they sneaked past.

There were more necromancers doing Nocturnal-knows-what within the ruins, though most were currently fighting draugr and generally losing. Even so, Gallus couldn’t help but note that it was almost too easy to get past them without attracting unwanted attention.

Sure, they’re thieves, they are good at this. But Gallus gets the feeling that, even back when he had nothing but his instincts to guide him on stealth, he could have made it through. It’s altogether too easy.

It’s altogether too easy, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to warrant much suspicion beyond the point of paranoia. It’s when they come across the corpse of a draugr further in than the necromancers were, and from the looks of things, (re)killed by a sword to the gut. None of the necromancers carried swords, and a dagger—the typical melee weapon of choice for a mage—wouldn’t have been able to make a deep enough cut. More importantly, there’s no signs of any magic.

“I guess it could have been one of the bandits?” Gallus says with a helpless shrug. Karliah shakes her head.

“None of the bandits made it in, unless they snuck past us.” Her grin at the thought makes it quite clear what she thinks the odds of that were, but it doesn’t last long. After all, if it wasn’t the bandits, and it wasn’t the mages…

“Someone’s been here before us?”

“That, or the draugr went crazy and started killing each other. I think we’d see a lot more corpses if that were the case, though.”

“So, someone’s definitely been here.”

Karliah shrugs. “It could have been a long time ago—I don’t know if draugr would decompose any more after being killed a second time. And even if it was recent, what’s to say they had anything to do with us?”

Gallus nods in agreement, and stands. “Let’s keep going. Probably wouldn’t be a good idea to be right next to a dead draugr when his friends come around.”


To the surprise of literally no one, the depths of Ustengrav are even less appealing than the areas closer to the surface. Not that Gallus thinks any part of a dank, dark ruin could be remotely appealing. Or, at least, he didn’t. That was, of course, before he came across a wall with runes engraved in Dovahzul: a word wall.

It’s the first he’s come across since he’s learn what these walls actually do. A single word glows on the wall, as if imbued with fire, and he reaches out to touch it, albeit cautiously. When he does so, it’s as if the word is seared into his memory, much like before.

Feim.

The word dims and with it, Gallus’ vision returns to normal. He hadn’t noticed there was anything off about it, he was so focused on the wall.

“I’m guessing… that’s one of those word walls?” Karliah says, startling him. He had been so focused on the wall that he’d half-forgotten she was there, much to his embarrassment.

“Definitely,” he nods.

“What does it say?”

“Don’t know,” Gallus says, “but I can find out.” His initial plan is to copy it down and borrow Arngeir’s book once he gets back, except that when he goes looking for a stick of charcoal and some paper, he finds the book first. With some embarrassment on his part, he remembers that he’d completely forgotten to give it back. He really needs to do that once they get back to High Hrothgar.

Regardless, having the book on hand means making an attempt at least to translate the wall on the spot. It’s no easy feat, partially because he first has to transcribe the translations of the runes and then translate that. But since when has something being hard ever stopped him?

On second thought, he doesn’t want the answer to that one.

Even so, the relative difficulty of the task at hand proves to make it… time-consuming, at best. Of course, between copying down runes and flipping back and forth between section after section because naturally he hadn’t had the sense to bring anything usable as a bookmark, he doesn’t really notice how much time has passed until his legs start cramping up beneath him and he glances up to see Karliah looking particularly amused.

“How long have I been…?”

“At least an hour,” she says with a wry grin. “Possibly two. It’s not easy to keep track of time when you’re underground.”

Gallus winces. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be, you’re cute when you’re concentrating. We should probably get going, though—there’s definitely some draugr around here somewhere. I think you would have noticed if one of them attacked, though.”

“Me too,” he admits, carefully tucking his notes into the book and the book into his bag. Then, he stands, stretches some. “It can’t be that much further.”

She laughs. “Famous last words, it’ll take twice as long now. Did you ever actually figure out what the new Shout means? I’m guessing it’s a new one.”

“It is. It’s… feim . It translates directly to fade, and it’s part of a Shout called Become Ethereal, whatever that means. Maybe I’ll test it out on the next group of draugr.”

“No need. Look down.”

He does, and realizes he can see through his feet—more than just his feet, actually. Curious, he brings a hand up to his face, and finds he can see through that too. Before he can do anything with it, his form flickers back to normal.

“That’s… something,” Gallus murmurs. “Not a very straightforward something, either.”

Karliah shrugs, “Maybe it makes you somewhat harder to see, but it’s not quite invisibility?”

“Maybe. I’ll work on it more when we’re out of here. Same goes for the other Shouts—wouldn’t want to try one out and find out the hard way that it doesn’t work the way I thought it would.”


The next large group of draugr, as it happens, are gathered in the midst of a open room with staircases heading up either side, and an ancient-looking lantern hanging from the ceiling. Despite its visible age and wear, it’s still lit. That, however, isn’t what Gallus and Karliah are most concerned about at the moment.

As already stated, the room is packed with draugr.

“Doesn’t look like they’ve seen us yet,” Gallus murmurs, barely loud enough for Karliah to hear him.

She nods, “Not yet. But it looks like we have to get past them, which will be… fun. I don’t like the look of that lantern, it’s probably part of a trap.”

“Probably. But if we’re careful, we can avoid triggering it. That would probably get their attention, too. Think we can sneak past?”

Karliah frowns, then shakes her head. “Not easily. It’s dark enough that they’d be hard-pressed to see us, but it’ll still be too close for comfort. Chances are we’ll have to fight them, one way or another.”

“If we have to fight them no matter what, it might be worth taking down as many as we can before they notice us. I’ll see what I can do.”

Karliah’s grip tightens on her bow, and she nods.

“Be careful,” she murmurs.

The last thing he does before casting his invisibility spell is offer her a grin. A grin that, even if not verbally, clearly says I’ll be fine .

In retrospect, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he wasn’t fine. Between the two of them, they’d managed to thin down the draugr to a slightly more manageable number, but that was, of course, only before Gallus slipped. Slipping, as it happens, is a surefire way to break your concentration, and the loud thud of a fall is more than enough to turn the head of every draugr around.

So he’s on the ground. Half a dozen draugr are coming his way. He scrambles to his feet just in time for his blade to meet the ancient one of the leading draugr, then twists to the side and runs through the first of his enemies.

One down. Several more to go.

The next one falls without warning, an arrow sprouting from the back of its neck. He silently thanks Nocturnal that Karliah’s such a good shot and goes for the third. It falls quickly, but when Gallus turns and goes for the fourth he slips again, landing hard on the floor. It shouldn’t be this slippery, and it has to be covered in—

Oil.

The purpose of the lantern hanging above is suddenly all too clear to him, and he realizes with some horror that if it falls, he’ll be lucky to limp away. More likely, he’ll be burned too badly to even stand, or worse.

Determined, he thrusts his sword up, impaling one of the last draugr before it can impale him. Then, his gaze meets that of the last draugr, this one an archer. It aims up.

In the same moment that it looses its own arrow, one of Karliah’s shoots through its throat, and Gallus’ sword finds its gut, but it’s too late. The ancient arrow isn’t enough to break the lantern up there, but it’s enough to jostle it. The thread suspending it high above them snaps.

The lantern begins to fall, and somehow, Gallus knows that there’s no way in Oblivion he can get out of the way in time.

“Gallus, look out!” Karliah screams, albeit unnecessarily. They both know what’s going on here, and as far as Gallus knows, there’s not a lot that could save him now. Unrelenting Force could maybe knock it enough out of the way that he could run, but… no. Too risky. Fire Breath would just make everything worse. He’s still not sure how to use Whirlwind Sprint without falling flat on his face when he tries to run, and Disarm wouldn’t do anything.

Perhaps… that new Shout. Feim . Fade. Become Ethereal. He’s still not entirely sure what it does, but it’s the best option he’s got.

“FEIM!” Gallus Shouts, and covers his face with his arms as fire explodes around him. He instinctively flinches, wrenches his eyes shut, braces himself for the burst of pain sure to come.

Except, nothing comes. Slowly, cautiously, he opens his eyes, only to see his own arms. They’re pale, translucent, and very much fine. He’s very much fine, despite the fact that the blast could have killed him. He should have at least felt something. But he can’t waste time thinking about that now—the oily floor is still burning, and considering that he’s covered in the stuff, he needs to get out of there.

He scrambles for the edge of the room, reaching the wall just in time. As his form flickers back to normal, exhaustion overcomes him, and he finds himself leaning hard against the cold stone.

“Gallus, what was—are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he manages. “Just tired. And very surprised that worked.” He glances to his left and sees her there, concern etched all over her features.

“Right,” she says. “I’m just—shadows, how did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t.” He grins uncomfortably. “I guess, if we get nothing else out of this, I have a handy way to get out of this kind of thing in the future.”

“Gallus,” she sighs, “we should probably at least make an attempt at being optimistic enough to hope a situation like this won’t happen again. And chances are, we’ll get something else out of this. Like, say, what we were sent here to get?”

“True. Just give me a moment, we need to get that horn and get out of here.”

Unfortunately, as they soon find out, getting the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller is, perhaps, nowhere near as simple a task as the Greybeards had meant for it to be.

Dragonborn—

I need to speak to you. Urgently.

Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and I’ll meet you.

—A friend

Chapter Text

Riverwood isn’t somewhere Gallus has been particularly frequently. In fact, he’s only been there once or twice. The first was directly after Helgen, when he’d stumbled into town, nearly falling over from exhaustion, and told anyone who would listen what happened there. The second was a few short days later, when he’d been sent out to grab the artifact for the court wizard, right before fighting a second dragon. That time, he’d only been passing through, partially because he wanted to get this over with and partially because the inn had been closed, oddly enough.

He hasn’t been back since he had any idea that he was Dragonborn, not even to pass through—he’d taken the long way to Riften to give himself time to think. The town hasn’t changed significantly since then, minus the fact that there’s a couple of guards from Whiterun stationed just outside it. Gallus dimly recalls the Jarl saying something about sending guards to provide some semblance of protection from dragon attacks, although some part of him hadn’t actually expected him to do so.

Clearly, Jarl Balgruuf of Whiterun is a man of his word, at least on this. He has Gallus’ respect for it, not that it will likely matter in the future. Gallus has no intention of attracting the attention of any authority figures for a long time yet. Not, at least, until Mercer is dead—and currently, the whole Dragonborn thing takes precedent.

The whole Dragonborn thing, unfortunately, is why they’re here now. In the local inn, Gallus finds himself once again poring over what they’d found in the depths of Ustengrav, in the tomb of Jurgen Windcaller. According to Arngeir, Jurgen Windcaller was the founder of the Greybeards, and Gallus remembers reading the name on some of the stone tablets set about on the climb up. Beyond that, Arngeir had promised to share more when he returned.

Jurgen Windcaller apparently had a war horn, buried with him. Possibly, he’d used it to amplify his Shouts, if he too had been Dragonborn. Figuring out what the Horn does, however, is secondary to actually getting it.

That’s why they’re here, waiting in a quiet corner and deciding whether to follow the note’s instructions or not.

“You know,” Karliah murmurs into her drink, “I’m not certain this building even has an attic, never mind an attic room. This could easily be a trap.”

“We need the Horn,” Gallus says. “I don’t like it either, but… on the bright side, chances are they’re not involved with Mercer?”

“Assuming he doesn’t know you’re Dragonborn, it’s almost certain. But that means we have no idea what we’re getting into, or who wrote this.”

“Someone who needs to contact the Dragonborn,” Gallus points out, folding up the note and pocketing it again. “Someone who doesn’t know who the Dragonborn is, at least not for sure. Someone who’s stealthy enough to get past the vast majority of Ustengrav without raising the alarm, and resourceful enough to get to the inner chamber without Shouting.”

“We don’t know what’s going on here, but… whoever wrote that note, I doubt they’re any friend of the Greybeards.”

“This could be part of the test.”

“Could be, possibly, but probably not. If they have nothing to do with the Greybeards, then who are they? And what do they want with you?”

Gallus frowns. “I guess we’ll find out. We’ve loitered here long enough, I think—I’ll go talk to the innkeeper.” He stands.

Karliah nods, then gives him a slightly-forced smile. “Just be careful. Please.”

“Always.”

The innkeeper is sweeping up behind the bar when he comes over, likely about to close up for the night. She’s always been rather untrusting of strangers, if he recalls his last visit here with any degree of reliability, and today doesn’t disprove that.

“So are you going to get a room or not?” She asks. Her eyes don’t leave his. There’s something about her that keeps him on edge. There’s no familiarity there—so it’s not that he knew her before. It’s more that her look is cold, calculating, that of someone who’s got something to hide and likely would kill to keep it hidden.

In summary, she’s unsettling. So much so that it takes Gallus a moment to remember he’s supposed to be saying something.

“Might as well.” He tries to shrug carelessly. “You wouldn’t happen to have an attic room, would you?”

The innkeeper stops sweeping, squints at him. Her eyesight can’t be that bad, she doesn’t look that old. Even so, Gallus gets the feeling he’s being scrutinized. For what, he might have some idea.

“Who told you we’ve got an attic room?”

She begins to sweep once more, except she’s looking at him even more intensely. A hawk eyeing a mouse comes to mind. From the sound of things, she’s expecting an answer of some kind.

Gallus considers lying, briefly, but settles on a vague version of the truth.

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone there.”

“Hm. Well, you may have the wrong inn, because we don’t have an attic room. The attic here is used for storage. Now, it is getting rather late, so if you would like to get a regular room…”

Something about this doesn’t add up. Until he mentioned the attic room, he’d gotten the distinct feeling that she was trying to get rid of him. Now, she’s suspicious—but of what, Gallus isn’t certain. And from the way she’s looking at him now, he gets the feeling that she wants him to get a room regardless.

He sighs. “Sure,” he says, and passes over some coin. She passes over a room key.

“Room on the left.”

Gallus nods, takes it, then turns and heads back to where Karliah’s waiting.

“Attic room, or…?” She nods to the key.

He shakes his head. “There’s not one. They do have an attic, but they’re using it for storage.”

“That’s… promising, at least,” she says. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Gallus is reasonably certain that they’re far enough away from the innkeeper that she can’t hear them, but even so he lowers his voice further. “If what you’re thinking involves breaking and entering, yes. Let’s wait until the innkeeper turns in for the night.”

Whatever she’s hiding, Gallus would much rather stay uninvolved.


They’ve long since extinguished the lantern in the room, giving the appearance of sleep, but neither Gallus nor Karliah are planning on actually sleeping anytime soon. If this goes south, they’ll need to get out of Riverwood, and fast—and even if it doesn’t, meeting with the person who stole the Horn will take time.

It’s almost ironic, actually, that someone had stolen the Horn from a pair of thieves. To be fair, he wasn’t exactly channeling his thief side at the time. Now is a different story entirely, since to get to the attic they’ll almost certainly have to break in.

Of course, if the innkeeper takes any longer to put out the light in the main room and turn in for the night, it might be worth just letting sleep take the reins.

Gallus stifles a yawn, and glances over at Karliah. He can barely make out her fiddling with a stray lock of hair.

“Looks like this might be a while,” he whispers.

“Yeah,” she murmurs back. “I really would have thought she’d go to bed by now. The inn’s been closed for at least an hour now.”

“What’s she waiting for?”

As if answering the question, the door opens. Light spills in from the common area, illuminating both of them and highlighting just how not-asleep they are. It takes a moment for Gallus’ eyes to adjust to the sudden change in brightness, but when he does, it’s quite clear that it’s the innkeeper standing there.

More concerningly, they’d had the door locked, and he hadn’t heard the key turn. A quick glimpse of the panic in Karliah’s eyes proves she hadn’t either, although she quickly hides her true feelings.

“So,” the innkeeper says. “You’re the Dragonborn, then.”

“And you’re the one who stole the Horn,” Gallus guesses.

Without letting her gaze leave his, she reaches into her bag and pulls out an object wrapped loosely in what looks suspiciously like some repurposed burial linens. As in, the kind that one would find in Ustengrav.

He follows suit while unwrapping it. Then, he only looks down for a moment to confirm that yes, this is some kind of war horn. Not only that, but if the electrifying tingle that passes through his fingers at contact is any indication, it’s the Horn he’s looking for.

“I prefer ‘borrowed’, seeing as I had every intention to return it. But we can’t talk here. Follow me.” She turns to leave.

“Wait,” Karliah cuts in. “Who are you, and why in Oblivion couldn’t you send a courier like a normal person if you wanted to get in touch with the Dragonborn? Or, I don’t know, left the note with the Greybeards?”

“Several reasons,” the innkeeper says, much more curtly. “I had no knowledge of who he was, and finding a courier would be a very fast way to get myself killed. The Greybeards are not an option.”

“Why—?”

“Listen, talking in here is almost as bad as talking out there.” She gestures to the still-lit common room. “If you want answers, follow me.”

“What if I don’t?” Gallus says. “What if I just want to get this Horn back to the Greybeards and get on with my life?”

“Then don’t. But know that I happen to know where the next dragon attack will take place, and you’re the only person alive who can stop it.”

She leaves the door open as she goes, making it quite clear where she’s going: the room directly across from theirs.

“Do you trust her?” Gallus asks, albeit much quieter.

Karliah’s frown makes her answer quite apparent even before she shakes her head. “She’s hiding something. You do?”

“No. But there’s a chance she’s telling the truth about the next dragon attack.”

His gaze meets hers, and somehow, Gallus knows they’re both thinking of Helgen. If he hadn’t killed the dragon at the watchtower west of Whiterun, the same thing could have happened there, and then Winterhold…

“The dragon at Winterhold could have destroyed the entire town,” he continues. “Would have if we hadn’t been there—even if they thought they killed it. It would have just come back, like it did for me.”

“Nocturnal was with us in that,” Karliah nods. “It was luck that we were there in time. Personally, I would rather not get involved in another dragon attack, but you know how it is.”

He does. It goes unspoken that if he’s going after another dragon, she’s going with him.

It’s non-negotiable, he recalls her saying, and he isn’t inclined to doubt that.

“If she knows where it’ll happen, then we need to find out how, and get there in time to stop it.”

“And what if she doesn’t? There’s something not right about this. I can’t tell what, but it’s something.”

Gallus shrugs helplessly, and says, “Better safe than sorry.”

Chapter Text

“Glad you could join me,” the innkeeper says dryly as Gallus pushes the door open. “Lock that behind you, will you?”

He reluctantly does so, once Karliah’s in too. The innkeeper raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. Instead, she strides across the room to a closet, and unlocks it.

Gallus finds himself wondering briefly why she would need a lock on a closet, until she slides open the back panel to reveal a set of steps heading down.

“We don’t have an attic room, or an attic for that matter,” she says. “But, we do have a basement, that I repurposed. Through here.”

She goes first. Gallus and Karliah exchange glances, then follow. Gallus takes up the rear, carefully sliding the panel back into place behind him. The lock doesn’t click—likely a good thing—but he feels a little better about the whole situation now that the secret entrance isn’t obviously left open.

The innkeeper’s basement is home to quite a lot of gear, almost none of which would normally be found in an inn. A weapons rack with a kind of sword Gallus doesn’t recognize hangs on one wall, and provisions spill out of a sack in the opposite corner. All in all, it looks like whatever she’s been doing down here, she’s been doing it for a long time.

“So. First off, you are the Dragonborn, correct?”

“Yeah,” Gallus says, still looking around. “You have… a lot of supplies down here.”

“Let’s just say that there are those who would stop at nothing to see me dead and leave it at that for now.” She crosses the room, going around the table in the center, and unrolls what looks like some kind of map. “I apologize for being so suspicious, but I don’t have much choice. Before I can trust you, I need to make sure you are who you say you are, which means—”

“Slow down a moment,” Karliah cuts in. “Enough about you trusting us, how can we trust you?”

“I gave you the Horn. You have what you came for—I just ask that you listen to me. And if you’re not Dragonborn yourself, forgive me for asking, but what are you even doing here?”

Karliah’s carefully neutral mask slips just enough that she’s frowning, if only slightly.

“Making sure he doesn’t have to do this alone,” she says. “And with all due respect, you really aren’t the only one that someone wants dead.”

The two women glare at each other from opposite sides of the table. Gallus coughs awkwardly into his fist, and leans over to read the map.

“What’s this?” He asks. The innkeeper turns it his way.

“This,” she says, “is a map of dragon burial sites. It should look familiar—weren’t you the one that got the Dragonstone from Bleak Falls Barrow?”

Gallus suddenly remembers, when he returned with that for Farengar, that the court wizard wasn’t alone. There was someone else then, someone hooded who’d reminded Farengar to send her a copy of his findings and left shortly before the dragon attacked. What with everything happening so fast, it had completely slipped his mind. But…

“You were there when I returned.”

“Indeed I was, I’m not surprised you remembered. It took time to decipher it, but—”

“Why do you need a map of dragon burial sites?” Karliah cuts in.

“I’m glad you asked. You see, no one has quite figured out how the dragons are returning, and why now. I haven’t made much progress on the why, but as for the how… this is going to sound rather far-fetched, I’ll admit.”

“What, are they being resurrected or something?”

“Actually, yes.”

Gallus’ breath catches in his throat. Fortunately, the innkeeper’s not looking at him, or she’d likely ask what he’s thinking—and he doesn’t feel like coming up with a believable lie right now. Karliah, however, is, and mouths what he’s pretty sure is an are you okay?

He shrugs, slightly.

“I don’t have proof,” the innkeeper continues, “but I’ve been able to visit several burial mounds so far. Some of them were empty. There’s a pattern—it started in the south, in the Jeralls near Riften.”

“A dragon didn’t attack Riften,” Gallus says. Even so, his mouth feels dry.

“True. Not yet, in any case—but an empty mound doesn’t directly correlate with an attack, just with a sighting. However, dragons can fly. There’s really nothing stopping one from, say, being resurrected near Markarth and flying all the way to Winterhold.”

“So you don’t actually know where the next attack will be,” Karliah murmurs. The innkeeper sighs, and shakes her head.

“No. But I do know where the next resurrection will be. If it follows the present pattern—and it has so far—it’ll be in three days’ time, at the dragon mound near Kynesgrove. If we can get there in time, we can see what happens, and maybe even stop it. If push comes to shove, you can kill it.”

She points to a spot on the map, marked with an ‘x’. Kynesgrove is scribbled hastily next to it. Almost directly to the east, there’s a dot marked Windhelm , and to the northwest is Winterhold .

The last thing Winterhold needs is another dragon attack, and even though Gallus couldn’t care less about the civil war, he knows Windhelm is a particularly large city. A dragon attacking there would not be good. A dragon attacking anywhere would be bad, actually.

“Alright,” Gallus says. “You’re coming with us?”

“Chances are, you’ll be fighting a dragon,” she says dryly. “You’ll need all the help you can get, and I’m not bad with a sword myself.”

“We’ve taken down a dragon by ourselves before,” Karliah counters. “And as I said, why should we trust you? You won’t even give us a name.”

“Because if you do what the Greybeards want, you’ll end up spending the rest of your days on that mountain of theirs, never doing anything. The dragons will have to destroy Skyrim before they lift a finger, and by then it’ll be far too late.”

The innkeeper thinks on something for a moment, then sighs.

“I suppose that it can’t hurt too much, although don’t expect anything beyond this until I’m certain you’re not a plant. You can call me Delphine. You are…?”

“Gallus,” he says before it occurs to him that he perhaps should have used an alias.

Karliah evidently puts a little more thought into it, before shaking her head. “Maybe later,” she says instead.

Delphine purses her lips, clearly not happy. “Fine. I’ll meet you outside, then—we don’t have any time to waste.”

Chapter Text

Getting to Kynesgrove, as it happens, is much easier said than done. Between Delphine simultaneously avoiding giving up anything about herself while simultaneously probing for anything she can get between Gallus and Karliah, and Karliah making it very, very clear how much she dislikes Delphine— she needs us more than we need her, Karliah had said, and he’d reluctantly conceded the point—it’s fairly exhausting to say the least. However, it’s only once they’ve reached Kynesgrove that everything truly goes to shit, starting with the local innkeeper screaming about a big black dragon landing up on the hill as she runs in the opposite direction.

Gallus and Karliah exchange glances.

“Do you think—?”

“Could be,” Gallus says. It goes unspoken that he really hopes it isn’t, although he has a bad feeling it is the dragon from Helgen. It was big, definitely, and black, and while he supposes it would be hard to make out if the dragon was flying overhead, it had distinctive red eyes.

“What did I tell you?” Delphine says, drawing her sword. It’s the one Gallus noticed earlier, the one with an odd, almost katana-like design. “Listen, if you’re not Dragonborn, we’re probably all going to die here. If you are, and you kill that thing? I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

That’s literally the most she’s said in the past three hours. Gallus doesn’t need to look at Karliah to know she’s practically radiating skepticism, but he nods anyway. They can figure out whether Delphine’s actually full of shit or not later.

He doesn’t trust her. To be fair, it looks like she was right about Kynesgrove, but he still doesn’t trust her. He’s just putting more effort into hiding it than Karliah is for the time being.

“Alright,” Gallus agrees. “Let’s get up there. Quietly, though—I’d rather not have to fight it immediately. Or at all, if I can avoid it.”

His last bit is directed at both of them, but it’s Delphine who looks ready to argue. Apparently, she either really hates stealth, or really hates dragons. Or, possibly, both. He mentally files that bit of information away for future reference, and then starts creeping up the hill, still desperately clinging to the hope that it’s not the same dragon from Helgen.

All it takes is one glimpse of the dragon to shatter that hope. Gallus sees black wings in the cold, and glittering, ruby-red eyes that thankfully aren’t directed at him this time. Even so, he can’t help but wonder—what is it doing?

“Lorkhan’s eyes,” Delphine murmurs under her breath, “look at that big bastard!”

“It’s a dragon,” Karliah whispers. “They’re always this big. Haven’t you seen a dragon before?”

“Well, no, but—”

“It’s big even for a dragon,” Gallus cuts in. “And, unless I’m mistaken, that may be the dragon that destroyed Helgen.”

“You’re not mistaken,” Karliah agrees. “I don’t think either of us are ever forgetting that.”

Delphine looks between both of them with an unreadable expression. “You were at Helgen?”

“Long story, I’ll tell it if we survive this,” Gallus says. Karliah says something too, but by then he’s more focused on the dragon, hovering in the air above the dragon burial mound and saying… something in Dovahzul. What, he can’t tell, not for sure. But he can assume that Sahloknir is the name of a dragon and dovah is the one word he recognizes other than that.

“SLEN TIID VO!”

That’s a Shout. That’s definitely a Shout, and somehow, Gallus knows it’s not one written down anywhere, nor one that the Greybeards would know. Even so, somehow, he gets the feeling that he should know it, and soon, he knows why.

The ground rumbles as the mound cracks, and a dragon crawls out. Except, it’s not all of a dragon, it’s just the skeleton of one—but not for long. As he watches in horror and awe, the skeleton begins to glow as the rest grows back. Muscles, sinew, skin, everything. Within seconds, a normal-looking dragon, albeit a smaller one with paler scales than Gallus can recall seeing elsewhere, is regarding the other with what looks like reverence.

“Nocturnal help us,” Karliah swears under her breath, just barely loud enough for Gallus to hear.

“ALDUIN, THURI! BOAAN TIID VOKRIIHA SULEYKSEJUN KRUZIIK?”

He understood… literally none of that. Although tiid was definitely a part of the Shout that the black dragon just used, he doesn’t know what it means. He knows a few isolated words in Shouts and that’s literally it. Alduin might be the first dragon’s name, but for all he knows it could be thuri , or actually—

No, actually, come to think of it, dragon names follow a pattern. Frinahviing . Sahloknir . To be fair, that’s only two, but if dragon names have to be three syllables… Alduin fits. Thuri doesn’t. So, maybe, the big black dragon is named Alduin, which means he actually was able to figure out its name!

Now, he just has to figure out what in Oblivion they’re saying, which definitely isn’t happening, he can’t get to the book in time and if he could he wouldn’t be able to translate things as they were saying them. He makes a mental note to work more on that and see what he can get Arngeir to help him with, then returns his attention to the dragons.

It’s then that he realizes that both Alduin and Sahloknir are looking directly at him. So much for being hidden.

“FUL, LOSEI DOVAHKIIN? ZU'U KORAAV NID NOL DOV DO HI.”

Gallus doesn’t know for sure what Alduin’s saying, but whatever it is it’s definitely nothing nice if the tone is any indication. And hey, he recognized like… three or four things in that sentence.

Something… dragonborn… I am no… something… dragon?

Whatever it is, it’s probably an insult.

“You do not even know our tongue, do you?” Alduin says in perfect Tamrielic. His disdain is quite apparent. “Such arrogance, to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah.”

Well, he might not know Dovahzul perfectly, but he knows enough. It’s with this in mind that Gallus stands and says, as loudly as he dares, “Nid. Zu’u Dovahkiin. Zu'u Dovah.”

There’s silence. Complete and utter, all-encompassing silence. It’s so quiet that Gallus can hear rather than feel his heart pounding in his chest, but he tries not to pay that any heed. Instead, he meets Alduin’s fiery gaze with a challenge in his own, praying that he didn’t screw up the grammar too badly or really at all.

I am Dragonborn, he says with his eyes. Whether you like it or not.

“MINDOK SED ROT,” Alduin says at last. “NUZ NID SAV. SAHLOKNIR, KRII DAAR JOORRE.” With that, he takes off, shooting into the sky so quickly that if Gallus didn’t know any better, he’d think he was running away.

But currently, he’s got more important things to worry about. Like, say, the dragon that’s now well aware that there are people here and almost certainly just got ordered to kill them.

“I am Sahloknir,” the remaining dragon shouts as he takes wing. “Hear my Voice and despair!”

“So we need to ground him,” Gallus mumbles to Karliah. She nods. “I’ll distract him, you put some holes in his wings.”

“Got it,” she says, and dashes off.

He doesn’t even know where Delphine is, but he can worry about that later. Right now, he’s got a dragon to take on. Unless, somehow, he can convince the dragon to not fight. It’s a long shot considering that it just got brought back from the dead—possibly the same way he did, but he can worry about that later. It’s at least worth a shot.

“Right, you’re Sahloknir,” he yells into the sky. “I’m Gallus. Can we talk about this?”

He’s expecting a no. Or a nid. No in any language, really. What he’s not expecting is Sahloknir to say as he passes overhead, “What is there to talk about?”

“Uh. You know. Not fighting would be a start. You could just land and we could talk about this?”

He’s really not expecting Sahloknir to reply, “Very well.” It’s, quite frankly, too good to be true. So, when he circles in for a landing, Gallus almost doesn’t notice that he’s coming in suspiciously fast.

Almost.

He’s prepared to Shout feim and jump out of the way, but he doesn’t have to. From literally out of nowhere, Delphine jabs her blade up, into the dragon’s throat. Well, no—it hits the scales at a bad angle and bounces off mostly harmlessly, but getting hit in the throat by anything tends to hurt even if it doesn’t go deep and the same seems to apply for dragons. Sahloknir visibly recoils, and banks to the side.

“So it’s to be a real fight, then!” Sahloknir says with a laugh. “I see, Dovahkiin, that you were just as serious about your surrender as I was. FO KRAH DIIN!

Instead of fire, the dragon breathes what looks like ice, or maybe frost. Whatever it is, Gallus quickly launches himself out of the way with a wuld . He stumbles some, draws his sword, looks for Karliah. He doesn’t see her. Probably a good thing. The dragon’s not focused on him anymore, which would be good except that it’s currently more concerned with the Breton woman screaming obscenities in its general direction.

So, in other words, Delphine is proving to be more effective as a distraction than anything else. It’s useful. Gallus would rather she didn’t get herself killed before he gets to question her, though, and he suspects Karliah thinks much the same. It’s with this in mind that, before it can turn Delphine into a block of ice, he Shouts back.

“YOL!”

Sahloknir screams, if dragons can scream—actually, strike that, dragons can definitely scream, this one is proof of that. Evidently, setting a dragon that clearly preferred cold on fire was very effective, and also very painful. Gallus winces.

A timely, well-placed arrow to the eye puts Sahloknir out of his misery, and once he’s absorbed the dragon’s soul, Gallus doesn’t have to look to see who fired it. He does look, however, to see where Karliah is at the moment, to make sure she’s alright—which, why wouldn’t she be? She was mostly out of the fight.

Then, and only then, does he return his attention to Delphine.

“So,” he says dryly, “you have some explaining to do.”

Delphine sighs. “Fine. The short version is, I’m a Blade. Or was a Blade, anyway. Emperor’s protectors, spies and all that.”

“Before the Great War,” Karliah puts in. “When the Thalmor decided to kill you all.”

“I really wish I could claim something different, I really do. There’s probably others out there, but I don’t make contact. That’s how I’ve lasted as long as I have.”

“Right,” Gallus says slowly. He’s grateful to Karliah for making Delphine explain perhaps more than she would have otherwise, but there’s still something not quite making sense. “What does being a Blade have to do with dragons?”

“Absolutely everything. The Blades were the protectors of the Septim line of emperors, because they were Dragonborn. When the Medes began to rule, that role fell to the Penitus Oculatus. I’ll admit, I… maybe haven’t been as good about searching for the next Dragonborn as I should have been, but Tiber Septim conquered all of Tamriel. Martin Septim stopped Mehrunes Dagon from taking over our plane of existence. Whatever you’re here for, it’s certainly going to be big, and I intend to be there with you for it.”

Delphine kneels, and continues, “History knows the Blades as spies and bodyguards to the Septims, but we have always served the Dragonborn. And if there’s a Dragonborn, the world is going to change, in one way or another. You’re going to need the Blades, however many of us there are left.”

She scowls, and finishes, “I doubt it’s an accident that dragons are returning now, either. The last thing Skyrim needed was more chaos, and I know who might be behind this.”

“That dragon resurrected the other one,” Gallus says slowly. “The big black one. Alduin.”

“Perhaps,” Delphine agrees, “but who resurrected that dragon? The dragons were dead, all of them. Would you like to know who benefits the most from their return?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer, instead saying, bitterly, “The Thalmor. We’ve got a lot of