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It was always refreshing to go to Temple. Father Lovian had a way of sermonizing that lifted the spirits, like a bath but for the soul--rendered clean. Mohamara hardly ever watched the Imperial man while the sermons were said, though occasionally the lights of his rainbow-colored robes were enticing. The Temple always had dust in the air, and it was always fascinating to watch the particles dance around the rays of light that filled the temple from on high. They sometimes made shapes similar to Daedric letters or animals, but you had to be looking closely to see them.

The potluck that happened after the final hymns were sung was the main draw for most people coming to Kilkreath--not the love of the Lady. It saddened Mohamara just a bit--the Lady would love them no matter why they came--but the people couldn’t feel her love at all because they didn’t love her back. Such was the case with Mohamara’s Orc friend, Yagraz. Biggest Orc he’d ever seen, of either gender, and she could throw a punch that knocked people out of their shoes. Her favorite thing to eat at the potluck was, of course, Mohamara’s fondue--made with imitation moon sugar.

She derived some sick pleasure from watching others watch her eat the cheese-covered bread that Mohamara couldn’t understand. All she ended up doing was making a mess and having people leave her vicinity with red faces. So many people who came to Temple for the food seemed so angry with messy eating--Mohamara had to follow Yagraz around with napkins and insist she clean up regularly.

At least the Orc woman actually sang the hymns in the post-potluck sermons. It wasn’t much, but in those moments could feel the light within Yagraz--and he knew the Lady was speaking to her in those times. Perhaps with a few years of going to Temple, she could feel the love as easily as Mohamara.

“Will you come with me to Temple again next week?” he asked her when they left Kilkreath to wait at the air ferry station for a ship heading south--Yagraz to brag to her sisters in Dushnik Yal about all the fancy food she got to eat, and Mohamara to attend his evening courses at the community college in Whiterun. The Orc woman purposely messed up his hair with a two-handed head ruffle, much to Mohamara’s chagrin.

“Eh, I dunno short-stuff. You going to make more of that fancy cheese?”

Some of the passers-by in personal air-skiffs or walking on the elevated streets gave the two odd looks. It must have looked silly--an Orc woman in a Companions leather jacket, but otherwise dressed like a punk and sporting a mohawk tormenting a Khajiit literally half her size, who had a more hipster look. It wouldn’t surprise Mohamara if someone assumed she was bullying him--some righteous people had tried to intervene before.

“Ack, leggo! I always make fondue for Temple--it’s the only time I can afford eidar cheese.” And it was something he knew Yagraz loved. He hoped that the love for the food would open her up to the love of the Lady. Malacath had made Yagraz strong, but he loved nobody--not even himself.

“Well fine--I’ll come by next week for Temple. But only if you let me teach you how to throw a punch, hmm?”

Mohamara glared up at her through the Orc’s hands and his own hair, not amused at all. “And give you a reason to hit me--I’m not stupid.”

Yagraz shrugged and smirked to herself, then let the short cat go. He’d gotten used to fighting against her grip, so the sudden release sent him stumbling a bit.

“Please, you knowing how to fight or not, I couldn’t hit ya--you’d break like glass.” She took a seat on the ferry stop, which Mohamara did as well once he got up. The station, as was the case for air ferry stations, sported a vaguely Dwemer design. Markarth had changed a lot of the public utilities to their Dwemer-revival style once the stone city became the capital of Skyrim. Mohamara hadn’t been there to see the change, but he’d heard from his elf professors about the cultural dominance Markarth had developed over the generations.

More than one such elven professor had outright banned slates from their lecture halls because they hated how students could fact-check their lectures in real time. If they’d just stop lying, the cat postulated, there wouldn’t be a problem. And if they didn’t know the latest material, what were they doing teaching? Mohamara believed it had to do with the inclination of elven scholars to develop a superiority complex.

“That should be the one,” Yagraz pointed out, jarring the Khajiit out of his musings. The Dwemer-bronze airship, held aloft by a metal plated air envelope and driven forward by four sets of propellers, took a few minutes to line up with the station so passengers could load on and disembark. The tedious process of standing in line while their passes were scanned to allow them passage was only made better by the rain finally clearing up. And because the weather had improved, the ferry opened up the windows on the covered deck, allowing for a pleasant breeze while it disconnected from the station and started southward.

While Mohamara watched the tall buildings of Solitude fade away in the distance, he wondered if he’d ever be well off enough to afford living in Kilkreath. It was a hoity-toity neighborhood, lots of rich and fake-rich people. He only came there regularly because Kilkreath had the last temple to Meridia in Skyrim--Dawnguard had long since become a purely Stendarr venue. A degree in Mysticism didn’t promise a well-paying career, but if he could get into an enchantment internship he could possibly get in on the work for new wayshrines.

“You always get so mopey after you go to Temple,” his friend chided and shoved his shoulder a bit. Mohamara almost fell off his perch looking out the window and pushed her back when he was stable again.

“Well, in my religion going to Temple is supposed to be the highlight of the week. So, of course, I’m mopey. You always seem excited to go get the food.”

The punk-fashioned Orc made a face and scoffed. This prompted Mohamara to thread his long ears through the gaps in his hood, pull it up, and go back to looking at the winged figure holding the faceted beacon aloft fade in the distance. “Because it’s the best food you can get all week, short stuff.” Though he couldn’t see her due to the hood, he caught glimpses of her black mohawk moving around to indicate she was looking at him. “It’s rich people food. Well, and that cheese stuff you make. But if singing songs and standing in a dusty temple while rich people glare at you all the time is the highlight of your week, you need to get better hobbies. Or a date. Or a date with better hobbies. Or take dating as a hobby.”

“Yes, thank you, but I will not be doing any of those things.” Mohamara’s ears went flat against his hood while his tail began to swish in irritation. “I’ve already got too much coursework--I have to appeal my last test in inter-planar wishes, there are two papers due in introduction to omens, and--“

“And,” she purposefully cut him off and started to rub his head again. “If you don’t take a vacation or something, you’re going to work yourself to death. How about in a couple days you come with me to hear the shaman talk about Malacath? See, when we worship our Daedra, it’s a fun time.”

A soft but noticeable ‘harumph’ caught the Khajiit and Orc’s attention, prompting both to look at the source. An elderly Nord man, with a prominent amulet of Stendarr around his neck, glaring at them. The two friends teamed up to glare the old man down--Mohamara using the natural eyeshine produced by his face being shrouded by the hood, and Yagraz using her tusks in a threat display. It wasn’t long before the old man broke the staring contest, and the two went back to their original positions.

“I’ll go if the appeal goes well, and if your sister doesn’t manhandle me again.”

Yagraz had to force herself not to chuckle.

“Hey, I don’t know how many tojay she’s met who like that, but I don’t care for being carted around like a big doll.”

“Then you just need to stop being such a shorty and grow to a reasonable size. Oh no, attack of the tail waps! Whatever shall I do?” The Orc played up her reaction to being bapped repeatedly by Mohamara’s tail when he started to thrash it about from annoyance. “Alright, I’ll tell her to leave you alone. Just stick by me, and she won’t get the chance to trap you in the realm of ‘cute kitty’.”

When the temple was fully out of view Mohamara turned around and sat in the seat properly. To distract him on the way to the Dushnikh Yal station, he pulled his slate out and clipped on the earrings before browsing for a song.

The time for Yagraz to leave came soon. After exchanging a promise to join her for attending a sermon about Malacath, she left with the vast majority of the ferry’s passengers. Dushnikh Yal was a popular transfer stop, allowing people to swap to a ferry heading further east to Eastmarch, or west to the Reach. Mohamara stayed on the ferry as it started the route back to Whiterun and kept to himself while listening to music.

Until he got a call from a number he didn’t know. The number vanished almost instantly, as his cipher put a name to the caller: CHEESE4EVERY1. Mohamara knew no one with that name and moved the slider to the red button, declining the call. But instead the call interface popped up over his music, and the caller’s orange and purple icon started to blink in time with their words.

“Hello! How are ya?” A voice with an accent he couldn’t quite place started off quickly. It was a man’s, and seemed to be slightly withered with age but still energetic.

“Um, who--” Mohamara started before he decided not to bother and attempted to end the call. But the button to do so never seemed to register.

“Am I? Well, that’s been a topic of debate for a while now actually. But you and I already know each other, lad.” The voice went soft and ever so slightly menacing for the last few words. “I just came by to let you know: It’s all sorted! I heard you need a vacation, so I decided to take you along with me on mine! We can talk, hang out, eat some clouds together. I’ll be swinging by in a second, so be ready to go.” The man spoke with such energy and swiftness that Mohamara wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise before the call was ended. He had all of a second to blink before someone sat down uncomfortably close to him on the bench.

It was a Nordic man, paler than any he’d ever seen, with white hair and milky eyes. He wore a bizarre suit that seemed… fleshy, with deep patterns on a base of purple and orange fabrics split in half so he had two limbs of each color. “How ya doing, my boy? Meri-pants been treating you well? She’s so temperamental with her mortals I half expected you to be a scorch mark when I got around to meeting ya.” The Nord man spoke with the voice from the call, and this combined with his sudden appearance made Mohamara jump and almost drop his slate.

“Who in the Ashpit are you?”

The man squinted a bit at Mohamara’s outraged tone, and a palpable sense of dread crept over the short Khajiit.

“Um, who are you… sir?”

That got the stranger to break out into a wide grin. “That’s a good lad, minding your betters. And bettering your mind--a college boy I see.” Somehow Mohamara’s wallet had appeared in the man’s hand, and after a hasty check of his jeans pockets the Khajiit confirmed it was definitely his. The stranger flipped it open and began to look through the credit slabs and identification cards. “Not on the cheer squad? Ah well, still time for that. Can’t go wasting all that cute on books. Or screens, as the young people do.”

“Um. Sir, please, give that--back?” Mohamara tried to snatch the wallet back from the Nord and found his hand gripped so tightly by the human that the pain took a second to register. The Nord man’s expression didn’t change, he just held Mohamara’s hand away from the wallet while it was examined further.

“Oh, blood type blue. Must make you popular with vampires, eh lad? But I suppose you being with Meri-pants means you wouldn’t want to be popular with vampires. Though they’d certainly want you to be popular with them!” He leaned in to whisper to Mohamara, who held his ears flat against his skull and tried not to think about how he could feel the two bones in his forearm grinding against one another. “Vampires are strange like that.”

“Yes--sir, please….” Mohamara’s arm was released, and once free he decided the insane Nord could keep the damn wallet and he tried to run. Tried being the key word there. He found himself held fast by his tail--the Nord not holding so tightly as he had the Khajiit’s arm, but still strong enough to keep Mohamara from escaping.

“Now, now, don’t be like that. This is a fun time! Vacation time!”

With a powerful yank, the Khajiit was pulled back to the seat and made to sit. The wallet vanished from the man’s hand, though Mohamara was too afraid to go looking for it. He had started to piece together who the man was--the distinctive clothes, weird accent, and powers that would require significant effort for a mage all painted a bleak picture.

“Look at you, shaking like a leaf. Understandable, really. Meri-pants doesn’t really teach her mortals to be able to work with Daedra, ya know? Makes for great surprises when they end up using the wrong fork at dinner and need to be eviscerated, eh?”

Numb, the Khajiit nodded and looked around for the other passengers. None of them even seemed to realize what was happening. Or if they had, they were ignoring the situation entirely.

“Well, go on isn’t there something you should be saying since I’m taking you along on my vacation? Did your tongue stop working? Would you like a replacement?” Again, the madman edged onto a low, dangerous tone towards the end.

Mohamara made a low whine in his throat and shook his head no, but still didn’t answer. The man was clearly a Daedra, and words could become dangerous with Daedra. Silence, also, could be dangerous but he hoped that silence would just bore the Daedra into leaving.

“How ungrateful! And I spent all these twelve seconds putting together this little get-together.” The Daedra appearing as a Nord sighed, longsuffering. “Oh, I didn’t expect to get into this little family dynamic right off. Exciting progress!”

The Daedra shifted emotional states so rapidly that Mohamara had to guess him to be a servant of the Mad God, Sanguine, or possibly Clavicus Vile. As he put the thought together, the Daedra seemed to laugh as if he’d heard the best joke in recorded history.

“Me? Serving old Clavicle? You mortals are too spoiled by how fun he is now. None of you even remember the rambunctious scamp he was oh… I think five thousand years ago? Time is so hard to keep track of--it keeps changing! And you mortals keep breaking Time anyway, so what’s the point?” While Mohamara parsed that the Daedra could read his mind, the Daedra screwed his brow up in thought. “Well, I guess Alduin was the point? But he’s not around anymore, so!” The Daedra released Mohamara’s tail, and the Khajiit was about to make an attempt to escape when instead he found the Daedra’s arm slung across his narrow shoulders and brought in for a side hug. “I think it’s been made clear that you have no idea who I am, and I must say I’m rather insulted.” Slowly the arm holding Mohamara began to squeeze like it had with his wrist earlier, only the crushing pain was gradual rather than sudden. “Here, this should clear things up.”

A bill of paper money was held in front of Mohamara’s eyes. Orange and purple, like the man’s clothes, with an upside-down portrait of the man in the middle surrounded by Daerdric script. The concept of Daedra having money was lost on him when Mohamara read the name atop the portrait.

‘Sheogorath’.

“Oh.” Mohamara broke his silence, trying to make himself as small as possible when he realized exactly who had him in a side hug and was lowkey attempting to crush him.

“See that?” Sheogorath’s voice was soft, almost pleasant. Almost. “That moment of dawning realization is one of the best things you can do with a mortal. Makes dealing with all the boring people so worth it.”

While he couldn’t get away, Mohamara could still move his arms a bit, so he reached up to his shirt and grabbed the amulet of Meridia underneath. A simple silver plated chain holding a faceted orb that shone from within with Meridia’s light. Once he got a hold of it, Mohamara began to desperately pray for help. The odds were low that the Lady would deign to save one mortal that the Lord of Madness had ensnared, but still there.

Sheogorath found the whole thing hilarious and wiped a laughter tear from his eye before speaking again. “Oh, praying for Meri-pants to save you? Best joke I’ve heard in ages. Literally. Ages. And thank you for capitalizing my title there, that’s far more respectful.” The crushing stopped, but Sheogorath’s grip did not relax. “Relax, mortal. I’m not going to be killing you. Yet.” Again came the low tone with an edge of menace. “I’m just going to put you somewhere where you can relax, have some fun, maybe solve some problems.”

Sheogorath made a sweeping motion with his arm before he screwed his face up in consideration. “Wait,” he started, unsure. “I think I used the wrong word there. It’s related to ‘somewhere’, but the wrong suffix.”

Mohamara didn’t stop praying even though, as Sheogorath kept talking, the inner light from the amulet signifying his connection to the Lady began to dim until it was a colorless crystal bauble.

“Anyway, I’ve been meaning to have this conversation with you for a while. But I haven’t had the free time to come and visit--Uncle Jyggalag isn’t going to needle himself, is he?!”

“You… honor me with your presence, Lord.” His Lady was clearly in no position to help, even if she was so inclined. So Mohamara resorted to talking, in the hopes he could stay alive long enough for that to change.

“I do, don’t I? Which is odd, given how disrespectful, ungrateful, and utterly boring you’ve been with me isn’t it?” With each accusation, Sheogorath squeezed slightly tighter, until the poor Khajiit’s spine started to pop as if it were being stretched. “Oh, you make music! Delightful.”

The other passengers on the ferry were gone, Mohamara realized. Where they had been were now piles of empty clothing, holding the shape of people as if they’d merely gone invisible.

“But, I suppose that the point of this vacation is to fix these… deficiencies. I mean, you’re what, twenty or so years old, and all you’ve done is work, work, work, work, and heap praise on old Meri-pants.” Sheogorath paused, considering, and took his arm off of the Khajiit to scratch under his bearded chin.

“You sound like my friend, sir.”

“I’m not sure how to take that. Comparison to a mortal is usually so insulting, but that Yagraz girl is just so endearingly detached from reality. Hmm. I’ll decide to be neutral about it this time.”

It took a moment for Mohamara to realize he was free before the Khajiit hastily turned, climbed out the window of the ferry, and jumped.

He realized how stupid this was the literal second he saw the ground hundreds of feet below him.

“Ha! I like the execution, but I doubt you’ll like the end result.” Sheogorath’s voice spoke to him even as the ferry grew distant from the force of gravity. The wind whipping through Mohamara’s ears did nothing to impede the Daedric Prince’s words, which made Mohamara think they came from his mind. “An astute observation. Betcha wishing you had that kind of clarity about ten seconds ago?”

He should be screaming, Mohamara realized. It would be the natural thing to do. But knowing that at least Sheogorath had found him interesting enough to let die of natural causes was a relief. “Yeah, would’ve been nice.” As he fell, he noticed some… peculiarities of the land below. It was rocky, which he only really saw in the Reach. And covered in grass, which he’d only ever seen in the lawns of rich people. Perhaps it was Sheogoath’s influence, driving him to hallucinate. “At least the fall won’t kill me.”

“Aye, it’d be the right nasty splat at the end. Had that happen to me once, still stung a little. But! Meri-pants would be right miffed if I let you die too early, so I’m afraid I’ll have to keep you alive. Now, don’t let that get ya too hopeful, I’m still a bit sore about how ungrateful you’ve been. So I’m going to handle this… my way.”

Deep below Mohamara, a Dunmer netch herder was learning an incredibly valuable lesson: Netch herding in Skyrim was an awful idea. As everything in Skyrim was fast and deadly enough to grab onto them and pull them out of the sky. The sheer degree of harassment the average netch got made its health deteriorate from stress alone.

There was also the fact that Skyrim’s cold climate wasn’t good for netches. And neither were Khajiit that randomly fell from the sky, pulverized betty netches on impact and ended up being bounced by the impact to land farther away than logic dictated should have been possible. The Khajiit falling onto his last betty wasn’t the last of the poor netch herder’s problems, as a pack of sabre cats had taken an interest in the distress of his netches. They didn’t last long.

After bouncing away from his netch landing pad Mohamara found himself lying on his side, on a hill, unable to move, and in mild pain from the multiple impacts with the ground. To top it all off, he hadn’t even escaped Sheogorath. The Mad God was crouched in front of him, holding his finger close enough to Mohamara’s nose that he could no longer see it, but too far away to feel it.

“I’m not touching you,” he would sing-song every minute or so while moving his hand and pointed finger around the Khajiit’s face. “Not touchin’ ya at all, lad.”

All Mohamara could do was scream internally as the infernal Daedra played with the limits of his vision while he couldn’t move.

“Now, let’s have a good look at you while I wait for my luggage to fall off the ferry.”

The Khajiit found himself in an all too familiar situation of being moved around like a doll while he was listless, unable to fight back. It was like every single time he interacted with Yagraz’ sisters. “Well, you definitely got these lanky limbs from me. But you’re just so cute --I could pinch your head off and make it into a doll.”

Mohamara found himself holding his breath while the Mad God examined him like a new toy, speaking nonsensical things.

“Oh, you got those fluffy toe things from your mother! Those were just adorable.” At some point, Sheogorath had deigned to remove the Khajiit’s shoes for a look at his feet--for reasons said Khajiit refused to ponder. “Okay, I’ve seen enough to be able to tell you apart from other mortals. For a while. Since you want to go off on adventure on your own, I’ll go take my vacation alone. Try not to get eaten alive before the paralysis wears off.”

And like that, he was alone again. Mohamara didn’t put much stock into much of what Sheogorath had said--it was likely purposefully misleading or designed to drive him mad if he thought about it too much. After all, only the Lady was kind enough to make her intentions and desires known plainly to mortals. Most other Daedra worshippers had to speculate as to what their gods wanted.

Over time, the paralysis effect from the netch’s innards began to wear off. But during the wait, Mohamara had no choice but to look at the scenery. By how far away the mountains to the south were, he should have been lying in a Rorikstead suburb. Instead, there were plains. The only plains he’d seen were the lands set aside for the native giants to herd mammoths on--both were critically endangered species.

His tail was the first thing that became able to move, and it began to weakly flick about from his lingering irritation. That all stopped when his large ears picked up ever-so-soft footsteps approaching. Way too heavy to be a person. Too light to be a wild horse. A rumbling growl Mohamara could feel rattle his bones sounded from the approaching animal. He’d never heard the sound before, but it awoke in him the need to be quiet and not move. The paralysis helped him stay still, and play dead from the approaching animal. All he could do was hope it wasn’t a scavenger.

Suddenly a pain in his tail shot up his spine, along with a sickening crunch. Mohamara had broken his thigh bone as a teenager, and the pain he experienced from his tail trumped that by several magnitudes of order. Even though he couldn’t move his jaw yet, he cried out from the sharp agony. Actual crying occurred as well. These seemed to startle whatever creature had snuck up on him and sent it bounding off.

Every time his tail moved, it produced a new stabbing pain, so he stopped moving it. The paralysis worked its way out of his limbs first--starting with fingers and toes then moving inward. By the time Mohamara could move enough to get up from his prone position, he was starting to feel a chill. The reason why became clear--his tail was less than half the limb it used to be, ending in a bloody mess about a third of the way down. There was a lot of blood pooled around the wound. Thankfully, it was downhill from him so it hadn’t gotten onto his clothes. Already they were stained and damp from the jelly of the netch he had landed on, but the paralysis effect seemed to be inactive.

With the limited self-healing he knew, Mohamara stopped the bleeding and mourned the loss of his tail. It was painful, and he hoped that whatever had bitten him choked to death on the tail, but not a terrible loss. Walking would be a pain, and his balance would be shot to hell, but a prescription of regeneration meds or an hour in a regenerator would see the tail restored.

Government provided healthcare was great for things like that.

Sure enough, when he got up to walk--after first putting his shoes back on--he was unsteady and stumbled often. “Damn animal, hope it gets rotten teeth,” he muttered after tripping on the rocky plains for the twelfth time in a row. The only landmark he knew in the area was the mountains--directly north of Lake Ilinalta, where he hoped the town of Lakeview would be. “Okay, review what we know. Sheogorath is mad. And decided to fuck with me because he’s mad. Jumped out of a moving ferry, almost fell to my death. Note to self: Don’t do that again.”

As he got over a hill, slowly and with many fumbles in the attempt, he saw a strange sight. A mammoth, huge wooly elephantine creature with two sets of tusks covered in wounds and looking to be on its last legs, surrounded by a few quadrupedal animals with thick yellow fur and pronounced fangs--sabre cats. He’d seen them in the Whiterun natural history museum… because the species native to the plains of Whiterun had gone extinct in the Tenth Era.

Which meant that Sheogorath had taken him on ‘vacation’ to Skyrim’s ancient past. However, that was to be considered later, when he got far away from the predatory cat he had no idea the abilities of beyond taking down a mammoth in groups.

“Lake Ilinalta is to the south over those mountains… means I’m heading west. Oh Lady above, let this be a time after Dushnikh Yal exists.” The traveling was getting worse, as he had to go uphill and climb over rocks, which his shot balance made for a stumbling, unpleasant affair. The situation was made all the more unpleasant when he started seeing a minor mountain range he had no memory of in the direction he planned to go, which meant going further south and closer to the not-so-extinct sabre cats.

The sight of another person, hopefully not a Daedra in disguise, got the Khajiit moving. In time, he could tell it was an Orc man, which made him hopeful that Dushnikh Yal was in fact in the area and he could make progress on escaping the Mad God’s vacation.

The Orc man reeked of the smell of booze. Mohamara could tell the moment the wind shifted to put him downwind. Already, the Khajiit was leery of approaching further, but the Orc had started toward him by then. It became clearer that the man was armed, brandishing a spiked club of some sort--Mohamara didn’t know weapons the way Yagraz did. Seeing a normal Orc always made him realize how much taller than average Yagraz was. She stood as tall as a High Elf, but the Orc man was easily half a head shorter than her.

“Hey… you, kid,” the Orc declared once he and Mohamara were close enough for the Mer’s liking. “Hand over your gold.” A bandit, Mohamara realized after trying to parse why a set of leather armor such as the Orc was wearing was even considered acceptable. Yagraz would have torn into the design for how ineffective it was, but to Mohamara it just looked drafty, ugly, and unpleasant.

“I… have no gold?” The Khajiit held his jacket slightly tighter to himself while he tried to parse the Orc calling him a kid. It wasn’t uncommon for people to see a tojay Khajiit and think them to be a cathay child, but the facial structure difference and fear of being racist usually kept them quiet about it.

“You look like a rich brat, cat, think I’m gonna,” the Orc paused in his disbelief to force himself back from throwing up, and then spoke again. “You think I’m gonna buy that you ain’t got gold?”

Mohamara shrugged, and turned out his pockets for the Orc, keeping his slate carefully hidden in the inner pocket of his jacket.

“See? No gold. Now can you just point me to Dushnikh Yal?” Without his wallet, he couldn’t even have given the Orc paper currency, which he doubted had been invented yet.

The development of not having gold drove the Orc into a rage, prompting him to lunge forward to Mohamara’s surprise. On a better day, he could have danced circles around a drunk of any race. But with his tail amputated and every leg movement producing stabbing pain, such was not the case.

The Orc’s hand was easily big enough to wrap around Mohamara’s entire neck, from jaw to clavicle, and almost lift him off the ground even when drunk. “So you ain’t got gold, but I know a few rich man’s kids that’d like them fancy clothes.” The Khajiit’s ears went flat against his head while he processed what the Orc was getting at, and regretted that he’d been declawed as a child.

Five minutes later, the Khajiit was on his way again, going purposefully as south as he could, in only his skivvies. Fortunately, there was little wind, so he was not constantly reminded of how cold it could be in Skyrim, even in the more pleasant regions. “Maybe Malacath will set trolls on him for robbing a ‘kid’,” the near-naked Mohamara muttered to himself while trying to avoid sharp rocks There were still no roads in sight, and he was almost glad for that. It wasn’t going to be pleasant walking to civilization without clothes.

“One hour in the past, and already naked and missing my tail. Some ‘vacation’ Sheogo-rath!” Mohamara had, in another instance of talking to himself, taken his eyes off where he was walking to make air quotes and give the sky an unamused expression. And in that precise moment, he stepped into a bear trap, which snapped down around his leg.

The pain wasn’t as bad as when his tail had been bitten off, nor as bad as when he’d broken his thigh bone, but it was still debilitating--and unlike the other two injuries it produced an alarming degree of blood loss. Every curse word Mohamara had ever heard in his entire life, and some he made up on the spot, was screamed at the top of his lungs in the immediate aftermath.

It was very clear from the first attempt at getting free that he was not strong enough to pry the fanged jaws of the trap open enough to escape. Thankfully, shock quickly set in and numbed the pain enough for him to examine the situation. “So this is how I die,” he realized. “Not to a mad Daedra, or falling two hundred feet--but naked, in the wilderness, trapped like an animal.” He stood there and realized another horrible fact to his horror that tipped the scales and drove him into full on crying while he slumped forward in defeat. “That screaming Dunmer witch in 7-H was right!”

The most he could do to actually do about the situation was attempt to keep himself alive with self-healing. But with him constantly bleeding from the bear trap, a novice spell wasn’t going to cut it forever - and in his mind, it would just make it more likely that something would find him to eat him alive.

But the alternative was to do nothing. And if he died doing nothing to try and save himself, then what would his Lady say to him in her Colored Rooms? So, lamenting that he didn’t study Restoration or Alteration more in secondary school, he kept up a consistent flow of weak healing into his injury.

Large Khajiit ears picked up the creaking of wheels and sound of horses not too far away. Mohamara had been near a road after all. He pondered the value of calling for help when he had no idea the time period or who the travelers were. Perhaps they’d help rather than laugh at his situation. But he had to consider: This was the Reach, unsafe even in Mohamara’s time. Who would believe a voice calling out for help away from the road, when there were fucking bear traps potentially in the grass?

But if he didn’t call for help, the alternative was to do nothing. He could recall a couple parables from growing up in the Kilkreath temple about the devout not accepting the Lady’s help because they did not think she had sent any.

“H-hey! Help! Please, I’m stuck in a trap!” Mohamara heard no voices, call out, but the creaking of wagon wheels stopped, but the sound of horses continued. Whoever was on the road had definitely stopped, and in a moment he heard two sets of footsteps crunching on the grass.

Over the hill stepped two tall-legged people, and for the first time since falling out of the ferry, Mohamara felt relief. They were both Khajiit, a man, and woman. The man significantly older than the woman and dressed in fine quilted clothes. While the woman sported armor of steel and fur in equal measure. They were both easily two feet taller than Mohamara, and from their tufted ears and speckled furs, he guessed them to be cathay.

They did not approach quickly. Instead, they scanned the surroundings with keen eyes, ears, and better height before they advanced.

“Um. Hey! Thanks for not… shooting me?” Mohamara didn’t see any arrows on them, but he couldn’t ignore the possibility that the droopy-faced elder cathay was a mage who could have ice spiked him from a distance.

“A tojay? So far from Elsweyr?” The more brown-colored cathay woman asked the man in a hushed tone but was quickly shushed by the finely dressed Khajiit. She had a pronounced accent, Mohamara noticed but did not have time to speculate as the pain from his trapped leg began to steadily grow. The numbing effect of shock was about to pass.

“Ja’khajiit, this one thinks you require assistance.” The cathay man stopped six feet away from Mohamara and the woman joined him in holding position. “You appear to be stuck in a Forsworn trap for wayward travelers.”

“Y-yeah, and it… hurts about as much as it looks.” Mohamara took a moment to slow down his breathing. Yagraz would have been chiding him over how little tolerance for pain Mohamara had but she wasn’t there. None of this would have happened if she had been present. “H-help?”

The cathay watched Mohamara struggle to heal his injury, then looked around him again, before nodding to the armored woman. “Go get a blanket from the wagon, and tell Atahbah to get all the healing supplies no one’s bought yet out.” The armored Khajiit nodded and trotted off back down the hill, while the elder remained behind and cautiously approached. “The omen from Skooma Cat said we would find something interesting today, and here is a tojay far too far from home for this one’s liking.” Mohamara half expected him to crouch down to meet his gaze equally, but the cathay kept standing while talking. “I look forward to you telling this one why you are here, what happened to your clothes, and why you are missing your tail. But for now, Khajiit needs you to stop that healing, and get ready for when Khayla comes back to open the trap.”

Hesitant to trust a stranger, even one who offered help, Mohamara stopped his healing and tried to stand up fully despite the pain in his legs and tail. “It’s going to hurt even more once it’s off, isn’t it?” Without speaking, the elder Khajiit nodded, ponderously slow. Mohamara then rewrote history by being the first person to use an expletive that otherwise would not have been heard until the Eighth Era, in High Rock.

Chapter Text

Earlier Mohamara had been grateful that he hadn’t been constantly reminded of how cold Skyrim could be. But as he stood with one leg in a bear trap, in just a pair of underwear, and missing his tail he began to rapidly realize the lack of warmth in his limbs. At some point, he had started shivering badly and probably had made his wound even worse.

The armored cathay woman, Khayla presumably, returned with a rolled up quilt not too long after leaving. Khayla passed the quilt to the cathay man and then crouched down around the bear trap holding Mohamara’s leg to examine it.

“A lot of lost blood,” she commented as she examined the trap. “And it likely broke his leg.”

“Get the trap open already.” The elder cathay unrolled the quilt and threw it over Mohamara, even including his head. Once the tojay couldn’t see much of anything beyond quilted fabric, he felt the eldest Khajiit double the layers of the quilt by folding it over onto him. The blanket did little to combat the cold even when doubled up. “Ja’khajiit, when Khayla releases the trap, fall backward. This one will catch you. Walking on that leg is not an option.”

Mohamara nodded because he couldn’t keep his teeth from chattering enough due to shivers to talk. He could still feel the pain, both in his tail and in his leg, but the cold seemed so much more present. Under the blanket, he grabbed the edges of the quilt and wrapped them around himself even tighter.

The trap squeaked a bit as it opened up, and suddenly the strength that had allowed Mohamara to stand with it snapped onto his leg left him. Even if he hadn’t intended to do as the cathay had said, the tojay ended up falling backward and being caught early on. The cold provided a sort of shield, it kept the pain from becoming as severe as it had when the trap first slammed shut on his leg. But in exchange, he was shivering constantly due to a cold that felt like he was naked in the Pale rather than somewhere in the Reach.

He was carried bridal style, and soon found himself placed onto a stiff surface on his side with the injured leg on top. Mohamara’s ears and nose could pick up enough information to tell him that he was lying in the back of a wagon full of items and that there were two new Khajiit in proximity to him.

“Is so small,” an unfamiliar male voice in the same accent as the other Khajiit commented from outside the wagon. “A ja’khajiit? From another caravan?”

“Worse,” the eldest Khajiit responded, grave. “A tojay, outside Elsweyr.” Sharp inhalations met his words, and the wagon shifted like someone was climbing up.

Hands moved aside the layers of quilt blocking his face and Mohamara found himself looking into the curious eye of another cathay woman. “It is true,” she declared before shutting the blankets around his face again. “A tojay!”

Mohamara didn’t get the significance, but he knew pretty much nothing about Khajiit culture. Perhaps tojay Khajiit were rare, or they had an important job in Elseweyr?

The cold was inescapable, especially after the blankets up to his waist had to be rolled away so his wounds could be inspected. The second cathay woman hissed, angry--probably at the sight of Mohamara’s tail. “This is not good, we have no regeneration potions.”

“Don’t worry about that just yet. Get the wounds cleaned, bandaged, and a splint on that leg before he freezes to death.” An additional weight landed on Mohamara, presumably another blanket.

The cold seemed to only worsen with every attempt to warm up, which made it difficult for the cathay woman helping Mohamara to examine and treat the injuries. “He is shaking too much--we need something to keep him still.”

The tojay tried to force himself to be still, but the shivering persisted anyway. He wanted to apologize but ended up with a bit tongue when he attempted to do so. Once more, his face was uncovered, but this time he mostly saw a furred hand holding a purple bottle roughly the size of his head by a narrow neck.

“Ja’khajiit, open. This is strong medicine.”

Mohamara forced himself to hold his mouth open while two drops of shimmering, viscous magenta liquid were dropped into it. The taste wasn’t unpleasant, but it produced a burning sensation that spread outward from his throat and stomach after he’d swallowed it. Suddenly, his body was too heavy to shiver, though the burning negated the need for the heat generating movement. As he tried to process what the ‘medicine’ was, he noticed that everything was turning purple--the blankets, the small portion of the wagon he could see and even the cathay woman.

But he didn’t have long to process this development, as his face was covered up by blankets yet again. The dark mixed with the purple hue and soon the two combined into a purple-tinged black void.

At some point, he had closed his eyes and not realized, for when he opened them up he was not in a wagon. He was on a dune of white sand, overlooking many such dunes as far as his eyes could see, with four sharply rising gray mountains in the cardinal directions. The sky was a lighter blue than it should have been, with no clouds and with two additional stars in the daytime sky alongside the expected one. They were orange and purple, which got Mohamara to squint in exasperation.

“Can’t even let me have my fever dreams, can you?” As if in response to his question, the two new stars started to grow larger. Significantly larger, and it was a second before he realized they were going to crash into the white desert. Mohamara promptly turned around and started to climb further up the sand dune, but once he disturbed the sand it started to slide downward.

After a brief struggle against gravity, he found himself half-buried in white sand at the base of the dune. A monumental crash indicated that something had landed, which made the Khajiit look up from trying to dig out.

It was a grape cluster, enormous in scope. Each grape on the cluster was bigger than the statue of Azura in Winterhold, which in turn made the whole cluster almost the size of the Throat of the World. A second crash drew his attention again, and sure enough, it too was a fruit. A cross-section of an orange, equal in height to the grape cluster.

“Yagraz would have so much to say about me dreaming of fruit.” With no longer any pressing matter that he could think of, he started to dig his way out of the sand. Except, it wasn’t sand at all. The grains weren’t the right shape to be sand--sand was round, but the grains he was seeing were square. On impulse, he pinched some and put it in his mouth and found it to be incredibly sweet. “Sugar? A desert full of sugar?” The Khajiit paused to think about what he had just said. “A desert dessert?”

He only noticed the sudden appearance of a foamy white liquid in hindsight, and soon saw an enormous pillar of the liquid flowing from the sky--directly from where Meridia’s star should have been. Again, on impulse, he tasted some when he could reach it and found that it was clearly milk.

“Sugar, fruit, milk…what the--” He didn’t get to finish the sentence as the four mountains in the distance began to move as the milk levels rose to cover the last sugar dune--Mohamara’s sugar dune.

He woke up craving a grape and orange smoothie.

The cold wasn’t so bad, but Mohamara couldn’t remember why it had been bad at first. It was summer, wasn’t it? And he’d paid his heating bill on time, hadn’t he? A stabbing pain in his leg and tail as he tried to roll over onto his back brought at least some of the memory back. But he couldn’t recall how he’d gotten out of the bear trap, or where he was now.

“Ja’khajiit,” an elderly man’s voice called from outside his blanket coccoon. “Do not be moving so much, you will start bleeding again.”

That only made Mohamara want to move more because apparently, he’d been bleeding. It took him far too long to muster the strength to even lift his hand, he’d forgotten why he was so desperate to move.

“Just a few more days of travel to Markarth, ja’khajiit, then we will try to get a healer for you.” Oh great, he was going to the hospital in Markarth.

“My insurance doesn’t work at Markarth Memorial though,” the tojay complained. However, as he finished saying that he struggled to remember why he wasn’t in an ambulance if he needed a healer. “I don’t feel well, but don’t have that kind of money.” With the Gildegreen Hospital in Whiterun closed due to a fire, the more expensive hospitals in Markarth, Winterhold, and Eastmarch had all taken the time to raise their prices. As Mohamara began to think of hospital bills, he forgot why he needed to go to the hospital in the first place.

“Atahbah, the sap’s wearing off. Another dose when you move him next.”

Mohamara tried to move several more times, but he was so lethargic that the most he could do was speak or move his fingers. After a time, exhaustion forced him into a dreamless sleep.

A sudden shaking motion woke him up, apparently at night for the sky was dark. The layers of blankets around him were pulled away so that his head and shoulders were revealed. A sudden wave of bitter cold hit him, and Mohamara tried to grab the blankets back but his arm wouldn’t move. A cathay Khajiit man, his hair in braided rows and his mustache sporting gold rings picked Mohamara up and moved him around until the tojay was sitting upright at the edge of a wagon. Outside, a gathering of four dour-looking men, mostly tan-skinned Imperial humans. They wore leather armor that seemed to incorporate skirts and had some form of weapon visibly on their person. Some held torches, while two held a bruised and battered Orc between them.

“This is the one he stole from,” the cathay man said, hissing in anger. “Cut off his tail, then shoved him into a bear trap!”

“N-no!” The Orc sputtered through his busted tusks. “His tail’d been cut off when I found him, I swear!” He was elbowed in the side, which drove him to cough for a few minutes.

“You’re a sick bastard, you know that?” The Imperial man who had elbowed him all but snarled at the Orc, a hateful expression on his face. “First you maim and rob a child, then you lie to my face and think I’ll believe it!!”

“Control yourself, Auxiliary.” A fifth Imperial man appeared from around the wagon, dressed in heavy metal armor similar to the other Imperial’s leathers. Beside him was a far older cathay Khajiit holding a bundle of clothes in his arms. “The man’s bound for Cidhna Mine already, don’t beat him too badly or he won’t be able to work.”

“This one thanks you, Quaestor.” The eldest Khajiit spoke before laying the bundle of clothes next to Mohamara. “We did not expect to have grandson’s stolen items returned to us.”

“It was pure luck that allowed us to catch this thief. But that writ I gave you should let you get medical treatment at any Legion camp if Markarth won’t let you get a healer. Safe travels, citizens.” The Imperials and their Orc prisoner went off into the night, with only their torches to indicate they still existed after a while.

“We’re sure they’re his clothes?” The first cathay, with the fancy hair, asked of the elder. At some point during the discussion with the Imperials, Mohamara had taken to leaning on the taller Khajiit’s shoulder. He still couldn’t move very well.

“He’s got witbane, doesn’t mean he can’t speak,” the elder Khajiit snapped and started unfolding the bundle of clothes next to Mohamara for the tojay’s inspection. “They are yours?”

He didn’t know what had caused them to be so badly stained with light-blue patches, but Mohamara nodded.

“And this?” From inside his jacket, a rectangular slab about the size of a book but far thinner was produced.

“‘S my slate,” to tojay said. He wasn’t tired but couldn’t muster the strength to move about; speaking was difficult with his energy constraints as well. And as he looked from the slate to the old Khajiit, he found he’d forgotten how he came to be seated at the end of a wagon.

“For drawing? Hmm, perhaps an artist then.” The slate was wrapped up in Mohamara’s jacket and set aside in the wagon. “Khajiit apologizes for likening you to a kitten, ja’khajiit, but the Men would only believe it that way.”

“Racists.”

The cathay Mohamara was leaning on chuckled as he lifted the tojay back up to go to his sleeping spot. Mohamara had no idea how he knew where his sleeping spot was but didn’t get to ponder it for long. The cathay man uncorked a huge purple bottle and held it up for Mohamara to drink from. “Not too much, small one.”

The taste was… like grapes and oranges, Mohamara realized. Somehow he felt like that should have been important, but it didn’t.

He dreamed of the jungle, though he had never seen the jungle. Thus the trees stopped existing if he looked directly at them. So most of the time he looked at the yellow grass of Whiterun’s plains in between the jungle trees--because it made perfect sense for a jungle to have grass.

Mohamara was being hunted by a giant snake with three heads. One head had orange scales and was filled with light so bright it threatened to set itself on fire. The other had purple scales and snapped at anything and everything it saw--even if there was nothing there. The tail had a third head of golden scales that Mohamara expected to help him, but every time he called out to her, she looked away.

The snake sang a bizarre song as it chased after him, as it phased through trees that stopped existing for brief moments. He’d thought this would make it easy to get away from, but sometimes it would pop up directly in his path and force him backward. The snake, particularly the purple head, snapped at him often and almost caught him by the tail more than once.

But usually, he could escape enough to find the tail head, and beg her for help. And every time, she would turn her head away. This song and dance persisted until Mohamara was fed up, and he lept at her to force her to help. The gold-scaled tail-head snatched him out of the air and devoured him whole.

And Mohamara woke up to find a Nord man with milky white eyes peeking in on him from outside the wagon. The two stared at each other before the Nord man carefully backed away and vanished.

“Ah, good, the sap has worn off.” A voice with a peculiar accent spoke from outside the wagon.

Mohamara tried to sit up to look for it but found that his leg produced a searing pain when moved too much.

“The witbane will keep you from being able to remember, but your leg is broken. No moving around until Ri’saad comes back with a healer.” A cathay man crouch-walked into the wagon. His strange braided hair and gold-adorned mustache made him seem familiar, but Mohamara couldn’t place him. His clothes were odd, layers of fabric topped with a leather jerkin--something Mohamara would expect from an old-fashioned elf, not a Khajiit.

Mohamara tried to sit up, but a stabbing pain in his leg made him think that wasn’t a good idea. When had he hurt his leg? When had he gotten into an actual wooden wagon? Where in the seventeen Daedric realms of Oblivion were his trousers?! All these questions and more raced through his mind.

“Here, water.” A wooden cup of the indicated liquid was offered, and Mohamara accepted. “Ri’saad will be able to get you a potion for the witbane at least, but it’ll taste awful.”

The cup was taken, and Mohamara sipped as much as he could while laying on his side. The water… tasted funny? Like the pipes the cathay had gotten it from were bad. Still, it was not bad tasting water, and he needed to be ready for whatever he was about to get that tasted bad.

When he looked up, he was surprised to find a cathay man crouched in the wagon, as if he had always been there. The taller Khajiit’s expression was pitying mixed with something else, but Mohamara couldn’t identify it. “Um. Who are you?”

The cathay man smiled, indulgent. “You know, you’ve asked me that often over the past ten days.”

“Ten days?” The last thing Mohamara could remember before going to sleep was coming back from Temple and--... The cup fell limp from Mohamara’s hand, creating a mess that the cathay hurried to clean up. “I’ve missed Temple!” Pain in his leg didn’t matter anymore, the strange man who had appeared from nowhere making a fuss didn’t matter anymore. Mohamara hastily tried to get free of the blanket cocoon. He had to get out!

“Khayla, need help back here!”

A cathay woman in a suit of steel armor that featured Nord designs appeared at the end of the wagon as Mohamara decided that he couldn’t trust a leg that stabbed him every time he tried to stand. She caught the tojay as he tried to lunge free of the wagon, and pushed him back in with ease.

Missing Temple was unacceptable! He’d never missed Temple! It was the only part of his life that made him unambiguously happy--he built his whole week around it, and his faith had been rewarded in the past. When he’d been brought back from his first foster family, the Lady herself gave him an audience--he’d been permitted to ask one question of Her.

‘Is it wrong that I still love them?’

The question had taken a surprisingly long time for the Daedric Prince to answer, but her answer had cemented in him her divinity. It had done more to convince him the Meridia loved him, and that by going to Temple he could show her that he loved her back.

The armored woman had no difficulty pushing Mohamara back into the wagon, where a cathay man who Mohamara didn’t recall being there grabbed him by his jaw and forced a purple potion bottle into his mouth.

“Wait, that’s too much!” The armored woman shouted to the cathay man as Mohamara swallowed one, two, three full mouthfuls of the strange grape and orange flavored sap the bottle had held.

Everything turned shades of purple, the forms of the cathay Khajiit that surrounded him twisted and stretched, and the sound of a deep drum beat filled the air.

Mohamara watched as lines of tojay Khajiit walked through a hall of curved stone, bronze-picks slung over their shoulders. They marched in perfect synch, even when they had to walk straight up a wall, across the ceiling, or upon individual rocks falling from high above to cross a cavern. As he watched them, the drums grew more noticeable, until a horn sounded. At the horn, the tojay Khajiit all broke from their line and began to mine--into walls, doorways, each other, or the thin air.

Someone was singing a song, but Mohamara couldn’t place who, or where. He also couldn’t place where he was, or who he was. He was the pickaxes being swung, he was the tojay swinging them, he was nothing at all. Everything was still so maddeningly purple.

As he watched, the tojay began to grow larger--to the size of Men and Mer. Their fur left their bodies and collected around their heads, in great beards and manes of hair bound up in bronze-like metal.

The sensation of water surrounding him caused him to shake violently out of the dream, and realize where he was. Even as he woke, the song he’d heard in the dream stuck in his head, like an ear snake--coiled around his brain, not letting go.

He actually was in a basin of water, in a stone room that took after Dwemer designs but was clearly too young to actually be Dwemer in origin. Thankfully there was a slightly moth-eaten curtain because as Mohamara took greater stock of the situation he found that his clothes were gone. A nearby chair with a towel and corked bottles made him think that he’d been purposefully placed there.

“From the splashing, I’m hearing in there, I’ll guess you’re awake at last.” A woman’s voice called from beyond the curtain, which made Mohamara’s ears droop. Someone had seen him like this. “Mind your leg injury when you bathe, the break’s healed but we’ve left bandages on it until the scars close up. Don’t take off the ring.”

Mohamara noticed a gold band on his finger and had been about to take it off when the woman’s voice told him not to. There was some magicka flowing from the ring into him, and his instinct had been to remove the possibly cursed item. Thankfully, the enchanting course he’d taken let him identify the magicka as a weak regeneration effect.

“Get to bathing in there. The Jarl is going to be uppity enough about Khajiit in his city--no need to make it worse by smelling bad.”

One of the corked bottles produced bubbles when mixed with the water, which made it much easier for Mohamara to feel safe in the curtained room.

His mind was… foggy, like he’d taken really strong medications and was out of it for days. During the bath, he put together a rough idea of what had happened. One, the Mad God had shown up and taken a personal interest in his life. Two, that interest manifested itself in sending him back to an unknown time before the Tenth Era.

“Um.” Mohamara started after realizing he should narrow that down some more. “Could you perchance tell me the year?”

“Two-hundred and one of the Fourth Age. Don’t worry, we get asked those sort of questions all the time by people who come down from bad drinking parties and the like.”

“Oh… thank you.” Mohamara knew next to nothing about the Fourth Era. The last time his school teachers had taught history that ancient, the Khajiit had been six years old. Really, why would he have learned something that was sixteen thousand years ago, with multiple Dragon Breaks in the intervening time?

“When you’re done, there are some clothes for you here. Your friends in the caravan sent them up for you since they couldn’t come in the city walls.”

When Mohamara found the clothes, he was amazed by how far fabric technology had come in sixteen thousand years. What he was given was a rough-around-the-edges green robe, child-sized, with an attached hood and stole. Why the stole had to be sewn onto the robe, he had no idea. And to his surprise, he found his shoes provided as well. Had the cathay found the Orc who’d robbed him?

He didn’t know about cathay, but he knew cathay-raht to be the premier warrior morph of the Khajiit species. Morph was almost certainly not the proper word, but Mohamara had only spoken to other Khajiit raised as he was--in the foster care system.

The leg that had been trapped in a bear trap was… noticeably weaker than it had been previously. Every so often, it would give out and he’d have to grab onto a wall or a piece of furniture to remain standing. And even when it worked, he found himself unconsciously limping on that side.

But! His leg wasn’t broken, he wasn’t freezing any longer, and things were starting to look up in terms of his situation.

The only problem that he had no idea how to deal with at all was that the song from his fever dream was still stuck in his head.

---

 

 

Chapter Text



---

Chapter 3: Happy Birthday~

When Mohamara saw Markarth, it seemed… impossible that the city he’d known would grow from such a place. The only feature he recognized was Understone Keep, where the Jarl lived and lorded over his people. But even that was so very wrong to his eyes. The Keep looked like it was a Dwemer ruin that the Jarl happened to be squatting in--the whole city appeared like that--and not at all the refined place of ruthless efficiency he’d come to expect of the ‘safest place in the Reach’.

“You look confused.”

From the temple of Dibella--Aedric Goddess of Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll--a priestess had been asked to escort Mohamara back to the caravan. Partly to make sure he wouldn’t steal from anyone--a racist stereotype he couldn’t get mad at given the time period--and because there weren’t any canes or crutches in his size. She was Senna, a Breton woman--tan-skinned like an Imperial but her skull structure was what gave her away. Her outfit was pretty much the same as Mohamara’s, a rough robe with a hood and stole sewed on, but hers were yellow-orange. And while it was clear she did honestly hold the ‘Khajiit are thieves’ view from how she kept special attention to where Mohamara placed his hands, she never hesitated to help him when his leg gave out during the long climb down the stairs leading up to the temple.

“Markarth is not… how I remembered it being.” Mohamara answered her question disguised as a statement. “Everything has changed so much.”

“I wonder what Markarth you saw last that it seems so different.” Senna glared at a Markarth Guardsman, dressed in green brigandine armor with a shield sporting the Markarth emblem and face hidden behind a conical helmet. “Markarth has been this way for as long as I’ve lived here.”

“When I last saw it, the city was….” He was going to say ‘bigger’, ‘grander’, or ‘cleaner’ but all of those would probably have been insulting. Though they were completely true. “Fuller? There were a lot more people, is what I mean.”

The answer seemed to sober Senna up--her expression became sadder, and her eyes distant. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think about what effect having so many people gone could have.”

Mohamara’s lack of knowledge about the Fourth Era meant he had no idea why he’d accidentally hit the nail on the head with Senna, so an investigation was required. “What happened here?”

“The war, and the Forsworn.” Senna led the way down narrow walkways along the butte at the apex of which sat the temple of Dibella. The city itself seemed to lie in the gulf between the butte and the mountain walls, forming a massive horseshoe shape. Only a few wealthy homes were built into the mountains themselves. And at the ‘tips’ of the horseshoe lay the marketplace, right against the city’s curtain wall and main gate. “Markarth sent many sons and daughters to fight the Aldmeri Dominion, more than any other hold save perhaps Dawnstar. Which in turn led to the Forsworn being able to take the city, and kill more people. Taking the city back didn’t lead to a high loss of life, thank the Goddess, but we’ve been losing people to Forsworn attacks for decades now.”

There was something in how she said it, how raw the hurt was, that made Mohamara wish he knew her better to give her a cooldown hug. “I… I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not you that should be sorry, you didn’t kill anyone or start the war. But thank you.” At first, she had snapped at him but forced her tone to soften before offering her thanks. “Dibella teaches us to find beauty in all things, but I can find none in this pain.”

“My Lady teaches that the pain you’re feeling right now is the happiness you had before.”

Senna actually stopped to look down at Mohamara, incredulous. The Khajiit sighed and leaned against a wall so his bad leg couldn’t give him problems.

“Happiness easily becomes pain, that’s part of the deal. It’s most visible with love that becomes virulent hatred when betrayed. It’s a form of self-blame; ‘how could I trust them?’ or ‘why couldn’t I do more?’ The pain you’re feeling is natural, and will pass. But if you cling to it, it will twist you up inside--like a hagraven.” Mohamara wished he had a talent with illusions--the priests of Meridia would weave illusions into their one-on-one sermons to give the person images to convey the idea easier. “If you trust in love, romantic love or the passion Dibella teaches, you’ll find a cure for your pain. I don’t mean to belittle your suffering, but it’s clear that what you’ve heard already didn’t help.”

Senna watched the Khajiit, unblinking, for a moment before a wry smile spread across her face. “A Lady who teaches to trust in love, huh? I should have figured it out when I heard your name, Moha-Mara. I didn’t expect a Khajiit to worship a Divine, but then you’re not an average caravaning cat, huh?”

He felt no need to correct her, Daedra worship wouldn’t become legal until the Seventh Era--and then only for certain Daedra. If she knew the truth, she could hand him over to Vigilants of Stendaar--god of ‘mercy’--who would gleefully beat him to death. Even in his own time, it wasn’t too long ago that the white-hooded Vigilants would raid Daedric places of worship and leave them hanging from the nearest tree.

“I… had forgotten that Dibella is not just beauty, that she is love too. Perhaps I’ve been neglecting the sacred rites if such a crucial thing slipped my mind. Thank you again.”

With their little pow-wow done, Senna led the way down to the marketplace, past the silversmiths and the single bloodiest butcher Mohamara had ever seen--he’d brandished a cleaver when the Khajiit looked at the chicken necks he was selling too long. From there, it was out the enormous Dwemer-metal gates.

The city of Markarth had passable external defenses if Mohamara remembered Yagraz’ rants about the lack of ‘real’ castles in Skyrim the semester before last. Outside the curtain wall was a winding path that went down in elevation, intended for the defenders to cast down rocks and arrows on invaders.

The invention of the airship, which Mohamara vaguely recalled happening somewhere in the late Fourth Age, would see all the work put into these ground defenses worthless. Also: Dragons were a thing.

Mohamara remembered attending a guest lecture where a dragon was speaking. It seemed so strange at the time for a dragon to talk about the real-world applications of Mysticism in fields such as agriculture, textile production, and tax evasion.

The best part of the lecture had been when the Imperial Revenue Service busted in and tried to arrest the dragon.

At the base of Markarth’s winding path was a three-way intersection of the road. Along one branch were wagons set up like impromptu stores, tended by cathay Khajiit while Nords and Bretons hastened to purchase the goods.

A cathay woman in a dress many shades of blue with a leather apron approached Mohamara and Senna as they drew near. “Ja’khajiit, it is good to see you walking.” She nodded to Senna and quickly offered thanks to the temple before the Breton woman departed. “You might not remember me well, but I am Atahbah. I tended you while you were sick and injured on the road.”

“Hello, and thank you for that. I’m Mohamara.” He held his hand out to shake hers, which visibly confused the cathay woman to the point he lowered it. “I did something wrong, didn’t I?”

“Khajiit do not shake hands, little one. That is for the Nords. This one is also confused… you speak like a Nord, but with Khajiit voice. We had hoped it was just the sickness.” She shrugged and looked over her shoulder to the customers attending the wagons. “Ri’saad wants you away from the customers until we know what to do with you. You do not mind staying in a wagon until the customers leave, yes?”

“Um. Okay?”

Atahbah led the tojay to a wagon behind the others, where huge bundles of cloth with sticks sometimes affixed within them lay. “Here we keep the tents until we ready to set up. So many customers today, we had no time. It is a very good omen.” Atahbah helped Mohamara into the wagon, and over a tent, until he was in between two folded up tents.

The customers did not linger terribly long. But Mohamara passed the time by watching the dust filter in through the sides of the wagon and dance in the shafts of light from above. The shapes he saw in the dust were of strange plants covered in tiny spikes, winding rivers, and vaguely cat-like faces. Once the last customer had gotten the wares and paid the coin, other cathay came to the tent wagon to begin unloading it. Once free, Mohamara awkwardly stood to the side and waited for someone to tell him what to do to help.

But they didn’t. They usually just glanced at him, and went about their work, usually with their tails slowly moving behind them--they were confused. The exception was an elderly cathay man in fine quilted clothes around whom the others moved. “This one is Ri’saad.” He introduced himself, with his tail more up than any other cathay in the caravan, and his ears forward. “Khajiit welcomes you to the caravan, all official-like.”

“Hi. I’m Mohamara.” The lack of tail meant that Mohamara couldn’t convey how anxious he was feeling. Putting his ears down would be way too aggressive. “Thank you and your… employees? For helping out. What can I do to start paying you back?”

Ri’saad’s ears went more into a neutral position, though his face remained ever droopy. “You speak like a Nord. It does not bode well for the questions I will be asking you. Come.” A sizable domed tent of quilted blue fabric, like Ri’saad’s clothes, was where he led Mohamara. Containers lined the walls, along with a considerable circular rug at the threshold. Ri’saad sat with practiced ease, despite his age, and indicated Mohamara to sit opposite him.

“This one has questions for you, ja’khajiit. The answers will tell us how you may pay back the kindnesses we have done for you until a caravan from the homeland can take you south.” Ri’saad paused the conversation to bark an order to one of his cathay caravaneers when they nearly dropped a crate. “Ah, my kindness will be the death of me. But now. First question.”

Mohamara sat a little straighter and tried to pretend it was a job interview. Perhaps it was. But he was going to do his absolute best to-... wait, he’d heard something about a caravan going south?

“Why are you, a tojay, out of the homeland with no escort?”

The question seemed important to Ri’saad, and to the other cathay as they slowed their work to listen in. And Mohamara got the distinct impression that the truth was not going to go well with them.

“I was born and raised here.” Mohamara didn’t flinch as Ri’saad’s eyes became narrow slits in his otherwise droopy face. “Well, here, but not here? I… will be born here?” Though he didn’t shy away from the elder’s gaze, he couldn’t help but make an unsure expression as he spoke. “I’m… from here, but far far in the future. Somewhere in the ballpark of sixteen thousand years?”

“That is a considerable distance for the Dragon to be broken.” Ri’saad’s slit-eyes didn’t change, and his tail began to spasm and thump on the ground. “This one was about to ask how you came to be here, but the question is already answered. Skooma Cat gave the omen to find you, likely he brought you as well.”

“Um, I don’t know who Skooma Cat is?”

Ri’saad flippantly gestured. “Unimportant. So in the distant future, you are born in Skyrim. Why then, did your mother not take you to the homeland?”

“Well,” Mohamara shrugged. “Because she was dead. Dad was a deadbeat who ran off on her, she went into labor early, and I survived where she didn’t. The cops found my dad, shoved me off on him, and he then shoved me off on the temple in Kilkreath.” He had no emotional investment in either of his parents, so detailing the little he did know was quick and concise.

“You have my condolences.” Ri’saad’s tail continued to thrash about but he closed his eyes to pinch the bridge of his nose. “In Elsweyr, the tojay and tojay-raht Khajiit live in the Tenmar Forest. There they collect starlight to use for making moon sugar. Only they are permitted to become Moon Bishops, who study the stars and the moons to guide the Khajiit as spiritual leaders--only the Clan Mothers and Mane are more holy.”

“Well, that’s awkward.” Mohamara gave a weak fake-laugh and directed his gaze downward. The next tidbit of information was likely to incense the elder Khajiit more--but after already helping him, he hoped Ri’saad would understand. “I’ve… never even had real moon sugar.”

Ri’saad sharply drew in a breath. From the rest of the caravan, Mohamara heard much the same reaction and heard one woman say she wasn’t going to share her ration.

“What do you mean ‘real’ moon sugar?”

“Well….” Mohamara shrugged, and hesitantly looked up. Ri’saad’s tail was dancing around like a headless snake, with his ears flat against his head. “Sometime in the future, imitation moon sugar is invented. It’s mainly for other races, to get the sweetness without the psychoactive effects.”

Ri’saad stared, unblinking before he sighed and his tail ceased thrashing--when he spoke, it was in a defeated tone. “That sounds like an excellent product to sell. Do you happen to know how it’s made?” The elder Khajiit seemed to have moved past the seething rage he’d felt earlier, but Mohamara knew better than to trust that.

Meridia did things like that, make it seem like she was no longer angry with you then exact punishment when you weren’t prepared for it.

“It’s made from boiling the juice of a type of root vegetable in northern Elsweyr, I think? All the labels for imitation moon sugar have it somewhere in their design. Sort of a tear-drop shaped thing, red but with a pink tip?”

Ri’saad nodded. “This one knows that vegetable, and will spread the word to the clans in the desert.” The elder looked away, toward the caravaneers. They mostly seemed done setting up their tents and their wares. Currently, a cathay man with braided hair was working on making a fire while others tended the horses that drew the wagons. “The others will have questions for you--expected after spending ten days with you in the wagon speaking madness.”

That thought made Mohamara’s stomach feel like it was full of stones. He’d been talking, and couldn’t remember what he’d said due to whatever drug they’d had him on. But since none of the cathay caravaneers were coming to ask questions yet, Mohamara turned and asked one of Ri’saad.

“You said something about sending me down south. I know you mean well, but Skyrim’s my home. Don’t suppose I can convince you to let me stay on?”

Ri’saad’s droopy face went lopsided from him arching a brow in a dangerous curve. “Ja’khajiit, Skyrim is dangerous enough for those of us who can defend ourselves. A little tojay like you, who can’t even stop a robbery? Your being here places both yourself and us in danger--even Atahbah knows how to defend herself where you clearly do not.”

The irony of Mohamara refusing to learn how to fight shortly before being sent back into a world where he needed to know how to fight was not lost on him. And as his ears went flat with the realization, he pondered if it was why Sheogorath had picked the Fourth Era for their ‘vacation’.

“I could… learn?”

Ri’saad shook his head. “Learn what? How to fight in armor that is not made in your size? To wield swords almost as long as you are tall? To use bows you cannot draw the needed distance?”

“You forget....” The cathay man with the strangely braided hair had come over to Ri’saads tent when Mohamara wasn’t looking. The tojay noted that he had peculiar gold bands in his mustache, a Nord steel sword at his side, but no armor. “...that people can fight with magic, yes?”

“I can do magic, even… though I’m not licensed for Destruction spells.” Mohamara realized that if he got back to the modern time with knowledge of the Destruction school there would be an investigation. He’d likely lose his scholarships--he already had to bend over backward to get the damn things, the people responsible for them would be happy to have a reason to give them instead to a Man or elf.

“I am Ma’randru-jo.” The younger cathay bowed his head briefly before crossing his arms. “This one heard you ramble about a college on the road here. What sort of magic did you study there?” Mohamara’s answer drove the braided cathay to bury his face in his hands and groan with the suffering of a retail worker. “Mysticism. Of course.”

“I also know a bit about enchantment, if this thing with Sheo-”

“Do not speak his name!” Both cathay hissed. But it was too late, for he was there. Sheogorath rose up from behind Ri’saad like he had been crouching there the whole time. Mohamara’s stubby tail fur puffed out from the sight. Both Ri’saad and Ma’randu-jo seemed not to notice him, from how their gaze passed clearly through where the Mad God stood but failed to react.

“Speaking the Skooma Cat’s name on his summoning day is foolishness.” Ri’saad chided the tojay, his tail lashing again. “We have no offering prepared yet, and his shrine is not set up.” The elder Khajiit made no notice of how Sheogorath leaned on him, one hand resting on the cat’s shoulder while he looked over the camp.

“Homey little place you’ve got here. A wee bit short on party favors, given the day, but they’ll get it set up.” The Mad God spoke in a voice no one but Mohamara could apparently hear. “If they know what’s good for them.”

“Wait, but his summoning day isn’t until the second of Sun’s Dawn.” Mohamara tore his eyes away from Sheogorath and looked between the Khajiit

“Yes… that is today, ja’khajiit.” Ma’randru-jo looked at him like he was simple.

“Oh. It was summer when I left, I thought….”

“That it’d be summer when we got here?” Sheogorath barked in laughter, like a mad dog. “But that would make things so much less interesting, mortal.”

“This one understands what you mean.” Ri’saad gently patted the tojay on the head. “Breaking the Dragon plays with expectations, which is why Skooma Cat enjoys it so much.”

“Wasn’t there something else that happens on today?” The Mad God walked upward, as if the air was the ground, with one hand on his chin in a thinker pose. “A court summons? Pushing little Timmy into a well? Assassinating Arch-Duke Nandifer? It’s gone and slipped my mind. Or did my mind slip it? Time is rather slippery--due to all that dragon blood.”

Mohamara looked directly into Ri’saad’s eyes, then looked at Sheogorath several times in rapid succession. The elder cat picked up on it and stood from his side of the rug.

“This one must go and see that the shrine is built. It is too easy to forget such things after a day of good sales.” Ri’saad gently pushed Ma’randru-jo closer to Mohamara as he passed by. “Talk to ja’khajiit. If he wants to fight with magic, you are the only one who can teach him.”

When Mohamara looked up again at Sheogorath, he saw that the Mad God was gone.

“Don’t you go worrying about me.” Sheogorath’s head passed by, half sticking out of the ground as if he were swimming through water. “I’ll figure it out in just a minute or so.”

“Now, this would not be so much of a problem… if you had claws like a proper Khajiit.” Ma’randru-jo took Ri’saad’s place on the rug, crouching down. “The females will want to ask you about what happened to them, by the way.”

“My first family had me declawed.” Mohamara shrugged, though the news drove the cathay’s fur to fluff up in a rage. “Oh, not the surgery thing. If it had been removing my claws I could just grow them back. They took me to a face-sculptor and had her change the way my finger and toe bones were. Instead of having claws, I have digits like a human or elf.”

“And in the future, there is no way to reverse it?” Ma’randru-jo’s voice had a barely concealed tone of venom.

“Well, yes but you need a face-sculptor who knows Khajiit anatomy. Since the procedure wasn’t medically necessary, my insurance wouldn’t cover a specialist. I’d been on a waiting list for a charity to help pay for the procedure for about seven years by the time all this nonsense happened.” Mohamara then paused and realized he’d glossed over something. “Wait, how did you--?”

“Cathay ears may not be as good as tojay, but we still pick up things even over the racket of setting up camp.” The taller Khajiit sighed and leaned back on his hands. “Your future world seems just as cruel as this one.”

“Well of course it is, the world doesn’t care about us. We have to care about each other.” Mohamara shrugged.

“You sound an awful lot like a Moon Bishop for someone who has never even seen the homeland.” The cathay leaned forward suddenly and snapped his fingers to indicate he had an epiphany. “There is a face-sculptor in Riften, perhaps she can reverse what was done.”

“Something to look forward to, at least. Now, about that magic fighting?”

“Oh, yes. This one will show you a basic Destruction spell: How to throw lightning from your hands.” The mechanics behind the Destruction spell were simple after the purposefully frustrating contradictions of Mysticism. After an explanation and demonstration, Mohamara was able to shoot lightning himself.

The very first thing he did with his new magic was to channel the spell right into the specter of Sheogorath when the Mad God passed by until Mohamara's pool of magicka was depleted. As the Mad God rose from the ground, smoke pouring out of his eyes, ears, and mouth, it became clear from just how quiet the camp had gotten that everyone could see the Daedra.

“Would you care to tell the class why you thought that was a good idea?” Sheogorath seemed no worse for the wear of being electrocuted at length. In fact, he stood with his hands on his hips, with disbelief on his face.

“You’ve been prowling around for a while, unable to remember whatever it is you wanted. So I thought a shock might shake your memory loose and you could go back to your vacation.” Mohamara made up a lie right on the spot. In truth, he’d just done it without really thinking that Sheogorath was a Daedric Prince.

However, the Mad God seemed pleased with his answer. “Well thank you very much, lad. I do remember what today is now!” He held out a hand, where an orb of Daedric fire manifested and left a brightly colored wrapped box in the outstretched limb. This was then held out to the tojay. “For you. Happy birthday, son.”

Once Mohamara had taken the box, Sheogorath bounced and clapped the soles of his boots together.

“Right, I best be off. Have to see your uncle Pelly about some tea. See to it that these folk get my offering set up properly would you? And try to have some fun, or let fun have you. I’m partial to either, really.”

When Mohamara blinked, the Mad God was gone. He looked at the box a bit, trying to process what had just happened. “Huh. Guess I forgot it was my birthday ‘cause it was supposed to be summer.” He looked over to the stunned Ma’randru-jo, questioning. “Does this make me older or younger, you think?”

“Nope. Nope. None of this.” The braided cathay stood quickly and resolutely marched away. “Not dealing with this without some moon sugar. Someone else watch him. Nope!”

----

Chapter Text


---

Chapter 4: The Forsworn Conspiracy

After Sheogorath’s… visit, Mohamara put off opening the gift to help set up the shrine to the Mad God and prepare an offering. Ri’saad laid out many fine furs before the rudimentary shrine hidden behind the wagons. It was important that no one from the road be able to see the shrine or risk Vigilants of Stendarr being sent after the caravan.

“The Skooma Cat likes pelts for his offerings.” The eldest Khajiit informed Mohamara as the shrine was done and the furs arranged like a selection from which a choice would be made. “And it is not difficult for us to obtain them for him.”

“Meridia doesn’t really ask for offerings,” Mohamara responded. Unconsciously he reached for the amulet that up until recently he would have constantly worn. “Just that we destroy undead where we find them.”

“Perhaps that is her offering, then? Destroying her enemies, like the Dunmer’s ‘Good Daedra’ would ask?” Ri’saad led the way back to the primary camp, and on the way, they passed Ma’randru-jo eating large pink and white blocks out of a bowl--moon sugar. “Not too much of that, or you’ll be too lazy to get up and sell to customers.”

The braided cathay made a distant grunt of acknowledgment, but said nothing and avoided Mohamara’s gaze.

“I’m guessing the whole Sh-... Skooma Cat thing was something I ought to apologize for?” Mohamara rapidly changed to using the cathay’s title for the Mad God, rather than risk him popping in a second time. What if he found his present unopened?

“Attacking a Daedra so close to camp? Yes, an apology would be desired.” Ri’saad gestured flippantly over his shoulder while he led the tojay to a small tent with only a patch of straw out front for sitting on.

“Alright--I’m sorry. Won’t happen again. Won’t summon Daedra on their summoning day without your say so.”

Atahbah walked up, holding Sheogorath’s present with two rakes--like an improvised reach-grab, and placed it in front of the small tent then dashed off.

“This is where you will sleep and work. There is paper, ink, quills, and charcoal so that you can use your slate to draw pictures for customers as they come by--you will charge a septim per person. Do not shout too loudly when you advertise your service.” Ri’saad turned to regard Mohamara in profile, before listing off instructions by counting off on his fingers. “Open the present--but do it away from the caravan, but within Khayla’s sprinting range in case you need rescue. My joints are not so good for running anymore. Your fancy clothes are here too but do not wear them often. This one will adjust other clothes to your size.”

“Something with trousers would be nice, thank you,” Mohamara noted that Ri’saad did not accept or reject the apology he gave, but quickly picked up the present and started walking off down toward the river. His leg didn’t give out as much during normal walking, but he still couldn’t put his entire weight on it. Would really put a damper on catching up on exercise, but if it meant he could put off dancing until he had trousers, it could be tolerated.

When he was at the river, he sat down and attempted to prepare himself for what a Mad God would consider a suitable present for a mortal. It was then that he noticed a tag attached to one of the box’s colorful ribbons. ‘To Ungrateful Mortal#73, From Daddy.’

“I swear by the Blue Room if this thing’s full of moon sugar or something….” Mohamara looked over his shoulder to see if the ‘Khayla’ was watching for things like Ri’saad said. He spied a cathay woman in Nordic steel armor casually watching him while leaning against a wagon. She waved, and he responded in kind before turning back to the box.

On a mental count to three, Mohamara opened the box. There was a rush of air as if to fill a vacuum, and Mohamara heard three notes of music. Inside was a plain white cavity in which a folded piece of paper stuck up. After he retrieved it, he gave it a read. ‘I’ve had this picked out for you since before you were born. Couldn’t risk you ruining my reputation as the Lord of Music. Enjoy! --Anne Marie.’

“Did he really just give me the most metal gift possible?” Mohamara tipped the box upside down and shook it. “Does he even listen to metal music?”

Meanwhile, in Solitude’s Blue Palace a cacophony of unnatural music and lyrics no one could understand rang out through the halls from the Pelagius Wing. Priests from the temple of the Divines had been called, and the Court Wizard was forced to enclose the wing in bubbles of silence so that court business could continue.

“I… guess he did. Huh. At least it wasn’t cabbages. Or socks and underwear.” With no harm in sight, Mohamara took the box and lid in separate hands he walked back to camp. Khayla met him at the edge of the camp and inspected the empty box and the note it came with before letting him go to his tent.

Inside he found his clothes, neatly folded on top of the same quilt that Ri’saad had used to wrap Mohamara in days prior. Both were rather stained, his clothes with some fluorescent blue stuff and the quilt with a large red patch that could have only been faded blood. To his surprise, he found his slate wrapped up in his jacket, no worse for wear!

“Guess he thought it was just a drawing slate. Not even any cracks--Yagraz was right, buying Telvanni brand really is great for durability.” The only thing missing was the earpieces, but he found that he’d been wearing them the whole time. The two clips of thin ebony probably resembled earrings to those who didn’t know better. “Now, if I remember I have the print screen servitor installed… oop, gotta recharge.”

Mohamara placed his hand on the screen and let the tablet start to leech his magicka supply to replenish its own. The method wasn’t as efficient as plugging it into a Welkynd port at home, but it made due in a pinch. A full recharge would take all night through this method, but Mohamara only needed a fraction of a full Welkynd stone to check if he had re-installed the servitor.

“Who needs to draw when you can print screen?” The tojay used the built-in occulory to snap a picture and unrolled a piece of paper which he then pressed to the screen. A line of blue light passed from the bottom of the slate to the top, and when he pulled the paper off it had a fully colorized image of his self-portrait printed there. “And the best part is they can’t even tell how bad the picture quality is because they haven’t seen better!”

“You know we can all hear you, right?”

Mohamara was interrupted in his small moment of triumph to look up and see several female cathay gathered around his tent. “Oh. Hey ladies.”

“What you did there… you created a perfect portrait in seconds!” Atahbah was among the small group and seemed positively stunned by the miracle of techno-magic.

“Um. Yeah. Telvanni’s Chiaroscuro slate. Cost an arm and a leg, and it’s sorta old, but it’s got loads of features.” A more sensible man would have worried about polluting the timeline. A wiser man would have seen the danger of telling people about a powerful magical item in their midst. And a more intelligent man would have realized that he was still in the Reach where safety was an illusion. But none of those occurred to Mohamara, who just wanted the other Khajiit to like him. He looked at the cathay women, unsure of what they were trying to convey through body language and unable to articulate confusion without his tail. “... Do you want portraits of yourselves, ladies?”

“You will charge them like they were customers.” Ri’saad’s voice carried over the wagons. “This one pays them enough to afford that.”

Mohamara had substantially less paper to work with and more septims piled in front of him when they left. He realized that he couldn’t just leave the coins on the ground--they’d get dirty. So he put them into a wooden bowl and set it aside.

There was… actually, very little happening after the ladies got their portraits. Mohamara sat and let his slate leech his magicka for the charge, and counted the birds flitting between bushes on the road. He vehemently wished his Meridian amulet had been among his clothes, but one missing item out of an entire outfit was unpleasant but acceptable. Prayers could still be had without the amulet--and even if he did have it the connection was broken. But he’d always had some physical connection to the faith he could find security in.

Perhaps that was why Sheogorath had cruelly decided to cut the connection. For the sake of forcing him to have ‘fun’.

Rather than pointlessly brood, Mohamara pulled up the hood on his robe and curled up around his slate with one hand on the screen, and took a nap.

--

Days passed, and Mohamara found himself adjusting to living communally with other Khajiit even though it had been unpleasant at first. Once there was a bit less tension in his presence, the cathay were positively mother-henning him to make sure he was checking his bandages, eating and drinking enough, or if he needed help with customers. The last item did come up sometimes, as was expected of ancient Nords.

Washing unmentionables and communal bathing in the river had been something he had taken almost a week to get used to. But he did adapt and found himself growing accustomed to having so many Khajiit around. Unfortunately, most of the clothes Ri’saad got for him were just robes cut down to Mohamara’s size, as apparently the child-sized trousers had all been bought already. Ma’randru-jo eventually grew brave enough to try teaching Mohamara more spells though he was visibly hesitant about it.

The portrait making business was not as popular as the rest of the caravan’s goods, but it attracted a fair number of the richer citizens of Markarth--to the point that Ri’saad considered raising the price.

And then one day, Markarth City Guards came down to the caravan and demanded Mohamara bring his slate and come with them.

“The Jarl wants a portrait,” one of the green-armored guards informed Ri’saad when the elder questioned them. “Here’s the money, now get the brat.” Two golden coins were thrown at Ri’saad’s face but the elder neither moved nor blinked from their impact.

“This one will find a chaperone to escort grandson, please wait a moment.” Ri’saad’s response was pleasant like he was talking to a customer. The coins that had been thrown at him, he bent down to pick up and played the part of a weary old man exerting himself.

Mohamara watched from behind a wagon and noted the sneer on one of the guard’s faces. The man wore an open-faced helmet featuring corundum horns along its rim.

“Wrong, cat. The brat comes alone. Jarl’s orders, he only wants one beast in his city at a time. Now fetch the kid, or we’ll get him ourselves.”

The tojay’s ears flicked as he heard Khayla walk up behind him. Crouched down as she was, she still stood almost as tall as Mohamara standing straight up. “Ja’khajiit, this one will try to follow from the rocks. If you are in danger, Khajiit will attempt a rescue. But do not fight back.” She emphasized the last part, and then stalked away into the sunset shadows.

“Fight back with what? Sparks? A bound dagger? Ice that the Nords grow up dealing with?” Mohamara asked the shadow that had been Khayla as he grabbed his slate from his tent. As an afterthought, he removed his good shoes and put on a pair of stitched fur ones that Atahbah had made for him. His experience with the modern police was that if they saw something they wanted, they’d take it quick as any thief. It would stand to reason that a boar would be a boar even thousands of years in the past.

At least, since the Nords saw him as a child, he only had to worry about being robbed by them.

With his slate held close, he made his way over to Ri’saad before the elder had to send someone for him. Even though both knew Mohamara’d heard the guards, Ri’saad explained the situation to him like it was an exciting opportunity.

As a bit of petty revenge, when the guards started to lead Mohamara up the path to Markarth, the tojay decided to skip around them because they walked too slow. He literally skipped circles around them for a while before switching to moon-walking.

“I get that you’re excited to meet the Jarl.” The guard in the closed-faced helmet, seemingly the more tolerant of the two, ventured in an attempt to stop the Khajiit. “But could you walk a bit more normally? You keep doing that in the city, you could fall down the stairs.”

“Ah, a dent in his head will be good for ‘em. Means he won’t be able to go fiddlin’ with any locks.” The open-faced guard responded to the first, cementing Mohamara’s dislike for him.

Regardless, Mohamara did not ‘walk more normally’, and had taken to sashaying when they got passed the great gates. Ancient Markarth still seemed… too small for Mohamara’s liking. It seemed like one big fight would knock the city down to a village’s worth of people.

And it was still absolutely filthy. Uneven streets, debris that looked hundreds of years old. One store had literal cobwebs across their Dwemer-metal doors.

However, Mohamara was more concerned with the knife-wielding Breton that came at him the literal moment he passed through the gates, well ahead of the guards sent to escort him.

“The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!” The Breton with a closely shaved head and sturdy mining clothes swung a steel dagger downward in a stabbing motion to get Mohamara in the ribs.

But Mohamara wasn’t less than an hour off a spinal injury any longer, and he’d had a week to let the regeneration effect work on his leg--and tail to a much lesser extent. So to a small, agile Khajiit a Breton with no combat training may as well have been a beach ball for how fast it traveled.

“Woop! Almost got me there! Going to have to be quicker than that! Okay, I didn’t even dodge that one, you just sorta missed.” Mohamara let quips fly from his mouth while side-stepping, ducking, and jumping over the Breton’s attacks. A tojay with their tail could jump six and a half feet straight up without much athletic training. Dagi were even better, they could jump so high it made it look like they were flying. So Mohamara without his tail but with some athleticism easily jumped bodily over the Breton and landed atop a jewelry stand awning where he spit-hissed down at the would-be assassin.

The closed-helmet guard finally appeared and tackled the Breton to the ground while the other stomped on his hand to force him to let go of the dagger.

“My heroes!” The tojay rolled off the awning, which drove the Redguard woman manning the stand to jump from surprise. Evidently, she’d been completely distracted by the Breton assassin she didn’t notice her awning straining under thirty pounds of Khajiit weight. “Guards, I would like to report an attempted assault on my person.”

The open-faced guard was about ready to backhand Mohamara for his cheek when another person entered the scene--Senna, the Dibellan priestess.

“Is everything alright? Does anyone require healing?” She asked around rapid breathing. It was clear that she had been running from the sound of things. “I heard the Forsworn and came as fast as I could.”

“Everything’s under control, priestess.” The closed-face guard responded while he held the Breton’s arms and forced the man to stand. “Just gotta pass this Forsworn filth over to another guard, and things will be good.”

“Hey, Senna!” Mohamara waved to the Dibellan holy woman. “They let me back in town!”

The Breton woman was stunned by this development to the point where she, along with most of the other marketplace goers just stared while the would-be assassin was frog-marched away and Mohamara led by his sole remaining guard up the road to Understone Keep.

“Be respectful to the Jarl, and do what he says or I’ll make a rug out of you, cat.” The guard told Mohamara as he opened the doors to the keep.

“Will the other guards make a rug out of you if you disrespect the Jarl?” Mohamara played the part of a precocious child, while on the inside he treated the whole experience like going to the dentist’s.

“If the Jarl said so, probably. But he won’t.”

Inside the Keep, the filth was even worse than outside. There was dirt in the air, not pretty dust that caught the light and danced in the air current. Dirt. The path to the Jarl’s throne took them over debris from when the city still had Dwarves. It felt less like the residency of a king in all but name and more like a squatter’s abode.

In a great room was the throne hall, up to a flight of stairs and in an alcove dead center. Markarth guards stood flanking the alcove and against each of the load-bearing pillars. Meanwhile, three golden-skinned High Elves patrolled the whole landing. Two in metal-feather armor, and a third in an oiled leather overcoat and hood. In the distance, Mohamara could hear the barking of dogs.

Three humans were in the alcove where the seat of Markarth, the Mournful Throne, sat. Being in this city reminded Mohamara why all the transfer students from Reach secondary schools had been so edgy. Everything in the Reach was edgy. Even the edges.

The humans were two men and a woman. The men, both Nords, were on in years and dressed finely. The woman was a Redguard, in steel armor, and had her hand in easy draw distance of her blade.

“My Jarl, I’ve brought the beast.” The guard made the announcement from outside the alcove while Mohamara watched the High Elves watch him. They seemed particularly interested in his slate.

“I sent two of you, where is the other?” The younger of the two Nords, who sat the throne spoke up. Presumably, he was the Jarl.

“A Forsworn spy was discovered in the marketplace--Alois took him to get processed into Cidhna Mine.”

This sparked a brief debate between the two elder Nords, but the guard turned and left the scene. Mohamara was left alone, in front of what passed for royalty in the Reach.

“You are the cat that does those portraits, are you?” Once their debate had finished, the Jarl spoke again. Mohamara had seen that disdain in many people. mostly politicians and the rich, back home. “I did not expect a boy. Approach me.”

Mohamara entered the alcove and walked to the base of the stairs, noting how the guards turned their heads to watch him as he entered.

“I said approach me, cat.” The Jarl curled his lip, clearly of the mind that he was debasing himself by merely speaking to Mohamara.

Hesitant, Mohamara ascended the stairs until he stood three feet away from the Jarl. He was perilously close to being in a range of being decapitated by the armored woman with one swing, and the oldest Nord watched him appraisingly.

“I am Jarl Igmund, son of Hrolfdir. To have a portrait done for posterity is something I have longed to do for some time. But artists are expensive, and I haven’t hours to sit still on my throne while my Hold falls apart around me.”

“It would be… this one’s pleasure to serve, Jarl.”

“I’m sure it would please you more to have the chance to rifle through my cabinets, but if your method is as quick as I’m told you won’t get the chance.” The Jarl clapped his hands together, and a canvas in a regal frame was brought in by two guards, and set up to Mohamara’s right, almost obscuring the oldest Nord man. “How is this done?”

“Just… strike a pose you would wish for posterity, Jarl Igmund.” Mohamara held his slate out in front of him. “Move around as you like, just tell me when you’re ready.” The tojay went the extra mile to have the screen facing Igmund, and use the slightly higher-detail front occuluory, so the Jarl could see his pose for himself.

The Jarl took his time finding a pose he’d like, either not noticing or caring about the tension in the air from having Mohamara summoned like this. He was the one with the power, the one in control, why would he be tense? In the end, he settled on an overall reclined pose with his right arm bent back toward his face with the hand limply facing him. The picture taking and burning it onto the canvas was done in seconds, so the Jarl could review it.

“Excellent work, Khajiit. Guards, escort the cat back to his caravan.” Igmund dismissively waved Mohamara off, too busy admiring his new portrait.

“There is no need for that, Jarl Igmund.” Silent as a ghost, the hooded, leather coated High Elf had walked up behind Mohamara, driving the tojay to jump a little in surprise. His voice was soft, differential, and compassionate. “With a Forsworn agent in the city, there might be more. You need all your guards right where they are. My men and I have no pressing engagements for the rest of the day--we can escort this Khajiit back as a favor to you.”

If Igmund had disdain for Mohamara, he had daggers for the High Elf. Mohamara looked between the two taller men and wished he had never taken to portraits at all.

“I… know the way back. I can go by… myself?” Mohamara tried to speak up but neither of the two men acknowledged him.

“...Very well, Justicar. See that the cat reaches his destination safely. I will not have it said that my guests are treated poorly.” Igmund flippantly waved and began a conversation with the oldest Nord about where to hang his portrait.

The High Elf placed a hand on Mohamara’s shoulder and gripped it like an iron vice. “Come now, little Khajiit. We mustn’t dawdle.” For being an elf, the ‘Justicar’ easily forced Mohamara to walk down the stairs and away from the throne through strength alone, though he relaxed it a bit as they started to leave the keep. The two armored elves soon joined him in marching Mohamara out. Things started to go badly when right out of the keep they took a sharp left turn rather than walk forward toward the marketplace.

“Um. This isn’t the right way.” Mohamara knew, in his belly, that something awful was about to happen.

“No, it isn’t.” The Justicar’s tone mirrored what Sheogorath would sometimes do, a low tone with just an edge of malice. “You see… I’m so very interested in what a tojay is doing in Skyrim. Without permission.

“Oh.” Realizing that doing nothing was going to result in something awful happening, Mohamara did was any sane person would do.

He tossed his slate into the air, slid out of the robe the Justicar was holding him by like a snake shedding skin, caught the slate when he was free, and jumped over the railless edge of the walkway to bounce between jutting rocks until he reached the path to the marketplace below.

“Seeya, suckers!” At least this time he still had his shoes as he ran away from danger in his skivvies. Maybe if he did this enough times he could escape with a complete outfit. By the time the elves had gotten down to the marketplace, Mohamara had already made it out the gates, had several women exclaim and children laugh at his situation and was on his way back to the caravan.

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Chapter Text


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Chapter 5: Safest City in the Reach

When Mohamara got back to the caravan he marched past all the curious cathay who saw him coming from as far as the Markarth gates and went to his tent. There, he formed his blood-stained quilt into a mound in which he hid away from the world with his slate.

“Ja’khajiit.” Ri’saad’s voice came from outside the quilt mound. “Something happen in the city that this one should know? Such as what happened to your clothes again?”

Mohamara sat up enough for his chin to show through the layers in the quilt. “A Breton guy tried to stab me and some High Elves tried to kidnap me. I don’t want to deal with anyone else today.” Then he laid back down, arranging himself to be as comfy as possible then put on a song from his slate’s library.

“This is not a very mature way of dealing with situations like this, you know.”

Annoyed by the lack of a tail to convey how annoyed he was, Mohamara sat back up and glared at the source of Ri’saad’s voice through a layer of the quilt over his face. “I had to run through a major city in my underwear because some High Elves wanted to play secret police after someone tried to murder me. Working out my embarrassment in private and avoiding social interaction are perfectly healthy in these circumstances. And second of all….” Mohamara blew a raspberry at the cathay elder, then lay back down.

“Fine, this one will leave you be. Khayla, stay close to ja’khajiit until the evening meal.” Ri’saad’s footsteps faded away and left the heavy metal steps of Khayla outside Mohamara’s tent.

The Khajiit lost himself in music for a while, able to forget the day that had happened until something poked him from outside the mound. He reached one hand out and swatted at the thing, but it persisted until Mohamara stuck his head out.

Khayla stood with a Breton man, his face covered in an elaborate dark tattoo and holding a bundle of cloth in one hand. “Ja’khajiit, this Breton said he has a delivery for you from a woman called Senna?”

Mohamara looked from Khayla, who used her ears and tail to convey a guarded emotion--she was ready to fight if need be, to the Breton and squinted. “Why would Senna send me something?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.” The Breton shrugged and seemed to be forcing himself to act professionally. “I just know she was willing to pay some gold to send it down to you.”

Mohamara looked between the two taller people, still squinting, before holding his hand out for the delivery. “Odds on it being some weird Dibellan thing?”

“I sure hope a priestess would know better than to send such things to a child, but she is Dibellan, so anything is possible.” The bundle of cloth was handed over, and the Breton turned to quickly leave. With the sun about to set, Mohamara guessed he just didn’t want to be out after dark. “Thanks, hope your next visit to Markarth is under better circumstances.”

The cloth turned out to be a linen wrap, inside of which was a letter, and a key. Mohamara retreated into his quilt mound to read the letter by the light of his slate and set the key aside.

‘Mohamara-

That attack on you in the marketplace was the final straw for me. I’m sick and tired of the Forsworn running roughshod over the people of Markarth. I’m sick and tired of watching them die and not being able to do anything about it. Eltrys, the man delivering this for me, wants to help. Markarth isn’t your city, and these aren’t your people. But if you want to find out why the Forsworn wanted you dead, there is a key that will let you into a secret entrance to the city through the river. From there you can get to the shrine to Talos, directly underneath Dibella’s temple. The guards have not patrolled that route in years. I will not think less of you if you want to stay out of this.

--Senna.’

“You know when you mention twice how I can just opt out I think I really, really can’t.” Mohamara sighed and reached for a red robe outside his pile. Sheogorath had wanted him to have fun, and uncovering a conspiracy could potentially be fun. Except it was likely to get him killed. Except so was everything in this danged time period. Learning to deal with it early on would do well, he justified.

Really, he just didn’t want Senna to get herself killed because of him.

There was something twisted in Skyrim, Mohamara had known that for as long as he’d lived. Mysticism, the study of sympathetic connections between people, places, things, and ideas had taught him to give an identity to the twisted thing within the land--all work and no play. The Reach was the ideal place for followings such as Molag Bal, who thrived on conflict and dominance, for it was the worst of the province’s Holds. Mohamara knew how to deal with such brutal connections--not with more brutality, but with flippancy.

It was a required part of a Mysticism degree to learn how to identify such hostile sympathetic connections. In his own time, he was too busy working to keep a roof over his head to live with fun, Yagraz had pointed it out to him more than once. But here, he was supposed to be ‘on vacation’. Fun was required, ordered by Sheogorath So armed with this knowledge and only a few actual weapons he knew what he had to do: He had to use the power of fun to keep the Reach from pulling on sympathetic connections to get Senna and her Breton friend killed for trying to end its game while playing by its rules.

He disliked, vehemently, that he had to admit to himself: He would be best served by emulating the Mad God than his own Lady of Infinite Energies. He still loved her and had no intention of letting Undead keep on existing, so he was sure she’d understand.

So! Once properly dressed, and his slate hidden away, and key retrieved, Mohamara ambled out of his tent like he knew what he was going to do for the rest of the day.

“Ja’khajiit, you are feeling better?” Khayla caught his attention, leaning against a wagon in her usual manner of lurking.

Mohamara gave her a broad smile and thumbs up with a dynamic pose. “Nope!” His answer took some time to register with her, and in that time Mohamara had skipped his way down to the river. Part of fighting with fun was to accept that control was an illusion, even control of one’s self. So Mohamara followed the impulse to jump out to the rocks and use dancing skill with Khajiit agility to balance on his toes.

“What in the moons are you doing?!” Khayla had rushed to the riverside, but could not follow Mohamara due to her armor. “Ja’khajiit, you could fall with your bad leg, and drown!”

“I know! Makes things so much more interesting, doesn’t it?” With his tongue out in a blep, Mohamara lept between the rocks as he moved under the Markarth bridge. As he made his way upstream via this method, his leg did end up giving out from supporting his full weight one too many times. But he didn’t go tumbling into the river, just ended up skinning his bad shin a bit on the rocks.

Khayla tried following him, but the river started to stray too close to the city for her. She couldn’t leave the caravan with one less guard, no matter how far away Mohamara went.

The river led him under the curtain wall, and up increasingly rapid water until he came to an iron grate blocking his path. Thankfully, there was a tunnel almost immediately connected to this area and thus Mohamara could make his way up and out--considerably wetter than when he’d started, however. Halfway up the tunnel was a second grate with an integrated door, which Mohamara opened with the key he’d been given.

All the while, Mohamara whistled a merry tune, not giving a thought to how a guard could hear and investigate the sound. If they did, so what? Up the tunnel, he went, and he found himself at the top of the curtain wall, under the covered section. The only safe way into the city from there was the main gate, where guards watched for ne’er-do-wells.

So, naturally, Mohamara got a running start and lept off the wall into the city, and landed in the river. Without gravity, the water was not so fast as it had been below, and Mohamara could easily swim to shore.

He passed by several people in sturdy mining clothes, similar to his would-be assassin, hauling ore toward some conical smelters while an Orc man oversaw them. Said Orc was more than a little annoyed by a Khajiit walking in and disturbing his smelter and started after Mohamara who went walking where impulse led. However, Mohamara was leaving an abundance of water in his wake which the Orc discovered when he stepped into a puddle of it and slipped onto his back.

Minutes later two workers, carrying great loads of ore slipped on the water as well and dropped their mineral cargo onto their Orc foreman.

Mohamara was already crossing the bridge to the butte where the temple of Dibella lay--and below it, the shrine of Talos.

“What in Oblivion are you doing in the city, Khajiit?” A female city guard stopped him as he was starting toward the gap in the rock where a prominent double Dwemer metal door lay. “You look like you took a swim in the river. Well? Explain yourself.”

Language was superficial to a specialist in Mysticism. The sympathetic bonds between words and the ideas behind them were pretty much the same in all languages regardless of grammar, spelling, or even manner of conveying the information. The point of language was to encode these ideas and keep the information secret from people outside the designated social group. Which in turn led to the development of the Tongues spell in the Mysticism school which allowed the user to understand all written or spoken languages.

So when Mohamara responded, it was in Dunmeri, telling her exactly why he was in the city--to discover the secret behind the Forsworn attacks and put an end to it. But he said it in a tone and body language that would make a Nord who didn’t know better assume he was just a panicking child that didn’t speak the common tongue.

“Oh, Ysmir’s beard don’t cry. Look, stay here and I’ll go find your mother. Stay. Here.” She repeatedly pointed to the ground and then marched off.

Mohamara almost felt bad for taking advantage of a genuinely good guard’s kindness. Once she turned the corner he finished his jog to the shrine and ducked inside.

At the bottom of a flight of stairs was a candlelit statue of Tiber Septim, who had become Talos the god. Both Senna and her Breton messenger--Eltrys stood there, whispering to each other. They immediately paused and looked up at him.

“I take it your arrival was not as easy as it was for us.” Senna cunningly observed as the sopping wet Khajiit walked down the stairs.

“You shouldn’t have got him involved.” The fairer skinned Breton chided. “He’s a Khajiit, he can’t move freely around the city.”

“The both of you are so tense, can’t do no skullduggery like this.” Mohamara got a gasp out of the two of them by cartwheeling down the stairs then transition into crawling up the statue of Talos to sit atop his winged helmet. “Relax, take a load off, punch a rich man in the teeth.”

The two humans looked at each other before they then focused on the Khajiit. “Are you okay, Mohamara?” Senna’s tone was guarded like she expected a nasty surprise.

“I had a man try to murder me earlier today, an attempted kidnapping, and now you asked me to come back into this city and risk my neck to stop the insidious evil at the root of it. Of course, I’m not okay!” The Khajiit wrapped his legs around Talos’ neck and hung down behind him like a second cape. “But if I act like a madman then it’s easier to cut through the sympathetic magic that’s keeping things the way they are in Markarth.” He released his legs and let himself slide down the back of the statue, then scooted around on the ground once there. “And between you two and me, behaving is like this is exhausting. I don’t know how Sheogorath does it all the time.”

“So there’s magic at work here?” Eltrys cut in and looked down at his feet. “So there’s not much I can do to help.”

“Not necessarily.” Senna waved off the Breton man’s worries. “Mohamara’s a priest of Mara, he has the goddess’ insight with him. Dibella’s been silent on this, but it could be that Mara is more informed because her more widespread love reaches more minds and hearts. So if this magic can be undone with action, then there’s still help you could give.”

“Simplification of complex issues is an important first step to comprehension.” Mohamara held up one hand to point while he scooted around on his shoulder. “But yes, there is sympathetic magic at work that is consistently connecting violence and death to fear and control here.” He left out how no matter what they did that day, it would remain the same for literally thousands of years. “Frivolity and happiness melt those bonds, so the more fun you have the weaker the bonds will become.”

“Could that be what the Forsworn have been attempting? An incredibly complex ritual to usurp Markarth through these ‘sympathetic bonds’?” Eltrys looked at the priestess and the ‘priest’ for confirmation.

“...Of course. The killings started shortly after they were removed from the city. They can’t take the city through force, so they’re going to do it through magic. Hagraven magic most likely.” Senna had tapped her chin in consideration before an epiphany struck. “Mohamara, how much happiness would we need to undo their spell?”

“We would need to throw the biggest party in Markarth’s history!” The cat had taken to trying to get himself back in a standing position purely by pushing himself into a corner. “Every man, woman, and child would need to be happy.”

“Good luck with that. The folks in Cidhna Mine alone would drag down any effort to make a celebration that size happy enough.” Eltrys was proving to be a real bummer, as far as Mohamara’s madman act was concerned.

“Then the next best thing would be a contradiction. The sympathetic bonds are set up to tie death and pain to fear and power. So you need to cause those things to lead to other results. A death that causes widespread happiness, or pain that people enjoy.”

“That last part? I can do that, no problem.” Senna informed the men with a wry smile.

Eltrys coughed and developed a pink tinge to his cheeks.

“But it all falls apart if you don’t get the mastermind behind it.” The humans looked at the corner Khajiit with interest. “All these sympathetic bonds had to have come from somewhere. They develop in response to either the intentional use of magic or over the course of generations. So someone set this all up since the murders are relatively recent, and isn’t sharing any of the benefits with anyone else. You can undo all the work they’ve done so far, and they’ll just start it up again. The fish rots from the head down, as they say in Riften.”

The humans decided to go out into town to find answers and agreed to come back to the shrine to coordinate what they’d discovered. Mohamara was basically forced to stay in the shrine of Talos until they could find out the cause of the Forsworn attacks, then smuggle him out.

He found it incredibly difficult to stay in the headspace of ‘what would Sheogorath do?’ while mind-numbingly bored. There were only so many times he could play ‘I Spy’ with Talos’ statue.

Several times the two Bretons both came to the shrine to inform each other, and Mohamara of what they’d found. At first, there were no substantial leads, but then two breakthroughs happened almost simultaneously.

“I found a note in Weylin’s room directing him to strike in the marketplace by someone named ‘N’, I just need to find out who that is.”

“There’s an Imperial spy in the Silver-Blood Inn. She’s been investigating the Silver-Blood family, and after I talked to her a guard threatened me. I think the Silver-Bloods might be involved.”

Mohamara clapped his hands together, getting the two humans to look at him as he sat curled up on Talos’ head. He spoke to them, in that unique mad headspace where madness and clarity intersected. “How did this come to be? How long have these Silver-Bloods and this ‘N’ been the Jarls of Markarth, and not Igmund? Like hornets protecting their hive, they will come to snuff you out now that you’ve both shown to be powerless, and worse--annoying. Provoke the Hornets to swarm and then go wake the cave bear to steal their precious honey. For they only grew mighty from his slumbering.”

“... Talos? Is that you?” Eltrys hesitantly backed away from the cat with a madman’s eyes that pierced through him.

“Don’t be a fool--it’s far more likely to be Lady Mara.” Senna flippantly gestured, then rushed up the stairs out of the shrine. “And I for one agree with Her advice, let’s go.”

When Eltrys had gone as well, and Mohamara was alone, again. He sighed to himself and went limp on the Divine’s statue. “This isn’t fun at all.” The act of madness slipped away, and he started to think about what he’d done. Ri’saad and the caravaneers were going to be so angry with him when he got back. If he got back.

“So you’re the one stirring up trouble.” After an indeterminate span of time waiting for the Bretons to show back up, Mohamara caught three Markarth City Guards entering the shrine, all with close-faced helmets. “I expected it to be another native, but guess cats like making trouble too.” The three of them drew their swords and advanced.

“If you don’t resist, we’ll make it hurt less.”

Mohamara just gradually arched an eyebrow as the three Nords approached him. They had left the Dwemer doors ajar, and this proved to be their undoing as Senna, Eltrys and three additional people stepped into view on the temple steps. They were Igmund, Jarl of Markarth, his Redguard bodyguard, and the mysterious elder Nord that had sat with them earlier.

“So you will kill me? On whose authority?” Mohamara kept his eyes focused on Igmund, who sneered but held the Khajiit’s gaze silently.

“Thonar Silver-Blood, the only man who matters in this city. You’ve messed up his deal with Madanach by having Nepos killed. Now the Forsworn gotta find a new middleman, and we gotta pin your murder and all the other deaths on your friends. You know what? I think I’m going to make it hurt bad, cat, to make you pay for all this extra work you’re making us do.”

“I see. Are you satisfied, my Jarl?” The three Nords didn’t stop, likely thinking that Mohamara was bluffing. One reached up to grab the cat, flipping his sword around for a stabbing motion when all three men froze dead in their tracks when Mohamara was answered.

“I distinctly remember ordering Madanach be sent to the headsman's block,” Igmund spoke with a barely suppressed fury that bespoke a coming explosion of anger. “Isn’t that right, uncle?”

“Quite.” The mysterious elder Nord spoke up, giving the three frozen guards a contemptuous look. “Was it not the Silver-Bloods who did the deed on your behalf?”

“It would seem that a was a lie.” Igmund turned to speak over his shoulder, another Markarth guard leaned in from around the corner to hear the order. “Round up the Silver-Bloods. Every last one. I want them all thrown into that damn mine of theirs.” The longer he spoke, the harder it seemed to be for him to contain his overflowing rage. The Jarl’s hands were shaking like he had palsy, and his face was growing red as a tomato. Suddenly, he pointed at Eltrys, who quickly bowed and backed away. “You! You and the priestess did more for this city in one day than those parasites have done in twenty years. I will see about getting you both a position of prominence for this.”

“What of these three men, my Jarl? And of Madanach?” Senna spoke up, unafraid of the Jarl in a near berserk state. “If my guess is right, Madanach is behind a long-term Forsworn magical ritual affecting the whole of Markarth--he needs to be destroyed before we can begin taking the ritual magic apart.”

“I will see Madanach’s head roll. With my own eyes this time! Search the Silver-Blood’s papers, if they have him hidden away somewhere I want him found!” Igmund had devolved into full-throated shouting. “Someone pry Calcelmo away from the damn Dwarves and help with this ritual or whatever it is!”

Igmund’s uncle left to fulfill these orders, while more Markarth guards streamed into the shrine to apprehend the three that had been inches away from murdering Mohamara. The Jarl stomped his way down to the foot of the Talos statue which the cat was using as a chair. His body language and expression shifted between wanting to do violence to Mohamara himself and angrily pointing. The Nord ground his teeth together and glared vicious daggers at Mohamara who calmly kept a neutral expression.

He’d worked in retail before, and nothing he’d seen from Igmund--including threats of decapitation--was worse than what he’d had customers pull on him when enraged.

At last, the Jarl seemed to force himself into being composed. “You. And your. Kin. May enter. Markarth. To do business. Or buy property.”

Mohamara slowly grinned as only cats could while the Nord literally forced the words out.

“But if I hear a word about any of you thieving, or selling poisons, I will make all of you into one. Giant! Rug!” Igmund left, with his Redguard guard following behind him, almost trailing steam behind him.

“Okay, I take it back. That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” Mohamara said when it was just him, Eltrys, and Senna again.

“At least now we won’t have to smuggle you out of the city. My only plan was to disguise you as a girl and claim I was teaching you Restoration magic.” Senna mentioned offhand, which got Mohamara’s smile to waver a bit.

“Just because I wear robes doesn’t mean I’d agree with wearing a dress.”

“A robe is a type of dress, you know.”

Mohamara made swiping motions in the air, even though he was easily ten feet away from the Dibellan priestess. “If I had claws, I would scratch your eyes out for that.”

“If you had claws, I would almost consider you a threat. As-is, you’re too adorable to be able to do me harm.”

Eltrys looked between the two of them and arched a brow of his. “I thought you said you only knew each other a little? You two are talking like you’ve known each other for years.”

“It’s a coping mechanism--using humor to deflect how stressful the day has been by being over familiar.” Mohamara waved off the Breton man’s concerns and finally climbed down to the floor like a civilized person.

“Indeed. I’m surprised you haven’t done something similar yet.” Senna shrugged and walked with Mohamara as the cat ascended the stairs. “Come on, let’s leave the well-adjusted man alone.”

“He clearly doesn’t need us to help deal with his problems. Probably has life goals beyond tomorrow or something.”

“Well--good for him.”

“Aww, come on!” Eltrys trotted after the two sashaying robed people, feigning a whine. “I have plenty of problems we could joke about--over some mead perhaps? Hey, wait up!”

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Chapter Text


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Chapter 6: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

For reasons that strongly resembled High Elves that had already stolen one pair of robes, Mohamara did not want to join Senna and Eltrys in celebrating their victory at the Silver-Blood Inn. Instead, he slowly made his way down to the caravan behind the group of guards dispatched to inform Ri’saad about the Jarl’s decree.

It felt like he was walking to the Headmaster’s office to be screamed at or something, a proximal tension in the air that only got worse as he drew closer.

When the guards arrived at the caravan and began speaking to Ri’saad, Mohamara stayed back near the road sign. More than one of the cathay in the caravan were looking at him with twitching tails and flat ears--clearly angry. Even Ri’saad’s tail was swishing back and forth ever so slightly.

But the news that the caravan could now do business in Markarth city proper, perhaps even buy property, got more than one of those upset body language cues to lift. Excited talk of the new profits that could be made reached across the distance to reach Mohamara--and it would have done much to relieve the tension if Ri’saad’s body language had not remained unchanged.

Soon enough, the guards turned and left and only the Khajiit remained. Ri’saad’s eyes locked onto Mohamara, who hesitantly approached when it became clear Ri’saad wasn’t moving. In short order, the tojay was standing in front of the cathay and struggled to meet his gaze.

“You ran off, knowing what you were doing could get you killed.” Ri’saad had no anger in his voice or face. Only his swishing tail indicated any danger in the situation. “If not by the river, if not by the Nords, if not by the Forsworn--who had already tried to kill you, then by the Thalmor you escaped.”

Mohamara nodded to each one because he knew he would only start trying to explain what couldn’t be explained if he spoke.

“And in so doing, you have dismantled the Silver-Blood empire and won us access to Markarth that twenty years of honorable behavior could not. Well done.” Ri’saad reached down and patted Mohamara on the head. When he saw how stunned the tojay was, the elder seemed amused. “Khajiit value cleverness and cunning, not obedience. I would be angry with you had you gotten injured again, or done something to sour our relations with the city. But your clever game won us mighty profit both now, and in the future.”

At that precise moment, Mohamara’s bad leg decided it was the time to give out on him. Mohamara gave a brief gasp as he started to list out from under Ri’saad’s hand. “Oh! Gravity works.” Then he hit the ground, not hard but enough to ruin the moment.

Someone in the caravan found this worthy of snickering. Ri’saad merely sighed, and helped the tojay up. “This one thinks your leg is perhaps not healing properly--is understandable, Dibellans not known as great healers. Perhaps in Whiterun, the Kynareth temple can fix it.”

“Well, maybe it’d be better if I had something better than this weak sauce regeneration effect.” Mohamara tweaked the gold ring still on his finger to provide weak regeneration for his leg and tail. “Feels like they just shoved a fox’s soul into it or something.”

Ri’saad arched his droopy brow as he allowed Mohamara to lean on him until the tojay’s leg was recovered. “You think you can do better, ja’khajiit?”

Mohamara puffed out his chest, to limited effect since he was so drastically small. “I got my Enchanting Plus Certification just last year. I’m legally authorized to handle souls up to the greater size category--so I know I can do better. Heck, give me a petty soul and I could still do better than this.” He examined the band and stuck his tongue out. “Looks like something they had an intern do.”

“This one will see about getting a soul gem for you, then. But come, you have missed the evening meal so will have to settle for cold food.”

“Ick.”

--

They stayed in front of Markarth only a day longer. During the packing up, Mohamara was asked frequently to use his small size to get into the packed up wagons, heavy with goods purchased from Markarth, and ensure that they were arranged so as not to break anything.

To pass the time on the boring long march north and around the mountains Mohamara still did not know the name of--no one he asked seemed to know either--he listened to music and looked through years of pictures on his slate.

With the earpieces blocking all sound from the outside world, he found himself startled by sudden shaking more than once. Most often it was to tell one of the curious cathay that he couldn’t answer questions about the future because he hadn’t studied that period of history.

Most couldn’t grasp how ancient the Fourth Era was to Mohamara, or how much had happened in the sixteen thousand years between it and his future that he couldn’t know all the details.

“You often sit for long periods of time just staring at that thing, holding it while you layabout,” Ma’randru-jo commented once while he walked behind the wagon on top of which Mohamara sat and watched the horizon. Since he wasn’t walking as much anymore, he could wear his jeans and enjoy having proper trousers for a short time without risking his bandaged leg bleeding on them. “Are you meditating, perhaps?”

“I’m listening to music.” Mohamara looked down at the braided cathay and gestured to the ebony clips resting on his ears. “These play music directly into my ears from the slate. If I didn’t have them on, it could play for all of you and in the future, that’s considered rude.”

“Well in the sensible past, having music to pass the time would be much appreciated.” The cathay man seemed annoyed that Mohamara had not volunteered the information sooner. “If you don’t mind?”

The tojay held the slate close to his chest and looked away while his face gradually reddened. “Um. My taste in music might be… something not everyone in the caravan would like.”

“Are they tawdry? Songs of lustful conquests by future men and women we will have to imagine?”

One of the cathay women, whom Mohamara knew to be sleeping with Ma’randru-jo for a week thenabouts, bapped the braided man in the back of the head. Which was good because Mohamara didn’t want to have to throw a shoe at the man.

“No.” Mohamara held his ears flat but pointed away from his skull. It was a bit of body language he’d picked up from the cathay to mean ‘stop talking about this’. “I don’t have sex songs on my slate. At least… I don’t think any of them are about sex.”

But others of the caravaneers who were walking with the wagons had come by to ask about music. Some asked if he had local songs, others wanted songs he suspected were from Elsweyr. But the more he was pestered, the more Ma’randru-jo seemed to smirk at him.

“Alright fine. They’re love songs, happy? I keep a lot of sappy romance music on this thing because I’m sad, lonely, and pathetic. Is that the sort of thing you want to hear?” The tojay lamented that his tail was too short for any of them to see how it was lashing about in annoyance.

“...This one would like to hear love songs.”

“Khajiit doesn’t mind romance!”

“Anything to distract this one from the boring walk, please!”

And of course, they wouldn't behave like normal people. They were Khajiit, normal was anathema to them. Defeated, the tojay unclipped the earpieces and slid them back into the slate. “What sort of love song does the crowd want, then?”

The most common thing he heard was ‘songs about distant love’, which he sadly admitted made sense. Most of the caravaneers had families back Elsweyr that they were feeding with this work. So he flipped through the lists for such songs.

He led with a song about love that endured longer than the concept of time itself, from a moving portrait he’d seen as a child and kept the song in mind when he’d gotten a slate. From there, he started to work up a retinue with appropriate music and let it play automatically. Time pollution from fourteen different Eras sang out onto the mountainous valleys of the Reach.

“Ja’khajiit, if company is what you require, there are many among the caravan who would court you.” After the music had stopped, Ri’saad had slowed his walking to travel apace with Mohamara’s wagon.

The tojay didn’t even get flustered about it, which surprised even him. “No, there aren’t. And even if they were, it’s not my people’s way to do flings.”

Ri’saad and a great many of the cathay bachelors walking or driving carriages gave Mohamara confused looks. “Ja’khajiit, the Khajiit people most certainly do do ‘flings’.”

“But Meridians don’t.” Mohamara flicked his ears backward and against his skull, agitated that the caravan’s communal nature had wormed into this area of his life. “Every Meridian community has a matchmaker, who watches the children as they grow up and pairs them with someone who would be a good match. If there isn’t a matchmaker available, it’s up to the parents to find a marriage for their children.” A small degree of venom edged into Mohamara’s voice as he talked. “My parents won’t be born for thousands of years, and I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. Sheo… Skooma Cat could decide to end his vacation at any time.”

“And if he leaves without you?” Ri’saad’s body language and tone made no indication of the venom Mohamara was directing toward him. For one so old, perhaps he had seen this play out before.

“Then I deal with that when it happens if it happens. And don’t give the Skooma Cat ideas on how to be crueler than he has already--if you don’t mind.” The tojay laid back on top of the wagon, where Ri’saad could no longer see him.

There was a short period of no talking by Ri’saad or any of the walkers, before the cathay woman driving the wagon turned around to Mohamara. “You have no… ‘match’ waiting for you back in the future?” She seemed confused for a second by the words as she asked. “Forward in the future?”

“My matchmaker told me that past the age of fifteen the odds of a good match went down to around two percent.” Mohamara put the hood of his jacket up to create some form of barrier between him and the cathay who asked. “So if I wanted to risk being matched with a spousal abuser, or something else awful like that I could keep on or I could just settle on being single the rest of my life. Guess which one I picked?”

“Fifteen is so young to be married, though. You barely know who you are as a person by then.” Ri’saad took the cue to interject into the conversation again.

“Guess that’s just something we fuck up as time goes on, eh?”

“Aw, sonnie. If you wanted me to pick someone for you… ya just had to ask.”

Mohamara’s blood froze in his veins as he noticed a white-haired white-eyed Nord walk past the cart. When the tojay moved to get a better look, the Nord was gone.

“Now you said you don’t want any spousal abuse? Feh, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you don’t want any of the other fun nuances either.” Sheogorath was seated alongside the cathay woman driving the wagon, writing something down on a roll of paper with a sausage-shaped pen. It could have potentially have been just a normal sausage. “I should really talk to your uncle Sanguine about this--he’s so much better at this sort of thing than I am. Wait!” The Mad God turned and grinned down at the tojay. “How would you feel about being matched with your uncle Sanguine, eh?”

Mohamara started to scoot away from the demented Daedra as his fur began to stand on end. Sheogorath’s smile wilted when he got no reaction from the Khajiit.

“Ah, you’re right. You’re too much of a stick in the mud for him, anyway. But don’t worry, I still love ya to pieces. Thankfully Haskill knows how to put mortals back together or we’d have had some problems when you were a baby.” He pointed the sausage--it was a normal sausage--at the Khajiit, and wagged it. “And no matter what Haskill says, I most definitely did not try to eat your legs when you were two days old.”

Mohamara started to creep down the side of the wagon but found Sheogorath waiting for him on the road when he started to walk, using a flower to write on an orange this time.

“I also see you haven’t used that present I got ya, but that’s alright. It waited a few thousand years for you, a little while longer won’t do it no harm.” The Mad God took a moment to ruffle the tojay’s hair through his jacket hood. “But! Go to Solitude. Become a bard. That’s an order.”

Sheogorath’s words felt like an iron chain wrapping around Mohamara’s neck.

“What do you want with me?” Mohamara whisper-hissed to the Mad God who once more could not be seen by anyone but him. “I get that you’re all about driving mortals mad, but this isn’t driving me insane it’s just giving me heart problems.”

Sheogorath actually looked hurt by Mohamara’s words. “Oh. You haven’t… put it together yet. I’d hoped you could see the connection given that whole Mysticism thing you got going.”

“You know perfectly well that actually seeing the bonds is something that only masters can do. Since you’ve been stalking me since I was a baby, you should know better.”

The hurt expression became a glare, and suddenly Mohamara remembered he was talking to a Daedric Prince who could turn him into cheese. Or a woman’s beard. Or into seven notes of music if he cared to.

“I’ll let that slide since you’re very obviously in need of company, lad. But do watch your tone. Or have your tone watch you, I really don’t care. Since you’re not bright enough to see the connection, I’ll spell it out for you, mortal.” Sheogorath’s pen became a knife, which he used to slash at Mohamara’s face just below the eye, then handed the know bloody implement over to the Khajiit.

In his hand, the knife became a manilla envelope which opened on its own. There was a lot of incredibly complex technical information that Mohamara suspected were actually instructions for an outdated music player. But at the bottom was a box circled three times in red.

‘Paternity Test: Positive.’

“The results are in, and would you look at that? I’m the father!” Sheogorath scooped up the shellshocked tojay and hugged him so hard Mohamara couldn’t breathe.

“Ja’khajiit, how are you levitating?”

--

Ri’saad didn’t like that Sheogorath had ordered Mohamara to go north to Solitude, Mohamara could tell by the way his tail went immediately to thrashing about with no warm-up period. He took the news about the 'paternity test' about as well as Mohamara had--that is to say with defeated resignation. But the orders of ‘Skooma Cat’ were not to be ignored, so the elder cathay sent riders well ahead of the caravan to relay a message to someone called ‘Ma’dran’.

It was explained later that Ma’dran was one of Ri’saad’s lieutenants, who ran a route from Windhelm to Solitude and back. Normally the two caravans wouldn’t meet due to scheduling, but Ri’saad hoped to catch Ma’dran’s caravan approaching Dragon Bridge. If possible, he would just send Mohamara ahead with a rider and hope for the best.

Word that the tojay was leaving spread so everyone who had questions or requests to make of Mohamara or his slate pestered him in the days following.

The riders returned with bad news--Ma’dran had already departed Solitude and was passing Whiterun. Thus a decision had to be made that Ri’saad didn’t like one bit: Mohamara would stay with the caravan until they reached the road north, where Mohamara would be sent with a rider to Solitude.

“That seems perfectly fine to me,” Mohamara offered when the elder Khajiit emphasized how much he disliked it. “As long as it doesn’t put the rider at risk going there. I can live on my own for a while.”

“No, ja’khajiit. There are Thalmor in Solitude.” Ri’saad’s droopy face almost seemed animated by the topic. “They will try to snatch you again. Then the problem becomes what if a Nord decides to knife you while in the city? This one has lost riders and messengers to fools like them, even in the most hospitable of cities.” Ri’saad talked with the guards of the caravan to see if any of them could be away from the group long enough to help Mohamara.

Said tojay was sick of all the taking he was doing from the caravan, and no give so ducked out of Ri’saad’s tent and went around back. Once he was sure none of the people inside would be able to hear, he took some steps away and assumed the general prayer position. One bent knee on which clasped hands would rest with his forehead on top.

“Lord Sheogorath…. Dad. I could use a little help to best follow your orders. So. Um. Help?”

Sheogorath’s response was swift, direct, and his usual brand of unusual. Mohamara keeled over in writing pain suddenly and found the cause to be a three-pointed Daedric spear almost twice Mohamara’s height in its length. The centermost and largest point had impaled the tojay through the foot he had been kneeling on. Affixed to the spear was a large piece of paper which read: ‘It summons atronachs, and reflects spells. Should help you out plenty. --Marianne’

And while the presence of the Daedric weapon did seem to mollify Ri’saad’s misgivings about sending Mohamara off on his own, the injury to the tojay had absolutely incensed the elder Khajiit more than had been seen properly. Mohamara had to promise not to solicit help from the ‘Skooma Cat’ again.

Fortunately, Mohamara’s original introduction to the caravan had brought to light the need for healing potions so he only had to spend a day and a half bedridden again. It would still need a healer to look at and fix the broken bones in his foot, but at least he could use the spear as a walking stick. It was oddly fortunate that the spear had impaled the foot on his bad leg anyway.

The caravan stopped for a day outside the town of Karthwasten to sell and buy from the locals before starting eastward to Whiterun Hold. All too soon it came time for Mohamara to ride north with a cathay, possibly to not see the caravan again in a long time. Or at all, if the vacation ended. There were no tearful goodbyes, mostly it was the cathay nagging him to look after himself and to stop getting so badly injured all the time.

And then he was off. He had to ride in front of the cathay rider escorting him because behind would land him sitting on the poor man’s tail. The offer to shove Mohamara into one of the saddlebags was always there if he got uncomfortable.

It only slightly worried the tojay that he could legitimately fit into the saddlebags. Secondary school had taught him there were a large number of containers he could fit in. Most of them required the fire department to get him back out, though.

At least it got a few bullies expelled.

The dragon bridge was just as he remembered it being, though made of stone and not metal. After airships became the premier mode of transport, the bridge had fallen into disrepair until it fell apart in an earthquake. The rebuilt bridge was then made from metal to serve as a tourist attraction and local landmark.

But what made him want to stop and take a break was a mountain he remembered: Kilkreath. His cathay escort had been hesitant about stopping so close to Solitude, but Mohamara pulled the ‘adorable eyes’ trick and got the man to relent.

It was so… strange that the temple of Meridia was so small. The only thing that told it apart from other Nord ruins was the Lady’s winged statue atop the roof. The entrance to the temple was barred from the inside, so he couldn’t enter in--that left climbing up to see the statue himself.

It wasn’t the same statue he’d grown up with. Meridia’s statue was second only in size to Azura’s in all of Skyrim. But it still had the smaller clasped hand figures that would hold the beacon that would connect all the faithful in Skyrim to the Lady.

At least it would if the beacon was present.

After a cursory look for perhaps a container in which the beacon had been stored, Mohamara had to accept that it wasn’t there. So all the times he’d been praying to Meridia since arriving had been in vain--without the beacon, she could not hear him due to Martin Septim’s barrier. It acted as a sort of sigil stone in that way.

He tried to follow the sympathetic bond from the statue to its beacon but found that the magic pulled sharply east and south. Eastmarch, he realized after putting the tug of the bonds to his escort’s map. The beacon was somewhere in Eastmarch. It would have to be retrieved as soon as he was done following Sheogorath’s orders--lest the Mad God visit an unpleasant fate on him.

Meridia would understand, she had an eternity to wait.

Didn’t she?

---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 7: The Cat that Sings

Solitude, known historically as Haafingar, was one of the most beautiful cities in Skyrim. Even in ancient times when the fortress city was primarily built of drab stonework that borrowed heavily from Cyrodiil, Mohamara could see the city he would come to know in sixteen thousand years’ time.

Perhaps that spoke poorly of Solitude, then. Markarth would grow to be the capital of the province in time, to be a center of industry and the dominant culture in all of Skyrim. But if Solitude in ancient times even passingly resembled Solitude in the Twenty-First Era, did that mean that the city would never be greater than it was? The sympathetic magic of Solitude was less tangled, but also less noticeable. Either the bonds simply didn’t exist, or they were so fine his skills weren’t sufficient to detect them.

At the top of a rather steep hill were the Solitude gates. Made of iron and steel, and artfully done they cast a far more inviting appearance than Markarth. The guards who stood watch furthered the separation by having red in their armor and their sigils. Solitude was symbolized by the wolf’s head, where Markarth had been the ram’s horns.

Mohamara’s cathay escort ran him through strategies of what to do if certain situations came up. Someone trying to rob him, kill him, or other unpleasant things were okay to stab or lob spells at. For everything else, he was to try a guard first. Nobody was to be completely trusted once he got into the city, according to the cathay. Especially not any Khajiit seen in the company of Thalmor--the High Elf government’s dominant political party at the time.

Once they had ridden up to the gates, Mohamara hopped down and leaned on the spear Sheogorath had given him while his backpack was removed from the saddlebags. Then he watched the cathay ride back down the road to the caravan with a strange feeling of wistfulness.

But! There was work to do, and Daedra to appease. So the Khajiit hobbled his way over to the Solitude gate and found himself not being stopped by the guards at all. In fact, the guards came to help the tojay open the thick iron doors.

“Welcome to Solitude,” one of the guards said in a clearly well-rehearsed tone. “Capital of Skyrim, home of the Legion. Enjoy your stay.”

“If you need someone to look at that bad leg, talk to Freir at the Temple of the Divines,” the other added as Mohamara hobbled through.

The tojay turned to look at the more informative guard, and did his best to turn up the ‘adorable eyes’. “Which direction is the temple, sir?” For his effort, Mohamara had the temple’s general direction indicated to him which then became his direction.

Which unfortunately took him past a public execution. A Nord man was to face the headsman’s ax, for collaborating in the murder of the local king from what had been said. However, there were some Nord children attending that wanted to see the action but were in the process of being driven off by their parents. Mohamara immediately knew the danger he was in and attempted to hobble away faster, but it was not to be.

“Look, why don’t you go help that Khajiit boy get where he’s going? Bet he could tell you all sorts of stuff about living in the caravan.”

Mohamara wanted nothing more than to be able to spear with speed the neck of the frustrated father who had foisted his child on the crippled cat. But in short order he had two Nord children and a Redguard boy all up in his grill, asking so many questions because they assumed he too was a child. Some of the questions, such as ‘where’s your tail?’ cut deep.

“My dad gave me the spear, for protection while I was in Solitude,” Mohamara answered them while he started up the series of ramps that led to Castle Dour and the attached temple. Hobbling up a slope was significantly difficult he found as he quickly fell backward and was caught by the Nord girls.

“Wow, you’re so light!” One of the girls, who identified herself as Minette, commented to Mohamara’s horror. She was a brunette girl who had commented her family owned the local inn. “Even with that backpack on I think I could pick you up all by myself.”

The other Nord girl promptly let go, and Minette’s guess was proven true. “Dang, your family must not feed you right.” The Redguard boy commented with a chuckle. “Too poor to afford food or something?”

“Yes, actually.” Mohamara had found that when people asked stupid questions meant to make him angry, agreeing with them put them off their game. Such was the case with the Redguard boy, who had no idea how to respond, and now had two Nord girls calling him out on being ‘mean’. “Could you help me up these ramps? The guards said I could go to the temple to get a healer.”

“Oh yeah, sure.” Minette had no trouble catching Mohamara any time he started to fall backward from walking on the ramp, and the second Nord girl would often help with pushing him up the steeper ramps. “Why aren’t your folks here to help?”

“Mom’s not around, and dad’s… he’s sorta gone crazy. I was staying with my grandpa for a while when pa told me to come to Solitude.”

The Nord girls and even the Redguard boy then started a chain of mostly inane questions about caravan life, which Mohamara answered to appease them. The Redguard boy, going by the named Kayd, found it profoundly amusing that Mohamara’s leg had been messed up by a bear trap and being stabbed.

Castle Dour lived up to its name; bleak, uninteresting, and far too serious. Thankfully from the courtyard inside the curtain walls, Mohamara was pointed to the temple of the Divines. From the victorious cheers from down below, it seemed the execution was over with, so the children abandoned Mohamara as quickly as they’d come over to him.

“That Minette’s a sweet girl, hope she grows up to kick Kayd in the dick,” the tojay muttered to himself while he hobbled to the temple doors.

Inside were rows of pews flanking a long carpet that stretched from the doors to the alcoves where shrines of the Eight Divines were set up. A ninth alcove stood empty--perhaps for cleaning? Mohamara rather liked the effect of the light streaming in from long, narrow windows at the top of the alcoves. Imperial basilica designs were good for that sort of thing--which was why he liked going to Dawnguard for Temple before the Meridian community had been shoved out.

It also helped that Riften had a better community than Kilkreath--fewer hoity-toity folks looking down on people for showing up to Temple in anything but picture perfect fashion.

No priests or priestesses were visible so Mohamara hobbled his way to the front line of pews to sit and wait. As a stranger, a clearly armed stranger, someone would eventually come to talk to him.

“Blessings of the Divines upon you, child.” A balding, red-headed Nord in orange robes was the first one to greet Mohamara after close to ten minutes of waiting. “What brings you to this holy place on this joyous day?”

Mohamara kicked out his bad leg, to let the scars from the bear trap and the heavy bandaging around his foot speak for itself. “The guards said I should speak to a… Freir?”

The Nord priest bent down to examine the tojay’s leg, turning it and applying pressure to the spot where his metatarsals were broken to judge the injury. Compared to the bear trap and having his tail bitten off, all other pain seemed paltry. “Yes, this looks like it hasn’t healed properly. And this foot injury is in dire need of treatment.”

“The last healers I had look at it were at the temple of Dibella in Markarth, they gave me this to try and fix it more.” Mohamara took off the regeneration ring and handed it to the priest.

The man squinted at it and sadly shook his head. “I think we need to ask someone from the temple of Kynareth to go out to Markarth and teach those Dibellan priestesses how to heal properly. You are not the first person to come here because they could not treat their injured.” He stood and handed the ring back. “I will go and fetch Freir, she will examine you and start the healing process.”

The priest departed, then quickly returned with two priestesses, a Nord and an Imperial. The Nord woman knelt down to examine Mohamara’s bad leg and tsked when she finished looking at the bear trap scars. “The bone was twisted when they healed it--it’s going to require rebreaking before we can set it and heal the injury properly.” She looked up to the Imperial priestess and pointed out of the temple. “Go to Beirand’s forge and ask for a strong hammer, or have Beirand himself come. This is going to be painful, but we should be able to fix you up perfectly fine.” The last part was said to Mohamara.

The tojay had his ears flat on his skull and decided that he needed to learn healing magic of his own if he wanted to stay alive in the Fourth Era. Relying on priesthoods for healing was turning into the equivalent of trusting a medical intern.

Having his shin rebroken hurt about as much as was expected, but the burly blacksmith who did the job made sure to strike in the right spot so that it was only the mishealed portions that broke. The bone being set hurt far worse than the initial bear trap had, and the high priest of the temple--the balding Nord man who answered to Rorlund--found himself stunned by the sheer volume of curse words Mohamara knew.

But the priestesses were fantastic healers. After a few minutes of having shining golden light shoved into his leg and foot, they were confident everything was completely healed. They asked him to test the load-bearing capabilities of the recently broken leg, and of course, Mohamara had to go overboard--by balancing on his bad leg while leaning forward until he had to physically hold up the robe to remain decent.

“Alright, looks like you’re all fixed up. And with balance like that, perhaps you might be able to learn dance at the bard’s college when you’re older.”

“I’m not a child, I’m twenty years old. I just happen to be short.” Mohamara informed the priestess while he put on his other shoe.

The Nords made indulgent faces, which Mohamara could understand. In the Nord’s country, it was hard enough to get them to see other sides of racial issues before factoring in the nuances of race.

“Could you tell me where the bard’s college is, by the way?”

“Alright, little Khajiit, but they’ll turn you away when you get there. Just head out to the Avenues district, there’s a large building with a sign. Can’t miss it.”

With his leg back in working order, Mohamara had the freedom to move far faster than he had before once he was outside. He could physically jump over slow people on the road, get over garden walls to make shortcuts, and even used the spear as a pole-vault to get around a wagon stuck in the road.

The bard’s college was a large stone building only a few rows of houses away from the magnificent Blue Palace. Three floors tall, with the most prominent feature being the absolutely enormous courtyard that transitioned into a pseudo-amphitheater near the city wall. The porch connected to the second floor while the street connected to the first--perhaps it was actually a basement?

Either way, Mohamara made his way up to the most decorated door which happened to be the one connected to the courtyard.

The inside of the bard’s college was filled with dappled light from the strange glass in the windows, sort of wavy and uneven. The result was a beautifully decorated interior became even more so with how the weather outside adjusted the sunlight coming in. Somewhere, someone was burning peppermint incense.

In a seating area next to the door was a High Elf, one of the rare ones that took to growing a beard, dressed in royal blue quilted clothes similar to what Ri’saad’s usual outfit consisted of. He looked up at the sound of the door opening, noticed the spear and craned his neck to see who held it before Mohamara coughed and drew his gaze downward.

“Oh, hello young man,” the High Elf greeted in a gravelly voice--as if he had been a smoker in his youth. “Welcome to the bard’s college, are you perhaps here for a delivery?”

“No, I’m here to enroll.” Mohamara wagged the spear a bit when the High Elf started to chuckle. “I’m not a kid, alright? I’m just short. You got anyone in here who knows Khajiit? Ask them about the tojay.”

“As a matter of fact, I believe our dean of histories spent a few years in Elsweyr. I will consult with him, take a seat young man.” The High Elf stood with a pained grunt that spoke of arthritis and walked around a corner passed the front door.

Obediently, Mohamara sat on one of the wooden benches that the seating area provided. Because a proper sofa in Skyrim was completely unrealistic. His large ears picked up the High Elf speaking with someone with a Reach accent before two sets of feet started to approach. The High Elf rounded the corner with a Breton in similar clothes to the elf, but in earth tones, and sporting a bizarre hat that would have been conical if it could stand on its own.

“Goodness me, a tojay!” The Breton’s face, creased with lines to indicate middle age, positively lit up when he saw Mohamara. “And… the Spear of Bitter Mercy?!” His lit up face became positively ecstatic when the seven-foot-long spear was focused on. “I thought for sure that museum in Morrowind would never part with it.”

“So that’s what it’s called.” Mohamara didn’t feel the sympathetic magic in the spear change any from him knowing its name, which to him indicated that the item wasn’t self-aware enough to register it had one. “I know it better as ‘don’t frivolously ask Sheogorath for help’.”

Mohamara speaking seemed to terribly startle the Breton, who lost all his excitement as quickly as it had come. He looked at the High Elf and Khajiit for a moment before taking the High Elf back around the corner.

“That’s definitely a tojay, but I have some concerns, Headmaster.”

“But is he a child?” The High Elf’s priorities were almost where Mohamara could respect him for. “If not, your concerns need to be severe to keep me from giving him a place in the college.”

“Tojay don’t grow to be much bigger than a six-year-old human, so he’s probably fully grown. But they have this very specific accent, only found in the Tenmar Forest. That man in there is talking like he was born here, in Skyrim.”

Mohamara tucked that information away in his mind--he was even more of a freak than he had previously thought.

“Giraud, that’s hardly a concern. There have been Khajiit in Skyrim for almost a thousand years--by logical deduction, some of them had to have children here, and some of them had to have been tojay.”

“No, the tojay have a special role in the Khajiit society. They’re sort of priests but also related to moon sugar in some way that even I don’t fully understand. When I was in Elsweyr, Khajiit mothers who had tojay children had to make long pilgrimages to the Tenmar Forest and give their child up.”

“I’m still not hearing concerns worth withholding admittance.”

“Well, how about that the Spear of Bitter Mercy is an artifact of the Mad God, we live a stone’s throw away from Pelagius’ palace, and with a tojay that acts nothing like a tojay in our midst could mean he’s actually a madman?” A long pause stretched out, where Mohamara could only imagine the facial expressions being exchanged. “There? You see?”

“...A test, then? We keep him around for a bit and see if he’s stable enough to attend classes. Perhaps ask him to keep the spear locked up in his quarters or something. Even if he is mad, we aren’t getting as many new students as we used to.”

“There is also the Thalmor problem, but I have someone in the Legion’s administration office that can keep them from finding out about this. I hope.”

“Good, I don’t want them snooping around our premises again.” The Headmaster and ‘Giraud’ turned the corner once again, their faces a mask of professionalism. “Hello again, sorry about that. We--”

“In the interest of being completely and utterly honest with you two: I heard everything you said.” Mohamara plucked at his enormous red-backed ears. “You need to be at least twenty to thirty feet away next time.”

The Headmaster’s face was frozen mid-word like he was wearing a mask capturing the precise moment. Still wearing the expression, he slowly turned to Giraud who had a moment of realization and rubbed the back of his head.

“That would have been helpful to know, wouldn’t it, Giraud?”

--

Mohamara was given a bedroll and tall wardrobe in the students quarters in the basement, even though he was not technically a student yet.

They had given him a ‘probationary’ position with the college whose duties basically boiled down to being a janitor and kitchen helper. The Spear of Bitter Mercy was kept locked up in the tall wardrobe out of necessity, it was the only container in the entire college that could hold ie, even diagonally.

He stayed out of the way of the four students as they went about their days--most of them were nice and would offer to help move heavy furniture so Mohamara could clean behind them when they saw him struggling. They were Illdi, an insecure Nord woman who seemed to care too much what people thought of her, Jorn, a Nord man who was an absolute sweetheart and proud Empire supporter with the intent to join the Legion, Ataf, a Redguard man who was aggressively eager to please, and Aia Arria, an Imperial woman who was both incredibly haughty about her skills and in possession of skills worthy of being haughty.

The staff were… less pleasant. The Headmaster, Virarmo, was distant but as the arbiter of Mohamara’s position in the college, the tojay frankly wanted him that way. Giraud, the dean of histories, frequently asked alarmingly specific questions about Khajiit that Mohamara never had an answer he liked. Inge Six-Fingers, because she had additional fingers not less, was the second oldest member of the college staff and a proper harridan of a woman--direct, to the point, and clear that she vehemently disliked her students. Pantea Ateia, the vocalist instructor, was visibly the richest member of the staff and had the same haughtiness that Aia did--but Aia had more skill and everyone Mohamara talked to knew it.

The last member of the staff was the cook he assisted, Bendt, an elderly Breton man who was perfectly pleasant so long as Mohamara followed instructions and did tasks on time.

All in all, the experience of being the bard’s college janitor was rather like growing up in Kilkreath temple--lots of chores, little promise of reward, but respect for a job well done. It helped that Mohamara’s ability to jump high and navigate narrow ledges let him get to the very tops of the highest rooms for cleaning without disturbing a lesson with a ladder.

After a week or so, he felt comfortable enough with the staff and students to bring out his slate regularly. Most of them found it odd that he asked them to stand still and smile while holding it up, but when he later presented them a portrait burned onto leather or paper it improved their moods--except for Inge. She was allergic to happiness.

So it came to pass that after the vocalist auditorium was done being used for the day, Mohamara brought the slate in with him to clean the floors, windows, chandeliers, and replace the candles. The auditorium was sound-proofed once the door in and out closed--surprising given Mohamara wouldn’t have thought soundproofing would be invented for several thousand years. Perhaps it was one of those things that was discovered, lost, then rediscovered?

Either way, once he closed the door he set the slate up somewhere where it could carry well and set it to play a song to distract him while he worked. One of the rare non-love songs he had in his library, for it was Sundas and he wanted to sing a hymn to Meridia. It was one of the oldest hymns to Meridia in recorded history--dating back to the Second Era when the faith frequently had to pass as being followers of Mara to even approach open worship of the Lady. For this purpose, a portmanteau of the two goddesses’ names was created: Maria. The faithful thus became known as the ‘Friends of Maria’.

The Marans, when this was discovered, by and large, had no problems with it--or so Mohamara had been told.

”Hail holy Queen enthroned Above,” the tojay sang with the music as he swept the polished stone floors. Meridia was the Sun, she was Magnus, for no other star could equal her beauty or impact on the world. ”Oh Maria!”


Mohamara had no difficulty getting the floor swept and the dust piled up to be dust panned into a corner where it would then be moved to the hallway once he was done. The task of cleaning the windows with their caked on dirt kept Mohamara from singing for a short time, but soon enough he could join in on the hymn again. ”Our life, our sweetness, here below: Oh, Maria! Our hope in sorrow and in woe: Oh, Maria!

While the cat climbed his way up the uneven stonework of the wall to get at cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling, a gentleman with a cane appeared in the room. A Nord with hair and eyes of milky white, and clothes of orange and purple. He soundlessly strode through the room to where the slate was and waved his hand over the device. Unnoticed by the tojay, the earpieces manifested on his ears, and the slate no longer broadcast to the room at large.

Aether and Nirn resound the Hymn, Salve Regina!

The last thing the gentleman with the cane did while the tojay sang out into the room was go to the door, and open it wide. When the wooden and iron door hit the wall without a sound, he began to fade. It started with his toes and ended with his wicked grin.

As the refrain of the song began, the words spilled out into the college. The students down in the basement’s meal area paused in their food to listen to the unfamiliar voice singing the unfamiliar song. Even Brendt stopped turning a pot of soup to listen. On the floors above, the staff roused themselves from their private meals to investigate the source.

They found Mohamara, sitting on the chandeliers, knocking the old candles off so that he could put replacements on. Once he was done with one, he would swing it and leap to the next without breaking his hymn. He purposefully slowed down the candle replacement on the last chandelier to coincide with the final note of the hymn, as it was the last task he had to do and marked a record time for cleaning the room.

By the time this had happened, the students had ascended the two flights of stairs to investigate as well. So when Mohamara looked down at long last he had nearly the entire building looking up at him. Atar and Jorn clapped a little, but seeing so many people and knowing they’d heard him drove the cat to try and make himself as small as possible on the chandelier.

Inge Six-Fingers glowered up at the cat, then smacked Viarmo in the shoulder to get his attention. “Not bad, but it woulda been better if he’d been training since he was four.”
---

Chapter Text



---
Chapter 8: Tending the Flames

“Look, we’re not upset with you or anything, just come down.”

“Headmaster, I brought the ladder like you asked.”

“Hold on--dangit, he’s gone up the chain!”

Mohamara had moved from the chandelier to the chain from which it hung until the ceiling was at his back whereupon he coiled around the anchor to make himself as small as possible. Below him, Virarmo, Giraud, and Jorn were trying desperately to get the cat to come down.

But he knew this game--it was all an elaborate trick to get him down then out would come the heavy sticks for beating. And Mohamara was going to have none of that.

Viarmo was visibly frustrated while he watched Jorn set up the ladder and Giraud hastily fetch a broom for the Nord student. In short order, Jorn was at the top with the headmaster and dean of history holding it steady while Jorn poked at Mohamara with the broom.

“Come on, little Khajiit, it was a nice song,” Jorn tried to sound reassuring even as he almost fell off the ladder from shifting his weight too much. “You’ve got a lot of talent, so if you come down maybe Aia can give you private lessons until you’re able to enroll?”

“With a voice like that,” Viarmo cut in, “I’d be willing to consider early admittance. Maybe.”

“See? Just… come down, already.” Jorn had taken to shoving the blunt end of the broom to try and wedge Mohamara away from the chain.

Mohamara didn’t spit-hiss or growl--that would only make it worse if they caught him. He glanced at the door and saw that Inge Six-Fingers was standing outside, chatting with Pantea. With his tail so much shorter than normal, he could possibly make a break and not get caught.

But his slate was on the complete other side of the room. And with music playing in his ears he couldn’t think enough to get a route planned that would send him to the podium and the door without being caught. This became a severe problem when he noticed Illdi heading over to the podium.

Time was running out--he had to think of a way to get out of the situation.

This was rendered impossible by Illdi messing with the slate and setting the volume on the music to the maximum setting. With unbearably loud music playing in his ears, Mohamara had to relax his tight coil around the chain to take the earpieces off--how had he not noticed he was still wearing them? This provided Jorn the opening he needed to pry Mohamara off the chain entirely and catch the cat when he fell.

Mohamara pocketed the earpieces, still blaring music so loud that Jorn was looking around for the source, but otherwise didn’t fight back when he was carried down the ladder. He’d been caught, any fighting back at that point would only make it worse.

“There, glad to have you back down here.” Viarmo sighed with relief and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I thought we’d have to ask a guard to shoot you with a paralysis poisoned arrow or something if this didn’t work. ...What is that sound?” The High Elf started to look around for the source of the music, as did Giraud.

“I heard it too, as soon as I caught him.” Jorn put Mohamara under his arm like he was carrying a bedroll or horsehide. “Maybe some magic?”

“Perhaps it has something to do with this? It’s that drawing slate Mohamara has with him all the time.” Illdi came over to the group with the slate and turned to show it to the Headmaster. “I’ve never seen a picture that changes when you touch it, though.”

Mohamara tried to wriggle free of the Nord, and reach for the slate but Jorn had been training to go into the Legion on graduating--he was the peak of fitness, so a thirty-pound Khajiit had no chance of getting free from his grip.

“Strange….” Viarmo took the slate from Illdi and began to touch the screen. With every press, the music coming through the earpieces changed. “It definitely seems like it can control the sounds, but why are they so faint?”

“Could--you please give that back?” Mohamara gave up on trying to escape and listlessly hung from Jorn’s arm while spoke. “You can only hear it at all because you set the volume so high it almost blew my ears out.”

Illdi looked at the slate, then Mohamara and began to hastily apologize while her face turned slightly pink. Viarmo didn’t hand the slate back but turned it so that Mohamara could adjust the volume and put it into sleep mode. The last thing he needed was to wake it up and still have the maximum volume setting, or for people to go snooping through his files.

“So, since I didn’t hear this doing any singing, I’m going to guess it really was you doing that?” Viarmo looked back at the slate and seemed confused as to why it was only a blank screen that responded to no touches.

“I just had the music playing in my ears… I guess… so that I could stay on the beat.” Mohamara, against his better judgement, looked up at Viarmo and clasped his hands to plead. “Look, I won’t do it again just--let me go? I’ll pack my things, get out of here in like ten minutes tops and--”

“Now you wait just a minute, young man.” Pantea Ateia had entered the scene, absolutely cross with the tojay. “You will most certainly be singing again. I have too few students with even a shred of talent with it, and I refuse to lose a voice like yours.”

Viarmo stood aside so that the blonde Nord could loom over Mohamara and properly menace the cat, while the students in attendance gave Atia a hurt look in the case of Illdi and disdain from Jorn.

“But--it’s just caterwauling. I can only really sing in Temple, when there are other voices to cover up and--”

Ateia made a sickened noise and cut him off with a hand wave. “I do not know whom has fed you these lies, but I am the most famous singer in all of Skyrim--and I say you have the making of greatness. You must be admitted to the college immediately, post haste.” She turned and made a beatific expression at Viarmo. “Don’t you agree, headmaster?”

“I… uh, of course. Of course.” After a moment of stunned processing, Viarmo nodded at Pantea with conviction. “We will need to discuss the details later--but I want you to attend the afternoon classes. No arguments, young man.” From the way they were talking, Mohamara began to suspect they didn’t remember his name.

He sagged, defeated and resigned to this long string of humiliation that was to follow. ‘Should have known better than to sing a hymn without a full choir covering it,’ he thought. ‘Shoulda made sure the damn door was closed--how could I be so stupid?

“Can I put him down now?” Jorn cut the silence that had developed after Viarmo’s decision. “He’s light, but his fur tickles.”

--

Fortunately, the afternoon classes were those not focused on music--Mohamara did not look forward to humiliating himself again. It was stressful enough that Viarmo decided to hold his slate as collateral for attending the day’s courses. Giraud’s course on history and bardic poetry, as well as Ateia’s lesson on court matters, comprised the afternoon classes. The opportunity to learn more about Fourth Era history and beyond was a welcome opportunity.

He could only stomach getting dirty looks from the local Imperial soldiers and some of Solitude’s citizenry for not knowing things like what the ‘Great War’ referred to, or what the ‘White-Gold Concordat’ was.

There had been nearly seventy ‘great’ wars since the Sixth Era alone, and Mohamara had never been interested in learning ancient treaties. He’d learned practical things.


The Aldmeri Dominion, which Mohamara had never heard of, was the de-facto government over Alinor, Valenwood, and Elsweyr, with Hammerfell acting as a rogue state. Apparently, Alinor had been called the ‘Summerset Isles’ before the Thalmor rose to power, which Mohamara found ridiculous. The Dominion had seceded from the Tamrielic Empire and then gone to war with the same Empire--nearly winning. Cyrodiil had been absolutely eviscerated by the war, which Giraud pointed out could have influenced their decision to accept a lopsided peace deal: The White-Gold Concordat.

Ateia’s lesson covered the process of reciting a work to a Jarl. She covered topics such as the way to stand when presenting different pieces or performing certain instruments. The drums, lute, flute, and vocal singing--each had their own special little ritual to be observed. Only the topic of poetry reading was passed over, as Ateia dismissed it as ‘Giraud’s duty’ to do so.

Once the courses were over, Mohamara was the first one out the door and down the stairs. Partly to get away from the hideously uncomfortable looks Ateia and Aia were giving him the entire time and partly because there was still work to be done before the evening meals.

Viarmo was not in his quarters when Mohamara went to collect his slate, but the slate itself was present… in a locked display case. A lock wasn’t any major obstacle--one of the novice level Mysticism spells he’d learned in college was how to lock and unlock a portal. But if he took it, Viarmo would likely assume Mohamara had picked the lock to do so.

Suddenly, Mohamara realized he was overthinking the situation and simply unlocked the display case, removed the slate, and locked it back. He could tell them it automatically teleported to him after a set time or something--it was his and he wasn’t going to leave it.

After stowing away his slate, Mohamara dashed off to the kitchen to help Brendt get the meals ready. Getting an earful for going missing for hours on end was better than what Mohamara could expect the next day.

Inge’s class was purposefully the earliest class in the college--starting hours before dawn. The lute was her department, and it was all she taught. Inge had no patience for Mohamara’s lack of familiarity with the lute and would strike his hands with a wooden rod when he couldn’t do as instructed. The other students got the same treatment to a lesser extent given past lessons, and afterward, Illdi advised Mohamara to invest in some padded gloves.

After a lovely jazbay crostata breakfast, Mohamara was the first one into the vocalist auditorium to find a small space he could squeeze into, hide for the class, and claim he had attended. It was like that this plan had been anticipated, for virtually all the furniture had been removed from the auditorium leaving only the podium--which was too small for even Mohamara to squeeze into.

“Good, you came early.” Pantea Ateia greeted the cat warmly when she arrived with the students half an hour later.

Mohamara glared daggers at the back of her head while he sat in a corner, with his stub of a tail flicking in annoyance that none of the humans could read. ‘Just remember that Sheogorath is going to murder you if you don’t do this’, he told himself as the students looked at the empty auditorium in confusion. Murder was likely the least unpleasant thing the Mad God could do to him, but Mohamara didn’t want to think about those.

“Before we begin our lesson in earnest, we will cover the basics for our newest voice.” Ateia gestured for Mohamara to approach, which the cat did with a mix of annoyance and hesitation. “There is no room for wilting flowers in my class, young man. Now stand up, back straight, and sing. No words, just your voice.”

Defeated, Mohamara followed instructions and cleared his throat. He expected a scratchy caterwaul to come out when he tried to sing--it was what had happened every time before. Then the humans would laugh, and tell him how stupid he was to believe them.

But that didn’t happen.

What came out was… a comprehensible note. He didn’t hold it long because it startled him that such a sound came from his throat. But what was more startling was that he recognized the sound. It was one of the three musical sounds that had come from Sheogorath’s present box.

“See?” Ateia seemed almost less of a haughty shrew when she spoke to the stunned cat. “Part of that is the acoustics of this room, but the lion’s share is that voice. Aia,” Ateia suddenly snapped, “I want you to lead us in breath control exercises.”

--

On the first day of Second Seed, a week after being officially admitted to the college, Viarmo finally found Mohamara in the student’s quarters with his slate. It was after classes had ended for the day, and when Brendt had sent Mohamara away--Inge’s hitting his hands had caused too many small cuts that he would risk bleeding into the food if he stayed.

“I see you were able to retrieve that without my assistance,” the High Elf observed, as Mohamara quickly stuffed the slate into his backpack. “I had hoped it would give us the opportunity to talk in private. But this will do.” Viarmo sat down on the floor next to Mohamara’s bedroll--a cot still could not be provided for him, though an additional blanket had been found.

The tojay, who had the idea to dress in his robes but put jeans on underneath to fight the impression he was basically wearing a dress, sat up and scooted away from the High Elf to give him more room. “What’s there to talk about, headmaster?”

Viarmo was old, it showed in his movements up flights of stairs, how he could barely lift his arms higher than his pectoral muscles, and how he had to take a minute to breathe after sitting down on the floor. “Jarl Elisif has banned the burning of King Olaf--a little festival that the college puts on every year. I would like you to help me change her mind on that.”

Mohamara had only heard of King Olaf as the architect of Dragonsreach palace--where the Jarl of Whiterun would rule before its destruction during the Twelfth Era. By dragons, as he’d heard it told. “And… how would I do that? I mean, I know Nord women tend to find me cute, but not that cute.”

Viarmo broke into weak laughter. “Ah, thank you. I needed that. But, back to the matter at hand. Elisif has banned the holiday because she is still in mourning for her husband--Torygg. It is my hope that if we can retrieve King Olaf’s verse, from the Poetic Edda, she will see the importance of the festival.” Viarmo let his words be processed by the Khajiit before he continued. “I’ve gathered the funds to hire a local adventurer to help retrieve the verse from the bard’s tomb--known now as Dead Man’s Respite.”

“And you want me… to go with him?”

Viarmo nodded. “Your clever retrieval of your… device makes me think that you might have certain… skills that the hireling might not.” When Mohamara stared blankly at him, Viarmo awkwardly shifted his head and shoulders. “I mean… you are a Khajiit. And… have a way with locks.”

Mohamara’s ears went flat against his head and his eyes narrowed at the High Elf. “You’re lucky that’s true--otherwise that would have been racist. I expect that sort of thing from the Nords, not from folks like you.”

Once more, Viarmo was driven to laughter, stronger than before and it almost drove him to choke. “Oh. A joke. I thought you were serious.” He composed himself, and spoke again with his ‘serious voice’. “But it wasn’t just your skills that made me think you’d be a good fit. There’s that spear of yours--a powerful Daedric artifact. And, if you succeed it would do the most to help your career prospects as a bard since you’re still learning.” The High Elf made a tight-lipped face like he’d bitten directly into a lemon. “And if you failed… the college would lose the least amount of resources invested.”

“My,” Mohamara responded, voice flat. “What a stunning display of confidence in me, headmaster. With you believing in me there’s no way I could say no.” The cat leaned against the long wardrobe where the Spear of Bitter Mercy lay and pondered. “This Dead Man’s Respite, it’s a tomb? Will the Nords get upset that I essentially went grave robbing?”

“Oh no, no.” Viarmo emphatically shook his head. “Skyrim’s secrets protect themselves, and those tombs are full of Draugr so they’ll see it as sort of… cleaning up?”

Mohamara’s ears picked up at the word ‘Draugr’. A type of undead that started as living people in the tombs who fed their life energies to a departed leader. Over the course of thousands of years, they lost their sentience and mummified themselves--while the leader they fed themselves to could rise up when provoked. But the most important part was that they were undead.

And no self-respecting Meridian passed up the opportunity to destroy an undead.

“Alright, I’ll get packed and be ready to leave within the hour.” Mohamara stood up and began to gather his things quickly.

Viarmo seemed shocked that Mohamara had accepted, but took it in stride. Well, he stood then took it in stride. “Alright, the hireling should meet you at the Winking Skeever. Best of luck… um, Molamola?”

Mohamara stopped and gave Viarmo a disbelieving look. “Mola mola is a type of Pyandonean fungus that tastes like rice bread, sir.”

The High Elf slapped himself on the forehead and started to apologize before Mohamara shooed him out of the student’s quarters.

--

Meanwhile, in the mind of a long-dead Madman, a Mad God and his host discussed things over a table laden with fine food and tea. The Mad God sat sideways in his immaculate throne, legs over one arm and resting his back on the other. He was dressed in a puffy bathrobe of orange and purple, with scamp-shaped slippers in the same color scheme, a mask of green gel across his face and his hair done up in colorful curlers.

“What about this one, Pelly my dear? She looks boring enough for my boy, don’t she?”

The madman crossed his arms and leaned forward to see the portrait of the Sload woman the Mad God had pulled from a small stack on his lap. “Her eyes are too far apart, she’d have to look at you from the side at all times. That’s unacceptable, and illegal in any case.”

“Oh, you’re quite right. Should I report her to the guards then?”

“See that you do.”

“Haskill, Haskill where are ya, man?!” Sheogorath clapped his hands together, and a Breton man in a stylish black and red suit appeared as if he had always been there. “Haskill, these girls are entirely unsuitable for my purposes--see that they’re destroyed would you?” He passed the stack of portraits to the Breton man but paused and pursed his lips in consideration. “Wait, are we destroying the portraits or the girls? I can’t remember which.”

“If you need to borrow my headsman, I suppose I could lend him to you,” the madman offered with a gentle incline of his head. “The man would probably enjoy seeing another block.”

“Pelly my dear, you know I can’t deprive you of such an integral part of your court. Who else would help you dispose of all those people? Your wife?! Ha!” Sheogorath snapped his fingers and retrieved a slice of pie from the table. “Haskill, bring in the next stack.”

“My lord,” the Breton man said as the portraits he had been handed turned to char and ash in his grip. “I’m afraid I must remind you that the young master will not find happiness with any of these women, no matter which lucky girl you decide upon.”

“Aw, come on, Haskill! My boy might be a bit quick to talk back, but he still does as he’s told.” The pie was finished, it had sunk into Sheogorath’s hand like quicksand while he chewed, and he reached for another.

“You’ll want to watch that,” ‘Pelly’ commented. “He could be setting up to overthrow you.”

“Hmm.” Haskill did not seem to hold the same respect for the madman as the Mad God did, but made no comment on what company his Lord kept. “I’m afraid you’re missing a fundamental problem with all these women, my Lord Sheogorath.”

The Mad God bit into an apple that still rested on the table some ten feet away, and considered his chamberlain’s words. “Hmmm, is it a big fundamental problem, or a small fundamental problem? Wait! Don’t tell me, I want ta’ guess.” Sheogorath spent a solid hour pitching random factoids about the women he had been considering, only for Haskill to shoot down each and every one with the patience of a saint.

“My Lord, I’m afraid that the fundamental problem with these women that you’ve missed,” Haskill paused purposefully because he knew his Lord desired suspense to the reveal--for he had called forth popcorn specifically for the occasion. “Is that they are women.”

Sheogorath tossed the bucket of popcorn he had conjured, spilling its contents and landing the empty bucket right onto Haskill’s head. The Mad God stood from his throne and paced back in forth in front of it. “You’re right, I should consider some horkers just to try and get that boy to laugh--his mother loved horker loaf, right?”

“No, Lord.”

“Oh right, we made her into horker loaf.”

“No, Lord.” Haskill took the popcorn bucket off his head and set it on the table. “Well, yes, you did, but that is not what I meant to inform you of.”

“Well?! Speak plainly, man! Or speak planely, I always get a laugh out of the little propellers.”

Pelly sighed and paused in eating his mammoth snout roast. “He’s saying your boy doesn’t like women in that way, you gigantic pudding.”

Sheogorath’s outfit had changed so that he was now in the costume of a giant orange and purple blood pudding with his face sticking out. “Why thank you, Pelly, my dear, I’m so glad you noticed.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that the young master’s preferences lie in the realm of men.” Haskill handed his pudding-bound Lord a sweetroll to nibble on. “Exclusively men.”

“...He doesn’t like Elves? Well, I suppose he wouldn’t, would he? He always uses the lowercase ‘e’ when referring to them as a group.”

Pelly sighed, long-suffering while Haskill serenely looked upon his Lord.

“Alright, alright, I get what you’re saying. Shoulda expected it when we handed him off to the Rainbow Woman, shouldn’t’ve I?”

“I cannot say for sure that Lady Meridia’s worship drives people toward fancying the same gender as themselves, Lord Sheogorath. But… the percentage of people who do would imply some correlation.”

“Well there’s only one thing left to do, isn’t there?” The pudding-bound Daedra bounced his way back into his throne. “Haskill, bring me a revised list of candidates! Pelly, my dear, I don’t suppose you would consider--”

“I’m married, I’m dead, and I have far too much to do as-is without cleaning up the absolute mess you’ve made of your offspring.” Pelly cut the Daedra off without so much as looking up from his tea.

“Rude!”
---

Chapter Text

Mohamara had been directed to meet with the adventurer at the Winking Skeever tavern, so he followed behind Jorn and Giraud went drinking that evening to find it. The tojay was, as was a common insult among Nords, a milk-drinker so he had no idea where the tavern was located beforehand.

While he didn’t expect the authorities to test him for alcohol if he ever got back to the present, he knew from second-hand sources that some components of alcohol use could show up on drug tests for years afterward. Something about juniper berries, but Mohamara was foggy on details.

Thinking about it reminded Mohamara how long it had been since he’d had a proper cup of High Rock Breakfast tea or some soda. If he had any talent with alchemy, perhaps he could have created some versions--but an awful childhood experience had taught him not to try alchemy ever again.

He was lucky no one had been able to find out it was him that had done it--he didn’t want to go down in the history books as the creator of an airborne strain of gonorrhea at thirteen years old.

The Winking Skeever was a massive tavern, built into the foundations for Castle Dour, two floors tall and all of stone. It looked like the same architects that had designed the Avenues District homes had designed the Skeever, a testament to how much money would have been needed to construct it.

And it was nearly empty.

Jorn, Giraud, a well dressed Argonian, and some merchants from the Wells District were the only people seated and drinking. The bartender looked visibly confused when Mohamara came in with a seven-foot-long spear but made no comment as the cat found a seat. Mohamara didn’t have much gold, but he felt he’d have enough for some milk if a barmaid came to take his order.

Which they likely wouldn’t, since he appeared to be a child to the average uneducated Nord. Not at all helped by how he found himself kicking his legs as they hung from the too-tall chair.

He waited a while for someone new to enter the tavern, that he could be certain was the adventurer. Most likely, it would be a Nord, younger than Mohamara and with a visceral disdain for magic given how people reacted when Mohamara asked about learning it.

What a miserable time he was in, where Winterhold was the only institution of magical learning. Their tuition fees were just ludicrous. Four thousand septims just as an application fee? Ridiculous. Bromjunaar Academy hadn’t even been thought of yet, it seemed.

It was a pity, really. Morthal was just as magical as Winterhold and would go on to have a much less toxic atmosphere. Winterhold professors thought themselves untouchable, so they could do whatever, or whomever, they wished.

But Mohamara was, and would always be a proud student of the Jorrvaskr School of Clever Works.

Serendipitously, an armored figure strode into the Winking Skeever shortly thereafter. From the height, Mohamara would have guessed them to be a Nord, but he could see a bit of their chin and tusks under their metal helmet and their uncovered hands--the green hue of an Orc. On one arm was a round shield covered in Nordic knots with a pronounced boss at the center, and from their belt hung a war-ax.

But what interested Mohamara the most was that they were wearing a leather jacket. Not in the style of the ancient Nords, but from his time. On the back was the stylized image of Wuuthrad, symbol of the Companions. The patches at the elbows and decorative studs on the shoulder stuck out to him--it looked almost exactly like Yagraz’s Companions jacket.

For a moment, he dared to hope that it was her, but he bit down on his tongue before calling out to the stranger. Yagraz was sixteen thousand years away--and likely had no idea Mohamara was even gone. Hoping for foolish things was only going to make him miserable, so he tried to force it to stop.

“I’m looking for someone from the bard's college, know any of them?” The stranger even sounded like her. It was a female Orc, who spoke in a voice uncannily like Yagraz. She was pointed to Jorn and Giraud, but Mohamara stood up with his spear to intercept her on the way.

“Um, excuse me. I’m the person from the college you’re looking for.” Mohamara quickly stood in the Orc’s way to get her to stop.

She just stared down at him, utterly shocked. Perhaps she was surprised that the college would send a ‘child’ into a Draugr crypt?

“Let’s get this out of the way first, not a kid, just short. Those guys from the college will back me up on this if you don’t believe me.”

The Orc woman just stared at Mohamara for a moment before answering. “So… you’ve been in Solitude this whole time? Figured you’d be with one of the caravans.” She started to laugh, and by the gods, she even laughed like Yagraz.

‘Maybe this is how Sheogorath drives me insane,’ Mohamara pondered. But he did not have long to ponder as the Orc woman crouched down and got on his relative eye level. With a smirk, she removed her helmet… to reveal a face in Yagraz’s spitting image. The little cat tried to process what he was seeing and the impossibility of it before the Orc spoke up again.

“This isn’t a dream, you’re not going mad, and I’m not some ancestor that happens to look exactly the same. It’s me. I’m here.” She spread her arms wide, anticipating a hug. “It’s me, short-stuff. Yagraz, here to save the day.”

Doubt is the path to reach faith, to abandon the path early is to forsake enlightenment and fall into hopelessness. For a long moment, Mohamara did doubt. But when confronted with his friend, and the overwhelming hope that was growing in his chest, there was only one thing to do.

Start crying in a full-on wail, and hug his best friend.

“It’s alright, get it all out.” Yagraz returned the hug and easily picked Mohamara up to carry him out of the tavern before some stupid Nord decided to comment on the scene. “How in the Ashpit did you find a way to lose more weight?”

Mohamara, sobbing into her shoulder as they started out the city gates, responded in the only way a friend should: “I will fucking bite your nose off, I swear on Malacath’s backbone.”

“I know, little buddy, I know.” Any time one of the guards or someone passing through the city gates gave the scene a puzzled look, Yagraz casually flipped them the bird. “Get all this mushy shit out so we can talk about how we both got here, huh?”

The grossly sobbing Khajiit could only nod into her shoulder armor and brandish his spear blindly at an Imperial woman who dared scoff at the two friends.

--

Yagraz had officially become the most badass person Mohamara had ever known. After he had been snatched by Sheogorath she pieced together what had happened from news reports, how everyone else on the ferry had gone full-on asylum level mad, and how Daedric oracles announced that Meridia was kicking the metaphysical shit out of the Mad God’s armies. Herself. In person. It made Mohamara feel warm and fuzzy inside that his Lady had gotten so enraged over his kidnapping.

Yagraz had broken into Mohamara’s apartment, made sure the Companions would watch the place, grabbed a bunch of the Khajiit’s stuff and decided to go back in time after him.

By Breaking the Dragon.

She didn’t go into details but said that Malacath told her how to see the facets of time so she could strike them and create a hole through which to travel. While Mohamara had emerged in the Reach, she came out in the plains outside Whiterun city. Unfortunately, the method Malacath had taught her was exclusively for going back in time.

From there, she had joined the Companions of ancient Skyrim. And according to her ‘kicked the asses of every Nord and Elf that tried to tell her no.’

After hearing Yagraz’s story of resounding success in ancient Skyrim--she even had a house in Whiterun--Mohamara was hesitant to share his side of things. But after she’d done all this for him, he told her anyway and let her laugh her ass off.

“So, you really just ditched your clothes and ran naked from those High Elf creeps?” The Orc woman snickered at the mental image. She was doing the talking for both of them, with Mohamara seated on her shoulders and resting his head and torso on her much larger head.

“It was either that or bite them and I didn’t want to get elf flesh in my teeth,” Mohamara defended himself with a pout. “And if I’d been able to have trousers, it would have been fine.”

“Well, that’ll be fixed soon enough. The stuff I grabbed from your place is at Breezehome right now. I got this guy watching the place for me, Brenuin. Bit of a drunk, but he and I get along fine. You’ll have to share a room with my girl, though.”

Mohamara’s ears perked up, and he leaned down to look into Yagraz’s eyes upside-down. “Your girl?”

“Yeah. I adopted a kid. She was just walking around Whiterun wasting away, so I took her in.” Yagraz grinned as only Orcs could, menacingly. “Been training her how to use a blade, throw a punch, and go for the eyes. For such a sweet thing she can get mean in a fight.”

“You’re both the best and worst mother figure she could ask for.”

“And I’m sure you’re going to be the good uncle to try and teach her to act all sappy and civilized.”

Mohamara sat up and rested the back of his wrist on his forehead. “It’s a tough job, but I’ll rise to the occasion. Assuming Sheogorath doesn’t murder me for shits and giggles.”

“Yeah.” There was silence between the two of them as Yagraz walked the road down from Haafingar to Hjaalmarch. “So. Finally met your dad, huh?”

“Hmm.”

“Oh don’t you ‘hmm’ me, this whole situation is because of him, you could at least tell me how he really is.”

Mohamara shrugged and rested the Spear of Bitter Mercy across his shoulders. “He’s exactly like how the books portray him. Violent mood swings, unpredictable, he’ll help and harm with the same sentence and he’s insane.” The Khajiit’s ears and whiskers drooped as he forced himself to admit the next bit of information. “And I might have mentioned the matchmaking thing where he could hear.”

Yagraz’s walking stumbled and she had to hold her hand over her mouth not to burst into laughter. It lasted all of one minute before she was letting everyone in half a mile’s radius know how amused she was.

“Yes, I’m glad that the rest of my life being ruined by a demented Daedra can amuse you. Really. So utterly happy.” Mohamara’s voice was flat but without venom. If Yagraz was in the same situation, he’d be laughing too.

“Aww, short-stuff. Don’t worry, if it’s a bad match I’ll use the friend loophole to tear the bastard’s head off.” Yagraz directed a thumbs-up upward toward the cat.

Mohamara squinted at the gesture. “And when he finds out that there is no such loophole, you’ll get turned into a porcupine or something.”

“You mean if he finds out.”

The idea stunned Mohamara into a blank expression while he pondered her words. Sheogorath wasn’t like Jyggalag, he wasn’t omniscient. He hadn’t even known about Meridian matchmaking until Mohamara had talked about it. “If? If is good.”

--

Dead Man’s Respite was built into a hill, with a considerable chunk of the stone carved back to create a series of wide flat areas joined by stairs. Nordic arches and pillars decorated the outer structure.

And for defenders, there were two measly skeletons. At least it gave Mohamara his first chance to use the spear’s magic when Yagraz had to put him down to fight. An orb of Daedric fire appeared where Mohamara had arced a bit of magicka through the spear, and out of it emerged a massive ink-black blob that oozed over the skeleton to crush it.

A tar atronach, it seemed. Yagraz dispatched her skeleton opponent with a shield bash, and afterward, they entered the tomb with the atronach following behind them.

The inside of the tomb was alight with everburning torches and braziers. Works of Illusion and Mysticism, they embodied half of fire to provide light forever but were useless for cooking and did not fill the air with smoke. Mohamara was briefly struck by the idea to manufacture some and sell them to Skyrim’s nobility--they clearly had lost the means to produce such works, and he had the knowledge himself. It would only take lesser soul gems.

The first room was lined with recesses in the walls, with a large altar-like table whereupon an ornament of red stone with three ruby claws lay. In some recesses were skeletons, some were empty, and some housed sleeping Draugr. Beyond the altar, there was a spiked gate blocking the way forward.

And in full view of the two adventurers, the ghost of a Nord man strummed a silent lute. He made no effort to attack when Mohamara used his spear to try stabbing at the specter’s chest but did strike a disbelieving pose. Without a word, the ghost turned and walked further into the tomb, leaving Mohamara and Yagraz alone with the Draugr.

These passive undead were easily dispatched by Yagraz and Mohamara. The cat directed the tar atronach to flow into the Draugr’s alcove and crush it with its weight, while Yagraz easily pulled them out and decapitated them before they could wake.

Once the room was cleared, Yagraz picked up the claw and examined it. A weight plate underneath the ornament rose up, and the spiked gate withdrew into the ceiling.

“Okay, if that hadn’t been the way in,” Mohamara chided, “that could have easily been a trap to kill the both of us.”

“Nah.” Yagraz pointed around the room. “Ancient Nord traps are easy to spot. Pressure plate ones tend to be fire or poisoned darts. And both of those have clear nozzles you can see in the walls. Hey, is that a door?” In her pointing, Yagraz noticed a door of shiny black stone off to the side of the room which the adventurers then investigated.

The tar atronach faded away during this, leaving only a sticky trail of black gunk leading into the tomb to indicate it had been there.

The door had only hinges on the outside, meaning it swung inward by push. But when Yagraz tried, there was no response. “Think you can open this?”

“Oh sure let me just use my advanced knowledge of Alteration to flow through the door. Wait, I only know Mysticism that well and they require keyholes for that method.” Mohamara dodged the bap intended for him and started off toward the door.

The formula from then was to go into a room, find the Draugr, and kill them quickly before moving on. Occasionally one would be capable of blasting frost magic but all that did was force Mohamara to pop the spear’s magic and blast it right back at them while summoning an atronach.

Usually, the atronach would be something ridiculous that would die in two hits from a Draugr’s weapons. Chicken soup atronachs, yam atronachs, graphite atronachs. That sort of thing.

The first major obstacle was a series of puzzle doors. Disks were placed in doorways, with gaps through which passage would be allowed if the correct chains were pulled in the correct sequence.

And Mohamara was not in a mood to play ancient Nord games. So he delved into the sympathetic bonds of the tomb to find the Draugr hiding in various nooks and crannies, as well as below to get a rough idea of the layout of the tomb’s interior. All in all, it wasn’t too big but he detected a massive gathering of Draugr deeper in.

Yagraz stood in front of the disk that blocked the entry deeper into the tomb abd while Mohamara ran through the halls pulling chains, killing the Draugr behind the other disks with an atronach or sparks spell until there was nothing left moving behind them.

“You got some spider webs in your hair,” Yagraz pointed out moments before she shoved the cat directly into a spider web in their path.

“You got some dirt on your nose,” Mohamara informed her as he stuck his spear out to trip her when she walked past him.

The two had a nice laugh while they worked their way through the tomb. Mohamara found soul gems in the petty and lesser sizes on tables strewn through the halls and grabbed them when he could.

All was well until they came to a room covered in frostbite spider webs. It had been the lair of two nearly adult frostbite spiders, but a flame atronach and Yagraz’s battle prowess proved to be the better. Then it was up to the two of them to work out how to proceed further, as there was no clear way down.

While Yagraz examined the walls, Mohamara walked around feeling the sympathetic bonds of the tomb. There was strong magic below them, almost directly so, he just had to find it. He heard creaking steel when he put his foot down and realized what had happened. The spiders had webbed over the way down. So he had the flame atronach begin to burn away the webs with its fiery aura, revealing two metal grates. Mohamara happened to be standing over one that led into a pit filled with water….

“Hey, I found a chain!!”

...Right as Yagraz found the way to open it. The grate fell out from underneath the Khajiit and the atronach, and down they fell. The flaming elemental sank like a stone while the cat eventually bobbed up to the surface. He had to dive quickly to retrieve the spear, as it had escaped his grip in the fall. But this was made troublesome by the atronach’s fiery body heating the water to boiling temperatures quickly.

Sometimes the natural fire cloak effect on flame atronachs was annoying. But once he found a tunnel out of the side of the pit, the atronach’s ambient heat helped to quickly steam dry his wet clothes--and those of Yagraz when she jumped down to join them.

“So apparently these old crypts weren’t just tombs,” Yagraz informed Mohamara as she took the head off a spellcasting Draugr in the next room. “The ancient Nords used to live here, these were their homes. Each Nord tomb is actually the site of an old settlement.”

“That sounds like the Nords alright.” Mohamara had bypassed the fight by pole-vaulting with the spear and ascending to a walkway above. “Turn their homes into crypts so they don’t waste space on graveyards.” He could see the bladed pendulums hanging from the roof, ready to swing, and the splatters of blood dried into the stone over millennia from below. He went to work finding the triggers for the trap and disabling them--the flame atronach and Yagraz had things handled with only a few weak Draugr for opponents.

It turned out to only be a bit of string attached to a door, which was ended with a quick touch of the spear’s blade. Mohamara used the spear’s long length to jab at the Draugr below, distracting them and providing openings for Yagraz to decapitate them with ease.

“There’s a lot of Draugr behind this door,” Mohamara informed Yagraz when they ventured deeper and found a double-door sealed with a visibly glowing barrier. “Not right behind it, but this way.”

“Alright, so you want to dispel this barrier and we’ll go smash ‘em?” Yagraz struck the blunt side of her ax to her shield, psyching herself up.

“See, that’s a problem.” The cat stepped away from the door and moved to a route leading downward again. “There’s more Draugr down there… and the sympathetic bonds are telling me that it’s also where we’ll find King Olaf’s verse.”

“Who gives a shit about the verse?” Yagraz shrugged. “It’ll be there when we’re done.”

“Not necessarily. What if the guy all these Draugr are feeding their energy into is a Tongue?” Mohamara levied a dark look at Yagraz. “With you and him throwing your thu’ums around, you could very well cause an earthquake.”

“The correct pluralization is thu’umme.” But she relented and followed after the cat.

“The correct pluralization can be the mathematical concept of cheese for all the good it’ll do, let’s go.”

--

They found the ghost again at the bottom of the tomb, hidden behind a wall. Mohamara only tried to stab him once before retrieving the book the ghost’s corpse clutched. The ghost gave the cat a disbelieving look as he read the verse. Once the cat looked back up from the tome, confused, the ghost began to fade.

“What’s up?” Yagraz asked and tried to look over the cat’s shoulder. “Not usable?”

“Nearly,” Mohamara answered, and shoved the book into his backpack. “Significant water damage to the verse. But Viarmo wanted it, so he'll get it. From what I can gather though, that ghost guy was the bard who wrote this. Pretty hefty criticism for Olaf, who had him buried alive down here. Look, you can see the scratch marks from fingernails on the wall.”

Yagraz made a disgusted face and started off back up the way they’d come. “Olaf was a right nasty piece of work, ugh.”

“Well, considering we’re going to be fighting him most likely behind that door, I imagine we’ll get to see for ourselves.”

In the end, King Olaf’s Draugr’d out corpse wasn’t even a good fight. The bard’s ghost helped them throughout Olaf sending waves of his lieutenants after them in groups too small to be threatening. Had he sent them all at once, and come down himself to fight, it would have been a story worth telling in mead halls, or taverns across Skyrim. Perhaps worth a bardic song of its own.

But it wasn’t. And that, to Mohamara was King Olaf’s worst crime. Even though he was so vicious in life, and evil in his necromantic practices, he was boring.

Boring. Boring. Boring!

Chapter Text



---
Chapter 10: To see the Past

Mohamara held in his hands a great treasure. A grand soul gem, filled with the spirit of Olaf’s Draugr.

“You didn’t tell me that your ax snares souls,” the Khajiit said in awe as he looked at the forked crystal from many angles. The Draugr’s soul was ensnared inside, tormented by the way light from the campfire passed through his prison.

“You didn’t ask. But it’s good to have for going into a Draugr crypt. Because they’re not people anymore you can harvest their souls guilt-free.” Yagraz adjusted the salmon Mohamara had caught them out of the Hjaal River for their supper as they cooked near the fire.

No one could out-fish a cat, after all.

“I’ve been selling the filled gems to Farengar up in Dragonsreach for a nice little profit since I don’t have enchanting skills to make any of my gear magic. Got the ax done as a favor from some guy up in Winterhold, he had a deadbeat who wouldn’t pay what they owed him.”

Mohamara’s eyes were full of glittering facets from watching how the light played with the grand soul gem. If he stared too long, he’d fall into the Khajiit trap of shiny things, so he set the gem down and pushed it toward Yagraz.

“Well, I can whip you up something pretty sweet. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll make it happen.” Mohamara’s share of the loot from Dead Man’s respite had been the soul gems he’d found, a handful of garnets, and a Nordic dagger they’d found in a chest. Even though he could call up a bound dagger whenever, he didn’t have the conjuration skill to enchant it yet, so a physical blade would be necessary.

“Here.” She handed him a gold ring set with an almost perfectly rounded ruby and pushed the grand soul gem back over to him. “Make me a ring of regeneration, short-stuff.”

“No problem.” Mohamara took the items and went into a meditative state. Anyone from the Fourth Era likely would need a designated workstation laden with enchantments of its own to enchant an item.

But with an Enchanting Plus Certification, Mohamara was trained to do on-site enchanting, anticipating a need to fix broken components on the job. Still, it wasn’t a quick process.

Once properly centered, he pinched the top of the forked grand soul gem and pulled away. The soul gem began to unravel into hair-thin filaments, too light to be brought down by gravity. When there was a small cloud of the soul gem in the air, Mohamara picked up the ring and began to guide the filaments into it forming Nordic knots to complete the magical array.

Mohamara’s light tugging as he fused the gem into the ring pulled more filaments free of the gem, in turn, ensuring that he never had to touch the gem’s complete form again during the entire process.

Strictly speaking, what he was doing was illegal. He was only cleared to work on souls up to the greater size category. But there were no cops around, and Yagraz’s presence gave Mohamara the confidence not worry about some mystical detection method once he was back home.

The only reason he wasn’t cleared for grand soul gems was that it would make him able to work with black soul gems. The only people legally allowed to use grand souls were military enchanters, and certain authorized corporations, such as Telvanni.

When it was done, the ring’s whole surface was coated in densely interlinked Nordic knots that shone with the light of Olaf’s Draugr’s soul. After a moment to let it cool down, the filaments sank into the ring and the gem, where they would settle at the middle and radiate the regeneration effect outward.

Proud of his work, the cat handed the ring back with a wide smile. Yagraz examined the ring with an appraising eye and tested it by quickly putting it on. The few scratches she’d gotten from the trek through Dead Man’s Respite sealed right before Mohamara’s eyes, sealing closed with faint trails of smoke with nary a scar left in their wake.

To his surprise, she took the ring off, however. “That’s a really strong regeneration effect you got on this thing. Great work, short-stuff.” Then she offered the ring back to him.

Mohamara’s ears and whiskers drooped, as he tried to parse what was going on. Didn’t she like it? Had he missed something in her request? Was it healing incorrectly?

“Oh don’t make that sad face, fuzzbutt. It’s exactly what I wanted. I just want you to have it, for now at least. Think I didn’t notice how you’re missing most of your tail? Aw come on, short-stuff, don’t cry--ack!” Yagraz was unprepared for how much kinetic energy an emotional tojay Khajiit could convey when one wanted to tackle-hug someone. “Jeeze, how bad have you had it that something as basic as this gets you weepy?”

As if to answer her, an eagle swooped down, snagged Mohamara by the back of his robes, and attempted to fly away with the emotional cat. Attempted being the key word, as Mohamara snagged a rocky outcropping from the top of the hill Dead Man’s Respite was carved into and kept it in place long enough for Yagraz to throwing-ax the bird out of the air.

“Okay, ask a stupid question get a stupid answer, I guess.” When she ascended the hill to retrieve her ax, she also grabbed the eagle to carry back down to the campsite with her. “C’mon, I know how to make this taste like chicken. Not really good chicken, but still.”

--

When Mohamara woke up, after spending the night with the ring of regeneration on, it was to having his fully regenerated tail brush up against his nose. After so long of not seeing it, natural cat instincts took over as the limb seemed to move on its own.

He tried to catch it and continued to miss. This would go on until Yagraz woke up and found the tojay actively chasing his tail around. Whereupon she would do as friends were required to do: Record the scene for future blackmailing purposes.

The trip back to Solitude was uneventful, but things became interesting when the dynamic duo arrived at the bard’s college and presented King Olaf’s verse to Viarmo. It was a thing of terrible beauty to watch him go from neutral, to hopeful and energized and then bitterly defeated as he was handed the verse.

“With so much of the verse unreadable, I don’t think this will be enough to convince Elisif to overturn the ban,” Viarmo informed the two after examining the book’s pages. One of them actually fell away as he was reading it. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time, one moment I will go and fetch your pay, Companion.”

“Hold up,” Mohamara caught Viarmo’s sleeve as the High Elf turned away. Something in how it looked like the headmaster had fully given into despair--like he would never be happy again--motivated the cat into action. “I know of some magical ways that might be able to tell us what those verses were about. And--even if we don’t get it right we can still bring the story of the bard who wrote the verse to Elisif.”

“The guy wrote that stuff to criticize Olaf, and Olaf had him buried alive for it.” Yagraz seamlessly backed Mohamara up on his stance. “Elisif is many things, but if she wants to keep her title of ‘Fair’ perhaps she could stand to be better about criticism?”

The High Elf looked at the two of them, considering, and as he did a bit of his old energy came back. “A good point. So! This magical method you mentioned, would it involve restoring the book?”

“Sorta.” Mohamara released Viarmo and went hunting for a round table, and three chairs. “We’re going to need Giraud for this.”

Yagraz gave Mohamara a questioning look after Viarmo went off to fetch the dean of history. “You doing some of that freaky magic-trip stuff?”

“Yep.” Mohamara went around the room and grabbed copies of the Poetic Edda from Giraud’s shelves, and arranged them on the table he’d picked. The chairs were arranged to be positioned at the one-third marks around the table. When Giraud and Viarmo were back, Mohamara snatched the verse out of the headmaster’s hands and placed it dead center on the table with his slate on top of it. “Alright, take a seat you two. The more I explain about this the harder it’ll be to do since your minds will resist the spell--so ask your questions carefully.”

“Alright,” Giraud started, his tone intrigued. “Why am I needed?”

“Because you know the history of Skyrim better than anyone else here--you know the information around what we’re looking for, and I can follow that to find what we’re missing.”

“That explained less than nothing--I’ve somehow forgotten things I didn’t even know I knew.”

“Good, that means it’ll work better.” Mohamara looked away from the dean of history who was still visibly confused by the Khajiit’s words. With the dean’s question done, it was Viarmo’s turn.

“Will it help convince Elisif?” The High Elf had a faint but noticeable note of hope in his voice that Mohamara feared. It spoke of the possibility of disappointment.

“To be honest, you could have just changed the festival’s name to the burning of Ulfric Stormcloak and she’d have been fine with it,” Yagraz cut in as she took a seat against the far wall. “She’s not exactly stubborn.”

“Yes, I know. But the political angle on the burning of King Olaf was worn off hundreds of years ago. Now it’s just a way for the people of Solitude to relax, and be happy.” A bit of his energy drained from him as he spoke. “There are so few reasons to be happy in Solitude anymore.”

Mohamara took the empty seat and closed his eyes. A Mysticism master who could see the sympathetic bonds would have been able to set up this little ritual in seconds, but for him, it took a bit of time to first find them and then guide them to where he needed them. “Alright, it should work now.” Mohamara activated his slate and set it back down on the verse, enabling the projector set to cast a white light on the ceiling. “Now headmaster--you remember the parts of the verse that’s legible? Good, you’ll read it off. Giraud, I need you to think about the history of what he’s saying--leap to conclusions if you can. What I’m able to find will show up in the projection.”

Ataf, Illdi, and Aia had heard the talking going on and came to watch the ritual, seated alongside Yagraz as the cat’s eyes went white from the magic.

”O, Olaf, our subjugator, the one-eyed betrayer;
Death-dealing demon, and dragon-killing King.
Your legend is lies, lurid, and false;
Your cunning capture of Numinex, a con for the ages.”


Mohamara saw a pictograph of Olaf, stylized and regal, then the mountain palace of Dragonsreach with its armored Jar. The two grew closer together until they were one in the same. The hybrid figure was shown, younger--a boy, Shouting at rocks alongside others with a dragon perched overhead.

“King Olaf was Olaf One-Eye,” Giraud spoke, amazed as he looked up at the projection. “Numinex was supposed to be a vicious, mass-murdering beast. But look!”

“He’s teaching them how to Shout,” Viarmo finished. “He was their tutor. But… why capture him then?”

The sympathetic bonds raced between images--Olaf stood in front of a moving background, growing older until his hair was salt and pepper, and his face heavy with lines. This aged Olaf grew angrier and angrier until his face was a twisted mask of vitriol. Olaf faded, and the scene changed to a blurred image--there were so many sympathetic bonds here that Mohamara struggled to piece them together into one cohesive whole.

When it became clearer, it was a grinning and happy Olaf who stood on the balcony of Dragonsreach, a table heavy with food near the doors to the palace, while Numinex advanced inward. Bonds from Numinex himself began to override the image--the dragon’s very nature was important.

NU - MI - NEX, the text appeared.

“I don’t speak the dragon language, what does this--”

“Now, faith, trial,” Yagraz cut in. “Mi is the root word for ‘loyal’ and ‘loyalty’, so it would translate into test of faith or test of loyalty.”

“Numinex put to his student a test of faith that he’d failed, perhaps?” Viarmo was guessing wildly, stroking his beard while the students looked on with wonder. “This just raises more questions.”

The feast and the dragon were clear again, and as Numinex stepped forward a great yolk slammed down upon his neck. Olaf’s one eye glittered with malevolent glee.

“This was in the time when the practice of sacred hospitality was still common,” Giraud observed. “So Olaf would have violated custom in a hideous way by doing this.”

“Hmm, I think I can figure out what those damaged lines refer to with this information.” Viarmo watched as the scene faded from the projection, then looked at the audience, Giraud, and the inert Mohamara. “Should I start on the next part, or--”

”Yes.” Mohamara’s body spoke, growling in an otherworldly voice both Mohamara’s and not at the same time.

“By the Eight is that disturbing,” Ataf commented while chewing on some snowberries that Illdi had passed him.

”Olaf grabbed power, by promise and threat;
From Falkreath to Winterhold, they fell to their knees;
But Solitude stood strong, Skyrim’s truest protectors.
Olaf’s vengeance was instant, inspired and wicked.”


“But Solitude attacked Winterhold, not the reverse.” Giraud’s face grew agitated while he considered the verse itself. This, in turn, gave bonds for Mohamara to run down and bring to the projection.

Olaf, older still, gathered before a table of heavily armored Nord men and women. Before him a mockup of Solitude’s archway, with a fleet of ancient Nord ships in the waters around it. The projection of Olaf knocked the pillar under which the Blue Palace rested away, hissing a faint ‘fus ro dah’ as he did. The mockup of Solitude fell onto the table, unable to support its own weight without the completed arch.

“Oh. That’s… yeah, that’s pretty inspired and wicked.”

“By the gods,” Aia breathed more than spoke. “He would have destroyed the whole city.”

Illdi’s grip on the snowberry bowl went slack and it hit the floor, spilling red fruit everywhere. She furiously blinked at the scene of the destroyed Solitude mockup, unable to comprehend how it would look if it had happened that way.

The scene of the projection shifted to a man standing in the room with Olaf and the armored Nords. The same bard that would go on to write the verse and be entombed alive looked upon this scene, turned and ran away, A series of stilled images showed the bard running, climbing, and riding horseback from Winterhold city to the gates of the Blue Palace. The bard pleaded with the Jarl of Solitude, begging on his knees for something that the sympathetic bonds could not find.

The Jarl of Solitude stood and suddenly was in his armor, standing before his army, attacking Winterhold’s once mighty walls.

“Olaf was going to destroy Solitude entirely--and that man told this to the Jarl of Solitude, who then attacked Winterhold preemptively,” Viarmo spoke, with venom in his voice and a hateful look in his eyes as he watched the Olaf escape Winterhold. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble convincing Elisif of the festival’s importance now.” The projected image began to fade, and the High Elf stood from his seat. “That’s the last damaged part of the verse--now I have the task of reconstructing what was written there in accurate verse.”

“Please, there’s so much more we could learn from this,” Giraud started as the sympathetic bonds between them began to fray and break apart. “So much history we could recover. Just a little while longer?”

“How do we even know that what you were seeing was what really happened?” Illdi spoke up, voice shaky as she picked up spilled snowberries.

“Well… I guess it was the feel of it.” Viarmo crossed his arms and watched the Khajiit fall face-first onto the table, passed out. “When the spell was going on, even though we were watching it happen on Mohamara’s slate it felt like… like we were there.”

“I could feel what Numinex felt when that yolk slammed down on him. And the desperation that man felt when he ran away to tell Solitude of Olaf’s plans.” Giraud backed up the headmaster and looked forlornly at the passed out Khajiit. “Oh well, perhaps an occasion will come again where we can do this.”

“The actual fuck you will,” Yagraz cut in as she scooped up Mohamara and his slate. “Short-stuff didn’t tell you because I guess he wanted to help you real bad, but this ritual he did? It’s like reading an Elder Scroll--draining and damaging if done too often.” Though unconscious, the Khajiit moved his arms to better hang onto his friend’s neck while she carried him around. “Just doing the ritual at all is probably going to leave him blind for… I dunno. A week? Two tops.”

Ataf was taking a drink of water when Yagraz dropped that information and spat his mouthful of water out onto Aia from the shock of it. Aia then slapped him as hard as she possibly could.

Viarmo pinched the bridge of his nose. “But it won’t be permanent? Good, I’ll see that he’s suitably compensated for what he’s done. And if he’s able to walk tomorrow, I’ll have him with me to present the lost verse at court.” He looked up and glanced at Yagraz before slapping his forehead. “I forgot your payment, terribly sorry, Companion. I’ll go grab that and you can be on your way.”

“Oh every single kind of no, string bean,” Yagraz adjusted her grip on the unconscious Khajiit, using his spear to help hold him up, and thrust her chin out in defiance. “Me and short-stuff go way back, I’m staying here as long as he does. You tell me where his room is, I’ll set him down there and go get a room at the Skeever.”

Aia stood, wiping Ataf’s spit-take off her face in visceral disgust and walked away. “I’ll show you the way, I have to change anyway.”

--

Yagraz had taken one look at the corner of the cold stone room where the students slept, turned on her heels and walked out. No friend of hers was going to be sleeping on the ground while she had the gold to pay for a bed.

After getting her pay off the headmaster, she marched down to the Winking Skeever and booked two rooms. The one with the larger bed she had to take by necessity, so she just set the Khajiit to sleep in his room and rested in hers.

Five years. She’d overshot Mohamara’s kidnapping by five years. Apparently, she’d aged well, the tojay hadn’t even noticed how much older she was. But still, she almost regretted all that wasted time looking for him when he wasn’t even around yet.

But the thoughts of her shield-siblings in Jorvaskr, of the friends she had made in Whiterun and beyond, and the little girl she’d taken in made her remember regret was worthless. Her life had been good, and she was stronger for having been in the Fourth Era so long.

Mohamara… was not. He was wiser, more experienced, but had not grown any stronger from his time in ancient Skyrim. Perhaps he could entreat his Daedra for help as she had done, or perhaps she could cajole him into joining up with the Companions. If she could teach him to put his quick movements and elegant jumps into killing potential, he might have a good chance of surviving when she couldn’t rescue him.

The most obvious path to ensuring his survival was to impart… the gift. But that would seal his fate after death--Hircine’s hunting grounds for eternity. And his Daedra might abandon him immediately if he became a werewolf.

...Hadn’t she already abandoned him, though? Meridia hadn’t saved Mohamara from Sheogorath, no matter how enraged she’d been that the Mad God had stolen him. She hadn’t sent any help to him.

Yagraz stopped the train of thought short--Mohamara would never forgive her for turning his Lady against him, even unintentionally. If he did that to Yagraz, and Malacath abandoned her, she would have the same reaction. A third option would have to be found or made.

Her brooding was cut short by the bed she sat on creaking under her weight, then breaking apart. Dread and fear were replaced by rage as she stormed down to the tavernkeeper to shout about how he had guaranteed a bed that wouldn’t break under her.

It hadn’t even happened in the fun way.
---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 11: The Man that Cried Wolf

He’d expected to be blind when he woke up, so that wasn’t a surprise for Mohamara. What was unexpected was waking up in a bed--an unfamiliar bed from the smell and feel of the blankets. Mohamara suspected that tojay had been visual or auditory hunters since he didn’t have the enhanced sense of smell that the cathay from Ri’saad’s caravan possessed. But even with average noses, the smell of lavender oil in the pillows and blankets was not something found in the bard’s college.

Only Ateia perfumed her bedding--with the smell of sunflowers. She’d insisted they be washed with the scent as well, which made it a pain to do her laundry before Mohamara was a student.

Which reminded him that, blind or not, he probably had to get up for Inge’s class if he hadn’t missed it already.

However, with a proper mattress to sleep on, a feather pillow, and thick blankets that didn’t faintly smell of his own blood, he found it difficult to move.

“Curse you, comfiness,” Mohamara grumbled to himself as he dug his face deeper into the blankets. “Curse you to the Indigo Room.” Soon enough, he was asleep again.

--

Mohamara dreamed of clouds.

They each had names. Cirrus, Nimbus, Cumulus, and others. They were so different that he struggled to remember that they were the same thing. When he ate some, they tasted like butter. Perfectly fine, but after a while, the taste of butter alone grew unpleasant. So instead of eating them, he watched them.

The wind sculpted them into shapes that could last for what seemed forever or only a moment. Animals, places, Daedric letters, all could be made out of clouds it seemed.

When Mohamara tried to create a shape in the clouds, it was always gone by the time he got far enough away to see it. After repeated failed attempts, he just stopped and let the wind be the sculptor.

--

He was still blind when he woke up a second time, but he could hear people speaking from somewhere not too far away. Wherever he was, it was populated, and by rudely loud people.


As he got up from the bed came the embarrassing process of figuring out where things were orientated in the room. Usually, he found a piece of furniture by walking into it, except in the case where the door hit him.

It was preceded by two knocks, and Yagraz speaking from outside. “Hey short-stuff, I’m respecting your boundaries by asking if you’re decent before entering…” And then the door opened and hit Mohamara square in the nose. “But asserting my position as your best friend by coming in anyway.”

Mohamara was busy rubbing his nose to make sure there was no blood before he remembered he wouldn’t be able to see if there was. “Where in the Ashpit are we?”

“Winking Skeever, I got us some rooms. Can’t believe those bards had you sleeping on the floor.” The door closed, and Yagraz handed a fresh sweetroll to the cat while he listened to her move through the room. “After the meeting with the Jarl, I’m thinking we stay until the festival if it’s going to happen soon then start off to Whiterun. What do you think?”

The tojay had been nibbling at the sweetroll--Jorn always got to them first so he hadn’t had one in a while, and wanted to savor it. “I can’t leave yet--I’ve got to finish studying at the college and become a bard. Daedra’s orders. And after that, I have to go off to Eastmarch then come back here.”

Yagraz seemed to have found a chair and sat in it, eating something that sounded like ribs. Odd, she hadn’t been a morning ribs person back home--she’d always been a morning grilled chicken person for breakfast meats. “Well, have them make you a bard for getting their festival back up and running. I gotta get back to Whiterun, and don’t want to leave you alone in Solitude.”

A week’s worth of training to be a bard didn’t seem enough time to actually be a bard, but Mohamara had to agree that being alone again after finding Yagraz would be… hard to recover from. “Maybe… I’ve gotten the quintessential parts of being a bard--I can sing and record history? Everything else is just sort of frills that help with getting a patron--I guess?”

“See? Using them college smarts to your advantage. Now finish eating--not to be mean but your clothes aren’t fit for meeting a Jarl. I’m a Companion, so I get to just wear armor, but shorties like you gotta be fashionable.”

Mohamara’s ears went flat against his skull while he started to take bigger bites of the sweetroll. “And how do you intend to fix this issue when everything of mine you have is in Whiterun?”

“Solitude’s got some of the best tailors in Skyrim--and I know someone that can help us out short-notice.” A profound crunching filled the air, and Mohamara had to guess Yagraz was eating the rib part of her morning ribs. “I know a tailor that both owes me money and would kill for business with the Blue Palace.”

With the sweetroll devoured, Mohamara got up to his feet to point in Yagraz’s general direction. “I will permit them to stab me with their needles only seven times. For every time they stab me after that, I will kill you.”

--

Mohamara had thought that running through Markarth in his skivvies had been humiliating. He’d thought being robbed of his clothes by a drunk Orc who assumed he was a child had been humiliating. But neither of those stacked up to being made to pose in the same state of undress for two High Elven tailors who had the audacity to comment on him while they took measurements.

He knew they were High Elves because no other race of Mer could put such visceral disdain into their words. Not even Telvanni Dunmer could match the average High Elf.

“Ugh, we’re going to need a miracle to make something worthy of the Blue Palace for… this.”

“Well if you thought we could use our children’s stock think again--he’s too skinny and lanky for anything we’ve got.”

“You should have paid that Orc woman what you owed instead of giving her a favor.”

“Well, it’s gotten us a chance to get Radiant Raiment in Elisif’s mind so we’ll have to make it work. Stop moving your arms, fool boy.”

The two High Elf women spoke to each other like Mohamara wasn’t even there, except when he tried to move out of whatever pose they had him in. They didn’t bother removing the strip of cloth Yagraz had tied around Mohamara’s eyes to let people know he was blind, so at least they had some respect.

“At least he can’t see so he can’t tell us what he thinks of every fabric sample you bring in. What if he’d seen you bring in this, huh? We’re saving that for the Jarl not some guest of hers or something.”

“Well maybe if we want her to buy our products we should put our best foot forward--give the outfit something to hook the Jarl’s interest, hmm?”

“...What are we going to do for shoes? Nothing we have fits.”

“Oh damn it all.”

Mohamara wondered at what point the profession of ‘shoe-making’ and ‘clothes-making’ became combined in the tailor profession. As he listened to one of the women frantically opening drawers and flipping through books, it almost amused him enough to smile. But he couldn’t see it, so it didn’t pass the smile threshold.

“Sandals! I can whip up some sandals no problem, won’t take me but an hour to get them ready and fit for court.” A door opened, and the woman’s voice became faint. “When is he seeing the Jarl?”

“Later today,” Yagraz answered.

The door slammed shut again. “Alright, plenty of time. Plenty of time.”

“Could you perhaps get the trousers done first? It’s drafty in here.” Mohamara made sure to speak evenly, politely, and without judgment as neither woman had stabbed him with any needles yet.

“Oh, we can’t do trousers on such short notice. We’re probably going to have to make a skirt, or robes with some sort of vest or doublet.”

Mohamara’s ears went flat on his skull and his tail began to swish from annoyance. “I would prefer robes over a skirt, but you’re the ones making decisions.”

They continued to chat with each other as if Mohamara had said nothing. “Should we bother with the smallclothes? What he has now serves well enough. Probably even looked nice when it was new.”

“We have the measurements, and it’ll be one more thing we can credit against the debt you owe that Orc woman, so why not?”

“Oh, you’re impossible when you’re like this.”

“You have time for smallclothes but not trousers? What is it with this place and refusing to let me just wear trousers?!” Mohamara broke from the pose the tailors had him in entirely to pull at his ears in frustration while Yagraz cackled in the next room.

--

“I feel like I look stupid. Do I look stupid?”

“You look so incredibly stupid. It's like… wow.”

Mohamara’s tail whipped around and smacked into Yagraz’s legs as they walked. “Thank you for sparing my feelings.”

“Hey,” Yagraz rested her hand between Mohamara’s ears to guide him away from a signpost he couldn’t see coming. “I remember getting the same from you when I asked about my prom dress.”

“Because you’re an autumn and you were wearing spring colors!”

Viarmo, walking ahead of them cleared his throat to cut into the friend’s conversation. “Alright, we’re passing through the gates now. Thank you for agreeing to leave the spear behind, I don’t want to risk being late by having the court wizard examine it.”

Mohamara gave the High Elf’s back a thumbs up, missing the window when Viarmo was looking by a solid ten seconds.

“You know short-stuff, it’s probably for the best that you can’t see right now,” Yagraz informed him while using her hand on his head to guide him around the excessive number of decorative pillars the Blue Palace courtyard featured. “If you could see, you’d see something that… well, it would cause problems in there.”

“Now you have me interested.” Mohamara looked up at her solely to convey an arched eyebrow expression. “What’s going on?”

“Now, if I told you it would be just as bad. I need you to trust me that it’s something we can deal with later since I told you about it when I didn’t need to, okay?”

“Alright, alright.” Mohamara tail twitched in agitation, but he otherwise relaxed and let Yagraz guide him.

The trio was asked to stay in the Palace foyer with another man who had come seeking an audience with the Jarl, and wait for Elisif to finish court business. Shouting and threats from the throne room just beyond the foyer made Mohamara think that things weren’t going well for the Hold.

“Political problems?”

Viarmo sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “The war’s not going well--the Empire is asking Solitude to pay for pretty much all Imperial forces in the region, which in turn leads to higher and more frequent taxes. But that’s not why we’re here, and you need to remember that a bard is supposed to stay out of politics.”

“Like the guy who betrayed Olaf to save this city?” Yagraz pointed at the repaired copy of King Olaf’s verse that Viarmo carried with him. “Really apolitical move, that.”

“I won’t deny that sometimes it’s impossible to stay out of politics--but a bard’s role is to record history, not to shape it.” Viarmo turned his back on the two, signifying the end of the conversation though Mohamara couldn’t see this.

After a while, those seeking an audience were allowed into the throne room. It was on the floor above the foyer, accessed by two winding staircases. Rather than deal with the stairs, Yagraz scooped up Mohamara and carried him the cat’s tail flicked all over the place.

“The first audience for the day is for Varnius Junius,” announced a Solitude City Guardsman who stood alongside the heavily armored housecarl to Elisif.

Varnius, an Imperial man, stepped forward to appeal to the Jarl--about strange noises and lights seen from Wolfskull Cave. The very name made Mohamara’s ears flick back. Wolfskull was an old ruin of necromantic energies not far at all from Kilkreath temple. The cave had possessed many names through the years--but it was the cave’s existence that sparked the placement of Meridia’s temple.

A garrison to stand guard and destroy all necromancers that tried to tap into the wellspring of evil energies within.

Curious, Mohamara tapped into the sympathetic bonds in the room to see what could be seen. The bonds between people were unbalanced, to say the least. There was a woman in the throne room to whom an excessive number of bonds forged. She wasn’t the Jarl, for when Elisif spoke the voice came to the right of her. A thane, perhaps? Or another court officer?

Something connected her to everyone in the room, even Varnius. When he spoke, the sympathetic bonds forked between Elisif and the woman--like it somehow affected both of them. And when Elisif promised an Imperial Legion to scour the cave, the unknown woman sent an arc of energy directly down the bonds that connected her and the voice belonging to what Mohamara assumed was the Jarl’s steward.

The cave issue was transferred to the steward, to find a spirited adventurer to solve the problem. Without missing a beat, Mohamara jabbed Yagraz in the side and looked up to her with a ‘something’s fucky’ expression.

Next, it was Viarmo’s turn to appeal to Elisif. The Jarl seemed tickled pink with the prospect of a reading of King Olaf’s lost verse, and actually stood to hear it from the headmaster.

The new verses, discernable by a subtle change in Viarmo’s tone from booming to something soft proved interesting.

”No monster in Numinex did you defeat;
No great honor was your conquest;
A sage and friend called to a feast;
Did you ensnare while he was your guest.”


Elisif gasped like she was seeing scandalous news told to her by the latest sources. Some of the court had similar reactions, though none to the same degree.

”Olaf gave orders--destroy Solitude’s archway;
Peerless death and destruction to follow;
But by one brave soul, his plan gave away;
And brought a rout to Winterhold, to Olaf--sorrow.”


The Jarl had to sit down while Viarmo finished the reading, then bowed elegantly to the scattered applause of the court.

“I… I didn’t know,” Elisif started, haltingly. “I didn’t know how… vile King Olaf was. He truly earned his burning, didn’t he?” With a definitive clap of her hands, Elisif decreed that the festival was to be reinstated, and held posthaste.

Before the audience was officially done, Mohamara snapped his fingers in Viarmo’s direction since he couldn’t tell exactly where he was. “I think it’s important for the Jarl to know why the verse was lost if you wouldn’t mind?”

Viarmo sighed. “I know you two risked a lot to get it back, but that’s such a minor detail that--”

“Oh? Is there a story to the verse’s retrieval perhaps?”

Though Mohamara couldn’t see it, Viarmo’s face pinched dramatically when Elisif paused in her leaving the throne to listen in.

“I have enough time for a short bit of history, if so.”

“Well, young bard since you feel so strongly about this, I invite you to tell the story to the Jarl.”

Mohamara slipped out of Yagraz’s grip without problems and stepped toward where he heard the young Jarl’s voice. With a bit of searching via minor sounds, he bowed before her and got ready to speak.

“You’re a bard? At such a young age?”

“Oh… no, my Jarl. This man isn’t a child, he’s just a short variety of Khajiit. I think he’s only a few years younger than you, actually.”

Mohamara nodded in the direction of Viarmo and started to speak for himself again. “This isn’t the story of how the verse was retrieved. That story… well, it isn’t worth telling honestly. No, what I ask you to listen to is how it came to be lost.” A bit of pause to give the Jarl the opportunity to decline, after which the tojay resumed. “The bard who wrote this verse, Svaknir, was a servant of King Olaf. He broke away from One-Eye to warn Solitude about the planned attack. It is unknown if Olaf ever discovered his treachery, honorable as it might have been. But when the bard wrote down an honest telling of Olaf’s rule, giving no praise but pointing out what he’d done wrong, Olaf had him buried alive with the only copy of the verse.”

“That’s… terrible. To be buried alive--what an awful death.” Elisif’s sympathetic bonds strongly connected her to the image of Svaknir trapped in the little room at the bottom of a hole. For whatever faults she had, the Jarl could clearly imagine what it would have been like.

“Yes, my Jarl.” Mohamara tapped his fingers together rhythmically. “And… in the process of discovering this, it pointed out to us--to me, a vacancy in your court. You’re young, you’re in mourning, and you desperately want your people to be happy.”

“Is this a request for patronage?” There was no anger or even annoyance in her voice. A perfect tone of political neutrality.

“For me? No. For the bard’s college? Yes. I propose that every so often you have one of the bards from the college go among your citizens, hear their grievances, and bring them to you.”

“A sentiment I can readily support--but my steward, Falk Firebeard, fills that function already.”

“I’m not going to tell you your business, my Jarl, but perhaps consider that when Falk speaks of things like ‘restraint’ when your citizens make the trip to speak to you about fear for their lives--what issues he never brings to your attention at all?”

There was a silence so stiff and awkward it could have been Mohamara’s junior prom.

“I’ll… consider it. When I make my decision, I’ll relay a message directly to your headmaster. You may go.” Elisif once more turned to leave, before looking down at the blinded Khajiit. “Though I must say, you have excellent fashion sense for a blind man.”

Mohamara bowed and walked backward toward Viarmo and where Yagraz had been. The tojay was surprised to find his Orc friend vanished.

“Thank you for trying to get more business for the college,” Viarmo said and hesitantly patted Mohamara on the head between his ears. “But I think you might have overplayed your hand there. Waiting for the festival would have been a safer bet.”


“There’s no guarantee she’ll even go, and after how they just shelved the talk of something weird going on in Wolfskull, I can’t imagine she leaves the Blue Palace all that often.” Mohamara shrugged and stood, waiting for Yagraz to return or for something else to happen since he couldn’t see to be proactive.

“Excuse me, can we talk?” A cultured woman’s voice spoke from behind the two men, prompting them to turn. “My name is Sybille Stentor, court wizard to Jarl Elisif. Young man, you have a strong magical aura around you--are you a wizard, perchance?”

Mohamara nodded. “I specialize in Mysticism and enchanting, you?”

“Mysticism? I can’t say I’ve run into many wizards that even study that topic anymore. I’m a master of Destruction and Restoration myself, though I know enough Mysticism to do some divining. Would you perchance be willing to come with me and we can exchange information?” Though Mohamara could not see it, Sybille was a Breton woman, with shining gold eyes beneath a hooded deep blue robe. Viarmo visibly stiffened as he caught the Breton’s piercing gaze, but did not speak.

“I… guess? I’m not much on Destruction myself, but I’d be happy to trade some Mysticism for Restoration if that’s okay with you?”

“A more than adequate trade. My lab is in my quarters, please follow the sound of my voice.” The Breton woman turned and started to walk away, with Mohamara slowly following behind.

“Could you tell Yagraz where I am if she comes back from...wherever she went?”

“Yeah, I can do that. See you at the festival later tonight, I guess,” Viarmo hesitantly spoke to the leaving mages.

--

Yagraz returned to the main room of the palace to find Viarmo on his own standing in the foyer. “Hey string-bean, where’s short-stuff?”

Viarmo looked up at her with a minor frown. “Ah, there you are. I’ve been waiting for a while now.”

Yagraz nodded and rolled her shoulders. Several unpleasant sounding cracks echoed through the small room, each prompting Viarmo to jump slightly. “I was talking to the steward about the Wolfskull job. Made it an official Companions task. Took a bit to get him to agree on a price, but he and I made an arrangement. Now--where’s short-stuff.”

“He’s with the court wizard, exchanging knowledge of magic.”

Yagraz’s blood went cold in her veins and she instinctively went to reach for her ax and turn toward the stairs leading up. Solitude guards were a joke--trained to look important and fight like they were wielding steel ingots with hilts rather than swords. She could carve her way through them, snatch Mohamara, and fight her way out of town if she got lucky and the Legion didn’t involve themselves.

But to her surprise, she saw Mohamara with her walking down the stairs. The Khajiit held three thick books to his chest with one arm while Sybille held the other to help him down the stairs.

The bitch actually smirked at Yagraz when she saw the Orc woman standing in the doorway. Smirked enough to show fang!

“Ah, you’re done already? I didn’t expect to see you until the festival.”

“This young man is quite intelligent,” Sybille cooly informed the headmaster as she helped Mohamara down the stairs. “Able to succinctly and professionally answer my questions with Mysticism and a quick study with Restoration. Had any of those things not been true, we likely would have been at it all day.”

“It oddly makes a lot of sense for a Destruction master to be good at Restoration,” Mohamara commented, unaware that Yagraz was there and glaring daggers at Sybille. “You have to know how to put yourself and your students back together if something goes wrong.”

“There are only so many times you can trust a priest to fix an amputated hand before you get fed up and learn to do it yourself, young man.”

When Mohamara was close, Yagraz bent down to snatch him up, and quickly stepped away from the monstrous woman.

“My, overprotective, are we? Glad I got to speak to him when you weren’t around then, Companion.”

Mohamara was trying to tell Yagraz how okay he was, but she knew better. Her eyes never left the smirking witch as the Orc backed up to the palace doors.

“Mohamara, if you ever want to exchange more knowledge, feel free to come on by. We can talk over lunch.”

Once outside, Viarmo gave Yagraz a befuddled look. “I know Lady Stentor has a harsh reputation, but that seemed excessive.”

“You don’t know what I know about her,” Yagraz answered, and marched away with the Khajiit over her shoulder.

“So you’re not going to put me down? Let me maybe get used to walking around blind since this isn’t going away for at least a week?" Mohamara looked over at Yagraz, then splayed himself out on her shoulder like a dead animal. "Just going to give me the cold shoulder, huh? Guess I have no choice but to play like you killed me out hunting for a bit. Blah!”

---

 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 12: Save us from the Queen!

Back at the Winking Skeever, Yagraz filled Mohamara in on certain… details that she’d left out earlier.

The tojay paused in getting changed out of the Jarl-meeting-clothes to something fit for adventure to glare in Yagraz’s direction. “She’s a vampire?

Yagraz sighed and made an affirmative noise since Mohamara couldn’t see her nod. “I know because I came to Solitude like three years or so back. She gave me and my Shield-Sister a job to destroy a rabid vampire coven that was north of the city, kidnapping people from the docks to feed.”

Mohamara curled his lip in disgust while his fur stood on end. It made him look rather fluffy even though it was not friendly body language. “Ugh, I can’t believe I let her touch me. If I could see, I would have been able to tell right away--....” Mohamara got a set of red and white robes on and turned to look at Yagraz again. “You’ve known about her being there for... years?”

The Orc woman put her hands over her face and groaned. “She’s too strong to kill discreetly, and in too public of a position to be able to get a solid chance. I figured once I found you, we could plan something out to kill her, have some fun, you know?” Yagraz found herself being repeatedly bapped on the head by the tojay’s small fists. “Hey, what gives?”

“I’m trying to knock some sense into you! You’re Yagraz gro-Dushnikh, you Broke the Dragon to find me, made yourself a Companion again, and became one of the most badass people I know--and you complain that your enemy is too strong?!” Mohamara broke free of the Orc’s grip when she tried to stop his attack by picking him up and promptly became a literal ankle biter. A rather ineffective one given the thickness of Yagraz’s boots. “Malacath would kick your ass himself for that sort of talk! But he’s not here so I’ll do it for him!”

The Orc woman looked down, stunned by the Khajiit attacking her so ineffectively. As she processed what he’d said, it was like a knot in her head suddenly unraveled. She could breathe deeper, her limbs responded just a fraction of a second faster, and colors seemed more vibrant. While Mohamara continued to gnaw on her, Yagraz stood and stretched.

Bones that had been out of alignment for years that she hadn’t noticed popped back into place, filling the air with a rapid series of pops and cracks. With her face set, she picked up the tojay again and held him at arm’s length while he tried to wriggle free. “You’re right. Malacath would be disgusted with me. So the first thing we're gonna do when we get back from Wolfskull cave is killing that bitch dead. Alright?”

“Alright. ...Are you okay, that was a lot of popping in your back and shoulders. Kinda sounded like it hurt.”

Yagraz’s expression was through grit teeth: “It’s starting to hurt real bad, yep.”

--

After Yagraz had an hour to rest, the two of them were off to Wolfskull. Fortunately, it was not terribly far from Solitude itself--the hill that led up to the city stopped in view of Mount Kilkreath, and from there they simply had to follow the ancient worn path up the mountain to Meridia’s temple. Even though his Lady could not hear his prayers without the beacon, Mohamara prayed at her statue. There was always the chance that someone of the faith elsewhere in Skyrim was constructing a new beacon, which would allow the Daedra of Infinite Energies to hear him again.

Wolfskull cave was a peculiar thing--a fortress hidden under the ground. Towers, portcullises, gatehouses and all. The common theory back when Mohamara lived in the temple was that these structures were part of an ancient fortress that had since been buried. But whatever the fortifications, they proved hopelessly ill-equipped to handle an Orc Tongue with a spell-reflecting, atronach summoning, phat heals providing Khajiit riding on her shoulders.

Mohamara regretted only that he couldn’t see any of the necromancers’ faces when they shot off things like ice spears that bounced off him and impaled their casters on a cave wall. Or how a fruit salad atronach had managed to toss a Draugr Wight over forty feet as Yagraz claimed.

The fruit salad atronach fought like a demon according to Yagraz, tearing through the ranks of the undead and necromancers that disgracefully lurked in the cave. Occasionally, Mohamara could hear it mutter ‘yummy yummy’. He almost missed it when it eventually faded away.

Yagraz described a dangerous scene when they went further in--a spectral woman floating above a tower in an underground fort. Surrounded by energies that drew from slain merchants, bandits, hunters, and soldiers littered around the cave--and being beseeched by necromancers.

They called this ghost-woman ‘Potema’, which Mohamara found weird to be a name. It was a word in his time, potemal--meaning to be relentlessly cruel and selfish. Perhaps whoever the name belonged to had been the impetus behind the word’s creation.

The necromancers performing the ritual were attempting to call this ‘Potema’ back into the living world--already an oddity given the nature of resurrection magic. They made no reference to a realm of Oblivion or dominion of Aetherius from which they summoned Potema from--could she have survived as a loosed soul on Nirn?

“Do you know anything about this Potema woman?” Mohamara asked while summoning another atronach. Whatever it was, it made a hideous oozing sound and drew ghastly screams out of its first victim.

But she was a necromancer, so her suffering was a good thing.

“Former queen of Solitude, had a kid who became Emperor, started a civil war way back when.” Yagraz’s answers were slowed down by chopping the legs out from under a Draugr Deathlord. A necromancer tried to sneak up behind her but she ended his miserable life by bashing the boss of her shield into his skull without looking. “Oh, and she’s Dragonborn so if that’s important, there you go.”

That explained how Potema had lingered on Nirn so long--dragons and Dragonborn could only be killed by each other. Their physical bodies could be slain, but their souls would remain bound to their bones until a dragon or other Dragonborn passed by to absorb their soul.

It also meant that without knowing Potema’s Dovah-Zul name, the necromancers’ attempt to bind her would fail no matter what they did. Which then gave Mohamara a wicked idea. “Alright, I need you to toss me at the tower where they’re doing the ritual.”

Yagraz stopped in the middle of decapitating another necromancer, who politely curled up onto the ground to cradle her stump of a left arm. “Want to run that by me again, short-stuff?”

“Toss me at the ritual site. I’m going to have fun with them since they can’t do much in the middle of their binding attempt.”

“And if they can do something while trying to bind her?”

“Then that makes things so much more interesting!” In a few seconds, Mohamara was sailing through the air until his flight path was intercepted by a woman. While Mohamara hit the ground after their collision, the woman was knocked backward and fell off the top of the tower into the cavern below. “Howdy, necromancer filth! How’s your health plan?”

“What the-? An intruder! Stop hi-ckhhhh!”

Mohamara stopped whatever the necromancer had been intending by summoning another atronach. The atronach was large, a physical fighter, and ended the woman’s life with a satisfying crunch.

“Yes! Yes, destroy the worms that would dare bind me!” Potema seemed to enjoy the show as well. The last necromancer, a man, foolishly tried to raise his fallen comrade as a thrall to fight back and was… well, whatever the atronach did to him resulted in a long, high pitched scream that resonated throughout the cavern.

Mohamara pouted. “Aw, that wasn’t amusing at all. It just killed them. I was hoping it would put up only enough fight to let me make some funny lines about their mothers and how they dressed them.”

“The wretched so rarely provide worthy amusement, little one.” Potema’s voice was close, entirely too close for Mohamara’s liking. A faint aura of static sent his fur on end as a hand so cold it burned rested on his shoulder. “When I am at my full potential again, I will kill you raise you, and show you how to find proper fun with creatures such as them to thank you for freeing me like this.”

“Um. You’re not my type?”

“Await my arrival, worm. Until then, farewell!”

The static and cold-burning hand left Mohamara, and distantly he could hear Yagraz shout “Where the fuck is she going?!”

Mohamara tapped into the sympathetic bonds of the place, following the bonds between the necromancers to the altar, and from the altar to Potema to find her heading… toward Solitude. Uh oh.

“Um, atronach? Could you help me get to the shouting Orc lady quickly?” Mohamara hoped by the Yellow Room that the atronach he summoned wasn’t acidic, and soon felt alarmingly human hands pick him up and thunderously walk down the stairs from the tower roof. Soon enough Mohamara and Yagraz were together again, pincering the last holdout of necromancers and Draugr between them. “Okay, so I might have accidentally let the object of that necromantic ritual loose and now she’s on her way to Solitude. So we should hurry.”

Yagraz made an exasperated noise and took the tojay from the atronach and put him on her shoulders again. “Next time you want me to toss you, I’m going to say no.”

“That’s fair.”

--

Meanwhile, in Solitude’s Blue Palace, Jarl Elisif the Fair found herself shaken to wakefulness in the dead of night. When she opened her eyes, it was to find her court wizard, Sybille Stentor standing over her with a retinue of guards behind her.

“What is the meaning of this?” The Jarl demanded as she stood from the bed.

“My Jarl, my divinations reveal that you are in grave danger. A powerful evil has been unleashed and is about to attack the Blue Palace.” The Breton wizard snapped her fingers and the guards quickly retrieved a robe for Elisif to wear over her nightgown, as well as the Jarl’s circlet. “I must ask you to come with me to a bunker in Castle Dour, through the Temple of the Divines while Falk plans the defense of the city.”

The Jarl’s mind whirled with possible outcomes, so much that she mechanically dressed in the items her guards had retrieved. “Al-alright, I will. But I want the townsfolk protected at all costs. Inform Falk that I want the city evacuated before this attack comes. And-and send word to General Tullius as well.”

“It will be done, my Queen.”

This gave Elisif pause, and she turned to look at the wizard with visible confusion. “Did you just call me ‘Queen’.”

“I’m sorry, my Jarl.” The Breton hastily inclined her head. “I only attempted a divination before bed as a whim, once we are secure in the bunker I will need to rest and regain my full mental faculties.”

“If we survive this attack, court wizard, I order you to take a vacation. I won’t have my late husband’s best friend work herself to death on my watch.”

--

The dynamic duo rushed to Solitude, with Mohamara recharging the Spear of Bitter Mercy with soul gems that Yagraz had filled for him.

However, they were stopped at the outermost defenses to Solitude by three High Elves--a Thalmor officer and two golden-armored soldiers.

“Halt,” the officer shouted, and held a hand up to stop Yagraz. “You are carrying a fugitive from the-... I said halt! Halt!” But the officer’s shouts were not answered.

Yagraz kept on running, trampling over her and leaving the Thalmor officer pressed into the ground with deep footprints on her body. The two soldiers that had been with her wisely chose to flee the scene rather than chase after the Orc and her Khajiit friend.

“Where is she, short-stuff?”

Mohamara dove into the sympathetic bonds of Solitude again. Still, they were so fine he couldn’t see most of them. But a tangle of bonds led up to Castle Dour, the temple, and somehow deep deep into the Solitude archway. “Start in the temple of the divines, I can get a better picture from there.”

“When we get a big soul gem next, I would really like a Red Shoes enchantment for this sort of thing, by the way. My feet are killing me.” Even still, Yagraz easily scaled the ramps that had previously been insurmountable by Mohamara and passed into the Castle Dour courtyard.

Where they found Elisif, in a nightgown and coat, along with four Solitude guards and Sybille. Yagraz rested her hand on her ax but otherwise carefully approached while the Jarl looked at them in confusion.

“What’s going on, my Jarl? Had a late night crisis of faith?”

The Jarl didn’t get a chance to speak before Sybille scoffed in disgust. “Those fools didn’t even do any fatal damage to you two? Oh well, guards--kill them and bring their corpses to me.”

“What? Guards you will do no such--” Elisif protested, shocked at the court wizard’s orders but the Breton woman touched two fingers to the Jarl’s head and she fainted right into Sybille’s arms. The vampire then dashed into the temple with her, leaving the door ajar.

The guards spoke no words and drew their steel. As Yagraz drew her ax, Mohamara lept from her shoulders, over the guards, and pursued the vampire and kidnapped Jarl.

“So,” Yagraz said through a vicious smile as the guards moved to surround her. “How’s your health plan?”

--

It had been a stupid idea to follow a powerful vampire that had a hostage, Mohamara decided as he chased after the sympathetic bonds that were Elisif and Sybille.

“Not really stupid, so much as mad I’d say.”

“Hey dad,” Mohamara muttered to Sheogorath as he carefully navigated downstairs he couldn’t see.

Sheogorath made a delighted noise, a squeal that made Mohamara’s teeth itch. “Been promoted to bitter affection! Yes! Haskill will be so proud.”

“I’m kinda busy, is this important?” Mohamara didn’t position his foot correctly and ended up skipping a level of the staircase that he barely managed to keep from fully falling. It seemed to him that tojay were definitely visual hunters because his hearing hadn’t adjusted enough to imply auditory.

“Of course it’s important. I’m important, so anything I do is important. Also, things I tell you to do are important. Such as becoming a bard!” Mohamara was scooped off his feet by a Daedra he couldn’t see, who might not have actually been physically present and shook around in the air. “And you did it! Missed the announcement, but they gave ya the metaphoric diploma with the fire festival thingy. Glad to see you put my orders above your duty to Meri-pants by the way, though I doubt she’ll feel the same.”

The Khajiit’s blood was was ice as he processed what Sheogorath had said. “But… but you were gonna--”

“I wasn’t going to do anything if you didn’t make it a priority. All I said was it was an order. You had to do it at some point. But you were afraid of what I might do more than what Meri-pants would do to you in that situation.” The Mad God hugged Mohamara so tight it was hard for the Khajiit to breathe. “Thank you for that by the way. It’s always a father’s dream to have their children absolutely terrified of their wrath.”

For a moment, Mohamara forgot that there was a Dragonborn ghost at large, a vampire with a hostage, or that he was likely floating over a staircase that would spell his doom if he fell down on it and became a listless cat. He’d betrayed his Lady. It was a difficult thing to process. But, maybe if he killed the vampire she’d let it balance out and not smite him on the spot?

“Aw, don’t you worry none, sonnie. I’ll be a good parent and take the blame for you. It’ll be our little secret, hmm?” Sheogorath released the tojay and set him back on his feet. “By the way--we’ve got it down to two candidates for your groom. I’m afraid this is the first marriage of this type I’ve put together, so Haskill thought it would be a good idea if We provide a dowry for you rather than ask one of someone else. Assuming you survive this little adventure, anyway.”

That information restored to Mohamara his will to live, even for fearful reasons. “Um. Wait!” Mohamara tried to find where Sheogorath was in relation to him and eventually felt out the Daedra’s hand. His mind raced for a way to keep that horrid fate far away for as long as possible. “D-did you talk to mom about it?”

“... Do you want me to talk to your mother about it?” Sheogorath’s voice seemed genuinely puzzled but grew more excited as he spoke. “I mean, it would be nice to chat with her again. And bringing this up out of the blue will make things so amusingly awkward. You know, you’re right! I should speak to her about this.” Sheogorath moved away from the Khajiit and started up the stairs. “It’ll delay things considerably, but the end result is sure to be so fun! I can’t wait. Seeya, son!” There was a distinct pop to give Mohamara the impression the Mad God had left.

His doom forestalled by a little while, Mohamara started back down the stairs. Except he was already at the bottom, he realized. “I swear, if he keeps showing up like that I’ll start to get gray fur before I’m thirty.”

I swear if you keep running off into danger when you’re literally blind I will invent the cat carrier just for you!” Yagraz told him from the top of the stairs as she slid down them on a wooden plank of some kind before scooping up the Khajiit once more when she made it to the bottom. “Figured there would be some stairs to slow you down, let’s go.”

--

After killing their way through Draugr, lesser vampires, and an excessive number of skeletons, they got to a section of Solitude’s catacombs that strongly resembled a Nordic tomb.

“Potema!” Sybille’s voice echoed through the ruins as the duo made it deeper in. “This vessel, prepared for you, will let you fully return to this realm. Consume her soul, and let her body be your second life!”

“Potema!” Mohamara called back as Yagraz kicked in the door to a tiered room in which the spectral woman floated, sarcophagi lined the walls, and Sybille stood over Elisif’s sleeping form with a knife. “Look at me!” When the ghost turned her head to behold Mohamara, Yagraz tugged on his leg to send the signal. “Bitch.”

“How in the shores of Coldharbour are the two of you still alive?!” Sybille looked over her shoulder, stood and gathered fire in her free hand. “You’re just two worthless peons too short-sighted to see that this has all been built up to for hundreds of ye-argh!”

With Sybille talking so much Mohamara had time to line up a bolt of holy sunlight and struck the vampire square in her previously perfect face. “I think the fuck not, you trick-ass bitch. Have at thee!”

Potema directed her swirling vortex of energy into the sarcophagi, unleashing the Draugr from within, which Yagraz met with gleeful abandon. The reflect spells effect of the Spear of Bitter Mercy proved invaluable when Potema herself would attack with great bolts of lightning, or Sybille launched superheated balls of fire at the Orc and Khajiit.

Though outnumbered, even with the watermelon atronach Mohamara summoned, it seemed that the tide of battle was going in their favor until Sybille managed to grab Mohamara and yank him off Yagraz’s shoulders while the Orc was busy blocking two greatswords from two different Draugr Wights.

“If you want something done right,” the vampire snarled, holding Mohamara up by his robe and letting the human facade of her face slip away, “do it yourself, I guess.”

“Isn’t it customary to grant the condemned one final request?” Mohamara tried to swing Bitter Mercy at Sybille, but she yanked it from his grip and cast it aside.

“Not for the likes of you.” Sybille opened her mouth wide, baring her fangs, but instead found herself biting into a watermelon fired from the atronach.

Sensing an opening, Mohamara did what was becoming an alarmingly frequent thing--ditch his robes and go hunting for the spear in the direction he’d heard it clatter. “Either I’m getting too good at that, or people need to stop grabbing me by my clothes.” As if to answer his request, Mohamara felt a mummified Draugr hand grab onto his tail while he felt around for the spear, and yank him backward. “Ow ow ow ow!”

“Archers! Aim! Fire!” A female’s voice rang out through the air, and many twangs of bows filled the air. The Draugr that had been holding Mohamara fell to the ground, dead with many arrows protruding from its back and skull. From the doorway, a squad of five Legion soldiers stood in formation, three crouched in front, two standing behind. And behind them was a Nord woman in the metal armor of an Imperial Legate. “Draw steel, put every undead in here to the sword!” The Legate and her soldiers advanced into the room, shifting from bows to swords as they went and joined the fray.

Sybille had only just gotten the watermelon out of her mouth when the Legate grabbed her by her hair, and shoved Imperial steel entirely through the vampire’s mouth and out her neck. It took a moment for her to die, her flesh drying out and becoming dust as the Legate watched.

“No! It will not end like this!” Potema released a shockwave that knocked the Imperials, and Yagraz to the ground as she fled behind a sealed door. The Orc was the first on her feet to bash down the door and pursue the specter.

“Get the Jarl and the boy out of here, Auxiliary. Everyone else, follow that ghost!”

“W-wait, I’m not--” Mohamara was cut off by an unfamiliar hand grabbing him by the wrist and yanking him to his feet.

“Don’t worry, son,” an Imperial-accented voice told him as he was forced out of the room. “Legion’s here to save the day!”

The watermelon atronach, with no orders and no enemies left to kill, dissipated and left thirty perfectly good melons behind.

---

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: What comes next?

 

When they got back to the temple of the divines, Mohamara heard far too many people at work for how early in the morning it was.  The Auxiliary dragged him through several checkpoints, thankfully at one of which someone gave him a blanket to cover up with.  From words he overheard from the Legionaries there was a widespread mobilization of troops.  Something about a Stormcloak attack on Morthal?

“Hold it, Auxiliary,” a gruff voice spoke with weight.  “That’s Jarl Elisif?”

“Yes, General Tullius sir!”  The soldier that had seen to Mohamara and Elisif’s evacuation stood at attention and released the cat presumably to salute.  “Legate Rikke ordered me to see her and this boy out of the combat zone, sir.”

“You think that’s a child do you, soldier?”  There was someone crouched down in front of Mohamara, he could tell by the way he felt a breath tinged with Imperial wine puff in his face.  “This is a tojay Khajiit, fully grown.  Shame about the blindness though.  You okay, cat?”

“Yes, um… General Tullius was it?”  Mohamara inclined his head in the direction the wine-breath was coming from.  “Your Legate… Rikke and her men are the reason why a Draugr didn’t get the chance to chop me up, I think.”

“Rikke is one of my best, glad she could get you out of there, son.”  The wine-breath faded away, and the General addressed the Auxiliary.  “Get the Jarl to the Blue Palace staff, then check with the Thalmor to see if they’re missing any Khajiit.  You’re dismissed.”

“Sir!”  The Auxiliary once more grabbed Mohamara’s wrist and the cat realized he should have run when they had a chance.  It was a few minutes of silent marching later when the Auxiliary spoke up again, in a whisper.  “You in trouble with the Thalmor?  Your fur’s standing up on end.”

“Yeah,” Mohamara answered.  He hadn’t noticed his fur poofing out and hastily started to pat it down.

“Wish I could help you, but orders are orders.”

“Don’t worry about it, once my Orc friend gets back up here we’ll get it all sorted out.  You could just leave me with the Jarl’s people and I can fill them in on what happened down there?”  It was a slim hope, but Mohamara had to try.  The sounds of Castle Dour faded and were replaced with the sounds of the Avenues district which in turn soon became replaced with the Blue Palace’s silence.

“Jarl Elisif!”  Another voice Mohamara couldn’t put a face to, one he had heard from the court advising against sending forces to secure Wolfskull, cried out in shock and the sound of slippered feet came rushing over.  “She isn’t dead , is she?”

“No, just sleeping.”  Mohamara looked up in the Auxiliary’s direction.  “I could have dispelled that by the way, but this way meant you brought me with you all the way to the Blue Palace and away from the Thalmor.”  The Khajiit grinned, ideally into a scowling Imperial face.

“…That’s fair, I guess,” the Auxiliary muttered.  “Do you have a place I can set her down, so the cat can wake her up, lord Firebeard?”

“Yes, yes right this way.”  ‘Firebeard’ led them into the palace and right into the foyer.

Mohamara hoped that the man actually dyed his beard a mix of red, orange, and yellow to mimic fire or he’d question the worthiness of the name.  Once Elisif was set down Mohamara easily Dispelled the sleep that had been placed on her.  For all the talking he had done with Stentor about Mysticism, she never seemed to piece together that it was possible to shatter the sympathetic bonds between a spell, its effects, and its target.

When Elisif woke, it was with violent outrage as she instinctively lashed out and punched Mohamara square in the face as he was the closest one to her.  It was then that the tojay remembered she was a Nord, and Nords seemed to have a racial ability to throw strong punches.

What followed was an explanation of the situation with Potema, Stentor, and why the cat had been dungeon diving while blind.

“The answer to that might upset certain people in attendance, my Jarl,” Mohamara said when Elisif put the third question to him.  “Are you sure you want the answer?”

“Yes.  My life was at risk—my subject’s lives were at risk.”  Elisif’s voice was brisk and uneasy, riding an emotional wave to make it seem like she was fine when likely she was far from it.  “I cannot spare the time to care about people’s feelings right now.”

“Well, it was because people like Stentor… and your steward didn’t think it was important enough to bother with.”  Mohamara’s tail flicked a bit in agitation, remembering the appeal from Varnius just the day before.  “If they were right, I would have been fine, and if they were wrong then I wanted to be in a spot where I could help.  And staying behind would have meant letting my friend go in there alone.”

“My Jarl,” Firebeard started, then paused for a moment.  “You were right, and I was wrong.  If we had sent a legion into the cave, perhaps this situation could have been avoided.”

“Unlikely.”  The tojay wagged his finger at where the steward’s voice came from.  “The binding ritual the necromancers were going to use on Potema didn’t include her Dovahzul name.  No matter what happened, she would have gotten free and made her way into those catacombs.  Unless of course one of those soldiers you sent in happened to be Dragonborn.”

“I think I’d notice if one of my fellow soldiers had scales and wings,” the Auxiliary tried to crack a joke, but instead earned the unwavering stares of the Jarl and the steward.  Mohamara’s stare was diminished by the band of cloth in front of his eyes.  “Sorry.”

“You said your friend, the Orc Companion, she knew about Sybille being a vampire for years?”  Elisif addressed Mohamara, who nodded.  “Heh, I wonder who else knew and thought me a puppet for her.  …Falk?”

“There were rumors, my Jarl, and nothing more.”  Firebeard—Falk—seemed to have regained confidence in himself since apologizing.  “Sybille wasn’t well liked in the city, but I can’t say I heard many people accusing her of wickedness like this.”

“Vampires are products of Molag Bal violating women,” Mohamara started to recite what he had heard in Temple about the many types of undead.  “Like dragons that have a deep-seated desire for power and domination.  This can make them rabid for power, or insidious in their plots.  She could have had you under a spell and you’d be perfectly fine with her—perhaps someone did start accusing her of this and she made you forget.  Since she likely didn’t write it down, we’ll never know.  With her skill in Restoration, she could have been feeding off you and you’d never notice.”

Though Mohamara could not see it, Elisif quickly placed her hand around her neck—feeling for any bite marks.

“That… I want to say you’re blowing this out of proportion.”  The steward spoke again.  “But after hearing that Sybille was part of a plot to resurrect Potema, I can’t rule anything out.”

An awkward silence started but was eventually broken by the Auxiliary coughing.  “Well, Jarl Elisif I’m glad you’re okay.  But I have my orders—I need to take this Khajiit with me to the Thalmor.”

“But he’s with the bard’s college, not the Dominion,”  Elisif spoke up for Mohamara and stood up from the way her bench creaked suddenly.  “I demand to know why you must hand him over to the Thalmor, soldier.”

“Well—the General’s orders were to see if the Thalmor were missing Khajiit, and the Khajiit said--”

“I am a citizen of the Tamrielic Empire,” Mohamara quickly started, standing between the Auxiliary and Elisif.  Fortunately, the hegemonic Empire he’d come from in the Twenty-First Era had decided on a throwback name which meant technically Mohamara wasn’t lying.  “Born and raised in Skyrim—in Haafingar, even, on Mount Kilkreath.  I am one of your citizens, Jarl Elisif.  Don’t let them hand me over to the Dominion just because I’m a Khajiit.  Please?”

“I… I don’t want to, but General Tulius….”  Elisif probably had an understandably difficult relationship with the foreign military leader in her city, it was hinted at in her tone.

So Mohamara took off the cloth over his eyes and turned up his ‘cute cat face’ to maximum levels.  It was his last way of killing time before Yagraz caught up with him.

“Under article sixteen, section twelve of the White-Gold Concordat,” Falk declared like he was announcing a royal decree.  “The Dominion cannot pursue legal action against citizens of the Tamrielic Empire who are not in breach of the clause concerning the worship of Talos.  And under the Provincial charter for Skyrim, even in times of war the Empire cannot detain or extradite people in a Jarl’s court without a writ from the Emperor himself.”  There was a moment of silence while the humans worked their minds and Mohamara kept his ‘cute eyes’ up.

“I recall you bringing up a topic of a patronage for the bard’s college when we last spoke, yes?  I hereby grant your request and offer you the position.  Will you accept?”  When Mohamara, naturally, accepted, Elisif directed a question to Falk.  “There used to be court Skalds, or bards of Jarls, yes?”

“Ah, not quite my lady.  It, um… the official title was ‘court jester’ or ‘fool’.  Sometimes ‘knave’, but that was back in the time of the First Era.”

“If it means I don’t get High Elves sticking sharp metal things in my skin until I tell them things, I will gladly accept any of those titles,” Mohamara informed the Jarl and steward.  “Hell, you can call me ‘royal cat’ and I will only consider you sort-of racist.”

Elisif snrrked at Mohamara’s joke.  “Okay, I’ll consider the ‘royal cat’ thing if I ever actually become High Queen.”  Her tone became far more formal, presumably as she was addressing the Auxiliary.  “Inform the General that this Khajiit is part of my court, and I do not take kindly to him attempting to violate the Provincial charter of Skyrim, even unintentionally.  You are dismissed, soldier.”

The Auxiliary left with little resistance.  Likely he only resisted the idea at all because it meant he had to report directly to the General.  And no one wants to tell their boss that their other boss is mad at them.

--

Mohamara, the new ‘Fool of Solitude’ for a little while at least, was given a guard to escort him back to the city to locate Yagraz.  Which turned out to be easy—she was in the Winking Skeever having drinks with the Legate who had saved the day down in Potema’s crypt, Rikke.  “I’m so glad that while I was risking being sent to the Thalmor,” Mohamara told her, voice flat, “you were getting wasted.”

“Short-stuff, you woulda gotten out.”  Yagraz pointed at him with her bottle of mead, and almost spilled it on the floor.  “Just had to get naked-er and run away like you did in Markarth.”

The tojay scowled in Yagraz’s general direction while she snickered.  “I don’t know if I’m more annoyed that you brought that up in public, or that it would probably work.  Still, I know how to get vengeance on you come tomorrow.”  With a self-assured stance, Mohamara stumbled his way to his room.

As it turned out, however, when the next morning came Yagraz was not in an awful hangover like Mohamara expected, so he could not have his vengeance in that way.  So, he roped her into his backup vengeance.

Talking to every. Single. Person in Solitude about how they felt about Elisif, what they liked and what they disliked.  Every store owner, every dock worker, every child running through the streets, every beggar on the corner, every madman wandering the alleys about how his master was vitally needed.  There was only one of those, however.

Mohamara recorded their responses with his slate and started to work on the final report to present to Elisif.  Fortunately, the Burmice servitor was able to take dictation for hands-free writing.  Which meant that he could have his Yagraz mount travel to the bard’s college for review.

Naturally, Viarmo thought it to be far too critical of Elisif but he understood once Mohamara explained it was the sentiments of the citizens which Elisif was paying him for.

“Alright, I’m sorry for leaving you alone to almost get snatched by Thalmor,” Yagraz finally admitted on the approach to the Blue Palace.

Mohamara adjusted the hood of the Jarl’s court outfit he’d switched into and made himself as comfortable as he could on the Orc’s shoulders.  “And?”

“And for telling an entire bar about an embarrassing story you told me in confidence.”

“There we go, you’re forgiven.”  The tojay made sure nothing was going to get caught on Yagraz’s shoulder spikes, then hopped off to walk on his own.  “Now let’s go wreck a Jarl’s day.”

As a member of the court, Mohamara didn’t have to wait in the foyer with the few people seeking an audience, he could stand among the Thanes and delight in how they tried to politely shoo him away.

After a proposal for a parade was dismissed, considering a recent Stormcloak attack on the city of Morthal, Elisif addressed the blind cat.  “Ah, my Fool returns so soon.  Composed a little ditty about how my people feel for me, yet?”

“Indeed, my Jarl.”  Mohamara bowed in her general direction while moving to the middle of the throne room.  “And that is a prelude to how this is going to go, I’m afraid.  If you would like to receive it with just you and the steward in the room?”

“No, no.  I would like my entire court to hear what the people think of me, so they can all help to improve upon it.”

“As you wish.”  Mohamara cleared his throat and made it look like he was reading from his slate while breaking out into lyrical speech.  “You say: The price of this war is a price that you’re willing to pay.”  He pointed opposite the Jarl’s throne, to indicate the city outside.   “They cry; in fields, on the hills or at sea after battle goes by.  Why so blue?”

The palace itself was indicated, though the people felt more it was that Elisif had been in mourning for far too long given a war going on.   “The one at the risk of dying out there isn’t you.  Am I making you mad?  If you’re sick of lying, then I’m your man.”  Falk had been completely wrong about how many people complained about Stentor, to the point where Falk himself was considered an unscrupulous liar.  But the song wasn’t about him.  Mohamara gestured with wide arms to Elisif, “what comes next?  You’ve been freed.  Do you even really want to lead?” The next part saw Mohamara show off his high-jump capabilities to show excitement.   “Potema’s dead.  Awesome!  Wow!”

All amusement left Mohamara’s body language, but not his expression for the next part.   “Do you want to know what happens now?  Oceans rise, Empires fall!”  The citizens had been with her in supporting the Empire, but more than half of them thought the institution was past the tipping point and would fail on its own.   “Except now it’s really your call.  So, when push comes to shove, will you rule them all with fear or with love?”

Part of the job of a Fool was to get people to laugh, so a ridiculous dance number during a cool down period for his voice.  A bit of self-healing during the dance allowed him to keep going after without fear of his voice cracking.   “They say their coin is draining and they can’t go on! To you, they’ll be complaining when it's all gone.”  Mohamara cartwheeled over to the Jarl’s throne, sidestepped the armored and thus noisy housecarl who tried to stop him and leaned against the back of the Jarl’s fancy chair.  Even seated, he knew she would be taller than him.   “And I will not change the subject.  For these are your own subjects.  Your less than happy subjects.  Your loyal “royal” subjects.”  The use of air quotes marked Mohamara leaving the throne zone, jumping up, landing on the housecarl’s head and leaping away to his starting position.

“What comes next?  Like those before, will you fight the fight and win the war?”  If he had been aware of the late High King’s portrait in the throne room, he could have used that to drive the point even deeper. But he didn’t so he just turned his back on Elisif and spread his arms toward the city of Solitude. “For their love, for their praise?  So they’ll love you till their dying days?”  Again, the cat drastically moved position, spinning his way toward where Stentor had stood during the court proceedings last time.   “When you're gone, will they be glad?  And tell everyone how you were bad?  So, when push comes to shove…”  The housecarl was making another attempt to grab him, Mohamara could tell from the sudden approach of steel plate boots. “Will you rule them all with fear—” he jumped over the man’s grab at him, landed on his back and bounded away to drive the housecarl face-first into the wall.   “Or with love?”

A final bow marked the end of the performance, to weak applause.  Expected, considering he’d gone with the tune of an Eighteenth Era play’s music for the piece, and the subject matter.

“I’m… not sure I quite understood all of it,” Elisif started when the clapping ended.  “But from what I gather, the people are not happy with me for multiple reasons.”

“You are as foreign to them as General Tullius, my Jarl.”  Mohamara stood up and pretended to work on something on his slate.  “They know nothing about you, and think you’ll end up as a tyrant if this war keeps up.”

“Yes, that is one of the things I picked up on.”  The Jarl shifted on her throne, to address the court at large.  “How might this be remedied?”

“Lower the tax burden on the citizens,” a female Thane said.  “The East Empire Company can afford to pay more.”

“And if the Company decides to leave Solitude to go somewhere with fewer taxes?”  A male Thane responded to the other.  “Skyrim isn’t as rich as High Rock or Cyrodiil, they have no obligation to do business here.”

“My Jarl,” Mohamara spoke up again.  “Do you go to the temple of the divines often?”  Elisif responded in the negative, Mohamara sighed.  “Julianos tells the faithful ‘when in doubt, seek the wisdom of the wise.’  Your court can help you to rule Haafingar efficiently , but perhaps you would be best served by asking your fellow Jarls for advice on how to keep your people happy?”

“In better times, I would agree.”  Elisif’s tone was sorrowful.  “But I’ve heard reports from Markarth and Morthal.  The people there are far from happy—and Jarl Siddgeir of Falkreath is even newer to ruling than I.”

“What about Whietrun, then?”  The female Thane once again spoke.  “Balgruuf holds no animosity towards you, and his people are happy enough.”

“If he’s the one to ask, my friend and I will be passing through Whiterun on a quest to retrieve some stolen property from Eastmarch.”  Mohamara gestured to Yagraz who stepped out of the shadows to look as menacing as possible.  “We could deliver the request and bring it back to you?”

“Oh, you’re leaving?  I thought… no, that’s perfect.”  Elisif clapped her hands, in an attempt to appear Jarl-ly.  “Falk, some quills and paper please, I need to write a letter to Jarl Balgruuf the Greater.  No, I will not dictate it, I will write it myself .”

--

Yagraz and Mohamara soon found themselves on a carriage to Whiterun, paid for by the Jarl to speed them in delivering her letter.  It had been lowkey hilarious, according to Yagraz to watch the Jarl struggle with sealing wax when her missive was complete.  She assured Mohamara she’d snapped a picture of it on her micro-slate to share with him when he got his eyesight back.

On the road, they passed a pair of dueling wizards.  Apparently, they were fighting to see whom could apply to be Solitude’s new court wizard.  The carriage driver stopped at Yagraz’s insistence and the pair of them watched the fight while Mohamara asked for details every so often.  In a battle between ice and fire magic, fire had the advantage of lower cost to create and a sort of scaling damage—burning a person already on fire would double the amount of fire they were on.

Except the ice mage had one crucial advantage: Physical projectiles.  The fire was well and good, but it couldn’t defeat three ice spikes launched into the liver, lungs, and head at medium range.  Ice won the duel and marched up the road to Solitude.

After days of travel, Mohamara’s sight returned and he could see exactly how stupid he had looked with his Jarl’s court outfit.  The fabric was black velvet with garnets sewn into the color sleeves, hood and buttons with floral silver designs worked around them.

As the horse was given a break in Rorikstead around that time, the tojay decided to talk about it with Yagraz.  “Okay, how much money did those elves owe you to use real fucking garnets in the buttons?”

Yagraz’s response was a wicked smile and whisper.  “I got them a deal with the Jarl of Whiterun—they do all his and his kid’s clothes.  So, a lot is what they owed me.”

Mohamara boggled at the idea, he looked at Yagraz, and the real garnets sewn into the robe and still couldn’t process it.  But then his ears went flush against his head, and his tail began to thrash.  “If I go look at the smallclothes from them and find garnets I’m gonna--“

“Excuse me, young man?”  An elderly Breton from the town’s manor on the hill had come down while the two friends talked in the unhorsed carriage. He had a narrow face and wore quilted brown clothes.  “I heard from your coachman that you and your friend were coming from Haafingar?  Would you by any chance know Maria, who lives on Mount Kilkreath?”

Mohamara whipped his head around to look at the man while Yagraz leaned forward, with her hand on her ax.  “Yes,” the cat answered perhaps too quickly.  “I’m a friend of Maria’s.”

The old man’s face split open in a wide smile.  “Oh, happy day!  I’m also a friend of Maria’s, but I haven’t heard from her in so long, I thought maybe something had happened.”

“She’s… been kidnapped,” Mohamara carefully put it while looking around for any signs of a Vigilant ambush.  “My friend isn’t a friend of hers, but she’s a friend of mine, and is going to help me rescue her.”

“Maria?  Kidnapped?  Oh, how awful.”  The man’s excitement withered away quickly.  “No wonder she hasn’t responded to any of my invitations to come visit.  Where have those scoundrels taken her, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Eastmarch.  She’s being held in Eastmarch.”

The elderly Breton rubbed his chin in consideration.  “How could they have gotten her all the way to Eastmarch without crossing this way?  Oh, she’ll be so very cross with me for not noticing.”  He looked back up to the tojay, with plaintive eyes.  “Please, rescue Maria quickly.  Knowing her, she’ll want to go home straight away, so I’ll ask her to visit some other time.  If you can manage to see her back home—I’ll find a way to reward you.  Just come back to Rorikstead when it’s done and find me.  My name is Jouane Manette.”

“Mohamara Ahramani, and Yagraz gro-Dushnikh,” the tojay indicated himself and then Yagraz for the late introductions.

“Thank you for telling me the news and may the light of certitude guide you to Maria, and safely back.”  Without anything else to say, Jouane briskly walked away from the carriage and into the local bar.

“So,” Yagraz started after they were alone again.  “Want to give me the odds on him being a Rainbow Man, like you?  Ack!  Attack of the tail-snake!  I am defeated, laid low, and made a corpse by the assault of fluff!”

---


Chapter Text


Chapter 14: City on a Hill

On the road from Rorikstead to Whiterun, Mohamara and Yagraz encountered a conflicting sight. Three people in mages robes--that came with trousers, much to Mohamara’s irritation--but with armored extremities and melee weapons. From their battle cries, it wasn’t difficult to piece together that they were Vigilants of Stendarr. They were chasing a vampire Dunmer woman, dressed in bizarre layered armor that resembled spider webbing. The coachman was forced to stop because the battle spooked the horse to the point where she would go no further.

This let the two Daedra worshippers talk amongst themselves about the situation.

“They’re Vigilants, this is their job and I’m okay with letting them deal with one vampire on their own.” Yagraz’s expression was unusually hard and merciless. Not unexpected given that Dushnikh Yal, the largest Orc neighborhood in Skyrim, had historically been a target for Vigilant raids.

“Yes, but it’s a vampire,” Mohamara countered. “She could be leading them into a trap, or have a way to turn them against each other.”

Yagraz spat over the side of the wagon. “She’s out of tricks to pull. I know that run, it’s the run of someone afraid they’re gonna die.”

Mohamara turned to watch the Vigilants chase the vampire across the hills. “What if they attract a sabre cat with all the noise they’re making? A sabre cat can kill those three no problem, and then come after us.” The tojay narrowed his eyes and looked over his shoulder at Yagraz. “Can either of us kill a sabre cat before it kills the horse?”

“You know,” the coachman said with an unsteady tone. “That is an excellent question. I would also like the answer to.”

Yagraz looked at the Vigilants chasing the vampire once more and sighed. “Slow her down and I can take her out from this distance no problem.”

Pleased as punch that he got to kill a vampire, even if it meant helping Vigilants, Mohamara put his hands together and gathered the holy rays of the Sun. After leading the target, he launched the Sunfire bolt and watched it sail through the air to the vampire.

It missed, but it hadn’t meant to hit, just to get the undead monster to stop from fear of the attack. Yagraz’s followup was immediate. She launched her skyforge steel ax through the air like the fury of Malacath and struck the Vampire in the spine.

As the Vigilants descended on the crippled vampire to end her suffering with many mace blows, Mohamara considered the vampire. Who had she been, before she became a monster? Did she seek out the curse, or had it inflicted upon her? Did either of those things matter? The beast had become a disease upon living things, the likes of which Peryite couldn’t develop in his wildest dreams.

Meridia didn’t mind that some of the faithful showed empathy for necromancers or undead, so long as they did their duty and put an end to the abominations. Mohamara remembered a sermon about the subject, which quoted the Lady addressing her fifth Champion thus:

’You feel for the person that they might have been, had they not made this mistake. Your sorrow comes from the potential they had that was squandered by this course their life took. You see a tragedy because you are full of My anger, and My anger comes from grief.’

Mohamara looked up at the night sky as the Vigilants retrieved Yagraz’s ax and approached the carriage. The moons, two halves of a dead god’s corpse according to legend. The god that had tried to trick his Lady into giving her life for his ambitions. The tojay wondered if Lorkhan had added the undead to the World, and that was why his Lady had carved her way out at the very last moment.

But then idle wonderings had to take a backseat to the Vigilants. They were getting close, so Mohamara threw his blood-stained quilt over the Spear of Bitter Mercy, lest they see the Daedric artifact.

“Thank you, Companion,” the leader of the Vigilants, an Imperial woman declared and offered Yagraz her skyforge steel ax back. “Your assistance was invaluable.”

“No problem,” Yagraz muttered in as close to a fake-polite voice as she ever got. “Always happy to put down a blood-sucker.”

“May Stendarr guide your way.” The three Vigilants left off down the road, toward Rorikstead.

With the battle over, it wasn’t long before the horse was calm enough to resume moving. “Well,” Mohamara said with a clap. “They didn’t even threaten you over being an Orc and likely worshipper of Malacath. So that was an overall net positive, I’d say.”

Yagraz nodded, begrudgingly. “Yeah, one less vampire in the world and didn’t have to hurt any stupid humans.”

“As a human,” the coachman started. “I would like to thank you for not killing my stupid kinsmen, Companion.”

The two Daedra worshippers looked at the back of the coachman’s head, with different levels of confusion. It was so… unlike a human to call out others of his species, if not race, as being stupid for any reason. But then he spoke again and explained everything.

“Hail Sithis.”

---

Whiterun city was nowhere near the level it would be in sixteen thousand year’s time. It was strangely haunting to see Dragonsreach palace looming over the horizon for hours before they got to the city’s edge. Mohamara had only seen the palace in historical paintings, and the attempt at a reconstruction for the Whiterun museum didn’t prepare him for the weight it had in sympathetic bonds alone.

It had been said that the ways of Whiterun were the ways of the quintessential Nord, and feeling the sympathetic power that flowed in and out of, to him, ancient Whiterun convinced Mohamara it had to be true. For better or worse, the city influenced what it meant to be a Nord.

It also stank of horses. And dogs. Mohamara had to actually cover his nose the first time the carriage was downwind of Whiterun city. Yagraz cackled in delight while Mohamara’s eyes watered from the smell of the place.

“How do Khajiit caravans tolerate this,” he hissed while burying himself in his quilt. Even the faint smell of his own blood was preferable to the reek of Whiterun. “Their noses are stronger than mine!”

“It’ll get better when we’re past the farms,” the Orc told him with confidence. But she still giggled every time the cat poked his head out from under the quilt to sniff the air and violently retract. “Aw come on, horses and dogs don’t smell that bad.”

“I will never be able to forget this smell.” Mohamara rolled around in the quilt until he was safely underneath many layers of the blanket. The smell of dogs and horses managed to work its way through, but greatly weakened. He also realized soon that he couldn’t breathe from how tightly he had rolled his cocoon

Yagraz got him out after he tried to do so himself, failed, and had to whine plaintively for help. So he had to suffer from the awful smell until the wind shifted. “Hey, there’s the caravan right outside the gatehouse.”

Mohamara perked up and looked over the side of the carriage, still under his quilt. Sure enough, there was Ri’saad’s caravan milling about and doing business with some of the locals. “Do you mind if we stop there before going into the city?”

“No problem, short-stuff. I’m going to get something for my girl from them if they have anything.”

“You’ll want Atahbah, the one in the blue dress. She handles all the children’s toys and stuff. Plus I know she got some good dolls and things from…” Mohamara paused then turned around. “I’m sorry, I briefly forgot it was your daughter we’re talking about. The guy who handles small blades and such is that one in the green tunic and bandana. I think he has an elven dagger in stock that would be great for a little murderess in training.”

“You’re such a thoughtful little guy.” Yagraz reached over and trapped the tojay in his quilt with a sudden hug. “You’ll be a great uncle at this rate!”

“Mmph!”
--
Mohamara greeted the cathay Khajiit as he bounded ahead of Yagraz on the way to the caravan site. Those who were not busy with customers greeted him warmly, though with confusion. When the tojay found Ri’saad he was discussing the price of an enchanted dwarven sword with a Nord woman in full plate armor. Given the sword had the Blessed enchantment, the elder cathay spun a story of how useful it would be against undead such as Draugr. The sale was made, the Nord woman walked away with a fine weapon, and Ri’saad earned a considerable amount of gold.

His ears perked up when he saw Mohamara, though the tojay knew he’d been aware of the smaller Khajiit’s presence before. “Ja’khajiit, you return to us so soon. A bard, already? This one did not expect to see you again for a year’s time.”

Mohamara’s tail went up and hooked at the end with apprehension as he stepped forward. “Yeah, I did some work for them, studied a little bit and they made me an honorary bard. That seemed to please Sh-... Skooma Cat. He told me so, himself.”

“Is good that you do not have the threat of the Skooma Cat hanging over you any longer.” The elderly cathay leaned to one side and smiled faintly. “You have regrown your tail, also good.”

“Yeah. Nice to be able to balance and jump properly again. But, um.” The tojay reached into his backpack and produced a small leather bag to hold out to the cathay. “Here. It’s not much, but I wanted to start paying you back for what you did for me.”

Without complaint, Ri’saad took the bag and opened it up. Inside was all of Mohamara’s money and the garnets from Dead Man’s Respite. Without so much as blinking, Ri’saad closed the bag back up and put it under his coat collar. “Ja’khajiit, your debt to this one is not so great as you imagine. But thank you nonetheless.” Ri’saad sat on the rug at the door to his tent and patted the ground in front of him. “Sit. Tell Khajiit what has transpired since you left us.”

Mohamara checked over his shoulder for Yagraz and saw her examining greatswords from the weapons vendor. Because of course, she would. He sighed and took the offered spot in front of the cathay. “Well to start off, I found out my best friend is in this time period too. Malacath taught her how to Break the Dragon.”

Ri’saad’s droopy expression did not change. His body language did not change. But he leaned forward and whispered his reaction to the tojay: “What.”

The tojay spent about ten minutes summarizing the events of his stay in Solitude, retrieving the lost verse of King Olaf, dealing with Potema and becoming the Fool of Solitude. Ri’saad said nothing but did direct a stern glare at any of his caravaneers that stopped in their duties to listen in for a bit too long.

When the story was done, the elder cathay sighed, wistful. “To be young and have grand adventures again. No matter. Is good that you have a place in the Jarl’s court. Perhaps clever ja’khajiit can earn Ma’dran’s caravan the right to enter Solitude to do business like he did for this one at Markarth?”

“I’d certainly try,” Mohamara nodded in agreement. “Still… I don’t know how long I’ll be the Fool of Solitude, Elisif agreed to make it a temporary position.”

“Any time you can spend in the Jarl’s court, to learn to give our people a chance is better than what we had before.” Ri’saad’s droopy face became a scowl. “Though, if the Hero of Kvatch could not teach the Imperials to give Khajiit a chance, perhaps nothing can.”

Mohamara conveyed confusion through his ears and tail, prompting Ri’saad to tell the story of a suthay Khajiit that had become a storied hero in the Imperial province around the time of the Oblivion Crisis but had their name forgotten in the time since then. It had sparked a surge of Khajiit heroism in the hopes that Elsweyr could, at last, get desperately needed aid from the Empire. But to no avail.

“It is why the homeland so readily joined the Thalmor,” Ri’saad admitted with a mix of bitterness and sorrow. “They at least pretended to care about the Khajiit. The Empire never did. But perhaps ja’khajiit can speak to many Jarls, and make the Nords a friend to Khajiit?”

“Oh yes, that sounds completely possible.” The tojay’s voice was so heavy with sarcasm it almost slithered on the ground to reach Ri’saad. “How about I teach them that magic is perfectly fine while I’m at it--can’t be that tough.”

The cathay patted Mohamara on the shoulder and quickly glanced to Yagraz who leaned on a wagon, silently watching. “Is it any less difficult than the plans you already had?” Ri’saad’s answer was silence and a completely unchanged expression. “You did have plans, yes?”

“Stay alive long enough to help my friend with hers, help you with yours, and maybe trick Skooma Cat into ruining my life slightly less. That’s about it.”

Once again, Ri’saad glanced at the Orc who watched Mohamara with an unreadable expression. The elder cathay decided to press on the subject. “But… in your time? You spoke of college and degrees?”

“That’s less a plan and more a societal obligation.” Mohamara sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Yagraz was lucky, she got a job she loves doing and that she gets to keep doing here. My end goal was… I guess I never had one.” He shrugged, no bitterness in his face or voice. “Just go to class, do the work so I can get a degree, and then work until I get too old or too injured to work anymore, then starve to death.”

Ri’saad’s droopy face somehow found a way to become even droopier. “That… would be a miserable waste of a life, ja’khajiit.”

“It’s the best I could hope for.” Mohamara shrugged once again. “I… didn’t want to tell you this, but from what I’ve heard of Elsweyr and the state of our species… this is as good as it gets. From now till my time in the Twenty-First era, it just goes downhill.”

“Okay, nope.” Yagraz made her presence known, marched over and scooped up the startled tojay. “None of that. Friends don’t let friends get so depressed they bleed it into their worldview. Come on, you and I are going to have a talk.”

“This one looks forward to seeing you again, ja’khajiit.” Ri’saad spoke quickly while the tojay was still in earshot. “And hopes you will be happier when it happens!”

Up to Whiterun the Orc marched with a Khajiit squirming under her arm. The guards greeted her warmly and made no comment about Mohamara as he attempted to gnaw his way to freedom. Past the wood and iron gates they went, and down the main street of Whiterun’s Plains District until Yagraz turned and marched up the steps to a cottage. Presumably, this was her home ‘Breezehome’, for she had a key to the place and entered without incident.

The cottage was pleasantly warm compared to the ever-present chill of Skyrim. Far at the end of the cottage was a dining table and doorway to an adjacent room while a stairway led upward. Immediately in front of the door was a firepit with a stewpot over it, and two chairs flanking a low table. Into one of these chairs, Yagraz dunked Mohamara, while she sat in the other.

“‘Work until you’re too old, or too injured to work anymore, then starve to death.’” The Orc woman looked at the Khajiit disbelievingly, moving her hands about in a variety of gestures trying to convey how much she didn’t understand. “What?

Mohamara said nothing, twiddling his thumbs and kicking his feet in the too tall chair while he looked into the coals. “It’s… pretty straightforward. Not a lot of ambiguity.”

“What the hell happened to your ‘become a teacher’ thing? I thought that’s what you were going to college for.” Yagraz got up out of her chair to pace around. She’d always needed to be mobile when she was pissed off, if she stayed in one place she’d end up punching someone.

“You’re mad.”

“I’m not mad, I’m just confused. Come on short-stuff, you’ve always been a sourpuss but this?!” The Orc woman gestured toward him with a bewildered expression. “Where in the Ashpit did this come from?”

Mohamara’s ears flicked back and his tail began to sway. “Look, the teacher thing… fell through. I got told early on that going for that degree would be a waste of time as I wasn’t going to get hired anywhere.”

“... Because you’re a Khajiit or…?” Yagraz tried to look in Mohamara’s eyes, he could never lie to her when looking her in the eyes. So Mohamara kept his gaze fixed firmly on the coals in the fire.

“Does it matter? It doesn’t really affect things now--”

“When my best friend’s end goal is to starve to death it affects things plenty!”

A sudden interruption to the tense discussion came from a Redguard man stumbling into the house with a cloud of alcohol smell around him. “Oh hey,” he greeted Yagraz with a tip of his wine bottle. “Good to see you’re back.” The Redguard took a long drink of his wine while glancing around, then noticed Mohamara. “Found yourself another kid? I bet Lucy’ll be happy to have a little sister.”

Yagraz let out a hiss of laughter despite the scene that had been playing out before, while Mohamara glared daggers at the Redguard man, presumably the Brenuin friend Yagraz had mentioned.

“Heh, with a glare like that she’ll have no problem keeping the boys away until she’s ready for marriage.”

“Would you mind if I murdered him?” Mohamara asked without taking his eyes off the drunk who had emptied his wine bottle.

“Yes,” Yagraz answered. “I can’t afford a long-time babysitter who wants to be paid in gold instead of booze.”

“You know what? This calls for a drink, break out the Argonian Ale!”

--

‘Lucy’ was actually Lucia, a ten-year-old Imperial girl who seemed to comprehend that Mohamara wasn’t actually a kid, just short, far better than Brenuin could. Not all that surprising, given the man was absolutely shitfaced by the time Yagraz came back from letting the Companions know she was alive, with four pounds of venison purchased from the marketplace for dinner.

Because neither Brenuin or Yagraz could cook venison worth a damn, Mohamara knew from experience, it fell to the shortie squad to get dinner prepared. “You put your Momma in front of a grill and give her any animal--anything the Divines put on Nirn, and she’ll make you something delicious.” Mohamara told his ‘new’ niece with authority. “But ask her to make a stew and she’ll hand you a bowl of poison.”

“Brenuin’s not much better.” The brown-haired Imperial girl spent her time chopping leeks and potatoes for the stew with her new elven dagger while Mohamara carved the venison with his Nordic one. “He’s good with bread, though. I think he used to be a baker.”

“Don’t you go spreading those vicious, hurtful lies about me, young lady,” the resident drunk pointed his bottle of ale at Lucia from across the house.

“Your mother has a job, and is a respected member of the community,” Mohamara informed the Redguard man with a flat voice.

“How dare you say that about my mother, I swear when I--” The drunk hastily tried to stand but tripped over the bench and landed on his face. He stayed there for a second before faint snoring sounds began to drift over toward the shortie squad.

“Dumbass,” Mohamara added the chunks of venison to the stew and carefully shook a small bowl’s worth of salt over the mixture. “Stew’s ready for the vegetables when you are, Lucia.”

Yagraz was busy on the second floor, moving furniture around looking for something. As long as she wasn’t trying to dig deeper into Mohamara’s problems when she still had a life of her own to live, the tojay was happy. The situation was years old, and there was no legal recourse to correct it in the Twenty-First Era, so why did she insist on bringing it up?

“Hey, short-stuff!” The Orc woman called from the second floor. “Get your butt up here!”

“It’s the room with the double-doors around the corner from the stairs,” Lucia informed Mohamara as she started to add in the vegetables. “That’s how she sounds when she has presents.”

The walls were decorated with silver swords, Mohamara noticed as he went upstairs. Functional swords made out of real silver, but the reason puzzled him. Undead were so much weaker to fire than silver--why stockpile them? Perhaps she’d intended to have them all fire-enchanted by the tojay when he showed up?

Yagraz’s room was an absolute mess, containers thrown open and their contents--mostly loot from previous dungeons, he guessed--spilled out. But when he entered past the door, Yagraz hastily closed the door and held up… a suitcase.

Not just any suitcase, Mohamara realized. His suitcase, from under his bed back home. When she handed it over to him, he almost fell over from the weight--the suitcase was physically larger than him and seemed stuffed.

“What in the Indigo Room did you put in this?” Mohamara laid it out on a mostly clean part of the floor and unsealed the anchors. Inside he found what he’d expected--mostly his clothes. “I never thought I would be happy to see a pair of sweatpants in my life.”

“It gets better.” Yagraz’s grin was from ear to ear as the tojay dug through layers of dusty clothes.

Wrapped up in several shirts and some socks Mohamara found… two filled grand soul gems that he’d definitely never seen before. The Khajiit’s eyes reflected the steady blue-white glow from the gems as he slowly looked up at Yagraz.

“I’ve been dungeon diving for years, short-stuff. Lots of grand-sized Draugr in that time.” She crouched down to look Mohamara in the eye, letting the glow catch on her tusks and eyes. “Now, I think we both know what enchantment you need to make out of these things.”

“Red Shoes?”

“Red Shoes.”

---

Chapter Text

---
Chapter 15: Hail, Companions

After months of improvised conditions, spending a night in a bed in a home was a pleasant reprieve. After the Winking Skeever, it did not have the same debilitating levels of comfiness, but Mohamara still found himself sleeping longer than was normal.

After the morning meal was finished, Yagraz and Mohamara exited Breezehome. The Orc Companion wanted the Khajiit to meet her shield-siblings before they went up to Dragonsreach. Mohamara had elected to wear some of his clothes from home--green shorts, a white button-up shirt, his white and red coat, and newly enchanted Red Shoes. Yagraz’s armored boots did not show the enchanted red tinge as clearly as Mohamara’s, but they both still cast faint red lights on the ground as they walked.

The Red Shoes enchantment had been developed in the Nineteenth Era by Doro’thei Galle, of House Sadras in Morrowind. She had pleaded with Azura, Daedric Prince of Twilight, to provide succor to those souls in need of it--or to make Doro’thei an agent of Her benevolence. Azura had responded by creating a new Daedric artifact, the Ruby Slippers. The slippers allowed Doro'thei to cross the distance between Red Mountain and Mournhold in one step, and to teleport instantly to where Azura needed her to be. After a century of acting as Azura’s agent, Doro’thei discovered a way to create a lesser form of the enchantment to empower others. Azura promptly turned the Ruby Slippers into shoes of red-hot iron and compelled Doro’thei to dance herself to death.

Azura was like that sometimes.

But the Red Shoes enchantment proved invaluable for people such as police officers, adventurers, and philanthropists up until the late Nineteenth Era when the regulation of grand soul gems, which were required for the Red Shoes enchantment, took effect. Their ‘spell’ was that the shoes would automatically detect people in need nearby and activate--providing a potentially ludicrous boosts to speed, agility, and jump height. Doro’thei’s one oversight in the enchantment was that it provided no way to find out whom was in need in the area.

Which came up as the two of them passed through the marketplace. Both Mohamara and Yagraz suddenly found themselves moving at breakneck speeds despite not putting in additional effort. Neither of them adjusted well to this.

Yagraz ended up running into the wall near the stairs connecting the Winds and Plains districts, leaving a sizable crack in the stones. While Mohamara had tried to jump and suddenly found himself in the air at equal height to the pinnacle of Dragonsreach.

“I’m beginning to think this was an awful idea,” the cat said as gravity took over and the cat started to fall back to Whiterun. This time he had the presence of mind to scream at his impending splattering.
This did not happen as Yagraz managed to use her own enhanced jump height to catch Mohamara and carry the both of them through the air to land in the branches of the Gildegreen tree. “Okay,” she started before spitting out a mouthful of pastel leaves. “Someone in the marketplace needs help. We’re going to have to find out who that is.” She looked down at Mohamara who was frantically clawing at his throat, then slapped him on the back.

A live bird came out of the Khajiit’s mouth, freed by the blow. “Yeah.” The tojay coughed a few feathers out. “That sounds like a plan.”

“Excuse me,” a yellow-armored Whiterun guard called out to them from the ground. “Could you please get out of the Gildegreen and stop jumping hundreds of feet into the air? You’re disturbing the peace.”

--

It was… surprisingly difficult to find out who needed help so badly that it procced the Red Shoes enchantment. It seemed that many people in the marketplace were in need of some assistance. A fruit-selling woman was being hounded by the bard from the local tavern, whom Yagraz knocked out cold with one solid punch. A local Redguard man Yagraz knew, Amren, had gotten into a fight with his wife about retrieving his father’s sword, which Yagraz had already picked up but not known the significance of. It startled Mohamara that she knew the weapons in her house enough to immediately identify one iron sword she’d picked up months ago with minimal details.

Ysolda, a Nord business partner of Ri’saad who had fawned over Mohamara’s cuteness when she first saw him, required a mammoth tusk for Ri’saad as a gift.

But the person most in need of help turned out to be an associate of Yagraz, an elderly woman who was the wife of the Companion’s smith. Fralia Gray-Mane, who had a humble stall where she sold exquisite jewelry made ‘by the greatest smith in Skyrim’, was being taunted by two younger Nord men.

Taunted about her allegedly recently deceased son.

Yagraz wanted to beat their faces into pulp, for apparently, she knew them, but Mohamara had a better idea. With extreme care given the active enchantment, the tojay stole up to them and established a sympathetic bond with each of them on one end, then ran to a relatively nearby stall where fresh meat was being sold. The other end of the sympathetic bonds went into two pork bellies which he then bade the Bosmer attendant make bacon from.

The two time-travelers watched in morbid amusement as the two Nords twitched, spasmed, contorted, and examined themselves as they felt the knives of the Bosmer cutting through skin and cutting up connective tissue for bacon. Both of them broke off tormenting Fralia, and hastily made for the temple of Kynareth. The elder of the two had to be supported by the other or he would have collapsed on the stairs.

Justice would make the bacon taste all the better, so Yagraz gladly paid for it and carried the pork product off to Breezehome. Meanwhile, Mohamara met with Fralia, who watched the cat approach with some wariness.

“I saw you do that magic to them,” the old Nord woman said in a whisper. “It was good of you to help an old woman. Are you another of Yagraz’s adopted children?”

The tojay’s ears adjusted, unconsciously conveying confusion through body language rather than facial expression. “‘Another’? I’ve only seen Yagraz have one daughter.”

“Oh, she hasn’t told you about little Sofie….” Fralia looked down the road to Breezehome, a peculiar wetness in her eye. “Yagraz brought a girl home about a year back, from Windhelm. Things were alright at first, but she caught the same rot that now eats at old Kodlak. And, well, little girls cannot endure it as long as Harbingers of the Companions.” Fralia looked away for a moment then put on a smiling face for the Khajiit. “But that girl was loved every moment she was in Whiterun.”

Mohamara’s ears and whiskers drooped. He’d been giving Yagraz even more problems when she’d lost a kid already. ‘Just typical’, he thought. ‘Making her life even worse with my problems. And now I’m making it about me by realizing how much she already has to deal with.’

“Oh, I didn’t mean to make you sad, young’in. Could you tell Yagraz I was wondering if we could talk later?” The old Nord hesitantly patted Mohamara on the head in between his ears. “Tell her it’s about Thorald, okay?”

“No problem, ma’am.”

“What’s this about Thorald?” Yagraz had already returned, likely due to the Red Shoes giving her greater speed as she drew closer to Fralia. “Did he hurt his back training with a warhammer again?”

“Oh, how I wish it was something as mundane as that,” Fralia shook her fists in frustration. “No, my boy went off and joined the Stormcloaks. I got a letter that he died in the recent battle up at Morthal, but….” The old woman placed a hand over her heart and looked north. “I know that isn’t true, my boy is alive, I feel it.”

Yagraz elbowed Mohamara and indicated him to use some Mysticism on Fralia by waggling her fingers and sticking her tongue out at the Nord when Fralia wasn’t looking.

Annoyed by the way Yagraz treated his school of magic, Mohamara nevertheless dove into the sympathetic bonds around Fralia. He saw the faces of many Nords, all with gray hair. Some images faded away until only a handful remained. Most of the bonds arched over Whiterun to indicate the people that Fralia was connected with were in town. But one bond stretched far to the north and west.

The symbol of Morthal appeared, then was replaced by a sneering High Elf in a Thalmor hood, and being pulled even further northwest. A ruined castle on the northern coast of Skyrim, with a view of a haunting castle island just barely within reach.

When he came out of the bonds, Yagraz had picked him up and was chatting with Fralia about how well her husband’s jewelry took to enchanting, showing the Nord woman the ring of regeneration Mohamara had made as an example.

“Well,” the Nord elder said hesitantly. “It’s good to know that my Eorland’s work is even good for doing magic too, though don’t tell him that. He might retire out of spite.”

“Eh.” Yagraz shrugged. “He didn’t mind much when I got my ax enchanted. Doesn’t make it cut any deeper or hurt any more than a normal ax, just collects the souls of undead and animals to sell to wizards.”

“I know where Thorald is being held,” Mohamara told Yagraz. “A castle on the north coast of Haafingar, where you can see an island castle just barely.”

Fralia’s eyes boggled as she looked intensely at Mohamara.

“Ooh, that’s probably Northwatch.” Yagraz rubbed her chin in consideration. “A Thalmor torture facility that the rest of Skyrim isn’t supposed to know about.”

Fralia’s face went pale as she turned her intense gaze on Yagraz.

“Not supposed to know about as in ‘illegal’ or ‘not officially there’?”

The poor Nord woman looked at each of them in turn, confused but unable to articulate a question.

“Super duper illegal. Me and Avulstein used to bust people out of there on the regular. They torture all kinds of people up that way: Talos worshippers, suspected Talos worshippers, some Elves that fled to Skyrim after the Thalmor took over, stuff like that.”

Fralia swayed on her feet and had to lean on her stand to remain standing.

“Well then we can bust in there no problem and the Thalmor can’t do dick about it because what they’re doing is in violation of the White-Gold Concordat.”

The smith’s wife finally decided fighting gravity was a losing proposition, and sat down behind her stand.

“Oh hell yes. Come on, I’ll bring the idea up to the Companions, we’ll make a party out of it. ...Where’d Fralia go?”

--

Jorrvaskr was an ancient Nord ship flipped upside down and converted into a mead hall at the edge of the Winds District. Like Dragonsreach, it had a strong network of sympathetic bonds that branched out to the whole of Skyrim. However, unlike Dragonsreach, the mead hall had seen better days--planks were missing from the roof which allowed birds to nest in the gaps.

“You know I can walk on my own….” Mohamara spoke to Yagraz from her shoulder.

“Yeah, but in here things tend to get rowdy fast and I’m not going to let you get buried under a pile of wrestling fools.” Yagraz’s expression went distant while she opened one set of the double doors into Jorrvaskr. “You’re not the type that likes that sorta thing.”

As if to prove her point, the literal second they entered the mead hall punches started to be thrown. A Dunmer man and a Nord woman, both in light armor were fighting hand to hand and taunting each other off to one side of the mead hall.

“Athis, what the shit is the matter with you?!” Yagraz became incensed by the fight and almost knocked Mohamara off her shoulder from how much force she used to throw her hands up and bring them back down. “I’ve hit you harder than that, and you’re already bleeding?”

Athis, apparently the Dunmer, was indeed already bleeding from the mouth from a vicious punch in the teeth by the Nord woman. Other people in the mead hall gathered around the fight and cheered words of encouragement to the fighters. Except an old Nord dressed in dull gray armor with several pieces modeled after wolf heads--even a sizable fur skirt. His eyes were milky with partial blindness, and his face covered by a mane of a white beard.

“And who is this you bring to us, Yagraz?” The Nord’s voice was world-weary in much the same way Ri’saad’s was, but with an inner weakness that made Mohamara assume the man was ill. Without prompting, the Nord reached up and began to scratch under the tojay’s chin.

At first, he wanted to snap at the finger getting up in his grill, but after a second of the scratching Mohamara found himself relaxing far more than was appropriate given the situation. Tojay could only purr on the exhale, so the Khajiit was giving inconsistent indications that the scratching was appreciated.

“Kodlak, don’t do that you’ll make him fall off--hey!”

Mohamara had leaned a bit too far into the scratching and almost fell off Yagraz’s shoulder but the Nord--Kodlak--hastily caught Mohamara by the chest and put him back.

“Apologies, shield-sister. You know how I get with cats.” Kodlak stepped away, and his ceased chin-scratching let Mohamara come back to his senses and act suitably miffed at the personal space invasion.

“This is Mohamara, the guy I’ve been looking for all these years.” Yagraz poked at the cat’s face, only retracting her poking fingers when Mohamara snapped at them. “Found him while I was in Solitude.”

“This is the one?” Kodlak squinted at the tojay and put his hands on his hips. “Either he is unnaturally short, or he was a babe when you first started looking.”

“It’s the first one.” Mohamara volunteered with a forced smile. “Props to you for at least considering the possibility.”

“Nice fangs.” Kodlak’s eyebrows rose appreciatively. “Unexpectedly large for someone so small.”

“You say one word....” Mohamara whipped his head around to glare down at Yagraz immediately. “You laugh--you even chuckle--and I will stab you. On Malacath’s massive pecs, I swear it”

Yagraz had to cover her face to keep from laughing. After a minute of doing so with Mohamara glaring at her and Kodlak looking at both of them in confusion, she uncovered her face with a neutral expression. “Okay, I’m good.”

Mohamara kept up the glaring for a moment longer, then relented. His tail continued to twitch from lingering annoyance while he focused on Kodlak.

All of a sudden, Yagraz picked him up and set the cat on the ground. “That’swhatshesaid.” And then bolted like her life depended on it.

Mohamara drew his Nordic dagger and pursued the fleeing, cackling Orc with his tail puffed up in absolute rage.

--

Mohamara never managed to catch up to Yagraz to stab her. The Orc woman had far more endurance than the Khajiit, and after he couldn’t run anymore he became an oddity to be passed around between the Companions while Yagraz chastised Athis for losing his fight so easily.

There were two groups of Companions, the Circle, and the Whelps. The Whelps included Athis, his opponent Njada Stonearm, an Imperial woman named Ria who seemed to enjoy petting Mohamara, and a Nord drunk, Torvar. The Circle had four members aside from Yagraz and Kodlak. Farkas and Vilkas, twin Nords who both specialized in heavy armor and two-handed weapons, with Farkas being almost as ripped as Yagraz and Vilkas being the perfect mix of a jerk jock and a self-righteous scholar. Aela, the only other woman on the Circle was a slim Nord who wore hideously inefficient armor favored the bow. She appreciated the softness of Mohamara’s fur perhaps too much given how often her hand slipped to a dagger she kept at her waist. And lastly was Skjor, blind in one eye, bald, and a dual-wielding fighter. Skjor quickly became Mohamara’s second favorite Companion because he reminded him of an old priest Kilkreath Temple had, who tolerated exactly zero-percent of his friend’s nonsense.

“Boy or not, a friend of Yagraz or not, he has no place here,” Skjor said while Ria held Mohamara captive. “At least Vignar’s minion can be useful.”

“Skjor, the moment I am done teaching Athis how to take a punch for the fifteenth time,” Yagraz called from the other end of the mead hall, “I will suplex you until you lay off my best friend. On Malacath’s many abs, I swear it.”

“To be honest, I don’t exactly want to be here either.” Mohamara had long learned that there was no point in fighting off warrior women who had decided they wanted to pet him because they’d just yank him back by the tail if he got away.

“There is a fire in your heart, little cat,” Kodlak said as he helped Athis to a chair to rest from Yagraz’s teaching. “Perhaps you just need the right company to give it shape.”

Mohamara scoffed and looked at the Dunmer, leaning over a feasting table covered in bruises and missing a couple teeth. The elf was wearing Yagraz’s regeneration ring, so his teeth would be back soon enough, but he was clearly in a lot of pain. The cat looked up at Ria who had been petting him between his ears. “Can you take me over to him? I’m a healer.”

“Oh?” The Imperial woman seemed surprised but quickly complied.

Once in range, Mohamara channeled bursts of Restorative energy into the Dunmer, causing him to shine from within with golden light for a moment as bruises and lost blood were remedied. “I thank you, Khajiit,” Athis said, stiff-voiced. “But you healing me just means she’ll put me back into training again sooner.”

“Well,” Mohamara shrugged. “Maybe you should learn to dodge then?”

“See, Skjor? Yagraz brought us someone with the gift of healing.” Kodlak ambled over to the other ancient Nord. “Seems suitably useful, in my book.”

Skjor was about to speak when he found himself being grappled by an Orc woman taller than he and suplexed into the ground. “You thought I wasn’t serious, Lord Baldy-bald?! People who doubt my taste in friends get suplex-noogies of shame!”

I will skin you alive, woman!” Naturally, Skjor found the process of being suplexed and noogied against the stone floor of Jorrvaskr disagreeable.

“Promises promises Baldy-bald!”

Mohamara watched the scene play out before looking up to Ria again. “I’m okay with you continuing to pet me if you can take me up to Dragonsreach? I need to deliver a message to the Jarl.”

“Ooh, sounds important.” The friendly Imperial woman smiled and trotted out of the mead hall to comply with Mohamara’s request. Guards greeted her warmly as they passed through the Winds District to the long stairs leading up to the Clouds District.

Dragonsreach palace was far more approachable than the Blue Palace, there was no foyer where those who wished to see the Jarl had to wait for a summons. The Jarl of Whiterun’s home was meant to repel invaders, with huge open spaces inside and raised platforms flanking the staircase where defenders would be placed. At the top of the stairs was the throne room, where three massive tables almost completely surrounded a roaring bonfire.

Balgruuf, a blond Nord man in fine clothes with a strong body that was only just beginning to show the withering of age regarded Ria and Mohamara as they approached. His housecarl, a Dunmer woman, drew steel and advanced on them as the two drew near.

“What brings you before the Jarl of Whiterun, Companion?” The Dark Elf spoke with a muddled Morrowind accent like she had wandered much growing up. “Has this Khajiit stolen from you?”

“Hail, housecarl,” Ria replied with a bow. “Nothing so mean-spirited today. This Khajiit says he has a letter for the Jarl, so I escorted him up to ensure nothing he didn’t own found its way into his pockets.”

Mohamara’s ears flicked back as he glanced up at her. “And here I thought you found me cute,” he muttered. He cleared his throat and spoke with authority utterly undermined by how Ria held him up off the air. “I am Mohamara Ahramani, of the bard's college, and current Fool of Solitude. I bring a personal message from my Jarl, Elisif the Fair to the Jarl of Whiterun, Balgruuf the Greater.” He took the letter from inside his jacket and held it out.

Balgruuf himself said nothing but arched a brow absurdly high. Meanwhile, his housecarl snatched the letter and broke it open to read the contents. Without any further words, she walked away and handed the letter and its envelope to the Jarl to read.

“This is not the handwriting of her steward, Falk Firebeard, cat,” the Jarl of Whiterun spoke with a voice that carried easily through his massive hall.

“Indeed, for she wrote that letter for you. Wrote it herself.” Mohamara held the Jarl’s gaze for a long moment before the Nord looked back at the letter.

“Someone fetch me a quill and paper. If Elisif cares so much for my advice to break tradition and write me directly, I will pay her back in kind.” Balgruuf reclined on his throne while he read the letter, growing ever more pensive while he ran over the writing. “How is Elisif, Fool? She does not seem herself in this letter.”

Mohamara shifted in Ria’s grip as his legs had begun to go numb from poor circulation. “She escaped an assassination attempt by someone she trusted, someone her husband trusted. Elisif is angry, with herself, with others of her court who ignored the signs of what was happening, and with the guilty party. This anger has woken her up where before she was fast asleep.”

Balgruuf nodded, resolute. “The first attempt on their life always lights a fire under a Jarl or empties their throne for someone better suited. And if the fire that burns within Elisif is for her people’s happiness, I will tell her all I can on the subject.” A servant woman brought the Jarl a writing slate, some paper, and a quill resting in an inkwell to write with.

“I don’t suppose you could let me down?” Mohamara looked up once again at Ria, turning on his ‘cute eyes’ to try and sway her.

“I like you were you are, cat.” Balgruuf paused only a moment to level a guarded look at Mohamara while he wrote. “Away from my silverware.”

---

Chapter Text

---

Chapter 16:So Much Talking

“How in the world are you so knowledgeable about dragons, my good Khajiit?”

“I had some as professors at college and attended a lecture by one. The most dangerous part was the long walk up to the mountain, really. Otherwise, they were perfectly pleasant.”

“At college? Which college?”

“The Jorrvaskr School of Clever Works, it isn’t going to officially open to the public for a long time, though.”

“Jorrvaskr… Oh! A secret society, of course! No one would suspect using the Companions’ mead hall as a name for a secret college of mages.”

While Mohamara watched the excitable Nord that was Balgruuf’s court wizard, Farengar Secret-Fire write down all that Mohamara had told him about dragons and possibly sewed the seeds for his own school’s formation many Eras later. The mutton-chopped wizard had originally struck up a conversation with Mohamara while the cat waited for Balgruuf to finish writing a reply to Elisif. But in the talking, Farengar had revealed his academic study of dragons, which Mohamara had used to bring up the subject of Numinex. From there, the discussion became progressively more draconic until Mohamara was rattling off random bits of trivia for Farengar to wonder over.

“I have to say, it is a clever idea,” Ria commented. She still held the Khajiit aloft in Balgruuf’s throne room. “And even works in a reference to the old Nordic title for wizards.”

“Yes! The Clever Men and their Clever Craft, hardly anyone who hasn’t spent time in a major learning center remember them.” The wizard looked up from his note-taking with dawning confusion. “Um, how do you--”

“I have read literally every book, essay, or treatise on Ysgramor and Nord culture.” Ria’s tone was flat and her expression intense. “Literally, everything that has been published as of four months ago.”

“...Well, it’s good to see that Ysgramor’s legacy of warrior-scholars has been renewed.” Farengar’s tone was of a brow-beaten bureaucrat more than a genuinely pleased scholar.

“Is it rude that I’m glad that his legacy of elf genocide isn’t being renewed?” Mohamara looked at the two humans in turn. “I mean, yeah, the Thalmor can suck a mountain of dicks but having all High Elves die because of them is a bit much.”

Balgruuf let out one 'ha!', and muttered ‘mountain of dicks’ to himself as he kept writing. Then he examined what he had written and sighed. A replacement sheet of paper was quickly swapped in and he started all over.

“Well, anyway. I must repay you for all this dragon-lore, my new friend.” Farengar put away the journal he had wrote into and quickly made off to a side-room of Balgruuf’s hall.

“...There is no secret society by that name, is there, little guy?” Ria scratched Mohamara under the chin for a moment and giggled when the tojay became limp in her arms.

“No, it’s legitimately just a college. Not secret, just not open to the public. Yet.” Mohamara carefully left out that it wouldn’t be for many thousands of years. “And not my fault that he wasn’t invited.”

“I figured. Given how easily he talks about things like that in front of strangers, he’s probably not the best secret keeper.”

Farengar returned with a sizable stack of books. “I found plenty of spares in my library! And for a college-educated mage like yourself, these tomes should prove invaluable, but also quick to pick up. Though, be informed that they’re mostly Illusion and Alteration-based.” Farengar seemed to have no problem carrying around what easily could have been fifty pounds of books, as they caused the long table he set them on to creak ominously.

“Ria, would you mind?” Mohamara pointed at the stack of books, and the Companion carried him over to them. “You’re sure I can have these, Farengar?”

The wizard waved his hands magnanimously. “I give them freely, as thank you for what you shared with me.”

“Alright, just wanted to be sure.” Mohamara tuned out the physical world and dove into the sympathetic bonds of the books. Words on pages bound in containers acted as the shell for containing the true treasures within Ideas, knowledge, memory. The Mystic Khajiit bound a sympathetic bond from these things to his own mind and let the contents drain from one container to another.

On the outside, it looked like the cat’s eyes went white, and one by one the books disassembled into cords of white light that Mohamara devoured like spaghetti noodles. When he came back to the physical world he saw Ria, Farengar, Balgruuf, and Irileth looking at him. Their expressions were confused, horrified, bewildered and annoyed respectively.

“What? Do I have something stuck in my teeth or something?”

--

Mysticism was a school that wasn’t easy to comprehend from the start. Contradiction, inference, and symbolism were the key concepts that had to be learned, not how wiggle fingers plus magic word equaled fireball.

The books ceased to exist because Mohamara had learned the knowledge out of them. They vanished because they’d served their purpose. Books couldn’t have physical matter because it wasn’t the books themselves that mattered: only their contents. They never mattered, so they couldn’t have matter, or they would matter.

It’s why the best way to teach was through codex entries, which could be shifted between codexes with a network connection and stored on less powerful devices--such as grimoires, slates, and micro-slates. All the function of a book--to store knowledge--but reusable and without silly notions about how they mattered when they didn’t.

Farengar did not take well to Mohamara’s lecture on the subject, still mourning the loss of the books. Ria asked the tojay how they had tasted as they walked back to Jorrvaskr with Balgruuf’s letter.

“I didn’t really eat them, that was your eyes trying to make sense of what I was doing,” Mohamara started but then realized it would only confuse her more. “Um. I guess they sorta tasted like that food you eat that ends with you being hungry a half-hour later?”

“Oh, crackers.” Ria waved to a group of young girls who recognized her as a Companion, then started up the stairs to Jorrvaskr.

“Since I’m not at risk of stealing from the Jarl anymore, can you let me down?”

The Imperial woman squeezed Mohamara tighter and rubbed her cheek on the top of his head. “No. You still might steal from the Companions.”

“I don’t even know how to steal things….”

Inside Jorrvaskr there was a meeting going on at the feasting table. Yagraz and Aela were discussing something that revealed itself to be an attack on Northwatch Keep as Ria drew closer. “Hey, short-stuff.” Yagraz had a tankard of some alcoholic drink in her hand as she greeted the returning Companion and cat. “Me and Aela were just talking about how we’re going to go kick the living annihilation shit out of the Thalmor once lunch is done. You want details?”

Mohamara blinked a bit. “Wait… you’re going to do that now?”

“Of course we’re doing that now, Thorald might end up getting his nails painted some shade of pink if we wait too long.”

Meanwhile, in the dungeon of an icy castle on the northern coast of Haafingar, a Nord man chained to a wall watched a High Elf in a hooded jacket examine small jars on a table. Despite his rugged appearance and prominent beard, the Nord’s face was expertly done up with the finest makeup money could buy.

“Testing beauty products on Talos worshippers has been my most profitable idea yet,” the Thalmor torturer commented with cheer.

Mohamara sighed and rubbed his hand into his forehead. “I… can’t go to Haafingar so quick, Yagraz. I gotta go to Eastmarch right away.”

The Orc woman scoffed and took a drink of her alcoholic beverage. “Yeah, I know. Wasn’t planning on taking you up to Northwatch. Sorry short-stuff, but it’s… well, a task for the Companions.” She tried to look cool, to play off the unavoidable diss to her friend.

Said friend began to visibly droop in his ears, tail, and whiskers before he shook the reaction out. ‘You’ve occupied enough of her time,’ he told himself. ‘Let her have an adventure without having to babysit you.’

“Okay, right. Ria, I’m going to go hug my best friend goodbye, you can either let me go on your own or I get myself free.” The tojay looked up at Ria with steel in his eyes and found himself set on the ground. Quickly, Mohamara made his way around the feast table to hug the massive Orc woman, who was able to crush him into her side with one arm. “Don’t die.”

“Wasn’t planning on it, short-stuff. If you want to talk, you can always call me.”

Mohamara had forgotten that Yagraz had her micro-slate with her, and nodded before breaking the hug and leaving Jorrvaskr. He hadn’t planned on leaving after only one day in Whiterun but realized that if he stayed too long, he’d put off doing his Lady’s work to stay with Yagraz.

Meridia could possibly forgive him being afraid of Sheogorath. She definitely wouldn’t forgive shirking his duties because of comfort.

With that in mind, Mohamara quickly made his way to Breezehome and packed his backpack full of essentials for the trip. Eastmarch was big and unlikely to be amicable to his searching. Mostly he packed his usual clothes, swapped out some clothes, and made sure his slate was cushioned on every side.

Then, with the Spear of Bitter Mercy, the cat departed Breezehome with the intent to start on the road straight away. Instead, he walked face-first into an armored waistline. There stood Kodlak Whitemane, with a backpack of his own and holding a combat-ready skyforge steel warhammer like a walking stick. “Yagraz goes north to destroy an evil, but told me that you go east to do a great service for the people,” the elder said while the Khajiit rubbed his nose and picked himself up off the ground. “My sickness keeps me from going into glorious battle, but I am not so infirm that I cannot travel the land--if you would have a Companion with you.”

“... Sure?” Mohamara shrugged. “You only made a racist remark toward me once, more than can be said of the rest of them.”

“Then let us be off.”

--

The road to Eastmarch took the two unlikely adventurers across the outer edge of Whiterun Hold. Roads through the center would not be paved for hundreds of years at the earliest, simply from the danger presented. On the road, there were plenty of sights to see, such as bandits foolishly trying to fight a giant, a battle between the navy-blue armored Stormcloaks and Imperial Legions out on the plains, and a jester in need of help on the road.

Of the three, Kodlak and Mohamara only stopped to help the jester. The Imperial clown was so outrageously happy when the two agreed to help him fix his damaged wagon wheel, he danced throughout the repairs. Kodlak’s physical strength was sufficient to hold the cart up despite the boxed up sarcophagus inside while Mohamara used his newly absorbed apprentice-level knowledge of Alteration to repair the damaged axle and wheel.

The jester, Cicero, paid them handsomely for their trouble and even offered Mohamara tips on being a Fool. “Learn to laugh even when you wish to cry, Cicero says. Then you can laugh whenever you want to, or... need to. People get so deliciously flustered when you can laugh at anything they do.” The jester’s penchant for speaking in the third person in no way diminished his advice.

Kodlak didn’t like Cicero at all but seemed unable or unwilling to articulate why.

“We are suitably far away from others,” Kodlak observed as they passed a pair of ruined towers where bandits had set up a false toll. The Harbinger had merely given their sole guard a stern look and he backed down rather than demand money of either man or Khajiit. “Yagraz tells me you have… difficulties, young one.”

Mohamara immediately put some distance between him and the almost-blind Nord on the road and flicked his ears back. “Did she now?”

“Do not be afraid. I am but one man, and I am old. If you no longer wish for my company, you can simply run away and avoid this conversation.”

“At least until Yagraz tries to have it with me when I get back to Whiterun.” The road started to crest, then curve downward. They were in Eastmarch at last, so Mohamara began to feel out where the beacon was. The bond was still arching high and away, so they weren’t close at all.

“You cannot hide from a true friend’s concern for your wellbeing. I learned that long ago.” Kodlak did not change his course, but the road narrowed as it curved downward so Mohamara had to close the distance between them. “Yagraz tells me you have no hope for your future?”

“Yeah, why do you care?”

“As an old man, I am legally obligated to try and help young people who are trapped in existential despair,” Kodlak spoke like he was revealing state secrets. “Once your hair turns grey they kidnap you and make you swear on this big book of standard elderly person roles.”

“Ha.” Mohamara sighed and kept his eyes on the steep slope to his left that he could slip off if he didn’t pay attention. “There’s only like… so many times you can hope that what you’re doing will pay off, then get told you were stupid to even try.”

“Yes, I have seen such things happen. To my regret, I have even delivered such sentiments in my youth. Who told you these things?”

“Secondary school career counselor. The guy they send you to in the big cities to find a job. Like a bunch of kids, I got told that the job I wanted would be a waste of time because I’d never actually get the job.” Mohamara sighed and kicked a rock down the steepening hill that the road ran along. “So, took a different job. One I had to go to college for, get into debt, and find out that the job I’m doing isn’t going to exist in ten years time.”

“Printing press?”

“Something like that, yeah. And now I have a Daedra hounding my every move, looking for an opportunity to make my life miserable for amusement. So… what’s the point?”

“Point?”

Mohamara put his hands behind his head as he walked. “No matter what I do, there isn’t any outcome that leads me to happiness. The best I can do is vicariously live out other people’s happiness by helping them. So why would I bother having hope for my own future?”

“Because without hope, nothing can change.” Kodlak stopped and leaned on his warhammer/walking stick to look down at Mohamara. “Despair consumes you now, but it will not always. If you can keep moving forward, little by little, day by day, things will improve.”

“There’s no guarantee of that. Sometimes you get knocked down and you stay down.”

“Like me?” Kodlak spread his free arm wide. “I have the rot. Every breath is harder than the last, but still--here I am. Walking with you, seeing this beautiful country with you, and hoping that perhaps I can help you help yourself out of despair.” The two resumed their trek. An Argonian in light armor with a brandished blade came rushing at them from the trees, but Kodlak casually slapped her off the road and down the sheer drop past it. “What of your Lady? Yagraz has told me that you serve the Daedra of Life, and you will find no censure in me. But what of her? Does she offer recourse to you?”

“Of course she does.” Mohamara made a note to talk with Yagraz about sharing personal information like that. “The Blue Room--Where Despair is Cured.”

“Would you tell me about it, lad?”

Mohamara told Kodlak about one of Meridia’s Colored Rooms--Where Despair is Cured, known informally as the Blue Room. It was a part of Meridia’s dominion where mortals who died despairing--by their own hands or not, were gathered and tended to by her most benevolent lesser Daedra. The servants of the Lady would work ceaselessly to cure the departed of their despair, and then move them to a more permanent afterlife in Meridia’s Rooms.

The Blue Room was described as deep as the sea, with Meridia’s light floating high above while the Daedra in her service convinced mortals to swim upward. Deep below the Blue room was the Indigo Room, Meridia’s prison, and above it was the Cyan Room, where guests to the Rooms would mingle.

While Mohamara explained this to the Harbinger, the Argonian highwaywoman tried three times more to rob them, each time she grew progressively more beat up from being thrown down the cliff. After the third time, they passed her stuck in a tree upside-down.

“It is good that your Daedra sees to the needs of her faithful,” Kodlak said with genuine respect. “So little is known about Meridia, I didn’t even know she accepted mortals to her realm of Oblivion after they died.”

“Well--now you know.” Mohamara shrugged. “Not like it changes much.”

“It changes everything.” The Nord looked down to the Khajiit. “Despair is a disease so virulent that even a Daedra must cleanse it from her followers. You create so much work for her and her minions by this path--and think how she must feel. You say that she loves you, a deep, personal love like the priests of Mara feel? Well then she must wish for you to be happy, does she not?”

Mohamara considered the question. Meridia loved her faithful, but mostly left them to live their lives on their own--she assured guidance when asked for and protection. But things like success, wealth, and meaningful relationships were the domains of other gods and Daedra. “I would guess so, but she has no way of making us happy.” The cat stopped to consider the question and unintentionally foiled the Argonian highwaywoman’s attempt to leap at him. She had lept from the trees, but planned her jump around Mohamara continuing to move forward--so she landed far ahead and was casually smacked off into the bushes by Kodlak. “So.. even though worshipping her and everything makes me happier, and she probably likes that, it’s still on me to make the rest of my life good. Which I can’t.”

“Why can’t you?”

Mohamara sighed and started to walk again as the highwaywoman came charging at him, causing her to stumble on the base of his spear and go careening into the side of the hill. “My… father, basically. He just shows up in my life, makes demands, makes threats, then leaves. No idea when it will happen, can’t plan around it.”

“Surely it cannot be as--” Kodlak was stopped by the sudden appearance of a party noise-maker in his mouth, which he blew from trying to speak. There was a conical party hat on his head, and on Mohamara’s as music began to play from nowhere and everywhere, and colorful confetti rained down on the two of them. Behind them, the highwaywoman stumbled back onto the road and realized she was dressed like a clown. This caused her to throw her blade away and go storming off.

A letter tied to a balloon drifted in front of Mohamara’s viscerally annoyed expression and opened on its own.

‘Dear Son,

Just wanted to let you know how happy I am to be considered the principal antagonistic force in your life and not the literal hundreds of things that could kill you at any moment on a random day. Or the people actively looking for you to torture you. Or the racist people who would be indifferent to your suffering if you asked for help. It means a lot that you consider me so much worse than any of them.

Love you lots.

--Pa.’

Mohamara scowled and sent the balloon drifting up to Kodlak to read as the Nord rid himself of confetti, the hat, and the noise maker. After reading, the Harbinger sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t suppose your Daedra offers some protection from things like… this?”

“Yep.”

The Nord nodded, resolute and popped the balloon between his hands. “Then we must do your work for her right away, and put an end to this nonsense. It will do more for your health and happiness than any words I can string together if this is what you’re dealing with.”

--

Relatively nearby, in a walled city built on the shores of a lake, there was a peculiar sight to see. A bizarrely dressed Khajiit, wearing one half of a ludicrously colored purple and orange suit on one arm, leg, and half his chest while the other side was bare save for threadbare brown trousers. One half of the Khajiit’s fur was well tended to, slick, shiny, and perfumed while the other was wild, mange-ridden and almost starving. The same duality applied to the creature’s eyes, for one was slitted and almost predatory in its focus, while the other was wide and showed a bit of color deep within the iris.

As the strange Khajiit passed by people, they turned to stare at the odd man--surely such a loon would be best found in the Ratway, where all the town crazies lived? Then why was he out in the city with the normal people?

“Hold,” a purple-armored guard of the city stepped in front of the cat’s path. “What business does a cat like you have in Riften?”

The Khajiit man grinned, one-half of his teeth the picture of perfect dental hygiene while the other was sufficient to give dentists nightmares. “Oh, nothing all that remarkable.” As the cat spoke, he reached up and squeezed the guard’s nose twice, producing an unnatural honking noise. “Just talking to some candidates is all.”

The guard became completely disinterested with the Khajiit who continued on into the city and became fixated on his nose. Every time he squeezed it, the same unnatural honking noise occurred. He ran for help from other guards but found they only laughed at his situation.

“Ooh, maybe I should pick up some cheese too. Or some of those special drinks that the Argonians here make. Pelly would love those!” The Khajiit leaned conspiratorially over to the side and whispered something to people who weren’t there. “Don’t none of you go telling my boy that I’m doing this. Not my fault his mother needs him to put her phone on the charger for her.”

He considered that for a moment, then spoke with the other side of his mouth. “Well it sorta is, but he’s not going to find that out, and neither is my little woman.” He opened a pocket on his almost well-dressed side and dropped a block of cheese in to feed the tiny Imperial woman he kept in there. “And neither is my wife.”

---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 17: The Winter War

After a while in Eastmarch, Mohamara pinned down where the sympathetic bond to the beacon was pulling, far to the northeast, almost in Winterhold, and by the water. When he told Kodlak this, the Companion responded that the best way to get there would be to go towards Windhelm first. So at the fork in the road where abandoned Fort Amol stood watch over they went the northerly direction.

“We must be careful on this road,” Kodlak informed the cat. “Or, at least I must be so. Gallows Rock is not far from this road, and the Silver Hand garrison it.” He looked down at the tojay with an arched brow. “Tell me, can you use that spear?”

“Not very well,” Mohamara admitted with a shrug. “I mean, I can use it to fish easily because it’s so long and pronged, but it’s magic too.”

“I don’t suppose Yagraz knows how to wield a spear--she has been a gap-closer as long as I’ve known her. Would you mind if we took a break and I show you how to use it in a fight?” The two of them stepped aside from the road so Kodlak could demonstrate how to hold the spear--though he said it would be more like holding a pike for someone Mohamara’s size. “Relying on any one strategy, magic or metal, is never a wise proposition. I’ve tried to teach this to the youngsters, but they have not faced the frustration of being useless in a fight enough to warrant practice.”

“I imagine just healing up other people who are fighting would fall into that category too?” Mohamara tried to practice the stabbing motions Kodlak had demonstrated, but with alarmingly less force behind them.

“Indeed. It would only serve to make you a target for archers, or combat mages.” However, it prompted Kodlak to rub his bearded chin in consideration. “Hmm, archery might be a good fit for you. Shortbows, clearly, or perhaps crossbows. Yes, a crossbow might just be the ticket.”

Mohamara paused in practicing to squint up at the Nord. “Are you trying to rope me into being a Companion?”

“Heh, the Companions do not ‘rope’ people into joining, lad.” Kodlak smiled down at Mohamara, seeming almost… jolly? “But when Yagraz brought you into our hall, she was as bright and energetic as the first day she crossed our threshold. For years, she had been languishing, but no longer. It makes me believe that her friendship with you partly inspired her to be as great a warrior--as great a woman as she is today. And, if you wish it, perhaps the Companions could do the same for you.”

“... You do know I technically work for Jarl Elisif of Solitude, right? As a Fool? The jump around, make an ass out of myself to get people to laugh sorta thing, yeah?”

“Lad, I’ve seen all sorts take up the crest of Wuuthrad. All your employment as a Fool does is lead me to believe you’re an honest man. How peculiar a notion, to think a Khajiit an honest man, hmm.”

Mohamara sighed and started walking back to the road. “If I agree to give it a shot, will you lay off the casual racism?”

“I can only promise to try.”

--

“You know, as much as my doctor would probably enjoy how much walking I’ve been doing, I can’t help but wish the flying broom was invented by now.” Mohamara let his feet soak in the hot spring waters Kodlak had directed them to. There had been nowhere suitable on the side of the river they had started on to make camp, so Kodlak had directed the cat to cross and find a spot.

“Then perhaps you should be the one to invent it?” Kodlak was in a different hot spring pool, separated by rocks and a tree for the sake of privacy. According to him, an ancient battle with between Tongues and dragons had left the center of Eastmarch volcanically active, supporting hundreds of small hot springs dotted around the land.

“Oh no, no, no. See, the gal who does invent the broom is an Orc. And Malacath gets mean when you steal the achievements of Orcs, so I’d rather not.” Mohamara emphatically shook his head even though the Companion couldn’t see. Yagraz had told him stories of the vengeance Malacath would craft on people who stole the achievements of the Orcs, the ramifications of which were allegedly visible from Nirn orbit in some cases.

“But it isn’t her achievement yet, she might not even be born.”

“You think Malacath cares? He knows that I know that it’s an Orc achievement, so it’s fair game. I could maybe sneak by with a flying carpet, but that’s pushing luck I don’t have.” Mohamara glanced across the river when a bird flew by and momentarily considered snatching it out of the air when he saw people in Hold guard armor colored deep blue with shields featuring a bear design walking down the road. “I’m guessing those are Eastmarch guards?”

“My eyes are not so good for seeing great distances at sunset anymore, can you describe them for me?” Kodlak ‘hmmed’ to himself for a moment as Mohamara described them. “That sounds like a Hold guard, but we’re in Eastmarch. They could potentially be Stormcloaks, I haven’t seen a Stormcloak and a Windhelm guard next to each other to know the difference.”

“Imma go ask them.” Mohamara stood up and trotted off toward the river with bounding steps.

“Wait, what? No!” Kodlak’s less than stellar vision did not allow him to see all of Mohamara’s journey. The old Nord lost track of the cat as he began to jump between rocks to cross the White River. The Harbinger’s mind ran through likely possible outcomes of the Khajiit’s rashness. Ulfric’s boys weren’t usually as xenophobic as their Jarl, so violence might be avoided. But in all likelihood, they would assume the cat had stolen up to try and rob them.

A good learning experience, Kodlak decided as he rose from the hot spring intending to dry off then don his armor and see to the younger man’s rescue.

However, Mohamara returned moments later without any signs of battle on his person. His fur, however, was a mess. “So, it turns out those were just Windhelm city guards on their way to investigate bandits trying to occupy that fort we passed. And the way to tell Stormcloaks from Windhelm guards is that Stormcloaks all use a lighter shade of blue than Windhelm.” The cat shrugged while Kodlak looked on in surprise.

“They gave you no problems?”

“Well they wanted to, but the lady in charge punched the one guy who thought I was a thief. Then she started petting me because apparently, I reminded her of her cat growing up.” The Khajiit stuck his tongue out and sat back down to rest his feet in the hot spring. “Being short and cute has advantages, sometimes.”

“I… see.” Kodlak returned to the hot spring himself. Since no rescue was needed, he could spend a bit more time in the medicinally hot water before setting down for the night. “You had to know that was really risky.”

“Everything in this country is risky Literally everything. A slaughterfish could suddenly appear in this water and eat my feet off. And no, you demented excuse for a Daedra, that wasn’t an invitation!”

Kodlak chuckled to himself and relaxed. “Enjoy the warmth while you can. As we get closer to the goal you’ve put to us, this will be but a distant memory.”

--

The Nord’s words proved true almost as soon as they went north of Kynesgrove. The green scenery was rapidly replaced with white and the volcanic heat with sub-arctic cold. Mohamara donned many layers of clothes and still found the cold chilling him to his bones.

After one day of that, Mohamara decided that enough was enough and took out the biggest soul gem in his small stockpile--a common sized one that held the soul of a Frost Troll. Kodlak watched in wonderment as Mohamara spun the gem into a crystalline thread and wove it into his jacket. When finished, the Nordic knots weren’t nearly as dense as what the ring of regeneration or his own Red Shoes sported, but the enchantment was as strong as a common soul could produce. The windbreaker was enchanted with a warming effect that would make it as effective as a heavily padded winter coat at providing warmth, and be too warm for ice to form on.

Without prompting, Mohamara used a lesser soul gem to do the same to a fur cloak Kodlak had to keep his head warm.

With his ears and nose pleasantly warm despite the frigid cold that blew from the north, Kodlak began to rethink his people’s stance on magic--on enchantment, at least.

Windhelm was visible in the distance after the third day’s march, and Kodlak strongly advised Mohamara against getting any closer to the city. Even when the Khajiit mentioned that he knew of a caravan that was likely to be outside, Kodlak still advised against it. “You are a servant of Elisif. I expect Ulfric’s lieutenants to know that much. The slaughter at Morthal is still fresh in the Stormcloak’s minds if a servant of their enemy were to show up on their doorstep they could easily take it as Elisif herself taunting them for their defeat.”

Mohamara imagined Elisif laughing like an evil noblewoman in an Akaviri scrying orb drama while the mysterious ‘Ulfric’ wept over fallen soldiers. And with Balgruuf’s letter to Elisif on his person, it had the chance to be a public relations disaster.

“Why can’t these Jarls just sort their problems out like civilized people instead of dragging thousands of stupid young folks into fighting?” Mohamara tried not to look toward Windhelm, afraid that his resolve would shake if he saw familiar-looking tents, wagons, and cat-people on the horizon.

“Vignar, Skjor and I have had that talk many a night when the ale flows like water. But then, the topic of what constituted civilized becomes muddy the more you think about it.”

They kept walking until they came to an obstacle: the Sea of Ghosts. Mohamara’s grip on the sympathetic bond to Meridia’s beacon led straight out from the shore northward, out onto the water.

“It appears our way forward isn’t possible without a boat,” Kodlak commented. “Or that your lost item is at the bottom of the Sea, beyond our reach.”

The Khajiit didn’t comment, instead, he focused on the bond they’d followed thus far. It pulled northward, and… faintly downward. When he tried to follow the bond, he only saw darkness on the other end. Either it was in a box, or it was so deep in the Sea that light didn’t reach down. There was really only one thing to do, and thankfully he had plenty of petty soul gems for the task.

“What are you doing, lad?” Kodlak looked over to the Khajiit spinning multiple petty soul gems into a thread and laying out a colorful bit of cloth from his backpack.

“I’m going to make me an item enchanted with water breathing so I can go looking for the beacon if it is down in the water.” Right away, Mohamara began to arrange the soul-gem threads into cloth, making small patches of densely packed Nordic knots. “Sub-arctic configuration, reduced friction through the water, enhanced gripping, noise reduction….”

“You are able to do all of that? I thought an item could only be enchanted once?”

“Maybe for weaklings who don’t know how to overlay an enchantment without crossing the arrays, or if they’re doing that thing where you just shove the soul into the item and let the morpholith crumble. But I’m a student of Jorrvaskr, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

The cat didn’t see it, but Kodlak faintly smiled at Mohamara’s words and sat down next to the cat to watch him work. To the Nord, it seemed like magical knitting.

Mohamara shook the cloth item and let the interlocked petty arrays cool down. “This is going to be unpleasant but assuming I don’t run into a whale I should be good. Unless a whale ate it, in which case--poopie.”

--

For any fish that saw him, Mohamara must have been a strange sight moving through the Sea of Ghosts--a small Khajiit in a swimsuit and jacket armed with an excessively long spear, all underwater.

By far, the otters were the best part of searching the Sea in Mohamara’s view. They seemed to enjoy the new creature in the water that had no wish to eat them, and one who often moved rocks on the seabed which revealed clams. And of course, the slaughterfish were the worst part, blindly chasing after Mohamara when he entered their field of view. The Spear of Bitter Mercy made short work of them--and the kill would distract other nearby slaughterfish. But just as often he’d be surprised by a slaughterfish suddenly biting down on his tail or limbs. He lost two fingers, a toe, and the tip of his tail that way.

However, the slaughterfish weren’t the most terrifying part of the Sea of Ghosts. That belonged to the whales. Start with the general shape of a fish, replace the scales with a rubbery skin of white and black, make the smallest ones the size of a Nord and the biggest the size of a ship, and then make them intelligent pack hunters.

When Mohamara first encountered one, it was just floating in the water behind him when he finished examining a boating wreck. After he saw it, he started to hear chirps in the water and saw dark shapes moving in the distance. The whale opened its mouth, showing off spear-like teeth and a mouth so large Mohamara could curl up inside, and moved like… it was laughing at him. As he moved to go back into the wreck, it surged forward and began to easily push the cat around with its huge nose.

A second, smaller, whale passed by and caught Mohamara’s tail in its jaws. The cat went stiff, to prepare for the inevitable biting, but it never came. Instead, the whale ran its jaw up and down the Khajiit’s tail like it was flossing with it.

Mohamara found himself passed between multiple sub-adult whales, tossed between them like a fuzzy underwater ball by their huge flukes. The small whale that had flossed its teeth with his tail bit the Spear of Bitter Mercy just under the point and yanked it free of Mohamara’s grip and swam away.

While being tossed around underwater, Mohamara focused some magic into a spell--Tongues. Once it completed, he could hear the clicks become ideas become information which his brain translated into words. The two large whales treating him as a toy found him… cute. One of them called to their mother, to ask if they could keep him as a pet.

A massive whale, easily the size of the Nordic wrecks that lined the seabed glided out of the dark with such grace Mohamara almost believed that it was the light that moved, not her. She told them to stop playing with their food and to eat the Khajiit before their grandmother grew annoyed.

‘Not food!’ Mohamara called out to them, speaking words that Tongues converted into information, and then ideas, and then clicks for the whales to parse. ‘Not! Food!’

It amused the sub-adults that he could talk to them, and they left the cat be long enough that Mohamara was able to swim down and hide in a Nord wreck. ‘Go on! Swim fast, try to get away!’

‘Yeah, grandmother will want us to exercise before eating!’

Mohamara tried to ignore the words of the whales as he made his way through the wreck. In hindsight, making himself able to understand what the chirping meant had been an awful idea. The whales would sometimes brush the hull of the ship, causing the whole wreck to shift from their weight, and taunted Mohamara that they could just get at him by smashing in if they wanted.

Mohamara didn’t stop swimming until he was in the ship’s hold, where he stopped to try and make a plan. Whales or at least the species of whales in the Skyrim side of the Sea of Ghosts acted like wolves if the natural history museum was anything to go by. Fast, would attack from multiple angles, and stronger than Mohamara even as children. Without the spear, there didn’t seem a way to make it out, all attempts would end in failure.

But the alternative was to do nothing.

A strong pull on the sympathetic bond to the beacon brought Mohamara out of his despair. It was close. If he could get it free of its bonds, then perhaps his Lady could help. And even if she couldn’t, it was still his duty to get the beacon somewhere that another of the faithful wouldn’t need to die to get it.

With a bit of illusion magic to create a false visual indicator of the bond, Mohamara peaked out of one of the gaps in the hold to find where the beacon was. A wispy trail of white light went out to the sea floor, and into another nearby wreck--the illusion cast light enough for Mohamara to see its name: The Winter War.

The cat dispelled the illusion and began to put together a plan. In the distance, he saw the smallest whale flitting about. With only a novice degree of skill with illusion, Mohamara had limited options on targets so he charged up a projectile and launched it outward. It struck the small whale and covered it with a magenta sheen. As if driven to great fury, the whale began to swim faster and snap randomly. And soon it began to come after its own kin in rage.

Infighting was the perfect way to deal with a pack animal, Mohamara realized in hindsight as he escaped the hold. The sub-adults were busy trying to calm down their little sibling, and in the distance, enormous shadows moved through the water. Mohamara made it to the wreck of The Winter War just in time for a massive fully-grown whale to swipe near the hole in the hull where he had been.

The Winter War was a ship in twain, it had sunk and broken in half when it hit some rocks on the ocean floor. Compared to some of the other wrecks, it seemed relatively new as mudcrabs had not yet picked every scrap of organic material off the ship. Mohamara had started in the wrong half, so he had to quickly swim between the bow and stern sections of the ship, with the whales prowling around outside.

Within a chest of black iron, locked tight against mundane thieves but helpless against magical ones, Mohamara found what he’d been searching for. The beacon resembled his amulet, but far bigger. A colorless faceted crystal, roughly the size of his head, and light as a feather. When he picked it up, he’d expected… something to happen. His Lady’s voice to ring out through his head, or perhaps searing pain for not arriving quick enough for her liking. But instead, he held the beacon and nothing had changed.

The Khajiit examined the beacon for damage, perhaps it was damaged in the theft. But after examining it, he developed a hypothesis. The beacon was a sort of sigil stone, a morpholith created from Oblivion matter to store tremendous volumes of energy--Meridia’s energy. And Meridia’s energy rained down on the world as sunlight.

Mohamara examined the distant surface of the water, and couldn’t tell if he was under a section of solid ice or not. Was it even daylight up on the surface? Without the iron chest weighing it down, the beacon would be light enough to float to the surface, but in the process attract the whales' attention. By the time they finished playing with it, the beacon could end up legitimately damaged.

The beacon had to get to the surface, and there was no way Mohamara could do that without getting grabbed by a whale. However, if he did this successfully, he could at least maybe earn a place in the Violet Room--Where Lie the Martyrs.

The tojay steeled himself, and swam free of the wreck, going upward as fast as he could.

But no matter how fast he could swim, he was never going to go faster than a whale in the water. One of the sub-adults from earlier slammed into him, in the chest dead center, and kept on swimming. With a flick of the whale’s head, Mohamara was released from the t-bone attack sent flying upward as he was swatted by the whale’s tale.

Sure enough, there was a layer of ice on the surface when Mohamara got close. The dappled light that came through the ice got dim lights from the beacon’s center to emerge, but nothing substantial. The tojay looked down to see a whale swimming at him with speed, its mouth of spear-like teeth open wide, and resigned himself to death then and there.

When the whale hit him, it broke the ice behind him and sent the cat flying through the air with many shattered ribs and a partially broken back. The beacon flew free of Mohamara’s grip and caught a ray of sunlight through the clouds. While the cat landed back in the water, unconscious, the beacon hung in the air. The inner light at its center grew rapidly until the faceted orb was radiating golden light like a star on its own.

A narrow beam of white-gold light burst from the beacon and pierced the ice below. Underwater, as one of the sub-adults, was about to bite into the unconscious Khajiit, the beam struck the creature. Its flesh burned away in seconds, leaving a pearly white skeleton that went to pieces without connective tissues. The beam cut through the ice and water like a cutting tool and struck every whale in the pod that had made Mohamara their prey. When it faded away, over fifty skeletons of various sizes began to settle on the seafloor.

The beacon cast down a wider beam of soft gold light that searched through the water and stopped on Mohamara, and by some unknown magic drew him out of the water up to the faceted orb. Unconscious and severely injured, the Khajiit automatically reached out and held the beacon close to his torso.

While he held on, the beacon examined him and found things that did not correlate to its trans-temporal records. Severe damage to the subject’s rib cage and spine--both in the form of a broken spinal column and missing vertebrae; damaged or missing digits on three out of four extremities; unaccounted for scar tissue throughout, and more importantly being sixteen thousand years out of Dragon alignment.

The beacon’s programming deduced that this level of deviation was beyond its ability to repair and so pinged across the liminal barrier to its inscriber for a service request.

In the Red Room--Where War is Made, a Daedric Lord of Meridia saw this ping request, checked the details and promptly spat his creatia coffee onto his secretary in surprise and fear. Hastily, he moved the request up to his supervisor and began to pray. This proved indicative of how things went for many levels of Daedric bureaucracy up until it had to transfer out to the Yellow Room--Where Monarchs Dwell.

In a crystalline palace of immortal beauty, suspended on clouds the color of butter, there was a grand office. At the center of the office was the throne where She of Infinite Energies would administer her Rooms, were She present. But near the entrance was a smaller desk where the Lady’s Chamberlain saw to the Realm’s needs while Meridia was away. He sat in front of a grimoire device, typing rapidly to keep up with the transfinite amount of work that needed to be done.

However, when a service request from a temporarily inactive beacon was forwarded to him, he paused this work. Had someone dared waste the Lady’s time with a service request? They would need to be taught proper respect later. But still, it had to be dealt with. Ah, a Champion-candidate, perhaps respect was not needed to be taught, just confidence.

The chamberlain examined the details of the request and carefully removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. With one hand, he willed a micro-slate into existence and dialed the out-of-Realm line. “Hello. Yes, I’ll accept the charges. Please connect me to the Shivering Isles.”

After an unreasonable amount of time on hold, the line was connected and the chamberlain braced himself for his Lady’s fury.

”Speak.” The deceptively calm voice of Meridia came from the micro-slate, and thunder sounded somewhere distant in the Yellow Room.

“My Lady, we have located your stolen property.” The former Archmagus Shalidor put his glasses back on as he focused on the service request again. “Fourth Era, Skyrim, directly on top of the regional beacon. And rather… extensively damaged. What is your will?”

”Prepare my way to the beacon. I am going to sort this out myself.” The line went dead, and Shalidor found himself almost pitying the Mad God for what was about to happen.

Almost.
---

Chapter Text

 

 


---

Chapter 18: Marital Problems

>Service Request Ping.
>>To: WarOfMaceandDance.serv.
>>From: SkyrimRegionalBeacon.obj.
>>>Champion-candidate located. Champion-candidate status: severe damage, severe deviance from records. Damage exceeds the ability to repair. All hostiles within one mile have been eliminated, Champion-candidate is secure. Please advise.



>Service Request Reply.
>>To: SkyrimRegionalBeacon.obj.
>>From: MeridNunda.etada.
>>>Sublimate primary functions in compliance with Audience protocol pending remote reactivation. Prepare for ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL.

The beacon had scant seconds to process the severity of the situation before its central intelligence was disabled to make more room for a fraction of Meridia’s awareness.

HER arrival on Mundus would have been a doom on par with what Dagon had planned. It was why SHE did not envy Sheogorath’s unique ability to flit between realms where so many Princes did. So these beacons were created to act as specially modified sigil stones, permitting her and her minions to use the power inside to form temporary bodies. But in this case, there was no need.

The beacon was but a stepping stone to her final goal. Once the fragment of HER passed through the beacon, it wove its way into the mortal that clung to it. That had been an unintentional but welcome side effect of the changes SHE made to HER followers, unconsciously clinging to the nearest object or person. In this situation, it permitted Meridia to easily possess the mortal’s form and assess the damage.

As she woke the mortal’s body up, her mere presence snapped bones back into place, fused the damaged spine together, and filled the depleted blood vessels with her radiant energy. Through the beacon, she could communicate with HER and procure more data on what needed repairing.

She let go of the beacon and floated by divine will to examine Skyrim and her Vessel. With the beacon’s supply of energy so low, the connection was weak at best. Even if she depleted the mortal’s own energy, it wouldn’t enrich the beacon enough to improve the connection--so she didn’t bother. Records slowly flowed into her mind from HER, and the fragment of Meridia began to grow angry.

The Vessel was not a perfect match, if she stayed too long it would explode. And SHE did not want that to happen. But the regional beacon was activated again, so she could access certain functions to ensure the Vessel was repaired while she did HER will.

She pulled the beacon with the Vessel down to the ice below. Its pitiful raiment provided adequate protection from frostbite at least. Then, using the beacon and the Vessel’s own energy, she called down a servant. It appeared curled up in a ball of Daedric fire and stood as the summoning concluded.

The Meridian Daedric Knight was colored white and gold, like the Room from which it came. Appearing to be a humanoid figure with the stature of a Giant but with a body made of metal, with a masculine face that strongly resembled an Akaviri helmet. Two sheathed swords, each the size of a greatsword for a mortal, clung to a bulbous protrusion from its back.

“This Vessel is damaged,” her voice overlayed with the Vessel’s as she spoke through it. “You are to effect repairs, then escort the Vessel and the beacon to Mount Kilkreath. Anything that threatens the Vessel is to be destroyed. While you effect repairs, you are to designate a chain of automatic summonings for your lieutenants should you fall in battle. Am I understood?”

”YES, MY LORD.” The Knight’s response was loud, synthetic, and echoed back at them from nearby icebergs while the Daedra itself aggressively rammed its knee into the ice while kneeling.

“Good. You are to tell the Vessel only what it needs to know per the Prophet Two-Eight-Eight protocol. If it becomes necessary to commune with me, I will be on the yellow line.” All at once the unnatural grace and authority that had radiated from the Vessel faded, and it fell backward without divine will holding it up.

The Knight stood once the Vessel was released. With thunderous footsteps that cracked the ice, it strode forward and picked up the Khajiit Vessel. ”YOU ARE MUCH CUTER THAN PREVIOUS VESSELS.”

Once the Vessel and beacon were snatched up, the Daedric Knight lept from the ice and began to head south.

--

Kodlak had grown used to waiting since the rot kept him from joining his shield-siblings in battle. It was not what he had wanted for his last year of life, but in the waiting, he found empathy for those whom he had not previously considered as suffering. Those who remained behind while their family went to battle or to war, these he understood far better. And it gave him insight into what Telma, the ancient Jorrvaskr housekeeper who had basically raised the twins, must feel when the Companions went off to battle.

There was nothing Kodlak hated more than the frustration, the feeling of uselessness, and general melancholy.

He also discovered what elderly people would not for many thousands of years: Attempting to interact with a magitech that was too new for them to understand produced the same spectrum of emotion.

Mohamara’s slate had started up with some peculiar music, and when the Harbinger fished it out of the Khajiit’s backpack saw that apparently, Yagraz was attempting to contact them through the magic item. However, he couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. He tilted and shook the device but to no avail.

Fortunately, his bestial nature let him know of the Khajiit’s return when the wind shifted. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a faint smell of blood. Kodlak anticipated finding the cat fending off a slaughterfish, or perhaps returning with food. Instead, when he left the impromptu campsite to follow the smell of cat and blood he found something… else.

A massive metal man kneeling with the Khajiit in the crook of its arm, the latter of which was being shot from several small orbs of golden-white light that rotated around him quickly. The cat was holding a faceted orb that shone from within with golden light.

“Shor’s bones….” Kodlak exclaimed as he hid behind some rocks. However, the effort was wasted as the metal man’s helmeted head whipped around to glare at the Harbinger’s exact position. “Why do I keep thinking they can’t hear me when I do that?”

”WEREWOLF IDENTIFIED. BEGONE, BEAST.”

To Kodlak’s ears, the metal man’s voice burned like the words themselves were fire. Later on, he would describe it as the same feeling that came from being near Yagraz while she Shouted fire onto her foes.

The Harbinger stood out from behind the rocks and took as non-threatening a stance as possible when he was in heavy armor and carried a warhammer as a walking stick. “I am that one’s traveling Companion, so I will not be gone until you explain what you are doing.”

”RISK OF INFECTION EXCEEDS ACCEPTABLE LEVELS. BEGONE, BEAST.”

It enveloped Mohamara in a bubble of white-gold energy and stood. The two greatswords on its back swung of their own accord and fell into the metal man’s hands. Kodlak had never seen their make before--the weapons possessed an otherworldly beauty and were so hot that the air around them wavered like in the desert.

Kodlak sighed and switched into his battle stance. “I am getting too old for this.” His grumbling done, the Harbinger of the Companions charged into battle.

...Or he would have if his back had not produced a definitive crack and forced the Companion to stop his charge, place one hand on his back, and hobble around bent in half from the pain.

The metal man watched this and shifted its stance while the Nord hobbled in agonizing pain. Awkwardly it scratched at its helmet and shifted on its feet. ”ARE YOU OKAY?”

“I think I threw my back out. Just… just give me a bit and we can do battle.”

”I KINDA THINK THAT IF WE DO, YOU’LL JUST THROW YOUR BACK OUT AGAIN.”

“No… no, I think I know what I did wrong,” Kodlak muttered a quick prayer to Shor for strength and tried to stand up to his full height. It went about as well as could be expected.

”...I’M JUST GOING TO MANUALLY EDIT MY LISTED INFECTION RISK. WE’RE GOOD NOW. I CAN HELP WITH YOUR BACK, IF YOU’D LIKE.”

“That would be much appreciated, thank you.”

--

The Blue Palace had been a place of relative peace in the days prior. A new court wizard had been appointed, the Jarl had recently accepted an injured Great War veteran into her council, and there were decidedly fewer catastrophic events plaguing the city.

Until one day, when a blinding light rained down on the Palace. It was accompanied by a keening scream that drove everyone in the building to cover their ears in an attempt to escape. Windows and bottles shattered from the force of it. A localized earthquake rattled the entire end of the Solitude archway. The final straw that drove everyone from the Jarl herself to the housekeepers screaming in pain was that their eyes burst from within by gouts of fire.

”SHE-O-GO-RATH!”

Within the Blue Palace, within the mind of a madman, the Mad God watched in relative disinterest as his dear friend Pelly was running around, experiencing much the same as what those on the outside did. The Mad God’s chamberlain cleared his throat and leaned in to whisper into Sheogorath’s ear, quite calm despite blood pouring from his ears and mouth, with his eyeballs on fire.

“Lady Meridia to see you, Lord Sheogorath.”

“Oh, perhaps she’s come to join me on my vacation! How wonderfully intrusive of her!” The demented Daedra clapped his hands jovially, his disinterest long forgotten. “Send her in immediately.”

Haskill ceased to exist, and then suddenly existed again, soaring through the air as if launched from a catapult and on fire. There stood a Colovian Imperial woman, her features seemingly carved from stone. She was bald, but light bent around her head and above her eyes to mimic hair. She wore a dress of billowing silk that changed colors whenever Sheogorath looked away, and from her back light bent around two transparent feathered wings.

“Meri-pants! How good to see y--” The Mad God’s greeting was stopped short when the woman, Meridia, closed the distance between the two of them in less than a second and punched him square in the nose with such force that the Mad God broke the throne he had sat on.

“Oh, Sheogorath.” Meridia’s voiced was cheerful, bright, and just a little unhinged as she cracked the knuckles on her punching fist. “How good that you are unable to speak.”

The Mad God gurgled wetly as his skull reformed from the pancake that Meridia had made of it.

“If you could speak, you might say something that would motivate me to truly lose my temper. Why in such a case I might just tear your Spheres out and shove them back into you through random orifices. Wouldn’t that be a sight!” Meridia clapped her hands, and the background screaming from Pelly stopped as he was made whole and unaware that anything had been wrong. It would be a minute or two before those on the outside were granted such mercy.

“Oh, if it weren’t for the amount of work assuming your Realm would entail, I probably could have done it back there.” Meridia considered this while she cleared the table of food, laid down a tablecloth, and returned the feast. “But then Molag and Dagon would have likely made moves on me to assert their alleged superiority and that’s too much of a hassle. Ugh, and the post-mortem divorce proceedings.”

“And here I thought,” the Mad God cackled as he sat back up, “you would be upset with me over how negligently I’ve treated our son and his welfare.”

“Oh, I am.” Meridia turned her back to the Mad God and began to create a throne of her own opposite his. “But priorities have to be set, my Lord husband! We must place things in order of importance, and be objective rulers of our respective domains. But since you brought it up…”

Without warning, Meridia turned and punched Sheogorath again. This time the force of her blow split the earth behind Sheogorath’s throne. When she went around the table to sit in hers, Sheogorath was sitting pretty in his fully reformed seat and waved merrily.

“Tell me, are you intending to break every agreement we make regarding our children?”

Sheogorath waved her off and filled a cup from a pitcher of spiders for his drink. “Oh Meri-pants, don’t be all dramatic. Or do! I’m not your boss, I can’t make those decisions for you.” After his tall glass of spiders was drunk, he offered the pitcher to Meridia.

She took it and poured herself a glass of the impossible.

“I just couldn’t stand lookin’ down at our boy bein’ so miserable when I could do something about it!”

“Yet you asked me to do exactly that after I had to clean up your mess. Which required I break my own rules to grant him an Audience to keep him from shutting down.” Meridia drank her glass of the impossible through a straw and glowered at Sheogorath.

“I… yeah, that was my mistake. Don’t know how many times you want me to apologize for that, though. Is it one of those imaginary numbers? I just adore those.” Sheogorath clapped his hands, and a wheel of cheese appeared before him.

Meridia watched as Sheogorath began to violently cut the cheese many times in succession, and took a piece when it was offered to her. “We both agreed--no contact until he found a Sphere of his own, or died a mortal. I didn’t like his misery any more than you did, and yet here we are.”

“But I didn’t seriously think he’d go this long without one!” The Mad God looked up from his gorging on cheese. “Boy’s been in Skyrim for months now and he still hasn’t found one yet! I’m at my wit’s end here. Rather enjoyable, actually.”

“Hmm. Perhaps he’s content to live and die as a mortal? Like his sister was?” While the Mad God feasted like a pig, Meridia ate her meal daintily. “How is she, by the way?”

“Oh I have her painting frost onto plants and windows--she loves it!”

“Yes, she was always so fond of impermanence in art.” The Lady of Infinite Energies regarded the Mad God with a neutral expression. “You know that I want you to put him back.”

“And you know I’m not going to be doing that no matter how hard you punch me.” Sheogorath snapped his fingers with excitement. “Or maybe you just haven’t punched me in the right way! Quick, try again!”

“Then we are at an impasse.” Meridia pointedly refused to punch the Mad God again, which made Sheogorath pout and made her smile.

“Not quite! I know something that might just win you over to my side of this!” Sheo snapped his fingers and two portraits appeared before Meridia. “Take a look, what do you think?”

She regarded the mortals depicted in the portraits. To a Daedra, so much more information was present than just their appearance--personality, names, history, and biological information were all present. “They’re mortals. What am I supposed to draw from this?”

Sheogorath bounced in his seat and slowly began to shift into his Khajiit aspect: Sheggorath. “I overheard our boy talking about being lonely, and how those matchmakers in your temple couldn’t find him someone.”

“Because I told them that none of the candidates they put forth were worthy of our son.”

“See this is why I usually handle the kids, Meri-pants.” Sheggorath ‘poo-pooed’ Meridia’s disdainful expression. “So much more entertaining to have mortals try to rise to the occasion.”

“Then you shouldn’t have tried to eat him.”

“In my defense… his arms were delicious.”

Meridia promptly crossed the gap again and punched Sheggorath right in his stupid furry face.

“Oof, having so much more bone in my face makes this one feel such odd things when punched.” Once his skull was back in full misalignment, the Skooma Cat spoke again. “This one went through a great many candidates and found these two. But our boy says he wants this one to consult you before deciding.”

“As he should.” Meridia paused as she examined the two options presented to her. Sheggorath’s madness made for… creative options. “I’m honestly surprised you limited yourself to people currently in Skyrim.”

Sheggorath processed what Meridia said, and promptly slapped his forehead at the missed opportunity.

“Neither of them are… deserving of what you propose.” Meridia sighed and held up one of the portraits back to the Skooma Cat. “But this one is closer to being worthy.”

Sheggorath took the portrait and squealed with delight. “Now we can begin fighting over the dowry and wedding, oh this is going to be so much fun!

“Well we’re obviously going to have the wedding at my sister’s temple, she would be so insulted if we took it elsewhere.”

“That’s exactly why we should do it somewhere else! Your sister is too passive, she hasn’t had reason to get angry in thousands of years.”

“I’m not getting into a fight with Mara just because you want to be contrary--” Meridia’s follow up line was cut off by a fistful of melted cheese splattering her in the face. “I’m going to be nice and give you to the count of one to start running.”

--

Imagine Mohamara’s surprise at waking up. Alive. Or at having his missing digits back when he was still not over the fact that he was alive. He was wrapped up in his quilt with the beacon clutched to his chest like the Khajiit used to hold teddy bears as a child.

He was also riding in the arm of a Daedric Knight, while Kodlak sat in the other. Quickly Mohamara ran through the checklist of ways to see if he was in a dream, or perhaps in some weird layer of Oblivion and had to accept that he was awake.

“So, how did the people know you were not part of Dagon’s forces?” Kodlak spoke to the Knight, either not aware of Mohamara being awake or too interested in the story to care.

”THEY DID NOT, AT FIRST. BUT AFTER MY SUMMONER AND I BEGAN TO BUTCHER THE DREMORA, THEY DECIDED IT WAS A CASE OF ‘THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND’.”

Mohamara had to cover his ears from the sheer volume of the Knight’s voice. It rattled his bones from the hearing of it, and he quickly wove an illusion around his ears to force the voice to appear quieter to him.

”I miss that summoner. He did not survive the battle, and went on to find a place in the Violet Room--Where Lie the Martyrs. It is rather like your Sovrngard, from what I’ve heard.”

“Then he is among the best company he could ask for.” Kodlak looked over at Mohamara and smiled. “As are we, the whelp wakes from well-deserved sleep.”

”I would thank you not to use derogatory terms when referring to the Vessel, please.”

Kodlak waved off the Knight and chuckled faintly at the misunderstanding. “Oh, no. Whelps are what we call new initiates in the Companions.”

”I am quite aware. It became such because Harbinger Gurlin convinced the then Circle that it would be a funny joke. The name comes from a place of mockery, even if it does not serve one now. So kindly refrain.”

Kodlak reeled back in surprise. “We... have next to nothing about Harbinger Gurlin, since the man was illiterate and kept no journals. That’s… good to know, I suppose.”

Shaken from his stupor, Mohamara arranged his hands in a T after getting them free of the quilt. “Hold up. Timeout. What the shit is happening? Why am I alive?”

“That is a heavy question you ask, lad. Why are any of us alive, when so many good people have died for sometimes no reason at all?”

“No! Well, yes, that. But more, I was in the process of being eaten alive by whales--so why am I alive?

The Daedric Knight lifted the arm supporting Kodlak to poke at Mohamara’s chest, where the beacon lay. ”The beacon neutralizes all hostiles within one mile of your location as part of the reactivation protocol. As you are a Vessel, our Lady took possession of you and kept you alive enough for me to effect repairs.”

“Wait… Vessel? Me?” Mohamara began to process the information. Meridia, his god, had taken him as a Vessel. Joy the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years began to bubble up before it was crushed by horror. “Oh no, my body was in such terrible shape. I was missing fingers and part of my tail--I’m pretty sure my back was broken from the ice. I had to be the worst Vessel she’s ever had.” He pulled at his ears in frustration as he went over more inadequacies for being a Vessel.

”I cannot speak about that. But my orders are to escort you and the beacon to Mount Kilkreath. More than that, I am not allowed to speak about.”

“Lad, if Meridia did not find you worthy as a… Vessel, would she have bothered saving you? Or having you healed?” Kodlak reached over and patted Mohamara between the ears. “Do not be so eager to tear down your own value, or you will find others eager to do it for you.”

Mohamara groaned to himself as he imagined the visceral disdain Meridia had to have of him after spending any length of time in his body. Previous Vessels were always the holiest of her priests or mighty Champions. Add the fact that he was a spawn of Sheogorath and he was convinced her time within him had to be awful.

“Can I go… like, a month without something monumental and terrible happening? Just one month? Please?” Mohamara buried himself in the quilt, hiding away from the world at large.

“I want to say that you’re overreacting, but according to you--you just escaped being eaten alive by whales. This level of madness around you is concerning--what guardian sign are you under, boy?”

“I was born under the Serpent.”

And though he could not see it, Kodlak’s face lit up with realization. “Ah. That explains everything.”

”I like snakes. They enjoy cuddling.”
---

Is it still considered a Demiprince when two Daedric Princes are involved? Food for thought.

But if you're looking for what a more perfect union of Meridia and Sheogorath looks like, just take a look at the Queen of Chaos.

Chapter Text


---

Chapter 19: Destroyer Devour Master

“You seem particularly disgusted that Stentor was able to touch you, why is that?”

Mohamara peeked his head out from the quilt he had buried himself in to examine the environment. The Knight appeared to be taking them through the mountains that separated Winterhold, Eastmarch, and the Pale. Everything was covered in snow to the point where the tojay couldn’t discern when they were in the air or not until the Knight landed on rocks.

He had been telling Kodlak the story of how Yagraz and he had defeated Potema to pass the time.

“Well we didn’t know what bloodline she descended from,” Mohamara explained while digging back into the warm blankets. “Some vampires, like the Volkihar, don’t need to bite you to feed on you--they can do so through touch.”

“Ah, so it could have opened you up to being fed upon, perhaps even infected?” Kodlak’s fur-covered armor and enchanted cloak meant he could stand to be out in the frigid mountain air where Mohamara couldn’t.

“Well, yes, that. But also because I’m blood type blue if she had fed on me things would have gotten bad.” Every so often Mohamara would stick the beacon out into the air to catch some sunlight and charge it up.

“What is a blood type? And why is blue blood significant?”

“Well my blood isn’t actually blue, so you know.” The tojay reflected on seeing his leg bleeding badly from the Forsworn bear trap not too long ago. “Blood type blue means I can only accept transfusions from other blood type blue people, but I can donate blood to anyone else and it’ll be fine. There’s other stuff, like an increased pool of magicka, a higher chance of severe mental problems, and other not really important things.”

“That still doesn’t explain why vampires would desire it, lad.”

Mohamara scratched his ankle though Kodlak couldn’t see, sitting in a quilt in just a swimsuit and jacket made for an itchy ride. “Well, blue type blood tastes really good to vampires. Plus it gives them all sorts of temporary powers--strength, speed, and strengthened magic. If I had fewer scruples, I could have made a mint selling vials of my blood to the black market.”

“If that is the case, why have I not heard of certain blood doing this to vampires before?” Kodlak squinted at the quilt-cocoon bound Khajiit and found he couldn’t detect lies without actually seeing the person.

“Well, because this is the Fourth Era is why. Blood type blue only occurs in people who witnessed the event that ended the Twentieth Era and marked the start of the Twenty-First. Had front row tickets, it was pretty sweet.” Mohamara stuck his head out of the quilt again to tap the Knight on the arm. “Don’t suppose you could hand me my backpack so I could change?”

”I would need to set one of you down to reach it, which is unsafe in the current environment.” The Knight’s answer was warm enough that the snow began to melt around them, which in turn forced the Knight to leap to the next mountain peak early.

“You and Yagraz have not commented on the division of Eras before. From history, the ones thus far have been major political or cosmic upheavals--so what happened in the Twentieth Era?” Kodlak reclined on the Knight’s arm, resting his lower back that had begun to hurt from sitting too much.

“The death of Hermaeus Mora.”

In no less than three Daedric realms, minor Daedra assigned to listen in on mortal words for their masters all simultaneously spat out of their creatia coffee in surprise.

If Kodlak had been drinking, he would have done the same. As it was, he stared at the quilt-covered Khajiit and forced himself to awkwardly laugh. “That’s… quite a joke. Daedra can’t die.”

“Of course they can if you know how.” Mohamara’s mind went back to the memory of the event. The cheering crowds as they watched the murder take place on a giant scrying orb. He remembered reserving a seat for Yagraz, only to later find out she couldn’t attend as she had been grounded. “To kill a Daedra, you must cut them off from their ability to reform in the waters of Oblivion. And to do that, you need to drag them--kicking and screaming optional--to Aetherius.”

Mohamara breathed deep of the cold mountain air as he remembered the fight. “Mora and another Daedric Prince--Jyggalag, Prince of Order--clashed over the Sphere of fate at first. Mora was confident, Jyggalag had no realm of Oblivion, no armies, no power base at all to seem to be a threat. He was so confident, that he arranged a great spectacle to show his seemingly surefire victory over Jyggalag.”

“But it didn’t happen that way, did it?”

”Jyggalag is one of the mightiest Daedric fighters in the Aurbis. Only Fa-Nuit-Hen is more skilled.”

Kodlak crossed his arms and closed his eyes to imagine. “Let me guess… Mora assumed he could use his raw power and some piece of lore to defeat this Jyggalag, and had the tables turned on him.”

Mohamara stuck his arm out of the quilt and gave a thumbs up. “Jyggalag tore open a portal between Oblivion and Aetherius, tackled them both through, and then ate Mora alive while close to a million people watched. Jyggalag claimed Hermaeus Mora’s realm of Apocrypha, all the dead Prince’s Spheres--not just fate--and showed everyone who was watching how to kill a Daedric Prince.”

“I… can’t imagine that is information that the other Princes want getting out.”

“Well tough shit for them, with Martin Septim’s barrier in place none of them can send much of anything beyond their shrines without a mortal to help them.”

Little did Mohamara know that all around Skyrim Daedric worshippers were being communed with and given a simple goal: Find and kill a tojay Khajiit.

“... This might be a bit off topic, but how does the Fourth Era end?”

“Hmm? Oh, some big fuck off volcano in Atmora erupts, melting the ice and creating an utterly massive flood.” Mohamara attempted to polish the beacon with his jacket but found that it only smudged the surface even more. “At least you Nords can resettle Atmora when it happens, hmm? Right?”

Kodlak looked away, out to the mountains of the Pale, and considered the Khajiit’s words. “I’m not sure how to feel about that. Skyrim is my people’s home now. We drove an entire race to extinction to make it so. There was honor, and much glory in those wars, but also terrible, honorless killing. Do we deserve to have the land of our ancestors back?”

“Wait, you did what now?” Mohamara stuck his head out of the quilt to squint at the Harbinger. “Cause if I know my ancient history right, we beastfolk were here before either elves or men, and you guys kinda killed the shit out of us for land too.”

The Nord sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I… I realize that. But my people, the Nords, drove the Snow Elves to extinction to claim this country as ours.” At that moment, he looked so utterly old that it struck Mohamara. “Ysgramor was a great hero and a legendary leader of the Companions. But… were I standing beside him back then, I am not certain I would join in the wholesale slaughter of women and children. It is far more death than honor would demand.”


“... Are you saying you regret joining the Companions?”

Kodlak stifled a laugh and shook his head. “No. I could never regret what has been the best part of my life. But I do regret that there are fewer voices in Tamriel, fewer perspectives because Ysgramor was so blinded with hate.”

“Well… if it’s any consolation, the Falmer eventually get over their whole ‘lurk in caves and ritualistically kill people’ thing.” The tojay shrugged and went back into his cocoon of quilt layers.

“Strangely enough, it is. Augh, now I find myself wishing to be young again. Perhaps I could live long enough to see these changes you speak of.” Kodlak waved the notion off. “But no. It is not for me to know what becomes of the future. I see my death coming, and refuse to succumb to the honorless quest for immortal life.”

”At least you will have an eternity in the Hunting Grounds to look forward to, Companion.”

“Oh? Are you a Hircine worshipper? I mean, I kinda suspected given all the wolf iconography and how Aela was highkey thinking of skinning me, but….” Mohamara stuck his head out again and found Kodlak scowling off into the mountains. “You okay?”

“I do not worship Hircine,” Kodlak ground out like his voice was a mill crushing wheat. “I have no grudge against the Huntsmaster, but his realm is not where my soul belongs.”

“... Oh, you’re a lycan then? Given this is Skyrim in the Fourth Era I’m going to say… Werebear?”

Kodlak looked at him, disbelieving and scoffed. “Don’t be simple. I have the beast blood in me, but it is wolf’s blood.”

“Oh. Then, um. Why don’t you just get yourself cured?”

“Were it so easy.....” Kodlak developed a curious look. “Yagraz is immune to the beast blood, but I assumed it was due to her strong connection to Malacath. Are you saying there’s a cure in your time for my ailment?”

The cat nodded. “We both got immunized to lycanthropy when we were kids. A healer weakened some of the disease so much that our bodies could kill it, and thus learn how to kill it when its at full strength. Since I’m blood type blue, I’m a universal donor. You can just get a transfusion from me, and my antibodies should fix you right up.”

Kodlak’s breathing grew unsteady as he processed what Mohamara had said. “Truly? This is not some cruel Khajiit joke to repay me for my improper comments about your race?”

”Our records do not show an immunization.” The Knight paused and narrow beams of light came down from its eyes to look over Mohamara. ”However I am picking up lycanthropy antibodies. This will require another manual edit to infection risks.”

“Well duh, my insurance wasn’t going to cover an immunization.” Mohamara stuck his tongue out but rapidly pulled it back in after the cold started to freeze his saliva. “Eugh. So I went to Solstheim with Yagraz and had it done.” This sparked a memory in Mohamara, and he quickly took advantage of the Knight being still to fully leave his cocoon and climb up. The cold was stronger than his heat-providing jacket, so he quickly scaled the Daedra, grabbed his backpack and returned to the warm cocoon. “Which reminds me, I need to call her.”

“She, uh, attempted to contact you while you were away.” Kodlak scratched one side of his face awkwardly, but with an edge of cheer. The prospect of a cure after so long had him perhaps a bit too happy.

“Oh, that’s understandable. You just need to tell it to answer.” Mohamara cleared his throat and addressed the slate once he retrieved it from the backpack. “Burmice, call Yagraz.”

The slate lit up with the call interface and all that was left to do was wait.

--

”Everybody! Everybody wants to be a cat! Hallelujah!

The sudden eruption of a choir of Khajiit voices singing out to blaring jazz music that would not be invented for thousands of years gave Yagraz the edge she needed to break the blade lock she was engaged in with a summoned Dremora and decapitate the Daedra. The Thalmor who had summoned it shrieked in fear and tried to run.

But so very few people could outrun Dragonfire, the poor High Elf never had a chance. Yagraz did a little dance to the music, singing along to ‘Everybody wants to be a cat!’ while Aela and Farkas looked on in bewilderment. Yagraz didn’t spare the time to explain, instead pulling her micro-slate from her pocket and answering with her thumb. “Short-stuff! Good to hear from you.”

“Hey, giant woman,” Mohamara’s voice came from the slate as she set it to resonation setting. “How’s the rescue going?”

“Pretty decent, considering its a bunch of namby-pamby Elves who run away every time there’s a decent fight.” Yagraz kept on down through the halls of Northwatch and kicked the Thalmor officer that had been burned to char by her Thu’um.

“You’d think they’d learn it just makes their death hurt that much more.”

Yagraz gestured to her shield-siblings who hesitantly followed behind her. “See?! I told you it wasn’t unreasonable.” She focused back on the hall ahead of her and kept talking as she walked. “I got Aela and Farkas with me, is Kodlak there?”

“I can hear you, shield-sister,” Kodlak’s distant voice spoke through the micro-slate. “Good hunting to you.”

“And to you, old man. Glad to hear you didn’t keel over on the road.” An Elven soldier in golden armor saw Yagraz round the corner, and turned to run but found his life ended by a skyforge steel ax in his back. “How’s the Daedra work going?”

“Well, I got the beacon back.” Mohamara’s tone was of the ‘more to it but being an avoidant little ninny about it’ sort. “Thanks for spilling the secret to folks I don’t know by the way.”

“Short-stuff, it ain’t a secret. Pretty much all the Circle, ‘cept me, are werewolves. You think werewolves are going to turn in Daedra worshippers?”

“And at what point did you tell me they were werewolves?”

Yagraz stopped in her ax retrieval to consider this. “Okay, I might have forgotten to mention that earlier.” The Orc woman sighed and let Aela and Farkas take on the Elves that showed up to the sounds of a sentry’s brutal murder while she leaned against a fireplace. “I keep forgetting that there’s stuff I need to tell you--I’m just… I’m so used to us knowing everything about each other.”

“Hey, you still haven’t told me who you went to prom with all those years ago. My money’s still on your grandpa.”

“And as long as you keep saying that I ain’t ever gonna tell you, fuzzbutt.”

“Well, in the spirit of telling you things…. I might have come really close to being eaten alive by whales getting the beacon back.”

Yagraz’s surprise was so great that she didn’t acknowledge the cathay Khajiit sneaking up on her with two blades of crystallized malachite. “Whales? What were you doing, swimming out in Eastmarch?” When there was no immediate answer Yagraz grew audibly annoyed. “I swear on Malacath’s jutting jawline that if you have frostbite when I next see you I’ll--”

“No no. I enchanted my swimsuit and jacket to make it safe to go diving. The beacon was in a shipwreck, I had to get it somehow.”

“Well the sensible thing to do would have been hire a boat, ya dingus.” Still, Yagraz did not acknowledge the cathay, which emboldened the assassin to approach her quicker.

“With what money? I don’t exactly get a stipend as a Jarl’s Fool, you know. And… it sorta gets betterworse?”

“What in the actual fuck do you mean betterworse? And what the fuck do you mean what money, did you seriously take the job for free? Oh, I’m going to slap the tits right off of you when I next see you next. Hold on.” Without missing a beat, Yagraz whipped her shield arm out to strike the Khajiit assassin in the face, and then deliver a brutal execution to the back of their head once they were down. “Okay, I’m back.”

“Well, I sorta… was made a Vessel for my Daedra.”

Yagraz blinked once, twice, and then a third time before she responded. “What? You? Scrawny, thirty-pound, can’t hold a blade from the right end you?”

“Why thank you, best buddy. Yes, it is an honor to be the Vessel for my Daedra. I’m so happy you think I was worthy of this tremendous honor.”

Yagraz winced at the complex tone of fake outrage masking genuine hurt. ‘Of course short-stuff wouldn’t think he deserved it, why’d you go and say it like that?’ “Hey, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just… aren’t all Meridia’s Vessels priests or warriors? You’re… you!”

“Presuming to know the mind of a Daedra is dangerous, lass,” Kodlak informed her from wherever he was in relation to Mohamara.

“Augh, whatever. Look, where are you guys now? Maybe we can catch a boat and meet up with you when we’re done rescuing dumbass Thorald.”

“I think we’re crossing into Hjaalmarch now, that’s Solitude on the horizon.”

Yagraz blinked and pinched her nose. The only way they could be clearing that much space was if Mohamara had found a way to jailbreak his Red Shoes.

“Yeah, my Daedra sent me a ride to help me get the beacon back. Don’t speak, you’ll damage my slate.” Mohamara’s neutral tone became waspish instruction to whomever he was speaking with.

Or that. That worked too. “Okay… look, I need to get back to killing Elves. How about we all meet up at Solitude, hmm?”

“Sure, that sounds like a plan. Seeya in, what, a few hours? Maybe a day?”

“Probably hours. With my Shoes, I can tow those fools back no problem.”

“It’s a date! Seeya, giant woman.”

“Bye, short-stuff.” With the conversation ended, Yagraz hung up and went rushing after Aela and Farkas before they killed all the Elves without her.

--

It hadn’t taken much to convince the Knight that stopping by Solitude before Mount Kilkreath was a good idea, for the simple fact that the trek to the shoe of the Sea of Ghosts had consumed all of Kodlak and Mohamara’s food.

The Knight couldn’t endure under the melting stare of the tojay’s ‘cute eyes’ while the cat’s stomach grumbled for food. But because there was no way to disguise the Knight’s allegiance, it was forced to remain outside the city walls while Kodlak and Mohamara went in. Of course, the Khajiit had to agree to a tracking spell from the Knight in order to accomplish this.

Said tracking spell took the form of a belled collar around his neck that had him glare at every man woman and child that dared to so much as giggle.

At least the two of them were warmly, and professionally, received at the Blue Palace. Elisif seemed ecstatic to get her reply from Balgruuf, and quickly left the court to read it alone which left Falk in charge of the remaining issues for the day.

“While you were gone, the Jarl reviewed the history of Khajiit in Skyrim,” Falk told Mohamara once Elisif was out of the room. “She’s… she was moved by how patriotic you are given the history of vicious cruelty that this country, this Hold, has visited upon your people.”

Mohamara stored that information away, Elisif had Nord guilt toward Khajiit, which could be exploited to help out the caravans.

“In light of this, she has opened the city to the Khajiit caravans. You and yours may come and go as you wish, do business, even buy property if you so wish it.”

“Oh,” Mohamara clapped his hands and feigned delight. “I’ve recently come into some money. Can I buy some property myself?”

“Of course.” Falk nodded emphatically and rested his hands on his hips to appear strong. “There’s a house available not too far away, but it’s pricey.”

“I’m not really interested in a property in town if that’s alright.” The cat grinned as only cats could up at the Nord who began to grow uneasy. “I’m wondering if there’s a… I think the word is ‘steading’ I can buy?”

“Well, Haafingar doesn’t have the most available land--all the mountains you see. But, did you have a plot of land in mind?”

Kodlak arched a brow and briefly wondered what game Mohamara was playing at.

“Yes, indeed. I was wondering… could I buy the entire Volskygge Valley and Mount Kilkreath?” The tojay’s smile was the picture of innocence, which only served to set the Nords off sooner. “You see, I rather fell in love with the place while killing the people summoning Potema.

Falk hastily ‘shhed’ the cat and looked around to see if any of the servants had heard. “Alright, alright fine!”

“Yay!” Once more Mohamara clapped his hands. “Now we haggle for the price, yeah? Well, Volskygge Valley is of course home to a sizable Draugr crypt, and also contains this place I’ve heard rumors about. Wolfskull Cave? A really big necromantic hotspot that I bet you don’t even have people watching?”

Falk regretted so many things in his life that had led up to him being sassed by a Khajiit half his size. “Alright. I get it. Just… hand over whatever you think the land is worth, and I’ll go work up the deed.”

“Yay! A pleasure to do business with you!” Mohamara had no trouble parting with Cicero’s reward gold to pay for his considerable purchase. He continued to cat-grin as Falk stormed off and came back with a sealed leather tube in one hand less than ten minutes later.

With the deed to his plot of land, Mohamara practically skipped down the stairs to leave the Blue Palace while Kodlak followed behind. No one but Yagraz and him would know that he had effectively bought land worth nothing that would eventually become the site of the wealthiest suburban district in all of Skyrim.

“What the shit’s got you so happy, short-stuff?”

Mohamara came back to reality in time to see Yagraz, Farkas, and Aela meeting them at the gate separating the Avenues and Wells districts. The cat made a note to ask Yagraz how she had been able to force the Red Shoes enchantment to work on demand--perhaps he could make use of it.

“I’m now a landowner,” he told the Orc woman and bapped her in her armored abs with the tube containing his deed. “I own the entire Volskygge Valley and Mount Kilkreath. “

“Holy shit, really? I think... That makes you the owner of one-third of Haafingar.”

The younger Nord Companions looked to Kodlak for confirmation, and he nodded. Farkas whistled low while Aela crossed her arms.

“It’s good country. Dangerous, but good,” she told the Khajiit while her hand drifted perhaps too close to her dagger. “Don’t go ruining it by trying to make it civilized, alright?”

“Um…” Whatever Mohamara was going to say to her in reply was cut off by a distant roar. Yagraz and the cat both stiffened instinctually while the Nords and people around the city seemed confused.

“What was that?”

”To arms!” Yagraz wasted no time, drawing her skyforge steel ax and running about. “The city’s about to be under attack! On the honor of the Companions, I swear that I’m not lying! To arms!” To every guard whom she could see, Yagraz ran. She shouted as loud as her voice could carry. If there had been any doubt, a second, louder roar sounding through the air dispelled it.

Mothers went running through the streets, calling for children. Guards ran about trying to herd the civilians into the stone buildings. The alarm horns were sounded. Aela drew her Draugr bow, while the male Companions raised their weapons. Mohamara’s tracking bell began to frantically ring of its own accord.

A shadow passed over them, and a primordial dread filled every mortal that looked up at the source.

A winged beast, all of black, with wicked curved spines along its back. Two legs, a tail, wings, and a snake-like head. It landed on the Solitude gate with such force that the stone cracked, that the gate itself was forced into the ground and would no longer open.

“What in Oblivion is that?!” The distant voice of General Tullius all but shouted from the ramparts of Castle Dour.

”Dragon!”

”...Bah Qo!” The dragon’s Thu’um Shouted a storm into existence. The sky was filled with swirling clouds, like a hurricane. From nowhere hurricane force winds picked up, and torrential rain fell down upon them.

To the people of the Fourth Era, it was a cataclysm unfolding before their eyes. But for Mohamara and Yagraz it was far worse. For they knew there was only one black dragon in all the world.

The World Eater.
---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 20: When You're Not Strong

The World Eater reeled back, preparing to unleash a Shout upon the Wells District. Some Nords were frozen in terror at the sight of the dragon, while still more ran indoors wherever they could.

”Yol…” The dragon’s shout was to be Fire Breath then, but he never got to the second or third words.

Through the rain and the hurricane force winds a gleaming object sailed through the air and struck the World Eater from behind, kicking him off the Solitude gate with such force that he flew and broke through the Wells/Avenues gate before hitting the ground.

”ALDUIN,” the Daedric Knight declared, as a halo of holy light manifested behind it, and its claymores were drawn. The voice it spoke with created a shockwave of heat that turned the rain into steam for a time. ”YOU WILL LEAVE THIS PLACE, BY YOUR OWN WILL OR BY THE STRENGTH OF MY STEEL. HAVE AT THEE, FIRE DEMON!”

While the Knight fought the dragon, Yagraz shoulder-tackled the gate using her increased speed from the Red Shoes. Every time she ran back Mohamara healed her injuries so that she could do so again. After three such runs, the once mighty gates of Solitude cracked and shattered one the fourth run.

“Get the citizens out of here,” she shouted to the guards as Mohamara rushed in to heal her again.

“They’re safe in the buildings!” One of the guards replied. And as if fate had been waiting for an excuse, Alduin tail-smacked the Knight through three houses in the Avenues District. “Or maybe they aren’t. Move!”

The Companions gathered and discussed what they should do while the Knight distracted Alduin.

“A dragon, in Skyrim! If it is slain by us, our glory will be legendary.” Aela thrummed the string on her Draugr bow and watched the battle unfold.

“That isn’t a dragon, that’s Alduin.” Yagraz cuffed the shorter woman in the back of the head. “Aspect of Akatosh, World Eater, and the mightiest dragon that ever was or will be.”

“The Companions do not flee from battle,” Farkas commented with his usual simplicity. “But if Alduin is here--doesn’t that mean the end times have come?”

“No,” Kodlak spoke up and slammed the butt of his warhammer into the ground with great strength. “No, the end times are not upon us.” The Harbinger hefted his weapon high and called out. “Sons and daughters of Solitude! Of Skyrim! Harken to me!”

Imperial Legionnaires began to file down from Castle Dour, and the few Solitude guards not ushering people out of the gates gathered in a crowd to hear what Kodlak had to say. Meanwhile Alduin bit directly into one of the Knight’s swords as it was swung at him--the sword fractured and swole from internal pressure before exploding and sending both combatants flying to opposite ends of the Avenues District.

“This is not the end! I have heard tales of the future that waits for our people. The honor! The glory! From the mouths of the gods have I heard these things!” Kodlak patrolled in front of them, waving his hammer like a staff. “The world will not end today! Not tomorrow! Not ever! We killed the Elves for this land! We killed the dragons for this land! Who will stand with me and kill the World Eater for this land?!”

The Companions naturally roared in agreement, and the Legion joined in. The guards were less sure but drew steel to show their commitment.

“That knight that grapples with the World Eater now is a gift from Meridia! Prince of Life and Light! The gods are on our side, and even a Prince of Oblivion champions our cause. Let your hearts call upon the strength of your forebears, and the blessings of the gods, to put that dragon to the sword!” Kodlak turned and pointed with his warhammer, and the motley combination of professional soldiers, city guards, and champions of valor rushed the Avenues/Wells gate to join the fight.

When they were gone, and the sounds of battle echoed from the Avenues district--along with two Voices--Kodlak went to Mohamara, who had stayed behind as well. “Lad,” he whispered and knelt. “I have no illusions about the chances of survival. If possible… I would die as a man, not a beast.”

“Oh… okay.” The tojay quickly rolled up his sleeve and retrieved his Nordic dagger. The quicksilver edge easily cut open his arm and produced a considerable volume of blood. Kodlak took a handful and put it to his mouth to drink. While Mohamara healed his arm, he reached out and increased the sympathetic bonds between the blood within Kodlak and the blood he had drunk. “Not the best way to do it, but it should prioritize cleaning your soul first.”

“My thanks, lad. Go with the gods.” The Harbinger then stood and rushed to join the battle.

Meanwhile, in the Blue Palace, in the mind of a madman, a Daedra and a mortal emperor had grown small to sit in a bowl of stew as if it were a hot spring.

Meridia looked down at them with faint disgust--it was her soup they had elected to do this in. “Should we do something about the miniature Akatosh running around outside?”

“Probably!” The tiny Sheogorath chimed as he adjusted the minute pieces of carrot over his eyes. “But it’s such a grand spectacle, why mess it up?”

“Well, Alduin is going to get sick of playing around and blitz through those mortals and my Knight eventually.” Meridia shrugged and focused her awareness outside the madman’s mind for a bit. “I mean, considering Alduin beat up Dagon, I guess he’s pretty tough? But then it’s Dagon. Dagon has a literal glass jaw. I could just possess our boy and sort this whole thing out.”

“Oy!” Sheogorath splashed some of the broth onto Meridia’s hand to get her attention. “You got to possess him last time, it’s my turn!”

“Ugh, fine. But do mind the time limit, I think the boy’s grown beyond your Chamberlain’s ability to repair.”

“Oh, Meri-pants. You delightfully ignorant witch of a woman. I’ll be done in just a moment.”

--

Mohamara had been tending to some of the injured from the ongoing battle. He’d figured out a way to use Mysticism to improvise the Restoration Spell Grand Healing by establishing sympathetic bonds between multiple injured people and healing one of them. It was magicka-intensive, but it let him get those too injured to keep fighting out of the way and save lives.

Occasionally he would see Yagraz bounding about with her Red Shoes to try and attack Alduin. But it seemed that the black dragon was invulnerable--only the Knight’s attacks did any meaningful damage.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Mohamara froze as he heard Meridia’s voice in his head. This proved to be a bad idea as a house nearby began to collapse after Alduin’s tail smashed through it, and the cat had to force himself to dodge out of the way. “Blessed Maria, forgive me my trespasses as I dedicate all the works in all my life to you,” he spoke to give nearby soldiers the impression he was praying.

“You think you are honoring me by doing this?”

The tojay’s thoughts raced as he lept from the ground onto a house roof, and then onto the city wall to better examine the fight. The Knight was out of swords, and Alduin was beating it in hand to hand. There were virtually no mortals still able to stand and fight except the Companions.

“I have blessed you more than any mortal deserves, given you the tools you need to weather this storm, and this is all you think to do with it?”

What? The terror of displeasing Meridia overwhelmed his fear of dying, or Yagraz dying for a moment as he frantically thought of what he could do.

Then it clicked. The fear of dying. Alduin was immortal, he couldn’t imagine death, couldn’t comprehend that his existence could be finite. Mohamara knew what he had to do to please Meridia.

Meanwhile, in the mind of a madman, Sheogorath returned to his soup bath.

“That’s it? You impersonate me and ask some questions?” Meridia stirred the soup bowl in which Sheogorath and Pelagius sat, then elected to hold the Septim Emperor under the surface with her spoon.

“I did nothing of the sort, my sweet, radiant wife.” Sheogorath waved her off. “I just brought some doubts he’s been having this whole time and made it so he couldn’t ignore them.”

“Hmm. I’m beginning to think our son has issues.”

Back outside Mohamara bounced around and created sympathetic bonds with dying soldiers, city guards, and Solitude residents. Every time he formed a bond, he would leap over to Alduin when the dragon was distracted and connect it to him. The bonds seemed to cause him physical pain as he recoiled from the feelings of dying mortals invading his mind.

”Damned mortal”, Alduin snarled, abandoning the crippled Daedric Knight who lay half buried under Solitude’s wall. ”Get your filthy magic off of me, and I will make your death painless.”

“Sure thing just hold still,” Mohamara replied as he connected a sympathetic bond to the dragon god’s tail, it linked to a Legionnaire as she took her very last breath.

Alduin trumpeted in agony from the feelings he could not seem to remove. ”This magic… this filthy mortal craft. How could you create something worse than that damned Thu’um?!”

“You want these bonds gone, Al-Du-In?” The tojay bounced around, too fast for Alduin to snap him up, and eventually landed on the back of the dragon’s head. Though he was out of sympathetic bonds, the dragon thrashed about as if expecting another. “Then get the fuck out of here!”

Suddenly Yagraz lept in and bashed the side of Alduin’s head with her shield. While the dragon barely reacted, Yagraz grabbed Mohamara by the scruff on the back of his neck and lept away. “What in the hell are you doing fighting, a dragon?!” She yelled at him as she used her Red Shoes to outrun Alduin’s retaliatory fire breath.

”Enough!” Alduin took to the sky, heaving his wings and using the storm winds he had Shouted into being to ascend quickly. Mohamara noted that there seemed to be a hint of… exhaustion in the dragon’s voice. ”I will mercifully spare you, slaves. But Al-Du-In will return, and see you groveling for a quick death that will not be given!”

The Knight, half buried in the rubble of Solitude’s wall, tossed the broken hilt of one of its claymores at Alduin as the dragon left. The blow caused Alduin to clip the Blue Palace’s upper floor just slightly, and flap about like an ungainly bird to resume flying.

With the dragon gone, it was time to do a count of the dead and damage that had resulted. Rather unfortunately, most of the fighting had taken place in the Avenues District--where the wealthy landowners of Solitude lived. Only the buildings closest to the Blue Palace had been spared outright destruction.

Yet somehow the madman who lurked in the alleyways had survived and continued to be incredibly creepy.

--

“So much for being able to use the victory at Morthal as a public relations benefit,” General Tullius ground out as he examined the ruins of the Avenues District from the ramparts of Castle Dour. “Solitude isn’t going to be able to afford to repair so much of the city and a war effort at the same time.”

Legate Rikke stood behind him, observing the remains of the battle. Healers from the Temple of the Divines had gone out to join the Jarl’s Fool in healing the injured troops. Those that could be saved would soon be able to walk again. “The Castle still stands, and the port suffered no damage at least,” the Nord Legionnaire offered. “But with the gate destroyed, we’re basically lame deer to Ulfric’s boys. He gets a half-decent navy together, and he can take the city as it is.”

“You think I don’t know that, Legate?” The General rubbed his face with both hands and wished he had a goblet of wine to take the sting off the reality of his situation. “Send a letter to the Legate we have in Markarth. Igmund’s seized all the property of the Silver-Bloods, right? Then he can afford to offer some gold to help Solitude rebuild.”

“Yes, sir.” Rikke looked behind her and nodded to the General’s scribe--a sign to start writing. However, the scribe took the opportunity to shove a letter toward her with no preamble. The Legate examined the missive and saw that the wax bore the seal of the Rift’s Imperial camp. “What’s this? ...A letter for you, General. From your son.”

“This is hardly the time to deal with personal issues, Legate.”

“With respect, General, but we could have all easily died today if that dragon hadn’t decided to leave.” The Nord woman dared approach the General and offer the letter. “Perhaps the gods are sending you a sign?”

“... You Nords and your damned superstitions.” The aging Imperial man snatched the letter from Rikke and broke it open quickly. Inside there were two letters, which surprised both the Imperial officers. The General scowled as he read the topmost briefly, then the second letter, and went back to reading the first. “My boy says he’s getting married soon. Apparently, he’s secured a considerable dowry and wants to give it to the war effort. This here’s a letter of permission to access the vault in Cyrodiil where it’s being stored.”

“Every little bit helps, General.”

“Hmm. I… I know this address.” The General squinted at the letter of permision to make sure his old eyes weren’t giving out on him. “This is the address to the house next to mine in Cheydinhal.”

“Well, those Imperial love songs do mention the girl next door often, don’t they?”

The General scowled at the Legate, whose expression held far too much mirth for his liking. “I know the man that lives there--he has no daughters. Perhaps… a niece, or a far younger sister. Maybe a son? I hardly know what that boy of mine likes apart from wine and silk. Just like his mother. Point is, my neighbor’s just some old Khajiit that inherited the property from the Hero of Kvatch.”

“A certainly great name to have bound to your family’s, General.”

“Hmm. The letter of credit is properly notarized, so take it to a messenger bound for the Imperial City. Like you said, every little bit helps.” What the General did not mention to the Legate, and made sure would not be mentioned to anyone by folding the letter back into the envelope, was the exact sum of gold his son had somehow secured as a dowry.

To spare details, the sum was about as little as the Throat of the World was short.

--

“Okay so, Alduin.”

“Yeah-huh.”

“How the shit do we deal with him?”

“I believe we need to employ violence.”

Mohamara looked down at Yagraz with a disbelieving look from his position on the Daedric Knight’s shoulder. After unburying the Knight, its healing capabilities were able to bring it back to full functionality, and begin the process of helping mortals.

Apparently, it liked helping mortals, Meridia had made it that way.

“Hey, don’t give me that look.” The Orc woman scratched her nose as she, the Knight, the Knight-riding tojay, and the Companions made their way down the road from Solitude to Kilkreath. “That’s how the history books say the Last Dragonborn killed Alduin. Through the power of violence.”

“I like this person already,” Farkas commented. “Just hit the dragon until it dies.”

“And how well did that go for you, ice-brain?” Aela poked Farkas in the head right where he was bandaged. “Last I saw you in the fight, the dragon smacked you with its tail and you were out cold.”

“Enough, Aela. Farkas’ insight is valid despite the events of the battle.” Kodlak walked beside them while leaning heavily on his warhammer. He’d suffered a leg injury so bad that it needed to be amputated, so he currently wore Yagraz’s ring of regeneration. “And what a battle. If I had fallen there, it would have been with no regrets.”

“Okay, assuming history classes you had to have when you were, what, seven years old are in any way accurate to how it really went down….” Mohamara laid against the Knight’s head while he tried to think. “How would you even really kill him? None of us know who the Last Dragonborn is, and if the theory of Alduin just being a strong dragon is true you need the Dragonborn to kill him permanently.”

Yagraz coughed, and Mohamara slowly turned to look down at her. He knew that cough. That was the ‘I’m hiding something’ cough. Yagraz had taught him that cough in primary school.

“Do you have something you’d like to share with the class, oh best buddy who swore an oath with me never to knowingly lie to each other?”

The Orc woman looked away from the cat’s accusing expression, which prompted him to crawl down the Knight until he was swinging along with the Daedra’s arm as it walked. “Okay,” she relented. “I… might have found out something about myself when we were killing Potema. After we bashed her ghost form to pieces and got to her bones, I sorta… absorbed her.”

Mohamara’s glare became a visage horror. “Oh no. You’re a Dragonborn.”

Yagraz nodded and said nothing.

The tojay pulled on his ears as he swung with the Knight’s arm, his breathing became rapid and unsteady. “Okay, okay. Don’t panic. We can fix this, we can…. Oh, this is bad. I need to lay down.” He crawled back up to the Knight’s shoulder and flopped down there while his tail thrashed.

The Nords looked at each other, confused, while the tojay began to softly chant ‘shit’ to himself and Yagraz continued to say nothing.

“It is a great honor to be Dragonborn,” Kodlak started. “Why does it invoke such horror in you?”

Neither of the time travelers answered so the Knight looked down to address the Harbinger. ”A Dragonborn is not permitted an afterlife. When they die, their spirit is bound to their bones until another Dragonborn or a dragon absorbs their soul. When that happens, their soul is consumed to impart the skills and memories to the one who absorbs it. The person they used to be effectively no longer exists.”

Kodlak’s expression shifted to mirror the horror that had Mohamara had just expressed as he hobbled over to Yagraz. “Lass, I--”

Yagraz pushed the hand Kodlak reached out to her with aside and thrust her jaw forward to brandish her tusks. “I know. A lot like the raw deal you got, huh? Yeah, I’m pissed about it--was really looking forward to the whole Ashpit thing.”

“Okay!” Mohamara sat up and clapped his hands. “I know what to do. Akatosh has the power to turn people who aren’t Dragonborn into Dragonborn. We just need to find out how to do the opposite.” His confidence wilted over the course of a few seconds, however, and he slumped back onto the Knight’s shoulder. “But to do that we need something tied to Akatosh’s power that I can look at--and even then it’ll take years to figure out.”

“Short-stuff, don’t get all messed up about it.” Yagraz shrugged even though Mohamara couldn’t see it. “Long as Alduin’s around, me being Dragonborn is still… useful, I guess. Heck, maybe I can piss Akatosh off enough that he doesn’t want me in his dragon club anymore.”

”If that is your goal, I suggest emulating the deeds of Pelinal Whitestrake.”

--

At Mount Kilkreath, the beacon was returned and the Daedric Knight returned to the Colored Rooms. Once in place, the beacon began to charge in earnest. But the sun was going down by then, so it was decided to make camp on the platform around Meridia’s statue. With the beacon floating above, drawing on the Temple’s stored reserves to rapidly charge itself, it would only be an evening before the faithful across Skyrim had their connections to Meridia restored.

But Mohamara only sort of cared for what the other Meridians in Skyrim were going to do with their renewed connection. He laid his bedroll next to Yagraz, who leaned on Meridia’s stone wings while she kept watch.

“I’m sorry,” he told her in a hushed tone so that the Nords could hear, but realize they weren’t supposed to comment. Werewolf ears were allegedly good enough to hear mice moving through the grass.

“It ain’t your fault.” Yagraz’s tone was of defeat, like when she had spoken about fighting Stentor. But this time, there was no easy way to shake off the weight. “I’d have still been a Dragonborn even if we stayed home. It just… woulda been a nastier surprise if I up and died to some punk with a blade.”

The tojay scooted closer to her, and Yagraz lifted her arm so he could get into the hugging position. “I’m not apologizing because it’s my fault. I’m sorry because… I don’t know any Orcs who deserve to be in Malacath’s feasting halls more than you. I’m sorry because I… don’t know if I’ll be able to fix this before either of us dies. And I’m sorry you won’t get to see your mom again.”

Yagraz brought her arm down on the tojay’s back and hugged him so hard his back popped a little. “Yeah… yeah, I am too.”

Mohamara knew the tone with which she spoke. It was a tone of constrained emotion, forced back by willpower to remain strong. He didn’t know if Malacath disapproved of open grieving, but in Dushnikh Yal it was understood that the strong shed no tears, for to do so was to admit inner weakness. Perhaps it had emerged from how often the neighborhood lost people to Vigilants of Stendarr, perhaps it was a relic of the times when every moment of life had to be fought and bled for. Either way, Mohamara knew what Yagraz wanted but was unable to ask for.

He dove into the sympathetic bonds and connected himself to her sorrow. Just like when they were teenagers, Mohamara felt overwhelmed by foreign emotion--Yagraz’s. The pain and grief were so much that he couldn’t help but start quietly crying into the Orc woman’s flank.

Since Yagraz wasn’t allowed to cry, by Malacath or by the laws of her clan, Mohamara cried on her behalf. While this happened, Yagraz patted the tojay on the back to let him know she appreciated it.

‘May our two faiths safeguard each other. In joy, and in sorrow. In triumph, and in defeat. May we find in each other an ally to watch our back, and a shoulder to lean on. Let us never be afraid to ask for help from each other, let us keep no secrets from each other, and let a falsehood never be spoken between us. In the sight of Meridia and Malacath: May this oath bind us from this day, until our last day.’ --Excerpt from the Kilkreath Compact, Year 19E 1555.

---

 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 21: Meridia's Pest Control

When Farkas woke to take his turn on the watch, he found Aela and Kodlak talking. Must have been safe thus far, if they were content to distract themselves with words.

“But the power, that little bit of extra speed in your reflexes….” Aela spoke to Kodlak, both seated on the edge of the winged woman’s platform. “It’s saved your life more than once, I know from Skjor, and the fights I have had at your side.”

“You’re of course right, sister.” Kodlak looked up at the full moons while Farkas listened. “But I have lived as both a man and a beast. I will not begrudge you for your preference, but in my last days I wish to be a man. In a way, the change has been good for me.” The old man flexed his arms, and the muscles underneath strained the wolf armor he wore. “Without the tension in my muscles at all times, I was able to fight like I did before the rot. Even if it means the rot claims me sooner, it was worth it to be able to be a Companion one last time.”

“You’re still a Companion, don’t say such things, old man.”

The wind shifted, and Farkas realized the cause of their talks from the scent he picked up. It motivated him to speak. “You aren’t a werewolf anymore.”

Kodlak forced a laugh and hobbled to his feet. His leg was almost fully grown back--that magic ring Yagraz had given him was powerful stuff. “Aye. The newest whelp provided me a cure.” He indicated the small cat that was curled up next to Yagraz at the base of the statue. “Which reminds me, Aela, have you any experience with crossbows?”

The redheaded Nord woman scoffed. “Of course I have. Shorter range, slower to shoot, but they hit hard as a master archer's arrow. Why?”

“Because I think that would be the only weapon someone as… diminutive as he can wield.”

“He seems decently smart to me,” Farkas commented. “Didn’t steal from us. But if you say he’s dim….”

Aela scoffed. “He means short, ice-brain. If you want me to teach the cat how to shoot, fine. But I don’t see the warrior’s heart in him. A mage’s mind, definitely, and a healer’s hands. But no call to battle.”

Farkas pondered these things without changing his facial expressions--he had learned to do it so well that even Vilkas couldn’t tell when it happened anymore.

“Then what do you call leaping onto the World Eater, hmm? What do you call healing people in the thick of battle?”

“Stupidity is what I’d call it.” Aela frowned while Kodlak hobbled away to his cot. “Fighting a dragon is a warrior’s duty, not some milk-drinking cat wizard’s.”

“Not all warriors fight with steel.” Farkas quoted what he had heard his father, Jergen, say about mages and scouts in the Legion. “We used to not take elves, now we do. Why not mages?”

“The boy isn’t even a real mage.” Kodlak’s armor scraped on the stone he had made his sleeping spot next to. A wall at his back, to worry less about ambushes. “I watched him spin soul gems into a thread and knit enchantments into a dainty little cloth thing. That and healing are all I know of his magic.”

Aela waved Farkas off when he approached the edge to sit beside her. “Go back to sleep, shield-brother. I’m too worked up to go back to sleep for a while yet.”

Farkas knew better than to talk back to Aela when she wanted to be alone, so returned to his bedroll. Fortunately, it was still warm from when he had left. Once he laid down, looking up at the stars, an idea struck him that he couldn’t help but speak. “...Do you think it’s possible to knit a bolt of lightning?”

“Well, the gods have to do it somehow. Might as well be knitting.”

--

Mohamara was woken up by an eagle swooping down and trying to carry him away. Again. Unfortunately for the eagle, it didn’t account for the ability of Mohamara to reach around, grab it, and bite it in the neck.

It amused Aela to no end when the tojay returned to camp with a dead eagle in his mouth and spat it out to start plucking feathers. “What the fuck is up with eagles here?” He asked her in between extracting feathers as Yagraz had shown him.

“That’s a black eagle,” the Companion archer answered. “They hunt goats, pigs, and sometimes children. Snatch them up and drop them then feast on the corpses. It’s why people don’t usually live in these mountains.”

Mohamara paused and looked southward before turning back to Aela. “Does Dragon Bridge put up with this too?”

Aela nodded. “They have a storied tradition of archery for exactly that reason. I’m told that every child past their tenth year is skilled enough with a bow to take down any black eagle mid-swoop.” She chuckled a bit and looked southward to the distant bridge. “Tell me, boy. Do you want to be a Companion?”

The tojay shrugged and took his knife to cut open the eagle’s chest. “I don’t know. Yagraz would be happy if I did, and Kodlak tried to sell me on the idea but… right now I think I should stay here, in Haafingar. Elisif is going to need someone to make her laugh after what happened.”

Aela turned to look at him with an arched brow. “It doesn’t bother you? To debase yourself like that?”

Mohamara met her eyes, defiant. “I signed up for the job a Fool. It comes with the territory.”

“Hmm. Then perhaps Kodlak is wrong about you. A Companion should not be content to be laughed at.”

“Aren’t you guys all about honor? What honor do I lose by making people laugh when they need it? Is it dishonorable to bring people happiness?”

Aela’s expression became steel, and Mohamara saw a yellow tinge creep into her eyes. “It is dishonorable to be mocked and do nothing about it. It is dishonorable to want to be mocked, as it diminishes the honor of all those who would stand with you.”

The cat didn’t look away from her but shrugged. “That sounds like your opinion, and less like codified rules. Do you think less of Yagraz for having me as her friend, then?”

“My thoughts on my shield-siblings are my own.”

“That’s a way of saying yes while being too afraid to admit it.” Mohamara easily lept seven feet into the air as Aela snarled and crossed the gap between them in a flash. Werewolf speed was not to be fucked with. “Ooh,” the tojay commented as he landed and immediately jumped again to avoid any grabbing attempts from the Companion. “Consider that nerve touched.”

“You don’t want to test my patience, cat.” Aela went for neither of her weapons and made no moves to grab the tojay as he bounded around the temple roof.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t start conversations expecting others to handle your delicate sensibilities. You know what also diminishes the honor of all who stand with you?” The cat pulled down on one of his eyelids and stuck his tongue out at the Companion. “Being so fragile that they can’t have opinions different than yours.”

The Companion snarled, and her eyes went almost entirely yellow while her canines visibly grew in size. Mohamara realized that he might have pushed the issue too far, and was about to flee before the impending werewolf transformation started.

But it became unnecessary. On his next jump upward, Mohamara found himself going far higher, much faster than he had done previously. For a moment, he thought the Red Shoes enchantment had activated but he kept going hundreds of feet into the air--well beyond what the enchantment should have been capable of at max power.

Then, when he could see all the way to Whiterun Hold, he stopped and was suspended in the air. Light gathered into a central point not far away and exploded into a winged figure vaguely resembling a woman made of white light.

Meridia.

The force holding Mohamara had seized him somewhere around his chest, so he flailed about in an attempt to get into a position of supplication. It didn’t go well, with the cat ending up flipping over multiple times as Meridia approached and overall just screwing up his physical orientation.

When she finally arrived, he had managed something close to the position of supplication… at about ninety degrees off where it should have been. “You, mortal.” Her voice echoed far in the thin air so high up. “You have restored to me my beacon, and permitted my splendor to return to Skyrim. For your efforts, you may speak to me.”

“All that I do, I do to spread the word of your benevolence through the world,” the tojay replied, with his eyes blocked by the backs of his hands. Technically the pose of supplication was just a kowtow, but there was some hidden meaning behind it--perhaps it was bound to a specific set of ideas through sympathetic bonds that only Meridia could pick up on.

“As you should, good and faithful servant.”

Inside his mind, where it was appropriate to have such thoughts, Mohmara squealed to himself from the joy of Meridia’s praise.

The light from Meridia’s seeming shifted as she circled around the mortal. “Where is your amulet, mortal? I distinctly recall that all my servants should have one that I might know the strength of your love for me.”

All the joy that he had felt before turned to ash and dread. “It, uh… was stolen, my Lady.”

”By whom?”

“An Orc. I never knew his name. He stole it shortly after I… uh, appeared in this time?” He didn’t dare bring up Sheogorath to Meridia yet. More than likely she had known from the moment he was brought to her temple as a baby.

“I see.”

Those two words cut Mohamara to the bone, he imagined the disappointment Meridia must have had, that one of her faithful couldn’t fight off a drunk robber. His ears went flat against his head and his tail went underneath him. “If-if it pleases you, I can perhaps make another--”

“It would not please me, no. The amulet is not merely a magical necklace, it is a morpholith mined and polished from my Realm. How arrogant of you, to think you could replicate my work.”

The situation was growing increasingly worse, Mohamara realized. Meridia was going to be upset with him, and what way she would choose to express that feeling was up in the air.

“But even without the amulet, I can see your heart. You cower at the thought of displeasing me--good. Too many of my servants fail to realize the severity of their errors. Such as this.”

Mohamara felt Meridia seize his leg and roll up his pants leg, and then jab an insubstantial finger into the scars along his shin.

“I am particular with my words, mortal. So when I order my Vessels to be repaired, I expect to come back to find them in exactly the condition I expect of them. Which is why I am utterly enraged when my orders are ignored like this.” As she spoke, she squeezed down on Mohamara’s ankle like he was a stress ball.

Meanwhile, in the Colored Rooms, a general broadcast was sent out to all Meridia’s servants from her chamberlain. “Would the Knight designated L4NC-3 please report to the throne room. Now.

The specific Knight was in the middle of its lunch break, and obediently got up while all the other Knights pointed, ‘ooh’d’, and one sang the ‘someone’s in trouble’ song.

Mohamara kept his mouth shut as Meridia used his leg like a stress relief ball. Fortunately, she let go before breaking any of his bones.

“But this is not your fault. You have served admirably. I am… pleased, with you.”

“Before… before you commit to that, my Lady.” Mohamara knew, he knew that what he was about to do was stupid beyond all forms of reason. But he couldn’t do otherwise. He couldn’t lie, even by omission, to his Lady. “I… did not go after the beacon right away when I learned where it was. I stayed in Solitude, and fulfilled the orders of Sheogorath first because I thought… I thought….”


“You thought that Sheogorath was like me. That his orders were to be obeyed and made a priority on pain of death. Is that about right?”

Mohamara nodded and was ever so slightly grateful that he couldn’t see whatever look of displeasure Meridia was leveling at him.

“I had thought to make you my Champion, to make your voice equal to mine. But perhaps I should bless some other mortal, one who is not so foolish.” The light of Meridia’s presence shifted again, growing more distant. “Tell me--why do you confess this? Sheogorath would have never spoken of it, and you could have been greatly rewarded had you stayed silent.”

“Because I love you, and you love me. And keeping a secret from you would have eaten at that love with fear of it being discovered.” The tojay braced himself for the beacon firing off a beam of light to murder him then and there, or perhaps for Meridia to shuffle his bones around, or turn him into a worm.

Meanwhile, in the mind of a madman, the gracious host looked up from reading a letter from hundreds of years ago to the lady his friend had invited in. “What’s got you grinning like a fool?”

“Shut up, mortal,” Meridia replied with a toothy grin from ear to ear.

Back to the scene far above Meridia’s temple, the Daedra did not speak for a long while. “I see. Since you are not suited to being my Champion, you will serve me in a different way. There is a profane darkness lurking in my temple. If I had a Champion, I would see it cleansed. But since all I have is a Vessel, I will use you to… exterminate the infestation myself. Inform the mortals skittering about my roof that they will need to hurry and get as far away as possible.”

“Yes, my Lady.” Mohamara nodded and began to sink back to Nirn automatically.

--

Yagraz woke up to find her cat friend missing, a half-cleaned dead black eagle, and Aela staring vacantly upward. She questioned this and did not enjoy the answer one bit. “What the fuck do you mean he jumped up into the sky?”

“I mean what I said,” Aela responded, in a daze. “I… we were talking, he was jumping around and then--like a bow launched from an arrow--up he went.”

“The fuck were you talking about then?”

“Really? That’s what you want to focus on, what we talked about?”

Yagraz got up in Aela’s grill to remind her that the Orc was not at all afraid of the Nord as their comrades were and that Yagraz was by far the more capable fighter in close range. “I’m focusing on what I can do things about right now. So if the two of you were talking something that might have activated some weird Meridian recall device, I--”

A tojay Khajiit landing on Yagraz put an end to the pending argument. “Y’all need to run!” Mohamara shouted to them as he scrambled to the ground. “Kodlak! Farkas! On your feet, Companions!”

Farkas hopped to his feet from laying on his back and drew his greatsword in one fluid motion. “Where’s the fool who needs killing?”

“You’ll be the fool that get killed in a few minutes!” The cat ignored Yagraz and Aela’s confused looks and went behind Farkas to attempt to push him. “Run! Everyone, you need to grab your stuff and go, like now.”

“Hold on, short-stuff,” Yagraz started as she walked over and picked the Khajiit up. “What’s going on? Where were you up there?”

Mohamara grabbed Yagraz by the face and brought it close to his to whisper. “Meridia is going to blow up the temple, and none of you want to be here when it happens.”

Without changing her expression, Yagraz set Mohamara back on the ground. She calmly packed up Mohamara’s stuff and hers and went to physically pick up Kodlak from his sleeping spot. “We need to start running. Farkas, grab Kodlak’s stuff.”

“Right.” The wolf-twin quickly gathered up his stuff and followed after Yagraz as she started to book it.

Aela did the same but had far less to grab so she was able to catch up quicker. “What in Oblivion are we running away from?!”

“An angry Daedra, that’s what!” Yagraz ignored Kodlak as he started to wake up from the running. “Meridia is doing some house cleaning, and none of us would survive it!”

“I knew Telma was putting her life at risk doing that stuff,” Farkas commented as they kept running south toward Dragon Bridge.

Yagraz wasn’t looking back, she knew better, but she could tell something was happening from the way the clouds started to break apart and vanish--as if struck by a shockwave.

“Look out!”

Farkas’ shout saved Aela and Yagraz from being struck by long trails of lightning that followed the road, upending the worn stone and setting trees alight as they passed. For a moment, all the light vanished from the sky, and it was night time again.

“Don’t look back!” Yagraz ran as fast as she could, and found it odd that the Red Shoes enchantment on her boots didn’t activate. “You’ll go blind! Do not look back!”

They felt the explosion long before they heard it. The ground under their feet shook, like an earthquake. From behind them came a strong shockwave that tore leaves from the trees they passed. But after that came an even stronger shockwave that knocked them all off their feet and sent them rolling down the road--they could hear the explosion at that time, but the noise was intermingled with the rushing air, so they could not pick it out.

Where had once been the Temple of Meridia was now a smoking crater, strewn across the mountainside. Aela had to dodge to the side to avoid part of Meridia’s statue striking her as it bounced down the road and eventually tumbled away into the valley below.

“Wow,” Farkas commented as he looked at the plume of smoke and ash rising from the mountain. “That must have been a really dirty house.”

--

High above the smoking mountain, Meridia watched the ash rocks settle through the Vessel’s eyes. The necromancer who dared trespass was dead, and her temple in ruins. The beacon orbited her like a moon. And in moments, Dawnbreaker--her mighty weapon--rose from the temple ruins undamaged. She touched a finger to it, restoring the power that had been stolen from the weapon to power the squatter’s vile corruptions, and called it back to her throne in the Colored Rooms.

With the work done, she freed herself from the Vessel and watched him take in the ruin that had become of Kilkreath.

He grieved for her holy temple. Even though it was not the same one he had been brought too sixteen thousand years from that moment, he still held Kilkreath as his ‘home’. She had gleaned these things from their time together.

“Hear me, mortal.” Meridia permitted the Vessel, her son, to be sluggish in his attending to her command. Grieving for what was lost and could never be reclaimed was an important part of her faith, after all. “As you are inadequate to be my Champion, you will go amongst my faithful and spread the word of the return of my splendor to Skyrim. You will do this as long as you are here, in this time. Planning around the Mad God’s schedule is… irksome, but I haven’t the means to keep you longer than he intends. So, while you are here I command you: Grow mighty, grow in influence, and build for me a new temple on my sacred mountain.”

The Khajiit wiped away the tears he had shed for the temple and tried to get into the pose of supplication once more. “Y-yes, my Lady. Your will be done.”

There was but one last thing to attend to, then Meridia could release her avatar. She accessed the beacon and reactivated its higher functions. Once it was initialized, she used it to locate another piece of lost property. She found it in the Reach, a Hagraven nest, and summoned it to her hand with but a thought.

The avatar of light approached the cat and lifted his head out of the supplication pose. He, of course, had no idea what was happening as she wrapped the fine silver chain around his neck and clipped it for him.

“There.” Her tone became demonstrably warmer as the amulet’s miniature beacon lit up, and she could feel the earnest love from her son’s heart flowing back into her. “All is forgiven, servant. Go now, and see my will done. Know that I love you. Goodbye.”

Once more the cat began to drift back down to the surface of Nirn. Meridia only slightly adjusted his course so he wouldn’t land directly on top of the molten rock, and vanished from the world.

It was only when she was fully herself again did she remember she had forgotten to remove those unsightly scars.

“Meri-pants,” Sheogorath called from the arena of paranoia. “Did you blow up a mountain without me?”

“Well I would have been happy to have you there,” the Lady of Light and Life said without raising her voice. Sheogorath was aware of everything that happened in the madman’s mind, after all. “But someone couldn’t be bothered to get off their orange and purple backside.”

“I can’t miss my soaps, Meri-pants! We’ve got sandalwood squaring up with High Rock Spring for the Sudsy Championship!”

“You know sandalwood’s going to win by cheating. They do it every time.”

“Well if they fight enough times, surely High Rock Spring will wisen up and--damnit High Rock Spring! That’s the two-thousand and fifth time you’ve fallen for that trick!”

---

Chapter Text

---
Chapter 22: Uncle Sanguine would be Proud

Mohamara sat on the side of the road looking up at what used to be the Kilkreath Temple. He was actually seated on part of the roof that had escaped being launched into the river valley below by some nearby trees. Behind him, the beacon pulsed periodically with solar energy.

He was a mess, to put it bluntly. Kilkreath was gone because he wasn’t good enough to be a Champion. And the reason he wasn’t good enough was he’d been honest with Meridia. He didn’t mind not being a Champion--he wasn’t a great warrior, so whatever had lurked in the temple would likely be too much for him to handle. But the faithful of Skyrim now had nowhere to go for their worship because of him.

He’d just have to start on a new temple… which would require architects, lumber, quarried stone, artisans, and so much money. Mohamara held his head in his hands at the thought of how expensive the temple would be in terms of raw gold. But it was Meridia’s direct orders--there was no way out of the situation unless Sheogorath decided to end his vacation.

But when he looked up at where the temple had been, the guilt ate at him. If he didn’t do it then someone else in the faith would be asked to complete the temple. The absolute least he could do was get the infrastructure in place to see the temple completed. Ideally, after the mountain had cooled down into solid rock again.

The Khajiit was so wrapped up in the temple, he didn’t notice the Companions coming back at first. It became hard to not notice them after Yagraz started poking his face incessantly to get a reaction out of him. He responded as a friend should, and bit her.

She lifted her hand, with Mohamara hanging from her finger like some sort of furry fish and grinned at the Companions. “See? Told you he was alright.”

“Doesn’t that hurt?” Farkas spoke the minds of Aela and Kodlak as they watched this play out.

“Not really--he’s biting with his molars.” Yagraz shrugged and set the tojay down. “So… how was Meridia?”

“She was mildly annoyed,” the Khajiit admitted, hiding his guilt under a layer of humor. “Someone squatting in her temple, from what I could pick up. But, hey, at least the beacon didn’t get blown up too.”

Yagraz saw through him like a window and squinted down at the Khajiit. “What did you do?”

With his cover blown, the cat deflated. “Meridia was going to make me her Champion but decided against it when I told her why it took me so long to get the beacon. Which meant she had to blow up the temple because of me.”

The Orc woman patted him on the shoulder and set down his backpack beside him. “That sucks short-stuff. But hey, at least you didn’t lie to a Daedra--that always ends badly. Now come on, long walk back to Whiterun.”

“Hasn’t he told you yet?” Aela cut in with a disdainful scowl. “Apparently he wants to stay in Haafingar.”

“I do have a job that needs doing,” Mohamara snapped at the Nord woman. He glared at Aela before softening his expression and looking at Yagraz. “Is.. is that okay? I mean, I could always visit, or maybe move to Whiterun sometime?”

The Orc Companion grinned and ruffled the Khajiit’s hair. “Of course it’s okay. Finishing what you start is the first step to fixing that future problem you got goin’ on. I’ll be calling you on the regular, so you know.” She stood to her full height and started to list things off on her fingers. “So be sure to look after yourself. Tell me the when and where for the wedding as soon as you know so I can inspect the match they got for you. Oh, and next time I come to Haafingar I’ll bring the rest of your stuff from my place. One last thing….” She crouched down to look at Mohamara face to face before she put on her ‘I will legitimately murder you’ face. “If you’re in trouble and don’t ask for help I will hunt you down and beat your ass, do you hear me?”

“Love you too, best buddy.” The tojay and Orc exchanged hugs and went their separate ways for a while.

--

Solitude was not having a good time. There were funerals for those that had died in Alduin’s attack every day--accessing the temple of the divines for anything not funeral-related was impossible for a week’s time.

Mohamara found it difficult to keep Elisif’s spirits up, but when the Khajiit caravan finally arrived, the influx of goods and money they brought with them acted as an ointment for the city and by extension, Elisif.

Ma’dran was a cathay-raht, a ripped eight-foot tall panther-man and usually in sturdy merchant’s clothes of blue linen. His very presence within the city made the guards nervous. He had scars from many battles and knew weapons like Mohamara knew enchantments. If it could be used to kill something, or someone, Ma’dran knew it. And since his caravan was allowed in the city, the Nords began to realize they had a kindred spirit in the jaguar-man.

To everyone’s surprise, one of the first things Ma’dran did when he got to Solitude was to purchase one of the last standing houses in the Avenue’s District--Proudspire Manor. The cathay-raht looked enormously pleased with himself handing over almost a wagonful of gold for the property.

“Ri’saad got his share,” the jaguar-man spoke with a rumbling voice that rattled Mohamara’s bones. “House puts us at risk of dragon attacks, but this one suspects it will also endear Nords to us. To buy and sell more goods, yes?”

“Your purchase is greatly appreciated, sir,” Falk spoke as he stared, flabbergasted at the wagon of gold being unloaded. “Even with the recent unpleasantness, the city is greatly… served by your presence here.” Most of the court was in attendance at the event, as Elisif wanted to meet Ma’dran herself.

When the deed changed hands, Elisif clapped her hands and servants brought several baskets of furs to present to Ma’dran. They looked, from Mohamara’s perspective, like furred sections of clothes that had been removed. Some of them he recognized from Elisif’s own wardrobe. “I have spent the time to learn about what previous Jarls of Solitude have done to your people,” the Jarl said with a solemn expression. “I’m… horrified that my late husband would think to give me such things. And that a man as good as him would not see the inherent vileness of owning such things. I return them to you, with my apologies. I’m afraid I don’t know the funerary practices of the Khajiit, but you have my permission to do whatever is necessary for these lost souls.”

Mohamara looked at the fur from his place among the court and pieced together what the Jarl was implying. It was only when he saw a cat’s tail among the furs--roughly cathay sized, that he realized what had been going on.

“This one thanks you for the return of lost kin,” Ma’dran took up the baskets with no problems and rested them on his shoulder. “Khajiit will send them back to the homeland, where they can find peace with warm sands.” Then the cathay-raht slapped his chest and gestured outward. “But to more pleasant things! This one invites kindly Jarl, and Ri’saad’s ja’khajiit to Khajiit’s new home. We must make the house a place of happiness, no?”

“I would be happy to attend.” Elisif’s face went from solemn to jovial, perhaps happy that Ma’dran had not dwelled on the unfortunate fate of so many Khajiit. Then she turned to Mohamara. “What about you, my Fool?”

The tojay had been busy trying to fight the urge to dive into the sympathetic bonds of the Khajiit pelts. ‘Maybe I could find out who they were’, he’d thought to himself. But no, it would only lead to him going blind for another week to try and help people far beyond help. He shook himself back to the present when Elisif repeated her question. “Yeah… yeah, I’ll go, no problem.”

Ma’dran let loose a cheer in the Khajiit language, ta’agra, and turned to leave the Blue Palace courtyard.

Elisif’s court began to file back into the Palace, but the Jarl herself came over to Mohamara. “I heard from Falk that you made quite a substantial purchase of land after delivering my letter.”

The cat watched Ma’dran leave, then looked up at his Jarl. “Oh, that. Well… someone has to watch Wolfskull, to make sure no one tries to get in there again.”

Elisif nodded, putting on her serious face. “Agreed. If we could spare the men, I would set up a permanent watch there myself. You said there’s a fort… inside the cave?” When Mohamara nodded, Elisif pinched the bridge of her nose. “Of all the stupid--who would put a fort inside a cavern?”

“Well, legend says that the fort used to be on the surface but sank down and the cave formed on top of it. Perhaps one of the Divines hoped to lock it away, but the cave worked its way through?”

That seemed to get the Jarl thinking. “Yes, perhaps I should speak to the priest at the temple of the divines about it. Perhaps we could beseech the Divines to seal the cave permanently.”

“Not all miracles are made of magic, my Jarl.” Mohamara grinned as only cats could. “Since Kilkreath recently… exploded, there has been a lot of debris in the roads and waterways I’ve heard. Rather than just casting it off into deeper water, if you permitted, those boulders could be used to seal up Wolfskull Cave.”

“Are you suggesting… we make Wolfskull Cave a dumping ground?” Elisif faked looking outraged before her amusement burned through it. “Okay, I find the idea entirely too entertaining. I’ll talk to Falk about it later. Now, as my Fool I want you to go ahead of me and help Ma’dran set up his house for whatever event they’re throwing. I’ll need you to help me avoid social faux pas when it happens.”

Mohamara nodded and waited for Elisif to return to the Palace before he trotted off to find Ma’dran.

Proudspire Manor was, per the name, a manor house with a considerable courtyard and small orchard of fruiting trees behind it. The property rested between the partially destroyed bard’s college and the curtain wall of the Blue Palace. When Mohamara saw it, he had no doubts that the property could house an entire caravan of Khajiit comfortably.

Ma’dran’s caravan was busy unloading things from the caravan to the manor, furniture mostly. Their wagons lined the outer wall of the property while their horses were in the process of being taken to an attached stable. Among the caravaneers were many cathay, but not exclusively that morph. There were digitigrade suthay and suthay-raht among them, somehow shorter than a cathay despite walking on their digits.

There were nine other cathay-raht in Ma’dran’s caravan, with the shortest of them being a seven-foot tall female. And Mohamara had the unfortunate luck that it was this group that spotted him first as he entered the property. The giants closed in on him before he realized he needed to run, and soon Mohamara found himself in the middle of a crowd of giant cats all squealing to each other.

They talked to each other and Mohamara in ta’agra, so Mohamara knew he’d likely have to engage a Tongues spell to speak back to them. However, his lack of response in the Khajiit language did not stop the cathay-raht from passing Mohamara around and chattering to each other. By the time Mohamara got the spell going where he could speak to them, he’d already had his tail measured, more than one had dared look up his robe, and his mouth had been pried open so that they could see his teeth.

“Eee! Look at young one’s little fangs!”

“Couth youff pweaf gehh yourf fingahs ouff my mouf?”

“Such big ears on one so small!”

“Hey-ow! Don’t pull so hard!”

“Look, toes so fluffy on the bottom! But no claws!”

Give me back my shoes or I swear on Malacath’s knuckle-dusters--

“What has you all giggling like young ones with first moon sugar?” Ma’dran appeared at last, and the circle of giant Khajiit broke apart to let him in. He looked down at Mohamara with an arched brow before reaching down and yanking the tojay out of the larger Khajiit’s ensnarement. “Ah, Ri’saad’s tojay!” Ma'dran set the smaller Khajiit on his feet and barked orders to the other cathay-raht to get back to work.

“I don’t suppose I could get my shoes back?” Mohamara asked the far, far larger Khajiit while being gently pushed into the manor’s basement level.

Ma’dran recoiled at Mohamara’s words and shook his head in disapproval. “You speak like a Nord, is as Ri’saad said. You know nothing of our ways. Your things will be returned once the caravan is done fawning over them, and you. It is so rare to have a tojay outside Elsweyr.” He leaned in close and whispered into Mohamara’s ear. “Some will ask you to spin moon sugar for them, and will not understand how you cannot know how to do it. Just say Clan Mother forbids spinning moon sugar out of schedule.”

Mohamara hadn’t even known moon sugar was spun. He immediately began to work on an idea for how the spun sugar was worked into the crystalline blocks he had seen Ri’saad’s people partake of. “Okay… that’s good. Um, Elisif wants me to make sure she doesn’t insult anyone while she’s here later.”

Madran’s relatively small ears flicked back and he scowled. “It pains this one to hear you speak our people’s language like this. A tojay speaking this way would upset many of the more… delicate Khajiit back in the homeland. It is… this one can know what you say but is like a child. Stilted, slow, no cleverness.” The pushing stopped when they were in a part of the cellar where great casks were stored.

Mohamara could smell wine in them--perhaps they were left by the previous owner. The wine was probably awful from being stored in improper conditions. “Well, that might be because I can’t actually speak ta’agra. I’m using magic.”

Ma’dran rubbed his huge face with his hands and groaned. “That is even worse. Oh, tell that to no one save Ri’saad or Ahkari--it would break the hearts of our caravaneers were they to hear. And you would get no rest until they taught you the language.”

It was the tojay’s turn to flick his ears back and scowl. “Alright. But to make this clear, I don’t actually want to know the Khajiit language. It’s bad enough knowing what my name means in this tongue.”

The dark-furred cathay-raht peeked between his fingers. “What is wrong with your name, young one? Was your mother cruel?”

The tojay shrugged. “You heard it when Elisif talked to me earlier--don’t tell me you didn’t.”

“Mohamara, child of love, what is so awful about that?”

“You went further down the translation route than I did, so kudos I guess? When I looked it up, my name translated to ‘bastard’. Kind of puts you off learning the language, that.” And he knew that the meaning held true in this time too, for he felt a sympathetic bond between the word Ma’dran heard him speak, and himself.

The cathay-raht gave Mohamara a pitying look. “This one understands. He wishes you would give our language a chance, but knows that it would be unpleasant.” He took a deep breath and clapped his hands together. “Let us dwell on it no longer. It is in the past, forgotten, gone! What are we talking about? Oh, yes!”

Meanwhile, in the mind of a madman, Meridia suddenly realized she had made a terrible mistake trying to name her son after her sister.

--

Ma’dran spent a long while going over the party they were planning for the housewarming. Mostly it would be held outside, there would be plenty of moon-sugar food but since Elisif was attending they were going to make some sugar-free food. There wasn’t going to be much pomp or ceremony so most of the risk of insult was actually on the sugar-addled Khajiit offending the Jarl.

The cathay-raht offered to let Mohamara stay with his caravan in Proudspire, which the tojay took him up on. It was going to be better than having to sleep in the kitchens since most of the vacant rooms had been destroyed by Alduin clipping the Palace. A young suthay man gave him back his shoes before he left to get his things and return.

When the time for the housewarming came around, Mohamara sat next to Elisif on pillows which surrounded a bonfire while the caravaneers went about their bizarre festivities. Elisif’s housecarl standing behind her like a gargoyle kept most people from interacting with her aside to offer food. Sometimes Elisif would inquire about what sort of songs they were singing, and most often they seemed to be songs of fruitful hunts.

It was only much later that Mohamara would remember that it was Hircine’s summoning day, and later still that he would realize whom they referred to when speaking of the ‘Hungry Cat’.

What Mohamara also didn’t know was that Ma’dran had noticed how the tojay was not eating or drinking anything from what the caravan had prepared. Mohamara would only eat what had been prepared for Elisif that the Jarl didn’t want at the moment. As soon as the tojay smelled moon sugar, he set the food or drink aside. There were many problems with the tojay that Ma’dran knew Ri’saad would ask for help correcting as time went on, but the cathay-raht knew he could fix this right away.

Ma’dran had two glasses filled with spiced wine, purchased from a woman in the Wells District, and mixed a chunk of moon sugar the size of his smallest cleaving tooth into one. The spices in the wine blocked the smell of moon sugar from the cathay-raht, so they would certainly hide it from the weak-nosed tojay.

Ma’dran was all smiles good cheer when he brought the drinks to the Jarl and her Fool. “This one invites you to drink, to good health, good fortune, and good hunting!” A third glass he poured for himself and held it up as a toast.

Elisif toasted him quickly enough, but Mohamara was hesitant. Perhaps he was stronger-nosed than most tojay and could smell something wrong, perhaps he simply didn’t like spiced wine. But nonetheless, the three of them drank--the human and cathay-raht far more than the tojay who was suppressing the urge to gag.

“I freely admit to being a milk-drinker,” the Fool said as he forced himself to sip more of the wine. “Alcohol is just… nasty, ugh.”

Elisif’s housecarl snorted, while the Jarl herself got a good laugh out of it.

Ma’dran finished his goblet and returned to his seat to wait for the next step. It didn’t take long before the tojay was visibly swaying on his cushion, and proved that it was as Ma’dran had feared. The Fool had never taken moon sugar before--he was showing the signs of a kitten tasting their first grains. Disorientation, pupils contracting and dilating out of control, and finally passing out.

Elisif and her housecarl were mildly alarmed when the tojay fell backward and spilled the remained of his wine all over himself, but Ma’dran was on his feet and to their side of the bonfire in no time at all.

“Hmm, perhaps this one should have given ja’khajiit a smaller cup,” the cathay-raht said to the Jarl to lighten the mood. Ma’dran faced no resistance from either Nord as he carried the tojay away from the scene, then passed him off to a member of his caravan to sleep off the sugar and booze.

However, during the suthay woman getting the tojay out of his wine-soaked clothes before they stained, she happened to glance at his face and saw him staring back at her. His eyes had changed color, from their usual grey-blue to one orange, and one purple. The last thing the poor suthay remembered of that night was the unnaturally wide grin the tojay had given her.

--

Hi! I don’t usually get to talk to you folks directly. Mostly because I can’t think on enough layers to be constantly aware that I’m not really real, you know. Come to think of it, I’m probably not going to be aware that I ever had this brief talk past the wall with you fine people.

I just want to say something to you folks real quick.

I’m not enjoying this. This is not a fun adventure for me. And it really pisses me off that some of you are enjoying my suffering. You think I can’t see you right now, looking at those screens at all this shit happening to me?

Bear in mind when you keep on reading my awful adventure--when you look in on the Cat, the Cat looks in on you.

With love, Mohamara.

--

The tojay woke up, stinking of wine, in his underwear, in the middle of a cat pile made up of sleeping caravaneers. When he processed all these pieces of information, he groaned to himself and started the process of getting out of the pile.

‘Tell me I didn’t get drunk and… oh, Yagraz is going to give me so much shit about this.’ Mohamara thought to himself rather than talk, so that he wouldn’t wake any of the Khajiit up and stumbled away from the cat pile. Some of the caravaneers tried to grab at him instinctively as he left, and Mohamara was mildly glad he had so few clothes for them to catch their claws on to drag him back.

He was in the Proudspire Manor basement he realized, which at least meant he hadn’t gotten up to much mischief while drunk, he thought.

‘See this is why you need to refuse the wine next time.’ Mohamara berated himself in his head as he ascended the stairs to make his way to the small room on the second floor set aside for him. ‘You’re too small to be heavy drinkers--less blood means less blood-alcohol level needed.’

Thankfully he was young enough to be able to drink and not get a hangover, or perhaps he hadn’t drunk all that much. Mohamara found his room locked when he got to it, but easily unlocked the door with a bit of magic. Inside he found his barely made bed occupied, and most of his stuff strewn across the floor. He let the two cathay stay in the far-too-small for them bed and started to pick up his things.

At least nothing had been stolen.

However, when he powered on his slate he found that a missive servitor open with a list of things written in exemplary calligraphy and then scratched out. It read as such:

To Do List
1. Stare at nothing, and have nothing stare back at me.
2. Catch that motherfucking tail.
3. Fix all the streetlights in Solitude.
4. Jazzercise.
5. Kiss a girl and find out I don’t like it.
7. Find out who stole 6.
8. Solve world hunger, tell no one.
9. Play that funky music.

Mohamara fell back onto his butt and held his head as he read through the list. “Oh, Malacath’s threatening tusks. I’m going to be in so much trouble, aren’t I?”

“You certainly will be if you don’t talk quieter, ja’khajiit,” said one of the cathay in Mohamara’s bed.

“Bah,” said the other. “Is more quietly, not quieter.”
---

Chapter Text



---
Chapter 23: Laid to Rest

Mohamara went to the docks with some of the caravan’s fishers to catch breakfast. It had been a bit awkward to change into his swimsuit with the layabouts still in his bed but they never moved their heads up to peek so ultimately not an issue.

Haafingar’s waters were significantly warmer than Eastmarch’s, likely due to the magma chamber of the inactive volcano that was Mount Kilkreath heating up the environment. So the tojay was able to put on a robe to make the journey to the East Empire Company docks. When he got outside he saw what, apparently, he’d done to the lamp posts and braziers that lit up Solitude’s streets at night.

Stone statues of winged figures replaced what had been wooden posts holding up tallow candle lamps, and in their hands, they held faceted orbs that shone from within with golden light--like the beacon or Mohamara’s amulet. As the sun rose from the north, the light from the lamps waned until they were inert. The new street light statues came in pairs, except at intersections where there would be eight--and in the destroyed part of the Avenues District, the rubble had been cleared for the new additions.

The tojay decided that if no one knew he’d done it, he wouldn’t claim credit for it. That way no one could ask how he’d done it.

Each of the fishers for the caravan specialized in getting different sorts of fish. There was a mudcrabber, a small-line fisher, two slaughterfish hunters, an egg collector, and a salmon fisher whom Mohamara would be helping. After the initial giggling at Mohamara’s swimsuit, they became envious of the water breathing enchantment on it.

With his amulet back, Mohamara was happy enough to enchant some of their gear with the enchantment as well. To them, it must have seemed strange how the tojay would pinch one facet of the amulet and draw out hair-fine threads of golden light then wove them into earrings, bracelets, and other pieces of jewelry for the Khajiit. But the effects were most welcome.

The tojay found salmon hunting surprisingly enjoyable. There was always a sense of satisfaction from snatching salmon out of the air when they jumped up waterfalls, but also a thrill that came from chasing them down in the water. With a second, larger, Khajiit to herd the salmon towards him, Mohamara found it easy to kill multiple salmon at once. He used his fangs, of course, but also sympathetic bonds to transmit the sensation of death to other nearby salmon. This stunned the fish and made them easy to eliminate one by one.

Mohamara had to explain how he was doing so well to the salmon hunter, who demanded answers when they brought in their first haul. The suthay woman tugged on her ears when she found out it was magic. “Mama said to become a mage, but no, this one knew better than wise old mama. Foolish.”

With Mohamara helping, the salmon quota was met before an hour had passed. From there, he helped the egg collector hunt down and collect fish roe while the suthay salmon hunter guarded the catch.

A distant, but familiar, chirping in the water from the north towards Haafingar bay froze Mohamara in the water for a minute. It was so obvious, that the cathay egg collector thought he’d been paralyzed by a stone turtle until the tojay moved again. Needless to say, Mohamara did not venture northward with the egg collector for possible salmon roe and opted to collect histcarp and slaughterfish eggs closer to the docks instead.

It was a bountiful catch all around, and when the fishers were ready they started back up the road to Solitude. The salmon hunter even showed Mohamara how to balance his basket of salmon as she did, which made for an amusing sight. At least, a brigade of Imperials escorting Stormcloak captives up to Castle Dour thought so.

“Excuse me,” an unfamiliar Breton spoke and came up to the Khajiit train. Mohamara recognized her uniform right away, Restoration robes with armored limbs and an amulet of Stendarr on prominent display. “Were you here for the dragon attack?”

“No,” the cathay-raht slaughterfish hunter in charge of the fishers responded easily. “We came long after.”

“I see. Have you perchance seen a tojay Khajiit around town, then?”

The salmon hunter and mudcrabber wordlessly stepped in front of Mohamara and used their basket and crabbing buckets to block him from the Vigilant’s view.

“Tojay is rare Khajiit, would not be allowed out of homeland. You will not find one in Skyrim.” With the conversation at an end, the train of fishers resumed their march, with Mohamara being careful to hide away.

It proved in vain, however, as Mohamara was yanked away from the fishers by his tail when passing by the Bretons. As one the caravaneers set down their catches to bear fang and claws on the Vigilant.

The Vigilant shoved Mohamara to the ground and held him there with a boot while she held onto his tail. The tojay kept the salmon basket over his head to protect against mace blows to his skull.

“You let ja’khajiit go, we only cut you up a little,” snarled the mudcrabber as the fishers circled around the Vigilant. Someone nearby was calling for the guards.

Mohamara heard two more sets of armored feet step up beside the Breton. Of course, Vigilants rarely went anywhere alone.

“This thing isn’t worth you defending it,” implored the Breton Vigilant. “It gives itself freely to a Daedra, conjures them to do its bidding and draws the wrath of the Divines with its every waking action.”

“To be fair,” Mohamara attempted and held up a finger, “I literally only know one conjuration spell.” For his trouble, one of the Vigilants flanking the Breton stomped on his hand.

“Silence! Whether we fail doing our Lady’s work or live to see the glory, you will die today, monster!”

“...Wait, isn’t S’rendarr a male?” The small-line fisherman asked.

“Fool,” hissed the Breton’s Dunmer compatriot to her. “Kill the cat, and let us be done.”

“For Boethiah!” The Breton lifted her mace high, and probably wouldn’t have been able to get through the salmon basket before the Khajiit finished her off, but there was a commotion. Soon after, the Breton’s grip on Mohamara’s tail relaxed and he was able to scoot away to the safety of the fishers.

When he looked up, he saw that a Stormcloak captive had broken away from the escort and was choking the Breton using her own bindings to do so. Shortly afterward two archers cut down the other false Vigilants, and Imperial soldiers caught up to the escapee.

“I couldn’t stand by and let them kill something so cute,” the Stormcloak soldier said as she released the dead Breton and went back to the escort without resistance. “Orkey himself couldn’t do that cute face harm.”

--

While Mohamara chewed on his breakfast salmon, the fishers told the rest of the caravan the story about the fake Vigilants. So long as his mouth was full of grilled fish, the tojay wasn’t asked to comment on the event. He didn’t think Boethiah would be particularly pleased with her servant’s attempt on his life. It was too direct, they didn’t have enough contingencies, and worse still: They’d failed.

However, Ma’dran picked up on something else that the fishers had told the caravan--how Mohamara could enchant things without the ‘big table’, or an arcane enchanter. Mohamara couldn’t help but snort at the idea of using one of those hideously outmoded pieces of arcana. More than half the enchantment’s power would be lost on the poor transfer rate alone, with only grand souls having enough to survive the process with a strong enchantment.

Ma’dran approached Mohamara after breakfast with a request: Enchant some of the caravan’s weapons so that they could be sold at a higher price. However what he didn’t tell Mohamara right away was that as the tojay was doing this he made an offer to the city guard to have their swords and shields enchanted by Mohamara as well.

The tojay only picked up on the trick when he noticed a lot of Solitude wolf-emblem shields being added to the pile. “I’ll handle this order,” the tojay said to Ma’dran when he figured it all out, “if I get a cut of the gold.”

“Ten percent,” Ma’dran fired back.

“Fifteen percent.”

“Twelve percent, highest this one will go.”

“Deal.” With that out of the way, Mohamara went back to drawing soul-thread out of his amulet for enchanting.

Meridian amulets were morpholiths. They were objects capable of holding different grades of transfinite power sources, same with soul gems. But Oblivion-made morpholiths could hold exponentially more than Nirn-mined ones. They also required rather heavy investment into conjuration to obtain, a pact with a Daedric Lord, and most were one-use same with soul gems.

If all that set up hadn’t been done, Nirn-grown soul gems beat out Oblivion-grown morpholiths in terms of sheer money and time saved. But once the infrastructure was in place, Oblivion-grown morpholiths kicked the living annihilation shit out of any Nirn-grown soul gem.

The unique configuration for Meridian morpholiths made them ‘rechargeable’. Mohamara’s amulet drew from the Skyrim regional beacon, which drew directly from the sun. He could get as much common grade soul-thread as he needed from the amulet, or he could risk Meridia’s displeasure and draw grand soul-thread from the beacon.

Perhaps, if he lived long enough, he could learn to draw soul thread from sunlight.

In two hour’s time, the Solitude city guard became the most well-equipped guard force in Skyrim. Their swords enchanted with a torpor effect that induced exhaustion in those they fought, while their shields were reinforced with a kinetic dampening effect.

The cathay who would be selling the weapons watched in wonderment as Mohamara did his enchanting thing. “This one isn’t able to understand,” he said. “Khajiit thought only Azura’s Star could be soul gem with many uses? And none spin thread like ja’khajiit can.”

“Well,” Mohamara bit the common soul-thread to end the line and finish the enchantment. “Most soul-trap enchantments from this time period aren’t sophisticated enough to properly pair with Azura’s Star.” As he worked the steel greatsword began to gather frost on its surface from the ice enchantment. “Azura’s Star can hold up to nine grand souls, one in each arm and another in the hub. So if you have the honor of using it, you can get some unbelievably strong enchantments.”

Mohamara remembered the first time he’d seen Azura’s Star in the news scry. A failed attempt by a Bosmer enchanter to create a Lk’Fonald’s ice-cream maker that would never break. She had been so close but it just wasn’t meant to be. Valenwood had been trapped under two feet of soft-serve for a week, an ecological nightmare.

Ma’dran grinned like a madcat when the last of the Solitude guards took their new weapons and handed over a satchel of the Jarl’s gold for the job. In a few short minutes, a considerably smaller coin purse found its way to Mohamara, who took it as a sign for a break.

“Weird,” he said to himself as he walked up to the Blue Palace. “That my place of work is now the break from the house. All in one day. Ugh.”

Elisif lit up when the tojay appeared in the throne room before her energy was sapped by Falk talking about a letter from Igmund about a contribution to Solitude’s rebuilding effort. Bryling, the only Thane of Solitude currently in town, filled Mohamara in on what had been discussed while he was gone. Elisif had instituted a tax on inheritances left by the wealthiest members of her nobility. And General Tullius had sent a runner to announce that due to generous contributions from the Imperial province’s citizens, Solitude would no longer have to foot the bill for the Legion’s activities in Skyrim.

“So, is the General going to perhaps pay our Jarl back for all the months where she was footing the bill?” Mohamara’s question had been in the tone of the Fool, to try and get a laugh out

The Jarl flicked her hand at her Fool. “There is no need. With the new tax in place, and the freed up funds, along with Igmund’s generous contribution, we should be able to refill our coffers and see the city fully repaired.” A sudden thought caused Elisif’s good mood to waver. “Though… Morthal was attacked, and we didn’t offer any help to them. Falk, draw up a letter to Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone, I want to see if there’s anything we can do.”

“Ah, I’m sure she would appreciate it, my Jarl.” Falk started with his ‘that’s a stupid idea’ tone of voice. “But Morthal the city didn’t take any damage from the Stormcloak attack. Ulfric’s boys never got close enough.”

“Oh. Well them she could use funds to help secure her Hold further against future attacks.”

“Perhaps… we could make that offer after Solitude is fully repaired?”

“Or your Fool can go down to the swamp and do for Morthal what he just got done doing for his Jarl?” Mohamara cut in and stepped away from the gallery pillars with a bow. “I just got done enchanting all the Solitude city guard’s weapons and shields. If you please, my Jarl, I could ply my craft for this… Idgrod?”

The Jarl looked at Mohamara and then at Falk. Firebeard looked pensive for a time, perhaps trying to find a reason not to help Morthal. But he did not do so quickly enough, and Elisif clapped her hands to announce her decision.

“Very well. Fool, I charge you to go to Morthal and offer your enchantment services to the Jarl. While you are there, see if there is anything we can do to ease their burden, and bring back that information. You may leave whenever you’re ready.”

“My Jarl, you cannot be serious.” The new court wizard, a High Elf man with a Han Syke beard-mustache combo, Melaran, stepped out of the gallery pillars to wag his finger at Mohamara. “This Khajiit couldn’t have possibly enchanted all the city guards swords, let alone shields. That would be over three hundred enchantments, weeks of effort, and a volume of soul gems that would have been detected by the customs office. It is simply improbable that--”

“Hey, you. Guard guy.” Mohamara cut off the elf looking to increase his influence by tearing the Khajiit down by addressing one of the guards standing watch at the hall to Elisif’s quarters. “Could you come over here?” When the guard was standing in front of them, Mohamara touched the wolf-emblemed shield, and the Nordic knots he had woven into it lit up as if they’d always been there. “See that knot right there? The one that looks like a cat with three eyes? My signature, thank you.”

Melaran was absolutely gobsmacked as he inspected the shield, as well as the guard’s sword once it was drawn. “How did--this is unlike any enchantment work I’ve seen. You could not have possibly--”

“Yeah, I don’t really care enough about you to embarrass you in front of the court as much as you deserve for this. So, to make a long story short: You can learn a lot of things at college when you don’t spend all your free time felatiating the professors.” Mohamara trotted off to the stairs, before turning to pull at his eyelid and stick his tongue out at the High Elf. “Toodles!”

While he left the now shouting High Elf behind, Mohamara considered what would be the optimal enchantments for people living in a swamp. To be blunt, enchanting their armor would probably serve them better than their weapons. Water-walking boots would be incredibly useful to avoid being dragged down into the muck since it also worked on the really muddy ground. Considering the population difference, he didn’t expect the work to take even a day once he actually got down to Hjaalmarch.

Imagine his surprise when he got back to Proudspire Manor and found two High Elf women and Ma’dran chatting to each other while examining some of the tojay’s clothes. The Khajiit carefully cleared his throat to let the trio know he was around. “Ma’dran? Those mine?”

The cathay-raht laughed a bit while the High Elves ignored Mohamara. “Ja’khajiit, this one just let these two examine the craftsmanship of your fancy clothes--perhaps learn how to make it as well?”

“Well if he’s here, I suppose he can fill us in on some things,” one of the High Elves said. Mohamara immediately recognized the voice as one of the tailors Yagraz had taken him to. “Why do these labels on the inside mention ‘automaton washable’, or ‘fabric softener?’ What are those things?”

Mohamara explained as much as he could about the clothes while growing progressively pinker in the face as their questions became inappropriate. Ma’dran seemed to have no issues with them, and Mohamara didn’t want to make a fuss for the caravaneer who had been nice to him. The one thing he was adamant about was refusing to actually sell the clothes to them, or let the tailors take some of the items apart to put back together.

Once they were gone, the tojay and cathay-raht had a brief staring contest. “If I didn’t show up, were you going to sell my stuff to them?”

Ma’dran waved him off. “No, no. Would be stealing. Is one thing to leave things in the open for others to use, is another to take personal things. Besides which,” the jaguar-man held up one of Mohamara’s socks to illustrate his point. “Buyers for clothes in this size are rare. Not worth loss of trust from ja’khajiit and Ri’saad.”

“Okay, good. So hand ‘em over, I need to get ready to go to Hjaalmarch for a bit.”

--

On the carriage ride over to Morthal, Mohamara did some brainstorming. Perhaps he could develop an army of construction automatons to build the temple instead of needing manpower. It could potentially save him a lot of gold but then would come the quality of life issue. Dwarven automatons filled the perfect niche of intelligence of being intelligent enough to self-plan and execute on ideas without becoming self-aware. But he’d more than likely miss, either making something too stupid to improvise, or too smart to be considered an automaton any longer. And if the war dragged on, his workers would likely be appropriated for the war effort either way to repair Skyrim’s crumbling forts.

Making long-term plans seemed an invitation for Sheogorath to mess things up, which was never good. The Mad God’s vacation time was running close to half a year by that time--how much relaxation could a demented Daedra really need?

Unbeknownst to Mohamara, a fanged feline fiend hid underneath the carriage, waiting to ambush the tojay once the sun was down. However, his patience was tested by the rocky road down to Hjaalmarch, which saw him being slammed into the road multiple times from minor potholes or debris in the road.

It was dusk by the time the carriage reached the frosty southern road into Morthal, and both the Khajiit and the vampire hunting him had laid down to nap on either side of the carriage floor for the trip. Both were jarred awake by the carriage’s stop, and for a moment the vampire forgot his purpose.

The two found each other on either side of the wagon, stretching from their long trip, and froze when they saw each other. The living Khajiit and the cathay vampire stared at each other before Mohamara gathered sunlight in his hands and the vampire drew steel to leap at him, snarling.

The vampire instead found a steel bolt pierce into his mouth, which ruined his composure for the pounce attack. It wasn’t enough to kill him but the repeated blasts of concentrated sunlight from Mohamara saw the undead Khajiit turned to ash in moments.

An aging Orc in leather clothes with plates of armor riveted onto them stepped forward and stowed away his weapon while Mohamara and the carriage driver stared. “Durak, with the Dawnguard,” the Orc introduced himself and offered his hand to the Khajiit to shake.

“Mohamara, a friend of Maria, Fool of Solitude,” responded the Khajiit as he shook hands with the ‘Dawnguard’.

“Don’t know who Maria is, but if she teaches kids like you how to spot vampires, she’s alright in my book.” Durak knelt down to inspect the bizarre spider-web armor the Khajiit vampire had been wearing. “As I suspected, a Volkihar.”

“I’m not a kid--I’m just short.” Mohamara wondered how the Orc could tell a vampire’s bloodline from the ashes, but that wasn’t what interested him the most about what had been said. “Wait, what? Volkihar are ambush predators, why would this one be actively hunting?”

“Most likely it had its lair taken over by a stronger vampire and was looking for thralls to set up a new one. There’s no notes or journal in its pockets, so we won’t know.” Durak stood and dusted the vampire’s remains off his hands. “Look, I don’t know why you’re here, but the wise thing to do is to get back in that carriage and go far away. Morthal’s dealing with a bit of a vampire problem at present.”

“You know, that is an outstanding idea,” the carriage driver said and quickly got back into his spot. “Come on in, we can make it back to Snowhawk before it gets too dark.”

“Oh by Malacath’s hairy back, no.” Mohamara’s invocation of the Orc Daedra startled Durak. “If there’s one thing Maria would be absolutely livid with me about is letting undead push people around. You fill me in on the situation, and I’ll help you put these corpses back where they belong. In the ground, in case you didn’t--”

A female Nord vampire in similar armor to the Khajiit that had just been slain burst from the bushes and charged at them with ravenous hunger in her eyes. Mohamara fired a bolt of sunlight at her face, which stunned her and opened her up to be shot through the heart by Durak.

“I think I got what you’re saying,” the Orc commented while the vampire woman crumbled to dust. “Come on, let’s get to Highmoon Hall so the Jarl can fill you in on what’s happening.”

---

Chapter Text



---

Chapter 24: Daylight Savings Time

Morthal was palpably dreary. Serious. Uptight. Mohamara could tell that just from the way there was no one out in the village that didn’t look ready to fight something to the death at a moment’s notice. It was rather like an Orc neighborhood, but without the congenial attitude toward neighbors and family.

So he did as he did in Markarth, and began to erode the air of seriousness with a bit of flippancy. Specifically, he whistled a tune while walking to the Jarl’s longhouse. More than one Hjaalmarcher glared at him for doing so, but the cat persisted.

The Jarl’s longhouse, Highmoon Hall, was indeed long. It rather resembled Jorrvaskr in design, but with thatch on the roof to keep the home better insulated. Unlike Jorrvaskr, the doors were not on the side of the flipped-boat design, but at the pointed narrow end. Nord ships often did not have a clear stern and bow sections, specifically so that the ship could go in either direction with equal ease.

Deathbell flowers grew in absurd abundance around the Jarl’s longhouse, Mohamara noted as Durak led him inside. The inside of the wooden boat-house was filled with faded paintings on the walls and ceiling. Spirals featured heavily into the design, and the cat even found them in the stonework of the floor and bonfire at the center of the almost bare grand hall.

Idgrod Ravencrone sat opposite the door, a dark-haired elderly Nord woman in fine raiment. Her eyes immediately locked onto Mohamara as he entered behind Durak and approached. The Jarl’s steward, a younger man by perhaps ten years, stood off to the side while the housecarl, a blond man in light armor, lurked among the gallery pillars.

“Jarl Idgrod,” Durak started as they approached. “This is--”

“I know.” The Jarl spoke with a wizened voice, solemn and mildly regretful. Her eyes still did not leave Mohamara. “I have known your face since my first visions, little one. It is a bad omen, for your arrival here means that I will soon pass into the next life.”

The housecarl, perhaps taking his Jarl’s words to mean some form of threat, took up his iron mace and advanced on the Khajiit. However, Mohamara had learned how to dance around housecarls from flouting Elisif’s, and easily jumped over the man, and pushed him to stumble toward the fire as he passed.

“Gorm, stop this nonsense. The boy is no undead monster in disguise.” The Jarl stood, to approach the Khajiit slower, more respectfully. “But the gods gave me the vision long ago, that I would know my death draws near by your arrival.”

“Oh my,” Mohamara played the part of being incredibly bashful. “I’ve never been a death omen before, this is so unexpected. Oh man, I should have brought something more menacing than this old robe.” He feigned an epiphany and wove an illusion around his mouth to make it seem like his fangs were far larger. “How’s this? Menacing enough for a death omen?”

The Jarl laughed, a coughing laugh that spoke of the same seriousness and unfun atmosphere Morthal had cultivated. “It is… strange. I had expected something different from you, after decades of looking to see you pass through my door.”

“Jarl Idgrod gets visions from the gods,” Durak explained while Mohamara undid the illusion on his teeth. “It’s how she was able to get all the townsfolk who couldn’t fight out before the vampires attacked.”

“Indeed. I suppose I should inform my death of what the situation is.” The Jarl looked over to her steward and exchanged a sorrowful look. “Husband, go wake our daughter. She will be Jarl perhaps before the sun rises, she must hear this too.”

Mohamara looked at the Jarl through her sympathetic bonds. They were frayed and interconnected in bizarre ways, and there seemed to be several frayed bonds that thrashed around her. A moment of searching showed Mohamara other frayed bonds, leading out and away from the Jarl, but to what, he couldn’t discern without a ritual.

The steward, Idgrod’s husband, left the hall and returned with a sleepy young woman, similarly dark-haired to Idgrod, but taller and broader in the shoulders. As soon as the young woman saw Mohamara, she ran to the Jarl.

“Mother, no,” she pleaded. “Not now, I-I’m not ready to be Jarl. Joris still needs you, Morthal needs you.”

“It very well might not be now, dear.” Idgrod tucked some of her daughter’s hair behind her ears for her but offered no smile. “But it will happen soon. We knew this day would come.”

Mohamara was starting to realize that it wasn’t possible for him to be flippant or fun enough to work through Morthal’s problems with vampires on the loose. Especially if the situation was so bad that the town had been partially evacuated.

The Jarl looked away from her daughter and began to explain the situation. “Some time ago, the Stormcloaks mustered an army up at Dawnstar and sent them down here from the north-east. They foolishly came through the swamp at night and woke something that had been buried. It butchered them and turned more than half of them into slaves, or vampires. Now they assault my city, coming every night to try and carry off my people for their supper.”

“Have you tried eating lots of garlic?” Mohamara offered to the disbelieving looks of everyone else. “Hey, it’s still a better idea than fighting off half an army of vampires and thralls. I assume asking for help is being made a non-option?”

Durak spoke up. “The vampires attack everyone coming or going to Hjaalmarch. They hide out on the roads and ambush them once night falls--like the one that attacked you. Except these ones aren’t Volkihar. I’ve never seen this bloodline of vampires before.”

“They burn in sunlight,” Idgrod added with a shrug. “But other than that, they pass perfectly for human. If you inflict a wound on them that isn’t magical, they can heal in moments, even regrowing their limbs if necessary.”

“Wait one fucking second,” Mohamara pointed at Durak. “If they attack everyone entering or leaving Hjaalmarch, why did you tell me to leave?”

“Because I knew the driver would take you to Snowhawk,” the Orc replied with a huff. “Isran’s at Snowhawk, keeping the non-combatants safe.”

“For how much longer they will be safe, we don’t know.” Idgrod sighed and returned to her throne. “So, my dear death, what shall we do? What skills do you bring that Durak thought you could help us?”

Mohamara wanted to say he was a Vessel for a powerful undead-hating Daedra, or that he had the ear of the Mad God, but both of those things were likely to get him killed. Durak being a Dawnguard likely meant Fort Dawnguard was in operation, and that was a place of Stendarr’s worship long before Meridians were invited in.

So instead, he reached into his backpack and produced his slate. “I have this.”

“And what will a drawing slate do for my people?”

“It will allow us to call for help.” Mohamara activated the slate, while Durak and Idgrod’s daughter looked over his shoulder. “Burmice, call Yagraz.”

The dialing animation played, and the call rang. And rang. And rang, until it was answered. “Hello?” It was not Yagraz’s voice that answered, but Lucia’s.

“Oh hey, Lucia. Is your mom there?”

“No, I’m sorry. She went out to clear out a Draugr crypt with the Companions and forgot her slate. Can I take a message?”

Mohamara’s ears drooped as the situation became clearer. “Ah, yeah. Could you just tell her I called and needed some help? She wanted me to let her know that sort of thing.”

“Okay. Was nice talking to you Uncle Moha, bye.”

“Some help you called for,” Durak muttered when the call ended.

“Is there someone else you can call?” Idgrod’s daughter asked like she was more desperate than Mohamara for something to go right. “Yagraz of the Companions would have been fantastic, but perhaps someone like General Tullius?”

The tojay looked around, at the desperate or resigned expressions around, and sighed. “Burmice… call dad.” The display lit up with ‘Calling CHEESE4EVERY1’ for only a second before someone picked up.

“Sonny!” Sheogorath’s voice came through the slate. Idgrod sat a little straighter in her throne from it. From the background noise, it sounded like Sheogorath was in a personal airship of some kind. “Good timing on your call, your mother and I were just going for a late night snack. See, she told me about these things called ‘cheeseburgers’ and I simply had to have them.”

“Hey dad,” Mohamara made no attempt to mask how unhappy he was making the call. “I’m in sort of a pickle at the moment and--”

“You’re what? Honey, our boy’s trapped in a sandwich topping!” A feminine but indistinct voice responded from somewhere in the background. “Well, I for one support our son’s endeavors to explore the sandwich layer of reality. There’s so much opportunity there.”

“Your dad’s insane,” Durak commented.

“Why thank you! That’s such a nice thing to say.”

“Is that, Sheogorath?” Idgrod hissed in a dangerous tone that caused the frayed sympathetic bonds around her to lash like whips.

“Oh, you’re with Iggy! She’s not much fun but I think she’ll loosen up with your cute face to look at, son.”

“Dad, please.” Mohamara cut back into the conversation. “I need help. There are vampires everywhere, and--”

“See, I told you you’d be popular with vampires, didn’t I tell him, Haskill? Haskill agrees with me.” The feminine voice from the background started up again, but Sheogorath cut her off. “Ni! Ni, ni, ni! If you wanted him to call you for help you should have given him your phone number! This one is mine. Now, son. I don’t mean to be mean, well actually I completely do, but I’ve helped you a lot in recent times. And you went and lost me spear! Now your uncle Hircine has it, and he won’t give it back--going to be a right hassle to deal with. So if you want any more help from me, we’re going to do this properly.”

Mohamara frowned as he heard a burger wrapped opened from Sheogorath’s side of the call, and the unmistakable sound of eating. He hadn’t considered Sheogorath one of those people to eat on the phone.

“You don’t call for help, son.” Sheogorath said in his low, sort of menacing tone diminished a bit by food in his mouth. “You cry for help. So if you want anything from me, you’ll cry for help. Simple as that.”

“You can’t be serious,” Mohamara said, monotone, to the slate.

“Of course I can, I choose not to be. Now get those tears flowing, cause I know how weepy you can get when properly motivated. Don’t worry about doing it on the slate, I’ll hear you no matter where you are.” The feminine voice spoke again, indistinct but clearly agitated. “Alright, fine! Because your mother keeps threatening to steal the cheese off my burgers, she wants you to know she loves you. Toodles!”

Mohamara sighed out his goodbye and ended the call. All around him, the Jarl’s household and the Dawnguard processed what had been said.

“You’re Sheogorath’s offspring,” the Jarl said in an icy tone. “How strange, you look rather mortal for a Daedra.”

The tojay shrugged. “Maybe I got a second puberty to look forward to or something. Either way, if you want Sheogorath’s help, we know how to get it now.”

“I most certainly do not.” Idgrod huffed and shifted on her throne. “After the ‘help’ he gave to my youngest child, I would sooner let the vampires have me.”

“Then we’re right back to square one,” Durak announced. “The vampires will be starting their hunt soon, so we gotta get out there to fight.”

“Well, guess I should introduce myself,” the Khajiit said, defeated. “Mohamara, Fool of solitude. My Jarl sent me to offer enchanting services to your guards for free. I can get it done in an hour or so, but with vampires around….”

“Enchanted weapons will help.” Durak nodded. “Magic weapons are about the best things we have against them, without Falion to deal the finishing blow.”

“A local conjurer,” Idgrod explained, as Mohamara was visibly confused and looking around. “His atronachs have kept the vampires from overrunning Morthal with sheer numbers.”

Mohamara stopped to consider the situation more. There was powerful magic in Hjaalmarch, almost as much as Winterhold, but it allegedly lay sleeping until the establishment of the Bromjunaar Academy. Perhaps he could supercharge himself and this conjurer by linking them to the hold’s magic?

“Could you summon Falion, while you get some weapons for me to enchant, then? He and I can talk magic and maybe work up something.”

--

Falion, as it turned out, was a Redguard. A proud race of warriors from the coastal province of Hammerfell, which would become the seat of the Empire as Mohamara knew it sixteen thousand years from the Fourth Era. Redguard culture hated most forms of magic, unlike Nordic culture which merely distrusted it, so Falion was an oddity on top of all the other oddities.

“How strange, I’ve never seen a morpholith like this,” the conjurer whispered, as he examined Mohamara’s amulet

Mohamara wove fire and undead bane into a pile of weapons for the Morthal guards to come in and grab. “It fills up, you drain it a little, then fills up again. Makes it really handy for field enchanting.”

“Well, then it would have to be a sort of sigil stone, which could be useful for summoning higher tier atronachs. My sigil stone was stolen a week ago by the vampires.”

“Well, my plan was to talk to you about tapping into the magic of Hjaalmarch itself.” Mohamara handed a battleax that heated the air around it to a Morthal guard who trotted out of Highmoon Hall, presumably to get onto patrol.

“I thought the same, but it’s no use.” Falion shrugged and handed Mohamara his amulet back after some hesitation. “The magic in this land is asleep, whatever outlet it had before has long been snuffed out.”

“Well, I have the benefit of foresight on this topic. No, not from Idgrod,” the tojay sighed when Falion glanced over to the Jarl and her family. “I know that a school of magic will one day be built here to tap into the magic. But… that’s about all I know.”

“Well, I’m glad that that means that no matter what happens, Skyrim will not fall.” Falion scoffed. “And that the College of Winterhold will not be the only institution for people to learn from in this backward country.”

“Anyone can learn from anybody, Falion,” Idgrod called from her throne. “And that can happen anywhere. It is all about keeping your ears and eyes open to the possibilities.”

“I… yes, my Jarl. Not what I meant, but wise nonetheless.”

“Well,” Mohamara started as the last iron ax was enchanted and set aside. “I’m a student of Mysticism, and one of Mysticism’s greatest strengths is doing purely magical repairs. And I’m noticing some frayed magical connections here, perhaps I can put them where they need to go?”

Falion’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Wait--Mysticism? You? But… but how? No one has taught Mysticism since the Psijics left Tamriel. How did you even learn--?” He stopped and looked at Idgrod over his shoulder. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“Do not take that tone with me, wizard,” snapped the Jarl. “I know only what it is important for me to know. More than most, admittedly, but not all. If the powers of the mystics are what the gods deem fit for my death omen, then that is what will save us. Get to it.”

Falion sighed and crossed his arms. “Alright. What do we need?”

Mohamara shrugged. “I’m only able to pick up that the connections are broken. I can plug them into who or whatever you want. But they’re broken by fraying, which means that they will pair better with the other end of the connection than an entirely new connection.” He gestured to Idgrod. “For instance, she’s got a couple frayed connections lashing about her all the time, that could be anything from phantom limb to an estranged family member. I can fix those connections, but it would be a lot easier to put them back where they belong.”

“Well… Mysticism does deal with the true nature of things, according to Vivec.” Falion rubbed his chin. “Can you not… examine these bonds to find out where they belong?”

The Khajiit nodded. “But it’s a really draining ritual, which would leave me blind for about a week. So you’d need another mystic to be here to repair the bonds afterward.”

Idgrod stood and walked over to the talking mages with a curious look. “Could you perhaps tap into the insight I have from living in Morthal all my life? Or the visions I receive from the gods?”

“The gods might not like me tapping into them, but yeah. If you don’t mind being linked when it happens?”

Idgrod nodded and sat down beside the cat near her bonfire. “You will link Falion as well, I trust him to act in the best interests of Morthal even if neither of us survives this.”

“The risk of death is minimal, Jarl Idgrod.” Mohamara had only heard about one sort-of-death from a Mysticism ritual. It just ended up converting the practitioner into a semi-omniscient field of magicka.

“This is Skyrim, young cat, there is a risk of death in all that we do. Begin your ritual.”

--

Three minds dove down into the sympathetic bonds of Morthal. Mohamara knew how to navigate the sort-of swimming state of mind with ease, but Falion and Idgrod flailed about before Mohamara’s bonds pulled them along.

They gathered around one of the frayed bonds that went deep below and sang faintly of a familiar song. Falion’s knowledge pinged with the song and he identified it as a Dwemer bond. Hjaalmarch had once featured a Dwemer city that was no longer accessible. Thus the bond was left alone.

While they worked, their link allowed knowledge to transfer between the three of them with the speed of thought. Brief glimpses into each other’s lives or complex ideas would spill over into each other, but they were not focused upon.

The next frayed bond hummed with a voice Idgrod remembered. It was the bond she had with her sister, that had left Morthal years ago due to their shared gift. Where Idgrod could see the future, her sister could see the present.

A third frayed bond was found and it thrummed with magic. The connection they had been looking for, found.

Hostile parasitic bonds sprouting out of the frayed connection began to lash out at them. They brought along with flashes of men in scaled hide robes and metal masks. But Mohamara unwove the bonds when they attacked, and the hostile connections that had been leaching off the magic of Hjaalmarch were cut off.

Idgrod examined the bond, and Mohamara tried to thread a connection between her visions and the bond itself, but the frayed bond rejected it. Instead, it tried to isolate Idgrod from Mohamara and Falion. One of Idgrod’s own frayed bonds bent around and linked with it.

Mohamara’s alarm infected Falion and they tried to keep the magic bond from exploding Idgrod from too much power too fast. But Idgrod herself was serene.

From their fighting against it, Mohamara and Falion picked up on a vision that Idgrod was having.

A wheel that perspective shifted around to look upon from the side.

But before the vision could complete itself, Falion and Mohamara were ejected from the space of sympathetic bonds by Idgrod’s new power.

--

The Khajiit and the Redguard were propelled by some unseen force and struck opposite sides of the Jarl’s longhouse. Idgrod herself opened her eyes from the trance she had been in and stood up as her family began to fret about her.

Idgrod turned to her husband and smiled, serene. And to her daughter, she gave a warm embrace. “You are Jarl of Hjaalmarch, now.”

“Mother, no--”

The now-former Jarl released her daughter and shook her head. “My vision has been clouded all my life. But now, at last, I see the truth. It does not redeem all the wickedness I have seen in my life, but I understand it better than I did before.” Idgrod’s serene smile became wicked. “Now, I am old and full of power. And what is power for, if not to be used, hmm?”

She did not heed the words of her family as she stepped out of Highmoon Hall. The words of her citizens likewise did not sway her as she walked past the defensive line northward, into the swamp.

The monsters that had lurked in her Hold all these years, some wearing familiar faces, were curious about why an old woman dared walk alone. They did nothing to her as she walked across water and muck with ease to find their master. He lurked in the ruins of a once mighty hall to the north of Morthal and presided over a grisly feasting table where he and his lieutenants drank deeply of lifeblood.

“So, you came to perhaps plead for the gift, mortal Jarl?” The monstrous ancient vampire laughed. “Your visions of the future would be a useful feature in my court. But I think you will serve me well enough as a thrall.

“You are mistaken,” Idgrod said. Her physical form began to vanish into dust, as she was less and less in the mortal world and more in the space beyond time. “I am here to tell you, you must leave Hjaalmarch at once or be destroyed.”

“And who will destroy us if we don’t? One vampire hunter and your wretched village, we have spent these past few weeks isolating from the outside world?”

Dawn was an hour away, the vampires knew that. Idgrod knew that. But the power of being old was the ability to believe a lie. And Idgrod believed her lie into the world. “No,” she said as she vanished like a ghost. “You will be destroyed… by daylight savings time.”

“What trickery is--” The ancient vampire rose from his table only to see the sky brighten far, far faster than it should have. All through the swamp, vampires were caught off guard as the sun crested the northern horizon sooner than it should have. Blood-crazed monsters dragging new victims toward their lairs, once valiant Stormcloaks turned into beasts, and the master vampire himself could only scream in horror as their flesh and bones burned to ash under the hateful light of the sun.

An entire bloodline of vampires wiped out by one woman’s lie.

--

“What do you mean you’re blind again, short-stuff?”

Mohamara made a face he knew Yagraz couldn’t see as he bounced around in the carriage back to Solitude with the slate in his lap. “I had to do the Mysticism ritual thing again.”

“Son of a--, fine. Okay. I’m sure there’s a story there.”

“Yeah, and it ends with me being officially banished from Hjaalmarch despite the new Jarl admitting I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Malacath’s mangling hands, short-stuff, what did you do?”

“The fuck if I know, she was sorta emotional because her mom died despite the court wizard and I doing literally everything we could to stop that.”

“Well, are you going to be okay being blind in Solitude all on your own?”

Mohamara made an ‘I don’t know’ sound. “Gotta take these things one step at a time. Ma’dran and his caravan are pretty nice so they’ll help me out. Probably treat me like an invalid for the whole time, though.”

“Hate to tell you this, but being blind sorta does make you an invalid since you don’t get those fancy senses other Khajiit have.”

“Look, it’s not my fault tojay apparently hunt everything through sight.”

“It’s definitely your fault if you keep blinding yourself,” Yagraz shouted something at Brenuin away from her micro-slate before coming back to the call. “So are you going to get in trouble with Elisif over this?”

Mohamara laid down in the carriage while his tail trashed from annoyance. “I don’t know--maybe? Idgrod’s daughter, who is also named Idgrod which is really weird, she gave me a letter for Elisif and told me to get out of her Hold.”

“If Elisif fires you, you can always come live with me.”

“That’s assuming she doesn’t have me made into a King Olaf effigy for the next burning.”

“Well, the moral here is to leave the heroics to professional heroes. You can’t keep making yourself blind to rescue every little village from destruction, you know. We still on to clear out Volskygge in a couple weeks?”

Mohamara sighed and made an affirmative noise. “Going to be less fun if my vision doesn’t come back by then.”

“It’s okay, I can describe to you all the ways the Draugr are dying.”

“But it’s not the same.”

---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 25:Fool me Once

The carriage stopped at the base of the hill up to Solitude’s gates. Or rather, where the gates had been. When Mohamara had left, they were just starting to get wood and iron replacements into position until new metal doors could be manufactured. He’d made the trip up to the city enough times to do it blindly, so once he’d wished the carriage driver a good day, Mohamara was trotting up the hill without a care in the world.

And then he ran into someone.

“Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there,” the tojay started, then jumped high to hopefully land beyond them and keep going on his way. However, whoever he’d run into was a bit miffed as they grabbed him by the ankle as he lept over them. This left the Khajiit hanging upside down, where his focus was on keeping his robes from getting in his face due to gravity. “Hey, what gives?”

“You are cordially invited,” a female High Elf’s voice said in a perfectly polite tone, “to the Thalmor Embassy.”

Right away, Mohamara started to thrash about while the, presumed, Thalmor and her escorts started back down the road.

“There is no need to be so excited, First Emissary Elenwen has been looking forward to talking with you for so long, she won’t care overmuch that you are… fresh from work.”

“I am a citizen of the Tamrielic Empire,” Mohamara said as he tried to think of ways to get out of the vice grip holding him up that didn’t involve attacking Thalmor officers. The embassy had filed a complaint about Yagraz assaulting one of their Justicars, but it was excused due to the Potema situation going on at the time. But Elisif had to assure the Thalmor that their operatives were clear to act within the confines of the White-Gold Concordat in Haafingar without fear of reprisal. “I am a member of the Jarl’s court, not a worshipper of Talos, you have no legal right to hold me against my will.”

“Oh dear, I’m dreadfully sorry.” The Thalmor didn’t sound sorry at all, she sounded like she was enjoying having the cat flail around in a panic. “You aren’t under arrest, my friend. But we have to insist you come with us to talk business. Did you not receive the First Emissary’s letter?”

“I’ve been in Hjaalmarch for days, there was a crisis--your courier was probably attacked by the enemy.” The Khajiit gave up trying to fight for freedom and keep gravity from resulting in a wardrobe malfunction. “Can you at least hold me some different way? The blood is starting to rush to my head.”

“Well, if you insist.” The Thalmor snapped her fingers, and Mohamara found an armored gauntlet grab him by the scruff of his neck, then lift him upward while his leg was released. Because Mohamara had been consistently losing weight since arriving in the Fourth Era, they could have just carried him around like that.

Instead, they affixed a clamp to his scruff and carried him around like a sack of potatoes thrown over the shoulder of one of his captors. “I will get my vengeance upon you for this,” Mohamara swore in the loudest tone he could manage while scruffed, a whisper.

“That’s not even the first time I’ve heard that today, so you’re welcome to try, Fool.”

--

Mohamara passed the time by whistling, which he knew viscerally annoyed the Thalmor effectively kidnapping him by the way they audibly ground their teeth and twitched when he went into particularly shrill notes.

While scruffed, there wasn’t much he could do to escape but pray to Meridia for help in his mind. However, once he was free he’d have to try and escape. There wasn’t much he could do while blind.

Unless of course, he could fix the blindness. Being scruffed didn’t mess with his magical abilities, just forced his body to go limp, so he began to feel around for sympathetic bonds. It was pretty easy to find the ones that connected his eyes to his brain, they coiled around the optic nerves. Since it was the eyes themselves that were damaged, he’d just need to find something else that he could ‘see’.

Those garnets on his court robes would be perfect if he had thought to get them. As would the lens on his slate, in his backpack, where it couldn’t see anything. So he took the most unpleasant, and most viable option at the moment, and linked himself to the eyes of one of his captors.

The golden-armored soldier recoiled and rubbed at his eyes as if sand had gotten in them. His pace slowed considerably before the stinging pain faded and he could catch up to the Justicar and her other escort.

Through his eyes, Mohamara could see that they were about to turn onto the road that led up Mount Kilkreath. It was… bizarre seeing through the High Elf’s eyes--colors did not seem the same. Blues and greens were dulled compared to what Mohamara remembered, while yellows, whites, and oranges were far more noticeable.

‘Okay, step one of escape plan done. Learn the location.’ Mohamara’s plans went on in his head around desperate prayers for help.

Step two was to figure out the bonds linking the instinctive limpness in his limbs to a patch of loose skin on the back of his neck and work around them. This proved difficult, as he could not tell the bonds apart easily. Modifying the self was the single most difficult thing to do in Mysticism, because of how easily it could backfire.

Which Mohamara found out the hard way when he tugged on a sympathetic bond connecting the nerves in his neck to his spine and developed a stabbing pain in his chest instantly, which grew into a burning pain after a few seconds. What he didn’t know was that he had accidentally stopped his heart from beating with the blunder.

Meanwhile, in the mind of a Madman, Meridia was packing up to leave for her Colored Rooms when she felt a disturbance. She accessed the beacon and found several archived prayers from her boy and an emergency notification that his heart had stopped beating seconds before. “Sheogorath,” she shouted out into the misty air.

“What!” Was the Mad God’s reply.

“I blame you for this.” She deduced that all the stress from Sheogorath’s activities had damaged the boy’s heart muscle, to the point of failure. So she reached through the beacon, through his amulet, and into his chest to burn away the old heart and replace it with a brand new one. She’d have to talk to her Knight about that too.

“I don’t know what you’re blaming me for, but I probably did it at some point!”

Back on the slopes of Mount Kilkreath, Mohamara had found it difficult to breathe for a good long while. Combined with his limp limbs, he seriously thought he was going to die on some High Elf’s shoulder. But suddenly, his heart started beating again, and he found he could breathe easier.

The tojay weakly coughed as his lungs were able to take in the missing air, which caused the Thalmor to glance back at him.

“Fortunately for you, you won’t be here long enough for the thin air to do you ill,” she commented, smug in both tone and expression.

“This is kidnapping,” the Khajiit whisper-yelled. “Violating the White-Gold Concordat.”

“You know, you keep talking and all I hear out of your mouth is ‘please make me into a towel, Zenolene.’ Perhaps you’d be best served by being quiet.”

His only way out, Mohamara decided, was to bolt as soon as the clamp was off. The literal second it was released, he needed to be running. Through his captor’s eyes, he saw the relatively flat surface of Mount Kilkreath’s top come into view, and on it stood a both well placed and horribly placed building.

It was a compound built in the style of Solitude, with a two-floored main building within a fenced in territory, and a smaller building standing among a snowy garden. The compound was well-placed in that it was directly above Solitude. If the Thalmor ever needed a vector to attack the city, they had it in this building.

But it was horribly placed in a way that Mohamara decided to comment on. “You know, if Mount Kilkreath ever erupts, your embassy is kinda fucked twelve ways to Sundas.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the Thalmor Justicar, Zenolene, scoffed. “This mountain has been dormant since the First Era. Barring the recent earthquake, there has been no volcanic activity for almost a thousand years. And even if it were, the Dominion can slave even mountains to our needs.”

“Wow, all that talking and you didn’t in any way refute the idea that if it does erupt you’re hosed.”

The Justicar whirled on Mohamara, which was weird to watch from the perspective of his impromptu mount, and glowered. “Wait, how can you tell where we are? You’re blind.”

Mohamara saw a hoodless Thalmor woman standing just in the doorway to the main building. High Elf eyes were good for seeing long distance clearly, almost as much as tojay eyes. Perhaps that was why they favored archery? “Walk down from Solitude for like, half an hour then go upward and walk on snow. Hmm, wherever could you be? Oh, it’s so incredibly likely that we’re at fucking Fort Hraggstad.”

Zenolene yanked on Mohamara’s ears and covered her hands with a layer of frost to make it hurt from two sources. “Mind your tongue, or being made into a towel will be a kindness compared to what I--”

“Zenolene,” the Thalmor woman at the door spoke. She didn’t raise her voice or change her expression from bored disinterest, but there was a weight to her voice that froze the Justicar and her escorts mid-step. “Are you assaulting my guest?”

Mohamara couldn’t help but smirk while the Justicar forced herself to release his ears and step away. “No, First Emissary.” The High Elf through which Mohamara watched the scene glanced at the Justicar, who was clearly forcing herself not to scowl. “Just… trying to impress upon it the importance of etiquette while in your exalted company.”

“It? Really?” Mohamara feigned a pout.

“Commendable,” the First Emissary said, before gesturing the Justicar’s escort to come forward. “But not what your duties entailed. Do as you are told in the future.”

The High Elf carrying Mohamara approached the First Emissary and was followed after her into the building. It looked almost as if it had originally been a Solitude property, the decor so reminiscent of the bard’s college.

“I’m sorry that such measures were necessary to arrange this meeting, Mr. Ahramani.”

It chilled Mohamara to the bone that she knew his last name, and he recommitted to bolting as soon as the clamp was removed.

“But our business is rather pressing, and you are surprisingly difficult to get ahold of. First an errand to Whiterun, and then Morthal. If we had waited any longer, I daresay where you would have gone.”

“I am a citizen of the Tamrielic Empire,” Mohamara whispered as loud as he could given the situation. “Seizing me like this is when I am not a Talos worshipper is a violation--”

“Actually, I think you will find that I’m well within my rights under article five of the White-Gold Concordat, as this matter affects the safety of the Embassy itself. Ah, here we go.” The First Emissary briskly opened a door to a lavish office and ushered the armored High Elf inside.

Mohamara’s bond with the man’s eyes frayed and broke after the High Elf deposited him in a chair and walked away. It seemed that visual bonds required proximity to work, but it had been Mohamara’s first such artificial bond, perhaps practice would work it out.

He realized as nothing seemed to happen for a long time, that to be paralyzed like this without the ability to see or to realistically call for help was terrifying. Almost as terrifying as having Sheogorath trying to crush him to death. Almost as terrifying as whales.

“I’m tempted to let you stay like this throughout our meeting,” the First Emissary said with just an edge of malice to her voice. She had been able to silently move around to sit behind the desk. Her chair hadn’t even made a sound when she sat down. “At least until we have your signature, anyway. Because I know the second that clamp comes off, you’re going to foolishly attempt escape.”

“Wouldn’t you, in my position?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. I’m not in your situation so I can’t truly say how I would react.” The only noise she made to convey movement was the creak of her leather gloves. “Just as I’m sure you would have a different response to my situation. Context is everything, Mr. Ahramani.”

“I don’t think we’ve been officially introduced, First Emissary…?”

“Elenwen, First Emissary of the Thalmor in Skyrim, Ambassador to the Aldmeri Dominion. And you are Mohamara Ahramani, Fool of Solitude, among other… interesting things.”

“I’m sure none of them are interesting enough to warrant this level of… coercion for a meeting.”

“Normally, I would agree, but you’ve put me in an uncomfortable situation.”

“Is it because I’m cute? I’ve been told I’m cute.”

Though he couldn’t see it, Elenwen glared at her open door where several of her female employes had come by to stop and stare into her office at the tojay. They were fortunate that Elenwen refused to break her routine to reprimand them, as they went and brought many other staffers to look at the most adorable Khajiit most had ever seen.

“I’m afraid that it’s something else entirely, Mr. Ahramani. You recently purchased Mount Kilkreath from the Jarl of Solitude. My embassy rests atop Mount Kilkreath. While the land was unclaimed Haafingar territory, my personnel could come and go as they wished. But due to your purchase, you own the roads we make use of to resupply this facility and fulfill our obligations per the White-Gold Concordat. Technically speaking, my people cannot leave this facility without trespassing on your property.”

“If I give you permission to come and go on the roads will you let me go?”

One of the staffers now loitering outside Elenwen’s office was her head torturer. He eyed the Khajiit with a… disturbing expression, even for Elenwen’s tastes. “You think you’re a prisoner?”

“Well, your man in Markarth did try to kidnap me too. I never got his name, but he left bruises on my shoulder from where he attempted and failed to kidnap me.” Mohamara was babbling, really. He couldn’t panic in the usual way, being scruffed suppressed his heart rate too much. Thus, the tremendous amount of stress he felt combined with the inability to do anything but talk meant it became his outlet for relieving the stress.

“Ah, that reminds me. We have something of yours to return.” Elenwen stood from her desk, silent as the grave due to her muffling of sound and walked authoritatively toward the crowd that had formed. Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, they fled before her as she left. But when she was gone they took their places looking at the tojay.

“You think we can pet him before she gets back?”

“Not if we keep talking about it.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on those ears….”

“Okay you watch for her, while we all make a break for it. On three.”

Mohamara heard their conversation and tried to prepare himself for the attack. But it was so much worse than he expected. Twenty or so High Elf blood purists rushed into the office to pet him, and squabble amongst themselves for the prime petting spots.

“Sometimes I hate being cute,” he muttered.

“She’s coming back!”

And as quickly as they had appeared, they bolted from the office. Moments later, Elenwen returned, though the blind Khajiit couldn’t pick up on this. She casually laid a neatly folded and laundered red and white hooded robe on the cat’s lap as she passed by him to her desk. “My ‘man in Markarth’ brought this to us when you escaped his… chat. It seemed appropriate enough a time to return it. Now, let’s talk business, shall we?”

The agreement reached by the First Emissary and the Fool amounted to The Thalmor would have unrestricted access to the road up and down Mount Kilkreath, and retained the right to veto any construction that happened near the summit. And in return, Elenwen would clear up the ‘tragic mistake’ about Mohamara being a fugitive from the Dominion. If he’d really been born in Skyrim, he wasn’t subject to Dominion authority, tojay or no.

Elenwen treated the situation like a purely business transaction, even though it was a purely word of mouth agreement. “I will be sending a document to Falk Firebeard for you to sign officiating this agreement,” she had said as the clamp came off and Mohamara was allowed to walk out of her embassy. “But take heed--the next time the Thalmor send for you, you will come. Or we will have to do this again.”

He was escorted as far as the main gate to the compound, and then shoved into the snow outside, to find his own way back down the mountain.

--

Walking down a mountain blind was not the most fun thing Mohamara had ever done. But he was able to follow the sympathetic bond between Elisif and the letter meant for her down the mountain and then in the general direction of Solitude. Of course, he had many instances of falling into deep snow, walking into a bush, or a black eagle daring to try and attack.

Haafingar was warmer than most parts of Skyrim, but when walking for an hour and a half in clothes soaked from melted snow, it was no surprise that Mohamara was causing locals to ‘ooh’ and ‘aww’ with his sneezes by the time he got back to Solitude. Once inside the city, his better than average hearing and memory of the city’s layout was enough to get him to the Blue Palace.

The tojay ended up walking into furniture that he was certain was not there when he last was in the Palace, so he had a minor limp when he finally ascended the stairs to the throne room.

He’d entered in the middle of Thane Erikur, the greediest, laziest, most perverse sonuvabitch that Mohamara had ever met, and Melaran’s former employer. Apparently, the Nord had just come back from negotiating a business deal with Falkreath for premium lumber for the reconstruction effort.

All fine and dandy, even if the man was unpleasant he was competent. Mohamara felt his way to the gallery pillars and leaned on one to start healing his bruised shins and knee. He stopped when he remembered: He could have linked his eyes to his slate and simply walked back to Solitude in a much more efficient manner.

“Is there a reason you look like you’re drying off after a swim?” Falk was apparently sitting close to where Mohamara had entered the gallery and startled the cat.

“Just… just fell in some snow on the way here,” the cat offered in lieu of explanation. “I got a letter from the new Jarl of Hjaalmarch for Elisif.”

“Excuse me, I don’t think I quite heard that right. New Jarl?”

Mohamara took off his backpack and fished around inside for the letter before handing it over. “Yeah, things went pear-shaped in Morthal.”

First, Falk read the letter, and then he quickly stood and handed the letter off to Elisif when Erikur’s pontificating was completed. “So,” the young Jarl said with an air of regret. “Idgrod Ravencrone is dead. And Morthal was under siege by vampires. That are now also dead. But you completed the task asked of you, Fool, and are banished from Hjaalmarch for no less than one year’s time.”

“In my defense.” Mohamara stepped out of the gallery pillars and pointed in his Jarl’s direction. “I only did what Idgrod asked me to do.”

“Yes, the letter mentions that as well. This is… I did not think things could get worse for us, after the dragon attack. But we nearly lost an entire Hold to the undead. We would have lost an entire Hold had I not sent you.”

The Khajiit shrugged. “I only did a fancy ritual that backfired and helped kill two vampires.”

“You also sacrificed your well-being and still did the task I asked of you. While it was a bittersweet outcome, I can’t think of a better way to mark the end of your service as Fool of Solitude.”

Ah, so he was going to be fired anyway. The tojay couldn’t stop his ears, whiskers, and tail from drooping at the news. It has always been a temporary position, but it had been a job, at least.

“Oh, um. I didn’t mean to--I’m sorry, that was poorly worded of me. Please stop looking so sad.” Elisif stumbled over her words, presumably at how Mohamara looked. “I was actually going to lead into an offer to make you a Thane of my Hold. You do own a considerable amount of land now, and you’ve done me and my Hold repeated service.”

“Oh. Um. That’s… I don’t know what to say.” Mohamara was gobsmacked by the offer. Thanes were the highest level of nobility in a Hold, able to ignore some of the laws that bound the lesser nobility and commoners. In the event of a Jarl dying with no heirs, the new Jarl would be determined from among the Thanes.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.” A gruff voice from the gallery, opposite where Mohamara had been, spoke out. General Tullius, the Military Governor of Skyrim, and commander of all Imperial forces. “Since you are no longer Fool of Solitude, I hereby conscript you into the Imperial Legion, Khajiit.”

There was commotion from the gallery, with Elisif, Falk, and her Thanes crying different forms of outrage. Mohamara was certain that Erikur was only doing it because everyone else was.

“With enchanting talents like his, he’ll be invaluable to resolving this war while resources are plenty, Elisif. And once he’s served the Empire, he can return and be a petty noble in your court as much as you like.”

“You could have informed me before this, General,” Elisif hissed. She seemed just barely in control of her anger going from voice alone. “Instead you undermined my authority--in my Palace!”

“What was it you said when you sent an official complaint to the Emperor regarding mistakes made regarding your court? That you aren’t obligated to inform me of your court appointments? Likewise, I’m not obligated to inform you of my conscriptions.” There was a noticeable air of spite in the General’s rebuttal to Elisif.

“I don’t know how to feel over regional and Imperial governments arguing over who gets to boss me around and make fancy stuff for them,” the cat commented while no one paid him any mind. “Should I be… flattered? Annoyed? Vindicated? Mostly, I think I want to take a nap.” However, he gave the topic more thought and pointed dramatically in the General’s direction. “Wait a minute, does this mean I have to wear those stupid leather skirts all your soldiers prance around in?”

“That is the uniform of the Imperial Legion. And yes, even conscripts like you are expected to--”

The moment Mohamara heard the word ‘yes’, he was running and jumped from the balcony of the throne room to the foyer below. Unfortunately, someone downstairs had the presence of mind to catch him around the chest and hold him arm’s length away while the cat flailed about.

“Believe it or not, this isn’t a rare thing with conscriptions,” the man who had caught him spoke in a Falkreath-accented voice. “I’m Hadvar, and I’ll be the Quaestor looking after you. Though I imagine the General is going to want to have words with you in a minute.”

Mohamara eventually gave up on trying to get away and slumped in defeat. “I was just starting to get used to wearing trousers again….”
---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 26: Mage, Thief, Warrior

Mohamara’s tail never stopped thrashing as he was carried out of the Blue Palace and to Proudspire Manor by Hadvar, his new ‘minder’. The man was pleasant, upbeat, and empathetic to Mohamara’s position, but also firm in his position of authority over the cat.

“My job is mostly to track your performance, among other things,” he explained as the caravan kept their distance. “I’ll be managing your salary on your behalf--don’t worry, the position comes with a fiduciary duty. We’ll need to talk about what items you can or can’t enchant so I can organize with other Quaestors to get those things to you as necessary.”

“Okay,” Mohamara sighed. “Assume I don’t know what a Quaestor is.”

“Oh, we’re revenue and resource officers. We manage the Legion’s money, make sure everyone gets paid. But we also oversee mines, and subcontract local smiths to make arms and armor.”

“And mind conscripts?”

“‘Well,” Hadvar laughed good-naturedly. “This is a special case.” The Nord Legionnaire carried Mohamara up to the front door of the Manor and knocked. Before his fist hit the wood a second time, the door opened and Ma’dran loomed in the doorway like a horror picture monster.

“Why is a Legion Officer carrying ja’khajiit around?” Ma’dran looked at the Nord, and then Mohamara, whereupon he noticed that the tojay’s eyes were totally white. The jaguar-man’s eyes were as slits when he met Hadvar’s again, and his voice barely above a snarl. “Why is ja’khajiit blinded?”

Ma’dran’s rolling growl acted as a signal for the caravan to move. The gates of the manor were closed, and the caravan guards began to close in the Legionnaire.

“I did some magic, Ma’dran” the tojay quickly answered in light of Ma’dran’s voice. “The blindness is just a side-effect of the spell backfiring. And this guy’s carrying me around because….”

When the tojay was hesitant to talk about it, Hadvar cheerfully stood straighter and answered for him. “Your friend has been conscripted into the Imperial Legion. We’re here to collect his effects and relocate to Castle Dour.”

Ma’dran stared at the cheerful Nord for a long moment before he released the doorframe and stood aside. Hadvar briefly acknowledged the cracks in the stone where Ma’dran had been gripping it but continued indoors without commenting.

However once Mohamara had guided him to the tojay’s room, the Nord set the Khajiit down, closed the door behind them, and started gasping for air. “If you hadn’t said anything they were going to murder me,” he said, his cheer replaced with horror. “Shor’s bones, the big one could break stone with his bare hands.”

“Ma’dran’s not even the biggest cathay-raht in the caravan,” the tojay told Hadvar with a wicked cat-smile. “Kessei’s nine and a half feet tall, and he sells maps.” Kessei was also the oldest cathay-raht and relied on a walking stick since he had a bad leg. The way the big cat had described it, he got the leg injury from wrestling with a mammoth--his mammoth tusk walking stick lent the story weight.

Hadvar didn’t respond with words--instead, he just let out his breath as a shaky hiss as he gradually pressed his face into the door. This proved to be a bad thing, as the door opened suddenly. The Legionnaire found himself stumbling to stay standing while a lightly armored cathay woman arched her brow at him.

“Baskets,” she said and offered several wicker baskets stacked in each other with their lids to Hadvar. “Ma’dran asked this one to help ja’khajiit pack.”

“Hey Ahnji,” Mohamara greeted as he felt around the room for his stuff.

With Hadvar holding the baskets, Ahnji pushed past him and entered the room. She picked the blind Khajiit up and set him on the bed. “Ja’khajiit, let this one find things. You fold what Khajiit gives you, and put in baskets.”

Mohamara stuck his tongue out at the cathay but didn’t resist. The last thing he wanted was to damage Ma’dran’s furniture because he couldn’t see where anything was.

“Young one,” the cathay woman asked in ta’agra. “The Nord does not lie? You are conscripted into Legion?”

“Yes,” Mohamara responded after engaging his Tongues spell. “The Legion cannot win its war on its own, so it steals Khajiit to win it for them.”

“You do not have to go along with it.” She laid a pile of clothes next to Mohamara to fold and basket once Hadvar placed some down. “The caravan can spirit you off to Ahkari’s route, in Stormcloak lands.”

“No, no. They just want me for my enchanting, I’m probably not going to be made to fight their battles.”

Hadvar stood awkwardly in the doorway while the two Khajiit talked. He noted how the conscript didn’t speak the Khajiit language with the same smoothness, grace, or speed that the cathay woman did.

“They will pay you? See to your health?”

“Let me ask.” Mohamara switched to Tamrielic to talk to Hadvar. “Hey, you said you’d monitor my salary for me?”

“Manage,” the Nord corrected. “I invest your salary in safe companies, set up accounts in various banks so if one institution is destroyed in the war it won’t see you destitute, and write letters of credit on your behalf to buy things.”

“... So I don’t actually get to see any of the money the Legion is paying me?” Both Khajiit lowered their ears, neither happy with the cup game being described.

“Well, we don’t actually have the gold in Skyrim, you see. The current war chest was donated by Imperial civilians, so the gold to back up the credit exists, but it’s in Cyrodiil. Oh, but you probably want to know how much your salary will be.”

The entire time, lurking in the shadows at the end of the hall where there were no windows to let light in was Ma’dran. He watched the Nord who had come into his home and was stealing away a great money maker. But when he heard the sum that the Legionnaire quoted, he had to duck around the corner to squeal in delight as Hadvar turned to investigate the noise.

Mohamara was frozen, holding a half-folded shirt while his tail fluffed out in alarm. “You’re lying,” he said, automatically. “There’s no way in Ashpit that they’d have that much to pay.”

“Well, bear in mind that it’s your department’s budget, your salary is still to be determined,” Hadvar admitted when he couldn’t find the source of the faint squealing. Perhaps the house had mice? “That’s just the maximum amount you have available for supplies, hirelings, and your own wages before I have to request additional funding from the General. But, honestly, if you can give us the same quality you gave the Solitude city guard, you’ll earn a substantial wage.”

“No, there’s literally no way they’d have that much,” Mohamara began to realize as he thought about it. “Everything I’ve heard about the Imperial Province says that it’s in chaos right now, and with Skyrim as it is--even if Imperial citizens could donate enough money to afford to give a conscript that much, it should have been appropriated by the Legion forces in Cyrodiil to help get that province back under control. None of this makes sense!”

“Well,” Sheogorath said as he patted the tojay on the head. “Acceptance is a good first step.”

Mohamara’s reaction to the sudden arrival of the Mad God was completely understandable. To leap straight up and catch onto the rafters in the ceiling.

“Gah! Ja’khajiit, come down from there!” Ahnji set aside the clothes she was gathering up to try and jump up to catch Mohamara’s dangling legs. “You, Nord! Stop staring like a fool and find ladder! Or get cathay-raht to help.”

Hadvar had been stunned by how high the cat could jump, but hurriedly walked off at the cathay’s hissed orders.

“You know, this is getting a bit predictable,” Sheogorath commented while floating gently up to Mohamara’s level. “But it really helps with my ‘main antagonistic force’ thing if I can just pop up, anytime, anywhere, and mess with you.” With frivolous disregard, the Mad God kept on floating upward and became a cloud of purple and orange mist with his face floating at the center. “It’s been a while since we talked, incredibly handsome Daedric Prince to ungrateful mortal.”

The Mad God’s mist form snaked into the Khajiit’s head through his ears, orange and purple mist entering in from opposite sides. It was such a powerfully disturbing feeling that the tojay released his hold on the rafter and fell after a second of staying aloft in defiance of gravity.

Ahnji caught him easily and set him down then shouted that the ladder wasn’t needed just as Hadvar returned with a stool.

“So I’m going to just sit on your eardrum for a bit while you do whatever it is ungrateful mortals do when they’re not appreciating all that their parents do for them.” The Daedra’s voice came in as clearly as if he was standing beside him. “Ooh, I haven’t done the old tinnitus jig for a while, let’s see if my hips are still up to it.”

Suddenly Mohamara’s ears were filled with a persistent ringing as the tall-legged people went back to their routines.

“Still got it! Oh man, I miss having the free time to just find some random mortal and dance on their ear-drums for a decade or so. But anyway, your mother and I are still working on the specific wedding plans--the groom said his family’s input wasn’t necessary, which was really a shame. We could have had four-way arguments over napkins! Or better yet, which of you two was totally undeserving of the other.”

“When we get to Castle Dour, is it okay if I take a nap or something?” Mohamara asked Hadvar as he put a bag full of petty soul gems in a basket, alongside several rolls of paper.

“You know, I probably should tell you a bit about your groom at some point. I bet you’re just dying from antici--”

“Oh, I don’t think so, sorry,” Hadvar admitted. “First thing’s first, we need to get you to the registrar, then there’s the delousing and medical exam. And after that, the General will want to talk to you about some of the obligations expected of you, the length of your conscription, and issue first orders. My money’s on you being assigned to Whiterun or Falkreath.”

“Delousing--is that a cat and fleas thing?” The tojay thrashed his tail around in annoyance. “I had an implant put in under my skin specifically so I never get fleas.”

“Standard procedure, I’m afraid. But hey, at least you aren’t required to go through basic training! ...I think.”

“Ugh,” Mohamara fell forward into the folded up blood-stained quilt he was putting into a basket. “This has been an annoying day. Still not as bad as the Thalmor meeting I had this morning or that time I was almost eaten by whales, though.”

“Wait. Thalmor, this morning? Eaten by whales? And what in Oblivion is that?” Hadvar’s face was set in ever-increasing levels of confusion as he parsed what Mohamara said and then saw Ahnji take Meridia’s beacon and put it in the last basket.

“Oh yeah, I probably should have mentioned the Thalmor to Elisif. Or to Ma’dran. Or to Yagraz.” The tojay buried his head in the quilt. “I need a vacation from this vacation, so I can remember what normal is and let people know when abnormal things happen.”

“Hold on a minute--Yagraz of the Companions? You know her?”

“You know what--I’m going to get a cat-nap until we’re at Castle Dour because this is a bit too much to deal with.” Mohamara picked up the quilt, adjusted the clothes underneath, then stepped into the basket, curled up, and dropped the quilt on top of himself. Ahnji put the basket lid on it and then stacked the baskets so Mohamara was at the bottom.

“I… didn’t think he could fit in one of these,” the Nord admitted.

“Ja’khajiit can fit into many small places,” the cathay woman said with a shrug. “Makes for entertaining hide and seek.”

--

General Seneca Tullius arrived in his personal quarters in Castle Dour and automatically went for the pitcher of wine kept near his desk. The scout reports were not good--the Stormcloaks had garrisoned Japhet’s Folly after the previous occupants, a pirate gang calling themselves the ‘Blood Horkers’ had been wiped out. Legate Telendas from the Winterhold fortified camp reported that a concerning number of the Blood Horker’s ships could be salvaged--and with lumber from the Rift and Eastmarch, they would be salvaged too soon for the General’s liking.

Legate Rikke’s prediction was proving to be frighteningly correct.

So the General drank, to calm his nerves so that he could think of a way to counter this development. And he drank to pretend that the smug fool that had gotten him into the predicament was sitting in his reading chair.

“I ought to have you clapped in irons,” Tullius growled out and sipped the Firebrand wine. “Breaking into a secure Legion fortress, aiding and abetting a rebel cause, becoming a glorified cutpurse--have I left anything out?”

His son rose from the low chair next to what passed for a personal library in Skyrim--two bookcases of three layers each made of rough, unpolished wood--and positively strutted over to the General.

“Well there’s a few more things, but those are small-time matters, undeserving of my infamy.” The General’s son plucked the wine goblet from his father’s hand and set it down. “If it helps, I come bearing presents.” An envelope with the wax seal of Eastmarch was laid atop the goblet, along with a rolled up piece of parchment.

For the first time in years, Tullius looked at his son. The Rift had been good for him--the young man was more hale and hearty than when the General had seen him at the Arcane University. Certainly, the man didn’t dress as a member of the Thieves Guild, in the yellow robes of an apprentice wizard. The style of Winterhold, Tullius noted. But remade in silks rather than coarse wool. Naturally.

“I didn’t trap them if that’s what you’re worried about.” The former upstanding citizen of the Empire waved off his father’s glare and stepped back.

“That only makes me suspect a trap even more....” The General in Tullius told him to call for soldiers and arrest the man that had been his son. But then he remembered why he’d attempted to get his son into the Shadow Legion--the boy could call up ludicrous levels of Destruction magic. It would just lead to more dead soldiers and more need for Tullius to drink.

He opened the roll of parchment first and found it to be a map of Stormcloak territory. Supply lines, the General realized at once, from the Rift to Eastmarch and from Eastmarch to Japhet’s Folly off the coast of Winterhold. Lumber yards and mines were highlighted. And once there proved to be no obvious trap, the General switched over to the letter.

“This can’t be right.” The letter detailed the muster of forces at the Valtheim Towers, at the border of Eastmarch and Whiterun. “Ulfric just lost over two thousand men at Morthal, he can’t possibly have enough to launch a second attack so soon.”

“Well--my associates did consider forging something for you to use to get Whiterun’s Jarl to let you move troops through his land. But then we found out that lovely bit of information when cleaning out another Guild.”

“...How did you know what the letter says if the wax seal was intact?” The General looked over his shoulder at his son, who rolled his eyes in response. “I swear if you say ‘magic’ I will--”

“Alteration magic has creative applications, it turns out. I should have listened to you and studied more of it at school. Fortunately, there are books for that sort of thing.” The younger Tullius’ smug look only deepened as the General folded the Stormcloak orders back up and set them aside. “Has that money ‘generous Imperial citizens’ donated helped you out?”

“A year ago you didn’t care one lick who won this war,” Tullius picked up his goblet again and drank deeply from it. “And now you’re bending over backward to help the Empire win--what gives?”

“Well, I don’t know if you picked up on this….” The mage actually grinned at the General and polished his fingernails on his silk robes. “But I’m getting married soon. And I’m afraid that the future in-laws were insistent on you and mother attending.” He shrugged when the elder Tullius gave him a disbelieving look. “Hey, I had that same reaction.”

“You’re helping the war effort… so that I can attend a wedding.” The General decided he was not at all drunk enough for this and refilled his goblet immediately. “That is the most asinine, the most flippant--”

“But also the most entertaining reason, methinks. If my betrothed is half as interesting as his father, I will have a most enjoyable marriage. Though I’ve been told that some… work will be involved on that front.”

Tullius could almost feel the scowl on his son’s face as the word ‘work’ was spoken. “Gods forbid you can’t shirk or, given your new profession, steal your way to success. Have you met this, I’m going to play it safe and guess, Khajiit you’re to be marrying? Are you going to have to have gods-damned Thalmor at this wedding?”

“Not yet, no. But I’ve been told he lives in Solitude so I thought I’d pop in and let him see what his father paid for in a husband.”

“Solitude?” Tullius’ mind immediately went to the few Khajiit he knew in Solitude. He guessed the safest option--the jaguar-man in charge of the local caravan. “Ma’dran? Who buys and sells weapons?”

“Hmm? Oh, heavens no. Ma’dran and I have a business relationship already. My prize is a rarer breed of Khajiit than a cathay-raht. The only one in all Tamriel not leashed by the Thalmor, as it so happens.”

The General made a note that the caravan leader had ties to the Thieves Guild--that’s where they would look when Legion material wound up stolen, as it inevitably would. But then the comment about the Thalmor made him pause mid-sip. There weren’t many breeds of Khajiit that the Thalmor regulated in any capacity--there were over twenty of them, and most were interchangeable in terms of effectiveness. Off the top of his head, he could only think of senche, ohmes, pahmar, tojay--

Tullius was overcome by a hacking cough as he sharply inhaled his wine, to the point where he had to bend over from the force and frequency.

“And that sounds like my cue to leave. Was nice seeing you father, enjoy the presents and the money I oh-so-generously gave you for your war. I’ll see you at Riften, ciao.”

--

“On a scale of one to ten, how stupid do I look?”

Hadvar didn’t quite get what magic was being used to allow his charge to communicate vast distances through what appeared to be a rectangular mirror. But what he did know was that in the mirror was the visage of Yagraz of the Companions, presumably at home. The Khajiit was seated on a table while Hadvar and the Legion Quartermaster adjusted straps on the cat’s leather armor. Due to his blindness, it was unlikely the Khajiit would be able to dress himself past the initial red tunic.

“You look like a tomboy who still wants to go to the ball, in all honesty,” the mirror image of Yagraz said while in the background a drunken Redguard man desperately tried to open a sealed jar containing some strange variety of peanut.

“That isn’t what I asked, but thank you for making me feel like a ten out of ten.”

“How in the shit are you still losing weight, anyway? Or are you just shedding a lot? I don’t think I should be able to see your neck in that much definition.”

“The medical officer says he has a parasite in his intestines,” Hadvar volunteered, leaping at the opportunity to talk to one of the greatest warriors of the Era.

“Yeah,” Mohamara confirmed with a nod. “The Alchemist here is going to be getting me a potion that’ll kill it, and then I should be able to start putting on weight again.”

“I recommend a steady diet of sweetrolls and snowberry tarts.” The scene on Yagraz’s end changed as she got up and went to open the jar for her Redguard friend. “Malacath’s many wives, Brenuin, stop drinking so much that you can’t even get the beer ‘nuts.”

“You ain’t my mother,” the Redguard slurred, “don’t you tell me what to do.”

“Your mother is a kind and gentle soul who is incapable of thinking poorly of anyone,” Mohamara informed the Redguard. Said Redguard lept at the looking glass on Yagraz’s end and ended up spilling the ‘beer nuts’ everywhere.

“Damnit short-stuff, now I gotta find the broom.”

The last bit of impromptu belting to get the armor down to the Khajiit’s size was done, so the Quartermaster nodded to Hadvar and left the supply room. The Quaestor understood--dealing with the conscript’s eccentricities was already proving to be exhausting after one day.

“You really need to train your drunk better, Yagraz,” the Khajiit muttered once Hadvar signaled him to hop off the table. Next was their meeting with the General, and find out their assignment. Somehow, with his magical looking glass out it was almost like the tojay could see again. But not quite--he had trouble discerning distance, for instance.

Hadvar only had to lead the way, and pretend not to listen in on the Khajiit and Orc talking. They spoke they had been lifelong friends! But, how would a Khajiit who couldn’t even look after himself have a legendary warrior as a friend?

“So did I tell you that Heimskr is here? In Whiterun.”

The tojay’s blind eyes went wide. “Heimskr? The Heimskr? Hi-hi-Heim-skr, preacher of the Talos Church? The guy from the song?”

“Yeah! He lives just down the way from Jorrvaskr, next time you’re in Whiterun I’ll take you to one of his sermons, it’s trippy.”

In peacetime, the suite they approached would be the Legate’s quarters. But then, in peacetime, there would not be multiple Legates in Skyrim to begin with or a General. So currently, the suite was occupied by General Tullius. Hadvar stopped before the door while Mohamara and Yagraz continued to talk about this Heimskr fellow. He instructed Mohamara to stay while the Quaestor went in to ensure the General’s secretary knew of their appointment.

It was unusual to receive orders from the General’s quarters, but given the limited number of conscripts, there was no established office space for their command structure yet. As Hadvar talked with the Bosmer secretary, the General’s previous appointment passed by--an Imperial man in mage’s robes, like from the College of Winterhold but clearly not built for the cold. Something about the man seemed familiar to Hadvar, but he didn’t want to pry.

“Yagraz, I gotta go,” Mohamara said while his ears went flat against his head. “Have to talk to my new boss soon.”

“Short-stuff, before you go, some advice? The Legion are good people. I don’t know about the Empire, but the Legion are good, honest people. Trust them to help you help yourself, alright? Seeya.”

Mohamara muttered his own goodbye and ended the looking glass session. “Trust the people that conscripted me instead of asking for help, she says.”

Through the forward facing lens on his slate, Mohamara watched a strange Imperial man in yellow silk clothes step out of the room Hadvar had just entered, glance down at the tojay, and then double-take. Mohamara could feel the magicka in the stranger’s bones, so he had to be a powerful mage. But the most noteworthy thing about the man was his choice of facial hair: A soul-patch.

“Well, fancy running into you here,” the mage said with peculiar enthusiasm. “Though you look much thinner than in your portrait, and you weren’t blind. That’s a rather important bit to have gotten wrong.”

The tojay briefly wondered if this was how people felt to deal with him and squinted at the Imperial. “Do I know you?”

“Well, I’d hope so or this would be far more awkward than amusing.” When Mohamara didn’t react, the mage’s charming smile faded just a smidge. “I’m Marcurio Tullius, has… your father not told you about me?”

“My father objects to telling me things,” Mohamara said, voice flat. “It’s against his religion.”

“Ha! I know how that feels. So, since you have been told nothing, let me be the one to let the cat out of the bag.” The Imperial didn’t react to Mohamara’s scowl at his casual racism, but bent down and offered his hand to shake.

But when Mohamara reciprocated the gesture, the Imperial twisted the cat’s hand to kiss the offered limb.

Weirded out beyond all reason, Mohamara naturally tried to yank his hand away but the Imperial, Marcurio, did not let go. “Marcurio Tullius, son of General Seneca Tullius, mage extraordinaire, handsome rogue, and per the marriage contract with your father, your fiance. Lovely to meet you, dear.”

Despite being partially blind, Mohamara’s only reaction after that was to blink rapidly. “I… what?” The tojay repeated the word ‘what’ in increasing volumes, which seemed to amuse Marcurio, per his facial expression.

”-pation!”
---

Chapter Text


---

Chapter 27: A Daedra’s Best Friend

Mohamara was stuck in a loop of ‘what’ until Marcurio found a way to break the tojay out of the feedback loop: Chin scratches. “You certainly look blind,” the Imperial commented. “But you’re reacting as if you can see me. How is that?”

“‘S temporary,” the tojay purr-talked around the chin scratches. “Magic helps me see.”

“Ah, a mage. You’re likely part of the Shadow Legion, then?” Mercurio shifted his scratching to cheek rubs with both hands. This didn’t debilitate Mohamara as much as chin scratches did, so the Khajiit kept trying to get away while his face turned pink.

“No-no, I don’t know what the Shadow Legion is. I--please stop that.”

“As you wish.” And so Marcurio switched to the tojay’s massive ears. They were flat against his head so Marcurio experienced some difficulty but eventually coaxed them into relaxing outward.

The cat’s brain was occupied with trying to find a way out of the situation. The slate’s lens could only stare forward, into Marcurio’s torso, so it was no use. Running backward with eyesight would be difficult but possible. And then there was the possibility of jumping up and over Marcurio and finding refuge in the General’s suite--but that was uncertain. While running the numbers on escape routes, the tojay tried making himself smaller by holding his slate closer to his chest and pulling his neck back.

Given that the cat could only speak in incoherent stammers, Marcurio did most of the talking from then on. “Legion leathers are not flattering on you, so you know. Personally, I’m of a mind that it should be silks or nothing.” The human circled around the cat while messing with his ears--it was obvious that the cat was looking for a direction to bolt. Being mobile himself would limit what directions the Khajiit could go. “It’s so bizarre, seeing a tojay without the fancy fur dying that they usually do--not unpleasant, however.”

Mohamara decided on a direction to run and tensed to sprint when the ear attack stopped and the assault on Mohamara’s tail began which ruined his escape plan.

“I don’t imagine that you’ve had many opportunities to properly look after yourself given the circumstances. Shame, really. But I have a proposal for you.” Marcurio leaned in and whispered into the tojay’s ear. “I’ll get you something to help out in this department if you agree to meet somewhere and let us get to know one another. Sound fair?”

There were so many ways to interpret that sentence that Mohamara’s brain hit the emergency shutdown button. As this happened, the cat’s fur stood on end and small trails of smoke rose up from his ears.

“Oh, sorry ‘bout that,” Sheogorath’s voice said from within his head. “Just grilling some earwax.”

“I’m going to guess that your mind went to a different place than mine, and that’s okay. But I’d really just like to talk. How about after you hear where my father is going to be sending you, hmm? Don’t worry, I’ll find out.” The Imperial stood with a self-satisfied grin and left the tojay to his own devices.

When Hadvar came out to fetch the Khajiit, he found a cat puffed up more than should have been reasonable given the temperature, and faintly smelling of burning wax. “I’m guessing you and the mage got into a disagreement or something? It’s okay, that it didn’t come to blows between you two speaks volumes on your characters,” Hadvar commented, blissfully unaware of the situation, and ushered the still rebooting Khajiit into the General’s suite. “The General wants to see us.”

“Ooh,” Sheogorath commented in between chewing on something. “First you meet the hubby-to-be, and now your future father-in-law! I should record this, and show it to your uncles when we get together for mortal pinata night.”

Hadvar didn’t pick up on the tension in the room when Mohamara entered the General’s office. The Nibenese man glowered at the cat, who had his head bowed the whole time. The Nord didn’t notice anything odd, General Tullius glowered at everyone. Annoyance seemed to be the Military Governor’s default emotion.

“Certain factors have come to my attention over the last few hours,” the General started, voice level. “Dragons, long thought extinct, have been sighted rising from their graves. They’ve attacked Imperials, Stormcloaks, civilians, livestock, and more. Some have taken to roosting on mountains. Farengar Secret-Fire of Whiterun says you’re the most knowledgeable person about dragon lore that he’s ever met.” Tullius leaned forward in his exquisite leather chair to look at Hadvar and Mohamara with a weak glare. “So I’m going to want you to talk to a scribe, you’ll tell them everything you told that court wizard. Prioritize how to kill them, if you would be so kind.”

“My professional advice,” Mohamara responded in barely above a whisper, “is to--”

“Speak up, conscript, I can barely hear you.”

The tojay cleared his throat and tried again, only to be instructed to raise his voice again. And again. And again. When the General was satisfied with Mohamara’s volume, it was just a hair below a shout. “My professional advice, General! Is to routinely hire Yagraz gro-Dushnik of the Companions to kill the dragon for you! She is Dragonborn!”

“She is Dragonborn…?”

It took the cat a moment to parse what the General was asking with a peculiar trailing off inflection. “She is Dragonborn, sir.”

Tullius accepted the due respect with a nod and opened a folder on his desk. “Initial conscription lengths are for a year’s time during wartime, so you know. Time will be added or removed in reflection of your service, however, if the war ends before your conscription period concludes, you will be discharged back to the civilian population.” Several parchments were handed to Hadvar rather than the tojay.

The General steepled his fingers and sat back. “As a conscript, you do not hold official rank in the Legion, you are not entitled to a pension at the end of your service. If you choose to enlist after your conscription period, the time as a conscript will be used to determine your rank and deployment. Your time with the Legion will be as great or as unpleasant as you make of it. Serve your Emperor with valor, and rejoice in work well done.”

“...Sir?” Hadvar asked after a long moment of silence in the room. “Our marching orders?”

“Hmm? Oh, they’re likely still with Legate Rikke. Quaestor, go retrieve them if you would. The conscript can stay here.” The General watched Hadvar leave, and once he was gone shifted his gaze to the tojay. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out, Khajiit?”

Mohamara gulped, and held his slate closer to his chest but said nothing.

“So. How did this happen? Hmm, did Ma’dran introduce you two? Whilst my son was selling his ill-gotten plunder? Was that what you were really trying to accomplish by entering into Elisif’s service--giving the Thieves Guild a stronger presence in Haafingar?” The tojay’s silence seemed to incense the General, but his voice never rose beyond its initial level tone.

“I… assume you’re talking about Marcurio,” Mohamara said at last.

“Why no, I’m talking about your relationship with Mara, of whom everyone in Markarth tells me you’re a priest. Of course, I’m talking about Marcurio.” The General stood, and Mohamara visibly flinched. As the Nibenese man walked around to stand at the tojay’s flank, Mohamara put the slate up like he was trying to shield himself from some attack. “Oh, you’re afraid of me now, that’s a marked improvement. So how about you tell me how this came to be?”

“I-i just met Marcurio like, five minutes ago.” Fear motivated the tojay to speak rapidly, so as to hopefully get the information out that the General wanted to hear. “I didn’t even know who he was before that.”

“You cannot possibly expect me to believe that. This is only going to get worse for you if you continue to lie to me, son… in-law.”

“I’m not lying! It’s an arranged marriage thing, I had no input on the decision!”

“Now that’s not true at all, sonny,” Sheogorath commented from the Khajiit’s ears. “You gave me some criteria, such as ‘no spousal abuse’, and I went ahead and nixed most of the fun categories. Though your uncle Sanguine convinced me to add some back on because some people like those things! Who knew?”

“An… arranged marriage? Alright, fine. Arranged marriages are all tit-for-tat, so how about you tell me what my family is supposed to do for our side of the marriage?” The General began to pace while glaring down at the Khajiit every so often. “Your family paid an obscene level of gold for the match--enough to fund this war and beyond. Was there some implicit agreement to retake Elsweyr from the Dominion in this? Perhaps accept more Khajiit refugees? You must have some idea.”

“You’re asking the wrong person--I don’t know!”

“Could always ask you, know,” Sheogorath quipped. “Though the answer may upset you more than its absence. Ooh, I should get the upset-o-meter down here so we can put it on a graph! And make a pie from the graph! A pie graph!”

“Useless,” the General muttered then returned to his chair. “Then how about you tell me how to contact your family so I can get answers from someone who does have the answers I want?”

“Tell him to click his heels three times and say ‘there’s no place like home’. Go on! I want to see if he’ll really do it.”

Something inside Mohamara fractured under all the stress over the past twenty-four hours. A mouse backed into a corner enough will bite back, and the same was true of non-combat Khajiit.

Outside Castle Dour, birds flew away in alarm, soldiers and guards training in the courtyard paused to look up toward the General’s tower in awe, the people in the temple of the divines couldn’t help but feel they’d heard it before, and for the people in the General’s tower it was rather like a flash-bang bomb had gone off. But those would not be invented for many Eras hence.

Mohamara let loose a flow of cursing, venting, inarticulate screaming, and pointed criticism at the General, at Sheogorath, and every single thing under the sun that he couldn’t stand about the day’s proceedings. That sympathetic bonds lashed around him like a cloud of whips, connecting to people and assaulting their perceptions of reality then disconnecting as this happened only worsened the explosion of rage and frustration.

Marcurio looked up from examining wicker baskets full of his fiance’s possessions to appreciate a new, and interesting side of his betrothed. “Glad it’s happening to you, and not me, dad,” he commented and went back to rifling around. He happened upon some burnout velvet smallclothes inlaid with real garnets, which gave him pause. “Hmm… velvet and garnets. I can work with that.”

--

Mohamara hadn’t considered attacking people with Mysticism before he exploded all over General Tullius. Connecting people to unpleasant stimuli was something he’d picked up over the course but actually, purposefully, attacking someone was new. It sort of worked similar to the Illusion school, but Mohamara didn’t know enough about Illusion magic to discern the difference.

Perhaps there wasn’t one, and all the divisions in magic lay in people’s preconceptions--the strength of their delusions altered the way magic worked artificially. He’d read a book about that, once.

He had a lot of time to think about it while mopping the Castle Dour courtyard in the rain, and walking laps on the city wall before it was time to depart. Gossip was that the Legion had gotten word of a pending Stormcloak attack on Whiterun, so the surrounding Holds had their troop deployments increased. This coincided with Mohamara’s marching orders--he was part of a double-cohort heading south to Falkreath, specifically the town of Helgen.

Once his vision returned, it was right back to work. Over the course of the week it took to even get to Falkreath’s forested borders, Mohamara enchanted every sword, shield, and bow in that double-cohort with a paralysis effect, kinetic dampening, and lightning damage respectively. He didn’t even need to make them particularly powerful enchantments, just match the quality of the Solitude city guards.

But not with Hadvar’s gear. That stuff, the tojay took time on. Hadvar’s sword was overlaid with a complex network of not immediately noticeable enchantments. Keen edge to remain sharper for longer without needing the whetstone. Rust-proof so that the weather wasn’t something to worry about. Domineering to invoke inordinate levels of fear in his enemies. And frictionless so that the blade could be swung ever so slightly faster than should have been possible. On top of the paralysis effect.

Many soldiers asked Mohamara why Hadvar’s gear got so much better quality work, and the answer never seemed to satisfy them.

Because Hadvar had asked him to, rather than demanded as others had. The Nord had given Mohamara the option to say ‘no’, and have that refusal respected. And for that, Hadvar got the best quality enchantment that Mohamara could put together short of drawing on the beacon.

The shield and bow hadn’t been done by the time they crossed into Falkreath Hold, but every day they drew closer to completion. The Armaments of Hadvar, Mohamara was going to name the set once they were done.

Hadvar hadn’t stopped grinning like an idiot since they crossed into Falkreath Hold, Mohamara noticed while forming a knot of deflection for Hadvar’s shield. “If you keep smiling like that, your face will stick that way,” he told the Nord. Because he was working, he had the luxury of riding in a wagon while Hadvar had to walk with the other soldiers.

“And I would not mind in the least,” Hadvar replied, and breathed deeply of the pine forest air. “Falkreath is my home, I’m sure you could tell from my accent. And Helgen is my hometown. I can’t wait to see everyone again.” He looked up to the Khajiit with a curious expression. “If you don’t mind my asking--where are you from? You have a strange mix of a Haafingar and Whiterun accent, so I’d suspect Rorikstead?”

That reminded Mohamara, he needed to stop by there to inform the faithful old Breton that ‘Maria’ had come home. “Heh. No. I was born… I don’t know where exactly. But I was brought to the temple on Mount Kilkreath to be raised, and pawned off on a few foster families that ultimately decided they didn’t want me.”

“Mount Kilkreath? There was a temple up there? Certainly out of the way, I’d guess.” Hadvar seemed hesitant to bring up the topic of the foster families, perhaps the notion hadn’t existed this far back in time? “What’s the temple like?”

Mohamara shrugged. “Well… does it matter? There isn’t one there anymore.”

“Of course it matters, it was your home.” Hadvar looked stricken that Mohamara had thought differently. “Would it help if I tell you about Helgen?” When Mohamara nodded, the Quaestor started off describing their destination. A fortified town, built during the Akaviri invasion, and most fortified structure in all Falkreath Hold since Ilinalta’s Deep was abandoned. Hadvar told him about how he’d almost been snatched by a Hagraven as a child, for there was a witches coven that lived high on the mountain pass to the Rift. And he told more pleasant stories, about how he had introduced his old friend from Riverwood to his younger sister because they were too bashful to talk to each other, or how the innkeeper made special mead with juniper berries.

“So?” Hadvar had a strange sparkle in his eyes when he finished talking about Helgen. “Will you tell me about the temple on Mount Kilkreath? Even if it isn’t there anymore?”

The tojay bit the common soul-thread he had been spinning into Hadvar’s, completed a knot, and set it aside. “Living in the temple, there was always music,” the cat started. “After a while, you stopped noticing, but if you left and came back it was obvious. Someone, somewhere, was always singing a hymn. All the windows were of stained glass, and each told a story. The holy men and women who looked after us would tell us the story behind each one as we grew up. Every saint, every champion, every prophet. There was magic in them, I knew but no one believed me--they would move if you stared at them long enough. You could blink and miss it, but it happened all the same.”

Reflecting on his time in the temple pained Mohamara. It was like when he had broken his thigh and had to spend weeks relearning to walk--pain that worked itself out by being fought against.

“There was so much history, I lived and learned there but I couldn’t tell you all the stories, all the sermons. The Lady’s statue was so big, you could climb up and see what felt like forever. I used to get in trouble because I would climb up all the way to her head, and couldn’t get back down.”

But then came the foster families. Then would come school. Then would come being told that ‘no school in their right mind would hire a teacher shorter than the students’. Mohamara did not discuss these things with Havar, however. Nor did he discuss the lost history of the original temple--made such because he wasn’t good enough.

“But that was the temple. And it isn’t there now.”

The sparkle remained in Hadvar’s eyes, despite his pitying expression. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

--

A dog barking immediately roused Mohamara from sleep the night before the convoy was to arrive in Helgen. The Khajiit instinctively lept from his bedroll to the top of a wagon--and just in time. A wolfhound stood on its back legs, with its front legs on the wheel while it barked up at the cat. Said cat spat-hissed at the canine to try and get it to go away.

“Where in Oblivion did this dog come from,” a First Class Centurion muttered as she approached the mystery canine.

“Hey! Listen, I know your pops and I don’t get along, but I need your help.”

Mohamara couldn’t place the source of the echoing voice that suddenly came into his head, but not the same place as Sheogorath’s spot on his eardrums. Speaking of whom.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Sheogorath made his continued presence known. “You will not help that dog, not one bit!”

The tojay squinted at the canine, who whined pitifully at him even as the Centurion tried to shoo him away.

“Come on, can’t ya do your uncle Barbas a favor? I can promise to pay you back.”

“Son, listen me, no don’t listen to me, listen. Under no circumstance are you to help that dog, do you understand?”

The name drop let Mohamara know who and what the dog was. Barbas, faithful hound of Clavicus Vile, Daedric Prince of bargains, wishes, and being a sack of penises for no good reason. Barbas represented more than half of Vile’s power, and also his externalized moral guidelines, and was frequently a target for Sheogorath’s divine ‘pranks’.

“Will helping you out piss off Sheogorath?” Mohamara asked the dog, which confused the Centurion to no end.

“Probably,” Barbas’ mind voice commented.

”Son.”

“Alright, I’m in, what do you need?”

The dog barked, happy as a wolfhound should be. “Thanks! I didn’t know who else to ask for help. Clavicus and I got into a fight again, and he kicked me out.”

“Play therapist to a Daedric Prince. Slightly terrifying, but hey, if it annoys Sheogorath half as much as he’s annoyed me, I’m down for it.”

“Swell! Oh, and then there’s all the vampires Clavicus sent after you with the promise that if they sacrifice you at his shrine, he’ll cure their disease.” The dog barked happily once more.

Mohamara’s spite-filled glee melted into dawning horror. “What.”

“Yeah, and I’m pretty sure they followed me here.”

”What.”

“And this is why,” Sheogorath said, popping into Mohamara’s eye like it was a video feed he’d edited himself into, “we don’t help dogs in this family.” As quickly as he’d come, the Mad God was gone again.

“Okay, vampires.” The tojay say up from his coiled position in the cart and went looking for his armor and one of the alarm horns. “That’s not good. Anyone seen the alarm horn?”

“I think I found one down here!” Said a voice from the opposite side of the cart. In a Morrowind accent. When there were no Dunmer in the entire double-cohort.

“... I was born at night, but it wasn’t tonight, not falling for that.” The tojay gathered sunlight in his hands and glared in the direction of the voice. “Come on out and let’s get this over with.”

The reply he got was a pair of Dunmer hands breaking through the wagon floor and grabbing Mohamara by his ankles. Whereupon he found himself subjected to a rather shocking degree of lightning magic which tore through his magicka with ease.

Slightly singed, Mohamara watched the head fall off the Centurion’s body and fell backward onto the wagon, twitching. The Dunmer hands released him and broke through the rest of the wagon floor. In moments, the cat’s vision was filled with monstrous faces and golden eyes.

“Don’t worry kid,” Barbas said while he barked. “I’ll help ya out!” There was a flare of magic and a dog’s pained whine along with a thud a moment later. “Okay, as it turns out one of them knows Paralyze. Go figure. At least they won’t kill you until they get you to Clavicus’ shrine. Gives ya a chance to make a grand escape.”

“Take off its arms,” one of the vampires said, “so that it cannot do the sunlight spell. And we do not need to stun it constantly on the way to the shrine.”

“Ya know what, I’m just gonna stop talking.”

“Excuse me, but may I offer some advice on plotting to maim someone?”

Mohamara did not like any of these possibilities, but the vampires seemed certainly pleased with it and looked around for which of their number had offered the advice. None seemed to own up to it, though.

“Advice number one, don’t think you can do so in the midst of a military camp just because you killed one officer. Advice number two, definitely don’t do it in a camp where every archer has a magic bow, you utter morons. Fire at will.”

There was a moment of sublime beauty as the vampires occupying the tojay’s vision were set upon by many lightning-imbued arrows.

The partial paralysis from being electrocuted wore off moments later, letting Mohamara sit up to find himself in the middle of many piles of ash, and a waking Imperial camp due to the sounds of battle.

“You know, I was going to stay hidden among all these soldiers until you hit Helgen and make it look like I had been there for days waiting on you to catch up,” Marcurio said as he strutted up to the wagon where Mohamara sat. “But then there was that thing with the talking dog, and the vampires, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to rescue you at the perfect moment.”

The tojay looked over the scene once more and blankly stared at his fiance who gave him the most shit-eating grin he’d ever seen on a human face. “Was it necessary to wait until after they made me look stupid, electrocuted me, and were about to cut my arms off?”

“It was absolutely vital. Would have been a wasted effort without it.”

“So uh,” Barbas reminded everyone of his continued existence, paralyzed in the pose of a brave lunge. “Could you do that dispelling thing to get me out of this? I got an itch in my ear that really needs scratchin’.”

---

 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 28: Real Cats are Pink!

With the vampire’s attack on the camp, the remaining Centurions decided that the campsite wasn’t secure, and ordered the troops to awaken to resume the march. The fallen Centurion’s body was placed in a wagon to be processed once they arrived in Helgen.

And of course, Mohamara had a dog barking at him and Marcurio tormenting the cat the whole way.

Despite his barking, Barbas did not speak unless spoken too first after telling Mohamara where to go to talk to Clavicus--a cave called Haemar’s Shame. Marcurio, however, was not so passive.

“You know, for an enchanter of your skill it’s a bit strange that almost none of your gear is enchanted,” the Imperial commented while laying down in Mohamara’s mobile workstation wagon. “Not even defensively. And the only weapon I’ve seen you carry around is a dagger you hardly know how to use at all.”

Mohamara purposefully flicked his tail to get into the Imperial’s face. “Priorities,” he growled. “Getting the guys who will do the fighting ready takes precedence over my stuff.”

“Says who?” Marcurio caught the tojay’s tail and held it fast while it tried to flick around. “You, Quaestor, is it part of the conscription process that you have to put yourself last in priorities?”

Stiff-voiced as he looked at Marcurio, Hadvar replied: “No. I’m sure it’s appreciated, but looking after your own well-being would likely result in less need for… heroics, or people dying for preventable reasons.”

“There, you see? You’re only making their job harder for them.” The Imperial started to pet Mohamara’s tail while he talked. Perhaps it was meant to be a mollifying gesture, but Mohamara found it annoying as the man wouldn’t let go of his tail. “Perhaps something to resist magic? Improve your health, so on and so forth.”

Mohamara reached back and yanked his tail away from the Imperial by hand since neither the tail-petting or holding it was going to stop. “Why do you care? According to your dad, you already got the dowry or whatever from my side.” The Khajiit whirled around and pointed into Marcurio’s face. “And don’t go around introducing me as your ‘bride’ or some stupid shit like that or I will kill you in your sleep.”

Marcurio arched a brow at the tojay, then was distracted by the finger being pointed at him. His usual smug grin began to melt. “Why don’t you have claws?”

“Wait,” Hadvar said, confused. “You don’t have claws? I thought you just didn’t know how to use them in a fight or something.”

“I’ve been declawed for most of my life.” The cat sighed and went back to enchanting Hadvar’s shield. “But back to my question--why do you care? You got the money, you could kill me and not have to do all this.”

With his back to the man, Mohamara didn’t notice how Marcurio’s expression darkened almost immediately after the word ‘declawed’ was spoken. The Imperial took a deep breath and his normal amusement returned. “One, I’m not a black widow--but thank you for thinking I could pull that lifestyle off, it means a lot. Two, even if I wanted to kill you to get out of my obligations--which I don’t--I’m not so good that I can kill my way out of the middle of a double-cohort.”

“Thank you for your kind words, citizen,” Hadvar ground out with a glare in Marcurio’s direction.

“You’re welcome. And three….” Marcurio sat up and leaned over Mohamara to look him in the eyes. “And I need you to pay attention to this part, I know who and what your parents are. They both already went through the usual threats of violence if I so much as raise a hand to your adorable face. While your mother was the more honest about it being a threat, your father was more… intimidating, honestly.”

“So, I’m going to guess that the two of you are an item? Or going to be?” Barbas spoke up, still trotting along with the wagon, and showing no tiredness. “Oh that’s sweet, I’ll be sure to have Clavicus get ya a wedding present or something for helping us out.”

“I think the marching is getting to me,” Hadvar grumbled and rubbed at his eyes. “I could swear that dog just talked.”

Mohamara shied away from having the Imperial looming over him and hunched over Hadvar’s shield to keep working on it. “Hey, why don’t you tell us more about what sorta help Clavicus needs, eh uncle Barbas?”

“I didn’t think it was such a big deal at the time,” the dog Daedra lamented. “Clavicus was in a bad way since one of his Daedric artifacts… well, things with it went horribly wrong. And then this old flame of his does this big romantic gesture, for him.” The dog pranced around as it walked. “Oh, that cheered him up good an’ proper. And I wanted Clavicus to go see if, you know, they could hook up again or somethin’. But uh, Clavicus… he just becomes an anxious mess when romance is involved, ya know? We got into an argument, and he kicked me out. That’s the short version.”

“I don’t know how to feel about the Daedric Prince of Bargains’ ability to experience anxiety,” Marcurio said with a befuddled expression. “Or what constitutes an ‘old flame’ for a being that literally lives outside linear time.”

“Oh, you two are talking to it too,” Hadvar made his presence known again. "I guess I must be sleepwalking… or is it lucid dreaming when you know you’re in a dream?”

--

Marcurio vanished for a couple hours after the double-cohort arrived in Helgen at dawn. The double-cohort’s addition to the population saw the town’s occupancy skyrocket, even though most of them actually were quartered under the city in the keep’s underground. An incident report was drawn up for the fallen Centurion, and her Optio promoted to replace her.

Mohamara was given a list of things that the Legate in charge of the Falkreath Legion, the Eleventh, wanted him to enchant and a rough idea of the enchantment. However, he was allowed to sleep first because he’d already enchanted the entire double-cohort’s weapons. The Legate didn’t seem to care overmuch about Barbas’ presence, and actually pet the dog before leaving for the keep’s command tower.

When he woke up from his delayed sleep, he was purring which already pinged his ‘what the fuck’ detectors.

“So, I decided to look into the road to Haemar’s Shame while you were cat-napping,” Marcurio commented after the tojay moved. One of the Imperial’s hands was resting in between the cat’s ears, gently rubbing his scalp while the other examined Mohamara’s slate. “Nothing major, a Hagraven nest, Stormcloak camp, and some vampires thinking they can be sneaky just because they’re invisible.”

The tojay slapped at Marcurio’s hand and scooted away. “Could you stop doing that?”

“Doing what? Scouting ahead? It’s quite alright, I’ve trained with the best at sneaking, and my spells can outpace any Hagraven or vampire.”

“No, the--the touching thing.” Mohamara’s face was bright pink as he stood up from the cot assigned to him. “Could you please, at least, ask?

Marcurio tilted his head to the side, confused. “From what your father told me about your friends, and what you shouted about back in Solitude, all sorts of people do that.”

All sorts of people aren’t going to be my husband,” Mohamara only forced his voice back from a yell when he saw other sleeping people in the contubernia sleeping quarters. “When they do that--I’m not a person, to them, I’m some fucking stuffed toy. My friend looks after me, and she’s a way better fighter, I trust her with stuff like that. You, I don’t!” Annoyed beyond reason Mohamara grabbed his armor and sat down cross-legged to start enchanting it.

“And to think your father thought I’d have to work to make you stand up to me like that,” Marcurio looked self-satisfied as he laid the slate on the cat’s cot.

Mohamara squinted and paused with a spool of common soul-thread in the air. “... You were deliberately pushing my tolerance?”

“Well, not deliberately in that way--you are aggressively cute, you know. But a healthy relationship starts with healthy boundaries, and communication--which I was told would a problem for you.”

One of the sleeping soldiers stirred, which drew Mohamara’s gaze for a moment before he looked back to Marcurio. “Could we… talk about this without an audience? Somewhere, sometime else?”

Macurio reached into his robes and retrieved a blue crystal on a fine gold chain. The crystal produced a faint vibrating whine and shined from within with magic. “Back in my university days I was learning how to do illusion magic, didn’t stick with it, but I did create this doo-dad. Once active, it creates a bubble-muffle spell. We’re inside it, and can hear each other, but no one outside can hear what we say, and vice versa.”

The tojay sighed, defeated, and went back to enchanting his armor. He started with a basic feather enchantment to reduce the weight--always a good place to start. “That’s… pretty handy.”

“Oh, it is. Especially for my line of work. But I’m certain you can do better.” The Imperial grinned to himself and put the bauble away. “So, let’s start some communicating, hmm? We’ve already got one boundary set up--no petting without asking permission.”

“No touching without permission,” Mohamara corrected. “And no going through my stuff, either.” He finally noticed his slate out of his bag and snatched it up.

“Both, entirely fair! So, let me be the first to set up a boundary on my side, okay?” Marcurio leaned forward and, with a smug grin that did not reach his eyes, said: “Don’t ask me about my relationship with my father, alright? That’s my affair, I’ve moved past it, and talking about it won’t do anything for either of us.”

“Sure, fine, whatever. No touching, no looking through each other’s stuff, no talking about your dad, seems a good way to start things.”

“Now that we have some boundaries set up, let me say something? Start a line of communication? Exchange of ideas, yadda yadda?”

Mohamara rolled his eyes and nodded. “Go ahead. But if it’s about me looking after myself, I’m doing that right now because with all the stuff the Legion wants me to work on we need to get Barbas and Clavicus Vile back together soon or I won’t have the free time.”

“I noticed, and am happy about that. But back to what I was going to say.” Marcurio leaned back against the stone wall, and the shadows from the goat-horn sconces through the room hid his face. “I’ve been told you have a bit of an… emotional problem right now. No future, perceived helplessness, and a lack of self-determination. I knew about all those things when I signed on for this match. So if you thought I’d be okay with have Daedric in-laws, but not okay with a partner who needs help working through baggage, let me say up front that it isn’t true.”

The cat looked over at him with a flat expression. “Am I supposed to believe you?”

“Have I given you a reason to distrust me?”

“Well, you did go through my things while I was asleep, and followed me across the country.” Mohamara looked at where Marcurio’s face was in the shadows and tried to retain the outrage that had prompted his outburst earlier. It didn’t work, and he ended up slouching against the wall. “But you’re also Sheogorath’s pick. He says he checked for some of the bad stuff, but not only do I actively distrust him, he’s insane. What he considers bad likely boils down to disliking cheese or something like that.”

“You two remind me of how Clavicus and his old flame used to be, back before they hit it off.” Both Khajiit and Imperial looked over to Barbas, who was looking at them as if he was a normal dog.

“Thank you for your input, talking dog Daedra,” Marcurio drawled before his voice picked up on switching Mohamara. “Well--your mother signed off on me, too.”

“Oh big fucking deal--I’ve never even met her, she died before I was born.”

There was a profound silence between the two of them, before the Imperial spoke again, utterly unable to understand what Mohamara had said. “H… how? How could that happen?”

“I’m told she was clinically dead for about two minutes before they could cut me out of her, there was a lot of blood involved, it wasn’t magical, and overall became an indicator of how my life went.”

“Ah… I’m sorry if it’s worth anything.”

“Thank you, but I have no attachment to her other than hoping she diluted some of Sheogorath’s crazy when I brought her into this process.” The feather enchantment was done, so he started to work a passive Sunfire spell into the armor to make touching it painful for an undead. “Really, with you I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’ll turn out to be a really well-hidden type of undead, or-or to worship Molag Bal and using this as a way to hurt Meridia. Or worse, you’ll pretend to be genuine and then, surprise, I get made into an offering for fucking Boethiah or something.” As he spoke, the cat stopped his soul-thread craft, pulled on his ears, and started to curl up on his side. His brain was going into overdrive of all the completely possible ways this could go wrong.

Marcurio watched this happened from the shadows, and did not move. While it was tempting to try and hug the fear out of the cat, it would be violating the boundaries they set up. “Well, let me share something to try and convince of my honesty when I say I would like for this to work. I’m a member of the Thieves Guild, and a damn good one if I say so myself.”

“Oh, thank you,” Mohamara laughed in a slightly unhinged way, “I had completely forgotten the possibility of being robbed of everything including the clothes off my back, again, and have to try and rebuild my life. Again.

“If I was going to rob you, I wouldn’t have had these made for you when the match was decided on.” The Imperial reached into his satchel and produced a narrow, rectangular blue box. “I wouldn’t have spent time and money talking with Ahkari and her caravan to learn the importance of them, or how Khajiit courtship is supposed to work.” The box was set down on the cot and slide across to Mohamara. “Which, as it turns out, involves lots of touching. So not doing that anymore.”

The cat rocked back and forth for a moment, while he got his breathing under control enough to think about what Marcurio had said. Then he noticed the box on his cot, and glanced, fearful and questioning, at the shadowed Imperial.

“Go on, they’re a present.”

Inside the box, when Mohamara finally opened it, were four earrings. One large one, featuring a garnet carved to resemble a male lion’s face mid-roar; an intricately carved silver band with a diamond as the centerpiece; a silver hope from which three smaller hoops hung each with a silver tassel; and a small gold flower with a pearl the size of a human pinky nail at the center.

“Khajiit earrings are sort of a big deal. Like, a mark of adulthood sort of thing. But overall, Khajiit are more open about wearing jewelry than other races--even Imperials. I’ve got more stuff like that to give you, but on a schedule, okay?”

“They’re lovely, thank you.” Material goods didn’t really persuade Mohamara that a plot wasn’t afoot, but they helped him believe that a robbery wasn’t going to happen at some point. “Do they mean something?”

“Well… no. I know this jeweler in Riften and asked him to make as many things as would look pretty on a Khajiit and showed him the portrait of you your father left with me. That’s the first batch.”

“... Did you pay for these?”

“Oh, course I did. I paid for them, planted them on someone I didn’t like and accused them of stealing them.”

--

According to Hadvar, when he and Mohamara met back up after catching up on much-needed sleep, Marcurio wasn’t allowed to get everywhere the cat kept finding him. But the mage was exploiting an age-old infiltration: Confidence. Go somewhere with the confidence that you belonged there and people rarely stopped you.

So, under the guise of field testing some weapon and armor enchantments in the Falkreath-Rift pass, Hadvar, Mohamara, and Barbas were allowed to leave without incident. The reason wasn’t even incorrect.

Mohamara’s armor, once fully enchanted, sported a panoply of effects. Passive sunlight passing through to damage undead that made contact, a feather effect to make it light as cloth, elemental and environmental resistances, self-repairing, and several overlapping magicka effects.

The cat had instinctively wanted to apply some magic to the earrings, but Barbas advised against it.

“These vampires Clavicus has attracted to his shrine… they’re desperate. They’ve been suffering from the curse for so long they aren’t all themselves anymore. Givin’ them as few avenues as possible to hurt ya is how we’re going to get out of this fresh as daisies.”

“Thank you, uncle Barbas,” Mohamara drawled as he switched out the Legion leather boots for his own Red Shoes outside Helgen’s walls. Immediately the enchantment sprung to life on sensing Barbas’ need for help.

“No problem!”

“I still can’t believe the dog is actually talking,” Hadvar said, amazed and profoundly disturbed. “Or that he’s your uncle. Is he cursed?”

“Ehhh, something like that? Not so bad, bein’ a dog.” Barbas sat down on the snowy ground and barked happily. “I can see the best in people like this. A lot harder to do when you’re, say, a Nord, or a Khajiit.”

“Or dashing rogues?” Marcurio’s sudden appearance alongside them gave both the cat and Nord reason to jump. Except when Mohamara jumped, it was a couple hundred feet straight up. “... Well, that wasn’t how I pictured that going.”

“I don’t think landing on his feet from that high is going to do him any favors.”

Meanwhile, still progressing upward, Mohamara’s brain went to work on solutions for the current problem: Falling and become a Khajiit pancake in the next few minutes.

“You know,” Sheogorath commented from Mohamara’s ears, “if you’d just taken a bit more after your mother, and sisters, and grown some wings this wouldn’t have been a problem. So really, you’re the one responsible for this situation.”

The tojay filed that information away for later and went back to thinking. Levitation magic seemed the most likely way out or teleportation magic. Both advanced forms of Mysticism that were going to be covered in the next semester.

“The solution is simple, son. You already know this magic business is all about delusion. So just learn to stop worrying and love the lie.”

Of course, the literal god of madness would tell him to embrace mental illness. But… he wasn’t wrong. The cat had mused on the connection between Mysticism and effects technically of other schools before, and now he had a life-or-death situation to think of it.

So, he dove into sympathetic bonds and set up a new bond. There was a certainty, absolute certainty, that when standing on the ground you wouldn’t fall through. He tapped into that certainty just as his forward momentum was overcome by the force of gravity.

And he stopped falling. The cat stood on the air as if it was a completely flat but solid surface. The effect seemed to become unstable when the cat waved his hand through the air around his feet, but seeing that there was nothing there had no effect. He hesitantly took a step forward and found the air supported him there too. And the same with the second.

‘I can fly,’ the cat thought to himself. The natural response to this was, of course, to go completely mad and test the limits of this new field of magic.

Far below, the Legate in charge of the Falkreath Legion looked up with his spyglass and saw the conscript General Tullius had sent him walking, running, and jumping on the air. The cat would vault over things that weren’t there, or move about as if on a climbing frame.

He soon ceased his spyglassing and decided he needed a stiff drink of juniper berry mead. “Mages,” he sighed, half in wonder and half in exasperation.

“Isn’t there something a certain ungrateful mortal should be saying to their loving parent right now?”

Mohamara paused to catch his breath after spending some time bouncing on trampolines that weren’t really there. “Thank you, this is literally the best thing you have ever done for me.”

Sheogorath’s voice in his ears sounded like it was crying, but Mohamara knew that to be an act. “At long last… my baby boy stops being an ungrateful mortal and can become a functional, deluded, member of the family.” And as quickly as it came, the weepy Sheogorath left. “Ooh, is that a dragon?”

Mohamara looked around, and sure enough, found an ungainly winged figure flying near his elevation on the Rift side of the pass… heading toward him. “Yeah, that’s a dragon. Time to go.” The cat let himself start falling again and slid on a slope that wasn’t really there to keep his momentum down.

Imagine the surprise of the three adventurers below when, long after he should have come down, and long after both Marcurio and Barbas resigned to being annihilated by Meridia, the cat returned to Nirn like he was snowboarding on the air.

“So hey, dragon on the way,” the cat commented into their dumbfounded expressions. “Who wants to go tell the people on the wall?”

Hadvar opened his mouth to talk, but nothing came out. He thought a bit and gestured with a pointed finger like he had something to say, but said nothing. And finally, he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m… going to increase my wages in the ledger, because frankly I’m not being paid enough to put up with this.”

“That’s fair.”

--

Mohamara had to fight the urge to just leap into the air and start running on things that weren’t really there and only held off when both Hadvar and Marcurio pointed out that it would make him a target for Stormcloak archers and the Hagraven higher up the mountain.

The pass through the Jerral Mountains connected Falkreath and the Rift, and Haemar’s Shame was just past the halfway point there. With Barbas to show the most efficient ways, they soon found themselves in front of the icy cave to Clavicus’ shrine.

“So, what do you know about Clavicus Vile?” Marcurio asked as they made their way in.

“Daedric Prince of bargains, wishes, and overall an asshole,” Mohamara responded. Inside the cave was a vampire’s thrall archer. But the man went limp when the cat dispelled the magic keeping his mind enslaved. “He uses mortals as amusement, twists his deals into including nasty surprises, and overall leverages things so that he gets what he wants, and the mortals get nothing. At least, that’s how I’m told he used to be.”

“Used to be?”

Even Hadvar, who had decided that after a cat flying through the air and seeing a living dragon fly through the sky that nothing could surprise him anymore found the idea strange.

“Well, you know how in Morrowind people view Boethiah and Mephala positively despite the… personalities of those two? It was sort of like that where I grew up. Clavicus Vile was still a jerk and he didn’t keep the spirit of his agreements, but he tended to avoid killing people for fun.” No one quite knew why the change happened--just that five thousand years ago relative to Mohamara’s time, Clavicus Vile started to become nice, relative to how he was before. But then being stabbed in the kidney could be considered nice compared to Clavicus Vile in his heyday.

“Hold up,” Marcurio stopped them as they passed out of the entrance cavern into an ice tunnel. He crouched down and indicated a spot of ice ahead of them. “That’s an illusion-guarded trap.”

Mohamara felt out the bonds of the ongoing magical effect and dispelled them, revealing a metal pressure plate clear as day in front of them.

“Now, watch this.” The thief-mage reached out and carefully touched the edge of the metal plate. From where he touched, the metal began to corrode and crack, rusting and then falling apart like chalk. When the Imperial stood up, the plate was basically a mess of rusted metal on the ground. “Alteration combined with Destruction, give it a try sometime.”

Hadvar, with his enchanted shield, led the way into the next room, an icy room with a wooden ramp from the hall to the floor. They passed by a wall of spikes, likely tied to the pressure plate, and entered the room. Barbas immediately lept off the ramp and bit an invisible person that had been lurking at the bottom.

Her pained scream was cut off by Marcurio and Mohamara firing projectiles where her head was--a bolt of lightning and ball of sunlight respectively. Once Barbas had bitten her, the invisibility effect weakened enough for her outline to become visible.

The rest of the cavern went similarly to that. Barbas would rush ahead and attack something, Marcurio and Mohamara would blast it, and Hadvar would take on anything tough enough to survive.

Hadvar seemed surprised the first time he swung his sword, and outright decapitated an Orc raised as a zombie by a vampire. “Is it… weird that I enjoyed that?”

“Destroying undead is supposed to be fun,” Mohamara told him with cheer.

“I thought all Nords enjoyed fighting,” Marcurio drawled, and was promptly elbowed in the groin by Mohamara.

Barbas barked happily and jumped off a ledge to bite the nose off a vampire in the pit below.

“I’m surrounded by madmen,” Hadvar decided and muttered a prayer to Mara for mental fortitude.

They continued through the cavern until they started to reach a spot where there was more stone than ice on the walls and floor. And, most peculiarly, a small stream of water. However, the next interruption came from a pair of giant, dog-sized grey spiders that rose up and shook their legs and fangs in the direction of the party to ward them off.

“Well, there’s no way to get around them and still make progress,” Hadvar commented. He sheathed his sword and pulled out his bow, ready to shoot the giant arachnids with the magic weapon.

“No! No, no, no!” Marcurio lept in front of him and waved his hands in a negative gesture. “They’re clearly pets, kept by the vampires to dispose of bodies. Frostbite spiders that are accustomed to people handling them are rare, and I know how to do it. Just let me handle this, okay?” The Imperial quickly ran back the way they’d come and came back dragging a corpse behind him.

He approached the spiders with the corpse offered, and steadily the frostbite spiders lowered their warning signs and let him set the corpse between them. Afterward, the spiders went to work cocooning the dead Breton and ignored the party altogether.

“Once I’m done with this, I’ll be coming back for you two,” the Imperial cooed like he was talking to a pair of babies. “Oh, I can’t wait to put you with the others, and see how big you can grow!”

“... What?” Mohamara actually felt a bit afraid of the man hearing this. “You’ll… what?”

“Hmm? Oh, I keep several frostbite spiders back in Riften as pets. The Hold is practically brimming with the things. And,” he looked so utterly smug it made Mohamara wonder if perhaps he was mad, “I’ve made a successful, legitimate, business out of collecting their silk and spinning it into clothes.” He plucked at the yellow mage robes he wore. “The best, and only, source of silk in all of Skyrim!”

“You… keep man-eating spiders around as pets, and make clothes from their webs?” Hadvar actually took a step away from Marcurio, his face horrified. “You’re mad!”

“So was the first man to see a horse and decide to jump on its back.” Marcurio shrugged. “They’ll let us go, just don’t touch their meal.”

Hesitantly, Mohamara, Barbas, and Hadvar did as Marcurio instructed and simply walked around the spiders. The Imperial leaned down to talk to the cat as he passed.

“You don’t have… a thing against spiders, do you? Your father didn’t mention it, but it's impossible for fathers to know everything about their sons.”

“No,” Mohamara sighed and tried not to listen to the sounds of the frostbite spiders injecting their venom into the cadaver. He rapidly invented a topic to discuss to avoid the real one: That even those small spiders could easily eat him if they wanted. “Just… it makes me wonder where we’ll be living. I have a lot of land in Haafingar, and, presumably, you have a house in Riften. Or a lair. Or something.”

“Did you know you’ve stopped wondering when I’m going to be ending my vacation?” Sheogorath commented from inside Mohamara’s ears. “You probably haven’t noticed it, but I just wanted to let you know you’re beginning to accept that going back home might not ever happen!”

“Ooh, property in Haafingar would be wonderful.” Marcurio’s eyes practically lit up with the possibilities. “But I personally think that we should discuss that after we’ve helped the Prince, don’t you?”

Barbas answered for them and lept out of the tunnel into a mostly stone room. The biggest feature here was a statue of a horned young man, holding a stone mask aloft. Strangely, the statue was off-center, and the pictured man’s free hand looked like it had once been resting on something.

When the last three vampires were dead, and the last thrall freed of her slavery it was time to call upon the Prince. Hadvar explored behind the statue and found a stone chest full of loot, which in turn brought Marcurio’s attention.

However, Barbas and Mohamara stayed behind, with the dog laying down in front of the statue, and the cat reaching up to call upon its master. “Clavicus Vile, Lord of Wishes, Giver of Gifts, I beseech you with a request.”

There was no great, dramatic entrance. Only a warm wind and a smell like candy and rotting flesh that passed over Mohamara before a nasally, but still charming, voice joined Barbas’ in his head. “Well, let’s hear it. Since you generously helped me to grant my last worshipper’s request, I do owe you.”

“Was that why you had them come after me, Lord?”

“Hmm? No, that was for that little secret you let slip a while ago, kitty cat.” The disembodied Prince laughed like he was forcing it. “Princes like me, who aren’t doing so well, can’t afford to have knowledge like that floating around, you see? It gives mortals foolish notions.

“Hey, you probably want to get to the meat of the issue,” Barbas cut in. “Clavicus sounds like he’s run out of chocolate again.”

“I have not you wretched, flea-ridden mongrel!”

Mohamara considered the situation, and what he knew of Clavicus Vile. Straight up asking for the Prince to take the dog back would likely end up with a flat refusal. So he had to be clever. He had to do something unexpected… he had to think like Sheogorath.

“I do have a wish for you to grant, Lord Vile,” Mohamara declared. “But first I must ask you questions, to see if it is suitable for one as great and generous as you.”

“You know, that’s actually very thoughtful of you,” Clavicus Vile responded with clear appreciation. “So many mortals summon me up for stupid things that I have no choice but to twist it around and make some fun. Ask away!”

“First… why is your faithful hound not at your side?”

The Prince’s disembodied voice scoffed. “Because I remembered that I don’t need him, that’s what! I’m still a Prince of Oblivion… even with most of my power gone… and… and unable to do much, even in my shrines….”

Barbas whined, and Mohamara asked his next question. “Barbas tells me that someone, somewhere, has recently done a grand gesture on your behalf, and it sparked your argument. Is this true?”

My affairs are none of your concern, mortal.” There was some silence before the Prince spoke up again, sounding a bit lovey-dovey which frankly terrified Mohamara to imagine. “But yes. I… I used to have a thing going on with this spectacular mortal, you might know them, doesn’t really matter. We cut it off because Azura kept throwing a fit. Said I was too good for a mortal.”

“Would you tell me about them, my lord?”

And so Clavicus Vile told Mohamara about a hermaphrodite Dunmer born to a netchiman’s wife. A student of Fa-Nuit-Hen, a poet, a legendary warrior, a friend and betrayer, a father and kinslayer, a conqueror of many Daedric Princes and a god of mortal make. He told Mohamara the story of Vivec.

“...And then they, thy banished her out of the mortal realm! And the way they did it, oh-my-goodness it was so perfect! I mean, I know she’s your grandma and all, but she’s also sort of a bitch who had it coming.” Clavicus Vile had forgotten that Mohamara was someone he wanted dead, and spoke freely about his issues. The cat could feel Barbas pulling on the Prince through their connections, even when banished, to work his influence into Vile.

“It sounds like you love them, Lord Vile. And that they, after so very long, love you too.”

Marcurio and Hadvar were dividing up the treasure they had found in the chest--most likely offerings to Clavicus that had built up over centuries.

“Yeah… yeah, I think they do too. It’s so… weird to think that despite what happened, they still care, you know? We didn’t have the cleanest breakup, you see.”

It was frankly a bit annoying to keep his arms up in the pose of beseeching for so long. But the cat didn’t complain and risk spoiling Vile’s good mood. “And it sounds like Azura can’t stop you anymore, either.”

“You bet your furry arse she can’t! Ha! She probably still can’t even fix her own damned artifact after that.”

“Then why aren’t you with them right now?”

The question seemed to stun the Prince, who floundered--looking for words. “I-I, I don’t have to explain myself to you, mortal! Why for asking such a stupid question I ought to… I oughtta….”

Barbas glanced over to Mohamara and the cat guessed the dog Daedra was doing his best to melt Vile’s sudden outrage.

“W-what if they’re… mad at me?” Rage was replaced with anxious, near-crying, worry. “It’s been thousands of years, and-and I haven’t said anything to them! How can I go to them and-and expect things to go back to the way they were?”

“My Lord, do you doubt that they still love you?”

The Prince’s disembodied voice sniffed loudly, enough for the humans to stop and stare like Vile was trying to control himself from actually crying. “No….”

“Do you no longer love them?”

“No!”

“Do they know that?” Mohamara’s question seemed to stop Vile dead in his tracks. Even Barbas lifted up his head in surprise. “I’ve asked enough questions, my lord. Would you hear my wish?”

“S-sure, whatever.” The Prince seemed dazed by Mohamara’s last question.

“I wish for you to go to Vicec, and tell them how much you love them. I wish for you to try and find happiness with them as you did in the past.”

“...Y-you’re tricking me, you can’t--I can’t. I can’t go where Vivec is because I’d need Barbas.”

“Your hound is here, and he still obeys his master even when it hurts him to do so.”

The dog Daedra sat up and barked once at the statue. “Just say the word, Clavicus,” the dog’s nasally voice came into the mortal minds. “I’ll be right there.”

“... You're sure? You want to use your wish… on me?” Clavicus, it seemed, could not refuse a wish that gave him what he wanted, even if he had been so upset by it to split himself apart.

“You are my uncle, my lord. If it makes you happy, it is what I want.”

The Daedra of twisting wishes found he couldn’t twist this wish as he had others. Both parties wanted the same thing, there was no way to have only one party come out of this with what they wanted. Unbeknownst to either of them, Clavicus’ Sphere of Wishes began to expand from this development and would keep doing so for eleven thousand years.

“Al-alright. Alright! Yeah! I’m going to go over there, and tell them how I feel! Barbas, what in the pit are you still doing there?! Get up here, we’ve got places to be!”

The dog Daedra vanished in a bubble of Daedric fire, which caused Hadvar to jump and knock over the carefully divided stack of gems and gold he and Marcurio had been building. A second bubble of Daedric fire appeared, and there was suddenly a dog statue, next to Clavicus’.

Clavicus’ presence vanished and was replaced with the icy chill of the cavern. At long last, Mohamara lowered his arms and stumbled over to sit with the humans. “By the Green Room, he’s like an omnipotent teenager. Oy vey.”

--

Marcurio left for Riften after the loot was divided again, with the two frostbite spiders following behind him on weird leashes. He left with the promise to be coming by again to further the courtship, and bring more presents. Frankly, Mohamara was glad that the Imperial had honored his word and didn’t touch the cat again without first asking permission, and that he could get back to work.

Well, mostly get back to work.

Using the ability to imagine things into being real enough to interact with made things so much easier to do in general. Did he need a cup for a drink? Imagine it. Did he need a tool that wouldn’t be invented for thousands of years for enchanting? Imagine it.

And the ability to just use tojay jump height to quickly get high into the air made a good way to get away for relaxing or finding a pleasant view to eat his lunch.

On one such occasion, the Khajiit had a unique treat of watching a cloud pass by close to him while he was eating a grilled salmon on a stick. And it became even more unique when the cloud stopped passing by.

It roughly looked like an elf head, with the pointy ears, and half of it was lit by the sun while the other was shadowed. But when glowing eyes appeared out from the ‘head’, Mohamara put it together that he wasn’t actually seeing a cloud.

”You have done me a peerless kindness,” said the cloud of Vivec in a resonating voice. ”You, who has helped my ally, has become my friend; and you, who helped my love, deserves a reward.”

A glowing pink sphere flew out of one of cloud-Vivec’s eyes and hovered close to Mohamara in the sky. “Um… thank you, my lord?”

”With this gift, I am no longer a god talking to a mortal. With this gift, we are truly, finally, kin. As you have done a kindness for me and mine, I give Kindness… to you.” The sphere moved again and phased through the Khajiit to stop inside his chest.

He almost threw up from the wave of nausea that hit him and had to force his mouth closed to avoid spitting salmon all over himself. The stripes on Mohamara’s fur changed color, from dark black and brown to pastel pink, with similar transitions happening on the backs of his ears, and the lines surrounding his eyes. But because of the urge to not throw up, Mohamara didn’t realize this at first.

”May your kindness help others as it has helped me and mine. Farewell.”

The cloud-Vivec quickly broke apart with the forces of nature acting on it once again. And after he got his nausea under control, Mohamara was able to wonder what the fuck had just happened. “Asshole could have at least waited for me to swallow my food first….”

---


Chapter Text

---
Chapter 29: An excess of Kindness

When Mohamara found out about his new… pinkness, he had a phase of ‘no one may see me, for any reason’. He walked around in a human-sized cloak and held it as close to himself as he possibly could. And overall, the Legion was content to let him be this way as long as he kept enchanting their gear.

But as usual, Yagraz wouldn’t let him stew in self-pity.

“Short-stuff, why are you denying my looking glass request?”

“I’m not decent.”

“One, I’ve known you since you were six years old. Two, I’m the one that got your stuff for you every time those punks in school swiped ‘em. Three, then put some fucking pants on.”

“...You’ll laugh at me.”

“Maybe I will, do you look stupid?”

“I don’t know? I think I do, but I haven’t let anyone see me since it happened.”

“Wait--since what happened?” Yagraz’s end of the line brought with it the sound of her standing up and picking up her gear. “Did someone slash your face or something? You’re at Helgen, right? I’m on my way--and if you point out who did it, I’ll--”

The cat, realizing the building momentum of Yagraz’s ‘someone’s gonna die’ setting, quickly accepted the last pending looking glass request. With the brightness on his slate down to the minimum, it didn’t really cast enough light to overcome the shadow from his overlarge cloak. “If I show you… you promise not to laugh.”

Yagraz, who was still putting on her armor despite the looking glass session, gave him a look. A look for clarification.

Mohamara flipped back the hood, and let her see the new him. The initial pinkening had only been a prelude as things started to change. When he opened his mouth Yagraz recoiled at the sight of his new fangs, considerably larger than they had been before. He looked rather like a miniature sabrecat in the teeth department. All of his pink stripes were accompanied by lines of pale blue-gray and pale lime green, with the former sweeping off from the main pink stripe in organic curves while the latter did so in jagged lines.

The Orc woman said nothing as she looked at him, in ever-increasing confusion. So Mohamara chatted to fill the silence. “I… I think I finally hit the Daedric puberty thing or had it happen to me? There’s… been a few developments since we talked last time.”

The Companion sighed and returned to her chair. “Tell me everything.”

And so he did. He told her of meeting Marcurio, and of course, she wanted to know if he was handsome. Mohamara evaded the question by discussing the march to Falkreath, and helping Clavicus Vile, and meeting Vivec.

“...And since then, I’ve been hearing or seeing things. Sympathetic connections automatically form around me. This girl from the village wanted to learn how to sing, so I stopped what I was doing and went to teach her what I knew from the bard’s college. And-and I don’t know why, I did. I got yelled at for leaving my work unfinished! She’s been coming by every day and I run her through the breathing exercises and how to shift between keys.”

Yagraz frowned and listened to Mohamara babble on about the topic. Eventually, she snapped her fingers to get his attention again. “Short-stuff.” She sounded super-serious. “You enormous pile of salt-water taffies. You’re becoming a Daedra.”

The Khajiit squinted at her. “I… don’t feel any more connected to Oblivion. Don’t need a sigil stone to keep existing. Oh, and I don’t have any problem connecting with other people. So I’m going to say… no.”

“An Aedra then, you’re just not a mortal anymore.” She gave him a sad smile. “I know you didn’t have your heart set on the afterlife like I did, but you should probably talk to your Daedra and see if the old setup still works, hmm?”

Mohamara processed this and nodded. “Yeah… yeah, I should see about asking her on her summoning day. Still half a year off, but I can get the materials for it.”

“That’s the spirit. Now, how about you go get those earrings your hubby got you and I’ll tell you how to put them in without getting an ear infection.”

--

It took nigh on a week for Mohamara to feel comfortable enough to go without the cloak. And when he did, only the Legate made it a thing worth mentioning. And only because there were some documents that needed to be signed to prove the earrings belonged to Mohamara if they were stolen, or if his body was discovered without other identifying marks. A sketch artist had to create small charcoal pictures of them, and they were added to Hadvar’s ledger.

He had two in each ear--the lion and tasseled hoops, and the pearl flower with the diamond. And, naturally, they were enchanted--more acute hearing, an intuition effect, regeneration, and magic resistance.

Aside from the Stormcloak camp in the pass losing half its men to an attack from the Hagraven coven which most of the Helgen garrison listened to with sympathy, things were going alright.

Until Vigilants of Stendarr came to Helgen.

As it turned out, Stendarr was the patron god of the Legion and the Vigilants frequently recruited from discharged or former Legionnaires. That was the purpose of the Vigilants who had come to Helgen, to give a sermon to the garrison and let them know that if they needed a cause to fight for after their time with the Legion was done, they could find one in the Vigil.

Mohamara, naturally, wanted nothing to do with it.

“Look, if any of the Vigilants have some enchanting they need to be done, they go through you, okay?” The cat said as he hastily went looking for the human-sized cloak he’d put into storage. Hadvar stood behind him, watching this happen, with the ledger open. “At no point are any of them to come to me in person. Is that alright?”

“Well,” Hadvar started, clearly anxious about something. “I suppose I can manage that. It’s unlikely that they do have anything they need so desperately that they ask the Legion for a favor.”

The cat stopped and looked at Hadvar. It was so easy to slip into the sympathetic bonds around him that he could almost see them. Words in letters about increasing dragon attacks, how smaller settlements were being totally wiped out, and an elderly Nord woman worrying about someone out in Riverwood all came bubbling up from Hadvar’s bonds.

“You know what,” Mohamara said and abandoned his search instinctively. “How about we call it a day early, huh? You take the afternoon off and write a letter to Riverwood to tell your family as much as you can about dragons, and I’ll hide in a kettle or something.”

The Nord smiled down at him. “That’s a wonderful thought, but this is the Legion, we don’t just get to call it a day whenever we want to.”

Mohamara thought about this development for only a moment before he had a brilliant plan. He quickly went to his work table and laid one arm on it flat. “I have an idea. It should give you the time to actually go down to Riverwood and tell your family there about the dragons.”

“What are you planning to do?”

Mohamara imagined a meat cleaver in his other hand and briefly spun it around to give the delusion some weight. “I can’t enchant without both my hands and at the strength for my regeneration effect, it should take a week to grow this back.” Without pausing to actually think about what happened, Mohamara brought the cleaver down on his arm halfway between the wrist and the elbow.

There were about five seconds that passed as both Nord and Khajiit realized what had just happened. Then the screaming began.

“Why did you do that?!” Hadvar shouted while he tied a leather strap around Mohamara’s arm just above the amputation.

“It seemed the best way to let you see your family!”

The two of them shouted at each other about how perhaps amputation of a major limb was not the most optimal way to secure family visitation. And while this happened, the freshly amputated hand and arm of Mohamara began to move on its own, and scuttle away. As it did, the composition of the limb changed until it resembled a fleshy cocoon This then rolled into a dark corner where it could continue to develop undisturbed.

--

The closest thing Hadvar could do to Mohamara to keep him from similarly stupid stunts was to keep him on a fixed schedule. Aside from teaching the village children about singing, mathematics, and literacy, he would have half an hour to do things for people. As time went on it became easier to predict where the random sympathetic bonds would lead him to for solutions, and easier to fight against the bad ones.

That Yagraz continued to call him ‘stumpy’ instead of her usual short-stuff while his arm regenerated certainly motivated him in that regard.

And then came the battle for Whiterun.

The double-cohort and Falkreath Legion moved north in a rapid deployment in response to the Stormcloaks moving siege weapons onto the road from Eastmarch to Whiterun. In the end, the battle proved pointless.

The Stormcloaks had not taken into account that while the Companions were apolitical, they would fight for the protection of Whiterun Hold, and among their number was Yagraz, the only Tongue other than Ulfric Stormcloak in all of Skyrim. The two armies, plus Whiterun’s own defenses led by the Companions clashed near a mammoth graveyard and expanded on it considerably.

Mohamara heard details about the battle afterward from Yagraz. There had been, apparently, much glory to be won. But he was not permitted to join the fighting, instead, he stayed at Helgen and continued to work.

After the two and a half armies fought, it looked like the Empire would win. But a dragon decided to intervene. His name was Mirmulnir, he had long ago decided not to give his veneration to Alduin or to Akatosh, but to Hircine. The dragon hunted for the Daedra’s glory and was one of the few dragons to live out the time between the dragon war and the Fourth Era.

Yagraz had known all this because she had killed him and absorbed his soul into hers. And the Greybeards witnessed it.

The Greybeards were an order of Tongues that practiced a peculiar religion. They held that the Thu’um was a gift from the gods, and when mortals who were not Dragonborn learned it, they could only use it in dire need and only to speak of the glory of the gods. Their order would cease to exist in the Sixth Era when the Suzerain of Alinor, who ruled the first continent-wide elven empire, decided to attempt to eliminate all knowledge of the Thu’um that would not conform to his government’s view of the world.

But the order was not yet dead and they had created an earthquake across all Skyrim calling out to Yagraz with their combined thu’umme. What they intended for her on the slopes of the Throat of the World no one seemed to know, but Jarl Balgruuf had commanded her to go and find out. And there was only one path up to the Greybeard’s fortress of High Hrothgar, a spiral road up the mountain that started in the Rift town of Ivarstead. Which meant that Yagraz had to come to Helgen anyway to use the Falkreath-Rift pass.

As luck would have it, she arrived almost exactly the same time that Marcurio returned from Riften. They encountered one another in the marketplace adjacent to the Helgen Keep where Mohamara was teaching the Helgen children about silent letters. She knew Marcurio from the layer of compressed smug that surrounded him and his soul-patch. And he knew Yagraz from her being a six-foot-eight Orc and one of the Companions.

So while the cat taught his lesson to the children-- best friend and the betrothed wordlessly went to the tavern to have a talk.

For a while, they just sat at the same table and drank their juniper berry mead. Marcurio found the taste sublime and made a note to buy a bottle to bring to Maven. While she was, at best, a virago of a woman, she appreciated creativity and would probably pay the barkeep handsomely to make more mead for the Black-Briars.

Yagraz liked tasting the mead again, it reminded her of home in Dushnikh-Yal. Juniper berries grew like weeds in the Reach, so once juniper berry mead became a big thing, it was a major money-maker to grow and sell them. And the money made with that was then used to bring in the mead they’d helped to make. It was that economy that would eventually see Dushnikh-Yal outshine other strongholds in Skyrim, and become the largest Orc community in the province.

She hadn’t actually been to Dushnikh-Yal since coming to the Fourth Era and made a note to visit.

“So,” Marcurio started once his mead was half gone. “Are you going to threaten me with the ‘if you ever hurt him’ thing too?”

Yagraz didn’t want to be typical, but there was something she felt the smug Imperial needed to know. The giant Orc downed the last of her mead and called for more before talking. “Not like that, but… sorta?” She shrugged when Marcurio looked at her with a curious expression. “Yeah, if I find out you’ve been hittin’ him or turning him out for tricks, or just bein’ an asshole for the sake of bein’ an asshole, I’ll hurt ya. But then so will his dad, and his dad is way scarier than me.” Yagraz leaned forward and held her mug out for the barkeep to fill it up again. “You’re not going to be cutting me out of his life. He knows how to get ahold of me, anywhere, anytime. And he can’t hide that sorta stuff from me. If it happens, I will find out. So don’t let it happen.”

Marcurio nodded with a smile. “Perfectly reasonable. I didn’t have any intention of doing him harm, unless he asked me to,” the Imperial rapidly raised and lowered his eyebrows and Yagraz couldn’t help but smile a bit. At least the husband to be wasn’t as stiff as Mohamara. “But thank you for being upfront about that. May I ask you something?”

“Must fight the urge to be a smartass and point out you just did. Oh no.” Yagraz’s voice was totally flat before she livened up. “Go ahead.”

“When I last had a big… talk with him, he nearly went into a panic attack about all the ways that this could go wrong. Mentioned some other religions that… exploit the position I’m in. And how his father wasn’t trustworthy.” Marcurio called for more mead, and for the bottle he intended to take to Maven. “That his mother also signed off on me did nothing to convince him. Has he… not met her?”

Yagraz nodded. “What I heard was that she died while he was bein’ born, so even if she wound up in the Shivering Isles afterward he’s never met her.”

“She didn’t.” Macurio frowned at Yagraz, confused but also interested. “I met her, spoke with her, she threatened to turn me and everyone related to me by blood into craters visible from Masser and Secunda.”

“Really? Huh, I like her already. But I don’t see how--”

“He’s wearing her amulet. From what I was told he was raised in her temple on Mount Kilkreath.” All amusement was gone from Marcurio’s face as he deftly paid the barkeep far more than the mead was worth--to engender a positive response when Maven came calling. “Am I dropping enough hints?”

Yagraz stared. And she stared while she set her drink down. And she stared while in her head wheels turned until all the pieces lined up. And then she was mad. She was so mad that it felt like she was tweaking from how hard it was to keep her hands steady and how hard it was not to go on a rampage and kill everything between her and her friend. “Well,” she said with a cheerfully unhinged voice. “That would certainly help in getting him to trust you. Which is going to be necessary because I’m going to be spending the next while figuring out how to punch that woman right in her fucking face.”

The giant Orc woman downed the last of her mead and set a fistful of gold on the table before she stood and stormed out of the tavern toward the keep. Marcurio hastily grabbed another mouthful of the juniper-flavored alcohol and rushed after her. “Wait, I didn’t mean to make you so mad.”

You didn’t, slick. Short-stuff’s mom did, and ooh. The second.” She stopped, spun and pointed right into Marcurio’s face. “The literal second I find a godswife of Malacath, I’m going to ask him how to punch that woman as hard as she deserves.” People were starting to turn and stare at how much Yagraz was raising her voice the longer she talked.

“Good to see that it wasn’t just me who gets threatened with violence,” Macurio quipped.

The scene Yagraz was making ended with Hadvar approaching the two and shoving Marcurio with both hands. “Alright, sneak-thief,” Hadvar absolutely snarled, “what game are you playing at? Where did your friend take the Khajiit?”

Marcurio’s expression darkened, but he took a deep breath and adjusted his robe. “That’s your one freebie,” the mage-thief responded in an equally unpleasant tone. “Everyone gets one. Now, I haven’t even met with Mohamara since arriving here--I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“He’s tellin’ the truth,” Yagraz cut in.

Hadvar glanced at her and realized whom he was talking too. Immediately his face lit up with wonder and excitement. “Oh. Yo-you vouch for him, Companion? Alright. I guess… something else must be afoot.”

“Yeah, that tends to be how these things go, now spill the beans. What’s going on?”

Hadvar looked at each of them in turn and then the diminishing group of people watching them. “Well, an… associate of Mohamara’s betrothed,” he narrowed his eyes at Marcurio, “I don’t think I ever got your name…. Well, I know his organization’s trademark armor well enough. A woman from his organization showed up and said she was to deliver a gift of your affection.”

“If you knew whom she and I worked for, why didn’t you arrest her?” Marcurio’s dark look lightened a tad with the return of his usual smug grin. “Why haven’t you arrested me?”

“If you don’t wipe that smug look off your face, I’ll--”

Yagraz sighed and got between the two squabbling men. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, you’re both pretty. Now focus.”

“Thank you,” Marcurio gave her a shallow bow for the compliment. “Already I’m seeing problems. I wouldn’t trust half my colleagues to deliver a hat, let alone even one of the gifts I’ve arranged for my betrothed.” The mage-thief made a show of rolling his eyes. “I’ve paid enough for jewelry alone that my jeweler bought a house!”

Meanwhile, in Riften, one of the last Saxhleel jewelers in Tamriel sat on his porch on the shores Lake Honrich, while his two houseguests--both previously beggars--fished for lunch. “Perhaps I should visit the temple of Mara more,” he said to himself. “I feel like somehow, all this was possible because of her.”

Back in Helgen, Hadvar sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, the woman said that the ‘Dibellan nature’,” he added the euphemism when some children passed close to the trio, “required it be given in private. And demanded to be paid for her delivery. So I went to write up a letter of credit, and came back to find both of them gone, with signs of a struggle.”

There was a moment of silence as both Companion and thief stared at Hadvar before they both spoke at the same time: “I can’t believe you fell for that.”

“First of all,” Marcurio started to count off on his fingers, clearly incensed. “Leaving a person in my profession alone in a Legion facility is never wise. Second of all, all ‘Dibellan’ gifts should come after marriage, and after a conversation on the subject--and frankly, I’m insulted you think me the sort of person to do otherwise. And third of a, I can’t believe you fell for something like that.”

“I can’t believe short-stuff would fall for it,” Yagraz muttered, confused.

“Well, in the last few weeks, he hasn’t really been himself,” Hadvar offered as explanation, eager to get the topic off his error. “When I left he was trying to create something called ‘pizza’ and was working on the right cheese blend. But I found this note on the floor when I returned.

Marcurio snatched the note from the Legionnaire and scowled as he read it. “‘Lose something?’ And a symbol I happen to know is associated with a competitor with my guild.” He handed the note to Yagraz for her to inspect, and began to crack his knuckles. “It’s been so long since I last murdered someone, I hope that my betrothed doesn’t mind a slightly rusty rescue.”

“Don’t worry,” Yagraz offered with an understanding look. “I’ll be helping you out. Now we just need to find him.”

“We’ll just need to look for a Dark Elf woman in Thieves Guild armor, accompanied by an indecent Khajiit.” Hadvar tried to get in on the solidarity that was building but found himself subjected to two expressions demanding answers. “Um, Mohamara’s been enchanting pretty much everything he owns now. And well, everything that was enchanted was… left behind. I guess to make the kidnapping--catnapping--easier?”

--

Not too far to the north, a waify Dunmer in customized leather armor felt a bone-chilling cold sweep over her, despite there being no wind and the forests of Falkreath being some of the warmest--if dampest--places in Skyrim. “I get the feeling that my scheme’s been discovered,” she said and doubled her speed.

On her back was a fur-lined sack that had a child-sized Khajiit head sticking out the top of it, muzzled and not enjoying himself one bit.

“Don’t worry, the next dose of magicka-draining poison won’t taste as bad. Though word is you don’t like the taste of wine, so maybe it’ll end up being worse. Nothing I can do about that now.” The Dunmer woman huffed as she quickly crested a hill and was in view of Lake Ilinalta. “At least you don’t have claws so I didn’t need to put those demeaning boots and mittens on you.”

Her prisoner said nothing and just sighed.
---

Chapter Text

Marcurio's real hidden talent is the power of land development.
---
Chapter 30: Friendly Neighborhood Sneak-thief

Hadvar showed Marcurio and Yagraz to Mohamara’s workplace in Helgen keep and tried to stay out of their way while they examined the scene.

This proved not to be a good idea, as both parties rapidly became agitated.

“This is what passes for ‘signs of a struggle’? I’m going to guess that whoever did this cleaned up afterward because it’s useless.” Yagraz was certainly not impressed, either Mohamara had been utterly blindsided, or he couldn’t put up a fight worth a damn. Either was entirely possible.

“These working conditions are appalling, but to be expected with the Legion.” Marcurio dismissively froze some moss growing on the walls, and looked around some more. “There is not much else to find here, why don’t you use that secret method of communicating with him, hmm?”

The giant Orc thrust her jaw out in Marcurio’s direction. “Requires magic, which he can’t do where he is, it looks like.” She refused to tell him more details, in case he turned out to be a scumbag.

“The best things in life often do.” Something caught the mage-thief’s eye, and he bent down to examine a small hole dug into the side of the wall. Inside he spied a cocoon of pastel pink, blue-grey, and pale lime green nestled in the far corner. Immediately, his face lit up with excitement. “Ooh, I think I found something.”

Yagraz quickly abandoned looking through crates of enchanted swords to come over to where the Imperial was crouched, and Hadvar did similarly.

They did not share in Marcurio’s enthusiasm as he retrieved the cocoon. “This is a spider’s egg sac, and close to fully developed,” he cooed. “I’ve never seen this pattern before, but if the spider that made it can spin colored threads, it could be really valuable.”

The giant Orc squinted at it. “It sorta looks like short-stuff’s fur, got the same colors.”

“Huh… I guess that’s where his hand went?” Hadvar mused and then found himself being subject to an angry mage-thief’s glare. “Oh, Mohamara had an… incident and chopped off one his hands a week or so ago. It’s grown back!” The last part was added hastily as lightning began to gather in Marcurio’s free hand.

The Imperial took a deep breath and calmed down. “Alright. I’ll need to talk to him about that after the rescue. But this… tells us nothing. There’s no evidence of where they went to be found.” Marcurio looked over his shoulder and winked at Hadvar. “Good luck on telling General Tullius you lost the best enchanter in all Tamriel.”

Yagraz had to admit, watching the facial journey Hadvar went on as he processed that horrifying reality was sort of funny. “Well… maybe the Greybeards know a Shout that I can use to find him. Or we could try a scrying ritual?”

“I don’t know how to scry. But I have associates who know all the latest news across the province, and a tojay being spotted should be newsworthy.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

With an affirmative nod, the two of them went their separate ways, leaving Hadvar with a mess to clean up, both literally and metaphorically.

--

Marcurio made a stop by Riften before heading to Solitude, to drop off the presents he’d meant to give Mohamara and to get his kit. Fancy silk robes were great for impressing his betrothed, but when the time for good old skullduggery came about, Guild leathers were, unfortunately, top of the line. At least, they would be until he could see if Mohamara would be receptive to helping create better, more fashionable, options for the Guild. Marcurio’s standing rule of ‘silks or nothing’ would have to become a Guild rule someday.

So, once Marcurio had dropped off his gifts at his--to quote his betrothed--’lair’, he made for Riften. The strange cocoon he’d found in Helgen he kept with him at all times, wrapped up in a wolf pelt in his satchel, along with several vials of poison-countering potions. The new spider species could be venomous from infancy, for all he knew.

He stopped by the Black-Briar Meadery to leave the juniper-berry mead for Maven to examine when she got done patrolling the market for anything worth her time. Marcurio got the feeling, from just how much time was spent for something worth her time that she was terribly bored.

Riften, a city that had once been a beauty to rival Solitude or Whiterun, built on the shores of Lake Honrich, and surrounded by the permanently autumnal Fall Forest. Marcurio hadn’t disliked Riften when he first arrived, but he’d been distracted at the time. Once he’d gotten access to the Ragged Flagon, seen to his personal business, and joined with the Guild on a lark, he began to notice how run down and dirty the city was.

Fortunately for him, there were bandits aplenty in several of the old forts, noble castles, and caves that dotted the Rift. And the vast majority of them had outstanding warrants for their arrest. Marcurio had made the money to start up his spider-farm from rounding up these louts, bringing them back to Riften, and pocketing their ill-gotten goods for himself. The Jarl, Laila Law-Giver, had found the Cheydinhal notion of community service to reduce a prisoner’s sentence odd, at first. But the prospect of having her city cleaned cheaply had won out over his misgivings.

This ended with Marcurio, ironically, making out like a bandit while being publicly seen as someone cleaning up the Hold. Who knew beating up and stealing from criminals could be fun, rewarding, and politically advantageous? The only downside to this was that the improved economy that resulted from all his efforts ultimately benefited Ulfric Stormcloak, as the Rift could afford to essentially fund the Stormcloak Rebellion as well as feed it.

But in no time at all, the war would be over. Ulfric would be dead, the Rift would return to Imperial rule, and Marcurio would be wed to a literally divine partner. Assuming that the mystery competitor wasn’t in the snatch-and-kill business.

The thought made Marcurio pause on the wooden walkway next to the entrance to the city’s ratway tunnels. “I probably should talk to Vasha, see if anyone’s selling Khajiit in Skyrim.” If the catnapper was in that business, Vasha, the largest buyer and seller of ‘Molagian’ services in the Province would know about it. “Someone should really put a knife in Vasha at some point--but he’s just so charming.”

The ratways were in the process of being cleaned by several ‘community servicers’ so half of it looked damp but well-kept while the other half was overgrown with moss, missing stones in the walls, and filled with skeever nests. Marcurio didn’t hold out hope that the Jarl would ever consent to have them clean the Ragged Flagon, but at least the path there wouldn’t smell of mildew.

The Flagon was built out of an old section of the cistern, disconnected from the pipes so that it could be used as a place of business. A tavern, in the least readily available place in the city, built partially over a deceptively deep pool of water. Rumor was that the barkeep, Vekel the Man, kept slaughterfish in the pool to dispose of bodies of troublemakers. While the Flagon wasn’t popular with the general populace, it was the best place for scoundrels and guards on the take to meet and do business.

Scoundrels such as Delvin Mallory, local information broker, a senior member of the Thieves Guild, and self-proclaimed master of the ‘personal touch’. Marcurio had significantly dropped in Delvin’s esteem since the mage-thief had his personal business sorted, but Marcurio didn’t mind the Breton’s attention focused elsewhere. Except when he might have information.

“Hmm?” The bald, half-drunk, cutpurse considered after Marcurio brought up the information. “The Guild hasn’t done any work in kidnapping for over twenty-five years, and no one’s been able to do it as organized as we have since then neither.” He spoke in a heavy Riften accent, the Ivarstead variant, but Marcurio could find little inconsistencies in his portrayal to know it was put on. “We used to have a bonny lass take care of those jobs, a specialist in non-lethal poisons, ya see, but she an’ the guild had a fallin’ out.”

“Is she dead,” Marcurio asked as if he were speaking of a far more pleasant topic.

“Oh, I bet she wishes she was.” Delvin had himself a good chuckle. “An’ hey, Mercer might just start to like ya iffin you can put a blade in ‘er. Speaking of puttin’ blades in things, how’s that pretty little thing you were gettin’ all them nice presents for?”

Marcurio deftly tapped Delvin on the hand. There was a brief arc of electricity, and suddenly Delvin was on the ground, spasming. In the distance Vex, the burglar specialist and frequent target of Delvin’s advances laughed once before returning to her drink.

“Gods above you’re touchy about that subject,” Delvin muttered once he could speak and move on his own again. “Look, Mercer wants a word with you anyway. Go talk to ‘im, mention this kidnapping thing, and maybe he’ll have some info to share.”

“For the record,” Marcurio commented as he stood from the bar. “The electrocution only happened because I know that you still refuse to believe that Mohamara’s a guy.”

“No male Khajiit alive has cheekbones like that!”

In retrospect, it was a bad idea to share Mohamara’s portrait with the Guild, but at the time Marcurio had been too excited to think straight.

Behind the Flagon, behind the false back of a wardrobe held together with string and his coworker’s anxiety was the proper city cistern, where the Thieves Guild made their base. At least the pool of water in the center of the chamber had a four-way bridge to allow passage, so it was an improvement over the Flagon.

However, Marcurio knew for a verifiable fact that there were slaughterfish in the cistern.

All along the edges of the pool were the junior members of the guild in their brown and grey armors. Marcurio had lifted a special, strongly enchanted, set of Thieves Guild armor from a splinter faction of the Guild that had tried to become competitors in Eastmarch. This let him stand out from the crowd despite being a junior member himself.

Directly opposite the entrance was the ‘office’ of the Guildmaster, Mercer Frey. A weasel-faced sourpuss of a man. The years of hardship for the guild had beaten whatever jolliness had existed in the man firmly out. He had no seat at his desk right next to the Guild Vault, he stood there for hours on end.

Marcurio almost envied his dedication if he didn’t feel sorry for the man’s lower back.

“Good, you’re back.” Mercer snapped his fingers as Marcurio approached and indicated for the Imperial to stand in front of him. “It isn’t difficult to tie the sale of Goldenglow Estate and the financial backer behind Honningbrew together by their symbol. Thus it is safe to say that the Guild isn’t under some hypothetical curse, but we’re being worked against.”

“Actually, I have news about--” Marcurio started but was cut off by Mercer slamming his desk with his hand.

“I am not done speaking.” The Breton glared at Marcurio until the Imperial sighed and relented. “Now, one of the names from the documents you retrieved has an alias for one of our suppliers. Gulum-Ei, an Argonian who works in the East Empire Company warehouse in Solitude. I want you to go there, and see what he knows. Talk to Brynjolf if you need more information.” There was a moment of silence after the Guidlmaster talked, during which neither man moved. “You have something to say?”

“As I was saying, I have news about our competitor.” Marcurio crossed his arms and slouched, sure that Mercer would appreciate the information. “I’ve got their gender, race, a physical description, and some insight into their skill set.”

The Breton squinted so much that Marcurio could only tell he hadn’t closed his eyes from the faint glints of light. “Speak.”

“Dark Elf, female, described as incredibly thin, and has skills in kidnapping.”

Mercer’s eyes widened and then proceeded to bulge out of his skull without his expression changing much at all. He gripped the desk so hard that the wood creaked. “Karliah,” he spat the word like it was the worst word of curse he could imagine. “She’s finally returned.” The man stood up straight and pinched the bridge of his nose. “This does not change the assignment--go to Solitude, find out what Galum-Ei knows. But let it slip that we know Karliah is involved.”

“Before I go--if I encounter this Karliah, would you like her brought back to you charbroiled, lightning struck, or on ice?”

Mercer scoffed and returned to leaning on his desk. “Whatever hurts the most.”

“Charbroiled it is!”

--

A year ago, Faldar’s Tooth had been a ruin. A military fort that eventually became an air-quotes ‘castle’, and then became a ruin after the heavy taxation of Hosgunn Crossed-Daggers. When Marcurio had found it, it was a bandit camp that was host to pit fights with captured wolves. And when his fame became well enough to buy property, the old fort was perfect for his needs.

With Morrowind and Cyrodiil doing poorly, there was a steady flow of both Nibenese and Dunmer coming into Skyrim. However bad the civil war was, it was clearly safer than the madness in their home provinces. These refugees found work and housing in the Tooth and nearby Goldenglow Estate. Between the money being made by the Tooth’s spider-farms and Goldenglow’s honey production, a settlement was starting to form.

Marcurio wondered if his father saw this would he still call his son a glorified cutpurse? The Guild was a hobby, something to spice up his life, but the work going on at the Tooth was something Marcurio could see becoming the core of a life’s work. At least, once the Tooth was repaired and remodeled into a proper castle, and not whatever the Nords called a castle it would be.

Imagine his surprise when he passed through the tents and the in-construction houses that he found no work going on at the Tooth. He’d only meant to stop buy to let his staff know he’d be gone for at least a month going to and from Solitude, and instead would have to pull the ‘big scary boss’ routine. Ugh.

Just past the Tooth’s construction area, he found several of his workers gathered around three men in Imperial scout uniforms, in various states of injury. “What’s all this, folks?”

The Dunmer forewoman of the construction crew, Danayns Tilvothan, glanced over to Maruciro and jerked her head over to the scene. “These fools were running scared from the Imperial camp up near the mountains,” she told him when he approached. “They say a dragon’s decided to roost at Autumnwatch Tower and attacked the camp.”

The three Legion Scouts were quick to confirm her information as true. Marcurio scowled and considered this. From what he’d overheard of Mohamara’s information dump to the Legion, dragons could range for hundreds of miles within a given territory and only the orders of a ‘Thur’, an overlord, could force them into greater population density. This meant that most likely the dragon would eventually decide to predate upon the Tooth.

And that the Empire’s problems became Marcurio’s problems yet again.

“What shall we do with them?” Danayns crossed her arms and gave a red-eyed glare at the scouts. “By the Jarl’s decree, all Imperial soldiers are to be executed on sight.”

“You know, you’re right.” Marcurio nodded solemnly to Danayns while the scouts began to plead for mercy. “If there were any Imperial soldiers here, we would have to kill them. If the soldiers had foolishly ran east when the Empire’s territory was west of their position, that would be a tragic mistake on their part. Why from here it would take them….” Marcurio paused to look at their injuries before continuing his hypothesis, “about eight days to get to Helgen.” He totally ignored the baffled scouts and snapped his fingers to issue a semi-official decree. “Alright gents, everyone go down to the basement and find an implement with which to kill any Legion soldiers that you see.”

The motley mix of Dunmer and Nibenese Imperials all abandoned their positions in front of the soldiers to enter the Tooth. All three of them stared in bemused horror at the mage-thief while he shrugged his shoulders at them.

“I’m sorry guys. Jarl’s law and all. I’d love to be able to tell you that you could find eight days worth of supplies and healing potions, easily, in that shed right over there,” he pointed at it, because he didn’t trust the intelligence of Legionnaires that ran the wrong direction in enemy territory. “I’d love to be able to tell you that the key is hidden under the lamp on that barrel next to the window. But I can’t tell you because then you’d run away. And if you run away, then my people went and got those weapons to kill you with for nothing.” Once more, he shrugged then turned on his heel and walked toward the Tooth’s main entrance himself. Fortunately, the three scouts picked up on the super fucking obvious hints Marcurio had dropped and were running for the shed.

Marcurio made his way down to the old arena where wolves would be made to fight to the death for sport one year prior. Now it was the site of the silk-weavers who turned spider-silk into thread and then into yards of silk to be sold across Skyrim. In a few weeks time the first full-time tailors for the Tooth would arrive from Morrowind, and then they could begin to fashion clothes of their own.

In the old cashier’s cage was the steward of the keep and the settlement outside, an elderly Dunmer man who wrote in the settlement’s ledger with tortoise-like slowness.

“Ganoi,” Marcurio said into an old Nord warhorn so that the steward could hear him even with his hearing loss. “I’ll be gone for a month, do you have enough gold to cover that?”

Long after Marcurio finished talking, Ganoi Nilereloth finished entering a ‘four’ into the ledger and looked up at him and nodded slowly. The poor man had had his tongue cut out as a boy, and Marcurio had only recently hired an Alchemist who could make regeneration potions. By the time the mage-thief got back, the mummed Dunmer might be at one-hundred percent for his twilight years.

“Alright, good. You’re in charge until I get back.”

Marcurio was long gone to check on the status of several yards of velvet before leaving by the time Ganoi gave him a thumb’s up to indicate he’d heard the order.

--
The dragon that had previously roosted in Autumnwatch Tower tore a trench in the ground as it was brought down to Nirn. It was a frost dragon, primarily white in color with intimidating black spines along its backbone and a mix of grey and white for its wings. At the time, its coloration was marred by several scorch marks of varying size.

“So, here’s an idea,” Marcurio commented as he literally skipped around the dragon with fire trailing from his hands and a magical glow in his eyes. “I’m going to guess you’re either new to existing or found a way to come back into existence after being dead. Neither of those things should endear you to being dead.”

The dragon breathed heavily as it forced itself out from the pile of dirt that had buried its head. Frost dragons, as it turned out, were weak to fire. And while Marcurio’s specialty was lightning, he had a natural gift with explosions.

“I’ll make you an offer. You come to work for me, and I won’t kill you.” He easily lept away when the dragon snapped at him. “Going to have to be quicker than that! And, you know I can kill you. You have to, I mean I just blasted you out of the sky within seconds of you leaving your roost. How could you not see how this fight would go if we kept it up?”

But the dragon refused to submit and breathed a wintry gale down at the Imperial. Fortunately, the dragon couldn’t turn the Shout quickly enough to keep up with Marcurio skipping around it. And a fireball to the side of the jaw put an end to the Shout, leaving the dragon exhausted on the ground.

“So what’s it going to be? Die free, or live in servitude for a while?”

At last, the dragon spoke. “Foolish joor. I am free neither way. Either I die to Alduin Thuri later or die to you now. Death is certain either way.” It panted from the wounds that covered its body, ice-blue eyes glinting with fury.

“Let me rephrase, then.” Marcurio grinned like a madman and gathered a ball of fire in his hand while he stood out of lunging range for the dragon. “Now, or later?”

The dragon continued to pant, and looked into the mortal’s eye and found therein something familiar, a look not unlike some of its kin. But it was only freshly brought back to life--the wind under its wings had been too gentle, and the scent of Keizaal too sweet. It could not bear to be parted from that again. “...Later.”

Fire instead became healing light as the dragon’s wounds were reversed. Were it a more vicious thing, like Od-Ah-Viing, perhaps it would have tried to attack again. But it felt… respect for how the mortal had torn it from the sky in literal seconds after issuing the challenge.

“Glad to have you with us…?”

“Kip-Gol-Sik,” the dragon hissed.

“Ah! A dragon name I can actually pronounce, how wonderful.”

---

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 31: Maw--Wrath--Build

High Hrothgar was a fortress built into the slopes of Kyne’s sacred mountain--the Throat of the World. From what Yagraz could gather from small stone shrines built into the side of the mountain, there had been a big ideological debate over the use of the Thu’um when the monastery was created--namely that ancient Tongues faced their first defeat and had an existential crisis about it. Clearly, there were no Orc Tongues at the time or all that crap would have been beaten out of them like impurities out of steel. She could respect using the Voice only in emergencies, or use it exclusively to honor the gods. What she couldn’t respect was committing to pacifism after one defeat.

But that was a beef to settle with the founder of the order, probably long dead by even the Fourth Era. Those who had come to the order afterward were free of blame in that regard.

Back in the Twenty-First Era, the Thu’um was another aspect of magic to be taught. It technically branched off of Mysticism since it shouted the concept of things into existence and allowed for magical effects that only Mysticism could reproduce. But the practice was heavily regulated as a result, and Yagraz could only afford to license for one Thu’um. She went with a good, versatile Shout that would serve her well in a fight and at home.

Good old Yol-Toor-Shul. Great for barbecues, clearing the sidewalk of snow, and drying clothes on top of the applications for violence.

It had taken her ages to learn the metaphysical concepts well enough to have fine control of the Shout, which was why her being Dragonborn was such a surprise. Normally Dragonborn learned the components of a Shout instinctively, there was even an advanced course exclusively for Dragonborn at Jorrvaskr, but no Dragonborn had been around for centuries to take it.

This, in turn, made her wonder if the technique Malacath had taught her to Break the Dragon had caused a change in her. She’d have to ask Malacath on his summoning day.

But that was far away, and at the present, she still had over three thousand steps to climb to reach High Hrothgar. On her back was an additional pack of supplies for the Greybeards, because they relied on charitable donations from the people below. The same people they isolated themselves from by living on the Throat of the World in the first place--the same people whose suffering they would ignore in favor of their own spirituality.

The Companion paused on the road to take a deep breath. She had to let the millennia-old discourse about the Greybeards go, or she’d risk exploding on people who perhaps not even aware there was an issue. However, there was a brief outlet for her aggression when she encountered a frost troll--a lumbering triclopian animal rather like an ape of some kind, with powerful regenerative abilities that could only be diminished with fire.

Fire Yagraz was happy to provide. The heat from her Shout melted all the snow within fifty feet and perhaps would have started an avalanche had the area not been particularly rocky. All too soon, the troll was dead and Yagraz had to go back to brooding while she walked the seven-thousand-steps.

Skjor was dead. He had taken a whelp with him, a strong Nord woman named Uthgerd, with him to help clear out the bandits at Gallows Rock at the request of the Eastmarch nobleman that owned it. Everyone in the Circle knew it was a Silver Hand hideout, so Aela and Yagraz had been sent as reinforcements. What they didn’t know was that the Silver Hand also had a new recruit--Krev the Skinner. A Redguard sword saint, who took the veteran Companion down with ease.

Uthgerd was mighty, and she had rage inside her that Yagraz respected. And with Skjor gone she was alone and surrounded by enemies--ironically, the best place for a berserker. When Aela and Yagraz had arrived, it was to block the escape of close to two dozen fleeing Silver Hand, being pursued by an angry redheaded Nord. When they asked her how Skjor had died, she had only one thing to say: “I used a shield, he didn’t.” And sure enough, when they found him, his wounds reflected that.

Krev the Skinner was found nearby with her face identifiable, and a nick in her silver sword that corresponded to a fresh mark in Uthgerd’s skyforge steel shield. That Yagraz’s sword-and-board style was vindicated did little to overcome the sting of a lost shield-brother. Skjor’s death was made all the more painful by the battle of Whiterun that happened less than a week later, and the glory of fighting and killing a dragon.

Mirmulnir’s bones and scales were given to Adrianne Avenicci, the steward’s daughter; Yagraz had the benefit of history to know exactly whom would figure out how to make arms and armor from dragon components. Adrianne was a blacksmith by trade, and because Eorlund’s sons had no skill with the forge, eventually to have the honor of working the Skyforge. While Yagraz had skill with metal, it was several thousand years too early to be useful as a blacksmith. Welding, machining, and airship mechanic work wouldn’t be useful until that Altmer out in Markarth invented the airship in two hundred years or so.

But if dragons continued to show up, eventually Adrianne would make the key breakthrough and earn her place as the Companions’ smith. Ideally, before old Eorlund died so his pride could chafe against the Colovian’s rampant humility and his sons could cry foul about a woman showing them up. Then their sister would finally have a reason to complain about sexism in Whiterun.

Imagining the drama that would unfold when that eventually came to pass kept Yagraz properly distracted until she stood before the grandiose monastery on the side of Kyne’s sacred mountain. She dropped the goods off in the black iron chest out front and made her way up the stairs. A monastery of stone had no business with bronze doors, but if she focused on the hypocrisy she would end up punching an elderly Nord in the teeth and that was not going to be helpful.

Sure enough, when the Greybeards assembled to greet her inside the monastery, they were all extremely old Nords. Most of them couldn’t speak because their Voices had escaped their control.

“Shout at us, Dragonborn,” said their spokesman, Arngeir. “Let us taste your Voice.”

“You really don’t want me to do that,” Yagraz said, waving a hand. “You really, aggressively, don’t.”

“I’m afraid that we do. We must feel the strength of your Thu’um to know how much there is to teach you.” The elderly Nord gave her a warm smile. “But your concern for our welfare is appreciated.”

She looked at them, expressionless, then shrugged. “Alright. But you asked for it.”

The warm smile on Arngeir face vanished the moment he heard the word ‘Yol’ pass the Orc’s lips and felt like he was standing in front of a furnace. Then the second Word came and the stone beneath his feet grew hot. Finally, the third Word brought with it a stream of white-hot fire that necessitated all of the elderly monks to dive away from. Where they had stood was now cherry-red rocks in the process of fusing together from the heat.

“Ah,” he said once he stood once more. “That was… far stronger than I had anticipated.”

“I did warn you,” Yagraz was quick to point out.

“You did, and I foolishly did not listen.” The other Greybeards gave Arngeir scolding looks, which the youngest Greybeard had to admit he deserved. “The strength of your Thu’um cannot be denied, and neither can your dedication. To have learned an entire Shout before even coming before us, I must admit I’m astonished.”

The Companion shrugged. “I studied for years to get that thing under control, which was why I didn’t think I could possibly be Dragonborn. Maybe I’m sort of like an Alessia thing where I am Dragonborn, but don’t get some of the powers.”

The Greybeards consulted one another to ponder this development. “It isn’t impossible,” Arngeir admitted after whispering with them. “But the fault could be in your tutors. Not all teaching methods are equal.”

Yagraz, having learned the Thu’um from a pre-recorded series of lectures as the professor, unfortunately, couldn’t leave his hospital bed, couldn’t refute the possibility.

“We will test your ability to learn a new Shout to see if this is truly an absent aspect of being Dragonborn, or merely a fault of poor teaching.” Arngeir stood away from the other Greybeards to Shout a word onto the walls of the monastery. ‘Fus’. “This is the first word of Unrelenting Force, a less… directly harmful Shout. Go ahead and see if you can learn it.”

As it turned out, the fault either had been with learning the Thu’um from videos or that Yagraz had only recently become a Dragonborn. She learned all three words of Unrelenting Force, Spectral Clone, and the second word of Whirlwind Sprint with no problem.

“I think it is safe to say you have all the powers of a Dragonborn, Dragonborn,” Arngeir commented with a pleased expression. “Now, we have a task we would like you to--”

“Hold up.” Yagraz held up a hand to stop Arngeir’s little spiel. “Before you give me things to do, I have a request. Do you know any Shouts that help you to find things? Or people? If you don’t want to teach me it right away, fine, but I kinda need some help in that way.”

“The finding of things?” Arngeir scratched his chin and looked at the other Greybeards with a questioning look. When none gave him a positive response, he shook his head sadly. “It doesn’t seem so. But, as you come to learn the Words of Power, perhaps you could create such a Shout. A peaceful use of the Thu’um would be a welcome addition to our records.”

For the teaching of Whirlwind Sprint, the Greybeards had brought Yagraz out to a courtyard behind the monastery. There was a tower disconnected from the main structure and two free-standing archways. One led further up the mountain, to the summit, but was blocked by snow and spectral ice wraiths, and the other seemed to be all that remained of another building.

So they were in the prime position to hear a distant dragon roar, below them in elevation. Yagraz’s hand went to her ax instinctively, but the Greybeards paid it no mind.

“Anyway, to complete your initiation we would like you to retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, our founder. You may find his tomb in the swamps of Hjaalmarch, but I’m afraid we cannot direct you further. If you have questions about other subjects, feel free to ask anytime, Dragonborn.” With a final bow, the four Greybeards parted ways, leaving Yagraz to stand in the snow.

Then the dragon roared again, closer this time, and everyone stopped. It was closer, and in a moment they could hear distant wingbeats. Moments later, a winged white blur flew up over the edge of the courtyard and roared as it twisted in the air. Yagraz knew the dragon’s type by color--only frost dragons had primarily white scales, so her standard fire breath would be greatly effective on it.

But rather than sweep the group a couple times, it came around for a landing and planted itself down at the largest patch of open space. The Greybeards and Companion stared at the white dragon, and neither took any action.

Until Marcurio tilted his head out from behind one of the dragon’s ink-black backbone spines. “You done with your meeting with the Greybeards? Cause we can come back in like an hour or something if you need the extra time.” The Imperial’s shit-eating grin was visible even from a distance.

“You… know that man?” Arngeir asked of Yagraz, hesitant and slightly concerned.

“He’s my best friend’s SO,” the giant Orc muttered and made her way over to the dragon and rider. “How long have you had a dragon that lets you fucking ride them?!” Yagraz’s tone was of absolute outrage. Dragons were always so picky about whom they let ride with them, because of their inborn arrogance.

“Iunno,” Marcurio shrugged. “Like… thirty-minutes? Three-quarters of an hour?”

“I am Kipgolsik,” the dragon muttered, clearly unhappy with the arrangement. “And you are Dragonborn--I heard your Thu’um from far below, sister.”

“Hey man. Um, I’m told there is a tradition when dragons first meet?” The Orc pushed her index fingers into each other, suddenly realizing how difficult it would be not to kill the dragon in so doing. “Like, we breathe fire on each other?”

“Nid, Dovhakiin. No, Dragonborn.” Kipgolsik gently shook his head back and forth.

“I speak dovahzul if that’s easier for you.”

“Ah yes, then let us speak as the dov do.”

Kipgolsik explained that his sub-species of dragons, frost dragons, eschewed the greeting ritual of breathing fire upon each other to see whose Thu’um had the mastery. In fact, many frost dragons did not partake of the larger dragon community or Tamriel life altogether. Most had made their roosts in Atmorah, where the ice was plentiful, and they could use their frigid nature to sculpt the very terrain. They were, comparatively, asocial dragons.

“Forgive me, Dovahkiin,” Kipgolsik said in Tamrielic once he was finished explaining. “But I grow weary of tinvaak, and I fear my… lord would grow agitated were we to talk longer.”

“I’ve actually found it fascinating to hear the dragon language spoken with two fluent people,” the mage-thief commented with a smile. “While by no means a beautiful language, I certainly get how it inspired old Nordic.”

Yagraz stuck her tongue out at him, and he did so back.

“Anyway, after I wrangled Kippy here--”

“Please do not call me that,” Kipgolsik pleaded.

“After I wrangled Golly here--”

“That is even worse.”

Fine!” Marcurio threw his hands up in frustration. “Nicknames can come later! After I wrangled this primadona, I thought: ‘Hmm, a flying creature would be beneficial for traveling around and looking for our missing cat’.”

“Sounds good, you got any leads?” Yagraz wasted no time in hopping up onto the dragon.

--

Gulum-Ei had been used to the Guild being a distant thing, ever since Gallus died they seemed to have lost their luster and their grip in Solitude grew weaker every day. It got so bad that eventually he flat out told Mercer Frey that their business relationship was concluded--Gulum-Ei simply wasn’t getting enough back for what he was giving to the Guild. Mercer accepted the end of their arrangement, and Gulum-Ei thought that would be the end of it.

He wasn’t the smartest Argonian around.

So when a Thieves Guild flunky he’d never seen, and the legendary warrior Yagraz of the Companions showed up, he was actually surprised. He was even more surprised when they each grabbed one of Gulum-Ei’s arms and frog-marched him out of Solitude altogether with the city guards too afraid to intervene.

“Gulum-Ei--am I pronouncing that right, by the way?” The Thieves Guild man spoke with a casual tone like they were conducting business. “Mercer Frey sent me up here to ask you some questions.”

“I-I told Mercer, our business is concluded!” Gulum-Ei’s stubbornness made him unwilling to realize the obvious implications.

“Hmm, I get that. I don’t think it’s a particularly healthy life decision, but I understand it. The Guild’s not doing so hot, bleeding money, bleeding people, it’s a sound business decision to withdraw.”

The two of them kept marching Gulum-Ei down to the wharf, with the guards there usually looking from the Argonian ‘boot’ then to Yagraz, a respected member of the Companions, and electing not to interfere.

“But then you went and started working with our competitors, Gulum-Ei.” The Thieves Guild pretty boy shook his head, sorrowful. “And see, Mercer was okay with letting you go legit. But seeing someone else? I’m afraid he’s a bit too possessive for that.” They reached the shore of the Karth River delta and stopped. “Working with Karliah? Did you think he wouldn’t find out?”

Gulum-Ei’s heart went a mile a minute as the secret he’d kept closer than anything else in his illegal business was revealed. There was no point in being stubborn anymore, Karliah’s involvement being known meant that it was quite likely that Mercer had ordered Gulum-Ei put down. But… how would they do it? Drowning? He was an Argonian, he could breathe underwater. A horrifying thought chilled Gulum-Ei’s heart to the core. Would they tie him to a rock, and leave him to starve to death in the water? Frantic, he looked for a way out of this situation that kept either side he’d been working with from doing something drastic.

“Y-you can’t! I’m the only contact with the East Empire Company you have!” The Argonian’s mouth twisted into a smile, certain he’d found his saving grace. “If you kill me, I won’t be able to do business with you again!”

“He’s got a point,” the Companion muttered.

And for a while, it looked like Gulum-Ei was going to go free, with the Thieves Guild member nodded and looking agitated. But then his agitated look became a malevolent smile. “Does the name Orthus Endario ring a bell, Gulum-Ei?”

The Argonian’s stomach dropped like a stone. Endario was the East Empire Company’s Windhelm branch manager, equal in rank to Vittoria Vici in Solitude. Until recently, his office had been a joke to the Company, but with the destruction of the Blood Horkers, they had started to make money again. Even worse, with the market in that area starved for goods, they could charge a premium to make up lost revenue.

“Oh, so it does.” The Thieves Guild member tapped Gulum-Ei on the shoulder consolingly. “See, Mercer would love to have two East Empire Company insiders to help the Guild out. But… we only need one.”

Gulum-Ei was going to die. His breathing grew unsteady as he realized this, he was going to die and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“But on the other hand….”

The Argonian locked eyes with the Thieves Guild member, not even minding the vicious look on the man’s face.

“If you were willing to tell me where Karliah is, I could talk Mercer into giving you a second chance. Or else….” The man snapped his fingers, and the method of Gulum-Ei’s death was revealed.

It rose from the water like a sea serpent, at first with only a decently large head revealed. But as it drew closer to the shore, more of the beast became visible. The wicked black spines on its back, the wings far too small to fly without magic, the intelligence that shown in its eyes. A dragon.

Since when did the Thieves Guild have a dragon as an attack dog?!

When it breathed, the rumble was so strong Gulum-Ei could feel it in his bones. Without warning, the beast opened its mouth and snagged one of Gulum-Ei’s legs and started to pull on the Argonian. Neither Yagraz of the Companions or the Thieves Guild representative let go of Gulum-Ei’s arms and so he was held aloft by the two. It wasn’t biting down hard enough to amputate his leg, for which Gulum-Ei would have been grateful were he not so close to panicking.

“Well, Gulum-Ei? What’s it going to be?”

It only took the pressure on his leg increasing ever so slightly to get the Argonian to spill the beans. All he knew was that Karliah had approached him to purchase Goldenglow Estate on her behalf, and paid handsomely. He told the thief where the deed was on his person, in order to convince him. And lastly, all he knew about her location was: ‘Where the end began’.

He never even thought to mention that Karliah had killed the previous Guildmaster, from the lengths that the Guild was going to punish him, he expected the Guild representative to know already.

With another snap of the Guild representative’s fingers, the dragon curtly dropped Gulum-Ei’s leg, and the Companion released him as well, causing the Argonian to fall into the water.

“Listen to me, Gulum-Ei,” the Guild representative said with an expression almost portrait perfect for Maven Black-Briar. “Until Mercer okays your second chance, you’re on the chopping block. You’re no longer irreplaceable to the Guild, you’ve cavorted with our enemies, and in so doing burned up any goodwill you had with us. My advice is to make yourself incredibly useful, so we can forgive you faster.” He held the Argonian’s shaky gaze for a long moment, before verbally snapping. “Go!”

And Gulum-Ei went, he ran like his life depended on it, because for all he knew it did. Over his shoulder, he heard the same Guild representative call after him in a sing-song voice:

“Blessings of the Eight upon you!”

--

“You know,” Marcurio said while he carefully folded up and pocketed the Goldenglow Estate deed. It would make a fine addition to his collection of property--and right next door to what he already had! “I half expected you to object to this plan, honor and all.”

Yagraz snorted and crossed her arms. “Honor demands we face our problems head-on. Square up to the challenge, overcome it, and bask in victory. And that is what you did here.” She gestured to Kipgolsik to illustrate the point. “Putting the fear of death into people who are used to being untouchable is sort of… a specialty of mine. You get on my good side, and I’ll tell you about the time I made Torbjorn Shatter-Shield wet himself in front of all his workers.”

“I have found that I rather enjoy swimming,” Kipgolsik commented.

“Good for you, big guy.”

---

Chapter Text

 


---
Chapter 32: By the Firelight

As it turned out, while dragons needed neither food or air, they did need to sleep. So Kipgolsik found a relatively safe roost at a mountain called Skyborn Altar, overlooking the ruined city of Bromjunaar. Marcurio knew that when the city was built, by the dragon cult in ancient times, the Altar was used as where the dragon priests would receive the demands of their dragon overlords. The last of whom, Durnehviir, lay entombed in the city’s ancient fortress.

No one, not even other dragons at the time, was sure how he had died. The only clue was that the legendary dragon was researching necromancy at the time--enough to make a deal with the Ideal Masters. Marcurio had always thought that the dragon, like so many before and since had been swindled by the Masters and lost his life from it.

Which was precisely why Marcurio hadn’t delved into Conjuration--too many ways for him to end up as a meat tree, or worse. And it was precisely that lack of Conjuration skill, or the impetus to learn that had drawn Sheogorath to consider the Imperial for a match with his son. No skill in Conjuration meant that Marcurio had little chance to bind Mohamara to his will, and no impetus meant that it likely would never develop.

Macurio’s words to the Lady of Infinite Energies when she had her audience with him were still as true when he sat the edge of Skyborn Altar as they’d been high above Nirn’s surface. ‘If I wanted a slave, I could go to Morrowind and buy one.’

And it was why, if this ‘Karliah’ had decided to trade his betrothed to Vasha, he was going to turn her inside out before he killed her.

To distract himself from thoughts of violence that would get him nowhere without an acceptable target readily available, he pulled the pink cocoon out from his satchel bag to examine it. The silk construct had grown, swollen from within by the creature’s growth. His initial guess that it had been close to hatching seemed inaccurate if its growth followed the trend so far.

“Hey, slick,” Yagraz said as she came over to the Altar’s edge where Marcurio sat. “Fire’s ready for your personal touch.”

The thief-mage glanced over his shoulder at the stack of wood the Companion had arranged, and with a gesture, set it alight. Both of them then made their way to the fireside to warm up and prepare for their own sleep. Marcurio considered the possibility that Kipgolsik would flee once he was away, but that hadn’t been the case when both he and Yagraz had to leave the dragon in the water to fetch Gulum-Ei.

Yagraz sighed like she had something heavy to say, so Marcurio snapped out of his musings to give her his attention. “We shouldn’t tell short-stuff Meridia’s his mom,” she said, seeming glum about it.

“...And why is that?” Marcurio arched a brow, curious but also guarded.

“Because once he finds out that she’s his mom, he’ll have to resolve all the shitty things she let happen. And part of that will be you.” She gestured toward him with her head, no reaction in her face to the sudden, visible, affront on the Imperial's.

Excuse me?”

“You saw how he was when the two of you first started talking, said it was almost a panic attack?” Yagraz crossed her legs, pulled out a whetstone from her bag and began to sharpen her ax. “You can be the best damn thing that’s happened in his life, doesn’t make it any less shitty that Sheogorath and Meridia did it now.”

On the one hand, Marcurio found himself insulted that he could be used in the same sentence as the word ‘shitty’, on another hand he understood how being given no say in the matter wouldn’t endear him to Mohamara or the cat’s friends, and on a third hand he couldn’t help the phrasing the giant Orc had used. “Now? As opposed to… earlier?”

The Companion nodded. “Meridian kids, they start young on the marrying side of things. Nine years old, they all get in their Sundas best and go see the community matchmaker, if they got one. By twelve, they usually have a match lined up and they spend all the time between then and age eighteen getting to know and love one another.”

Marcurio knew his betrothed to be twenty-one and being Meridia’s son, he couldn’t imagine how the cat had gone so long without a match. It visibly perplexed him. “I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

Again, the Companion nodded. “I’ve known short-stuff since I was seven, he was six. I was there when he got all dolled up for the matchmaker along with all the other Meridian kids. Neither of us knew exactly what would happen, we were kids.”

The heart-to-heart conversation was interrupted by Kipgolsik cutting the cheese up on the ancient roost of Durnehviir. The wind caught it and immediately carried it down to them, and produced a number of effects. Both Orc and Imperial gagged and struggled to find a way to shield themselves from the smell, the fire struggled to remain alight, and a nearby bird straight up died.

Marcurio saved the day by using Alteration to fashion one of the waiting bits of firewood into two clothespins for Yagraz and him to block their noses off with.

“Anyway,” Yagraz resumed with a heavily modified voice from the clothespin on her nose. “I had a big ol’ family, full of love growin’ up. I had a Pa, a Ma, sisters for days, and aunts, uncles, and cousins as far as the eye could see. An’ we loved each other, looked out for each other, all that.” The Orc’s sharpening of her ax became more aggressive in response to her building temper. “Short-stuff didn’t have no one but me. Every foster family he got sent him back to the temple in a week or less--something always came up.”

Marcurio noted this information away and ensured the cocoon that was apparently made of his betrothed’s arm was wrapped up properly in the wolf pelt.

“Gettin’ a match was his one chance at getting another person who’d love ‘im. As we got older, we figured that out more an’ more.” She stopped her weapon sharpening altogether and glared into the fire, hateful as Marcurio had ever seen anybody. “I was there when that withered old witch of a Matchmaker told short-stuff that it was never gonna happen, and he ought to just get used to bein’ alone. Or keep trying, and get matched with someone who’d treat him like a punching bag.”

“That’s--,” Marcurio paused in his response as he heard his own voice affected by the pinched nose. It was so bizarre that it worked a chuckle from the Orc. “That’s cruel. Why didn’t he break tradition, and look for someone the old fashioned way?”

For a second, Yagraz looked at Marcurio like he was stupid, but her expression relaxed after a moment. “Cause by that time, he’d spent most of his life being treated like a stuffed toy by some people, and an easy target for others. The boy’s not even four feet tall and stopped growing at thirteen, you can probably picture how it would turn out.”

The wind had blown for so long, that Marcurio dared take the clothespin off his nose to breathe again. He regretted this decision, as the smell lingered on. Naturally, the clothespin went back on his nose.

“Point is, I spent half as much time rescuing that cat from pranks and folks cuddling him half to death as hangin’ out with him.” Her expression became distant. “Maybe I got some blame in how hard he’s had it here; I was always there to rescue him when he needed it, he never had to fight.”

Marcurio thought the same but knew better than to speak of it. Yagraz had an ax in her hand, freshly sharpened, after all.

“So what do you think he thinks of this? Bein’ told that he wasn’t worth lovin’ back when he was new and almost happy, then having you shoved on him after what’s been, objectively, the worst part of his life?” She leaned forward so that the fire cast an ominous shadow on her face. “By folks that say they loved him but didn’t walk the walk when it counted?”

“He probably thinks this is all one big joke at his expense,” Marcurio answered honestly. “Probably thinks that his misery is the only way he’s valuable to anyone. But… why would telling him Meridia is his mother make this worse?”

“Cause when he hears that, he’ll stop.” Yagraz snapped her fingers. “Like that, he’ll shut down. Meridia’s been the one constant thing in his life, even I can’t say different. When the priests said it was her will, he did it. To hear it from him, she loves him almost as much as I do. But she’s a Daedra, she doesn’t really care about nobody but herself.” She leaned back and looked up at the stars. “You tell him his mama was okay with all that bad stuff, and that she approved this ‘joke at his expense’, he’ll give up. Might go off the deep end, more likely he’ll just become a shell of what he is now. Lights on, nobody home. Sheogorath probably wants that to happen.”

The turn of phrase didn’t quite gel with Marcurio at first, but from the context clues, he pieced together its meaning. Being alive, but not feeling alive. He knew how that had felt from experience, and while he knew it could be recovered from wouldn’t wish it on anyone. “I think I can see the Mad God’s plan, then, if he wanted to replace Meridia in Mohamara’s heart. Give him everything she didn’t, and let the disparity tear his mind apart.”

“And Meridia’s probably so sure that short-stuff loves her, she’d never think to keep Sheogorath’s influence at bay.” Yagraz’s leaning backward became laying down on the stone. “Not a bad strategy, overall.”

“Precisely why I found the Mad God’s threats more intimidating, honestly.”

--

The thief meditated on what to do with his betrothed once he and Yagraz found him, then returned him to the Legion. Would Mercer allow him to take time away from the Guild to court Mohamara properly, and be courted in turn? Could the Tooth survive without his management for however long that would take?

Perhaps reserving the courtship for after the marriage would be the best choice, as then they could have ample time to get to know one another. Perhaps he ought to assassinate Ulfric Stormcloak and put an end to the Rebellion as soon as possible? Once the war was over, Mohamara would be free of the Legion and could stay in the Rift with Marcurio.

It was with a stunning realization that Marcurio put together that he had stopped caring about the vengeance he would exact upon the cat’s kidnapper, and focused more on his welfare. While Kipgolsik took them from Skyborn Altar to the Rift, Marcurio pondered on this more.

What would be the best way to help his betrothed come to trust him? Revealing his own sordid past? Inviting the cat into his business, or perhaps the Guild? No, he decided. Mohamara would never steal, per his own words he’d been on the bad end of theft before. The Imperial, sadly, had to admit that perhaps showering the cat in presents would not be the most optimal route.

He was still going to do it, because he’d spent far too much on the stuff already to not, but it would be because he wanted to. His meditation done, he focused on shallower thoughts to bring him back to full reality. Such as how Mohamara would look in pearls, and which color would look the best.

“I don’t think your boss will like someone as big-ticket as me coming into your secret hideout,” Yagraz commented as they approached the Rift Plateau. “And that the Riften guards won’t particularly like that I helped kill a bunch of Stormcloaks at the battle of Whiterun.”

“They will respect that you fought for your home, and be afraid of challenging you. Fear not, for they won’t approach you if you don’t approach them first.”

Yagraz shrugged and nodded a bit. “Eh, that’s not too bad. Good work, slick.”

“Um, Yagraz,” Marcurio said as he realized it as well. “I didn’t say anything.”

“...Brother?”

“I also did not speak, sister,” the dragon replied.

“I am not coming out while you are flying,” said a voice from in Marcurio’s satchel bag. “You will toss me, and that will hurt.”

Elation colored Marcurio’s entire mood while he brought the satchel around to his front and bent down to look inside. A pink crab claw immediately reached out and pinched his nose, yet quickly released it when Marcurio reflexively pulled back.

“And do not look in, either. My exoskeleton is not fully hardened yet, have some respect.”

Kipgolsik made a water landing in Lake Honrich near the Tooth, where Yagraz and Marcurio got off to deal with the pink thing in the satchel bag. While neither needed him, the dragon swam around with his wings tucked close to his sides, looking for all the world like an oversized and scaly swan.

“I still can’t believe he’s buoyant,” Yagraz snarked as she watched the dragon swim away. “But! We got a new friend to meet, right?”

“My exoskeleton is hardened,” the voice in the bag said. “I’m ready to come out if neither of you kicks me into the water.”

“If you can tell how the guards will feel about Yagraz,” Marcurio commented as he set the satchel down, “why can’t you tell how we will react?”

“Riften’s guards are easier to predict, you two are harder because you’re so tightly wound up with the Master’s.”

Once the flap to the satchel was thrown open, and both parties stepped away, something began to crawl out. It had eight legs, four on each side; covered in pink fuzz with curved lines of pale gray-blue, and jagged lightning patterns of pale lime green. When they saw it, both had the same thought: That the creature was a mix of a spider and a crab. It had crab claws as its primary limbs in the front, on either side of its mouth, but a spidery set of eight eyes to see all directions. The abdomen was flat but thick, relative to the rest of the body, with spinnerets on the end. Two long limbs tipped with long hairs that resembled feathers sprung up from where the thorax and abdomen met. Overall, it was the size of a housecat but far stranger.

“Hello,” it said once it was free of the sack. Each of the bipeds listening to it heard the voice of the other from it. “Thank you for not squishing me earlier. That would have delayed my growth. And when I was fully developed I would have pinched you to death.” It clacked its claws like castanets.

“What… in the Ashpit are you?” Yagraz asked she decided to be horrified, amused, or sickened by what she was seeing.

“I am Yehochanan, first of my Master’s servitors.” The Daedric creature tilted forward a bit, perhaps in a bow. “My format is dot-com, and my function is to assist in the internal regulation of his sphere.”

“You are quite possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen,” Marcurio couldn’t help but squeal a bit as he advanced on the Daedric spider to pick it up.

However, it lept backward and raised up its abdomen to display a threatening pattern of gray-blue and lime green while its claws extended out. “I am a piece of my Master, and you are forbidden from touching me without asking permission.” Yehochanan clacked its claws like castanets once more. “So ask before picking me up.”

“May I pick you up?” Marcurio was frozen in the midst of doing just that, his excitement not diminished at all by the pause in his action.

“You may.”

Yagraz watched in fascination as the grown man acted like a little girl with her first kitten as he cuddled the spider-crab Daedra. “So… don’t suppose you can tell us where short-stuff is?”

Yehochanan’s longest limbs adjusted position like a vintage scrying orb’s receivers before they settled in a northward direction. “I detect him moving toward Winterhold.” The spider-crab pinched Marcurio on the hand gently to get his attention. “You want to tell Mercer what you found out, it’s Important that you do.”

“Why,” the Imperial squinted down at the Daedric creature, “would Mercer care?”

“He will want to pursue Karliah alongside you, and will attempt to kill you once it is done.” Yehochanan clacked its claws like castanets a third time. “You have grown too mighty, too successful. Your continued existence threatens his plans. But if you don’t let him act first, he will use it to justify killing you.”

“How can you possibly know these things?” Yagraz pinched the bridge of her nose while she asked the question. Already she knew the answer, magic.

“I have appropriated some of my Master’s higher level functions to keep his sphere from going into meltdown while I am not there to help regulate it.” Yehochanan’s spidery face was inscrutable, but it gestured with its claws and antenna-things to emote. “His captor only required rudimentary Mysticism functions, so I could safely appropriate the higher functions without putting him at risk.”

“Are you saying you stole Mohamara’s strongest magic?”

Both bipeds looked at the Daedric spider-crab as it froze in Marcurio’s arms--the Orc in confusion and the Imperial in interest.

“It sounds bad when you say it like that,” Yehochanan responded. “But to avoid a catastrophic meltdown, it was necessary. I will return the Master’s functions when we find him.”

“You stay with the spider-thing,” Marcurio said as he held Yehochanan out to Yagraz. “I’ll go get Mercer to head up to Winterhold as soon as possible, but it will take weeks to get there on foot and I’m not tipping him off that I have a dragon up my sleeve.”

Once Yagraz took Yehochanan, the Imperial bolted down the road toward Riften. After he’d gotten some speed, Marcurio started to cast an ice spell ahead of him, so his momentum could drive him to greater speed while riding the ice.

Relatively alone, Yagraz looked down at the spider-crab. “So, what’s the over-under on me being able to take the dragon and save short-stuff before he ever gets to Winterhold?”

“Incredibly unlikely,” the spider-crab punctuated the answer with more castanet clacks. “The catnapper is highly trained at stealth, and the Master is muzzled so he cannot call out to us once he sees you. The Mad God is keeping me from being able to establish a telepathic connection with him. Most likely for the drama of it.”

Yagraz was quiet for a long time while she tried to keep her rage from exploding all over the poor Daedric spider-crab who was only trying to help. She calmly set him down, walked behind a bolder, and exploded a Yol-Toor-Shul onto it until her rage was diminished. Then, she came back and picked Yehochanan up once more.

“What’s this about ‘muzzled’?”

---

 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 33: Entertainingly Wrong

Mercer and Marcurio hadn’t gotten along well from the moment they met. From Mercer’s perspective, the Imperial was too reckless, too flippant about the guild, and his success undermined Mercer’s authority. And on Marcurio’s side of things, Mercer was too stiff, too rigid--he treated the Guild like a legitimate business without making it a legitimate business.

Which, the Imperial considered on the long road to Winterhold wasn’t too bad an idea. The Guild hadn’t been doing well as a purely criminal organization, perhaps transitioning into the Cyrodiil model of combining legitimate business with illicit endeavors would be the most ideal. It’s how the Black-Briars made their fortunes, after all.

Speaking of the Black-Briars, Mercer didn’t want to speak of it but Marcurio could tell how incensed the Guildmaster was when Maven made the trek down to the Guild’s headquarters to speak to Marcurio about the juniper berry mead. Apparently, the sample he had provided her tested incredibly well, and she was going to be making overtures to the man in Helgen, Velod, to begin the founding of the Black-Briar Meadery South. She was visibly pleased with the new market opportunities opened to her--an event so rare that Delvin was still processing it when Mercer and Marcurio left.

On the road, Mercer informed Marcurio of the specific grievance he, and by extension, the Guild, had with Karliah. She had betrayed the Guild and murdered the previous Guildmaster, who also happened to be her beau, twenty-five years prior then attempted to do the same with Mercer. As far as the Breton was concerned, that seemed to be all the justification that he needed for his vendetta. But Marcurio was armed with newfound knowledge and decided to pry ever so slightly into the issue.

“A woman killing someone she was involved with, and then trying to do the same to you… do you think she thought this ‘Gallus’ was cheating on her with you?”

Marcurio’s question stunned Mercer so much he stumbled and fell into one of Eastmarch’s famous hot spring pools. When he emerged, the Guildmaster looked as far from amused as Maven often was. “Would you like to repeat that for me?”

“Certainly.” Marcurio cleared his throat and repeated the question a magnitude of order louder. He kept his amusement at Mercer’s expression hidden behind a carefully perfected mask of feigned curiosity.

“I don’t know what would give you that idea, but no. Gallus was my friend, and only my friend. There was never anything more between us.”

“Mhm, yeah.” Marcurio’s tone made it quite clear he didn’t think Mercer was being honest in the slightest. “But still--what in Oblivion could motivate an intelligent, business-minded, girl like this Karliah to murder if not perceived betrayal? Even if there was nothing there, is it possible she thought there was?”

“We are done talking about this,” Mercer ground out and started off down the road again.

Marcurio decided that after Mercer was dead he would spread the rumor that Gallus had an affair with the current Guildmaster, which precipitated the betrayal. Perhaps he could forge some love letters between the two if a sample of Gallus’ writing survived.

Whether Karliah lived to refute or support the rumor was up to the condition Marcurio found his betrothed in. He’d brought an overlarge pack with an excess of furs to keep the cat warm on the return journey--under the pretext to Mercer that Marcurio himself couldn’t stand the harsh cold up north. And Yagraz had entrusted him with a ludicrously strong ring of regeneration, that apparently Mohamara had made, to regrow any missing parts.

Yagraz herself had gone south, to visit the Orc stronghold of Largashbur, consult with the godswife of Malacath, and catch up to the two of them with Kipgolsik. To quote the dragon, there was no doubt that Yagraz’s ‘thu’um had the mastery’. It was inevitable that the dragon would betray them, but it hadn’t happened yet.

Just as Mercer’s betrayal was a certainty, but it hadn't happened yet. Marcurio was used to expecting betrayal, he’d had his trust abused by more than one person in Cheydinhal and the Arcane University. He would not be caught by surprise when it happened.

At least, he thought so at the time.

--

Largashbur, when Yagraz showed up, was under attack by a Giant. The walls of the stronghold were being torn apart and the Orcs defending them were being tossed around like toys. Needless to say, it pissed her off.

Calm on the outside, burning within, Yagraz approached the Giant from behind and calmly tapped it on the thigh. “Excuse me,” she said, pleasant as a peach. When the Giant turned and looked down at her, the giant Orc unleashed the fire within upon the stupid Giant. When she was done, the creature’s head and shoulders had been burned to cinders, leaving the arms to fall away and the corpse to collapse under its weight.

Young sons and daughters of the local Chieftain scrambled to get their wounded kin into the stronghold, more than one fearfully glanced at Yagraz as they did. It wasn’t every day that they were saved from a Giant by a giant of an Orc. When Yagraz moved to follow them into the stronghold, she found a young girl in armor far too heavy for her and holding a mace block her way.

“Hold, outsider.” The young Orc spoke with the confidence of youth and purpose. “You have no business here, leave!”

“I am Yagraz gro-Dushnikh,” the giant Orc woman growled as she advanced on the girl. From within the stronghold the godswife of Malacath came running--likely, she was the girl’s grandmother. “By the code, I am your kin. And by the code, I am owed a debt for killing your Chief’s enemies.”

To her credit, the girl did not flinch when Yagraz closed the distance, even though Yagraz was a foot taller than her. “Chief Yamarz has proclaimed that none may enter Largashbur without his permission.”

“Malacath’s code trumps your Chief’s orders, girl.”

“Please,” the godswife of Malacath gasped as she finally made it to the scene. She was clearly too old for running but ran all the same. “Ugor is a loyal child, she does what her Chief tells her--forgive her her ignorance!”

“Very well.” Yagraz nodded to the godswife and then glowered down at the girl, Ugor. “The blood price will be this.” And without warning, Yagraz pulled her head back and struck Ugor in the forehead with her own. Yagraz didn’t mind the blood that started to flow down her face--the pain was nothing to her anymore, while Ugor was on the ground, reeling. “Grow from this.”

The godswife introduced herself as Atub, not Ugor’s grandmother but her aunt--the Chief’s sister. Already this spoke poorly of the situation in Largashbur, if the Chief’s sister was old enough to be gray and withered, how far behind would the Chief himself be?

Atub confirmed Yagraz’s fears. “Yamarz, our Chief, is weak. Our tribe is weak in turn, and we are cursed. Giants invade our territory, they kill our kin, and they assault our home. Yamarz won’t accept help, and our tribe suffers for it.”

“Why have none of his sons done their duty?” When the Chief was so weak that the tribe was threatened, it was the duty of the eldest son to give his father a good death and become Chief in turn.

“Yamarz has… done things that are inexcusable, and brought this curse on us.” The godswife could not meet Yagraz’s eyes as they approached the Chief’s longhouse. Next to the fire was the shrine to Malacath, a deer’s skull, torn from its neck with a Chief’s bare hands, and gifted a set of Orcish armor as an offering. “He has replaced Malacath in the hearts of his sons, they are more loyal to him than to the code.”

Yagraz stopped and glared down at the godswife. “I would ask how, but that doesn’t matter now. You are godswife to Malacath, you know what the price for this is.”

Atub nodded but continued to avoid the giant Orc’s eyes. “I am poisoned with the weakness of a long memory. I look at Yamarz as he is now, and see only the man he once was.” At long last, the godswife met Yagraz’s eyes, no fear in her expression, only regret. “Whatever punishment I deserve, I will accept. But this is my tribe, and I won’t see them suffer for the mistakes of my generation.”

“Call upon Malacath,” Yagraz said. “I have the materials for the ritual--for a different purpose, mind. But my vengeance matters less than fixing this dumpster fire of a tribe.” Short-stuff would understand, he knew Malacath’s code by heart. He’d studied it so that Yagraz would have a tutor for the finicky bits. From her pack, Yagraz produced two oiled bags; one with a Daedra's heart, and another with fat from a troll. She’d bought the heart in Solitude, and extracted the fat from the troll she had killed on Kyne’s sacred mountain.

Atub took them and started to walk toward the longhouse when Yagraz stopped her by placing her hand on the godswife’s shoulder.

“No. He doesn’t get a say in this anymore. Malacath will decide if he is Chief, or not.”

Yagraz went into the longhouse in Atub’s place. It was cramped, the ceiling was too low for someone her height, and the door too narrow to comfortably enter or exit. And there, looking almost like a Chief was presumably Yamarz. As Yagraz had feared, he was old. Older than a Chief ought to be, gray-haired and developing wrinkles. Were he to sire children, he would not live to see them grown at this point in his life. The Chief certainly looked powerful but in the wrong way. He had the muscles of someone who exercised all day for them, not for someone who actually used them on a daily basis.

The most insulting thing, however, was that it was clear he hadn’t left the longhouse all day--there was no dirt on his armored boots. While his tribe had been under attack, he had been in the longhouse, doing nothing.

Yagraz didn’t give Yamarz a chance to speak--he didn’t deserve one after this shameful display. She grabbed him by the nose and twisted just enough to put the cartilage at risk of breaking and led Yamarz out by it. Fool man didn’t even try to resist.

Yamarz sputtered, tried to shout for help, and whined while Yagraz dragged him to the shrine of Malacath. Atub had begun the ritual and refused to look back at her brother when he called out for help. “Great Malacath, we beseech you!” The godswife called out with arms held aloft. “Aid us in our time of need!”

Nothing happened. Nothing needed to happen. Where Orcs were, Malacath was in turn. The ritual was to give him a means by which to speak to them. Yamarz did not understand this.

“Why are none of you killing this outsider?” The Chief demanded of his tribe when he was released from Yagraz.

“You pathetic weakling.” Malacath’s voice did not boom, it did not rattle the very bones of Nirn to be heard. It was all around them, as Malacath was. This was not the proclamation of newborn Orcs or the ushering of a fallen family member to Ashpit--this was a disciplinary meeting. Everyone but Yamarz knew it too, from their expressions.

“What was that?” Yamarz played like he did not hear Malacath, perhaps. Or perhaps it had been so long, he genuinely didn’t know the Pariah Daedra’s voice.

Yagraz almost pitied him.

“You don’t deserve to call yourself an Orc, Yamarz. How dare you call on me, after allowing Giants to overrun my shrine. An entire generation of Orcs--ruined by your negligence. It will take much blood, and much more toil before they are fit for the glory I have in store for them.” Malacath’s disembodied voice was cool, bitter, and most devastatingly: Disappointed. “You are fortunate Yagraz here has come to clean up your mess.”

“Who? This--?!” Yamarz gestured at Yagraz’s back. “She is large, but she is a woman! And a city-Orc! I am worth a thousand of her!”

“Yagraz, do what this pathetic runt’s sons aren’t strong enough to do.”

Atub froze, realizing what Malacath had ordered. There was no point in trying to bargain with Malacath by this point, but it was clear by her expression that she wished she could.

Yagraz turned to face Yamarz. If she hesitated, he would run away. So she didn’t hesitate. Even though he wore an armored coif of Orcish make, the Companion grabbed Yamarz by either side of his head and repeatedly headbutted him.

The tribe stared in horror, both at how ready and willing Yagraz was to headbutt a man wearing a helmet, and how much damage it seemed to do to Yamarz.

“Wait--!” Yamarz called out after the first headbutt. For five more he only grunted in pain and confusion. But then blood began to flow down from his forehead. “Sword--!” There was a shattering of metal as Yamarz’s armored coif went to pieces from the repeated headbutting. “Apples--!” That proved to be Yamarz’s last word. Three more headbutts and he went limp.

Yagraz released the dead Chieftain and drank a healing potion from her bag. She hated that the code had been so neglected that an outsider had to break the line of Chiefs like this--it would bring despair upon all the Chiefs before Yamarz in Ashpit. But still, it had to be done.

The godswife almost broke the ritual, seeing her dead brother--her Chief. But she had known for a long time that it would end this way, Yamarz had broken too much of the code to have it end differently. “Yamarz is punished,” she said, on the verge of tears. “But what of us? What must we do to lift this curse?”

“Yagraz,” spoke the Prince of Outcasts. “Take all of Yamarz’s sons old enough to be Chief, and lead them to Fallowstone Cave. They will kill all the giants there, and bring me their leader’s weapon. The oldest son to survive will be the new Chief.”

Children pleaded with their oldest brothers not to go and found themselves chastised for speaking against Malacath’s wishes by their mothers.

“By your will, Malacath,” Yagraz said, already weary of taking half a dozen Orcs to their death for their father’s weakness. “And if none survive?”

“Then there will be no Chief until the younger sons grow older, and then they will make the same attempt.”

--

“Did you know this would happen, pinky?” Yagraz asked of the spider-crab Daedra in her bag, while she watched the only survivor of the Fallowstone Cave attack limp his way up to the shrine of Malacath with a giant’s club.

“Yes,” responded Yehochanan. “Your actions did not affect the connections between what they had done and the consequences. Even if you had not come, this would happen eventually.”

“Still, a little warning next time? Ain’t fun having to kill someone’s dad and then get them killed too, you know?”

Within her bag, the spider-crab Daedra clacked his claws like castanets. “It wasn’t you who did that. It was all the years of standing by, knowing what Yamarz was doing was wrong, and doing nothing to stop him.” There was a short pause, after which Yehochanan hastily spoke up again. “Also you very, very, very much want to stand ten feet away from your current position in any direction except down.”

Seconds after Yagraz complied, something struck the earth where she had been standing, and kicked up a cloud of dirt. When it cleared, there was a Dwemer pole weapon embedded into the earth, covered in pulsing green veins. The weapon was almost as long as Yagraz was tall, and when she yanked it free of the soil she identified it. The massively spiked hammerhead, with a pulsing red eye at its center on either side, cinched it. Volendrung, the namesake of the province of Hammerfell, and mighty weapon of Malacath.

When Malacath wished the weapon to pass to a new wielder, he would find the old bearer and bid them to throw it. Whereupon Malacath would guide it to the new bearer until their time with it was done. A prestigious honor.

“Take this weapon, Yagraz,” Malacath’s voice said to the giant Orc and her alone. “Take this power. And use it to defeat your enemies.”

“You realize,” Yehochanan cut in. “That if you try wielding that one-handed you’re likely to severely injure yourself?”

“Probably.” The giant Orc shrugged. “Thankfully, this shield is strapped to my arm, so I don’t actually need to hold it.”

“Oh, that’s handy.”

If Yehochanan had fingers, it would have been the perfect opportunity for the two of them to make finger-wands at each other as Yagraz would with Mohamara when a pun was perfectly executed.

--

Marcurio had thought he had the perfect way to kill Mercer before he could be killed in turn. He was going to electrify the Breton’s enchanted sword so that he dropped it, and then freeze his armor, whereupon he’d slice Mercer’s throat with his own sword. Breton magic resistance didn’t extend to their gear.

And instead, he got shot in the nipple--directly, in the nipple--by a surprise arrow from Karliah. It was tipped with a paralytic poison that had let him watch the two old Thieves Guild have a terse conversation that basically amounted to ‘I will kill you to death’, ‘no I will kill you to death’. Afterward, Karliah had left, and Mercer had the gall to slice Marcurio’s neck before leaving himself.

‘Oh I’m going to haunt the shit out of you, Mercer,’ Marcurio thought as he died.

Except he didn’t die. He woke up with a start much later, outside, and shirtless in a hidden campsite near the barrow where Karliah had been hiding.

And there she was, explaining how she had saved Marcurio by poisoning him and making it so Mercer’s attempt at homicide failed from a reduced heart-rate. The healing she’d provided hadn’t even been enough to prevent a visible scar from being on the Imperial’s neck--he’d have to order special makeup to cover it from now on. Perhaps that alchemist in Bruma still sold the waterproof stuff.

“Look--I very much appreciate not being dead,” Marcurio said while he put his shirt and armor back on. At least she’d taken the arrow out of his chest without scaring. “But before we collaborate on killing Mercer I just have one little request.”

The waify Dunmer sensed her peril as the Nibenese man approached her quickly and with a frighteningly wide smile. But she couldn’t get far enough away before he grabbed her by both arms.

“Where. Is my. Betrothed. That you. Kidnapped?” Though he smiled, he hissed the words out in venom-filled bursts.

Karliah looked away and sighed. “I lost him.”

If Marcurio hadn’t had years of tolerance from suffering through mind-numbingly stupid things at his father’s parties, that might have set him off enough to kill her right away. “What do you mean you lost him? He got away from you?”

“No… I was getting comfortable enough with him to consider taking the muzzle off--”

A layer of frost began to grow over Karliah’s arms from where Marcurio gripped them and his smile became ever so slightly more unhinged at the word ‘muzzle’.

“And-and he just vanished! There was an orb of purple light, and he was gone. Happened a week ago, after I got him to translate Gallus’ journal. That’s why I kidnapped him, he’s a Mystic, they can translate any language!”

Marcurio took a deep breath and released Karliah with a sharp crack of breaking the ice. His smile was much more stable when he spoke to her again. “If I find out that he’s hurt right now, because of you? I will turn you into a bar of soap, do you hear me?”

The waif nodded emphatically.

Later, on the road back to Riften to confront Mercer about his treachery, Marcurio started up a conversation with Karliah to break the tension. “So, you got this… Gallus’ journal? Why did Mercer kill him?”

Karliah’s blue-skinned face tinged a little pink at the question, and she coughed into her hand before answering. “Well, Mohamara admitted his translation wasn’t exact. But from what I gathered, Mercer was jealous that Gallus and I could be a couple, but that he wasn’t going to be allowed what he wanted. I.. don’t know why Gallus wouldn’t allow it, but according to Mohamara, he didn’t. And Mercer killed him because of it.”

“... Who did Mercer fancy that Gallus wouldn’t let him see?” Marcurio’s mind raced with possibilities. Vex, the infiltration specialist? Brynjolf, the Guild’s second in command? Vekel the Man, who ran the Ragged Flagon? All such juicy possibilities.

Maven Black-Briar.

Marcurio was so stunned he almost tripped over a rock in his path and had to flail about to regain his balance. When he had, he whirled around to meet Karliah’s eyes. “No way.”

“Yes way,” the Dunmer nodded. “Gallus suspected Mercer of being Ingun Black-Briar’s father, and didn’t think it was appropriate, for whatever reason.”

“Oh my many gods,” Marcurio actually started to laugh. A deep belly-laugh that carried for long distances on the snowfields of Winterhold. “That’s so much better than my theory that Gallus and Mercer were secretly an item.”

“...What?!”

--

One week prior, in the summoning chamber of a castle at the foot of Shearpoint mountain, a cadre of mages gathered to lend their energies to the summoning. For years, they had been working on this very spell--but their leader, the Caller, always said that the stars were not aligned for the completion of the ritual.

No longer.

The Caller, a High Elf mage and former head of Restoration at the College of Winterhold, had announced that the time was upon them! The stars had aligned to allow them to call upon the Daedra whose name they didn’t even know yet-- only its meaning. An offering was prepared, consisting of multiple parts to hopefully entice the Daedra to accept them into its service. One of the junior members was tied up and gagged, laid out on a long table before the summoning circle, alongside gold, food, books of ancient lore, and art of the finest quality they could obtain.

“Come to us!” The Caller beseeched the whirling mass of magicka. Those of her acolytes who knew summoning found it strange that she didn’t require a sigil stone for the ritual, but the spell hadn’t reacted negatively. Yet. “We summon you, across space! Across time! You, whose name means ‘I love you!’ Come to us! Please, we beg of you!”

A great wind kicked up, and a small whirlwind became visible at the center of the summoning circle. Lightning cracked, connecting the mass of magicka floating around the room to the base of the whirlwind. Purple fire sprang up and consumed the whirlwind. It expanded into a bubble and then exploded with force enough to send the Caller and her seventeen acolytes to the floor, and douse every candle in the ritual chamber.

“Quickly, light!” The Caller and those of her following who knew either Magelight or Candlelight created the illuminating orbs to clear the darkness. And with the light, they could see a pair of eyes looking back at them from the summoning circle.

With whispered orders, the assembled mages went to one knee before the summoned Daedra. “Oh Lord,” the Caller said with a solemn tone. “We make you this offering, that you might accept us as your faithful and share with us your knowledge.”

There was no immediate response, but soon enough they picked up on the sound of shifting cloth and some form of plaintive whining. It took a moment to realize it wasn’t coming from the student they had tied up as the sacrifice, a High Elf named Orthorn.

The Caller strained her ears to hear their Lord’s bidding, and could faintly make out ‘help’. “Our Lord requires assistance, who will volunteer?”

Two elemental mages rushed forward ahead of everyone else, they scurried toward the summoning circle on their hands and knees.

“The Master is bound,” the Bosmer of the pair declared with alarm from the dark. “I… I cannot understand this contraption. Master, please stop wriggling.”

More mages advanced, eager to earn their Master’s favor by freeing him. With them came the light, and it revealed a tiny figure, trapped in a bag lined with fur on the inside. Their Master’s head was revealed, seeming to be a Khajiit. Pale pink in color, with highlights of pale blue-gray and similarly pale lime-green--the colors the Caller had bid them dye their robes and decorate the castle with. But the Master could not speak to them, for his mouth was held shut by a muzzle of some fiendish design.

Naturally, it was the Caller who figured out how to free the Master. He stretched his jaw once free of the muzzle, showing mighty teeth for one so small. And then came freeing him from the bag.

Several of the more… delicate members of the coven fainted at seeing their Master in such a state of undress, but the Caller was quick to take a banner down from the wall to provide a covering for their Lord.

“Master,” she said as she returned to the pose of supplication. “Is our offering suitable for you? Will you take us into your service, and teach us what you deem worthy?”

The Master, naturally feigning confusion, examined the offering laid out for him. “Untie that man,” he said. And to his faithful, the sound of their Master’s voice was divine! “I assume he wants to be a student too?”

“Yes!” Orthorn cried, literally cried, with joy at being allowed to live once his gag was removed. “Thank you, Master! I won’t disappoint you, I promise!”

“Okay, fine, whatever.” The Master, of course, annoyed with Orthorn already, rubbed his temples. “You want me to teach you? Okay, someone wake those people up and form a circle. We’ll go around, introduce ourselves and tell me something about you so I know where to start. But first, someone find me some trousers.” After his new followers mistook his orders, the Master was regrettably forced to clarify. “That fit me, I meant!”

---

Chapter Text

 


---
Chapter 34: All Ahead Full

Mohamara stood in front of a chalkboard, while his new… minions seemed such a callous word, but he couldn’t think of something to describe them better. Faithful seemed too personal, none of them knew him enough to be faithful. But, they had asked him to teach them, so he did. And with his Mysticism skills locked behind some mental wall, he focused on what he still could do: Enchanting.

“Now, while the Nouveau style is certainly artistic, it’s also an incredibly inefficient enchanting style,” the pink cat explained while demonstrating the Nouveau style of conveying ‘Fire’ on the chalkboard versus the Runic and Nordic knot variant. “See, look how much more space it occupies? The Nouveau style is mostly for beginners, like you guys, because the increase in space is more forgiving of mistakes and easier to fix if you spot something wrong.”

“Master,” The Caller--who hoped to style herself as Mohamara’s high priestess--looked up from her notes to ask a question. “You mentioned a ‘Deco’ style in the last lecture?”

“I’m getting to that, don’t worry.” Mohamara cleaned off the board with a cloth and started on the next drawing. “The Deco style is an advanced enchanting style--not as advanced as Mandala or Nordic knots, but still more advanced than Nouveau. Deco style’s biggest selling point is it is sturdy. If you want to enchant a structure to resist earthquakes, weather conditions, tidal waves, or artillery--you use Deco. However, Deco style doesn’t translate well to day to day use, which means that the most you’ll use it will be in architectural work.” He paused to look over his shoulder. “This will be on the test, any questions?”

That almost everyone but The Caller raised their hands disheartened Mohamara more than it should have.

It turned out that he needn’t have been disheartened that there were so many questions. It wasn’t because he had explained things poorly--though he had forgotten to mention a few things such as how they were going to practice their linework. The questions were because they were full of ideas and questions of ‘why’; why they couldn’t combine linework styles, and why enchantments created through Mohamara’s methods didn’t require a recharge.

Mohamara wondered if this was how it would have felt to be a teacher. Perhaps if he’d taken the courses anyway, he could do a better job of explaining things or answering their questions. But as it was, they seemed to learn the best from asking questions. And though they mocked him relentlessly for it, Orthorn would ask questions no one else did about important things. Such as ‘how do you keep two nearby enchantments from affecting one another’s performance’?

None of them had tried to pet him or pick him up except for when they had gotten him out of the bag. And they all wore robes modeled on his fur--pastel pink, pale blue, and pale lime green. He could tell they wanted too, especially the Nord women. But they didn’t even ask for permission, they just… refrained from bringing it up at all.

Some of them had even come forth as former necromancers and asked how they could make amends. Mohamara gave them the Meridian answer to such repentance: “Reflect on the pain and suffering you have inflicted on those poor souls. Reflect on how it would feel to be in their situation. Work to make the world better for the rest of your days, and forget all that you knew on the vile subject except how to defeat it.”

The most baffling thing had come almost a week after he’d been teaching them when The Caller let slip a factoid. “You know, when we found out your name meant ‘I love you’, many of the faithful expected something… more ‘Dibellan’ in your nature.”

That stopped Mohamara from chopping up a potato for making into crisps to look at the High Elf with visible confusion. “It doesn’t.”

“Pardon, Lord?” The Caller stopped shucking corn to return Mohamara’s confused look.

“My name doesn’t mean ‘I love you’, it means ‘bastard’.” Dread began to creep into Mohamara--had they only summoned him by mistake?

However, The Caller actually laughed at Mohamara’s response, like it was a little joke. “Oh, Master, I had no idea you knew bilingual jokes.” When the cat didn’t respond in kind, her amusement faltered. “Um. While ‘Mohamara’ does translate that way in ta’agra, albeit in a cruel interpretation, in Daedric ‘Mohamara’ translates as ‘I love you’. Rather informally, too.”

Without Mohamara’s knowledge, the Sphere of Kindness reacted to this revelation and reached into his memories. They were a tangled mess of interconnected bonds, but it only needed one. One of the bonds rooted in his identity that grew between his name and his sense of self. ‘Unwanted’ was its name, and when the Sphere of Kindness touched it ‘Unwanted’ became ‘Loved’. Among all the gray and withered bonds, the one that had been changed shone bright pink. While it didn’t have an instant effect on the other gray bonds, they started to show just a bit more color from the bright pink being there.

Outside, the faithful kitchen staff was scrambling, with more and more mages coming into the kitchens and demanding to know who had made the Master cry. What finally stopped their panicking like decapitated chickens was Orthorn putting a bowl under Mohamara’s chin to collect the tears.

“What?” He said when everyone but the Master gave him accusatory looks. “Daedra tears are a valuable alchemical ingredient. The Master wouldn’t want us to waste them.”

--

The crying just wouldn’t stop. Orthorn had to change bowls several times, and eventually the faithful abandoned their attempt to shame him and joined in on the tear collection. Daedra tears, apparently, were really good alchemical ingredients. Fortunately, the castle’s internal collapses had opened an aquifer to partially flood rooms, and provide an easy source of water so Mohamara didn’t dehydrate himself too badly.

He wasn’t sad, though the faithful tried a variety of stunts to amuse him enough to stop crying. They even brought out some of the vampires they had been experimenting on to torment for his amusement.

After a while, Mohamara asked to be left alone and sat on the stairs in the partially flooded room trying to figure out what had happened to cause this. And how to stop it because after two days of crying non-stop, even in his sleep, it was too much. So, while he had the waterworks going, he decided to make it useful. “Dad, help.”

The top of Sheogorath’s head, from his scalp to the bridge of his nose rose up from the surface of the water. A disk of water that had been there rose up with it and rested on top of his head like a nonsensical hat. Bubbles rose to the water’s surface and popped, bringing the Mad God’s words into the room. “Hey, son! What’s the haps?”

“Please don’t use outdated slang,” Mohamara implored. “But I was wondering if you could look into my head and find out why this,” he indicated the tear-marks on his face, “won’t stop?”

From the surface of the water disk on Sheogorath’s head emerged Sheogorath’s hand and arm, in a thumbs up gesture. Then as quickly as he first appeared, he sank back into the water and was suddenly sitting next to Mohamara on the stairs.

“Alright, let’s take a look-see at what’s going on.” Sheogorath snapped his fingers and exploded into dust that flew into Mohamara’s nose automatically.

Sheogorath went beyond the meat of Mohamara’s brain, he went beyond the synapses firing, he went into the mind of a Khajiit. To his dismay, Mohamara’s mind was too rigid for him to have any fun with--such an ungracious host, nothing at all like Pelagius. His son’s mind took the form of a machine half shut down, with dozens of Mohamara’s in various outfits running around. They were pulling tarps off of disused components and oiling the parts that needed to move soon.

None seemed to mind Sheogorath walking amongst them in his Sheggorath aspect. It was like he wasn’t even there. Mohamaras in oil-stained overalls with bits of metal walked by and replaced damaged bits of the machine. As Sheggorath watched, lights for entire sections of the mental machine started to come on, cracking from the strain after so long asleep.

Sheggorath found the control room of the mind, where Mohamara’s connection to his chamberlain gave orders to the lesser aspects of the Khajiit’s mind. The command Mohamaras were dressed as naval officers, and stood flanking chadburns labeled with various mental functions. The connection to Mohamara’s chamberlain took the form of a massive round screen, where the spider-crab watched the control room and beyond from afar.

“The power plant is producing enough for us to bring more neurochemicals online, sir,” spoke a Mohamara labeled ‘Moody’.

“Excellent,” responded the Chamberlain, not commenting on Sheggorath lurking in the background. “We cannot afford to lose momentum. All ahead full, Mr. Moody.”

“Very good, sir.” As one, all the command Mohamaras adjusted their chadburns from ‘quarter ahead’ to ‘ahead full’.

Elsewhere in the mind of Mohamara, dozens of worker Mohamaras shoveled fuel into furnaces, shouting at each other to meet the demands of ‘ahead full’. Gauges marking emotional levels began to rise dramatically. And pistons that before were barely moving or outright stopped began to increase their speed. As soon as each one was oiled and connected to the power, it began to move.

For being so rigid, Sheggorath appreciated how much of a mess everything was. He found a strange beauty in the rhythm that came from the sound of pistons at maximum speed and decided he’d seen all he needed to.

When Sheorgorath returned to Nirn, he found his son crying even worse than when he had left. Outright bawling, really. Sheogorath shifted into his Sheggorath aspect here too and brought the young Daedric Khajiit into a hug. As much of a wreck as he was, Mohamara didn’t muster a resistance.

“Lad, there’s nothing wrong.” The Skooma Cat said in what was almost a consoling voice. “Except all the things that are unacceptably wrong with you and you should be ashamed of. But this isn’t one of those!” Sheggorath patted Mohamara on the head. “All that despondency that you had when Khajiit first found you is finally starting to break apart. As awful as it is for this one to say, you’re becoming what should be normal for you.” After the word ‘normal’, Sheggorath had to force the rest of the sentence out quickly as he began to violently hack and cough. It ended when he spat out a furball into the water. “Hate when that happens. Except when I don’t.”

“This is… normal?” Mohamara fought to talk around the ugly crying, not as well informed to the cause as Sheggorath.

“No, but approaching normal.” Once more he hacked and coughed until he spat out a hairball. “See this is why this one hates despair so much.” The Skooma Cat adjusted the hug he was giving Mohamara to something that would gel nicer with the cat’s less than stellar sense of masculinity--a side hug! “It drags you down so far that you think down is up, and up is down. And it doesn’t do it in a fun way, no, it turns everything gray and hopeless, and eugh.” Sheggorath stuck his tongue out in disgust. “Nasty. But you know what won’t be nasty, but be oodles of fun?”

Mohamara shook his head no, he didn’t even attempt to guess.

“When you get a look-see at your Chamberlain. Or what roughly equates to a chamberlain, a mortal hasn’t mantled you so it hasn’t combined with anyone.” The Skooma Cat shrugged. “And what your friend and hubby will say about it when they find out its been lying to them this whole time about being able to talk with you.”

--

Marcurio’s expression could only be described as the neutral face of displeasure. There was a nuance to the expression that few people could pick up. Brynjolf and Yagraz were two of those people, but Karliah was not. They had made it back to Riften, confronted the Guild about Mercer’s lies, ransacked the Guildmaster’s house--where Marcurio found the legendary sword Chillrend and was one hundred percent giving that to Mohamara--and had a long verbal debate about a splinter faction of the Thieves Guild.

Nightingales, servants of the Daedric Prince Nocturnal and protectors of the Prince of Night’s temple which granted thieves their luck, among other things. Nightingales that had once been Gallus, Mercer, and Karliah until the matter of murder happened. Nightingales that Karliah wanted Brynjolf and Marcurio to become.

The neutral face of displeasure was well deserved.

“You want me to sell my eternal soul to Nocturnal,” Marcurio started, his voice only a hair above being a monotone. “So that I can kill Mercer slightly more dead?”

“He’s a Nightingale, and he’s kept his powers somehow,” the waify Dunmer fired back. “We won’t stand a chance without the blessing of Nocturnal.”

“See, I kind of had this plan for where my soul would go after death.” Marcurio gestured erratically as he attempted to convey esoteric information. “I was going to spend my life, only sometimes sitting on an enormous pile of money, with my soon to be husband. He’d help me with my issues, I’d help him with his, and maybe we could grow to love each other. Maybe. And then I’d die, and stay with him in his realm in--I’m going to go on a limb and guess--Oblivion. Doing things such as not serving Nocturnal forever.”

Brynjolf, the red-headed Riften native did a double-take at that bit of information. “Wait--that sweet little thing in the portrait you showed us all is a Daedra? Boy doesn’t look like he could hurt fruit let alone rob people of their souls.”

“Short-stuff’s too much sweetness and light for that,” Yagraz commented with her arms crossed. “He’ll snark at ya, that’s about it.”

“Whatever you decide, it must be done soon.” Yehochanan clacked his claws like castanets within Yagraz’s bag. “The Master and his faithful are going to the ruin where Mercer will steal the Eyes of the Falmer. Even as changed as he is, Mercer will know the Master when he sees him.”

“What in Oblivion is Mohamara doing in Irkngthand?” Marcurio and Yagraz asked at the same time.

“Are either of you goin’ to be telling me what’s in that bag,” Brynjolf asked while pointing to the relevant container with his thumb.

“No,” the two said in unison once more.

“The bandits there are people who have been driven out of their homes by the war,” Yehochanan explained. “My Master’s nature hears their suffering and drives him to offer kindness as a balm for their wounds. He is there to help as many as who want to be helped.”

“Your husband’s a bleedin’ heart, lad,” Brynjolf commented. “Doesn’t sound like any Daedra I’ve heard of.”

“That’s what makes him so interesting,” Marcurio said like he was explaining how water wasn’t actually wet to someone. “But back to the topic we’ve diverged from--no, I don’t want to become a Nightingale.” He focused his gaze on Karliah. “Not just because I have a grudge to settle with you, though I do. Not because I dislike Nocturnal because I don’t. But because I refuse to sell my soul to kill one man.”

“That one man was strong enough to kill a Nightingale,” Karliah fired back, a bit of emotion in her raspy voice. “What hope do we have if we don’t have those powers too?”

“What even are these Nightingale powers? What are you proposing we sell our souls for?”

Karliah described powers that would set close friends against each other, powers that would let a Nightingale slip in and out of a person’s vision in literal blinks of an eye, and the power to change cause and effect. For the freedom to use these powers however they wished, Nightingales had to guard Nocturnal’s temple in life and in death, then serve her further in her realm of Oblivion.

“Only one of those even sounds worth selling my soul for,” Marcurio grumbled. “And that armor isn’t even stylish.” He gestured to the almost dour gray leather armor Karliah and Brynjolf wore. “An awful deal, all around.”

“The armor’s not meant to be stylish, it’s meant to keep you hidden. And on top of the powers she gives us, Nocturnal gives us back our luck.” The waify Dunmer crossed her arms. “You think you’ve got good fortune now? Imagine what luck you’d have if Nocturnal was actually giving you support.”

That stopped Marcurio’s tirade dead in its tracks. He couldn’t deny that he’d been by far the most fortunate of the Guild, who supposedly was cursed by Nocturnal. But for what, they still had no idea. If he suddenly had the Daedra of luck helping him, his mind boggled at the possibilities.

“Yeho,” the Nibense Imperial called out to the spider-crab who peeked out of Yagraz’s bag at his summons. “Does my betrothed have any grievance with Nocturnal?”

“No,” responded the spider-crab. “Nocturnal is his aunt, and while she and Meridia do not like each other, they still respect each other as sisters. Were the Lady of Infinite Energies aware of the state of Nocturnal’s temple, she would order the Master to rectify it anyway. Furthermore, the Master will instinctually form a bond of love with those who identify as his family.”

“Meridia? The Daedra of Day?” Brynjolf said in amazement. And then he saw Yehochanan poking out of Yagraz’s bag and froze. “What in Oblivion is that?”

All the spider-crab did to answer him was clack its claws like castanets.

--

When Mercer finally got in sight of Irkngthand, he was met by a strange phenomenon. From the Dwemer ruins, balls of light trailing sparks would fly upward into the night sky. And once they reached higher than any bird could fly, they exploded into enormous colorful displays. Sometimes they would explode multiple times, each with a different color. What magic was at work, he didn’t care much about. It just meant that there would be more light, and in turn, more shadows for Mercer to hide in.

The bandits he had expected were not in his way, to his surprise. They were gathered outside, in a crowd surrounded by mages in bizarre pink robes. It was these mages who would toss the balls of light that exploded high above. From what Mercer could pick up, they were taking requests of the bandits for what next to make.

He couldn’t understand--the display they were putting on would draw enemies for miles, yet the bandits didn’t seem to care. Still, it was a distraction he could make use of. Without the bandits to worry about, it was just the Dwemer traps and the Falmer to deal with.

Imagine his surprise to make his way all the way down to the Falmer statue in the depths of the Dwemer ruin, and saw that the jeweled eyes of the statue were missing. In their place, he found a note held to the statue’s nose with a bit of honey.

‘Lose something?’ And Karliah’s symbol. Mercer saw red. How had she figured out his plan? How had she gotten here ahead of him?!

“Yoohoo!”

Mercer automatically dodge-rolled away from where he stood, a good thing too as a ludicrously large Dwemer warhammer struck the ground where he had just been standing. His instincts told him to keep dodging, and as he did he dodged arrows and exploding balls of fire from on high. When it was clear he no longer needed to do so, he stopped and glared upward. On a ledge high above him were three fools in the armor of the Nightingales, and an Orc woman he’d never seen before.

“I know you went to all that trouble to get down there,” one of the male Nightingales said, and Mercer identified the voice as Brynjolf’s. “But we did a little lookin’ around and discovered a cave that goes right from the shore to down here. Fortunate, wouldn’t you say?”

“You shouldn’t have stayed to gloat,” Mercer told him. “Now you will all die.” He drew his sword and slashed the air in the right spot--moving the dust in a chain of events that would knock loose the last bits of stone holding Lake Yogrim at bay. The earth shook, and the interlopers had to struggle to stay up on their ledge. Save one. The other male Nightingale, undoubtedly Marcurio, remained standing with no difficulty.

Mercer almost respected that.

“Stealing from a Daedra never ends well, you know.” Marcurio lept from the ledge and clung to the walls like a spider to stop his momentum. After a few more such jumps, the Nightingale and the Guildmaster stood on equal footing, glaring at one another. “But really, I’m only here because you fucking stabbed me in the neck.”

“Petty revenge is it? I thought better of you, boy.”

“You really, aggressively, shouldn’t have.” Marcurio shrugged. “I take after my dad in the pettiness department. Now, let’s get to some of that petty revenge, shall we? And if you end up winning, you can go be with Maven or whatever.”

Mercer’s brain stopped almost for so long that he’d risk being made an easy target. When he came out of it, he spoke with genuine curiosity. “Why would I go be with Maven? I intended to leave Skyrim altogether.”

“Well, that’s what all this Gallus murder was about, wasn’t it?” Behind his mask, Mercer guessed Marcurio to be looking insufferably smug about the situation. “You and Maven were going,” the man made a series of clicks, whistles, and rude gestures, “and Gallus didn’t like that even though he and Karliah were going,” he made another series of clicks, whistles, and even ruder gestures.

Flabbergasted beyond belief, Mercer stared open-mouthed at the Nightingale. “What? What?! No! I killed Gallus because he tried to stop me stealing the Skeleton Key!”

“The skeleton whoozit-whatzit?”

However, Karliah seemed to know what was going on. She gasped in horror at Mercer’s words.

“The Skeleton Key, Nocturnal’s Daedric Artifact,” Mercer declared with clear pride. “She used it only to maintain a portal that she never used. But I have found so many uses for it, the best uses for it! With the Key, I am unbeatable, and will eventually come into the possession of limitless wealth!”

From up on the ledge, a blinding light emerged from behind the remaining interlopers. Perhaps the sun was coming up outside?

“Lady Meridia,” Marcurio said with solemnity. “I trust this is good enough of a reason for us to have involved you?”

“If it was not, I would not be here, mortal.” Mercer looked up and saw a pink Khajiit, the size of a child, with eyes that shone from within with golden light and a halo of that same light behind his head. The cat and Guildmaster locked gazes, and Mercer found it to be like staring into the sun. “How dare you, mortal?” The cat spoke in a male and female voice overlapping each other. “How dare you presume to steal from my sister!?” Wings of golden light formed on the cat’s back and the Daedra-possessed Khajiit launched himself down at Mercer.

Time slowed down and Mercer went over his options. The Daedra-possessed Khajiit was coming in so fast, too fast. Even if he started dodging the moment the cat had developed wings, he couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the way. Every solution the Skeleton Key brought to mind required more of Mercer’s body than he could give.

With no viable options for escape, he had to fight like a mere mortal. All the wounds he inflicted on the cat healed themselves instantly, and the wounds inflicted on Mercer from the cat’s massive fangs, wing slams, and weapons of light burned like the hottest fire he’d ever experienced. The cuts from the light-sword instantly cauterized themselves. But Mercer knew, if he could just stay alive long enough, the Skeleton Key would--...

...Get stolen, as it turned out. Mercer realized he had lost eight of his senses, he could no longer see the stream of information the Key had provided, and he couldn’t slow down time to think. The cause revealed itself to be Marcurio, standing on the crossed legs of the Falmer statue, with the Skeleton Key in his hand.

Without it, Mercer found himself held aloft by his neck and the will of the angry Daedra of the Day. “Chamberlain,” the cat snarled in its double-voice. “Bind this mortal, but keep him alive. I want my sister to have her vengeance.”

A pink spider-crab thing soon appeared in Mercer’s vision and he was helpless to resist as it scuttled all over him and bound him up in prismatic silk until only his nose was exposed.

“Now. You, who has the Skeleton Key. Take this wretch to Nocturnal’s temple, open her portal, and cast this thief on whatever bed of coals she deems appropriate.”

Left in the dark, only able to faintly hear what went on outside his cocoon, and with no ability to escape his prison, Mercer became what he had stolen the Key to never become again. He became afraid.

--

“So, you got some worshippers now?”

Mohamara looked up from working on enchanting a spyglass. Now that he was back in Helgen, he had backlogged work to catch up on. But this time, with his most promising students to help him out--save The Caller. She, the rest of the faithful, and the bandits of Irkngthand were in the process of a grand migration--from Shearpoint mountain to Volskygge Valley, where they would form a settlement to honor Mohamara.

The mask of the Dragon Priest that had once lurked on Shearpoint’s western slope--Krosis--proved to be an excellent teaching tool for how to overlay enchanting effects, and it lay on the table next to the fireplace for his students to look at, study the interconnected arrays, and inspire their own work. The Legion appreciated having more of Mohamara’s style of enchanters around, even if they wore pink and were absolutely lovey-dovey. Even when compared to Mara’s priesthood.

“Sorta,” the cat said at last to Yagraz. On his back, Yehochanan was busy pulling excess emotions out of his head and spinning them up in prismatic cloth for Mohamara to process or use for his enchanting. “There aren’t rites, or sacred texts yet. So it’s more like… a philosophy? But they asked to be my students, so until they get a religion organized, students are what I’ll call them.”

“Good for you, short-stuff.” She ruffled the Khajiit’s fur and had the spider-crab clack his claws in castanet fashion for disrupting his work. “You’re finally able to be a teacher. Going to teach them Mysticism?”

Mohamara groaned and rested his head in his hands. “Oh that’s going to suck. They’ll be miserable, and then I’ll feel guilty about it, and I’ll try to dumb it down and they won’t learn it right….”

“Have the same faith in yourself that your followers have in you, Master,” Yehochanan chimed in as he trapped anxiety in his silk. “Let them walk the path and learn as you did, and trust that they will come to understand eventually.”

“This feels incredibly weird, by the way.” Mohamara pointed at the cat-sized spider-crab riding on his back and shoulders, plucking at the base of his skull to extract emotions.

“It looks so much worse,” Yagraz commented. “Like, if I was a pansy-ass like that one Orthen student guy, I’d probably have thrown up from watching this so long.”

“He’s not like exposing my brain is he?”

“No, but those emotions are ugly when he pulls them out.” She made a disgusted noise. “I think one of them blinked at me.”

“That would be paranoia,” Yehochanan clarified. “And yes, it did.”
---
 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 35: Whom you Marry

Mohamara dreamed of fishing. In his dream, he could swim fast enough to catch swordfish, macefish, and juvenile sea serpents. He would drag them to the surface so that the seagulls might eat that which he did not. They were just as hungry as he was, and so far from a place to rest their wings.

Sharks would pass by him like he wasn’t there unless he fancied taking a bite out of them. All in all, it was a good dream.

And then he heard it. A keening cry from the distance, followed by chirping and all the fish vanishing from the water. Whales.

Mohamara swam as fast as he could, but his speed seemed to have left him. They were getting closer, he could hear them telling him to swim faster, that they needed their exercise. He couldn’t dive down, he’d never be able to go deeper than them, and he couldn’t fly--

Except that he could. He remembered he could fly, and lept up out of the water.

But that was where the whales were. Their flukes and fins had been replaced with feathery wings, and they chased after him in the sky too. Every time they came close they bit off a piece of him until he was only hopping forward on one leg. And then they took that too.

Alone, with no one to rescue him, the only option left to him seemed to be to wait for the whales to close in and hope that they’d start with his head.

--

He woke up before that, though. On his back, Yehochanan was extracting the helplessness he’d been feeling and wrapping it up tightly. It was fortunate that he woke up at that moment, for he saw Marcurio sneaking into Mohamara’s workshop to lay a strange malachite glass sword down on the enchanter’s breakfast table, along with a carved mahogany box roughly the size of Yehochanan.

The mage-thief was back to his usual silk robes, and perhaps the lack of sneaking enchantments had been what allowed Mohamara to catch him in the act. But regardless of circumstance, the cat latched onto the distraction from how useless he still was. “Hey,” the cat called, quiet so that his students or Hadvar wouldn’t wake up.

Marcurio paused to look over at Mohamara and winked. “Hey yourself.”

“Do you have to leave so soon?”


Marcurio arched an eyebrow while Mohamara got out of bed and hastily found a robe to get dressed with so they could leave. Yehochanan clung to the cat’s back like a backpack, his weight hardly noticeable. Human, Khajiit, and Daedric spider-crab silently made their way through the keep and out to Helgen’s wall. The guard that would have patrolled that section of the wall was fast asleep inside the turret, according to Marcurio.

“So why’d you want to come out here rather than sit in the muffle bubble?” Marcurio asked as they sat on the wall overlooking Ilinalta Valley to the north.

“I didn’t want my students waking up and seeing you and me talking, they’d pester you something awful.” Mohamara attempted to glare over his shoulder at his… servitor. “Because someone couldn’t keep quiet that we’re going to be married.”

“They want you to be happy,” Yehochanan defended. “Remember that Meridia is kindest of all the Daedra because she speaks the truth when asked, and model your religion on hers.”

“Speaking of Daedra,” Macurio cut in. “In the spirit of being honest, I need to let you know that I made a deal with Nocturnal. For the powers and pure luck that let us deal with Mercer--I don’t think you know who that is, the guy who gave me this.” The Imperial pulled aside a lavish tasseled silk scarf to reveal a nasty scar on his neck.

A burning rage lit in Mohamara’s stomach before it was hastily extracted by Yehochanan. “Oh. Is he… dead?”

Marcurio’s smile was wicked and cruel. “Oh, I bet he wishes he was. Want to hear what I did with him?” When Mohamara nodded, the mage-thief started off on the story.

--

The Twilight Sepulcher, the temple of Nocturnal, was as dark and unknown as Nocturnal herself. While in the seemingly Nordic structure Marcurio could feel eyes on him constantly. Things moved in the dark, and more than once he had turned behind him to see eyes watching him from afar.

When he’d first arrived, he was confronted with a ghost. The spectral form of Gallus, now in the post-death phase of his service. Gallus informed Marcurio that since the Skeleton Key had been stolen, the Sepulcher and everything in it was running on the temple’s residual power. Even the Nightingale sentries. Most had lost their minds in the struggle to remain solvent enough to defend the temple from intruders--Gallus was only spared by being relatively new.

And when Marcurio had informed him of who was cocooned in prismatic silk and slung over his shoulder, Gallus very nearly went rabid in the attempt to get at Mercer. Fortunately, a kick to the head was an effective way to knock the sense into a ghost.

“Hands off, he belongs to Nocturnal,” Marcurio had said, sour about being made to do this task. “I guess we all do. But he will face her punishment directly.”

“I almost pity you, Mercer,” Gallus snarled with spectral vitriol. “You will be the first person since the Grey Fox to taste Nocturnal’s fury.”

Mercer occasionally tried to break free, but Yehochanan’s thread held fast. The only times Marcurio had even seen the thread strain was as Kipgolsik flew through clouds--water was not kind to the silk.

There was a section of the temple that was totally dark, with brazier’s that lit up a rough path to safely traverse. But the trick was that the light burned like acid--even when Marcurio created light of his own.

That room was the highlight of the early temple. After that, it was mostly straightforward. All the doors were trapped, anything valuable clearly displayed was trapped, any trap that could be spotted was a decoy meant to disguise a cleverer trap nearby.

Having a useful weight that, while free to be abused, still needed to be kept alive was useful and irksome at various points throughout the dungeon crawl. At one point, a Nightingale sentinel had surprised Marcurio so much that the mage-thief bludgeoned her to re-death with Mercer as the weapon.

But then he came to a pit. It was clearly the only way forward, but the presence of human remains at the bottom didn’t bode well for his odds of it being progress. However, if necessary he could climb back out by gripping the wall. Alteration and Nightingale powers played absurdly well together.

The pit was an illusion, that dissolved at some cue from the Skeleton Key. Mercer’s attempts to get free became frantic after Marcurio put the Key back into an altar that appeared out of what had been the pit. The whole room changed, three doorways grew from the walls, the altar rose up and became a basin filled with violet water that flowed into the doorways, and moon dials appeared over the paths they took.

And from the water, preceded by a murder of crows, was Nocturnal. She talked like Marcurio’s father, he realized as she monologued without giving Marcurio a way to cut in edgewise. So he made one for himself.

“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s a traitor shaped mammoth in the room that needs to be dealt with,” he had said and indicated Mercer, attempting to inchworm his way away from them.

“... You brought him alive?” Nocturnal seemed perplexed by this. “I suppose you thought I would be pleased to have one of my debtors brought back to me unspoiled. Hmph.” The Prince of Night flicked her dainty hands in Mercer’s direction. More crows emerged from the Oblivion portal and enveloped Mercer’s wriggling body.

He screamed when the birds were on their way, but froze and went quiet as they gently landed on him. The mercer-shaped murder of crows was still for a long moment and then scattered. When they left, there was no sign of Mercer, only a gleaming metal screw that rolled gently away from where he had lain.

“Mercer faces his punishment now. But I am not Azura or Meridia, whose vengeance burns hot. He would have suffered just as much had you sent his soul to me. Make a note of that in the future.” The Daedra’s business-like expression didn’t soften, but her eyes became less inscrutable as Marcurio met her gaze. “But I owe my sister a debt for helping you do your duty. And my first nephew deserves a token of affection for making a place for me in his heart when his sisters did not.”

“I’m sure whatever you give will be most appreciated, Ma’am.”

“‘Ma’am’?’ Hmm, I like that. Certainly more than ‘Lady Nocturnal’.” Darkness tendrils reached out from the shadows on the room and gathered to form a single marble-sized sphere of un-light, that devoured the light that dared touch it. “Here. My nephew has been in my sister’s shadow for so long, he has forgotten there is beauty and protection in the dark. Place this into his right eye, and he will see.”

--

Marcurio did not tell the part about the un-light to Mohamara. Neither did he tell the cat that he held the mote of un-light in his pocket. It was something that he had intended to bring up when the cat was more accepting of physical contact. It seemed an important milestone to hit before asking to shove a ball of Daedric darkness into someone’s eyeball. But the thought gave Marcurio an idea for how to follow up his story.

“So, the dragon took me back to Riften--Kipgolsik, he’s deceptively endearing, and I say that because he is one-thousand percent going to doublecross me someday--and I remembered that you are missing rather important bits of your skeleton.” Marcurio smiled to look sly, but it had a negative effect.

Mohamara’s ears went flat against his skull. “They’re not missing, they’re just… not Khajiit. It’s like I have Human bones stuck in my fingers and toes.”

“I apologize, that was rude. So, I happen to know a face sculptor in Riften and I talked to her about your situation. We’re really lucky that it wasn’t something with your skull because according to her Khajiit sinuses are ridiculously easy to screw up. But she’s certain she can fix your claw problem.” Marcurio cleared his throat, realizing in hindsight how awkward this had been to bring up right after the story. “I can certify that she’s not a goose, she’s done… rather extensive work on me in the past.”

The cat’s ears swept forward in curiosity. “Scar removal?”

“Well, yes though she doens't enjoy doing those. But also more….” Marcuriro gestured vaguely to his torso. “Invasive work.”

“Oh, well thank you. But… from what I remember of the procedure, it hurts like a bitch. So I’m going to be putting that off as long as possible. And, considering all the nice things you’ve done for me, I was sort of wondering how I could do something nice for you?” Mohamara kicked his short legs back and forth over the Helgen wall. “I mean, this isn’t a one-way street, this relationship. Gotta have some give along with the take, yeah?”

“Hmmm.” Marcurio stopped to consider this development. He’d honestly expected to have to court the cat way more than he had to see a return on the emotional investment. Mohamara had been described as ‘severely depressed’, after all. “Well I had a list, but like an idiot, I didn’t think to bring it with me when I brought your presents.” He leaned over to the cat as close as he could without crossing the ‘no touching without permission boundary’. “By the way. Chillrend, a legendary magical sword of unknown providence. And a set of carved camphor laurel brushes and combs, with complimentary shampoo and scented fur oil. Imported from Elsweyr.”

“They have camphor laurels in Elsweyr?”

“Mostly in the southern half. But back on topic“ Marcurio considered the situation, and decided honesty to be the best policy. “Well, we’re sort of in a no-win situation on that front. I’m independently wealthy, and can afford most material goods, or steal them when I can’t.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Mohamara. “By the way, your enchanted stuff sells really well on the black market.”

The cat actually blushed a bit and looked flattered. “You’ve been stealing my products?”

“Of course I have, you’re the best enchanter in Tamriel. I would be insulting you by not stealing the stuff you make.”

Marcurio’s blunt admittance to theft seemed to have the opposite effect on Mohamara than what Marcurio had expected. In place of outrage, he saw the cat acting bashful.

“I guess… I just didn’t think anything I made would be worth you stealing yourself, yeah?” The cat twiddled his thumbs and avoided Marcurio’s gaze.

“Mohamara, everything you make is worth stealing. Everything about you is worth me spending my precious time stealing, and selling to the highest bidder. Never doubt that, not for a moment.”

That got the cat to look up at him in confusion. “Is that some weird Khajiit flirting that you learned from Ahkari?”

“Is it working?”

“...Not really.”

“Then yes, it is. And I apologize for the poor attempt.” Marcurio’s usual smug grin became good-natured. “But back to the topic. From my upbringing, for better or for worse, the only non-material way of expressing affection I can remember are acts of physical intimacy. No, not like that,” Marcurio said when Mohamara’s face and ears turned cherry red. “Well, yes, like that. But not in this context. Hand-holding, brushing each other’s hair, exchange of kisses, painting nails, stuff like that.” Marcurio glanced at Mohamara’s hands and squinted. “I don’t think you even have fingernails for me to paint. Anyway, all of this flies in face of your ‘no touching’ policy.”

“No touching without permission,” Yehochanan was quick to correct the Imperial.

“Yes, that.”

“I’m glad that you’re still keeping to that.” The cat noted the sun rising above Bleak Falls Barrow far in the distance. They had been talking for a long time. “Given you’re… well, the Mad God picked you. And now you say you belong to Nocturnal. She doesn’t exactly play nice with Meridians. Day and Night, you know how it is.”

“I do,” Marcurio agreed. “But… she’s your aunt, isn’t she?”

“Perhaps. Nocturnal’s origins are unknown, she’s possibly one of the first generation of et’Ada. Or one of the eldest second generation. And even if she is, I know nothing about her as a person.” The cat sighed. “But… you’re right. If she’s my aunt, then I’ll give her the chance to be honest with her intentions, if any.” The cat shrugged. “I mean, come on. She probably has way more important stuff to do than plan bad things happening to one Khajiit.”

Meanwhile, in Evergloam, Nocturnal sat on her throne of darkest midnight while a line of corvids stretched out before her into the twilight city. When the line shifted forward, a new corvid bird flapped to their Daedra’s hand where she preened them and collected the feathers they had shed. Once done, she would end the preening with a bored ‘next!’

Back on Nirn, Mohamara got a sudden idea. “I can teach you how to fly!”

Marcurio seemed stunned, then cleared his throat. “You do remember that’s illegal, right? Flying magic?”

The cat shrugged. “Who's going to stop you when you can literally go up higher than they can shoot arrows?” Without further thought, the tojay hopped off the Helgen wall and walked on the thin air like it was substantial. “I can’t teach you to do the really complex stuff, but once you get the basics you should be able to figure it out yourself.”

“Isn’t that… Mysticism magic?” Marucio squinted to make sure no one on the ground level of Helgen was attempting to look up Mohamara’s robe, then focused on the cat.

“Not really? Technically, all levitation magics are jointly Mysticism and Alteration. But I’ve been starting to realize that even though Mysticism uses magicka too, it isn’t magic per se. It can accomplish a lot of what other schools of magic do, but with its own twist. For instance, I don’t think Alteration levitation magic lets you do this!” Mohamara hopped up and then started to sink into the air before he was propelled upward by some unseen force. With his tojay jump height, he went substantially higher than the wall, and did a series of flips and twists before he came back down to… somehow sit on the air. Whatever he was doing seemed less solid than before, as he bobbed up and down for a moment. “Invisible trampolines!”

Marcurio could see so many uses for what Mohamara had shown him, but more than that he was happy that the Khajiit was willing to trust him with what before was something exclusively Mohamara could do. He hadn’t even taught it to his students!

The Praefect left in charge of Helgen’s Legion forces had just finished telling off the guard on the wall for sleeping instead of doing his Stendarr damned duty and shoved the Auxillary out through the tower door. She watched the Colovian boy scramble to get into his patrol routine, and found something drawing her attention out of the corner of her eye.

Two mages, one a pink child-sized Khajiit in a hedge wizard’s robe, and the other a Nibenese Imperial in bizarre College of Winterhold robes chasing each other through the thin air. Strangely they were singing as they did so, about flying kites. The cat seemed the more proficient at air walking/running and was consistently able to keep away from the Imperial. However, it was enough to convince the Praefect that she was actually dreaming. And the horrible thought of dreaming her work life made her decide to put in for her medical leave as soon as she woke up.

--

When he next arrived at the Tooth to check on the progress being made, he found two Riften guards standing near the road. “Hold,” one of the men with a Whiterun accent declared. “Jarl Laila Law-Giver demands an audience with you in Mistveil Keep, Thane. We request you come peacefully.”

The use of his title had been concerning, but the Guild would have sent someone to let him know if there was a bounty on him in Riften. And the Jarl’s steward was a Guild member as well, so he suspected that there was an emergency that needed his help to deal with. “Of course I will come peacefully,” the Imperial told the guards. “Come, we must make haste--it is unseemly to make the Jarl wait.”

With haste, the three of them made their way to Riften, and then to Mistveil Keep. One of the only stone structures in Riften, Mistveil was a run-down castle on the outside, but past the outermost walls it was still a Jarl’s palace in decor and luxury. Laila’s entrance hall was also her throne room and feasting hall. It had been a tradition for the Jarl of Riften to always have food on their table, to feed their citizens when they could not feed themselves. But as the beggars out in the city had found, the tradition was merely pretty words.

Laila lounged on her throne when the guards escorted Marucrio in. She was only a year or two older than Maven and with red hair from her Solitude mother making her a rare beauty in the Rift. Her face was pensive, not a good sign in Marcurio’s books. Laila’s Stormcloak fanboy son Harrald drew steel as Marcurio approached the foot of the stairs that led up to the Jarl’s throne.

“Good, that the guards did not have to bring you to us in chains gives me hope,” spoke Laila Law-Giver. She sounded genuinely relieved, but her choice of words made the thief-mage believe he had been wrong to assume an emergency was in progress.

Marcurio glanced at the Jarl’s steward, a Bosmer woman named Anuriel. She had once been a top member of the Thieves Guild, the best at forging numbers. But, according to Brynjolf, when Gallus died and the Guild devolved into civil war, she had opposed Mercer’s ascension on the grounds that Gallus hadn’t kept tradition and named a successor--it was the responsibility of the senior Guild members to select one. Mercer couldn’t trust her for not supporting him, but couldn’t kill her because all she had done was propose following Guild rules. So she’d been quietly moved out of the Guild proper, and into Maven’s side of things.

The steward was not giving him any of the warning signs, which meant that this was a situation that could be handled with his improvisational skills.

“My Jarl, it is part of my duty as Thane to give hope--to you and the people of the Rift.” Marcurio bowed deep before her, and completely disregarded the glare the Jarl’s son directed at him. “Tell me what I must do to put an end to your troubles, and it will be done.”

Laila was a sucker for theatrics, it was why Marcurio had talked with Maven about opening a bard’s college in Riften to compete with Solitude’s. Construction was due to start in Frostfall.

The Jarl sighed, happy that the situation was becoming more to what she was accustomed. “It is a simple matter. One I am sure you can explain to our liking.” The Jarl struck the heel of one hand with the fingers of her other, a signal of some sort.

From behind her, the double doors deeper into the Keep opened, and two burly men in the bear fur trimmed armor of Stormcloak officers entered in. One was the bald-headed Gonnar Oath-Giver, Stormcloak military commander for the Rift. The other was far more concerning, being the battle-scarred, gray-bearded, mean old sonuvabitch of a Nord, Galmar Stone-Fist. Second in command of the Stormcloak armies.

“Our scouts have reported you frequently coming and going between the Rift and Helgen,” Laila informed Marcurio with a serene expression. She seemed unaffected by the dour men flanking her. “Helgen happens to be the mustering point for many of the Empire’s forces in the south of Skyrim. And rumor has it that the Legion is developing secret magical weapons there. Galmar here questions your loyalty to the Rift, and to our cause. Please, tell us the truth and let us go back to being friends.”

The thief-mage’s mind worked quickly like he was explaining to his father why he had been out all night with the girls as a teenager. Exactly the sort of reason he became a Guild member, situations like this.

“Well, my Jarl, my friend, I must say I’m rather offended.” Marcurio put on a tone of affront and crossed his arms. “After all I’ve done for the Rift, in one year mind you, I would have thought you would bring these concerns to my attention before it got so severe.”

Laila looked genuinely remorseful but shook her head. “I know and were it my decision I would do so. But Galmar insisted, and with so much on the line I could not refuse him.”

“The more eyes on you, Imperial,” Galmar spat, literally spat, the word out, “the easier it is to spot a lie.”

“Well, if you must know, I’ve been sneaking into Helgen frequently to discover intelligence about the town and the Legion forces garrisoned there.” Marcurio took from his satchel bag a journal he used to keep track of guard patrol timings and easy access points before he had them memorized. Originally, he’d planned to put them in the Guild’s records, but he could make a second copy.

The journal was passed to Laila’s housecarl, who in turn took it up to her. And after she read through it, she passed it to Galmar. Galmar didn’t seem happy with the intelligence, but he didn’t become any angrier from it.

“Why, you may ask? Because I’ve been planning a rescue attempt.” Just as the housecarl was coming back down the stairs, Marcurio thrust another item into his hands. A rolled up cloth portrait, a copy of the one Sheogorath had provided of Mohamara during the interview process. “My beloved has been conscripted into the Legion--because he was skilled with the making of magic items and lived in Haafingar. I had been trying to get him to come and stay with me so we may be wed, but General Tullius’ timing was better than mine.”

When the housecarl handed Mohamara’s portrait to Laila, she became like a woman thirty years younger. Cooing and squealing at the tojay’s adorable face. “Oh, Marcurio, he’s the single cutest thing I’ve ever seen!” She hastily leaned over to show Anuriel, who had much the same reaction. All the while the Stormcloaks looked down at the development with befuddlement. At least Gonnar gave a little ‘aww, how cute’ when Laila showed him the cat.

“He’s even cuter with his fur dye in. Tojay Khajiit are small, they don’t grow higher than a man’s waist, so they dye their fur when they’re grown up. My love favors pinks for his coloring.”

The mental image got both the Jarl and the steward squealing like delighted children. Galmar’s expression became increasingly one of disgust.

“With someone as adorable, small, and not a fighter on his own, I worry for his safety. And his virtue.” The thief-mage’s face was a mask of grim seriousness. “You know the types of people in the Legion, my Jarl. And I’m sure you know what happens when someone is too weak to fight back.”

All the delight bled out of Laila. Suddenly, she was as a Jarl should be, grand and with a palpable presence. “I am convinced,” she said and glared to meet Galmar’s look of disgust. “Are you?”

“...Feh, fine. What your nobles sheathe their blades in isn’t my concern,” Galmar dismissively waved the Jarl off. “I’ll tell Ulfric it’s a problem you can deal with.”

“Good. Now, onto other business.” Laila looked down to Marcurio again, still pretending she was a Jarl to be respected. “The Stormcloaks are planning a two-pronged offensive against the Legion. In the south, we will hit Helgen and either take it for ourselves or render it useless to the Empire. Fort Neugrad has already fallen to us, and they haven’t even noticed.”

Neither had Marcurio, which surprised the thief-mage. Who knew loud Nords in bear fur armor could be sneaky?

“The goal is to destroy whatever weapon the Empire is building there and to capture General Tullius, whom our scouts say is due to visit the town in a week’s time. Meanwhile, in the north, Ulfric’s fleet will attack Solitude directly while they are still rebuilding. If all goes well, we will decapitate both heads of the Empire’s forces in Skyrim.”

Why are you telling all this to one of your nobles,” Galmar demanded to know.

The Jarl stood from her throne and loomed over Galmar. With her heeled boots and natural height, she was substantially taller than the Stormcloak. “Because he is my friend, because he gave us intel about Helgen we can use, and because I trust him.” Perhaps she was pretending so much that she was legitimately believing herself to be a Jarl, and worth being respected and feared. Anuriel was certainly surprised at the fire from Laila. “Without him, the Rift wouldn’t have the food or the gold to support this rebellion as we have, and his loyalty is no longer in question. Is that enough for you, soldier?”

Galmar seemed to find the whole situation amusing all of a sudden. “Heh, where has this side of you been all these years? Perhaps Ulfric and you would get along better if you were like this more often. Perhaps even enough to be his first wife.”

“My Jarl, can I trust the forces you are to send against Helgen to not murder my beloved, or worse? Or should I make a rescue attempt before you tear the garrison’s walls down around them?” Marcurio cut into the dialogue between Jarl and foreign military advisor with practiced ease. He’d done it too often with his father. And he'd seen too many chauvanistic old Nords make comments like Galmar's about either Marcurio, or Marcurio's aunts, to consent to stay longer.

“Of course he will be safe,” Laila warmly said to the thief-mage. Then she snapped back to Galmar, sharp as steel. “You hear that? The cat is to be a person taken alive, and unharmed. If, after the attack’s success, I find out that your boys so much as made a rude gesture to this,” she opened up the portrait of Mohamara again and cooed at his image, “adorable thing….” The Jarl looked at Galmar with an expression that made Marcurio wonder if she was perhaps slightly mad. “I will have you crucified. Am I understood?”

It was then that both members attending figured out, at long last, how to incense Laila Law-Giver into a productive fury: Imply or provided evidence of harm to cats. Ahkari was going to be gleeful to find this out, Marcurio decided. Perhaps enough to request an audience. And if Laila had this reaction with all Khajiit, they might just make out like bandits.

But still, Marcurio shelved those ponderings for later as he left Mistveil Keep and went down to the ratways and then to the Guild. This two-pronged attack was going to present plenty of opportunities for the Guild in both Falkreath and Solitude, and they needed people in place to clean up the mess no matter who won.

And it was long overdue that Marcurio talked to Delvin about contacting the Dark Brotherhood for a special job: The assassination of Ulfric Stormcloak.

---

Chapter Text

 


---
Chapter 36: The Helgen Incident

“Master, I was wondering… could you tell us about your realm?”

Mohamara looked up from grating cheese for his latest pizza attempt to squint at Orthorn. While the High Elf had been… lackluster as a traditional mage, he had proven exceedingly competent as a battlemage and enchanter. Orthorn had already started on practicing Mandala linework, something even Mohamara avoided like the plague. His inquiry seemed earnest enough, though from how Mohamara’s other students neglected their work ever so slightly so they could listen in, the Khajiit guessed that they had been planning this for a while.

“Forgive me if I’ve been impertinent,” the High Elf quickly clasped his hands and held them up as he bowed. It was something he found all the students doing when they felt the need to apologize--perhaps a version of the pose of supplication? “It’s just… we know so little about you, and you’ve taught us so much. We would love to know about the domain you rule.”

“Well, that’s an easy question. I don’t rule a domain.” The Khajiit shrugged and went back to grating cheese. “I come from far, far in the future. When Men, Mer, and Beastfolk travel by ships that ride on the winds to get everywhere. Where people live in giant towering buildings. And where everyone in the world, and every topic, can be found just by speaking into a looking glass.”

Mohamara was sure that whatever they imagined from his description was far more entertaining than the reality. Once the block of goat cheese was grated, he quickly went to his storage chest and retrieved his slate to show them.

“This is my looking glass, a slate. More mobile than a grimoire or an archive, but it sacrifices power to do so. Charged by magicka, and host to many servitors to make life easier.”

“That’s the mark of House Telvanni on the back,” the only Dunmer among his best students commented with amazement.

“Yeah, House Telvanni becomes the Telvanni corporation. They’re the leading experts in enchanting--I was taking a course to find employment with them before….” Mohamara drooped a bit remembering the unpleasantness of his first arrival to the Fourth Era. He shook those feelings off before his students lept to conclusions. “Anyway, let that be something to take with you. Yes, I’m the best at what I do right now. But in the future, what I know is something expected of the dimmest students. Don’t think you can’t possibly do better than me, even I’m still learning.”

“Can you tell us more about this future you come from, Lord?” Orthorn asked, excited by whatever he was imagining from what Mohamara had shared.

“Alright, one question each and then you go back to your work.”

The Dunmer student, Galamir Vedulis, of course, asked about Morrowind’s future. And Mohamara had to tell him gently that Morrowind got the living annihilation shit kicked out of it from the Fourth Era to the Ninth. The Dunmer’s province was a prolonged series of ‘how could this possibly get worse?’ questions that were immediately answered. Even the Elven Empire that came to rule didn’t treat them well, the Orcs got better treatment than the Dunmer. But rather than sink into despair, his student seemed to draw resolve from Mohamara’s answer.

“Then I will do my best to learn from you, that I may pass on the kindness you have shown me, and make the lives of my people a little better,” declared the student. “We can’t stop natural disasters, or wars breaking out, but we can make individual people’s lives happier.”

Thankfully the remaining questions weren’t as heavy.

“Can you show us something from your looking glass… slate?” A Bosmer student, Brenelin, asked next, which set up an opportunity for a group portrait. Once they’d all lined up on the wall, Mohamara set a timer and joined them. Afterward, he showed it to them, and explained how the servitor captured the image and could burn it off onto any surface--he demonstrated this with a page from a blank journal.

“Does everyone wear clothes like this in the future?” A Redguard woman, Traynda, held up one of Mohamara’s future shirts and his swimsuit to highlight the difference between Fourth Era and Twenty-First Era clothes. Most of the students hadn’t seen Mohamara’s future clothes before, and found the worked textiles bizarre, judging by their expressions.

“There’s a variety of options, and stop going through my stuff!” Mohamara actually snapped at the Redguard student and jumped up to snatch his clothes back and stuff them back in his storage chest. “By the Red Room, waving a man’s personal things around like that--shame on you, missy.” At least his other students had the decency to look like they hadn’t snooped and found those that did disgraceful. The tojay never noticed.

“What do you mean when you say ‘Red Room?’ You refer to a lot of rooms by color, and often use Malacath in your oaths, sir.”

“That last bit isn’t a question,” Mohamara stuck his tongue out at Orthorn who had asked. “The Red Room is one of Meridia’s Colored Rooms. It’s where she marshalls her armies for when they need to leave her plane of Oblivion and either attack another plane or come to Nirn. The proper name is Where War is Made. Mortals who worship Meridia, and die craving vengeance, are sent there to become warriors of the faith.” The cat returned to throwing shredded cheese onto the proto-pizza he was going to cook once the fire got hot enough.

“What is the music in the future like?”

The question came from the only Khajiit among his students. Adannna, a cathay woman--thin as a whip but the best Alchemist of the bunch. Without sparring much thought, Mohamara barked out an order for his Burmice servitor to play a random song at fifty-percent volume.

The music that came on was an acoustic guitar, and brass trumpets, instruments that hadn’t been invented yet, and a language that also hadn’t been discovered yet. A song from the Shivering Isles, strangely enough. The song sang a plaintive cry from the singer to be remembered by those whom they had to leave soon.

“That’s the Lilmothiit language,” Mohamara cut off any questions preemptively. “They didn’t go extinct, they just escaped to the Daedric realms of Sanguine, Clavicus Vile, and Sheogorath. The species returns to Tamriel a few thousand years from now and bring about the changes that lead to the beginning of the Tenth Era.”

“It’s beautiful,” Orthorn commented. “W-what does it mean?”

“How about you study Conjuration, work out a deal with some Daedra from the realms I told you they live, and ask them?” Mohamara sighed. The Lilmothiit he’d known weren’t the worst people, but having met Sheogorath and Clavicus Vile the Khajiit saw too clearly where the issues that frequently plagued the fox-folk came from. Which in turn reminded him of a hasty warning he had to give Orthorn before the High Elf actually did as Mohamara instructed. “And--be advised. You’ll get the most direct questions answered from the ones in Sanguine’s realm… but they chose to live in Sanguine’s realm so expect them to act like perverts.”

Mohamara paused in his cheese distribution as his students went back to their tasks. A horrible thought had wormed its way into his head: Was he being racist against the fox-folk?

“Only a little bit,” Sheogorath commented from within Mohamara’s ears. “Not nearly as racist as you’ve been against Nords in the past, though. Also, that pizza doesn’t have nearly enough cheese!”

--

Chillrend, being a malachite glass sword, the weapon was significantly lighter and thinner than a steel sword made in the Nordic style. And because it was a shortsword, or a long dagger according to Hadvar, it was one of the rare weapons Mohamara could wield one-handed and still seem like a threat.

Since the addition of students ate up Mohamara’s workload almost faster than the Legion could add to it, the cat had free time to learn how to wield a sword. Even if Hadvar admitted he was convinced that without far more substantial muscles, and way more weight, Mohamara would never actually be a threat with a weapon.

“But….” The cat had said after Hadvar confessed the doubts. “My niece, she’s ten years old. And Yagraz doesn’t hesitate to tell me how dangerous she is with a blade. I’m only slightly shorter and lighter than her….”

“Well, your niece has the benefit of being taught by the greatest warrior the Companions, an order of great warriors, have seen since the start of the Era.” Hadvar shrugged. “If you want to train with a blade for exercise, or even just knowledge of how to use it, I’ll teach you what I know. But I very much doubt you’ll ever be able to use it in a fight.”

“The Nord way to fight, and the Orc way to fight emphasize strength,” Yehochanan commented from Mohamara’s back. “You are neither a Nord or an Orc. What you have is speed, agility, and the power to always have the high ground. Don’t fight like a Nord soldier or an Orc champion; fight like a Khajiit Mystic. But if it can be avoided, do not fight at all.”

“Nothing wrong with being a skirmisher,” Hadvar admitted with crossed arms. “It’s not my way, and I can’t teach it.”

The spider-crab scuttled onto the Khajiit’s shoulder and down his arm. “Long before the Alterers figured out how to move things with magicka, the Psijics could turn the very terrain into their weapons. No boulder was too heavy to become a bludgeon, no spear too short to strike their foes.” Yehochanan gently took the sword from Mohamara’s grasp and held it away from his hand. Through their mutual connection, the spider-crab set up sympathetic bonds with where the sword was, and how it had felt in his hand.

When the spider-crab released the sword, Chillrend stayed floating in the air. The blue malachite glass shortsword slowly rotated but stayed about a foot from Mohamara’s hand.

Hadvar watched, amazed, as the cat bade the sword thrust, swing, or block without actually touching it at all. “If the Psijics could do stuff like that,” the Quaestor commented, “I understand why the Thalmor were so afraid of them.”

“I’m also pretty sure this is illegal,” Mohamara muttered as he had Chillrend spin at great speed, turning it into a blue disk of death. “You’re supposed to have a license to even study telekinesis.”

Yehochanan clacked his claws like castanets. “Those laws are restrictions for a society that doesn’t exist yet.”

“Can you do that with… other things?” Hadvar asked.

Both cat and Daedric spider-crab looked at each other, suddenly full of ideas.

--

When General Tullius and his guard arrived in Helgen, it was to find that the military town had an undue level of frivolity about it. Right in the marketplace were members of the Legion, tossing objects of various sizes for a Legion conscript to catch and juggle. What was alarming was that these items were so numerous that it formed almost a perfect circle. And to General Tullius’ eye, he could tell that cat wasn’t actually touching any of the objects he was ‘juggling’, just moving his hands near them as they came down.

It made the townsfolk happy enough, but it was also not what the cat had been paid for.

While the General consulted with the local Praefect about the state of the garrison, he had Rikke break up the waste of the Legion’s time and bring the cat--his soon to be son-in-law in for a formal review.

The cat, with his eyesight back again, seemed more confident and distinctly pinker than when the General last had a private chat with him.

On the Praefect’s desk, appropriated for Tullius’ use, was the documentation of the cat’s productivity, field reviews of the enchanted items he’d provided, and testimonials about working with the Khajiit. The General and the conscript sat in silence while these were reviewed until the General set the last one down and steepled his fingers.

“...You’re wearing earrings,” Seneca Tullius broke the silence with an observation and an arched brow.

“Marcurio gave them to me,” the Khajiit responded, not afraid of the General but still tense.

“Hmm. I wonder who they belonged to before he stole them.”

Mohamara’s expression became hostile, understandably. The cat sat straighter and glared to meet Tullius’ withering look. “Marcurio didn’t steal them, he told me so.”

“And you believed him? He’s been stealing from the Legion, from you, and from other people across Skyrim who don’t know to put his face to their hardships. He’s a thief, and only stupid people trust thieves.” Tullius leaned forward and rose both eyebrows as he looked down at the cat. “Are you stupid, Mr. Ahramani?”

Surprisingly, the cat shrugged. “A little bit, yeah. Everyone’s stupid sometimes.” Tullius did not see it, but the cat began to work magic upon him. He connected the General to a bound up lump of excess kindness that Yehochanan had extracted from his brain earlier that morning. He noticed a faint flash of pink in the General’s eyes, but no other change.

“I suppose you’re right. We’ll see how much you trust him in a year’s time.” Tullius leaned back in his borrowed seat. “Please understand that I do understand--Marcurio is charming, he has a gift for worming into people’s hearts. But he’s also not above using those gifts to get himself ahead, I’ve seen that myself. I imagine Jarl Laila Law-Giver will come to realize that before the end of this madness.” The General lifted up a parchment and examined it once more. “But this isn’t a meeting to talk about my son or his debauched lifestyle. The point of this meeting is to review your performance since being assigned here. It’s come to my attention, per this report, that you’ve taken on some… students to bolster productivity. Naturally, these people will need to be entered into the Legion’s records and--”

As it turned out, spending almost four hours talking about paperwork that needed to be filled out, then filling out that paperwork, finding out that the paperwork had been the wrong paperwork and doing the correct paperwork was a form of suffering Mohamara didn’t know existed. It was somehow worse than filing his taxes. Which, when Mohamara made the comparison, prompted General Tullius to call in Hadvar and fill out the cat’s Haafingar, Skyrim, and Imperial taxes. Which took another four hours.

“...Sign here to authorize the Legion to quarter soldiers in the pending settlement on your property,” Hadvar said with the same cheer he’d had at the start of the process and put a parchment in front of Mohamara.

The cat groaned like a Draugr and was about to sign when he paused. “There’s an old Dragon Cult fortress built into the end of the valley, can I lease that to the Legion instead?”

“You’re not the first Skyrim landowner to ask that,” Tullius commented. “No, you cannot. Nordic ruins don’t meet the building requirements for Legion encampments. However the paperwork your people filed with Elisif’s court suggests that they intend to use that fortress as the starting point for their settlement. So whatever Legion forces we send there, if any, would have to help construct the settlement to be quartered there legally.”

Mohamara squinted, still with the pen ready to sign. “Are you saying I can use Imperial bureaucracy to help my people build their settlement faster?”

The General met Mohamara’s eyes with a blank expression. “The Legion is good for more than just killing people, son. Someone’s going to have to build the roads to and from this settlement and Solitude.”

“...A’ight,” Mohamara shrugged and signed and dated the document. “Not going to turn down help I’m paying taxes for.”

“And already you’re better than legitimately half this province.”

Hadvar frowned slightly, but added the document to the stack of paperwork and brought forth another when a horn sounded from outside the building. “General, that’s the--”

“I know the enemy forces horn, soldier.” Tullius stood and nonchalantly walked around the desk. “The only Stormcloak encampment in the area recently lost half their men to that Hagraven’s coven, yes? Then they’re starving and want a warrior’s death because we’ve gotten no reports from Fort Neugrad about reinforcements--”

A rock that could only have been launched from a trebuchet struck the building, burst through the window and crushed the desk where General Tullius had been moments before. Thankfully Hadvar saved the paperwork.

Tullius seemed rather adaptive to the situation, in all honesty. “Or the gods can decide I’m wrong on all counts. That works too.”

--

With the Red Shoes enchantment and Mystic telekinesis, it proved almost too easy to get the civilians over the city walls and headed toward Riverwood and Falkreath. The Stormcloaks outnumbered the Legion garrison, but the Legion had spent weeks benefiting from an increasing stockpile of Mohamara’s enchanted items. It took the eastern gate being taken out by trebuchet fire to let Ulfric’s boys and girls get into Helgen proper because the archers were cutting them down before they could get their siege ladders up.

Mohamara had his students go with the townspeople to see them safely on their journey, and spent his time zooming around with the Red Shoes enchantment to heal people, enchant rocks with Explosive Runes and lobb them into the Stormcloak ranks, and in general, made a nuisance of himself.

Unfortunately, the Stormcloaks having far, far more men, and trebuchet support meant that even with a combat healer keeping the Legion soldiers alive far longer than they should have been, they lost the town by inches.

The order for retreat came from the General and would go through the keep since the north gate was blocked by a collapsed section of the wall. And, of course, Mohamara did not do the sensible thing and follow those orders right away, but attempted to combine the Red Shoes enchantment and telekinesis to retrieve injured Legionnaires. It also occurred to him, while he did so, that he could just launch people over the walls. Not even Legionnaires, he could do so with Stormcloaks.

Four Legion soldiers had been retrieved and twenty-plus Stormcloaks had been flung over the walls when they got too close before someone managed to put an end to the cat’s nonsense.

A vicious bear of a Stormcloak officer, armored in literal bear fur, managed to sneak up on the cat when he wasn’t looking and bring down his iron battleax on the pink Khajiit’s tail. The cat froze and puffed up right away, with only a hissing ‘f’ noise escaping his clenched jaw.

Sheogorath watched the battle from on the slopes of the mountain, eating tundra cotton out of a sack like popcorn while a Hagraven looked on through opera glasses. “Moira, dear girl,” the Mad God said as a palpable tension developed in the air, “do you ever get the feeling that something real bad is about to happ--”

He was cut off by a shockwave erupting from Helgen. A cacophonous scream of agony echoed through the surrounding land--and the Mad God was in a particularly good spot to watch sympathetic bonds of hideous pain explode from Helgen to reach out to every living thing for miles. Every soldier in the Legion and Stormcloak armies aboveground found themselves writing or seizing from the flood of foreign pain assaulting them. Faintly, he could make out a particularly naughty word in the scream.

The snow on the slopes of the Throat of the World shook free in a legendary avalanche that would be spoken of for decades to come. Trees bent and caught fire from the strain. A dragon was knocked from the air and pinned to Kyne’s sacred mountain as the snow passed. And the town of Helgen itself saw the mortar holding its stonework together vibrate itself to dust. The physical sound of the scream was audible as far north as Solstheim and as far south as the Imperial City.

“Ooh, boy’s got some lungs on him.”

--

Meanwhile, far to the north Ulfric Stormcloak, proud Nord warrior, Tongue, and Jarl of Windhelm looked up at the sound of a cacophonous shout that echoed across the Sea of Ghosts. His navy was about to turn the cape and enter Solitude’s bay to begin their half of the attack. The strange omen disturbed his men, as it disturbed Ulfric. But they had come too far to let mere omens stop them.

He went to the prow of the flagship, The High-King, and began to think of a speech that would put fire in the bellies of his men and get them spoiling for a fight.

“Stormcloaks! Sons and Daughters of Skyrim! Harken to me! Today, we will cut off one head of the Imperial dragon looming our homeland. Think of all the cruelties we have faced up to this point, the hardships! Picture the faces of all you have lost to an Empire too weak to rule you, and too distant to give a damn about you. Today, it ends! Today we will liberate the people of Haafingar! Today we--!”

Ulfric’s speech was cut short by a second omen. A stone statue sailed through the air and smashed into the deck of his ship. To the Stormcloaks’ horror, even Ulfric, it bore the seeming of his trusted friend and second in command, Galmar Stone-Fist. The poor man’s face was frozen in a mask of horror and agony.

“....go home. Today, we go home. Because neither the gods, or the winds, favor us.” All the fire was gone from Ulfric as he looked at the statue of his friend. As he did, water began to bubble up around the base of the statue, firmly punched through the hull.

“Sho-should we… go to the lifeboats?” A closed-helmeted Stormcloak soldier asked the crew at large.

“Yes,” Ulfric said, defeated. “That would probably be for the best.”
---
 

 

Chapter Text


---
Chapter 37: Pink Coats

“So.” General Tullius tapped his fingertips together while laid on his back on a cot. Around him, Legion Restorers and Alchemists administered healing to both the General and other wounded soldiers. The conscript’s ‘Pink Coats’, a name that apparently the Helgen rank and file had put to them, distributed magic baubles bewitched with regeneration and life support to the most grievously wounded. “How long have you been able to do… that?” The General winced as a healing balm was applied to the acid-like burns he had suffered on his arms and face from catching the explosion indirectly.

Beside him, on his stomach with his now much shorter tail bandaged was the conscript, his future son-in-law. He was enchanting anything and everything his students put in front of him to help treat the soldiers--the stockpile they had built up over the weeks had already been distributed. It made the General realize: When he thought there were enough medical supplies stockpiled, he was wrong--no matter how much was being stockpiled, it wasn’t enough.

“I found out as soon as you did,” the cat replied, glum. “They don’t exactly teach you how to not become a living bomb in the schools I went to, you know?”

“Hmm. Yes, I can see how that would be outside your skills.” General Tullius nodded like it was perfectly normal. “But I meant how long have the pieces of you that get cut off come to life?” He indicated the roof, where what had been the cat’s tail was wrapped around a rafter.

It had traded fur for scales, and looked like an alarmingly flat snake, with the stripes that had been on the Khajiit’s tail now evenly spaced apart with… small numbers next to them, it looked like. The creature combined traits of constrictors and venomous snakes--specifically cobras. And it was glaring down at Seneca Tullius like it was waiting for an excuse to leap down at him.

“Oh, like a couple weeks? The spider-crab on my back, Yehochanan, used to be my hand that got chopped off.”

Yehochanan paused in binding up a long piece of anxiety in his prismatic threads to clack at the General, producing a castanet-like sound.

“Hmm. Interesting.” The General nodded. His neck had healed enough that he could do so without pain, a small blessing. “But profoundly disturbing.”

The medical treatment ward they were set up in was located in the underground section of Helgen Keep. According to scout reports, it was impossible to access Fort Neugrad due to the entire structure being buried in an avalanche. And according to reports in Whiterun, the same was true of Valtheim Valley. Which meant that the only land route into or out of Stormcloak territory was now through the Pale. It also meant that if the snow didn’t clear in time that Whiterun Hold would develop a temporary lake.

If the cabal of fire mages in Sunderstone Gorge proved amicable to being sub-contracted, the Legion could possibly get through to the Rift and cut off the Stormcloak food supplies when they couldn’t easily benefit from the Khajiit caravans anymore. Ulfric would have to use his pretty new warships to pillage Morrowind’s coast for food, and in turn, draw the wrath of the Great Houses.

The General considered spreading propaganda that Ulfric was intending to re-take Solstheim to make the Dunmer even more likely to strike at the Stormcloaks. It could be useful for setting off the oil urn that was Windhelm’s Grey Quarter. But the General’s thoughts were interrupted by the Khajiit Pink Coat leaning over him.

“Your burns are fully healed, please check in with your healer regularly in case it returns. You’re free to go, General.”

“Thank you,” Tullius said as he stood up. And when he did, he noticed a blue malachite sword spinning at speed in one corner of the room, free of any way for it to being spun. It was spinning with sufficient speed that it cast a cool breeze on several Legion soldiers that had burned as a result of a fire. He observed this, looked down at the Khajiit, then back to the sword and decided he was not drunk enough to be dealing with this level of magical madness.

--

Its name was Qorach. It was made from violence done to the Master from without and served as the counterpart to Yehochanan who was born of violence from within. Yehochanan’s function was to help the Master keep from self-harm, but Qorach’s function was to keep him from harm. Period. So when the Master stood, and lamented the injury that had caused Qorach to be, the Daedric flat-snake went down to him and wrapped gently around his shoulders.

Qorach had disguised itself to look like measuring tape specifically so that it would not be discovered until it was too late. It expected the Master to be repulsed by it, a serpent when the Master had suffered so much from the Serpent affecting him. But as soon as Qorach settled, the Master stroked it gently on the head. Yehochanan had the Master’s respect, their mutual connection allowed Qorach to perceive this. But the bond the Master put onto Qorach was different: Loved By Me was its name.

Yehochanan was not bitter, he was not separate enough from the Master to feel such things. But Qorach shared with the spider-crab the Master’s love anyway. And content that the Master had not rejected it, the flat-snake coiled slightly tighter in an embrace and dedicated itself to its function: To watch the Master’s enemies, and poison them when they approached.

--

Mohamara permitted his new snake to dip its head into the drink General Tullius had provided, that it could test for poison. He didn’t actually expect his soon to be father-in-law to poison him, but he wanted to get into the habit right away. The snake dipped its head into the milk and took a few mouthfuls before sending Mohamara an affirmative through their connection.

General Tullius only looked mildly repulsed by the way Mohamara was accumulating fashion animals, and how affectionate he was being with a snake. “Don’t often see snakes in Skyrim.”

The Khajiit scowled and drank his milk. “You can blame that one on Hjalti Early-Beard. He killed all the snakes in Skyrim. All of them, at least until breeders were able to develop recreations of Skyrim’s snake species. It’s part of why there’s such a skeever problem--no snakes to kill them before they get big.”

The General had never heard that bit of information and filed it away under useless but interesting trivia. There were people who actively bred snakes. He decided that those were people not to be fucked with.

General and conscript were seated in what had been the kitchens of Helgen keep. Once the last few Legionnaires were treated for their wounds, they would be marching for Falkreath along with what had been the Helgen civilians. Perhaps they could rebuild after the war, but it wasn’t yet certain where they would go--Falkreath was the only settlement left in the Hold and the single poorest Hold capital in Skyrim. Winterhold wasn’t even considered a settlement anymore as far as the Empire was concerned.

Perhaps it had something to do with how Jarl Kraldr hadn’t cooperated with the Empire to clear out the Blood Horkers even before the Stormcloak rebellion. Titus Mede II had a petty streak too.

“So, has Marcurio told you…?” Tullius tried to phrase it gently, lest the cat not be aware. It wasn’t Tullius’ secret to reveal, but he desperately wished for someone that wasn’t his son or his wife to talk about it with.

“That you and he have a bad relationship? I sort of guessed, because he specifically asked me never to ask about you with him.” The cat arched an eyebrow and shrugged. “He said that the issues the two of you had were settled, and it wouldn’t do any good to bring it up again.”

The General sighed and drank some of his wine. “Not that. But… I guess that’s as good as I could expect, given our past.”

There was silence between them before the cat’s ears perked up. “Oh, did you mean that he used to have a woman’s body?”

The nonchalance of the Khajiit’s question stunned Tullius. According to records, he was a Skyrim native. He’d known the Nords were liberal on the subject of marriage--polygamy was a stable of Nordic families even in contemporary times. But the idea of a Provincial being so open-minded on as complex a topic as that shocked him. “I… yes. That.”

“I only recently pieced it together,” Mohamara admitted. “He’d been making allusions to having a heavily feminine past, but the comments about seeing a face sculptor for invasive work really cinched it. I’m not bringing up to him until he’s ready to tell me himself, if he’s ever ready.”

Tullius looked into his wine and found himself getting lost in memories. “You don’t wonder… who he used to be? When he discovered this about himself?”

Mohamara squinted and realized the General wasn’t really talking to him anymore. A quick dive into sympathetic connections let him see the General was rapidly connecting doubt and his identity as a parent, along with brief flashes of memories. “He was always Marcurio. It wasn’t you or your wife’s fault. That you’re willing to talk about him as a man is a sign of how much of a good parent you are.”

“It does not feel that way.” He drank his goblet to emptiness and filled it again from the bottle. “It feels like all the arrangements I made--you aren’t his first… husband-to-be--and all the arguments we would get into about his future only made it worse.” Tullius wanted so badly to be able to confess a doubt he had but fought it back. There was a war going on, and the child-sized Khajiit in front of him wasn’t his son-in-law yet, he was the General’s glorified prisoner. It was unseemly to be in such a state.

“The pain you feel now is the love you have for him,” Mohamara said earnestly. “It’s natural to doubt, but Marcurio thinks it’s settled--he’s not a mind-reader like I am, have you told him about this?”

“Before he came to Solitude to… inform me of the match, the last I had talked to him was in Cheydinhal. When he left us.” Tullius refrained from drinking more and set his wine aside. If he got too drunk, he wouldn’t be able to act like a General ought in front of conscripts. He didn’t realize until later that Generals shouldn’t have been having such conversations with conscripts, either. “He and I haven’t been in good… there hasn’t been a good time to talk.”

“Then you two will talk at the wedding.” Mohamara nodded and smiled like it was the perfect solution. For a moment, Tullius saw his wife in the expression. “I can guarantee there will be time for the two of you to have a heart-to-heart then, but if the opportunity presents itself beforehand, take it, Sir.”

At the wedding, his wife and potentially more of his family was going to be there. It was going to be annoying, awkward, and he’d likely have to punch his brother-in-law in the nose again afterward. But… to have the issue resolved, one way or another, Tullius admitted it was the most pragmatic solution. It didn’t mean he wished to linger on the topic, however. “Will I have to wait for the wedding to meet your parents as well? Your father’s been my neighbor for decades--but I hardly know the man.”

“I don’t know who your neighbor is, Sir, but he most definitely isn’t my father.” Mohamara sighed and sipped his milk. “My father’s a literal madman. He bounces between being maniacally affectionate and implied death threats. Potentially in the same sentence.” The cat met Tullius’ eyes and to the Nibenese man’s surprise, they were full of pity. “I genuinely regret that you’ll have to meet him at the wedding. It is an evil I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make up for.”

“And I thought my son and I had a tense relationship,” Tullius quipped, his voice dry as the Alik’r. “What has the man done that makes him so unpleasant? Besides the whole madman thing.” Foolishly, the General could resist his wine no longer and took a draft of it.

“Well, I’m told that he tried to cannibalize me when I was a baby, for starters.”

Once more, Tullius found himself drinking at the worst possible time and coughing so badly that the Quaestor assigned to Mohamara and one of his Pink Coats rushed in to help the elderly Imperial. It took a few whacks on the back and a quick Healing Hands spell to fix the General up. Afterward, he and Mohamara were alone again.

“Suddenly, I’m feeling a lot better about my parenting if there’s cannibalism on the other side of the aisle.” With perhaps a mote of amusement, he quickly followed up with: “No offense.”

“Let’s hold off on that until my mother meets Marcurio’s mother, hmm? That’s going to be a treat for both of us--I have no idea what she’s like other than she shacked up with a madman.” Mohamara’s face drained of all emotion save exasperation. “Multiple times, apparently. Because I have sisters.”

“It’s okay, so does Marcurio.” Tullius suddenly realized, to his horror, that he hadn’t told any of his daughters about the wedding, that they would never forgive him if they missed their big brother’s wedding. This also made him wonder if Marcurio had told his mother because Tullius knew he hadn’t. The unpleasant thought of needing to write letters to all of them and then pay their way to Skyrim motivated him to drink his second goblet to emptiness.

“From your expression, I’m going to guess that having them here won’t be fun?”


“I would rather dance naked in the Palace of the Kings with Ulfric Stormcloak watching than be in the building where my daughters, my wife, your sisters, and your mother first meet if I’m being honest.”

--

General Tullius reassigned Mohamara, his Pink Coats, and Hadvar into being part of the Military Governor’s entourage. For once, under no pretext--what Mohamara did to Helgen convinced the General that it was the height of folly to not have the cat under guard at all times. In the short-term, it meant that they went with him to Falkreath to talk to the regional Legate and Jarl Siddgeir about what was to be done with the Helgen refugees.

Mohamara didn’t much care for Siddgeir when he first saw the man. Siddgeir was even younger than Elisif--than Idgrod the Younger--and he was pompous. He talked down to literally everyone who interacted with him for any length of time, would interrupt explanations of the status of Helgen with questions of why he should care, and initially wanted to put the refugees to work rebuilding Helgen--describing it as ‘repairing his property’.

“Want to know something funny,” Sheogorath asked from within Mohamara’s ears. “That was the other candidate we had it narrowed down to. Ultimately you mother decided against it, though. Said he wasn’t good enough for ya.”

“Though I have never met her, I am profoundly grateful for her influence in my life, may Meridia shine the light of certitude upon her wherever she is,” Mohamara muttered a prayer as they left the Jarl’s longhouse. “Also, why did you narrow it down to humans? No Rainbow Men Khajiit in Skyrim?”

“Well, there was this one candidate called Vasha--but your uncle Sanguine convinced me to take him off the list. He actually gave me a list of reasons why. I think I have it here somewhere.” Sheogorath proceeded to list off a variety of vile things this ‘Vasha’ enjoyed himself, doing to other people, or had done in his past to preclude him being considered seriously. By the end, Mohamara was surprised Vasha wasn’t either part of the Dark Brotherhood or a Molagian. “However, all of that could have been forgiven--and eventually, you would have gotten used to all the leather. But what I couldn’t tolerate was that he tucks his pants into his socks.”

“You know what--I’m not even shocked anymore,” Mohamara admitted in his normal volume, not giving a single fuck what looks people nearby gave him. “This is the norm for you. You’re normal now, Dad.”

“No!” Sheogorath suddenly appeared, on his knees with his hands clasped in a pleading pose. He kept on scooting after the tojay on his knees while Mohamara walked without slowing. “Anything but that! Please! I can be zany, unpredictable! Ju-just give me one more chance, sonny.” He had all the right cues to appear desperate, even faking crying for his performance. “I-I can turn you into a duck for a decade, and have you only change back when you’re in a particular lake while there’s moonlight striking the surface! I could trap you in a giant’s castle on top of the clouds, and make you lay golden eggs to bolster the cloud giant economy! I could cause everyone you have ever met to go completely stark-raving, totally blinking mad! Please, just don’t say I’m normal!” The Mad God launched himself forward to cling to Mohamara’s leg, forcing the Khajiit to drag him along.

Neither Yehochanan or Qorach responded to the Mad God’s scene, and it appeared that no one else could see Sheogorath. Finally, Mohamara had enough of pandering to a false weeping fit on his father’s behalf and stopped walking. “Fine--you don’t want to be normal?” He twisted to look right into Sheogorath’s milky eyes. “Then you need to do something different. You need to do something unlike yourself, so you can be truly random and unpredictable.”

Sheogorath’s tantrum stopped right away. His expression became blank, and when he spoke again it was without his usual accent. “In a distribution where all events, and all outcomes, are equally possible the only impossible parameter is which item in the distribution is unlikely to occur. However, the distribution contains all events and all outcomes, including impossible ones. The chain of contradictions proceed ad infinitum and consume all thought devoted to them. However, after processing enough layers of contradiction a solution emerges.” The Mad God lept to his feet and spoke with a voice that echoed off the mountains. “I! Hate! Cheese!

“...Now, more than ever, I wish I was a druggie so I could just take something and escape this mess,” the tojay muttered and rubbed his face with both hands. “Fine, whatever, you’re not normal. Happy?”

“Oh, sonny, you ignorant collection of meat and tubes. I’m always happy! Even when I’m not.”

--

“So,” Hadvar started at the campfire later that night when the General’s entourage was camped on the road from Falkreath to Haafingar. “Who were you talking to earlier? Back before the mysterious cheese thing.”

Mohamara was making use of his talents to stir a pot of stew while five feet away and polishing Chillrend. “Oh, I was just having a chat with my friend Nonya.”

“Nonya?”

“Mhm. Nonya Dam Bid’ness.” The cat paused to make finger-wands at Hadvar before going back to his polishing. Only Orthorn laughed at the joke.

“You could have just said you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“But then I would have wasted that absolutely perfect setup and the world would be the lesser for it.” Mohamara’s tail would take days longer to regenerate, but already he had enough of it back to communicate his annoyance to Adrannna without speaking of it.

“It was so kind of the Master to buy for those people a steading and supplies that they could build a new town,” the cathay woman was quick to change the topic. “But why did you refuse to let them name it for you, Master?”

Contrary to her intent, this only served to annoy Mohamara more. The only thing keeping his actions better than Siddgeir’s proposal was that Mohamara had made it a gift, and already had a good reputation with the people of Helgen--soon to be Lakeview. “Because I’ve decided I want Galamir’s ways to be the ways of the faith.”

The Dunmer student perked up at his sudden spotlight among the Pink Coats and tried to look humble as was appropriate.

“Don’t do things for my glory, or whatever. Don’t build temples in my name, or make sacrifices to me. I’d rather you put that energy into helping people who need it. Build homes for the homeless, feed the hungry, make the world a better place than when you found it.” Mohamara refrained from also mentioning that, due to his future knowledge, he knew of no temples, settlements, or religious groups that bore his name. It was bittersweet enough to know they wouldn’t stand the test of time, without seeing any works dedicated to him done while he was around. “...I know of a group of people, the Friends of Maria who lives on Mount Kilkreath. You guys can use that convention for your organization too. A secret,” he stopped to squint at Hadvar, “or mostly secret, way of communicating. Just… don’t use my real name, so you can avoid my enemies.”

The Pink Coats then talked amongst themselves of what they should call themselves. Pink Coats was the Legion’s name for them, the overall sentiment seemed to be that they wanted something of their own. It was Orthorn that produced the most interesting one.

“The Friends of Llorona,” he proposed with a flair. “It’s a Lilmothiit word, meaning weeping, but also a reference to a ghost story of theirs. Considering the feminine implications, and how different the translation is to either of the translations for the Master’s name, none of his enemies would think them to be the same entity!” He looked between his fellow Pink Coats, Mohamara, and Hadvar and gradually started to wilt under their unblinking stares.

“How do you know a Lilmothiit word well enough to know those things?” Mohamara’s tone was flat. He knew there was a song with that word in the title on his slate--so either Orthorn had figured out how to access it or--

“I did as you ordered. I practiced Conjuration, and got in contact with some of the ones that live in Sanguine’s realms of revelry.” Orthorn shrugged like it was no big deal. “Um. Was that perhaps a… rhetorical order, Master?”

“You studied enough Conjuration to get in contact with Lilmothiit from Sanguine’s realm and learn their language, or at least start it… in less than two weeks.” Mohamara’s absolute bafflement was mirrored in his Pink Coats, and to a much lesser degree in Hadvar. “How?”

“I contacted Hermaeus Mora’s realm, Apocrypha. Completed a little obstacle course that he set up and solved some riddles to get the information.” The High Elf shrugged once more. “Wasn’t that difficult, really.”

“Khajiit does not have enough moon sugar to be hearing this,” Adannna moaned as she rubbed her temples.

“That just raises further questions, you… you…,” Traynda struggled to find a word to convey her frustration and ended up just pointing emphatically at Orthorn’s confused expression. “You!”

“I’m going to hazard a guess and say that the things he says he did are ludicrously difficult to pull off?” Hadvar looked at each of the Pink Coats in turn and Mohamara--frozen in absolute incomprehension--answered his question nonverbally. “Yes, that seems a safe assumption.”

“So….” Orthorn shifted on his feet and swung his arms to ease the awkwardness. “No objections to the Friends of Llorona? Great!”

---

Chapter Text


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Chapter 38: Cats!

On the road to Rorikstead, a stop on the way back to Solitude, the General’s entourage witnessed a battle between two bandit clans out on the plains of Whiterun. According to Legate Rikke, one of the groups were known to attack Giant camps for their mammoths. The only thing that kept them being bandits were the outstanding bounties on them. The other group was unknown, and none of the Legion cared. Once a clear winner of the bandit battle was cemented, Legate Rikke bade the archers take aim and fire upon the lot of them.

“Seems an awful waste,” Mohamara commented to the General while watching the events unfold. “Some of them could have had pathetic bounties, now they’re dead and they can’t be any better than that.”

“Not every clan of bandits will be like the group you found up in Eastmarch,” Tullius responded, dismissive. “Most are just people who don’t like work, taking orders, and find civilized life too restrictive. If they change their ways, great. But we lose nothing except arrows for disposing of them like the vermin they are right now.”

“...Yeah, but those arrows likely cost more than some of those men’s bounties.”

Hadvar was quick to jump in and tell the two of them how much the steel arrows used by the Legion to cut down the bandits, versus the estimated bounty of the mammoth poachers alone.

General Tullius found his argument being dismantled by accountancy… less than satisfying, and bade Mohamara and his Pink Coats recover as many arrows as possible from the corpses as could be managed.

While extracting arrows from corpses and the ground, Mohamara spoke a prayer of Meridia for fallen strangers: “You are dead, and the dead should be mourned. I mourn you like you are mine, for someone must.” He reflected on the people that he should have spoken the prayer for: The necromancers in Wolfskull cave, the Draugr he and Yagraz had killed, Svaknir, Potema herself, and even the vampires they had encountered over the weeks. He stopped in the middle of pulling out an arrow from a cadaver to ask himself: Why hadn’t he done so for them?

Yehochanan gently pinched the back of his head and began to spin connections between memories. Everything seemed so… gray, and lifeless in hindsight, and the only spots of color were when he was with a caravan, Yagraz, or doing the will of his Lady. Being more alive seemed the bigger thing than doing what was right for the people who died around him. Perhaps it was because of the Sphere of Kindness--but either way, it helped him to remember his obligations.

When he went back to it, he picked up on his students also doing the prayer for the bandits, without him telling them to do so. The sympathetic bonds within them told Mohamara that they were just words his students spoke, they didn’t know the meaning or truly feel for those they prayed upon. He automatically wanted to connect them so that the Pink Coats could truly feel for the fallen bandits, but Yehochanan pinched at his ear.

“No,” spoke the spider-crab. “They have taken the first step. They care enough to speak for strangers. You must let them progress naturally, so they can teach others when you are gone.”

Reluctant, the Khajiit withdrew from the sympathetic bonds and returned to his work. However, he noticed a pronounced shadow over the Orc he had been extracting arrows from. “Could whoever’s in my light move? I need to get this arrow out of his sinuses.” The shadow did not move, so Mohamara looked up, ready to snap at whichever student was being a nuisance.

And found himself looking into the face of a sabre cat.

“Don’t run,” Qorach spoke to him with its gentle voice. “She will kill you if you run--the instinct is too strong. She does not want to kill you, so do not run.”

“You should not have let her get so close, then,” Yehochanan scolded the Second Servitor.

“She is not your enemy.”

However, the Pink Coats did not have the benefit of Daedric living amputations to inform them, so when Adannna looked up and saw a fully grown sabre cat within half a foot of the Master, she did as any sensible person would do in that instance.

Wait, no, she didn’t do that at all--because she started to throw rocks at the predator. “Come after me, big stupid Rhojiit!” This, of course, got other Pink Coats to realize what was happening. They too joined in throwing rocks at the sabre cat, the vast majority of them missing because they were mages and their throwing arms were terrible.

“Wait a minute,” Galamir said as he missed the eighth stone. “We’re not savages! We have magic!”

This precipitated a slew of non-AOE spells being launched at the sabre cat. And still, they missed. Because the non-AOE spells required precision which was why so many of them had switched to AOE spells in the first place.

“How can all of us be so terrible at aiming?!”

Orthorn, however, wasn’t one to let a silly thing like missing repeatedly in a, to his perspective, life or death situation discourage him and charged at the cat with lightning arcing over his arms. He intended to Lightning Bolt punch the sabre cat to get it to back off.

None of them stopped to consider why the cat wasn’t just killing Mohamara and absconding with the body during this. And when the High Elf lept at the apex predator he found himself held aloft in the air by an invisible force, presumably the Master’s will.

Mohamara was deep in the bonds of the sabre cat who, apparently, did not want to kill him. Through her memories, he found a scene of a strange wiggling thing that her instincts identified as ‘snake’ though she had never seen one. When she bit it, there was a strange whine that brought back ancient instincts of gears and beards which drove her to run away. The snake hadn’t even been very filling, she required an elk later to keep starvation at bay.

“So you’re the one who ate my tail,” the tojay snarled, rising up in an aggressive stance.

The sabre cat flicked her ears back and got close to the ground, as her instincts told her to do when her mother was angry.

Back in the sympathetic bonds, Mohamara found something bizarre. A strong magical bond that brought to mind thousands of other sabre cats, plains, and arctic. When he examined it further, he found it reminded him of Ya’graz’s thu’um, or the dragon Marcurio had subdued.

Hah-Gahrot-Dur, the thu’um thread named itself. Mind, steal, curse. Not a dragon, but a Shout. Already, a bond between the sabre cat and the nutrients she had drawn from Mohamara’s tail, and Mohamara himself were eating at the connection--dispelling bits and pieces of it. When the Khajiit reached out actively to it, the Shout’s bond eroded demonstrably but pulled from the threads leading off into the distance to rebuild itself.

The Thu’um was both a form of Tonal Architecture and Mysticism--whether Mysticism was a part of Tonal Architecture was still being hotly debated. Tonal Architecture used sound to alter the very nature of things--their composition, the way natural forces reacted to them, and how things about them were to be discovered. And the Mind Curse Shout refused to be dispelled in this way.

Mohamara refused to accept this. He took a deep breath and returned to the physical world to glare down at the sabre cat. “I’m still angry with you,” he told her. “But I will find a way to break this curse. Hopefully before your species goes extinct.” He paused, and his ears flicked back as he thought about it. “Is me breaking the curse how they go extinct? Hmm, questions for later.” He pointed down at her and activated Tongues to convey his words to her in snarling and automatic body-language shifts. “I help. No more eating tail!” He pointed to Adannna far in the distance, and then to himself. “Cat-kin. Family. Help and be help. Not for eat! Teach to others.”

It honestly surprised him how much he was able to communicate to the sabre cat. But the message got through, and the sabre cat bounded away without further incident.

“Master,” Orthorn asked, still floating four feet in the air. “Can you let me down now?”

The setup was perfect for another joke, but Mohamara didn’t take it. Instead, he simply released the bonds holding the High Elf aloft. The Pink Coats quickly gathered together to inspect the Master for injury without actually touching him, but the tojay instead turned to face them with his arms crossed.

“You stood there, and shot at that sabre cat for two minutes and didn’t land a single hit. Do I need to say how pitiful that is?” When none of his students had a viable defense for their failure other than to look at their feet, Mohamara sighed. “Orthorn, I honestly expected better from you at least.”

“I think I might be coming to rely too much on Chain Lightning, Master.” He bowed and asked for forgiveness, and the other students did so as well.

“None of you even thought to summon a Flame Atronach--something I know you are all capable of doing. So from now until we get back to Solitude, if you have free time it will be spent practicing your aim with Firebolt, Ice Spike, or Lightning Bolt--whatever it is you know best. Am I understood?”

The chastised students nodded and started to go back to collecting arrows when Mohamara spoke again.

“Don’t let this failure keep you from trying in the future. I’m pleased that you did try to help. But I’ve had to learn that you need to think about how to help before doing it too--now it’s your turn. Hopefully, it won’t bank on chopping off your own hand and having it come to life.”

Yehochanan punctuated the scene with his castanet claws.

--

Rorikstead was home to a particularly advantageous situation, as far as Mohamara was concerned. Not too far off the road was a small town’s worth of Khajiit all gathered in one enormous camp. Ri’saad and Ma’dran’s caravans had met and combined.

It didn’t take much for the General to decide to stop at Rorikstead rather than ride through--Solitude was still days away and with bandits displaced by the battle of Whiterun still clearly an issue, getting the status of local settlements while also resting their horses appealed too much to the General’s pragmatism.

And it presented the perfect opportunity to pay Ri’saad back, while also getting to be among the caravan again. He had Hadvar draw up a letter of credit for a bank in Markarth, likely Ri’saad’s next stop, and made his way to the temporary Khajiit settlement with his Pink Coats and minder straining to catch up.

His reception was atypical, even for the caravans. Easily recognized figures such as Tall-Cat Kessei, Atahbah, Ma'randru Jo, and Ahnji immediately greeted him, though it took them a long time to realize who he was from sight alone. That seemed understandable to Mohamara--he had new fangs, and a far more colorful fur-pattern than when he’d left them last. Oh, and he was missing a chunk of his tail again, which only Ri’saad’s caravan would have experienced before.

Ma’dran and Ri’saad were in the elder’s tent with the flap closed--meaning they were not to be disturbed until their business was concluded. So in the meantime, Mohamara sat near the central fire and let the curious cats come to him.

“Ja’khajiit,” a cathay from Ri’saad’s caravan greeted him hesitantly. “You… look different than when this one saw you last.”

“And you look like you lost a tooth,” Mohamara observed. “Got into another fight? Here, let me whip you up a regeneration thing to grow it back.” The tojay began to draw soul-thread from his amulet and approached. One of the cathay’s excessive number of earrings became the host to a dense packet of Nordic knots with the regeneration effect.

While this was happening, the Pink Coats save Adannna were visibly uncomfortable being surrounded by so many Khajiit who seemed at least annoyed by their presence in the living space portion of the caravan. Adannna was occasionally greeted or chatted to in ta’agra, mostly about how skinny she was and how she needed to eat.

“Such big fangs you have, ja’khajiit,” declared Atahbah once she made her way over to the fire as well. “And you’ve dyed your fur, and put in earrings--this one guesses Ahkari told you of the traditions while you were away?” She looked over the Pink Coats and her tail began to twitch ever so slightly. “Ri’saad will not like that you have brought strangers, though. Already he is upset with Ma’dran for letting you join with the Legion.”

“I didn’t join the legion,” Mohamara corrected as he cinched the last knot on the earring of regeneration. “I was conscripted because the Imperials don’t have anyone remotely competent in the field of enchanting.” He glanced over at Hadvar. “I’m not being insulting, by the way. By the standards of competency for enchanting I’ve been trained to, there isn’t anyone in Skyrim even remotely close.”

“I’m not complaining,” Hadvar shrugged. “Your work is well worth the generous budget and wages you get. Would be different if we had a substantial Shadow Legion presence, however--they don’t take criticism well.”

It was then that Atahbah noted Yehochanan and puffed her fur out considerably. “Ja’khajiit, do not move. Is strange mudcrab on your back.” She fished around for a stick until someone handed one by another caravaneer. “I smack it off, then you run.”


“Hmm? Oh, this isn’t a strange mudcrab. He’s Yehochanan, a sort of...pet?” With unspoken orders, the spider-crab crawled onto Mohamara’s scalp to be clearer to see. “He spins some sort of...sugar-silk? Cotton candy? I don’t know exactly what it is, other than it catches the light like oil on the ground. If it kept for any length of time, I’d have a bunch for you to try selling.”

Atahbah either didn’t listen or had a thing against crabs, because the second Yehochanan clacked his claws like castanets, she hit the spider-crab like a fastball with her stick. However, the First Servitor was not helpless. A trail of prismatic silk followed behind him and allowed the spider-crab to catch the wind, and ride it back, right at Atahbah with pincers flared.

Invisibly, Mohamara caught the spider-crab before he could pinch Atahbah to death, and brought the Daedric creation back over to him. “I’ve learned some new magic since I left. So trust that I can handle a crab on my back, Atahbah?”

Reluctantly, the Khajiit merchant set down her batting stick and eyed the tojay. “Where did you get such a strange pet, ja’khajiit?”

“I made him out of my hand after it got chopped off.”

Atahbah looked at Mohamara in steadily increasing alarm until Marandru’jo walked up to her and held out his hand.

“Pay up,” he said with a flat voice. “I won the bet, he turned out to be just as mad as Skooma Cat.”

Stunned, Atahbah mechanically handed over a small pouch of coins to the male cathay. They both left the scene shortly thereafter.

“Ja’khajiit.”

Mohamara looked over at Ri’saad’s tent to see the flap held up by the eldest caravan leader, still standing inside.

“Come, speak with Ma’dran and Khajiit,” said the ancient cathay, still as droopy faced as ever. “Caravan will keep your guests while you speak.”

“What does that mean,” Brenelin asked, a note of fear in her voice. “Adannna? Master? What does he mean by ‘keep?”

“Relax,” Adannna waved the Bosmer’s worries away. “Elder means they stop us from leaving or doing anything other than buying from the caravan. This one will tell you when you misstep, trust Khajiit.”

With the matter clarified, Mohamara walked into the caravan leader’s tent, which had the flap dropped down behind him. Inside, Ma’dran sat cross-legged and still almost reached the top of the tent. He watched the pastel tojay find a spot to sit, while he puffed on a sugar pipe.

Ri’saad found his seat again and sat with slowness brought on by arthritis. “Much has changed since we saw you last, ja’khajiit.” Ri’saad leaned in close and examined the earrings the tojay wore, squinting in the low light. “You dye your fur, as a tojay should. And you wear silver and gold in your ears, as Khajiit should. Have you perhaps spoken to Ahkari while on your travels, and she has told you these things?”

The shortest Khajiit shook his head. “I’ve met someone who asked her about those things, but I’ve never spoken to her myself.”

“Hmm.” Ri’saad sat back and rubbed his forehead. “This one had hoped you had news of her caravan. With all safe roads to Eastmarch, Winterhold, and the Rift closed to us, we have no way to see with our eyes.”

“Ahkari’s caravan is most important of all caravans,” Ma’dran rumbled around his sugar pipe. “Is where the ma’khajiit are sent after our workers are too… carefree. This one has a ma’khajiit with her caravan, had hoped to show her to you.”

Mohamara squinted at them each in turn. “Ma’khajiit sounds rather strongly like ja’khajiit. Should I get my translation spell up, or are one of you going to translate?”

Ri’saad glanced at Ma’dran, and it seemed a chastisement for the cathay-raht sighed and looked away.

“Ma’khajiit are the… infants of Khajiit. Those too small to walk on their own yet. Ahkari’s caravan is most heavily guarded so that our workers will have a safe place to leave their young ones.”

“Who have you spoken to, who has spoken to Ahkari?” Ri’saad looked toward the flap of the tent. “Perhaps the former sweet tooth Khajiit outside? This one is also curious why they follow you around.”

“They’re my students,” Mohamara shrugged while Yehochanan picked at his scalp. “You know… Skooma Cat is my dad?” When Ri’saad nodded, and Ma’dran dropped his pipe, the tojay continued. “Well, I sort of started… to become like Skooma Cat. They… worship me? The Legion guy is my accountant. Speaking of!” Mohamara hastily handed over the letter of credit.

Ma’dran was occupied keeping the elder’s tent from catching fire from his loose pipe, so missed Ri’saad’s eyes bugging out for all of one second as he read the letter of credit.

“I know it’s more than I owe. But… what’s money if not for spending? You guys took care of me when you didn’t have to, might as well share some of the wealth with you, yeah?”

“You are generous, ja’khajiit,” Ri’saad said as he folded the letter up and put it into his quilted jacket. “It warms this one’s heart that still you think of us. But back to Khajiit’s question?”

“Oh. My husband-to-be talked to her. He wanted to know Khajiit courtship rituals, but… it isn’t something I’m comfortable with.”

Both larger Khajiit exchanged a look, then looked down at the tojay. “Speak to us about this husband, ja’khajiit. When this one last heard about this subject, you dreaded it like removing a rotten tooth.”

“Well, yeah. And I still have doubts… but I got to meet the guy, and hear about some of the people who got turned down. But, he’s a member of the Thieves Guild, an overall decent guy. I’m working for his dad at the moment if you have ideas for how I can use that to help the caravan.”

“Working… for his father? His father is a Legion commander?” Ri’saad crossed his arms and considered. “Perhaps could be useful, if other Imperial Holds do as Reach and Haafingar have done--we could carry Imperial supplies.”

“Yeah, the General’s pragmatic enough that if you make the best offer he’ll give you the work.”

As if summoned, there was a distinctly General Tullius sounding cough outside the flap. “If it isn’t too much trouble, I would have words with the caravan leader?”

Ri’saad stood and went to the flap. When it was opened, there was the General, with Rikke off to the side behind him.

“There’s some official Imperial business I would like to talk to you later, in an actual civilized place, about. But if we could have… a moment alone? I would speak with you about your grandson.”

Mohamara’s ears went flat against his head, and Ma’dran rumbled in displeasure, but they both stood and left the tent without the elder needing to do anything but turn his head slightly. Their presence was exchanged for General Tullius and Legate Rikke.

“Did… I get Ri’saad in trouble?” The tojay looked up at the cathay-raht who shrugged. “Hmm. Well, I can try doing that ritual that blinded me for a bit again to see how Ahkari is doing. So long as I don’t try doing anything insanely complex, or requiring complex insanity, it shouldn’t have negative side effects.”

“This one asks you kindly to do so,” Ma’dran reached down and went to pat Mohamara on the head, but Yehochanan flashed is abdomen with the scary face and held up his claws. So instead, the cathay-raht patted the tojay on the shoulder. “Khajiit worries about how Ahkari’s caravan will fare, trapped in Stormcloak lands after they lose so badly.”

--

Jarl Laila Law-Giver was in paradise.

After the disastrous battle at Helgen, so devastating that Ulfric had to turn his fleet around or risk the Empire’s secret weapon being used on him too, she thought the end was creeping up on her and the cause. But there was a unique opportunity presented by the event. A Khajiit caravan, normally on the road from Riften to Dawnstar, had turned back in light of the avalanches. It wasn’t yet known what roads were safe, or if the volcanic geysers of Eastmarch would erupt from the earthquake.

Laila had disregarded the advice of her Stormcloak general, and her steward, and commanded that the Khajiit be brought within the walls of Riften for their own safety. She met with the caravan leader, a stunning beauty of a cat named Ahkari to discuss the needs of her people. It had taken all of Laila’s willpower not to break her Jarlly disposition and pet the gorgeous feline. But the tipping point was when Ahkari had mentioned that her caravan had children to protect, and required space to set up adequate defenses.

Naturally, Laila commanded that the closed-off sections of Mistveil be opened up and cleaned for use by her Khajiit guests. For too long, she’d said, they had been strangers to her. So in the time of crisis, they would share her home.

The first time she beheld Khajiit infants, it was like she had been born again. There was a joy in her chest that wouldn’t go away--more than when her own sons had been born. At last, she understood what the temple priests spoke of when they described Mara’s love.

To Laila Law-Giver, Mara’s love was that Khajiit existed in the world, and the purest expression of goodness was in Khajiit babies.

The caravan was grateful for stone walls and vigilant guards after so many years of being kept at a distance. That their host was so eager to make amends that she offered her own time to tend to the children so that their nurses could have a moment’s respite was the height of kindness.

“I… am legitimately amazed,” Anuriel told the caravan’s leader one evening as they had their meal at the Jarl’s feasting table. The ancient tradition had become fact once more, and Men and Beastfolk broke bread side by side at the table. “Jarl Laila didn’t even change her own’s sons swaddling clothes when they were little--and she has been tending to your young ones so much that I have to get Harrald to approve things in her name.”

“Yes,” replied the suthay-raht Ahkari, dressed in fine bear furs that were a gift from the Jarl herself. “After so long as outcasts, to be having such a warm welcome brings this one unfathomable joy. Some of Khajiit’s peers would be angry that it took so long, but not Ahkari. She is so happy that we are welcome at last, she does not mind that it took years to happen.”

Anuriel watched the caravan leader eat her horker loaf--a rare meat bought from Windhelm and Dawnstar. Their efficiency with meat made the Bosmer jealous a little, horker meat especially would get stuck in her teeth. But also she watched for signs of perhaps magical inclinations from the suthay-raht.

Not long later, the Jarl’s housecarl went looking for her. And of course, he found Laila among the Khajiit, specifically the impromptu nursery. The Jarl was bent over a giggling Khajiit babe, one of over fifteen, jangling keys just out of the fuzzball’s reach. Unmid cleared his throat to try and politely get the Jarl’s attention but to no avail.

Instead, Laila was cooing to the babe and seemingly happier than Unmid had ever seen her before.

“My Jarl--,” the housecarl foolishly started in a disgusted tone of voice.

Why it was foolish became immediately clear when Laila’s happy expression vanished and she glared at him like he was the vilest, most disgusting, awful thing to have ever existed. “What. Do you. Want?

“I….” Unmid was stunned, so he raised up his hands to ward off a possible attack and backed away. “I merely wished to inquire if you are sure you wish to continue skipping meals to do this… domestic work?”

When I am done, I will eat. And not before. Go, before your armor wakes the sleeping ones.” As if it had never happened, Laila went right back to cooing and grinning at the Khajiit babe. When the little cub started to gum at his own tail rather than bat at the keys, she squealed with delight.

Unmid, rather than risk her displeasure further, hastily retreated.
---

Chapter Text


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Chapter 39: The College Plan

It didn’t take long to find Jouane Manette once Mohamara started to ask for him. The old Breton man didn’t often stray from Rorik’s Manor at the top of the hill. All the buildings in Rorikstead had the look of the oldest Nord buildings in Whiterun and Morthal--like they had been built from the hulls of ships. But if the namesake of the village still lived, it must have been a design throwback to his ancestors.

Rorik’s Manor was easily the size of Jorrvaskr and appeared to be built in the style of an overlarge Atmoran ship, squat where Jorrvaskr was tall, and the decorations were of plant life not of Atmoran animal gods. When the tojay knocked at the door, a young Nord girl answered, initially looking up. She giggled a bit when she had to look down to see Mohamara.

“Hey, is Jouane at home?” The tojay didn’t let the girl finding him amusing color his mood, he could see in her that she was grey and nearly dead inside like he had been--the laughter br